A new scientific controversy provides us with yet another chance to
take a look at the response of the 'scientific community' to the war on
cannabis. As is usual with such comparisons, because the critical
implication involves appreciating something which is NOT happening, it
may be less than obvious to those with a casual interest; and easier
for those with a vested interest to deny.
In a nutshell, Pluto was discovered in 1930 at a time when scientific
instrumentation and observations were more primitive than they are now.
Interestingly, the respected astronomer who first described it is still
alive and understandably don't want Pluto downgraded from its
planetary status. That's only one of several possibilities being
considered by the International
Astronomical Union now meeting in Prague. Because there are several
other implications of what will clearly be an arbitrary decision, its
ultimate impact will be more political than scientific–– yet still
within Union's sole power to amend.
They are the features which beg comparison with the 'war' on drugs.
Also, since neither national governments nor various police agencies
seem to have any stake in the outcome of the debate over Pluto,
the present discussion is a lot more honest and uninhibited than the
endless wrangle over cannabis; and so far, at least, no tax supported
federal agency has seen fit to sponsor 'research' to influence
it; nor has Congress, the White House, or the Supreme Court attempted
to do so either.
Even though I have little time for this sort of thing, there are some
news items which so perfectly illustrate the absurdity of our drug
policy that I must point them out. One such appears in
Californian. Consider what's reported there: at a time when the
economy is threatened by inflation, we are engaged in a losing (and
unnecessary) war against 'terror' and the tax burden has been cruelly
shifted to the poor and the middle calss, our police 'heroes' in the
front lines of the drug war are still able to get away with
simultaneously admitting they are not up to the job and complaining
they don't have nearly enough money to do it.
One is also forced to wonder when the drug policy 'reform' community will
finally get around to asking the cops and feds to explain that
Oh, yes. Don't forget that although we are worried about global warming
and the diminishing global supply of petroleum, NASCAR tacing is now
Just over a year ago, on August 10, 2005 my friend and associate,
Dustin Costa was arrested in his own home by six California 'peace'
officers with drawn guns. At first they seemed a motley group indeed,
but to anyone familiar with the details of the case, there was a
certain cruel logic in that police overkill because they represented
every California police agency with the most remote claim to
jurisdiction in Merced, CA where the bust was carried out; however,
they were really on a mission from the DEA, because they were there
to arrest Dustin on federal drug charges and take him into
federal custody at the Fresno County Jail. He has been there ever since––
completely ignored and nearly forgotten by the medical marijuana
'movement' that claims to represent him
What makes his case a nearly unique and especially obscene miscarriage
of justice is that, at the time of his arrest, he had been out on bail
on state charges for the same offense, a substantial 'grow' intended
for medical use. He had already made eighteen court appearances and was
orchestrating his defense so adroitly that no trial date had even been
set. Clearly the development that had changed the equation enough to
allow his controversial arrest was the Supreme Court's June ruling in
the Raich case, which approved federal prosecution of those
charged with violating its drug laws; even in states with 'medical
marijuana' laws. Although the Supremes clearly hadn't considered the
issue of double jeopardy, there were posts from lawerly types to
'reform' lists pointing out that as separate 'sovereigns' each
government was entitled to pursue its own case.
So much for fairness and collusion.
Although Dustin has been held under extreme conditions in a hell-hole,
he has continued to work for what he believes in and has been
interviewing many of his fellow prisoners (nearly all of whom are short
term county jail prisoners). The following letter is an example of how
well he has been using his time to understand what is happening and
refine his message:
Received From Dustin Costa, dated August 9, 2006
Very few of those now attempting to restrict use of 'medical marijuana'
in California claim it isn't medicine. Even such recent enemies as
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and San Diego District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis now claim to support its use by the 'seriously ill.' However,
the most powerful, influential, and perhaps most self-interested 'dog'
in the state-wide fight over medical use remains the federal
government, which continues to insist that marijuana has no medical
value whatsoever, and further, is both a dangerous drug and a menace to
society. Because of the dangers it represents, they claim, anyone using
or supplying it deserves a long term in prison. The government then
offers local police additional resources to make sure medical marijuana
offenders wind up behind bars. They claim, and perhaps even believe,
that they only want to make America a safer place to live.
Wouldn't it be ironic if we were one day to discover that the real
menace to society has been our federal government? Wouldn't it be a
real twist of fate to discover that marijuana has the awesome potential
to make America a safer place?
What if you were to discover that the government has borne false
witness against marijuana, beginning with Congressional testimony in
the Spring of 1937, and that the deceit and suppression of truth
continues to this day?
Would you be surprised to learn that the biggest victims of the
government's big lie are suffering from debilitating mental conditions
like ADD, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, autism,
depression, and the whole range of anxiety-related disorders?
Did you know that people with those conditions now make up 70% of
America's prison population?
America currently has 2.2 million people behind bars, a number which is
growing at the rate of 1000 each week. 80% of them are there through
the war on drugs. In the 38 years since the drug war began, America has
become the largest per-capita jailer on Earth. Would it surprise you to
learn that most of those new prisoners are those with potentially
the most to gain from marijuana; who, if allowed to self-medicate with
it, wouldn't be 'criminals' at all?
Imagine what it would mean if it turns out that marijuana is one of the
wisest choices for treating adolescent mental disorders and also 'safer
than aspirin and more effective than Ritalin?"
The logical implication would then be that the government has been
relying on the false information it has gathered and spread with
our tax dollars to further its agenda of incarcerating and
brutalizing our poorest and most defenseless citizens in a campaign
that relies heavily on fear, bigotry, and hatred.
It is that campaign which has transformed our prison system into
our principal source of 'Mental Health Care.' If you agree with that
policy, then you also agree with Mark Pazin, Bonnie Dumanis and the DEA.
P.O. Box 872
Fresno, CA 93712
I'm sure Dustin would appreciate feedback my readers.
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?
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 &
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.
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...
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.
I’ve now seen enough pieces of the
big picture to understand that what I’ve doing for the past four years
has been defining, one interview at a time, the huge illegal
‘marijuana’ market which has been growing out of public view, one
high school graduating class at a time, for thirty-seven years. That’s
a study which became possible only because a window was opened in
1996 by California’s Proposition 215 just widely enough to encourage
a fraction of those pot users often dismissed as ‘heads’ or
‘stoners’ to apply for ‘medical’ status; and even then, only because
my own age made me just naive and curious enough to wonder how they had
all become chronic users of an agent which had been so completely
invisible to me during my own high school years ((‘45-’49) and then
remained unknown to nearly everyone over thirty until the world
somewhat blatedly discovered how much ‘hippies’ liked ‘pot’ during
1967’s ‘summer of love.’
It further turns out that because the same differences in generational
perspective which inspired my question are nearly
incomprehhensible to 96% of the pot market participants born since
1946, I’ve had a particularly difficult time getting ‘experts’ with a vested
interest in the ‘debate’ to even notice.
Also, because the great majority of buyers in what would only gradually
become a huge illegal market weren’t born until well after 1945,
the market’s illegal status was enough to keep both them and those
arresting them from an accurate understanding what was really
happening. As more time has passed and new pot users have been born—
and later become users tehmselves— the truth has been even more
distorted by simultaneously evolving ignorant beliefs and dishonest
'research.' An especilly ironic result of that ignorance and fraud is
that each side in the modern ‘pot debate’ is wedded to its own fairy
tale; a situation which— even more ironically— makes the truth seem the
least plausible explanation— and thus readily dismissed.
But it gets worse...
The 10 year evolution of Proposition 215 within California has also
been a good example of blind men trying to describe an elephant to each
other; so prolonged, so complicated, so rapidly changing, and so
ineptly reported that even those dealing intimately with one or more of
its many aspects on a daily basis can remain unaware of developments in
other areas— and their significance— for long intervals. It doesn’t
seem to matter whether one's primary interest is political, legal,
medical, or just shaping of public opinion.
Sadly; my take on current trends is that although the reform position
is much closer to the truth and retains considerable uninformed popular
support, it’s losing political ground because the feds’
simplistic message is being skillfully and aggressively sold to various
City Councils and other entities making the key decisions that will
directly affect the long term future of medical cannabis: namely,
which— if any— of several petitioners hoping to open ‘dispensaries’ in their
communities will receive business licenses and how stringently
they will be regulated?
One needs only to grasp that delay is a form of denial and
over-regulation by a hostile bureaucracy a good way to prevent something that can’t be banned
outright from ever happening to intuit the federal
strategy. Also its ultimate purpose: forcing as much
‘medical’ pot distribution back onto the street as possible. The feds
clearly hope that market participants can then be arrested as before
with the same minimal outcry now heard in states with far more
That scenario also assumes something else which remains to be seen: will
all those Californians who have had recommendations for years and been
(somewhat) educated by the experience become as docile as they they
once were when the old order is re-established?
In another installment, I’ll report how a recent experience with the
Richmond City Council provided me with the evidence that confirms this
analysis; but first, I want to point out when and how present federal
tactics were first revealed. It started with the infamous— and never
rebutted— charges arising from the 2004 ‘Oaksterdam’ flap when ‘able
bodied young men’ were filmed leavng a local club with large bags (of
clones). They were portrayed as irresponsible ‘scammers’ of (what might
be) a worthwhile program. The unanswered allegation that they
‘obviously’ weren’t ‘legitimate’ patients and the subsequent propaganda
campaign have been cleverly coordinated with local police and is
helping convince many City Councils to either ban pot clubs
outright of declare a ‘moratorium’ on licenses pending further
study. Things got a lot worse after Raich when the feds began
arresting certain activists already out on bail on state charges. All
but one remains buried as deeply in the federal gulag as if in
Guantanamo. in fact, the public seems more aware of Guantanamo than of
the Californians now mired in cruel double jeopardy within their home
Why the 'Serious Illness' Notion has been a Serious Mistake
In the last entry I promised to discuss why I think the notion that
permission to use cannabis on medical grounds should be granted only to
those with ‘serious’ diseases is 'unrealistic.'
Actually; I think it's both silly and self defeating
Although several good reasons for thinking that way might become apparent
to an experienced clinician after a bit of critical analysis,
most working doctors have already been so intimidated by the drug war
they have long since excused themselves from thinking seriously about
cannabis. Thus, even the most cogent clinical arguments I might make
(and there are several) wouldn’t help much-- and would be Greek to
No problem; a perfectly good case can be made from basic human nature
if we simply consider the almost universal bans on two other human
behaviors widely regarded as ‘sinful:’ gambling and prostitution. Those
proscriptions have also tended to survive in secular democracies
despite their perennial failure. Although cloaked in the garb of Public
Health from the time of the Harrison Act, our drug war had its roots
in the same quasi-religious logic that led to bans on commercial sex
and wagering; they simply had much longer histories in Western society.
One key to understanding the underlying connection between the three bans
is that, from the outset, they all relied heavily on the state’s powers of
arrest and prosecution. The biggest difference was that, in the case of
drugs, the first clamor for a ban came from the top down. However, that
difference is also readily understood: our drug policy, like many
others, had complex origins. Early in the Twentieth Century there was a
desire to curry favor with China; along with an increasing public
awareness of ‘addiction’ as an exotic problem. Combining them under the
circumstances that existed at the time was both logical and effective.
The next point to be made is that historically, policies
criminalizing specific behaviors which were not regarded as directly threatening
by a significant fraction of the affected population have tended to
fail. Beyond that, increasing attempts at top-down enforcement in the
face of such failure has usually tended to corrupt both law enforcement
agencies and the affected society. One would think that such a history—
especaiiy if repeated several times— might have triggered some
recognition among politcal analysts that moral prohibitions do not make
good policy; but such critiques are noteworthy for their absence. All
one has to do is search for academic treatises either analyzing or
condemning moral prohibitions as failures to be struck by their
relative absence–– either in the past, or in the modern glut of books
dealing in detail with every imaginable subject.
The only possible conclusion also applies directly to the drug
war itself: morality-based policies, no matter how irrational they prove to be,
tend to be treated with undue deference at every level of society. Once
understood as an intrinsic part of human nature, that scruple goes a long
way in explaining both the persuasive nature of ‘politically
correct’ ideas, and the undue deference accorded certain notions in the
absence of evidence that they are at all realistic. Examples are the
‘will of the people,’ the 'essential' nobility of humanity, and
the idea that we humans were intended to 'rule' over other species.
It thus appears that the ‘seriously ill' scruple is simply the logical
default for (typically human) critics of the drug war; the down side of
such thinking is that it has prevented them from understanding— and
promulgating— solid clinical evidence that our drug policy has actually
had far worse consequences than most people imagined.
It also explains why I must rely on this blog to communicate with the
demonstrably small nucleus of drug war resisters that 'gets it.' I am
still forced by history (and basic human optimism) to believe that
truth and logic are ultimately contagious; however, the process is
usually erratic and was always been unpredictable. Whether modern IT will
accelerate full recognition of the drug war's social consequences is
still an unsettled question.
On April 20, the FDA released what was clearly intended as an
that ‘marijuana’ shouldn’t be taken seriously as medicine because it
must be smoked! That statement has since been parsed more exensively—
and critically— than any comparable official statement of drug war
dogma I can remember. While I still haven’t read all the critical
comments, I’m disturbed that I have yet to see one clearly stating what
seems to me its most shocking (albeit unintentional) disclosure: the
degree to which ’science’ has been distorted to defend a destructive
policy of failiure.
An inescabable collateral realization is that many of our
scientific institutions’ have been bullied into grossly compromising
their supposedly hallowed scientific principles— without a peep of
For those still in denial, the drug war’s remote origins were a series
of judicial decisions made nearly 100 years ago when the US Supreme
Court was sufficiently persuaded by superficial and misleading analysis of
what— even then— was incomplete and biased evidence, to embrace
key fallacies. The first was that ‘addicition’ is the most important
risk of using ‘narcotics’ (that term then applying only to
cocaine) the second, was that abstinence is the only acceptable goal of
addiction treatment. The third was that physicians can’t be trusted to
prevent addiction in their patients or to treat it properly when it
occurs; thus police and criminal sanctions are essential elements of
the nation’s Public Health.
The subsequent history of our drug policy is that its inflexible
nature— and the prerogatives conferred by the Court on its enforcement
bureaucracy — were protected by a single bureaucrat for over three
decades after he took over the FBN in 1930. Other than skillfully
protecting the Bureau’s intellectual turf, Harry Anslinger’s most
important contribution was the 1937 MTA, which added cannabis as a
third proscribed agent on scientifically absurd grounds.
his tenure can now be seen as most noteworthy for what never happened:
any significant expansion of the three illegal markets created by the
However, his departure in 1962 was followed by three events which would
soon dramatically reshape and enlarge all illegal drug markets within a
single tumultuous decade: the introduction 'psychedelics' and several
other new psychotropic agents, the discovery of cannabis by a
significant fraction of American youth, and the 1968 election of
Even before Nixon’s ‘drug war’ was empowered by the CSA
reinforcd by the DEA (1973), and another agency (NIDA) created to
defend its ‘scientific’ purity in 1975, it had been on an upward
trajectory. Some momentum was lost following the Watergate disgrace;
but it was quickly recovered— and then some— after Reagan’s election in
1980. Since then, the policy has becme so dominant in Washington that
its major political risk may be that unwitting revelations like the
clueless 4/20 FDA proclamation could trigger enough public recognition
of its foolishness to bring about insight and repudiation
In that context, one wonders just when— and if— the leadership of the
drug policy reform movemment will ever ‘get it.’
Many drug policy reformers are quick to agree that “kids” shouldn’t
smoke pot; but there’s a problem with that statement; large numbers of
kids HAVE been smoking it for thirty-five years. Not only are they
very unlikely to stop, the best available evidence is that–– aside from
the risk of arrest it subjects them to–– the practice is far better for
their mental and physical health than the alternatives.
In November 2001, when I began screening medical cannabis applicants at
the largest buyers’ club in the Bay Area, I had no idea I was
starting a project which would soon take over my life. I now also
realize that I had bought into the same mind-set that prevents many
reformers from agreeing with a concept I’ve been trying to explain to
them them since tumbling to the truth in early 2003: pure
“recreation” is an unlikely explanation for the repetitive use of an
agent at the risk of felony arrest over an indefinite interval. In
fact, most repetitive use of any drug is for purposes beyond mere
recreation— whether the user cares to admit it or not. I’m also of the
opinion that–– in any sane world–– self-medication with pot shouldn’t
require a prescription any more than one should need a one to buy
coffee at Starbucks, a six pack at the 7-11 or a pack of
cigarettes at the local smoke shop. Beyond that, pot not only treats
the same symptoms more effectively than either alcohol or tobacco; it also
diminishes their use. In other words, prohibition of pot–– to the
extent it’s effective–– boosts juvenile consumption of alcohol and
I also think getting a “medical marijuana” initiative on the 1996
ballot was a brilliant political move because it took advantage
of the public’s compassionate response to credible news that some very
ill patients were being helped by it. What was NOT brilliant was
“reform’s” immediate knee-jerk denial of a political motive when
defenders of our drug policy accused them being “legalizers” with a
Of course “medical marijuana” was political.
Do right-to-lifers clamoring for a ban on “partial birth” abortion ever
deny that they oppose all abortion and want to overturn Roe vs Wade
ASAP? Who said drug policy reformers had to endorse their opponents’
rhetoric by agreeing that pot is ‘bad’ for adolescents; especially when
data from pot users themselves shows just the opposite? In fact, my
data shows quite clearly that ever since large numbers of
troubled teens first began smokng pot in the late Sixties, the age at
which they first try it has been declining steadily; right along
with the rate at which they also try heroin.
This is the first entry since the ‘06 NORML Convention
(San Francisco from 4/20-4/22) ended. From now on, I intend to
post more often and expect to have more time to do so, because I
will be spending less of it trying to persuade 'organized reform’
to see the complex issues involved from my perspective. Since I know
from experience that patients are far more likely to ‘get’ the things
I'll be writing about, it makes a lot more sense to to focus my
educational efforts on them through the blog.
Last week’s NORML meeting provided the last bits of evidence
needed to reach that conclusion. As is often the case, one item came
from an unexpected source; the other came from a plan I’d hit on only
after a last minute invitation to participate in a panel on
'clincal use' of cannabis.
First the unexpected source: it was a brain-dead and ill-considered
press release emanating (no other word suffices) from the FDA on
Thursday, April 20, allegedly in response to a request from Rep. Mark
Souder of Indiana. Whatever the truth of that claim, the timing
coincided with the first day of NORML; that some commentators
apparently missed that obvious connection does not inspire much
confidence in their abilities. As noted, the press release itself
provided some key data; but in a completely negative way: it was simply
florid propaganda echoing a former drug czar’s obvious attempt to spin
the 1999 IOM report he'd requested— but then been disappointed by—
because it (timidly) repudiated 2 key items of drug war dogma:
first, that “marijuana” has unique therapeutic value for at last some
second there’s no compelling evidence to support that the idea that it
leads people to try/use other drugs (“gateway” effect).
Thus the ballhooed 'report' was merely repetition ot a medically
untrained general's opinion from seven years ago–– entirely without
supporting evidence. What it actually demostrated how just how far the
credibility of the FDA has fallen. That s commentators were oustspoken
enough to recognize that fact and take them to task was encouraging; as
was the simultaneous
and unrelated concession by a hard core Right Wing SF journalist
that pot has medical value.
As for the meeting itself; on Friday evening, I attended a hosted, but
informal, dinner conclave of nominal ‘reform leaders’ where the main
agenda item was to be medical marijuana framed in a context which had
originally been ‘recreational’ versus ‘medical.’ Just before the
dinner, I’d learned that ‘social’ had been substituted for
'recrational.’ No objection. I still don’t see the difference; but no
objection. As for ‘medical’ I have always understood that to mean
prescribed by someone with a medical license— as opposed to used on the
person’s own judgement.
The point I wanted to make was that ‘medical’ has picked up so much
baggage in the context of pot that there is no chance of any consensus
ever emerging. In fact, anyone with much clincical experience in the
practice of medicine will tell you that there is constant bickering and
disagreement among physicians over the best treatment of certain
conditions/problems/diseases. That’s the nature of the beast. Most
clinical encounters begin with SYMPTOMS (patient complaints). The
doctor then comes up with a working diagnosis and has to decide
how far to go in confirming it (ruling it ‘in’ or ‘out’). It’s a
complicated algorythm which can vary with a host of factors; not the
least of which is setting. For example, a GP who has known the patient
for years is going to be a lot less worried when someone who has always
exaggerated their physical symptoms complains of a new one— at least at
first. On the other hand, an ER physician, who has never seen that
patient before and won’t be able to conduct a follow-up, might
feel the need to order hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars worth of
tests— mostly for his own protection against a possible law suit.
That’s one of the key reasons an ER is a bad place to go with minor or
vague new complaints. The hardcore uninsured have no such billIng
worries, and must be dissuaded by other means— such as long waiting
periods in ERs. I’ve wandered off-topic, but I hope I've left you with
a feeling for what the working MD gets paid to do: exercise clinical
judgement. Now, I'm off across the Bay to exercise some clinical
judgement of my own. The next entry will why I think the FDA fiasco may
point toward a key strategy change that 'reform' should adopt; I will
also describe more adventures at NORML '06.
In the last entry, I stated that Richard Nixon's drug war
had actually stimulated the growth of the illegal drug markets it claimed
to oppose. Why that was so should be a no-brainer for Americans- if for
no other reason than as the World's most aggressive marketers we should
realize that until a product is finally introduced to those it has the
most appeal for, it may be a tough sell. In the case of pot, that clearly
didn't happen until large numbers of adolescents were suddenly exposed
to it in the the mid-to-late Sixties- just before "war" was declared on
it by RMN.
In addition to availability, what is most essential to any new
product launch is advertising; something the 'war' on drugs has always
been able to provide gratis- thanks to the unfailing willingness of the
media to hype the latest drug scare. In addition, the public utterances
of every non-MD 'drug czar' since Carleton Turner played that role for
the Reagans, make it painfully clear that 'shill' is a far
more accurate job description than 'czar.' What drug czars are paid to
lobby for- and some do more vociferously than others- is the policy itself;
especially its 'core' principle that there can be no alternative
to rigorous criminal prohibition. The current 'reason' - as voiced by James
Q. Wilson while chairing a recent "expert" panel- is that because there
is no political will to legalize drugs on Capitol Hill, "legalization"
is a "non-starter." What a profoundly inane reason for not even studying
a failing, expensive, and very destructive policy while clinging
stubbornly to its untested assumptions for nearly a century!
Next, I'll point out how how all illegal drug markets, even the
one for heroin, had really fallen far short of their real potential until
passage of the CSA in 1970- and how rediscovery of RMN's drug war
by the Reagans, combined with a mid-Eighties "crack"epidemic- finally
solidified the drug war's place in history as a thoroughly bipartisan national
Since prolonged silence calls for an explanation and this is the first
entry since February 3rd, it seems like a good time to note that this was
always intended as a different kind of blog. . Rather than a platform for
airing opinions on several subjects, it has focused on an unusual project
I started more or less unwittingly in late 2001 when I began screening
substantial numbers of applicants seeking a designation as 'patients' under
the terms of California's famous 'Proposition 215.'
The intervening four years have taught me considerably more than
I bargained for-- and not just about pot. The effort became a 'study' fairly
early; as soon as I realized that the symptoms most applicants wanted to
stress were not why most (actually, nearly all) of them had become chronic
pot users ("heads") sometime after first trying it as adolescents.
What I now realize is that they weren't consciously trying to deceive ;
rather they were telling me what they either really believed themselves--or
simply thought I wanted to hear.
My other belated realization has been that what I've really been studying
hasn't been the "medical" uses of pot; rather it's a much larger phenomenon:
how the now-huge illegal market for cannabis began to develop slowly and
steadily right after a federal "war on drugs" was declared back in 1969-
shortly after pot was first discovered by a substantial fraction of the
early 'Baby Boomers' who were then coming of age. It's also clear that
the same market has grown incrementally as many older adults have remained
users while new users were being recruited from each new class reaching
Junior High. Finally, I also now understand why survivors of the early
'hippie' era, who are now in their mid-to-late Fifties, constitute a disproportionately
large fraction of my applicant population-- while all those
born before 1946 make up less than 5% .
In other words, what has been most strikingly missed in the ongoing
'debate' about pot smoking in America has been its sharply defined generational
nature and pot's continuing appeal for users beyond the ages of forty and
fifty. That's probably why the first histories I heard from applicants
of all ages struck me as being so wide of the mark. In addition to being
an experienced clinician who could decipher their physical complaints with
reasonable confidence, I was also from an earlier generation- and
thus able to recognize something they didn't: the fact that nearly all
of them had also tried alcohol and tobacco at about the same time
they tried pot was the clue they may have been trying all three as potential
Little did I realize what intense denial that observation would provoke.
Again, the problem proved largely generational: the great majority of active
'reformers' were also born after 1945; thus, like my applicants,
they are either 'Baby Boomers' or post-boomers who have grown up with the
drug war and can't imagine the reality of my own high school days
(1945-49) when "marijuana" was an exotic curiosity we had only hearsay
knowledge of. The only two drugs troubled youth could try then were alcohol
and tobacco. Of course neither were considered "drugs;" thus our first
experiments with them were thought of as 'normal' adolescent rites
of passage; and any subsequent repetitive use was 'recreational; not self-medication
or the possible beginning of life-long 'drug habits.'
But they were. The first important change in that dynamic was the addition
of pot, as a third alternative to alcohol and tobacco, in the late Sixties;
just about the time several other 'psychedelic' agents were also
discovered. The world was then abruptly changed forever when an insecure
conservative politician was elected to the Presidency and responded
to what he saw as a drug-fueled youthful rebellion by declaring "war" on
all (illegal) drugs.
What has become increasingly clear to me as I have gradually processed
the revelations of California pot smokers in response to focused questions
about their drug use is that when properly analyzed, that data provides
both an excellent time-line of American drug prohibition as policy and
is also powerful evidence that none of our now-huge illegal drug markets
began growing to their present size until after a minor-- and chronically
failing-- drug policy was suddenly reborn as an all out 'war' on drugs.
Any fair minded person paying even modest attention to events in California
would have to agree that things haven't gone so well since Raich was "decided"
of by a predictably cautious SCOTUS in June.
That the Court refused to deal with even one key issue was no surprise
; predictably, it focused on an obscure World War Two case involving
wheat subsidies. Whether they even looked at a question that SHOULD have
been raised by the 1914 Harrison Act- direct federal intrusion into
medical practice- wasn't mentioned; perhaps not even researched. Why
'reform's' brain trust had assumed that a recent Court expression
of distaste for the Interstate Commerce Clause might signal a willingness
to overturn our carefully protected drug policy isn't at all clear; however,
that's clearly what they did-- and the results aren't pretty.
One result has been sharply increased punishment of California medical
users by law enforcement entities at all levels; all of it patently unfair
and callously inhumane. Several activists free on bail while defending
themselves against state charges were summarily arrested
and jailed on federal warrants. There was little publicity and even
less protest. Three are still held as federal prisoners in the the Fresno
County Jail while their ridiculously complex bond procedures drone on.
One (Thunder Rector) was released on unknown conditions to a halfway house
in Modesto where he may or may not have received the Marinol reportedly
prescribed for him.
Will Foster, already famous for a 93
year sentence for medical use in Oklahoma (1997), and grudgingly
released on parole after serving over four years, was arrested by California
police as a 'parole violator.' He has already been jailed for weeks and
will remain in custody in Santa Rosa, at least until February 27th. Significantly,
this isn't the first time such a travesty has occurred; but this time
it seems more likely Will could be sent back to Oklahoma
Meanwhile, the seven year vendetta pursued by Placer County officials
against activist and cancer survivor Steve Kubby has also taken an ominous
turn. As this is written, Steve and his family are probably boarding an
Alaska Airlines plane to the Bay Area on his way to serving a potentially
lethal 120 day sentence in the Auburn jail. Perhaps as well as any,
the Kubby saga exemplifies the disgraceful tactics used by American police and prosecutors
to punish non-violent patients as 'criminals' for daring to seek relief
from cannabis. Kubby's case is particularly poignant; not only does cannabis
provide palliation; it has probably been the reason for his prolonged survival
with a usually fatal malignant tumor. The antics of Canadian authorities
who weren't persuaded by the public statements of Placer County officials
that Steve would be both promptly jailed and prevented from receiving cannabis
are in sharp contrast to the refusal of their predecessors
who wouldn't extradite a serial murdererbecause
he might face the death penalty.
One is left with the idea that when it comes to certain human behaviors-
and drug use is certainly one of them- there is very little honesty
to be found anywhere. Just why that may be so is suggested by data gathered
from pot smokers; the data itself and the speculation it gives rise to
will be aired in due time.
Meanwhile, we can only hope there is enough public support for medical
use to persuade those now in power to reconsider their current inhumane
treatment of patients.
Because I can only work on the blog during bits of time stolen from
other activities and- like everyone else- have been caught up in the Holidaze,
it's been a while since the last entry. In it, I talked about the unknown-
but enormous- size of America's illegal pot market, which only started
growing to its present dimensions AFTER Richard Nixon declared a
'war on drugs' during his first term. Although impossible to measure precisely,
evidence of the market's enormous growth can be gleaned from indirect sources:
the estimated number
of plants being grown continues to increase ; cannabis
arrests, which now outnumber all others , have become the engine which
maintains the world's
largest prison population , and the market's dollar value, although
the least verifiable measure of all, is conceded to
be billions of dollars in every state.
I'm still working on the promised tabulation of my applicants' ages;
but in the meantime, I want to call attention to a
web site I just discovered. It's easily the biggest single compilation
of information on California's providers of medical cannabis and related
services I've ever seen. In the short time I've had to explore some of
its many links, I've found the URLs are generally up-to-date and work well.
Among the various activist organizations and medical providers listed are
several I have serious disagreements with in terms of their concepts of,
and approaches to, 'medical' use. However, I don't regard the listings
as a blanket endorsement, but rather as further evidence that there is
an enormous amount of pent-up interest in a phenomenon - the contemporary
American use of cannabis- which deserves far more intelligent interest
and study than has ever been possible under an absurd policy and the repressive
bureaucracies enforcing it.
I've had some brief email correspondence with the author who is
very responsive and also has an understandable basis for his own interest.
I'm calling attention to his site primarily because it so dramatically
reflects the growing interest in medical use stimulated by Proposition
215 despite efforts of law enforcement to stifle distribution and the media's
consistently terrible job of reporting news about it.
Of course, I'd be less than candid if I didn't also admit to a certain
pride at his choice of this fledgling effort as "blog of the year."
The Elephant in the Living Room: America's huge pot market
Our pot market dwarfs all others for illegal drugs; yet, like them,
it's rarely seen by non-users. Whether they consume alcohol or not, Californians
encounter its retail distribution network every time they shop for food.
"Marijuana," which may command a comparable
dollar volume, was sold through a distribution network that was nearly
invisible in California until Proposition 215 created a 'gray market'
of sorts. It's ironic that as this entry is being composed, multiple busts
of medical marijuana outlets are being reported in San Diego. My purpose
here isn't to comment on those busts, but rather to call attention to some
of the absurdities brought out by standardized questioning of Californians
seeking pot recommendations.
Just like all illegal drug markets, the pot market has thrived
under the noses of the drug warriors; also like them, it can't be
measured directly. Thus police
agencies are free to emphasize different points to different audiences.
When seeking more money for enforcement, they cite evidence of market growth;
when justifying their failures, they inevitably claim things would be much
worse without the policy .
Ironically, in the case of pot, there is now convincing evidence that
when Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1969, its market was still
relatively small and just starting to grow. Even more ironically;
given the emphasis on pot and kids, there is also convincing demographic
evidence that virtually all its subsequent growth has been both incremental
and a direct result of the recruitment, as customers, of the same fifth
graders targeted by D.A.R.E. since the Eighties and surveyed so assiduously
as adolescents by MTF/SAMHSA since 1975. Virtually all also tried alcohol
and tobacco and many went on to try several other illegal drugs as
In a very real sense, America's still-growing illegal pot market is
the most redolent elephant hiding in our national living room.
In 1972, Richard Nixon disregarded the Shafer
Commission's recommendation that cannabis be decriminalized and
studied for its therapeutic potential. Instead; he opted to continue
a 'war' on pot- a policy that has since been expanded and intensified several
times. Marijuana possession soon became the leading cause of felony
arrests, which now number over three
quarters of a million each year. Our total prison population, which
has more than tripled since 1980, is well over two million.
It now clear that although the potential for today's huge illegal cannabis
market was created by the MTA in 1937, it didn't begin to be realized
until pot was tried by hundreds of thousands of adolescents thirty years
later. Ironically, the most important clue to their drug vulnerability
was noted by the first researchers to encounter them; however,
it was misinterpreted after NIDA came on the scene at about the same
The important clue was that- almost without exception- the juveniles
and young adults smoking pot in the mid-Seventies had already tried alcohol
and tobacco. The first (and only) assumption by NIDA-- that pot somehow
acts as a 'gateway' between legal and illegal drugs- it is still being
assiduously investigated by NIDA-funded
investigators thirty years later; yet the important nexus seems to
be that all three agents can reduce the symptoms of stress
and anxiety increasingly plaguing adolescents as life has become more
'modern' and complicated over the past two centuries.
The understanding that a robust illegal market for pot didn't begin
for thirty years after it was banned depends almost entirely on an
absence of news during that interval: over twelve million men were in uniform
during World War Two and yet the only pot bust to make headlines was that
of Dorsey drummer Gene
Krupa in San Francisco in 1943. The next celebrity bust involved
then (relatively) unknown Robert
Mitchum five years later; it generated coast to coast notoriety
just ahead of television. The important points aren't whether Krupa's and
Mitchum's busts were righteous or that they show that a small illegal pot
market had always existed; rather that 'narcotic' arrests of relative unknowns
could generate such intense curiosity.
What would become the 'counterculture' of the Sixties was foreshadowed
in the Fifties by bi-coastal
'beat' writers who also attracted attention for their use of cannabis
and newer drugs called 'psychedelics'.
The Fifties also saw the introduction of the first pharmaceuticals
specifically intended for mental symptoms. That a surge in drug interest
and availability took place between the 1962 firing of drug watchdog Harry
Anslinger and Nixon's 1968 election is significant; many young people were
being inspired by Civil Rights Movement and other movements that followed
on behalf of 'free speech,' gays, and women. Those protests, in turn, had
an effect on the "hippie" phenomenon when the 'baby boomers' born after
World War Two began to come of age. Multiple protests eventually coalesced
into an anti-war movement that would convince Lyndon Johnson not run in
'68, and critically affect Nixon's judgement; eventually driving
him from office only two years after his 1972 landslide victory.
As mentioned earlier, the first encounter between researchers and youthful
pot users (impossible under Anslinger) had occurred in the mid Seventies;
although the association with alcohol and tobacco was noted; it was misinterpreted.
NIDA's first major error thus became its obsession with validating a 'gateway'
"theory" which has never passed muster as
a useful hypothesis. More subtle; and even more egregious- has been
NIDA's failure to recognize an incremental pattern as that market has continued
to grow- let alone the reasons for that pattern. These elements are persuasively
revealed by a simple tabulation of the age distribution of the thousands
of Californians I've interviewed for cannabis recommendations over the
past four years. Whatever doubts one may have about the 'legitimacy' of
their use, there is no question they are admitted chronic users who first
tried pot as adolescents.
All but two were over 18 when first seen and 95% were born between 1946
The next entry will report their demographic specifics as chronologically
related to their initiations of alcohol, tobacco- plus the other
illegal drugs they admitted trying from an arbitrarily selected menu.
It's been over nine years since California voters endorsed the concept
of 'medical' "marijuana" (therapeutic use of cannabis). Thus two different
drug czars have had to contend with the shocking idea that a plant used
medicinally in the East- possibly, as long as five thousand years before
its 'discovery' in 1839- then by Western physicians for another
hundred years before it was banned by a know-nothing US Congress (1937--
might actually be a safe and effective medicine.
Czar number one, Barry McCaffrey, was prevented by injunction
from punishing physicians for merely discussing cannabis with their patients.
Later; frustrated by the
IOM report he'd paid for- he jumped all over the its placatory
emphasis on the dangers of smoking. Who ever heard of a "medicine" that
has to be smoked, McCzar asked rhetorically. His predecessor, John Walters,
who seems even more reactionary and less informed than McCaffrey, was all
over the "smoking" argument soon after taking office. His
medical advisor, Andrea Barthwell, went on a junket to condemn the
absurdity of "smoked
medicine" just before being briefly hired away from federal service-
first by commercial interests touting
a different route of cannabinoid ingestion (and a different axe to
grind)- and then an even briefer exploration of a Senate nomination.
Back to the smoking controversy: neither czar had apparently heard about
the relatively new technique of "vaporizing"
cannabinoids to permit their safer inhalation. I'm not surprised;
because before I began screening patients in 2001 I hadn't either. Despite
a heightened awareness since then, I have yet to see any reference to vaporization
in either the popular press or peer reviewed literature. I've also been
quizzing applicants on what they knew about it and continue to find that
nearly all first timers- including those who've been using pot for years-
are still very ignorant. Even those who'd heard something are relatively
uninformed: the most common guess of the few who had heard about it is
that it's a "safer way to smoke."
One would think the drug czar's office would be on the same page as
the DEA on pot issues- and that both would have heard of vaporization in
the past nine years; especially since the DEA has been busy blocking
a responsible request by a researcher to grow enough high grade cannabis
for a credible study on vaporization. Of course, such hypocrisy is of little
surprise to anyone familiar with the the way the feds do things; it's just
that they are usually a little less obviously hypocritical.
Which brings me, in roundabout fashion, to my main point- not
that 'reformers' wear white hats and the feds wear black- but that all
humans seem to exhibit two major characteristics: a need to compete and
a willingness to cheat when they think they can get away with it. Both
the DEA and ONDCP rely on the ignorance of the mainstream media and their
relative unwillingness to embarrass the drug war; thus their hypocrisy
is both safe and deniable. Even worse for 'reform' is that while
it isn't clear whether Walters' ignorance of vaporization is real or feigned,
neither possibility is very hopeful for their political cause.
From my better informed (and even more ignored) vantage point, I realize
that 'reform's' behavior confronts me with exactly the same dilemma: are
they that cynical, or do they really believe; that s__t?
The subject of vaporization-- and of the critical role played the varying
ways pot can be ingested-- will be explored in considerably more detail
in the near future.
The Retchin-Magbie Fallacy: practicing Medicine without an education.
Although hardly as familiar as 'driving under the influence," the phrase.
"practicing medicine without a license" has a comfortingly familiar ring
which is also misleading in most instances. Sometimes the alleged
miscreant had been educated as a physician, but for some reason,
hadn't been able to obtain,a license. Far more often however, it's someone
without any medical training who is simply impersonating a physician. In
other words, the real offense is practicing Medicine without the requisite
education and training.
The tragic 2004 death of Jonathan
Magbie in a DC jail illustrates that difference very well; it also
serves as a near-perfect example of what may be the most egregious- and
least recognized- consequence of American drug prohibition. Although the
faux "physician" in Magbie's case was medically uneducated; she does have
a law degree and was legally empowered by our federal government to order
the shockingly misguided "treatment" which led directly to an avoidable
death. She will also probably escape any significant punishment; In fact,
she has already been re-appointed to the same bench from which she imposed
What the Magbie case illustrates so clearly is an historic error incorporated
into our drug laws by two ill-advised SCOTUS decisions shortly after passage
of the Harrison
Act in 1914. They essentially empowered the nameless functionaries
of a Treasury 'Tax Unit,' specifically created to enforce the untried new
law with sweeping legal powers which not only allowed them to make
medical judgements they weren't trained for, but also to enforce
them on real physicians through the harsh penalties which Harrison
added to the federal criminal code.
The same ludicrous 'principle' was followed in the 1937 MTA which banned
cannabis ("marijuana"); the critical difference between Harrison and the
MTA- one directly responsible for the current political flap over
"medical" marijuana- was that the 'medical exception' allowed under Harrison-
for some opiates (
not heroin) and cocaine- which was continued by the CSA's schedule
2- was not allowed for cannabis. Speculation about what might have transpired
had cannabis been placed on Schedule 2 rather than being completely
abandoned to the illegal market is one of the many reasonable "what
if?" questions that history will never get to answer. The parallel anomaly
is that heroin- originally an effective and safe opiate patented by Bayer
in 1898- was treated the same way when Congress officially banned it in
all know how that turned out.
What the Magbie case does illustrate- in a particularly poignant way-is
what can happen when judges are authorized to make medical decisions for
which they aren't qualified, and for which they have neither liability
nor malpractice insurance. When I first read about it, I wondered how a
partially ventilator dependent quadriplegic could possibly have been sent
to a facility so lacking in the necessary expertise and equipment. Now
that the details have been released, it seems the ineptitude and irresponsibility
were even worse than I'd suspected; but the medically unqualified judge
may have no liability whatsoever for her lethal misjudgment.
As if to underscore the arrogance and ignorance still rampant in our
system of "justice," a trial is scheduled to begin next month
in California in which another
young quadriplegic, will be tried by his local DA on charges
eerily similar to the ones that did Jonathan Magbie in. The
major difference is that Aaron Paradiso has been successfully managed
without a ventilator; however, he is also a very high quad and totally
dependent on a dedicated team of family and friends who provide him with
a remarkable level of around-the-clock care; one which could never be replicated
in California's notoriously troubled prison medical system.
A particularly mindless touch is that this will be the second
attempt to try Paradiso; the first was thrown out on a technicality
before the Magbie tragedy.
If these two cases, both ironically occurring in venues where
voters have already approved medical use of cannabis, can't convince the
American public that its criminal prohibition- and, indeed, that of all
drugs- is an inhumane fraud; then perhaps nothing will.
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
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
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.
California's "medical marijuana" initiative just celebrated its Ninth
birthday; it was passed in November 1996-- nearly sixty years after cannabis
("marijuana") was first banned by the feds, and twenty-five years after
then-President Nixon summarily rejected the cautious recommendations of
his own "blue ribbon" (Shafer)
Commission) to decriminalize it and study its potential medical benefits.
As we now know, Nixon opted instead for a disastrous war on drugs which
soon began a series of dire changes in American society, the most obvious
of which has been a steadily growing prison population which is disproportionately
poor and dark-skinned. Parallel developments have been real declines
in state educational and health care budgets, a noticeable drop in the
performance of American primary and secondary students in public schools,
and- more recently- an obesity epidemic affecting all age groups;
especially children and adolescents.
That the medical marijuana initiative was supported by 56% of
Californians over strongly voiced opposition from sitting and former
federal politicians and bureaucrats-- plus law enforcement bureaucracies
at both state and federal levels-- evoked some surprise; but hardly the
political soul-searching that might have attended a similar voter rejection
of almost any other policy item. The entire federal bureaucracy then closed
ranks in declaring the vote a "mistake" and continued to oppose any
implementation of the new law. Thus encouraged, state and local police
blatantly denied their obligation to uphold California's constitution as
they began harassing and prosecuting the first 'medical' users to be 'certified'
by those few physicians then willing to defy federal threats and process
applicants as the new law allowed.
In general, the media has continued to treat drug war topics as quirky;
especially if they deal with cannabis- it has continued to emphasize word
play over fact and give the default to the federal position that 'marijuana'
deserves criminal sanctions because of its presumed danger to youth.
Primarily because the Ninth Circuit upheld the First Amendment and a
few communities-- mostly in the Bay Area-- provided a modicum of critical
support for the new law (virtually abandoned by the Legislature and vigorously
undermined by then- AG Dan Lungren), several pot clubs survived in
the Bay Area. They soon became hubs where patients from other parts of
the state could be directed to compliant physicians, obtain more reliable
cannabis with a greater variety of cannabis products, and network with
other medical users. It was at that point (late 2002) that I began seeing
a steady stream of applicants at a popular Oakland club and, soon after,
at two smaller clubs; one in San Francisco and another in Marin County.
I soon gained a fairly straightforward insight: perhaps the most greatest
potential benefit of the new law had been the (unanticipated) opportunity
it provided for physicians to systematically examine a population of chronic
pot users which had been previously "hidden" from view by threats arrest/exposure.
All that was required would be a willingness to ask them the right questions,
a technique that could look past their own excuses for using pot- and a
way to elicit whatever other conditions most of them (seemed) to be self-medicating.
Although patient denial-- particularly by males-- that they use pot
for emotional reasons is almost universal, a sympathetic approach, plus
a demonstration of sincere interest-- when coupled with a "structured"
interview have allowed me to elicit a credible 'profile' of pot smokers.
One of several bonuses has been a coherent explanation of the illegal market
which had been launched on its present pattern
of inexorable growth at about the same time Nixon launched a "war on
drugs during his first administration.
That these and other issues have had little appeal to the self-appointed
gurus of 'reform' has engendered a lonelier and more intense evaluation
of what I've learned from applicants/patients over the past four years.
I've had the opportunity to see a growing number of 'renewals,' the
dimension supplied by people newly educated to their own lifetime pot use
has only added to my conviction that an opportunity to carry out unbiased
clinical evaluations of drug users has been the (critical) missing ingredient
which has allowed our feckless and uninformed drug policy to gain such
I look forward to sharing more insights from this ongoing study of pot
use as they become available.
When I first tumbled to the fact that passage
of California's 1996 medical marijuana initiative had provided a serendipitous
opportunity for a clinical study of chronic pot use, I was actually embarrassed
that it had taken me so long to come to that realization (it was then about
mid-March 2002, and I'd been seeing twenty or thirty applicants each
week from mid-November of 2001).
What has since become more than a bit frustrating
have been my vain attempts to get self-proclaimed drug policy 'reformers'
to even recognize that such an opportunity exists- along with the
stubborn quality of their denial. In fact; my need to understand that denial
became a major preoccupation for the simple reason that as the scope of
the study has grown, the effort required to complete it has expanded to
a point where it now exceeds the resources, time, and technical expertise
one individual can bring to bear. Thus, without some key help, further
data acquisition may have to either be stopped or severely curtailed.
A limited evaluation of what's already been learned
from standardized interviews of cannabis users suggests very strongly that
an accurate and unbiased clinical analysis of the appeal cannabis has for
humans may well offer the single most effective route to understanding
both our urge to use all psychotropic agents and the parallel urge governments
have to 'control' such use.
long article in today's New York Times on the increasingly sophisticated
and aggressive polypharmacy being practiced by a set of educated, computer
literate twenty-somethings is both timely and helpful in making my point:
the mix of symptoms they are addressing is almost identical to those treated
(often unwittingly ) by the pot smokers I have been interviewing. Beyond
that, the medications are the same mood stabilizers and psychotropic agents
many of my candidates have already had prescribed for them; not surprisingly,
many are increasingly being directly advertised to the public in
Big Pharma's "ask your doctor" TV ads.
Although the full text of the Times article may
require a (free) sign-up for those not already registered, the effort is
worth while. I plan refer to this article in future posts aimed at 'connecting
the dots' as promised on November 7.
One of the standard reasons cited by drug czars for continuing
to prosecute medical marijuana users is that failure to do so would send
the "wrong message" to 'kids.' What the demographics of cannabis applicants
in California demonstrate so convincingly is that America's 'kids' have
been tuning out the federal message for thirty-five years.
Shannon, a mathematician/engineer at Bell labs, propounded his 'Theory
of Communication,' in 1948, it seemed overly simplistic
to some; yet it has since had such applicability and utility that
he is now regarded by many insiders as the father
of Information Technology. Thus, the work of Shannon, who seems to
have been the first to grasp the significance of the binary digit,
both anticipated and facilitated the digital revolution.
A non-mathematical articulation of Shannon's theory holds that messages
are bits of encoded data which are understood (decoded) by properly tuned
receivers. The transmission of any message involves three elements; a source
to encode it, a compatible channel through which it is sent, and a compatible
receiver to decode it. Although the accuracy of the message itself is irrelevant
to the theory; communication is demonstrated when a message has meaning
(elicits a response) at the receiver end. Impaired message quality
(static, interference, noise, distortion) can be traced to one or more
of the elements; for example, 'static' garbling radio transmissions can
be due to a poorly tuned receiver or to cosmic rays (sun spots) distorting
The universality of Shannon's theory is exemplified by its applicability
to biological systems;
which are now understood to involve complex signaling mechanisms
that function and interact throughout life. In essence, death can be defined
as the irreversible loss of an organism's ability to communicate,
both internally and externally
Most biological communication falls under the rubric of physiology;
it involves both internal and external communication, and-- in sentient
organisms-- most of it takes place below the conscious level. Genes
are turned on, immune responses mobilized, hormones elaborated, muscles
contract, and nerve impulses are transmitted without either awareness or
conscious direction. The brain-- the essential substrate for all behavior--
has been shown by the relatively new multi-specialty discipline of
'Neuroscience' to function primarily through complex neuro-humeral
'signaling' at the molecular level. Certain specialized structures of the
mid brain and cortex have been found to play important roles
in mood, emotional tone, and behavioral response. In a sense, the old 'mind-body'duality
might now be considerably better understood-- were it not for the doctrinaire
confusion sown by an inflexible and unscientific policy of drug prohibition
for the past thirty years. The war on drugs has not only destroyed
countless lives; it has significantly skewed research and retarded medical
The tie-in between Shannon's work and drug war fraud is best illustrated
by the large number of NIDA-supported studies being carried out on
of laboratory animals-- even as humans in California are being arrested
and imprisoned for legally attempting to relieve the same symptoms targeted
by animal researchers searching for patentable molecules.
One is also forced to wonder just why the media and so many of the involved
scientists have continued to support a cruel and unscientific public
policy with their silence once there was so much evidence that it is completely
at odds with both known facts and what is most likely to prove true.
*The links supplied in this entry are, of necessity, limited. Interested
readers are urged to explore on their own:
One fundamental problem in the 'debate' over medical marijuana is that
no coherent definition of 'medical' has been accepted by all parties.
Indeed, those with opinions seem to have chosen arbitrary positions for which
they then advocate without first coherently defining . Thus it's no
wonder that attempts at scientific 'debate' quickly become political
arguments over who is 'sick' enough to be exempted from the usual criminal
penalties. When one considers the contentious history of cannabis prohibition,
the earliest realization that California's Proposition 215 had created
an opportunity to study pot use clinically should have provoked far more
curiosity than it has, especially from reformers-- to say nothing of academics
affiliated with the various endowed schools of 'Public Policy' at major universities;
all of which have been claiming to favor 'evidence based' policies
since about the same time the drug war was launched.
An indirect example of this controversy appeared recently in the Orange
County Register; it has since been picked up by several other newspapers.
What is unusual about it is that one of the more prolific evaluating physicians
revealed his own position, albeit indirectly. That allows me point out just
why I take issue with him-- and all who tacitly agree with him.
I should also point out that I consider allowing a reporter's presence
at such evaluations poor judgment at best- perhaps even unethical at worst;
not only are those medical exams highly unusual, they almost always involve
an admission of illegal drug use. This isn't the first politically slanted
article by a medically untrained reporter to be facilitated by this particular
physician; a similar piece by Carol Mithers appeared in the LA Weekly in May 2004.
The reporter first describes two two young skate-boarders ("skater dudes")
in terms that clearly indicate his own prejudice. He then agrees with the
physician's summary rejection of the first one's insomnia as a valid reason
for pot use- an opinion first expressed by Barry McCaffrey in 1996. None
of the three: McCaffrey, the physician nor the reporter, seem even
remotely aware that chronic insomnia is considered by modern Psychiatry to
be a cardinal symptom of depression.
Nor could they possibly know that its very effective palliation by cannabis
is easily elicited from 90% of those I take histories from.
The reporter also shares the physician's sympathetic attitude toward the
second skater, who is said to have "aggressive metastatic bone cancer" despite
looking exactly like the first. I have no disagreement with that decision,
but I do have a very different perspective on the clinical evaluations described.
Primarily, I disapprove of what appears to be a politically correct rejection
based on mere inspection and the eliciting of a 'chief complaint;' that's
not how clinical medicine should be practiced. I also know, with considerable
certainty, that both applicants were almost certainly treating the same underlying
emotional symptoms with cannabis well before the second one developed what
is, very likely, an osteogenic sarcoma.
In addition, when the same the same physician practiced in Northern
California, he WAS one of the he was one of the few then recommending pot
for large numbers of applicants; thus many of his former patients needed
"renewals" when I began screening applicants toward the end of 2001.
In fact, I still occasionally see some. I can thus say unequivocally
that more than a few resemble the first "skater dude," right down to the
tattoos and the chief complaint of insomnia.
To be more specific, I have screened hundreds of applicants who obtained
recommendations from other physicians- some considered stalwarts of the medical
marijuana movement, and others regarded sneeringly as 'scrip docs.'
What I can say unequivocally is that there are no discernible differences
in their patients and the ones who have sought me out primarily. In other
words, chronic pot users applying for recommendations seem to have remarkably
uniform medical and social histories. Their pot use also seems to have been
far more beneficial to their health than the many other drugs most of them
tried- whether prescribed by physicians, or used on their own initiative.
Finally, this physician's age and his own history of discovering pot while
a teen-aged Naval enlisted man during the Viet Nam war places him in the
exactly the right place at the right time: he fits the same profile as many
others I have seen who were inclined to see their own use as as "recreational"
until closely questioned about certain important details.
In the most recent entry, I said our species "may have arrived at a critical
watershed in its tenure on planet Earth;" however, I didn't specify either
the basis for that alarmist statement nor just what the specific danger might
be. Since I also promised to connect the dots between a four year study of
pot users and its most controversial implications, perhaps the best way to
begin would be by specifying what I think our biggest problem is and explaining
just how it seems to be reflected by attitudes toward cannabis in contemporary
Our species' looming existential threat-one which is largely self-created,
and yet remains peculiarly beyond discussion- is the accelerating growth
of our own numbers. Human population peaked at just over six billion near
the end of the Twentieth Century; it may already be beyond our ability to
either sustain or control. This is a vexing problem; one which is at the
same time both simple and complex. From the time of Malthus,
concern about human overpopulation has periodically evoked sparks of interest
which typically then receded when one or another technologic advance seemed
to 'solve' the problem.
A good example is the original Malthusian alarm over the possibility that
humans might outgrow their ability to feed themselves. Although death from
starvation has continued to plague some parts of the planet, it has become
almost axiomatic that starvation is never a result of inadequate food production,
but rather of its inadequate distribution, usually for political reasons.
It's also true that mass starvation is almost inevitably associated with
greed, war, and poverty.
Meanwhile, as one limitation of the planet's carrying capacity
after another were apparently 'solved' by technology throughout the last
century, the number of humans living on earth has continued to grow. Fears
of inadequate food production were replaced by fears over energy supplies.
Those fears, in turn were allayed by discovery of new oil reserves, supplies
of natural gas, and the promise offered by 'renewable' energy in the form
of wind, direct solar energy and even ocean tides.
As oil and food distribution fears were allayed by bigger tankers, automated
ports, and container ships, other vexing problems of the unequal distribution
and consumption of wealth and resources were seen as eventually soluble by
'development.' A breakthrough of sorts occurred when the Cold War ended without
nuclear winter in 1989 and it was widely assumed that more developed nations,
acting through the UN, could eventually lead to a more peaceful and stable
world. Those hopes were soon dashed by a bewildering array of seemingly intractable
regional conflicts rooted in an amalgam of racial, tribal, or religious differences.
When such local wars became large enough- and especially if they impacted
the economies of 'developed' nations- some sort of intervention would occur and a 'peacekeeping' force would be left behind. In more densely populated and poorer parts of the globe-
especially those with less direct impact on Western economies- such 'solutions'
were slower, less enthusiastic, and usually attended by enormous mass suffering
which typically evoked relatively little interest from Western media.
Towards the end of the century, new fears that the planet's ever-increasing use of energy could provoke or accelerate changes in climate
were scoffed at as 'unproven;' even as global temperatures (measured reliably
and consistently for less than two centuries) began to rise and regional
weather patterns became more extreme.
As if that weren't enough, what had been considered a regional conflict in
the Middle East was shockingly escalated by an attack so dramatic and successful
that it has cast a huge shadow over the world ever since and now seems to
be widening into a wholly unfamiliar pattern of World War in which loosely
affiliated networks take out their resentments on the developed world by
indiscriminate terrorist attacks on the lives and economies of its citizens.
Clearly; if such a scenario doesn't convince us that our emotions play a
dominant role in our decision making, perhaps nothing will. At least, not
in time to recognize the threat those emotions pose to our survival.
The tie-in to cannabis- and our nation's doggedly unsuccessful attempts to
control its use- is that it's perhaps the one psychotropic agent offering
the most expeditious approach to a rational understanding of how our emotions
interact with our cognition- and why those who see their primary role as
'control' of the behavior of others are so firmly and uniformly in denial
of that reality.
In other words, the inability of world 'leaders' to get beyond their ideological
bias against "drugs" may both illustrate- and also play- a role in their
manifest inability to deal realistically with the growing threats posed by
a densely populated planet increasingly roiled by the seemingly unrelated
problems of turbulent human behavior and unruly weather.
species, Homo sapiens, seems to have arrived at a critical watershed
in its tenure on planet Earth; we are now at a stage where the biggest threat
to our collective survival is clearly our continuing inability to control
our own collective behavior. Although 500 years might seem a trivial interval
from the standpoint of the evolutionary process which produced the human
brain, it's now quite clear that the enhanced efficiency of brain function
that was enabled by the cultural development known as 'science' has
had enormous impact- not only on our own species, but on all others., It
now seems likely that technology derived from science since the Renaissance
may finally be influencing critical inorganic cycles like global weather-
and not necessarily to our benefit
The great irony is that the marvelous cognitive engine between our ears,
which has allowed our species to dominate its global environment like no
other is also seriously flawed. The even greater irony is that, although
recognizing that flaw should now be possible via to the same cognitive processes
which led to quantum theory, space exploration, genetic engineering and organ
transplantation, both the historical record and the events recorded in our
daily newspapers show us headed in the wrong direction- directly away from
the critical understanding any solution would require. It's axiomatic that
in order to solve any problem, one first has to understand it. In that context,
society's present 'drug problem,' which seems as contentious and as far from
'solution' as ever, becomes an excellent example of- and a metaphor for understanding-
the cognitive frailty I'm referring to.
Our species doesn't yet seem capable of even realizing its long term survival
is now in the balance; thus it will require some critical changes in
both thinking and collective behavior to avert looming catastrophes.
Indeed; I can be reasonably certain that the majority of humans with enough
interest to read these words would disagree with them; some violently- even
to the point of wanting to punish me for having uttered them. That reality
simply makes my point: the tragic flaw man has yet to deal with is the impact
his feelings ('emotions') have on his cognition. It's so profound that we
have yet to be able to even study our emotions objectively. Quite the opposite;
all the nations in the 'civilized' world are now bound by treaty to arrest
and punish anyone found transporting certain designated agents (drugs) with
the ability to modify human emotions directly. Even worse, the same signatory
nations have erected barriers against any unbiased evaluation of either
the policy itself or of its impact on society.
A final irony is that the nation most responsible for demanding- and
later promulgating and enforcing- that policy has done so on patently spurious
grounds; the policy itself has been responsible for an unparalleled corruption
of scientific thought- and yet it has received the tacit endorsement of
most of the very scientific institutions which should be leading the charge
The above 'heresy'- expressed in about 500 words- results from a relatively
simple ad-hoc clinical study of admitted drug users which began 4 years ago
and is still ongoing and thus incomplete. The overall purpose of this blog
will be to connect the dots between the heresy (with modifications as required)
and the findings which gave rise to it. It is only fair to acknowledge that
the study has yet to be well received by many- save for the applicants whose
pot use was explored by the interview developed to study it- and, of necessity,
only those examined after a certain stage in its development. Indeed; understanding
the resistance manifested by avowed supporters of "medical marijuana" to
the realities disclosed by pot applicants has been as important to my own
understanding as the data itself.
It appears that both the need (desire) of certain humans to use drugs- and
of others to repress and/or punish that use- are not only closely related
phenomena, but also important manifestations of our inherent cognitive
A Stupid Editorial-- and the Reply Reform Can't Offer
Reform's present disarray is-- as usual-- expressed by an omission.
Earlier today, Dale Gieringer posted Debra Saunders' entire column
from the SF Chronicle as further evidence that a rabid Bush apologist
is undergoing a slow, irregular and highly improbable epiphany on
medical use; but he only tangentially referred to the smug, terribly uninformed editorial on the opposite page. Within the current context
of law enforcement's vicious campaign against medical use throughout
California, San Francisco's ill-advised restrictions will be a huge
setback to the cause. It's nothing less than the triumphant
culmination of the campaign featuring the "Able Bodied Young Men"
canard which began with the "Oaksterdam" flap of 2004 and has spread
from one community to another throughout the state.
My reply; -- too long for an LTE , but which I soon hope to expand
into an Op-Ed:
What have the Chronicle's editorial writers been smoking?
As a physician who supported Proposition 215 in theory long before
November, 1996, and began interviewing applicants for the required
'recommendations,' at local buyers' clubs 5 years later, I've had a
unique perspective on the law's complex nine year evolution. The
most important thing I've learned is that nearly everyone involved in
the process remains as confused now as they were then. A closely
related phenomenon is how stubbornly humans tend to cling to
uninformed political beliefs.
Space restrictions limit me to pointing out a single critical error
at the beginning of your editorial and then pointing out the
absurdity of the assumptions underpinning the platitudes in its last
Californians didn't vote "in favor of the palliative use of marijuana
as a painkiller" in 1996. Pot's ability to control nausea in AIDS
and cancer victims was its most cited benefit during the campaign.
Its use as a chronic pain reliever wasn't widely reported until
police throughout the state began arresting disproportionate numbers
of the relatively few people receiving recommendations from the
relatively fewer physicians willing to even talk to them. That was
the situation I encountered when I began interviewing applicants at a
busy Oakland club in November 2001. Suffice it to say that since
then, it has changed dramatically as fierce law enforcement
opposition has continued unabated, Supreme Courts at both state and
federal levels have muddied the water with cowardly non-decisions,
and the ranks of "pot docs" were augmented by a few very prolific
"scrip docs" who then blanketed the state and thus produced a rapid
rise in the number of people with recommendations.
What I would gradually discover over ensuing months was that all
parties- including most of the applicants themselves, were-and still
are- confused about who uses pot and why. That's a conclusion which
is inescapable from now-voluminous clinical evidence which no one
with firmly held political beliefs on the subject seems willing to
even look at.
As for the hopeful beliefs expressed in your last paragraph: given
the public record of cruel prosecution of obviously sick people at
the hands of both state and federal systems of "justice" over the
entire history of medical marijuana in California since 1996, how
could you possibly think such an embattled concept "will get a fair
chance to work" if the City most responsible its very survival past
infancy passes restrictive regulations in response to a fundamentally
dishonest political campaign?
Another (clueless, yet popular) way to ask that question might be:
what have you guys been smoking?
While it shouldn't have been assumed that Proposition 215, California's unique
voter-approved experiment with "medical marijuana," would be without controversy,
the original intent of that legislation is being almost completely frustrated
by an amalgam of fear and hostility which literally defies description. Sadly,
opposition has been so sustained and effective that prosecution of activists
within the state is more virulent than ever and one community after another
is considering measures that would deny business licenses to any outlet intending
to distribute cannabis to qualified patients.
The hostility of various federal and local police agencies might have been
anticipated for a while; but that it would be sustained for nearly ten years
is both amazing- and almost certainly a consequence of the failure of either
state or federal judiciaries to protect law abiding citizens from malevolent
prosecution. Ditto the failure of the press to report accurately or coherently
on the issues. Ditto the clueless response of either academic "drug policy
analysts" or medical institutions at any level to take an intelligent interest
in a problem that should have commanded their attention from the start.
Finally- and most inexplicable of all- has been the rejection of my attempts
to interest self-styled supporters of medical marijuana in the results of
clinical research aimed at clarifying core 'medical' issues by systematic
collection of data from applicants. These are sweeping charges- some of which
I've been reluctant to make publicly- my primary reason for doing so now
is the simultaneous appearance of two articles in current medical literature
which offer hope that the situation may be somewhat less dire than it seemed
a few days ago, and may also be closer to reversal.
As noted earlier this blog is centered on a clinical study which began in
late 2001. It has been carried out continuously since then with little support
beyond the medical fees paid by applicants themselves. Quite apart from its
political symbolism, the potential value of cannabis as a therapeutic agent
was clearly a reasonable subject for research when 215 first passed in 1996,
and remains even more so today. As anyone even moderately familiar with current
medical literature should be aware, several studies both abroad- and more
recently in the United States- have recognized that cannabinoids as potentially
offering an exciting array of therapeutic benefits to an extremely broad
range of clinical conditions.
In stark contrast to the glittering promise from laboratories has been the
dearth of clinical research involving cannabinoids and human subjects. In
only one instance I'm aware of- GW Pharmaceutical's study of Sativex,
an unusual proprietary product- have any clinical studies been conducted.
Given the remarkable- and virtually unchallenged- safety record of cannabis,
it's clear the reason for this absence of clinical data relates directly
to the status of "marijuana" as an illegal drug.
In previous blog entries, I've focused on NIDA as the federal agency most
culpable for its opposition to cannabis- primarily because of its distortion
of science on behalf of an obviously political message. However NIDA
is merely the most vocal; all federal medical agencies have been reluctant
to say anything positive about cannabinoids. And NIDA is an agency within
the NIH; in that connection, it's amazing that this week's New England Journal
would feature a plea from the head of the NIH for precisely the kind of "clinical-translational" research my study represents.
In another remarkable coincidence, a second prestigious journal
(The Journal of Clinical Investigation) just published an exciting animal study;
one which explicitly supports the idea that cannabinioids are not only anxiolytic
and antidepressant, but also active in brain areas that control emotions,
and- most amazing of all- seem to provoke neurogenesis, a unique and presumably
helpful type of cell proliferation in those same areas. Although I
question the need to study human cognition in animals with far less complex
cognitive function, these observations do support my clinical observations
in humans; observations I have been contending for over two years merit the
interest and support of anyone interested in the truth- especially those
claiming also to favor medical use of cannabis.
As a final incongruity, both journals have taken a rare step in making these
unusual articles freely available for downloaded by the general public. Hopefully,
that's an omen- one which will also be of some help in provoking long overdue
support for a unique study.
Drug Policy 102: How Nixon's Drug War has expanded a prohibition into a repression.
The "war" on drugs launched by Richard Nixon's "Operation Intercept"
in September 1969 suddenly and dramatically expanded national resources which
America had long been committing to a bad idea- one that had already been
failing miserably in the case of "drugs for over fifty years," and had flamed
out in spectacular fashion a mere fourteen years it was applied
to alcohol in 1920. That idea was prohibition- the belief that a specific
human behavior, when opposed by a majority on "moral" (religious) grounds,
can be either "controlled" or eliminated simply by passing laws against it.
The idea that prohibition works is, of course, still alive and well in the form of our "war on drugs," even though the preferred modern euphemism is "control."
The essential reason for prohibition's inevitable historical failure is not
difficult to grasp: it's human greed. It has never taken long for a lucrative
criminal market supplying any banned item to develop and flourish- whether
for alcohol, "drugs," gambling, sex- or even nuclear weapons.
The history of such illegal markets is that they quickly gain enough wealth
to corrupt many of society's important institutions- a process which has
now gone on so long in America that we seem unable to recognize- or even
discuss- it openly.
In the thirty-six years which have elapsed since Nixon's malign initiative-
and thanks to the increasingly brutal and dishonest efforts of the American federal bureaucracy he was then creating to enforce it- the flawed idea or drug prohibition has, paradoxically, both failed and succeeded
on a massive scale. Its failure is measured by the perennial inability of
enforcers to accomplish even one claimed goal; its success is measured by
its continued acceptance as an essential policy with budget and influence
to match. The drug war has now seriously unbalanced American society- thanks
to its ability concentrate wealth and power in the hands some of our wealthiest,
greediest and most repressive citizens- and most recently- even
with the unwitting assistance of organizations like NORML. which represent
its targeted victims.
One the more troublesome aspects of American drug prohibition is that, thanks to its cloning by UN treaty in 1961,
it is now also an "essential" policy in every member nation. Although differing
considerably in the style and intensity of its enforcement within various
nations, the policy's global acceptance- together with the mischief created
by the international criminal markets it enables- now pose a threat to our
entire species by making eventual reversal of the culprit policy all the
A question which had long puzzled me was just how such an obviously flawed
and destructive national policy could be tolerated within a country
claiming to be the world's most active proponent of 'human rights.' The answer
turns out to be quite simple: the same all-too-human emotions of fear and
greed which have allowed every successful repression in history to gain enough
tacit acceptance to be enforced over a significant interval. In terms of
simple duration, the drug war- when measured since it first emerged as a
coherent national policy in 1914- is now the most enduring modern repression
since the Inquisition.
Over the next few days, I hope to cite some recent examples of the policy's
continued malign dominance of American politics- together with some hopeful
evidence that its ultimate unmasking as a breathtaking scientific fraud may
be a bit closer than we now realize.
Back in the Spring of 2001, when I finally began to realize what had probably
impelled the medical cannabis applicants I was then interviewing to behave
as they had during adolescence- and the critical links between their
frequent initiations of other drugs, their school and family experiences
and their chronic adult pot use- I had an inspiration for a Tee shirt illustrating
at least one of the specific symptom clusters I was also beginning to recognize.
At about the same time, I began half-seriously opining privately that ADD
could easily stand for "Absent Daddy Disorder."
It wasn't until 2004 that one of my patients- Dustin Costa
- who would soon become a colleague and inspiration, took my Tee shirt
idea a long step further by soliciting and purchasing an attractive design.
Since then, several hundred have been distributed and I have started to receive
informal feed-back from those who have worn or distributed them. They generally
fall into four categories:
1) Blacks living in a poor, predominantly black neighborhoods report that outspoken
support for the message is almost universal.
2) In a Central Valley town which is narrowly split over support for the
idea of medical marijuana, the shirt frequently provoke discussions by
its implied endorsement of youthful pot use.
3) An activist who had worn his to a rally on behalf of medical marijuana
told me that pot smoking male activists, who had never themselves applied
for patient status, also disagreed with what they saw as the implied message
that "kids" should smoke pot.
4) In my own experience- wearing it to supermarkets and other venues in a
liberal, upper middle-class suburb, most people simply pretend not to notice.
18 months ago, the negative response from mmj supporters would have surprised
and irritated me; now it doesn't. I also now understand that the same human
emotional needs which impel some people to try pot, and several other drugs
during adolescence probably induce others to treat similar symptoms by working
to punish drug use and many other behaviors they consider objectionable (sinful).
Other behavioral responses to the same symptoms may be a variety of
repetitive behaviors such as yoga, meditation, religion, gambling, hobbies,
athletics, and overeating. In other words, my recent experience, has
enlarged my perspective; I now regard any repetitive drug use as but
one of several ways we humans may find relief from the emotional symptoms
generated in so many of us by having to survive in an increasingly crowded
and relentlessly competitive world.
Dr. O'Connell's Statement to Medical Board of California
Although, cannabis had been widely used as an herbal palliative in Western
Medicine for nearly a century, all prescriptive use was abruptly ended by
passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Thus, whatever evidence
persuaded California voters to pass Proposition 215 in 1996
must have been provided by individuals engaging in what was then-- of necessity--
illegal self-medication during the late Eighties and early Nineties.
In fact, the disclosure of those illegal experiments by Doblin and Kleiman
in the peer-reviewed medical literature in 1991 had called attention to the
phenomenon and also provided some initial impetus for what eventually became
a successful initiative.
After I began screening cannabis applicants in late 2001, the discovery that
nearly all were already chronic users who had originally tried it during
adolescence-- at about the same time most had also tried alcohol and tobacco--
led me to develop a structured interview aimed at a better understanding
of that same self-medication phenomenon. Over three thousand such encounters
have now been recorded and enough data from over 1200 structured interviews
has been analyzed to permit the admittedly startling conclusions I will share
with you this morning:
1) Demographic data amply confirm that a vigorous illegal "marijuana" market
didn't begin until cannabis was first made available to large numbers of
adolescents and young adults during the 'hippie' phenomenon of the late Sixties.
2) The subsequent sustained growth of that illegal market, although difficult
to measure precisely, is widely acknowledged. Those same applicant demographics
also suggest that the continued growth has resulted from chronic use by an
unknown fraction of the teen initiates faithfully tracked by annual federal
surveys since 1975.
3) The striking temporal association between initiation of cannabis on the
one hand, and tobacco and alcohol on the other, first noted by researchers
in the early Seventies was confirmed; however, the "sequence" they also noted
in which cannabis was usually the third agent tried no longer obtains. All
three are now tried at similar ages-- and in random order.
4) Those findings, together with an almost universal acknowledgment of similar
emotional symptoms, suggests that rather than acting as a "gateway" to other
drugs, cannabis has, since the late Sixties, become a third agent tried unwittingly
along with alcohol and tobacco by troubled adolescents-- and for similar
In other words, what the three agents have in common is an ability to treat
symptoms of adolescent angst and dysphoria; and thus function as self-medications.
5) That interpretation is further supported by several other findings developed
by systematic inquiries into their family and school experiences- plus their
initiations of a menu other illegal drugs- including both psychedelics and
6) There is also startling-- yet conclusive-- evidence that once they had
settled on cannabis as their self-medication of choice, this population then
dramatically diminished its consumption of both alcohol and tobacco in sustained
fashion. Federal statistics gathered since 1970 also show a gradual parallel
decrease in the consumption of both-- plus some related improvements in health
7) The bottom line seems to be that in addition to its better-known ability
to relieve several somatic symptoms, cannabis has also been a beneficial
psychotropic medication for many of its chronic users since their adolescence.
This unique clinical evidence also suggests that cannabis was a benign and
safe anxiolytic/antidepressant long before any pharmaceutical agents were
even available for those purposes-- and that it still outperforms most of
them in both efficacy and safety.
This evidence further suggests that current attitudes toward cannabis are
not only profoundly mistaken; but that continued aggressive prohibition inflicts
great damage on both individuals and society.
My primary reason for sharing this information with you at this early phase
is precisely because it is so radically at odds with both official policy
and popular beliefs; a collateral reason is to point out that gathering such
data wasn't even possible until 215 was passed.
Finally, because the 'medical marijuana' laws passed by other states have
been so restrictive, the acquisition of such data has only been possible
A more detailed account of these findings is available at:
Rehnquist's Placydil habit, the drug war and human behavior
I consider my self reasonably well-read when it comes to drugs and public
figures, but Jack Shafer's revelation that the late Chief Justice once had a substance abuse problem caught me by surprise.
However, his complaint that the problem had been--and still is--
ignored by the media did not. In fact,
Shafer's articulate and detailed parsing of Rehnquists's Placydil
habit will predictably excite as little interest from 'mainstream'
media and Academia as Nixon's weakness for booze, Bennetts's for tobacco.
food, and gambling-- or Limbaugh's for opioids. yet it's also
an accurate-- albeit unwitting-- metaphor for the multiple layers of
duplicity and self-deception required for widespread endorsement of
our wasteful and destructive policy of drug prohibition-- to
say nothing of the political power that policy exerts-- thanks to backing
from from both major parties.
Its well-documented sins and failures have excited little honest interest
from institutions allegedly devoted to policy analysis; even as the
policy itself has been accepted as necessary for the public welfare--
almost from its historic origins as a deceptive "tax" (Harrison Acy)
in 1914. In a very real sense, the spurious reasoning behind
Harrison (which must be imputed because it was not stated until the CSA rewrote
our drug policy in 1970) is that prohibition is the ONLY possible way
to deal with the imagined evils of addiction. That's still its 'logic, which
remains just as bereft bereft of scientific confirmation as ever. Yet the
drug ware continues to be accepted by the public at large and tacitly endorsed
by most of our institutions. Indeed; in the case of cannabis and "kids,"
it's even endorsed by 'organized reform'..
Isn't it at least possible that such pervasive delusional thinking
is more representative of deeply ingrained patterns of human behavior than
reflective of any 'evidence-based' cognitive process? Isn't it possible--indeed,
even likely-- that what has enabled US drug policy to gain its present
world-wide acceptance may be more dependent on a specific human cognitive
frailty than on responsible thinking and planning?
That the drug war may simply be another instance of the now-obvious failure
of our species to come up with any strategies (aside from war, hypocrisy,
and denial) for coping with its most pressing problems is both depressing
and a real possibility; however there are no indications that the growing
list of dire climatic portents is being heeded-- even as we seek to
rebuild after Katrina.
Even though I agree with just about everything you write, I believe it
is counter-productive to be seen as in any way advocating that
adolescents use marijuana. I believe the drug war cheerleaders
will get hold of this and claim that you and other reformers advocate
that children use all kinds illegal drugs. In politics, perception
I believe that you wrote several years ago that the drug war is
essentially a propaganda war. Therefore, we should not give
the opposition any ammunition...
Although I have never recommended that "kids use pot," the fact is
that they have been doing so in large numbers since 1967, the
comparative benefits documented in this population make approval of
(some) juvenile a use logical inference. Nearly all the California
pot users studied had tried it in high school (or before). Actually,
I might have once agreed with you; before I began to screen patients
I was then just as ignorant as the federal government so
obviously remains. The feds a have become upset because the
(much trumpeted) decline in pot initiation rates recorded
between 1979 and 1992 has been replaced by a sustained upward trend.
Now, at least half (probably more) of the nation's adolescents now
probably try pot before turning 19.
Moreover, my demographic profile of chronic users (which they clearly
don't have) demonstrates that the age at which "kids" first try
pot declined rapidly after 1975 and now almost exactly matches
the age at which (nearly all) also try alcohol and tobacco (14.9 years).
Use of alcohol and tobacco by this population also declined
significantly once their use of cannabis became chronic, thus strongly
implying a protective effect against use of the other two-- both
acknowledged to be more physically harmful.
Not only is this information based on the systematic study of a real
population, it directly challenges countervailing government dogma
based entirely on false assumptions and supported by inferential studies
of the only kind allowed under the 'rules' NIDA sets for drug research.
For those reasons, I suspect the government would have little interest
in advertising my data by attacking it. Now; if only drug policy
"reformers" could grasp the same concept...
Any reader with a specific question about either drug use or drug
policy is encouraged to ask; I'll probably have an opinion and should be
able to point towards sources of reliable information. In any event, it's
a chance to both learn and share knowledge.
I've already mentioned Professor Mark Kleiman several times; he is the UCLA school of Public Policy's
leading drug policy analyst. As such, he commands considerable attention
in national policy discussions (although no mere analyst ever exerts much
influence over decisions-- but that's another story). He has also been an
indefatigable blogger, displaying a wide range of political and other interests
for several years.
That should allow me to use both his current postings and his archives to
make some specific points about American drug policy: not only how such a
calamitous error has evolved; but how its critical ability to (nearly) immunize
itself against public scrutiny has been part of its armor- and how that ability
was radically expanded after a spurious "war on drugs" was declared thirty-five
To begin with my own experience, my first intense exposure to drug policy
details was motivated by a strong suspicion that the policy itself was mistaken;
thus I was open to what I can (only now) see as the most objective primary
and secondary sources then available. My deepening understanding of the
logic and rhetorical tactics of policy defenders also allows me to understand
that those sources would have been relatively inaccessible to anyone starting
with a pro-government bias.
A more general corollary, only recently appreciated-- and which I have come
to regard as a critical factor in human thought and behavior-- is that whatever
we humans are able to accept as "truth" is critically influenced by what
we already believe. This is a concept Leon Festinger's mid-Fifties notion
of "cognitive dissonance"
attempts (with limited success) to deal with. To understood CD as a
key element in denial is quite useful. Any attempt to parse it beyond that
by becoming immersed in Festinger's original "experiment" becomes counter-
productive and a source of confusion.
The bottom line is that we all process new information in terms of what we
think we know for sure (observations we believe credible on the basis of
objective evidence) and what we believe-- but have no way of proving. That's
my way of understanding the critical difference between a scientific
mind-set (which holds honest skepticism to be the highest virtue) and a religious
one (which must ultimately regard blind faith as the highest virtue).
The critical implication is that, ideally, any 'secular democracy'
should-- to the extent possible-- abjure religious thinking as a primary
basis for its policy decisions.
Any prohibition enforced by police and punishable by law can immediately
be seen as based mostly on religious thinking. The degree to which the legal
system is able review and modify sentences opens the door for empirical (non-religious)
thinking to modify policy.
When one applies those ideas to specific American policies, one finds huge
differences in the degree to which they have been influenced- both in formulation
and execution- by each type of thinking. My contention is that our
"drug war" is one of the most egregious examples of a public policy dominated
by purely religious thinking to be found in any secular democracy. In other
words, drug war dogma is to the feds what Islam is to the Talliban;
and-- just as with Islam-- there's always some wiggle room for adherents
claiming to represent a less fundamentalist view.
That's probably enough for today; more examples from Professor Kleiman very
soon. BTW, he and I agree on many other issues; particularly GWB in general
and the execrable White House response to Katrina in particular...
American drug prohibition-- known as the War on Drugs after its enabling
legislation was rewritten by the First Nixon Administration in 1970--
actually began with the Harrison Act of 1914.
A singularly dishonest bit of legislation; Harrison was sold to Congress
as a tax measure intended to monitor the use of medications made from the
opium poppy and the coca leaf. What was unique was is arrogation of a federal
control over physicians-- backed by criminal penalties-- for what actually
amounted to disputed professional judgement. The real intent was soon revealed
when Treasury agents began arresting physicians who were prescribing for
"addicts" for a fee-- but in technical compliance with the new law. Selective
prosecutions of two particularly lurid cases induced the celebrated Holmes-Brandeis
Court to rule narrowly (5-4) in favor of the government.
Those decisions not only established the (still) dubious precedent of allowing
a federal prosecutor to directly challenge the medical judgement of a licensed
physician; it also allowed harsh criminal penalties and converted a nominal
tax law into de Jure drug prohibition. The medical profession was so thoroughly
cowed by its ordeal it was persuaded to abandon addicts and their treatment
to the tender mercies of what eventually became the Federal Bureau of Narcotics
under Harry Anslinger in 1930. During his long tenure (1930-1962),
Anslinger allowed no competitive sources of information on "narcotics." It's
hardly surprising that Interest in-- and research on-- addiction was discouraged.
Nixon's declaration of a "drug war" in 1969 followed the critical hiatus
(1962-68) after Anslinger's departure from the FBN, during which several
new 'psychedelic' agents were popularized, the Supreme Court overturned the
MTA, and the youthful "hippie revolution" combined with protests against
the Viet Nam War to disperse cannabis ("marijuana") throughout the nation's
Since then, drug "control" has remained a jealously protected federal doctrine,
but the mode of that protection has changed dramatically from the uninformed
authoritarian blackout of science by Anslinger-- completely bereft of medical
or scientific basis. Policy now relies on the mountain of peer-reviewed 'political science' funded by NIDA's since its founding in 1975.
As noted earlier, NIDA is the antithesis of what science is supposed to be
about- as I hope eventually to demonstrate by several specific examples--
however, this post is to call attention to another abomination: the
Bush Administration's recent spate of criminal prosecutions of "pain" doctors;
a reprise of the same tactics which allowed Harrison to evolve into the massive
fraud we now call the "war on drugs."
It's timely because of today's announcement that Dr. Cecil Knox,
a 56 year-old pain specialist in Virginia, has finally succumbed to almost
four years of federal prosecution (persecution) which had produced a hung
jury (11-1 for outright acquittal) in 2003. He is finally accepting a plea
bargain in lieu of a retrial. Significantly; it was only after treatment
for his recurrent lymphoma had produced a remission that the government elected
to retry him. His assets had been frozen and the four charges he's pleading
to were not even in in the original indictment; yet none of that appears
in the government's obnoxiously triumphant press release.
I have never met Doctor Knox, but two things are crystal clear from the
newspaper accounts: he's no criminal, and whatever irregularities he may
have been guilty of would have been better dealt dealt with through either
peer review or tort (malpractice) procedures; and that's clearly what would
have happened if had he had been anything other than a pain specialist. He's also not the only such specialist undergoing a similar ordeal.
What we are now seeing from our arrogant and dishonest "drug control" bureaucracy
is a modern version of the same witch-hunt that started this mess over ninety
The players may have changed; but the dishonesty remains the same.
Although this blog is nominally focused on drug policy and related issues, the amazing events now taking place on national television deserve some notice-- especially when one factors in that an emphasis on "law and order" now seems the most important aspect of the (incredibly tardy) White House response. This was written before noon on Thursday and was also posted to a drug policy discussion forum:
We are now witnessing an historic melt-down of state and local government credibility in real time: Government failure, at all levels-- to plan adequately for, or deal effectively with, a type of disaster which has been warned against in the abstract for years-- and had been predicted in this instance for days-- can no longer be hidden from view. Every pathetic ad-hoc measure that's proposed-- only to fail-- (like transferring unwilling inmates from the Super Dome to the Astrodome while refugees already in Houston are being turned away) is merely the most visible. It's also just another example of the same mind-set which has given us wasteful and destructive "wars" on drugs and terror as substitutes for rational, evidence based policies.
Even as this is being written, Scott McClellan is (predictably) emphasizing that "lawlessness" by those who have been starving, suffering life threatening thirst, and marooned in a pestilential hell-hole for over three full days "will not be tolerated."
What's next; a "shoot on sight" policy towards looting? How will we ever know who died from Katrina and who were victims of official ineptitude?
Almost completely neglected: what will be the long term psychological effects of these horrific experiences on the survivors-- especially children?
Significantly, the personal anger and frustration of CNN reporters on the spot is being aired-- along with the anger and desperate plight of those still trapped in the city. Current 'policy' seems to be to allow chaos to prevail until "order" is somehow spontaneously restored. These issues are now being parsed in real time by an on-the-spot reporter and his anchor...
What will be most interesting over the next few months are the answers to four (closely related) additional questions:
1) to what extent will the credibility of the Bush Administration survive this fiasco?
2) To what extent will the US Economy be adversely affected?
3) To what extent will civil rights/liberties be restored after the 'emergency' is over?
4) Who will decide when the emergency actually !S over?
Many drug policy reformers are quick to agree that "kids" shouldn't smoke pot; but there's a problem with that statement; large numbers of them have been smoking it for thirty-five years. Not only are kids unlikely to stop that behavior, the best available evidence is that-- aside from risk of arrest-- the practice is far better for their mental and physical health than the alternative agents they are drawn to.
In November 2001, when I began screening medical cannabis applicants at the largest buyers' club in the Bay Area, I had no idea I was starting a project which would soon take over my life. I now also realize that I'd bought into the same mind-set that prevents many reformers from agreeing with a concept I've been trying to explain to them since I'd tumbled to it in early 2003: pure "recreation" is an unlikely explanation for repetitive use of an agent at the risk of felony arrest over an extended interval. In fact, most repetitive use of any drug has a more serious purpose than mere recreation. I'm also of the opinion that-- in any sane world-- self-medication with pot shouldn't require a prescription any more than one should need one to buy coffee at Starbucks, a six pack at the 7-11 or a pack of cigarettes at the local smoke shop. Beyond that, pot not only treats the same symptoms more effectively than alcohol and tobacco do; it also diminishes their use. In other words, prohibition of pot-- to the extent it's effective-- boosts juvenile consumption of both of the more dangerous agents.
I also think getting a "medical marijuana" initiative on California's 1996 ballot was a brilliant political move because it took advantage of the public's compassionate response to credible evidence that some very ill patients were being helped by it. What was NOT a brilliant was "reform's" knee-jerk denial of any political motive when every deputy sheriff in California began accusing us being "legalizers."
Of course "medical marijuana" was/is political.
Do right-to-lifers clamoring for a ban on "partial birth" abortion ever deny they are working to outlaw all abortion? Who said drug policy reformers had to endorse their opponents' rhetoric by agreeing pot is "bad" for adolescents; especially when data from pot users themselves shows just the opposite is true? In fact, the latest analysis shows quite clearly that ever since large numbers of troubled teens first began smoking pot in the late Sixties, the age at which they first try it has been declining steadily-- right along with the rate at which they also tried heroin.
As I've often pointed out, lack of the need to register when applying, plus
the "liberal" wording of California's Proposition 215 were precisely
what had induced a substantial population of chronic users to come forward--
and thus become available for my study. The corollary is that the much more
stringent limitations agreed to by sponsors of the medical pot
laws passed by all other states have so limited the potential applicants
as to make similar studies almost useless; at least in terms of demonstrating
any possible emotional component in their pot use (although I've had some
further thoughts on that subject and will air them in due time).
The most restrictive (and ridiculous) law of all is Vermont's,
recently passed by its legislature and signed by Dr. Dean; it specifies that
only patients with a confirmed diagnosis of cancer, AIDS or MS may use pot
legally. But even that was too liberal for Vermont cops, who like most
other local police, are in agreement with the feds and will try to punish
medical users any way they can.
However, all is not lost. What Vermont's law lacks in scientific potential,
may be offset by its political value in calling attention to federal duplicity--
especially now, when current hearings in DC demonstrate the degree to
which DEA (and NIDA) will collude to frustrate research.
In a similar vein, if the execrable Raich "decision" had any value; it may
have been in encouraging journalists like New York Times columnist John Tierney
to study and comment intelligently on drug policy issues. It's clear that
entrenched bureaucracies (I include our Judicial system) will not change
drug policy unless forced to by an informed public that finally understands
how much the drug war really costs-- in both human and financial terms.
Some time ago (August 19, to be exact) I promised additional commentary on
certain drug policy manipulations of the first Nixon Administration which
have profoundly affected American life ever since.
Anslinger sponsored the Marihuana Tax Act;
but as noted earlier, the market it gave rise to didn't really get off the
ground until certain other developments coalesced in the mid-Sixties to popularize
pot; first with twenty-something protestors of various stripes who had, in
turn, been inspired by Fifties Beats and the Civil Rights Movement to begin
their own protests on behalf of Free Speech or Gay and Womens' Rights. The
culmination of all those protests seems to have been the anti-Viet Nam war
and youthful "hippie" movements which finally introduced pot to White American
adolescents on a national scale between 1966 and 1975.
Once established within the reach of those most likely to be critically influenced
by its power to allay adolescent angst at about the same time they were also
experimenting with its natural rivals-- alcohol and tobacco-- pot was in
High Schools to stay and the illegal pot market has clearly been growing
steadily ever since. Whether such use is called "recreational" or "medical"
wouldn't be at all important if pot weren't illegal; that's the
It wasn't so much that Nixon had any particular interest in drugs; it was
just that history and fate had conspired to provide him with an opportunity
to declare an endlessly losing "war" on them and several like-minded
constituencies have since learned to wage it for their own selfish reasons.
Now we are embroiled in yet another potentially endless war on an idea because
another insecure (ex) boozer in the Oval Office was desperately in need of
a way to establish control. The war on terror
was a no-brainer for the Bushies; too bad for them (and the victims themselves)
the casualties are returning in coffins and med-evac flights; they can't
be buried in a gulag like (some) victims of the drug war.
reported on a speech in which Justice John Paul Stevens confessed regret
at having to rule in favor of the federal government's ability to enforce
its narcotics laws. "I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with
the policy choice made by the millions of California voters," he said. But
given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce,
he added, "our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was
In the other item [see * below], the Sacramento Bee's Washington reporter--
probably because of the ridicule a DEA lawyer had heaped on well-known (state)
Senator John Vasconcellos-- who was testifying on behalf of a Massachusetts
researcher wanting to grow decent pot for research-- reported extensively
on an otherwise obscure DC hearing. In passing, he also described how
a second DEA lawyer assailed Rick Doblin over his own pot use *.
My distress is at the gross error in the government position Stevens voted
last June to uphold, the 'reform' position Rick Doblin typifies in
characterizing his own pot use as "recreational," and the failure of the
media to recognize that the DEA's adamant resistance to any unbiased research
is the very antithesis of the "science" that our drug policy claims to be
The greatest irony of all is that the main reason "kids" (and adults) use
pot on a regular basis is that it treats their injured self-esteem more safely
and effectively than any of the prescribed psychotropic medications-- as
well as tobacco and alcohol.
More on Kleiman's and Satel's gyrations around the pot vs meth issue:
Dr. Kleiman's brief 8/19 blog entry
cites Kate Zernike's article (the one quoting him) in taking a swipe at Joe
Califano for echoing John Walters' tough stance on medical marijuana. it's
interesting to see how prohibitionists break ranks in public. Without mentioning
Satel's NYT piece, Kleiman staked out the same position, i.e., it's a mistake
to crack down on medical marijuana at the expense of meth enforcement (even
though neither tactic "works").
The ironies are even richer; Satel's NYT Op-Ed
went so far as ridicule the "gateway hypothesis' by citing a pivotal 2002
paper by Morral et al which demonstrated mathematically that some "common
factor" might offer a better explanation of the pejorative associations
which had made "gateway" so attractive to NIDA and legions of researchers
for three decades ( after the first blush of enthusiasm, it had never merited
consideration as an hypothesis- let alone a "theory').
My article in O'Shaugnhessy's had identified Morral's common factor as the
unrecognized, but invaluable role pot has played as a safer alternative to
alcohol and tobacco for troubled youth since the late Sixties.
In the News:
The highly political nature of American drug policy- together with the control of funding for both Academia and Medicine which the feds have been exerting for years- has produced a particular type of drug policy punditry. Two "experts" routinely receiving a lot of Op-Ed space in our nation's most influential newspapers are Mark Kleiman and Sally Satel.
I have a particular reason to remember them because the first letter to an editor I ever had published in a comparable newspaper was written to criticize a 1995 (or '96) Op-Ed on the dangers of meth they'd written for the LA Times. Kleiman was so upset at my derision of their "intellectual constipation" that he briefly joined a drug policy e-mail discussion forum- with mutually unsatisfactory results.
He is a professor of Public Policy at UCLA and Satel is a psychiatrist who runs a Methadone clinic in Washington, DC. Of some interest to me is that they have both have been moved to side publicly (and apparently independently) with many of the police agencies now protesting the Bush Administration's recent emphasis on cannabis at the (apparent) expense the war on meth. What I would find amusing- if their ignorance weren't so supportive of our stupid national drug policy- is that they are still so obviously confused about illegal markets and unwilling to accept that those markets were created and are sustained by the same futile policy they continue to endorse.
Beyond that; both are apparently still "true believers" who actually think police suppression of criminal markets reduces their size- despite mountains of historical evidence to the contrary.
Op-Ed written by Satel
The Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 became the grand-daddy of today's drug war after the Holmes-Brandeis Court ruled- in a series of 5-4 decisions- that its clumsy 'tax' ploy gave federal government agents criminal control over any physician's ability to prescribe certain drugs. In 1937, Harry Anslinger, sponsored the Marijuana Tax Act (MTA) to similarly restrain prescription of cannabis. The major difference was that no 'medical' exception for pot was ever provided and it was later banned outright by Congress in 1970 (just as heroin had been banned in 1922). Cannabis evaporated from the US Pharmacopeia in 1942 so doctors trained after that date no longer learned of it's medicinal uses and effects.
Although he wrote about 'narcotics' with great confidence, Anslinger was a bureaucratic thug with two years of college. He clearly knew little about cannabis; thus it's almost diabolically ironic that his campaign against it was based on the ludicrous claim that it induced homicidal mania in some adolescents. He certainly could not have known that pot would be almost completely ignored by youth for nearly thirty years until unforeseen circumstances conspired to introduce it to large numbers of them on a national scale in the late Sixties; nor that another SCOTUS decision would strike down his MTA just in time to provide the administration of newly-elected Richard Nixon (1968) with carte blanche to write an omnibus drug law. Nor finally; that the resultant CSA (1970) would greatly expand both federal and state police powers and thus set the stage for the runaway policy monster our drug war was has since become- powered largely by pot arrests.
In the next entry, I'll explain how several of Nixon's "plumbers" of Watergate fame were also key players in a frantic first term search for the federal police powers he desired to both tighten his grip on government and punish his political enemies.* That quest took most of their time and would eventually result in creation of the DEA- even as they and their boss were being shown the door because of a foolish break-in which had merely been a side-show for its main participants.
There may be some symmetry between Watergate and a more current subject; I refer to the arrogance displayed in a recent Central Valley case,* which dramatically illustrates both the zeal with which the feds have been colluding with state and local law enforcement to hamstring California's 'medical marijuana' initiative and how they may have finally been led to overreach. The case of Dustin Costa should attract considerable media attention over the next few weeks.
What Costa's case may also represent is a first-ever opportunity for all medical users - not just those with certain "valid" conditions- to participate on their own behalf.
By Dr. Tom O'Connell
As stated earlier, it's precisely because the information gathered by systematically interviewing cannabis applicants in California enables conclusions which so clearly explain the historical evolution of pot's illegal market, are so internally consistent, and- at the same time- so contrary to the improbable assertions of our failing and destructive national policy that I consider it a duty to report them in their in their present incomplete form. I didn't hold that opinion as recently as a year ago; for one thing, I didn't have enough data to come to the necessary conclusions; for another, it was the obvious denial of reality by many "reformers" which finally convinced me.
"Publish your results in a peer-reviewed journal," they tell me; until then (follows the damning unspoken corollary): "we don't even want to hear about them- let alone consider their implications." That "logic" in the face of an organized state-wide campaign to restrict dispensaries because of the "able bodied young men" seen "hanging around" them suggested to me that "organized reform" (as classic an oxymoron as "military intelligence") has gone seriously astray in its defense of a belief about pot use which- although less limiting than that of the federal government- is just as lacking in supporting evidence.
There are other reasons:
1) I have now done enough reading of the relevant literature to understand how thoroughly it has been compromised by current drug policy. Ditto, the psychiatric literature by DSM nosology (system of nomenclature).
2) While what I have learned (and am still learning) about the chronic use of cannabis in contemporary America is important; perhaps the most important lesson to be gleaned from my study is the degree to which our scientific institutions have already been insidiously compromised by the war on drugs.
Nevertheless, I was very excited by a fifteen year old paper just discovered yesterday (by pure serendipity) on Cliff Schaffer's web Site:
Jonathan Shedler and Jack Block
University of California Berkeley
ABSTRACT: The relation between psychological characteristics and drug use was investigated in subjects studied longitudinally, from preschool through age 18. Adolescents who had engaged in some drug experimentation (primarily with marijuana) were the best-adjusted in the sample. Adolescents who used drugs frequently were maladjusted, showing a distinct personality syndrome marked by interpersonal alienation, poor impulse control, and manifest emotional distress. Adolescents who, by age 18, had never experimented with any drug were relatively anxious, emotionally constricted, and lacking in social skills.
Psychological differences between frequent drug users, experimenters, and abstainers could be traced to the earliest years of childhood and related to the quality of parenting received. The findings indicate that (a) problem drug use is a symptom, not a cause, of personal and social maladjustment, and (b) the meaning of drug use can be understood only in the context of an individual's personality structure and developmental history. It is suggested that current efforts at drug prevention are misguided to the extent that they focus on symptoms, rather than on the psychological syndrome underlying drug abuse.
My next post will explain- to those who still require it- how this amazing study foreshadowed what I would be learning from chronic pot smokers over ten years later.
This Blog will focus on the conundrum which has evolved since California passed its unique "medical marijuana" law called Prop 215 in 1996. Although in effect for over eight years, recent developments- including the undistinguished US Supreme Court, Raich "decision" and yet another overwhelming vote against the fledgling US congressional attempt to rein in the DEA, the Hinchey Rohrabacher Amendment demonstrate that the issue of medical use is still grossly unsuccessful at the federal level. In the past, that was arguably because supporters of the drug war had enjoyed such great success in preventing meaningful scrutiny of their policy; but an alarming new development- rejection by the organized "drug reform" movement of credible evidence that federal policy has been both egregiously dishonest and indefensibly destructive- is now indirectly helping the feds avoid the kind of scrutiny needed to indict the drug war in the only court that really matters: public opinion.
It's first necessary to realize that in 1969, newly elected President Nixon's "drug war" was a radical expansion of what had been a long-standing- but relatively unimportant (in terms of the size of the existing illegal markets)-- policy of drug prohibition; he next pushed through a huge legislative expansion of that policy- the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The CSA would eventually allow harm maximization policy supporters to control drug research while simultaneously conducting an effective propaganda campaign on behalf of a diabolically false paradox: although drug policy is primarily one of Public Health aimed at protecting careless teens from addiction, Medical practitioners can't be trusted to implement it. That must be left to police, prosecutors, and judges armed with the power to mete out harsh criminal penalties to those irretrievably tainted by previous drug use or who prove resistant to coerced treatment- the goal of which must always be total abstinence.
What allows me to venture some very contrary opinions in this contentious arena is information gathered by interviewing thousands of California pot smokers in compliance with state law. The new law relied on licensed physicians to evaluate those requesting a patient designation; the government literally created cannabis evaluation as a new specialty by immediately threatening any doctor wiling to do so. Subsequent developments seriously reduced the ability of applicants to find and access such physicians; it also reduced the willingness of either group to publicly acknowledge such encounters; let alone whatever personal information had been either sought or disclosed.
To cut to the chase; by late 2001, conditions in the Bay Area had evolved in such a way a that it was obvious most of the applicants trying to convince me they were using pot to treat some form of chronic pain had probably become long-term users in an unwitting attempt to control the same emotional symptoms that have made anxiolytic agents, mood stabilizers, and anti-depressants Big Pharma's most important market segment.
In other words, pot had been treating what Prozac treats before Prozac even existed- only more effectively, more safely, and more durably. I explore this rationale in my article in the Spring edition of O'Shaughnessy's, the Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group, at:
Analysis of patient responses-still incomplete- has now progressed to a point where it allows some very pejorative conclusions about pot prohibition itself and raises serious questions about whether any substance prohibition can ever be responsible public policy.
I won't begin by presenting detailed results for the simple reason that the study itself is still in progress and data entry is still lagging; in specific discussions, I'll try to cite the most recent data to have been processed. Because I hope to always be updating, I hope to be able to respond to specific questions with the most current data .
The article, in the Winter/Spring 2005 O'Shaughnessy's,was written in December, 2004 and is still accurate. What is considerably newer is an understanding of the rejection with which "reformers" greeted it when I attempted to solicit helpful input. While not exactly positive, that experience was as important as the data itself in permitting me a clearer understanding of how drug policy has evolved into the public policy monster it has become. I intend to comment frankly on why I believe current observations should impact drug policy politics, and will not be shy in identifying both opposing opinions and those who are venturing them. However, I will try to deal only with the opinions themselves- and then only in settings where authorship is unmistakable.
Readers who disagree are, of course, free to e-mail me. If enough interest develops , a public forum might result.