Just how does one begin to understand a modern world plagued by
seemingly intractable regional conflicts over the same disputed
territories, even as it is wracked by violent new
conflicts-at-a-distance more clearly related to factors like religious
differences, distribution of wealth, and notions of history; just as
cable TV warns of a series of apolitical new threats to human existence
in the form of pandemics, tsunamis, super-volcanoes and collisions with
Ironically, global warming, a somewhat older ‘threat,’ originally
dismissed by skeptics until its credibility was restored by recent
intense weather events and some additional objective evidence, isn’t
easily classified according to the first paragraph's schema; not for
lack of criteria that could assign it to one of three arbitrary
categories, but because it displays features of all three: to a
considerable extent, it can be seen as regional, political, and
Which leads me, in roundabout fashion, to a point: the
best way to understand our accumulated modern threats may be that all are
uniquely human perceptions; some are of phenomena which have always
existed, but only recently been disclosed by scientific
enhancements. Others have clearly developed from the accelerating
human population explosion (also enabled by science) of the last
several centuries. Finally, global awareness of all is
being intensified by recent advances in information technology (IT ).
Is ‘science,' then, a common denominator of our global problems? Although
that's a notion to warm every creationist’s heart, it’s quickly
dismissed by noting how avidly religious fundamentalists make use of
scientifically-generated technology. The only ‘revelation’ is it that
forces them to display an even greater degree of hypocrisy (‘cognitive
dissonance’) than many other humans. Since they are also clearly not
that embarrassed by their scientific ignorance, revealing it hasn’t
(and probably won’t ever) change their behavior.
Is ‘denial,’ then, the elusive common denominator?
The answer seems to be that while our unwillingness to confront
unpleasant (‘inconvenient’) truth is certainly common enough to be
thought of as part of ‘human nature,’ it’s clearly not the only factor
responsible for the current mess of insoluble problems. An
equally basic element may have more to do with our evolutionary descent
from hierarchical mammalian predators and our retention of several of
their behavioral characteristics.
I’ve often mentioned how an early understanding that all
candidates for a pot recommendation were already chronic users led me
to screen them with a standardized interview specifically
designed to explore not only whatever medical benefits they were
deriving from their pot use, but also to identify and sort out whatever
common factors might have induced them to become chronic users in the
It’s now been over four years since that project began and enough of
the data accumulated from interviews has been entered into a modern
relational database to establish that not only have virtually all of
them experienced substantial benefits from their prolonged
illegal self-medication, but also to develop a tentative user ‘profile’
explaining how the current illegal commodity market for
‘marijuana’ has grown steadily to its present dimensions over the past
four decades despite unparalleled police efforts to ‘control’ it.
Beyond that; the unexpectedly complex and changing initiation patterns
exhibited by the study population for a menu of other drugs, including
alcohol and tobacco, also allows a tentative understanding that all repetitive
use of any psychotropic agent may be rooted in a common need to self medicate.
Although beyond the scope of the current data to establish with certainty, that
possibility offers a more coherent explanation of the government’s own
annual surveys than ‘gateway,’ and also establishes how the gateway
hypothesis was arrived at.
Which brings me to the next point: aside from chronic pot use, another
behavioral phenomenon I’ve had to explain was the irrational, yet
amazingly uniform, rejection by 'reformers' of a study I thought
they would have both understood and supported. Unfortunately, the best
explanation of that particular phenomenon seems to be that— just like
pot smoking itself— denial of unpleasant reality is yet another
form of human behavior which is both more common and more
characteristic of our species than most of us seem either able to
realize or willing to admit.
It further appears that the need to deny unpleasant (‘inconvenient’)
reality may well be our species’ most pervasive and dangerous weakness;
one which most accurately reflects not only why American (and
global) illegal drug markets have grown to their current
dimensions, but also why so many of the political problems of our
increasingly crowded and interdependent planet seem further beyond
solution than ever.
In other words, the implications of ‘inconvenient truth’ may be
far more profound than the producers of Al Gore’s movie realize.
An amazing thing just happened in real time: as I was doing the final
checks on the entry, I checked my email (it’s Sunday morning) and
immediately encountered a
fascinating article in today’s NYT Magazine; one I’ve only had a
chance to skim, but already know I’ll be parsing in detail for quite
There were many reasons for me to relish an opportunity to comment on
Mark Kleiman's criticism
of Ryan King's methamphetamine
study; so many, in fact, that deciding where to begin,
and what point of view to emphasize became problems. King's study is
typical of a genre which is fast becoming pervasive: a researched
meta-analysis of a specific drug-war topic published on the internet
and/or as a press release. What is unusal is the laundry list of
complaints it provoked from Kleiman; their length, prompt appearance,
rambling nature, and tone are ample evidence of the annoyance
which inspired them.
From King's point of view, Klieman's fit of pique was probably welcome;
precisely because it focuses more attention on his study. As one who
has done similar advocacy, I know most such papers are written to
influence public opinion; also that access to peer reviewed literature
can be almost impossible for an author perceived as even mildly
critical of US drug policy. The Sentencing Project has done excellent
work, but most of it either has to be reported by, or referenced in,
the popular press to reach the public.
In that connection, Kleiman once co-authored a paper in a
peer-reviewed medical journal which played an significant role in
advancing 'medical marijuana' as a political issue. I also know
he still complains about the fall-out that effort had on the
delicate balancing act all prominent academic drug policy analysts must
The truth about both King's paper and Kleiman's comments is that both
contain kernels of truth sorrounded by large areas of uncertainty woven
together by strands of outright falsehood- and neither can be certain
of what's which. That particular reality has far less to do with their
diligence, scholarship and intelligence than it does with the fear,
disinformation, and confusion produced by almost forty years of drug
war propaganda superimposed upon over fifty years of never-acknowledged
drug prohibition, the origins of which are still shrouded in
considerable secrecy. Before one can lie, one must first know the truth;
the great success of the drug war is that it has blocked unbiased human
research so successfully that no one, especially the policy makers
themselves, has ever been able to learn the truth about human drug use.
Instead, the most compliant 'researchers' all dutifully parrot the
prevailing myth about each illegal agent ('drug of abuse') and then
support it with repetitive, limited studies of similar
populations with similar results.
My credentials for criticising both authors are based on the fact that,
for the last four years, I have been engaged in a unique, ongoing study of
Californians seeking to use cannabis medically. Since all had been
paricipants in the illegal pot market for a variable interval and many
had sampled other illegal drugs aggressively-- and I have routinely
collected a lot of other data from them as part of their required
evaluations-- one couild describe what I've been doing as market
research of the very sort both King and Kleiman, albeit with quite
different emphasis, have agreed is so difficult and uncertain. What I
have learned is simply amazing. It's also very much at odds with the
prevailing pot myth (large chunks of which I'd also believed), yet it's
quite convincing and sheds enough light on key aspects of drug war
history to show just how various elements of the myth have developed.
A collateral reason for ambient drug war uncertainty is the fear it
inspires. The evidence behind that statement is as overwhelming as it
is pervasive; yet the fear itself is never openly discussed. In many
respects, the drug war may be seen as two metaphorical
elephants; the one in the national living room that no one can
discuss honestly, and the other at the center of the Indian
fable which the blind men struggle to describe, A major difference
is that the Indian elephant has six features over which six
analysts disagree. The drug war elephant has an almost unlimited number
of features over which an almost unlimited number analysts may argue--
and a host of reasons their opinions aren't honestly stated.
I know I promised at the end of yesterday's entry (Set-up) that it was
intended to set the stage for deconstruction of Professor Mark
Kleiman's latest pronouncement on methamphetamine; and that's still my
intention. But when I started looking at the subject in detail, I found
some other things I have to get off my chest before dealing with the
specific items by Kleiman
which one would have to read to understand my comments. There's a
certain ironic history here; my first contact with Dr. Kleiman
was in 1995, when he and Sally Satel, MD co-authored a
scare piece in the LAT on the 'methamphetamine epidemic.' and I had a
letter published I chiding them for their 'intellectual constipation.'
The gambit worked well enough to have the Times to publish my letter;
it also prompted Kleiman to (foolishly, as it turned out) join a drug
policy discussion list to do battle; ironically, it was just before I
left for an unusually long European vacation which- given the primitive
quality of e-mail then available- also made me miss his entire
presence on the list without the opportunity to exchange even one
I have since read Kleiman's book
and, when blogs became popular, I belatedly discovered he was
already an avid, prolific, and highly opinionated blogger. The sum of
those discoveries tended to confirm a number of suspicions I'd
already developed about drug policy analysis and those who practice
it: we (I must include myself)) have all been victimized
to a variable extent by a fundamentally stupid policy which has,
nevertheless, survived for nearly a century because it's so fiercely
defended; despite its perennial (and abysmal) failure to
accomplish any of its stated goals.
In fact, knowing, and being able to grasp, all that didn't prepare me
for the true extent of our drug policy's perversity- and what is, most
likely, the single most important reason for its improbable
success: the cognitive function which has enabled humans to dominate
all other biota to the extent we have is irretrievably influenced by
the emotions we all share with other animals. Human emotions can-- and
do-- override logic to a considerable extent. It is those emotions
which have now backed us into a corner by allowing us to overpopulate
the planet to an unsustainable degree with little recognition and even
less discussion of the huge dangers posed by our present numbers.
I will stop right here long enough to say that this realization came
only after I'd had the chance to interview thousands of admitted pot
users and then analyze their data in a customized data base. The most
inescapable conclusion of that experience relating to drugs is that we
humans are so impelled to deny the importance of our own emotional
responses in our decision making that we have made-- and continue to
defend-- a number of implausible judgements about drugs and drug use.
It's even more important to realize that the same denial mechanisms
obscuring the realities of drug use can be easily seen at work in all
human relations, whether they involve our neighbors or people in
nations halfway around the globe. We are all possessed of identical
brains with the same metabolic requirements They are subject to the
same emotional stimuli and prone to respond in similar fashion to
similar stresses. If for no other reason, the similarity of responses
by inmates in our maximum security prisons to those of
at Guantanamo should have us all buzzing in alarm.
Instead, we remain in denial. Key revelations, like the recent suicides
of detainees seem to have been largely ignored in favor of the latest
I am certainly aware of the 'heresy' my work with pot smokers has led
me to embrace; yet the coherence of the principles revealed-- along
with their applicability to most human interactions–– is so
undeniable I must describe them to others. A blog seems made to
order for doing just that...
Although the word has never been officially applied to drugs, US
federal drug policy began evolving into prohibition ninety-two years
ago when agents of the Treasury 'tax unit' created by the Harrison Act
started arresting doctors complying with the new law because
they were prescribing for 'addicts'. That 'unit' eventually
became the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) under Harry
Anslinger in 1930.
1937,long after the Holmes-Brandeis Court had
ruled 'addiction' to be a medical menace best dealt with by rigid
federal control of all prescriptions for opiates and coca products, Anslinger used the same fear-based tax ploy to gain control over all products of the hemp plant. A critical difference was that while Harrison allowed some medical
use of opiates and cocaine under strict control, similar allowances
were not made for cannabis by the MTA.
Anslinger was a thuggish
bureaucrat whose great skill was protecting FBN turf; his technique was simple: use arrogated authority over all things 'narcotic' to block
unbiased studies of 'addiction.'
The emergence, several years after his sudden departure from
FBN, of pot-smoking hippie demonstrators experimenting with a
melange of new 'psychedelics' while urging both radical social
change and an end to the Viet Nam war gave Richard Nixon one of the
major items on his 1968 wish list: a federal police agency
he could control. Although Watergate ultimately frustrated him,
the DEA and NIDA-- both outgrowths of his sweeping 1970
Controlled Substances Act (CSA)–– became important to Ronald Reagan's
first-term decision to intensify Nixon's drug war. Since then, the DEA
has retained Anslinger's authoritative role as the major 'official'
source of drug information, while NIDA has become sponsor of 85% of
academic studies of 'drugs of abuse' and thus able to skew both
their design and interpretation in support of our never-admitted policy
We now have an utterly dishonest 'control' policy which
three quarters of the general public see as a failure beyond fixing;
yet federal bureaucrats are free to spend billions boosting as
successful. Beyond that, our powerless 'drug czar,' is merely a
purveyor of propaganda fashioned from selected data supplied by a
self-interested federal police agency and augmented by 'research'
sponsored by another 'scientific' agency created to study a
'disease' (drug abuse) for which objective diagnostic criteria are
lacking and total abstinence has been decreed the only acceptable
goal of treatment. Among the few reliable statistics allowing a peek at what four decades of such insanity have actually accomplished: over
two million prisoners in our jails and prisons, the arrest of over three quarters of a million people each year for cannabis violations, and several thriving illegal drug markets which can't be precisely measured
by standard econometric techniques–– precisely because they are
This rant is intended as background for the deconstruction of
a recent Op-ed by Professor Mark Kleiman, who has made a comfortable
living and achieved a considerable academic success by teaching drug
policy 'analysis,' most recently at UCLA.
There is now abundant evidence that man isn’t the only cognitive
species; several varieties of mammals— from primates to dolphins— are
clearly able to communicate abstract ideas, learn new skills, and
transmit at least some knowledge thus acquired to their young.
However, as we also know from our experience with human language, ‘word
of mouth,’ is imperfect. Precisely because the quality of information
passed from one generation to another can deteriorate so quickly,
literacy became one of the key developments required for humans to
progress rapidly from planetary insignificance to the dominant species.
We can also see our own emotions clearly mirrored in animal
behavior; recent advances in our ability to observe and
photograph their interactions, coupled with an increasing interest in
‘endangered’ species, has heightened our awareness of how similar their
emotional responses are to our own; a perception that shouldn’t
surprise anyone with some knowledge of comparative neuroanatomy.
That brings me to another point: as knowledge of our environment and
its complexity has accumulated, it’s become more specialized. We are
thus increasingly dependent on various authorities to keep track of it
all and help synthesize the rules and policies which determine how
newly acquired knowledge affects daily life. That the process has been
untidy and contentious is painfully evident: ‘sovereign governments’
interactating in a loosely knit ‘community of nations’ have produced a
world which is arguably more polarized and dangerous than ever; in
essence, we are reprising the Crusades of an earlier millenium––
only this time with nuclear capabilites. As we confront the sorry
melange of hypocrisy, exploitation, and violence being reported with
increased speed and efficiency from all corners of the planet, it’s
gradually dawning on some of us that along with an increase in the
planet’s temperature, its humans are experiencing a rapid increase in
ambient stress levels.
For me, at least, the obvious link with cannabis has come from four
years of unique clinical interaction with a population that’s been
chronically self-medicating with it, despite Draconian legal penalties.
That experience has convinced me that of all the therapeutic benefits
cannabis offers, its ability to quickly and safely relieve anxiety is
what rapidly propelled it into third place among all agents
initiated by American adolescents in the early days oif the drug war––
and a mere decade after large numbers of ‘Baby Boomers’ first began
sampling it in the mid- Sixties.
Alcohol and tobacco still retain shaky holds on first and second place.
They are also seperately ‘regulated’ and not even considered by most to
be ‘drugs,’ which gives them a decided competitive edge over pot;
despite its obvious edge in both safety and efficacy.
I spent the last few weeks poring over hundreds of clinical histories
obtained from pot applicants during the Spring of 2002; right
about the time I was tumbling to an insight which was to
gradually escalate into an obsession: since nearly all
applicants I was seeing were already long term pot users, perhaps
their accumulated experiences would help define the phenomenon of large
scale juvenile pot use which had so clearly developed de novo during my own lifetime. In
any event, such a study might also shed light on another contentious
issue: how should ‘medical’ use of cannabis be defined ?
I set out to develop an unbiased interview format as a research tool.
The intrinsic logic of the situation made the proposed study seem such
a no-brainer I was almost embarrassed it had taken me so long to come
up with it. Little did I anticipate the mixture of disinterest and
antipathy the study— and the data— would inspire. It’s now been four years;
and even though a lot of data has been accumulated and some of it
coherently presented to many people with an alleged professional
interest in Medicine, Drug Policy— or both— ‘stubborn disinterest’ is
the kindest way to characterize its reception. Significantly; except
for a very few individuals, there’s been an almost universal tacit
refusal to enter into detailed discussions.
What has changed significantlty–– and just recently–– is that enough of
the mountain of accumulated data has been processed in a
brilliant relational data base to repudiate federal cannabis
(“marijuana”) policy as the fraud many have long suspected it was; but
could never ‘prove.’ What is also surprising is that such an
obvious fraud could have been so durable. In fact, the implcations of
its durability for the cognitive processes by which we dominate
our planet may extend far beyond drug policy.
In a more restricted and practical vein, the detailed portrait of modern
American pot use provided by the data base— whether it is
immediately understood and accepted or not— should ultimately sound the death
knell of the drug war that teen pot use frightened RMN into
declaring just over 37 years ago.
Since the details revealed by data base analysis which most apply to
its eventual publication in ‘peer-reviewed’ medical literature
are technical and statistical, I won’t disclose them here.
However, I believe the extraordinarily destructive nature
of our drug policy makes it reasonable to at least list the study’s
1) The US has been burdened by a deceptive policy of drug prohibition
2) It was then, and contrinues to be, based almost entirely on fear of
‘addiction,’ an entity which although uncritically designated as a
'disease' by some and the focus of a putative medical specialty, still
eludes coherent definition and cannot be diagnosed with precision.
3) Although outright cannabis prohibition was added to our oppressive
'control' of coca products and olpiates in 1937 for spurious reasons and with
shockingly little discussion, it was retained under the omnibus
controlled Substances Act (CSA) during the first Nixon Administration
in 1970. The law had been rewritten only because SCOTUS, in a
trypically clueless drug policy ruling, had threatened the
legislative basis of prohibition for reasons which were
peripheral to its (probable) unconstitutional flaws.
5) The most important questions about the new phenomenon of widespread
juvenile pot use, which should have quickly occurred to anyone
professionally concerned with drug policy during the Seventies–– have
never even been asked–– let alone answered:
Why did an agent ignored by the public for thirty years suddenly become
so popular with youth— not only in America, but around the world?
Why has an inadequate and unpersuasive ‘gateway theory’ remained
both the major focus of cannabis 'research' by the Behavioral Sciences
and the major reason touted by policy advocates for its continuing
Clearly, the sustained incremental growth of an illegal commodity
market for cannabis is just one of many elephants in the drug policy
living room; yet one is forced to wonder why such an obvious question was
never asked. That’s especially true once one realizes that the mid-Sixties
were when the first ‘Baby Boomers’ were sumultaneously coming of age
and discovering pot.
That nearly all who became chronic users had first tried both alcohol
and tobacco was interpreted by the first researchers ever to study
adolescent pot use as evidence that it was a ‘gateway’ to ‘harder’
drugs. Other possible explanations, which might have been investigated then or
later, have been largely ignored while ‘gateway’ has remained the
major focus of Behavioral Science studies funded by NIDA since
its creation in 1975.
The original ‘sequence’ of initiations is no longer true and pot’s
relationship to the other two agents is best explained by the realization
that pot soon became the third entry-level drug tried by by anxious
teens, along with alcohol amd tobacco. Although alcohol and tobacco are
still not perceived or regulated as ‘drugs,’ and both are more
dangerous to individuals and society, they remain legal and loosely
regulated while mere possession of cannabis is rigorously punished.
When it's realized that another finding was that nearly all chronic pot users reduce their
use of both agents after settling on pot as their drug of choice, the
perverse stupidity of the drug war comes into even sharper focus.