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November 26, 2005

More Connections -- and more Dots

Recently, I called attention to Claude Shannon, whose mid-Twentieth Century work on communication theory had both anticipated and greatly facilitated what we now know as 'information technology' (IT). Another entry promised to connect several 'dots' between the serendipitous study of pot users which originally inspired this blog and how several of its implications clearly point to major weaknesses in current drug policy.

Perhaps my study's most important revelation was that virtually all those applying for a cannabis recommendation in California were already experienced chronic users who had first tried it during adolescence. Two additional revelations were that most (95%) had been born after 1945, and nearly all had first tried (initiated) pot in close temporal conjunction with similar trials of alcohol and tobacco. The same characteristics had been noted by the first behavioral scientists ever to study the then-new phenomenon of youthful pot use in the mid-Seventies. Those observations  eventually led to a 'Gateway' "theory" which-- despite its subsequent inability to earn validation--  is  a major rhetorical argument used by federal policy makers who remain insistent  that harsh punishment for possession of arbitrarily designated 'drugs of abuse' is an essential element of drug policy.

Important differences between mid-Seventies observations cited by Kandel and my more recent ones is that, as the American cannabis market has grown dramatically in size over time , and  pot has become even more available to adolescents , the  average age of  its youthful initiates-- at least, those who eventually apply  for  medical  recommendations-- has declined. The most recent analysis by cohort shows that alcohol, tobacco and cannabis were all tried at the same average age (14.9 years) by those applicants born between 1976 and 1985.

It is to be stressed that although data entry is  incomplete,  demographic data from over half of the approximately 3000 individuals seen during the past four years has been entered.  It's thus quite unlikely that  average ages at initiation will change significantly.

Another  implication,  strongly supported  by  both the demographic data and the aggressive initiation patterns  for  several  other  illegal drugs exhibited by this  population over the same time interval is that their drug initiations are far more likely to represent inchoate youthful attempts at palliating symptoms of emotional origin than reflecting irresponsible youthful hedonism.

Human emotions were not recognized as phenomena worthy of serious consideration by scholars until  the Renaissance;  despite considerable subsequent attention from philosophers, they weren't thought of as producing symptoms requiring pharmaceutical intervention for another 350 years; yet it's quite likely that the humans who left  Africa in the series of migrations completed some 13000 years ago-- and who were the antecedents of all modern humans-- possessed brains which were structurally and physiologically indistinguishable from our own.  Thus, any behavioral differences between them and ourselves almost certainly  results from phenomena we are just now beginning to study seriously under the rubric of cultural evolution.
Given the current planetary ecology  and the doctrinal divisions which continue to plague our rapidly expanding species, the importance of a global drug policy based on honestly gathered evidence which has then been accurately interpreted can't be overstated.  That current policy is clearly derived from religious beliefs which are being dishonestly portrayed as Public Health is as obvious as the reticence of the 'scientific community' to object out of fear or feigned disinterest.

The  apparent willingness of so many scientists to tacitly accept such overt perversion of their profession's most essential attribute out of fear is an ominous omen.

Tom O'Connell, MD

Posted by tjeffo at November 26, 2005 06:13 AM


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