An interesting aspect of NIDA’s defense of pot prohibition has been a
slow shift from reflex denial of any possible therapeutic benefits to
claims that other agents can treat the same conditions just as
effectively without any need to be ‘smoked’ and without ‘unwanted’
cognitive effects. In other words, the same theme with which Barry McCaffrey greeted
the IOM report in 1999: the disadvantages of cannabinoids
which limit their medical benefits will also discourage investor interest in
developing ‘crude’ or ‘raw’ ‘marijuana’ extracts as commercial
As a recent article in Wired,
and Fred Gardner’s report of the 2006 European IACM meetings in CounterPunch
suggest, nuance is all important. What one quickly understands
from a little
further reading, is that our real problems with pot policy may have
more to do with trying to cover up the mistaken beliefs originally
cited as reasons to ban it. One dilemma is that it may
not be possible to obtain the desired clinical benefits
from products in which all cognitive effects have been ‘successfully’
I’m betting that won’t be possible; in any event, the politicians
responsible should never live down all the human misery their arrogance
has already caused.
The first of several lessons I've learned from my
immersion in the medical marijuana issue for the past four years is
that American drug policy has been an even more dishonest and
destructive fraud than I’d ever imagined. What allows me to say that is
data I've acquired from chronic users; data medical marijuana
'activists' simply refuse to either acknowledge or discuss; with a
degree of unanimity that is itself very revealing
The second is that there seem to be at least two important reasons why the drug
war has become such a widely supported global policy despite its
multiple obvious failures (indeed it has NO lasting ‘successes’). One
is that such a policy seems ideally suited to the secret desires of
most governments to snoop on their citizens while maintaining well
funded police and intelligence services; the other is that the
political opponents of drug prohibition are at least as clueless and
ideological in their own thinking as the most doctrinaire drug
warriors–– and they have a lot less money to spend.
The third–– and from an existential point of view, perhaps most
important–– lesson is that the highly evolved brain which has allowed
humans to establish mastery over the rest of the planet seems
deeply flawed in at least one critical respect: its singular
inability to study our own behavior with anything like the same
objectivity that allowed our recently discovered scientific method
to ‘solve’ the 'problems' once constraining human
population growth. The dirty little secret, which can't even be
discussed at the moment, is that our sheer numbers may have already
trapped us aboard a planet which is simultaneously undergoing sudden
climate change while we are forced to deal with the possibility that the
international 'rule of law' that facilitated the concentration of
so much wealth in the hands of so few may not be enforceable for much
Once one considers the cascade of possible catastrophes that could be
lurkng around the next corner and realizes how little we seem able to
control the raw emotions now so evident on the nightly news, it's
difficult to believe that 'business as usual' will persist for long.
Again; the obvious connection to cannabis is that it's clearly being
used by a majority of its chronic users to deal with the dysphoria of
everyday life. One relevant question then becomes why do the chronic
cannabis users I've been questioning for the past four years seem to
know so little about the organizations claiming to represent both them
and 'medical' use?
Sometimes I'm forced by current events to tear myself away from
considering the medical uses of pot, which, I admit, has become
somewhat of an obsession over the past four-and-a-half years. The
current deterioration of conditions in the Middle East is one such
A few entries ago, I compared the American war on drugs with the
phenomenon of Nazism
which, after gaining total political control of Germany in 1933, had
transformed that nation into the strongest military power in Europe by
September 1, 1939; only to lead it into a helpless state of
unconditional surrender and near-total devastation by April 1945.
In the headlong dash toward their own destruction, the Nazis combined
several barbaric practices which, although not exactly new, added a new
dimension to both slavery and political murder while inspiring two new
names for such practices: holocaust and genocide.
Historians were quick to apply genocide to an earlier Twentieth Century
Turkish repression of Armenians; now anyone so inclined can find
multiple credible examples of attempted genocide in our post World War
Two 'modern' world despite a strong UN
resolution firmly condemning it.
In fact, Wikipedia's discussion of what constitutes genocide is could
easily apply to the treatment of people identified as 'drug abusers' in
America. While it's obvious that drug warriors would object, anyone
with a capacity for ordinary logic and a modicum of historical
knowledge should be able to see that American drug policy is less
concerned with 'Public Health' and than it is about justifying a 'need'
to identify and punish consumers of certain arbitrarily
designated 'drugs of abuse.'
In parallel, the modern world's posturing over how best to resolve
political differences in the Middle East is not encouraging; we are
clearly still hung up over the same old issues: assigning blame and
then using military power to punish 'terrorists' without any
recognition that imposing the 'rule of law' on people trapped in an
onerous status quo will always be seen by them as terrorism and simply
inspire more behavior of the type being punished. Is the 'legal'
killing of innocent children with high tech weaponry (collateral
damage) any less reprehensible than when carried out by a suicide
bomber or a Hezbollah rocket?
Certainly the evidence is that all such killings are not only
reprehensible; but at odds with the goals of any sustainable policy.
The closer one gets to the official 'thinking' of the various
governments now thrust into the Mid-East crisis, the less practical
recognition there seems to be that all current responses will be
futile. The only thing more disconcerting is our stubborn human
tendency to ignore the dangers of 'business as usual' while hoping for
Two related questions remain: how much resilience does the modern world
still possess; will it be sufficient to permit 'recovery' from yet
another mismanaged crisis? By now, one would think the
fundamentally emotional nature of the resentments which precipitated
them should be apparent to all...telling people they 'shouldn't' feel
the way they do is like telling them they don't count. It has never
worked as policy; there's certainly no reason to expect that to change
in an era when the same TV images are being seen around the world in
Oh, yes. The pot connection. That's easy; it's stress and 'depression.' Most chronic use of cannabis
has clearly been generated by the same symptoms that have made Prozac
and other antidepressants runaway best sellers since the Eighties. The
dirty little secret is that pot probably has a (much) bigger market share.
The title was chosen to highlight one of the first things I learned
about cannabis and its users after agreeing to screen candidates for
'pot recommendations' at an Oakland Buyers' Club (not the OCBC) in late 2001. I had
seen several references to Kramer's book after it was published in 1993
and may have even read a review or two, but had no more than passing
interest in Prozac or any of the other SSRIs at the time because I was
then a chest surgeon, who had yet to discover drug policy issues and
hadn't ever been actively involved with treatment of
"depression." Besides, I'd gone semi retired in '94 and wasn't writing
Today, when I read a review
of Kramer's book by someone even more committed to regressive
psychoanalysis than he apparently was, I quickly caught a sense of both
his (and Kramer's) disapproval of Prozac's potential for obviating so
much of what Psychiatry is/was all about. Yet, Kramer had obviously
been so impressed with Prozac's therapeutic benefits that the reviewer
faithfully reported that fact before adding a note of disapproval so
mild that it would be easily missed by a casual reader.
That review made me eager to read the book, but I was completely
frustrated by the impenetrability of my old sources at Amazon.com; thus
I started Googling 'cannabis, Prozac' and soon found an item by Phillip
Dawdy which had appeared both in the Seattle
weekly and on the Alternet in
Dawdy's article was enlightening in a number of ways:
1) A lot of what I had been somewhat surprised to learn from and about
patients had already been suspected in 2004. Nevertheless, my work goes
a lot further than those suspicions because it's based on longitudinal
data supplied by real people who now are organized as a registry.
2) The drug policy reform 'movement' which claims to speak for medical
users has missed the most important way in which pot is being used as
'medicine.' That includes Lester Grinspoon whose quoted complaint about
IRBs is very weak tea; compared to the stir that would be caused by
endorsement/replication of my work by those (relatively few) California
physicians in a position to do so. So far, that hasn't happened; for
reasons neither they nor reform will discuss with me.
3) The links supplied by the Alternet Drug Reporter are contemporary;
in other words, the people who wrote articles on behalf of DPA, MPP,
and ASA are clearly way behind where Phil Dawdy was in 2004.
Through modern Archeology and Antropology, we have accumulated detailed
knowledge of several hitherto unknown 'civilizations' that
flourished for sigificant periods of time, only to eventually fail for
a variety of reasons such as climate change, deforestation and
In the last entry, I suggested that the emergence of
scientific thought in the middle of the last millennium radically
changed the world. That's because Western Europe, was soon
encouraged by its superior weapons and deep water navigation
capabilities to 'explore' (and pillage) a world previously inaccessible
to them. That quickly led to an orgy of exploitative colonization which is
still going on and has often been justified by notions of
cultural, 'racial' or religious superiority.
The process of forced cultural diffusion gradually 'opened up' not only
the Americas, but the entire world; it was soon accompanied by
sustained growth of the human population despite two 'world wars'
during the Twentieth Century. Significantly; the only war with the
potential to arrest population growth–– a nuclear World War Three––
was narrowly averted in 1962. Nevertheless, the detonation of a third
nuclear weapon in anger now seems more likely than at any time since
In fact, all modern wars, including those now either in
progress, threatened, or smoldering around the world, are clearly
related to colonial and post-colonial resentments, a judgement still
not acknowledged by 'world' leaders, who can't seem to admit that
the intensity of those resentments and the manifest impossibility
of ever addressing them within the context of the global economy has
never been more apparent.
We can also see in retrospect that the avarice and cruelty of
European colonizers toward those they exploited was nearly universal;
yet, the same behavior quickly became the norm for the
leaders of former colonies who came to power after World War Two. Like
earlier imperial expansions, the pivotal one enabled by European
science also delivered a measure of economic 'progress' to those it
exploited; however, unlike them, the economic expansion
launched from Europe in the the Fifteenth century never collapsed of
its own weight; probably because it also marked the beginning of
today's competitive global economy. Human population
growth has been sustained through the plethora of scientific advances
(many of them unexpected) generated by economic and military competition. That a global
economy can thrive on greed, fear, and dishonesty has remained evident despite the
nearly constant background of wasteful open warfare somewhere on the
Unfortunately, the rigorous intellectual honesty required for success
in science and technology has not spilled over into the political
domain. World leaders have continued, to retain enough tacit approval
from the people they govern to cling to the same time-honored political rhetoric
employed throughout history.
As noted earlier, the consequences of such intellectual schizophrenia
can be seen all around us. Cognitive dissonance is openly embraced as
national policy with no sense of shame; Indeed, it's brandished; with
little evidence that those doing so are even aware of the ignorance
they are admitting to; nor do 'responsible' scientists who should certainly know
better ever speak out.
American drug policy, is simply one of the world's oldest, most irrational,
cruel, and counter-productive policies. it survives only because it
has become too politically correct to challenge; however, it's not the
only such example.
Also, because a unique study of recalcitrant cannabis users was
(unexpectedly) enabled by passage of a fiercely resisted state initiative, it
is both distressing and revealing that those with the most reason
to be curious about the phenomenon of pot use have solidly committed
themselves to embracing many of the same irrational assumptions
of their political opponents.
The title was borrowed from the late Barbara Tuchman,
it refers to her insight that governments often work against the best
interests of own their people for extended periods. She also described
some of the mechanisms by which they do so.
Never before have the follies of human existence been more evident; nor
has the denial of their absurdity by world ‘leaders’ been
greater. However, because we are also learning that nothing in ‘nature’
remains constant, it’s very likely that next week–– and next year— both
phenomena will have gotten measurably worse.
Admittedly, that’s a profoundly pessimistic assessment of the world’s
future; unfortunately, the evidence favoring it is all around us.
Everywhere we look on the international scene, we find evidence of
festering disagreements between rival groups that have been violent for
years and are further from resolution than ever. No longer is violence
confined to relatively orderly wars between readily identifiable
nations; modern wars are increasingly waged between belief systems
commanding constantly changing sectarian allegiances of the sort found
both within and between nations; the important divisions are more often
economic, religious or racial than purely national.
When we attempt to trace the present global chaos to its origins, we
are soon left with only one culprit: human cognition. In other words,
the agency which allows us to be informed with lightnig speed of the
latest deadly car or railway bombing half a world away is the same one
that enabled our species to create the mess which both generates the
carnage and makes restoration of ‘order’ unlikely.
Cognition, the modern ‘in’ term for thinking, involves several
functions we humans share with other species, but possess in greater
abundance and with a considerably greater degree of integration. The
organ integrating and controlling cognition, the brain, is also
possessed by other animals; but in demonstrably less complex form. That
the modern human brain was eventually produced by a gradually adaptive
process (evolution) was first separately intuited by Darwin and Wallace
in the mid-Nineteenth Century and is still hotly disputed. However, its
accuracy is also very obvious to anyone possessing sufficient
background in science and enough ideological freedom to think
Which brings us to a watershed understanding: based on certain
pre-existing beliefs, all humans seem to have a variable capacity for
accepting certain ideas as ‘true.’ If we return to the notion
that the cognitive abilities which created the present global mess are
also rendering its solution difficult, we can see a likely connection.
It’s difficult to imagine any phenomenon but ‘science’ that might have
allowed the acceleration in human population growth over the past six
hundred years. Although we have ample historical and anthropological
evidence that agriculture facilitated the emergence of many complex
civilizations in various parts of the world, it wasn’t until the
first clear-cut technologic advances produced by empirical science in
Western Europe produced a cascade of technologic advantages; and
Europeans attempted, with considerable ‘success,’ to extend their
hegemony to the rest of the world, that ‘modern times’ really began.
What's the connection between the above essay and the study of pot
smokers which impelled me to start blogging? It's actually fairly
direct; once one realizes that the most obvious conclusion of that
study is that our cognitive abilities are impacted to a considerable
degree by the same emotions which are–– all at the same time–– the
source of our noblest ideas, the root of all evil, and inescapable
physiological manifestations of human brain function.
That's a combination which makes their 'control' a sort of
Holy Grail that both government and religion can't seem to resist
An enduring theme of our highly evolved 'war' on drugs is the
notion that 'kids' shouldn't use 'drugs.' So politically correct has
that taboo become, most 'anti-drug' laws now provide for enhanced
penalties for violations occurring within some arbitrarily fixed
distance from a school.
The 'kid' taboo has also made most physicians, including (or perhaps,
especially) 'pot docs,' reluctant to use 'kids' and 'drugs' in the same
sentence; let alone 'recommend' that a 'kid' use pot. On the
other hand, my routinely taken histories confirm that most adults
'initiate' all the psychotropic drugs they will ever try by age 25 (the
obvious exceptions are usually prescribed by physicians; more on that
Because his patient's remarkable history contains so many of the themes
encountered in milder form in many of my own applicants, I'm
urging anyone with an serious interest in medical pot to read the
history of Alex
P in the current CounterPunch (courtesy of Tod Mikuriya, MD &
As Proposition 215's tenth anniversary approaches, a recent spate
of coordinated moves by the DEA and California police have made
it painfully clear that neither side of the medical marijuana 'debate'
has learned much about youthful pot use, the distinctive historical
phenomenon which had so clearly induced Richard Nixon to start a 'war'
on drugs 37 years ago and then later forced him to ignore the
unexpected recommendation of his own Presidential
Commission that pot be decriminalized so its medical uses could be
Because the drug war's survival as policy as has always depended on
protecting it from objective evaluation, federal disinterest was
to be expected; however, the same shouldn't have been true of
reformers, who- nevertheless- continue to reject data that could help
them salvage some of the the promise implicit in Prop. 215 when it
passed in 1996.
But don't hold your breath...
Some day, there may be an attempt to account for the lives destroyed
and misery produced by Nixon's two critical drug policy decisions, but
because he couldn't possibly have known the extent of the carnage, we
probably shouldn't be too tough on him. However, what about the legions
of 'true believers' and cravenly complicit functionaries who have
allowed an improbable policy that was failing miserably at such high
human and social cost, to avoid scrutiny year after year?
As if that weren't enough, the gyrations of the drug policy 'reform'
movement in response to recent federal provocations suggest they are as
clueless as ever. I've been monitoring their e-mail discussion lists
since they were surprised by a series of raids coordinated with a
media campaign in
San Diego last week. I'm more amazed than ever at how little
they gleaned from carefully worded posts in which I'd suggested that a
federally inspired campaign focused on youthful male users (ABYM)
had been signalled by the rash of negative reports from 'Oaksterdam'
two years ago; and how that campaign had since evolved into an effort
to deny business licenses to 'dispensaries' all over the state.
There's a lot going on, the dust is still settling, and there's
at least some hope that recent government moves may hint at some
federal insecurity in the background. For example; the otherwise
report by Professor Burnham of a June 17 dinner honoring six former
drug czars at which they also claimed the war on drugs had been
'won.' Why was there only one write up (in Burnham's home town
newslaper on June 30)? Why no immedate interest from mainstream media?
Who had gone to all the trouble to plan such an elaborate event and
then let it pass almost unnoticed?
For that matter, why re the feds being so aggressive in San
Diego? Do they simply assume the Medical Board of California will
go along with their demands that physicians be disciplined fot
recommending pot? Don't they realize that following the Board's
punishment of Dr. Mikuriya, such a strategy could involve risks for
What is most clear to me is that the feds have been forced to concoct a
myth to justify their aggressive pot prohibition. As new information
appears, the myth has required subtle amendments, which–– over time––
have made it considrably less than coherent. Reform has developed its
own myth, which because it agrees with the main points of the federal
fairy tale, has been a major factor in their own perennial failure to
Since it's also very clear is that neither side knows the truth about
our modern pot market, both may be terribly embarrassed if the
public were to find out before they do...
Amendment, little known to those who
aren't drug policy 'reform' insiders, has become an annually
recurring example of their blindness. It began as a well meaning
bipartisan plea from two California Congressmen with personal reasons
for endorsing the 'traditional' notion of 'medical marijuana' as a
reason to grant very ill or dying patients the privilege of
smoking pot. That this year's (predictable) defeat in the House was so
quickly followed by a crisp federal riposte has served to confirm at
least two of my suspicions. The first is that aside from their
opponents in government, the reform movement is relatively unknown to
the great mass of Americans.
The second suspicion is that the feds working assiduously to
protect current drug policy DO pay a lot of attention to reformers and
have carefully crafted their anti-marijuana campaign in California to
take full advantage of their ignorance. California's law, by far the
nation's liberal pot law, has allowed the largest numbers of ordinary
pot smokers to think of themselves as potential 'patients.' What I
learned shortly after starting to examine them in 2001, was that
virtually all those who would usually be dismissed as 'recreational'
users are actually self-medicating, with benefit, for very common
emotional symptoms which most people,especally young males, are usually
loathe to admit.
That concept had been a
tough sell, especially to the generationally blind, pot-smoking reform
community which clings stubbornly to the original 'seriously ill' model
their opponents are now using so skillfully to hoist them on
their own petards.
Yesterday's escalation of a state-wide federal and local police campaign was a case in
point; San Diego is the biggest city with a strident anti-pot
tradition and the carefully timed busts plus the accompanying
publicity involved all the elements of the recent 'moratrium'
campaign and added a new one: a renewed attempt to threaten physicians
who write recommendations with punishment by the Medical Board of
Whether it will succeed in provoking the Board to resume its harassment
of physicians remains to be seen...
Working with chronic cannabis users has led me to believe the question
we should really be asking about American drug policy is one often
asked about Nazism shortly after World War Two: how could such an
inhumane doctrine have become so credible? Its corollary was: how could
an 'advanced' nation have fallen for such an obvious fraud?
The answer to both questions begins with the realization that such
aberrations are enabled whenever a nation's supreme legal authority is
either persuaded or forced to endorse egregious scientific error.
Failure to recognize the critical difference between scientific and
legal standards of 'truth’ not only allows the imposition of a ‘pet’
policy in a doctrinaire manner, it encourages it.
Nazism and the War on Drugs can thus be seen as extreme examples of the
same phenomenon in two different settings. Hitler, who was chosen to
lead the government of a demoralized nation in 1933, seized power
immediately on the promise of restoring self-respect to a
dispirited, angry populace. He was then able to convert Germany into
the strongest military power in Europe in six short years.
Our war on drugs represents similar doctrinaire thinking, but has been
forced to proceed far more slowly; literally one institution at a time.
The Drug War grew from a presidential directive which suddenly expanded
an already erroneous policy; but the policy already included several
key characteristics which facilitated its implementation as a
'war:' it, too, was based on doctrinaire assumptions and control
of 'narcotics' had long been usurped from Medicine before much was
known about either 'addiction' or the relevant physiology. Also,
Harry Anslinger, the FBN's chief bureaucrat, had efficiently
discouraged any interest from Psychiatry or the Behavioral
sciences in addiction or addicts for over thirty years.
Two distinct generic fears are important to public acceptance of
repressions like Nazism and the Drug War: one is fear of those accused
of representing whatever new 'threat' they are focused on; the second,
and more realistic for those not targeted, is the fear of ordinary
citizens that they could find themselves on the wrong side of a
fiercely enforced policy.
More than a bit disquieting is the realization that all such
aberrations ultimately depend on the tolerance of the populace they are
imposed upon; all that would have been required was the courage needed
to overthrow them; a fact as true of Saddam as it was of Hitler,
Stalin, and Mao. Thus, the critical corollary is that outside
'help' from other nations or sources has nearly always been required to
overthrow them; and there is always the risk a new repressive ideology
may replace the first.
Our capacity for repeatedly experiencing such follies without ever
seeming to learn from them is not very encouraging. The pointless
circular debates over drug policy are shocking for their confused
‘science’ and stand in stark contrast to the remarkable ability of
scientists in other disciplines to accurately study an unprecedented
‘natural’ disaster like the recent tsunami, in which human behavioral
anomalies clearly weren’t causative. Lest we think there’s some IQ
difference between them and ‘behavioral’ scientists, we should recall
that they, too, have NEVER criticized the shockingly unscientific
behavior of NIDA; nor was any objection voiced when Alan Leshner,
its former director, was chosen to head the prestigious AAAP.
When I belatedly discovered the war on drugs as a political cause in
1995, it had already compiled a long and complicated history. Although
the selection any such date is always arbitrary, the most obvious
starting place for any history of federal drug policy had always seemed
the Harrison Narcotic Act (HNA) of December 1914. In most
considerations of Harrison, the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act (PFDA) had
often been held up as an example of its opposite: a ‘wise’ regulatory
measure that had actually done some ‘good' by reducing inadvertent
opium addiction among the nation’s housewives by requiring patent
medicine labels to list ingredients.
Thus, it was with some mild surprise that I recently (and belatedly)
discovered a movement afoot to consider the PFDA as the historical
origin of current US 'drug control’ policy; however the more I
think about it, the less that should have surprised me. The ‘other
in this uneven propaganda contest has enormous advantages of money and
time; however, they must also be aware of their policy’s
vulnerabiity: most Americans consider the drug war a hopeless
failure. With that in mind, a campaign to parley the FDA’s
Centennial and the public’s generally higher regard for it to
brighten the the drug war's image is, at least, logical. What is
staggereing, however, is the absolute contempt for truth with which the
campaign is being orchestrated.
Such a campaign would also explain the FDA’s ridiculous 4/20 ‘statement’
explaining why “Medical Marijuana” will never be approved (it has to be
smoked!). Even more blatant wasa gathering of ex-drug czars held on June 17 to commemorate
‘appointment’ of psychiatrist Jerome Jaffe to be the first such
functionary (although he was called a Presidential ‘Advisor at
the time and Dan Baum's 1996 'Smoke and Mirrors' succinctly explained
the panic behind his appointment).
A just-published report
by John Burnham, its quasi-official ‘historian’
on the gathering, with much emphasis on its significance (a celebration
the drug war's ‘victory') just appeared in yesterday's Columbus
It makes for fascinating reading but, so far, has provoked little
notice from reformers. Are they out to lunch? Whatever the explanation,
their failure to
note- and respond- to such blatant revisionism, cannot be regarded as a
sign of political strength.