Mind Bogglingly Stupid Logic About the Drug War from Kristoff

Jun 16 2009 Published by under Cannabis, Cocaine, Drug Abuse Science, General Politics

Nicholas Kristoff of the NYT has an Op-Ed Column up which questions the Drug War. When it comes to asking about the cost of incarceration and interdiction, I have no bloggable opinion. As my readers know, I don't really delve into policy issues on this front.
My main problem is when Kristoff trots out the usual dismissal of the public health costs of de-criminalization and, in particular, resorts to an argument which is so disconnected from any logical reality it is laughable. Or it would be, if I couldn't see otherwise intelligent people nodding along in agreement.


Kristoff says:

The stakes are huge, the uncertainties great, and there's a genuine risk that liberalizing drug laws might lead to an increase in use and in addiction. But the evidence suggests that such a risk is small. After all, cocaine was used at only one-fifth of current levels when it was legal in the United States before 1914.

1914? Is he kidding? Does he really think that the global manufacturing and supply chain for refined cocaine is the same as in 1914? Does he really think that the disposable income of the average American which is available for recreational drug purchase is the same? Does he think that the awareness of the citizenry about cocaine is the same?
So no, distant historical reference doesn't even remotely qualify as "evidence" to inform us on what the use of cocaine (or any other drug) would be were we to de-criminalize it right now.

And those states that have decriminalized marijuana possession have not seen surging consumption.

A little better. But still totally disingenuous. First of all, spot decriminalization for minor possession is a far cry from 50-state decriminalization or, more importantly, for the legalization that would be necessary to address many of the more costly problems outlined by the "Drug War has Failed" crowd. Let us not shift our goalposts around to benefit our argument, eh? De-criminalization of minor personal possession isn't going to do squat for international interdiction of major trafficking, busting of domestic production operations, dealing organizations, etc. To make that go away we are going to need something closer to broad scale legalization. Which is perfectly fine to discuss... but let's not pretend that the occasional state which fails to prosecute minor personal possession raps is "evidence" about what is going to happen after broader legalization.
There is a second problem with this argument which is that Kristoff mentions addiction. The fact of the matter is that policies on marijuana vary a lot by state...and even within state. Check here. Do you think Kristoff has done a close study of the before/after of each minor ordinance change and attempted to classify "use and addiction" following each change stretching back to the 1970s? Or do we think that he is taking advantage of this diversity and the broad trends I've discussed before to say "Hey, no clear changes"? Remember, we are only relatively recently coming to understand what addiction to cannabis looks like...it is not something that is readily apparent even to close acquaintances. It may take many years of use to develop to the point of being a highly significant clinical problem. As with all drugs of abuse only a minority of those exposed to cannabis will develop dependence and we have, as yet, only clues as to who those people are who will become dependent. The most reasonable interpretation of current knowledge is that dependence will go up with increased use- where "increased use" means both "more individuals" and "more cannabis per individual".
To sum up this impact on personal and public health is, to my mind, one of the most critical questions. Otherwise, generic civil liberty rationale should rule the day (me not being a moralizer when it comes to most things that don't interfere with anyone else's rights). It is also the question that the legalize-eet-mon perspective sidesteps, ignores and dismisses with trite, illogical and almost intentionally uninformed arguments, see Kristoff. Why? Because they know that if they are realistic about this stuff their argument will fail? That's no way to have an adult discussion.

63 responses so far

  • luke says:

    Does DrugMonkey advocate criminalization of alcohol and tobacco? Surely we did not properly investigate and discuss the effects on public health of ending prohibition. In addition, we never really had a frank public discussion of criminalizing tobacco in view of the mountain of data on the detrimental effects of tobacco on public health.
    I think DrugMonkey should take up this important public health cause.
    Sarcasm off..
    On the other hand, as our experience with tobacco has shown, the better approach may be legalization and taxation with the proceeds funding anti-abuse campaigns, and rehabilitation services.
    What is the verdict with Portugal's decriminalization effort? Here is one perspective: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/04/26/portugal/
    Stop funding Narco States and gangsters, and start funding rehab and education.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    DrugMonkey does not advocate criminalization, nor decriminalization of any substance. DrugMonkey advocates against science ignorance and science denialism.
    Would you care to address the points at hand and whether or not these types of arguments are valid "evidence" as to what would happen after decriminalization?

  • luke says:

    So you take no stand on the legal status of street drugs. Fair enough but it seems to me that you are always quick to spot the so-called irrationality of the decriminaliztion advocates but I cannot recall one instance of you doing the same on the other side of the issue.
    Anyway, I will respond to the points you raised with respect to Kristoff's column. With respect to the first excerpt of his column I think that while his point is valid his rational is weak. I agree that statistics from 1914 are likely not relevant today. However, the study of Portugal seems to backup his initial claim that the risk is small that liberalizing drug laws might lead to an increase in use and in addiction.
    While I think that there may be some increase in use and addition initially (10-20 years or so after legalization) eventually we will see what is occurring with tobacco use, i.e. decreasing usage rates until a stabilization at a rate less than what it is today.
    His second point is correct for the most part but I think you are correct in that this snapshot cannot be used to extrapolate to a nationwide decriminalization regime.
    However, I again point out the Portugal study and the experience in the Netherlands. Sure, these programs are not perfect ( I would prefer outright legalization) but they succeed in reducing overall harm. The criminalization of drugs causes more harm in terms of increased street violence, funding of narco states and gangsters, corruption of the legal system, diminishes respect for the law, creates a police state and prison industrial complex, among other things.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The Portugal whitepaper from Greenwald is interesting for sure. I just did a quick scan so far but one thing I note is that drug use, including for cannabis is substantially lower in Portugal than many other EU countries and the US. It was lower before decriminalization too, from what I can make out. Why is this and do any of these reasons interact with decriminalization?
    Also, the 2001 - 2006 comparo doesn't give us enough context when you consider the broad trends (see link in OP) in the US seen over the past three decades. You can pick some intervals out of the US longitudinal data and make and argument for an effect of some event on drug use (and I have-up and down) but I think you have to be familiar with the overall situation in a country with respect to PR messaging and social factors to have high confidence.

  • Alex says:

    The public health effects of liberal policy are something to consult medical researchers on, and I defer to the expertise of people like DrugMonkey.
    However, there are plenty of other aspects to this issue, and on many of those aspects your views might be informed by science but they must also be considered in light of civil libertarian concerns. Should the health effects of drugs should be addressed by health care providers and families and communities, or should these issues instead be addressed by prison guards? Should people who abuse a substance because of a physical addiction be sent to prison, or should their problems be addressed by some other means? If they are not willing to seek help, should they be locked in a cage and saddled with a criminal record that will impede their ability to obtain gainful employment in the future, or should they be left alone until they are at a point where they choose to seek help?
    And until they choose to seek help, should they feed their habit through regulated vendors, or should they feed their habits in a black market that enriches terrorists?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Alex, you are confusing issues which we can parse as follows. First, should drug addicts receive appropriate medical treatment or not? The response is an unqualified yes from my perspective. Second, can this care be provided during incarceration? There is no reason that it cannot (methodologically) and in fact involuntary confinement might help with some (but not all) aspects of treatment.
    The question of whether appropriate treatment for substance dependence does exist in the prison system is a different issue. So is the question of whether it ever can (politically) be brought about. These latter two questions are almost entirely political in nature.

  • luke says:

    I can't find the article now but I have read that addition rates in the U.S. have been very stable for the the last 30 plus years and that includes the "War on Drugs" effort beginning in the early 80's.
    It will be difficult to get solid projections of what legalization would do to usage and addition rates. I think the best evidence is what occurred before during and after prohibition. Usgae rates either remanined relatively unchanged or actually increased during prohibition.
    In any event, my point is we should err on the side of liberty. We should not be jailing people for what they choose to consume e.g. alcohol, nicotine, twinkies, coffee, etc. We can provide incentives through education, societal pressure and taxation to address the harmful effects of undesirable behavior.
    I tend to believe there is no better education in such matters than through direct human experience. Once people see the ravages induced by addiction, they tend to steer clear of such behavior. There will always be addictive personalities but the criminal justice system is not the best tool to address this issue.

  • End the Prohibition says:

    "is not something that is readily apparent even to close acquaintances"
    If the harm caused by marijuana is so difficult to detect then why do we need a nation-wide prohibition that directly leads to the arrest of 2,000 people a day and the murder of 6,000 people a year?
    If marijuana is so dangerous then its harms should be obvious in society. But they aren't! Even our cops can't tell who's been smoking and who hasn't. They need to resort to hair and pee tests just to determine if marijuana's been used at all.
    What a joke! Here's a secret for everybody who doesn't know yet. Marijuana isn't consumed because users are "addicted" to it, it's consumed because users enjoy it.
    When we learn that little truism we will win the drug war. Legalize the production and sale of marijuana to adults!!

  • Alex says:

    First, should drug addicts receive appropriate medical treatment or not? The response is an unqualified yes from my perspective.
    I agree.
    Second, can this care be provided during incarceration? There is no reason that it cannot (methodologically) and in fact involuntary confinement might help with some (but not all) aspects of treatment.
    Why should they be incarcerated? The consequences of incarceration are pretty steep, and should be reserved for those who did harmful things to others. If they are hurting others in part because of an addiction, then by all means treat them for it while they are incarcerated, but consuming addictive substances is not, in and of itself, a good reason to send somebody to prison.
    Moreover, the costs of enforcing these rules, and the social side effects of the associated criminal underworld, are immensely steep. That money could be spent providing treatment for those who seek it and safe venues for addicts who are not yet ready to seek treatment. And a nice side effect would be watching the Taliban go bankrupt.

  • Alex says:

    BTW, while it is clear that consumption of addictive substances causes public health problems (the precise nature of which being a subject that requires your scientific input) it is also clear from the 1920's that prohibition of such substances causes massive crime problems. We found a way to put Al Capone out of business, and I'm completely confident that similar sensible measures (endorsed by numerous economists) could likewise destroy the business model of numerous criminal gangs.
    Just as there are serious questions here that can only be addressed by medical science, there are also serious questions that can only be addressed with an understanding of history and economics. And on those issues, the answers are quite clear.

  • Pete Guither says:

    You say "The most reasonable interpretation of current knowledge is that dependence will go up with increased use- where "increased use" means both "more individuals" and "more cannabis per individual"."
    Why is that necessarily reasonable? It may be true, but it certainly doesn't follow.
    Isn't it also reasonable to assume that in a criminalized model where enforcement is only a minor deterrent, those likely to become dependent are less likely to be deterred?
    Those who are deterred by marijuana laws are more likely to be the equivalent of alcohol's "wine-with-dinner" imbibers. And yes, with legalization, more of them will use, or use a greater amount, than before. But that doesn't mean that they will become dependent.
    Additionally, those with dependent behaviors may be less likely to seek (or be driven to seek) help when underground. Putting a light on dependent behavior with legalization could result in greater assistance (and maybe less dependency) despite of greater use (in both numbers of users and amount per user).
    You criticize assumptions based on incomplete or questionably relevant data in other situations (ie, Portugal, small decrim situations, etc.) and yet isn't yours an assumption without relevant data to back it up?

  • megan says:

    I find this blogsite to be no more enlightening than reading my Mensa publications vs USA Today. The letters or these blogs basically is If you have a stance or opinion about something you'll use whatever means to support it using 'facts' or 'logic' you can muster to justify and feel self-righteous /joke/ cuz yur an intellechuwal/academic. Scary, impress me.
    The US policy has worsened the drug situation and gotten it more severe, enriched South/Central American druglords and rebels. If caffeine and tobacco were outlawed imagine the concentrated delivery systems for nicotine and caffeine and the skyrocketing of prices in buying. Moonshine and rotgut flourished during the Prohibition Era.
    The prison industry in conjunction with the justice government system is growing and looking for bodies which the war provides to feed on the unwanted poor low income populations. There are clear efforts by tobacco and cotton to criminalize marijuana/hemp as a large scale industrial crop and alternative smoking plant. The fact undesirables like minorities and musicians smoked it made it justified back in the 30's-50's then the hippies.

  • Lab Lemming says:

    DM says:
    "As with all drugs of abuse only a minority of those exposed to cannabis will develop dependence"
    Are you seriously trying to say that most nicotine or opiate users aren't addicts?

  • pinus says:

    No, he is saying that only a small % of people who try those drugs become dependent. I believe it is highest with nicotine...but I would have to check that.

  • Lab Lemming says:

    Kristof also ignores the very successful war on drugs that has been won in many Asian countries with zero tolerance laws and copious use of the death penalty and corporeal punishment.

  • steve rolles says:

    here is some edited points from a recent paper I co-wrote that are relevant to this discussion (explored in more detail with refrences: http://www.tdpf.org.uk/Transform%20CBA%20paper%20final.pdf):
    The key benefit repeatedly cited as the rationale for the policy of prohibition is that a combination of reduced availability (resulting from enforcement) and a deterrent effect(both in terms of fear of punitive sanctions, and the law ‘sending a message’) results in a lower level of prevalence of drug use than would exist without it. The proposed deterrent effect is poorly supported by empirical research. The UK parliament's Science and Technology Select Committee report in 2006 on the drug classification system
    ‘Drug Classification: Making a Hash of it?’ stated that:
    "We have found no solid evidence to support the existence of a deterrent effect, despite the fact that it appears to underpin the Government’s policy on classification. In view of the importance of drugs policy and the amount spent in enforcing the penalties associated with the classification system, it is highly unsatisfactory that there is so little knowledge about the system’s effectiveness".
    The Government rejected this finding and responded with:
    “The Government fundamentally believes that illegality is an important factor when people are considering engaging in risk-taking behaviour. The exposure to criminal sanction, in particular through sentencing, influences perceptions and
    behaviours. It believes that the illegality of certain drugs, and by association their classification, will impact on drug use choices, by informing the decisions of dealers and users. Imposing penalties on the offence of possession is intended to deter use, particularly experimentation by young people. Whilst the Government accepts that there is an absence of conclusive evidence in relation to the deterrent effect of the existing classification structure, there is some evidence from the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey that the deterrent effect of harsher sentencing was greater among those admitting to the supply of a Class A drug, compared with other offences. The Government will consider ways in which the evidence base in the context of the deterrent effect can be strengthened.”
    However, in the field of evidence-based policy making what the Government ‘believes’ is neither here nor there, and there is notably no evidence provided to support the 'belief’ of the system’s effectiveness as a deterrent (it was not made clear which evidence from the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey was being referred to). In the absence of this or any other credible evidence, this ‘belief’ can only remain an untested assumption.
    This is not to suggest that prohibition fails to provide any deterrent, but the little evidence there is suggests that the deterrent effect is relatively small. The Police Foundation Inquiry report 'Drugs and the Law' in 1999 c
    conducted a poll, which found that:
    “The most frequent reasons given by both children and adults for people not taking drugs were 'health reason' (33% and 51%) and 'just don't want to take drugs’ (27% and 56%). By comparison only 19% of children and 30% of adults mentioned 'illegality' and 12% of children and 17% of adults cited 'fear of being caught by the police'.”
    The report concluded that:
    "…such evidence as we have assembled about the current situation and the changes that have taken place in the last 30 years all point to the conclusion that the deterrent effect of the law has been very limited".
    Despite this conclusion, the Police Foundation survey research was the only reference cited by the Home Office in their 2000 submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee
    Drugs Inquiry in answer to a query about deterrence. The same Home Office submission also noted that illegality could potentially have a perverse effect of adding to the appeal of some drugs for some users (the ‘forbidden fruit’ effect), although this effect also remains un-quantified.
    The relatively small amount of independent research that has been done in this area suggests that the law and enforcement are, at best, marginal factors in drug taking decisions. This especially holds true for the socially excluded groups who are most vulnerable to problematic use, including young people, those with mental health problems, and those from socially deprived communities. Dependent users of heroin
    and crack in particular, who are both highly likely to have a criminal record already and whose demand is generally resistant to any interventions, are also - as discussed above - the population creating the vast majority of social and economic costs. Thus the group that creates most of prohibition’s costs are also the group least likely to be susceptible to its deterrent effects.
    There is no statistically significant correlation internationally between intensity or for enforcement levels in drug taking decisions has recently come from an extensive
    World Health Organisation 2008 study comparing drug use and enforcement regimes across the world. The study’s headline conclusion was:
    “Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have
    lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones.”
    Similarly, studies in Australia and the US have compared levels of cannabis use between different states with different enforcement regimes for cannabis offences (from
    harsh penalties to effective decriminalisation) and found no significant correlation between penalties and incidence of use.
    It has been argued that illegality assists primary prevention, thus reducing use, by helping young people to ‘say no to drugs’, or by providing a clear message that drug use is socially and morally unacceptable. Such benefits, whilst instinctively believable propositions, are hard to measure beyond anecdote alone, and more generally the
    evidence base for prevention and drug education programmes is historically very mixed and generally underwhelming. Specifically there is little to suggest such interventions have been more effective with illegal drugs than with alcohol and tobacco, i.e. that illegality/prohibition is a key ingredient of prevention effectiveness.
    Whilst it is clear that prohibition impacts on availability, it is also clear that most drugs are available to most people who seek them, most of the time, even if for some, in the short term at least, initially locating a supplier presents some hurdles, inconvenience, and expense. There are, to illustrate the point, an estimated 70 -100,000 individuals involved in illicit drug supply in the UK. Under a regulated regime the level of availability would be controllable and consequently the relative change in availability that would follow any transition from criminal to regulated market could be influenced by policy
    makers, balancing the pros and cons of the various models and levels of restrictions. To suggest that drugs are unavailable now and would suddenly become dramatically more
    or freely available under a legally regulated regime is to misrepresent both the current situation and the nature of proposed alternatives. With the existence of such limited empirical evidence, it is difficult to estimate whether
    prevalence would increase if prohibition were replaced by a legal regulatory model, if so by how much, and what the corresponding costs in terms of problematic use would be.
    Broad observations about trends in prevalence rates are possible, in the UK for example, cocaine use is rising, heroin use has levelled off, ecstasy and cannabis use
    are falling. However, it is hard to directly identify these patterns with any particular element of drug policy or other non-policy-related variables. Post-prohibition changes
    would inevitably be influenced by a range of policy variables, including how effectively drugs are regulated (with regard to price controls, marketing controls, regulatory enforcement – how regulated availability compared to illicit market availability, and so
    on), and how effectively other public health elements of policy deprivation, mental health care provision, efficacy of the care system, and health and income inequality are developed, implemented and funded, including specific drug-focussed interventions (prevention, treatment, education, harm reduction etc.). Crucially it should be highlighted that wider social policy concerns and variables are likely to have a far more significant role in determining levels of use and misuse that any conventionally understood drug policy interventions. These social determinants include employment and social deprivation, mental health care provision, efficacy of the care system, and health and income inequality
    There are entirely understandable concerns that moves towards legal regulation would see an increase in health costs if availability and prevalence increased as a result.
    Whilst this is the most frequently stated objection to such a move, as demonstrated here it is not borne out by the evidence and is frequently based on misunderstandings about how post-prohibition regulation would operate. The deterrent effect of prohibition remains un-quantified but the assumption, based on the little relevant research that
    does exist, has to be that it is marginal, especially for key populations responsible for causing most harms. A similar conclusion can be formed regarding the impact of
    prohibition on reducing availability. This is a position arguably bolstered by the systematic ongoing evasiveness of Government in pursuing any research into the scale and impacts of these effects at the very heart of the prohibitionist paradigm, beyond repeatedly restating a ‘belief’ that such effects exist. There is much speculation about how legal regulation would operate in practice but
    advocates for moves in this direction point out that whilst some pressures towards increased use would undoubtedly occur, these would be moderated by effective controls on availability, price, marketing and so on, whilst opposing or compensatory pressures could also emerge, significantly including the potential for the redirection of enforcement spending into public health programs; treatment, prevention, education and harm reduction. Significant misconceptions persist that a post-prohibition scenario would be defined by some sort of unregulated commercial free for all, and we hope that this paper has gone some way to correcting this error. The existing absolutist prohibitions on certain drugs sit at one extreme of the policy spectrum, whilst unregulated legal commercial activity sits at the other (undesirable for other reasons,evident from historic failings of inadequate tobacco and alcohol regulation). Evidence based regulation, the model that sits somewhere on the continuum between these two poles, is the rational policy response to managing any potentially harmful commercial activity present in society, and indeed is the norm for almost every other such policy response.

  • steve says:

    I'm so glad there are people like drugmonkey who are ambivalent about throwing hundreds of thousands of people into prison for nonviolent drug offenses. America is so much better off because of them.

  • steve rolles says:

    yes, and letting violent gangsters control a $300 billion trade in dangerous drugs seems like a pretty smart plan too.

  • Isabel says:

    "Because they know that if they are realistic about this stuff their argument will fail? That's no way to have an adult discussion."
    EXACTLY my opinion on government funded research on Cannabis. The biggest bunch of bullshit EVER.
    Yes, we must focus our attention on the biased studies, with small numbers of questionable participants (usually with histories of multiple addictions for example), and ignore the hundreds of millions of people who have used Cannabis safely for thousands of years. After all, those are anecdotal cases!
    DrugMonkey, I would attempt to educate you on the loooong history of governmental attempts to trash Cannabis in various ways, including "scientific studies" but it is just too big a subject.
    Don't you think it's really strange that Cannabis is held to an incredibly high standard, otherwise unheard of, a standard that cannot even be attained by many common foods? THAT is the problem!
    I dropped another hint at the other thread.
    Signed,
    A Proud "Denialist"
    HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Steve, please show where I have ever indicated ambivalence (or any opinion) on the topic of legal penalties for nonviolent drug offenses.

  • Mike Olson says:

    1. I've no stake in criminalization either. This leads me to agree with the, "wine with dinner comment."
    2. I will drink a couple of brews on Friday and Saturday night. This leads me to a very strong conclusion.
    Which is, mandatory treatment? Incarceration for treatment? I've never been arrested for DUI, but being forced to attend treatment, especially while incarcerated seems over the top. This seems especially true because the only real treatment available in the U.S. today is through the 12 step program. For those unfamiliar, this means a belief in a "Higher Power." Further, although, if you've got a little spirituality, this sounds harmless, you must believe in a controlling diety. Things happen for a reason, God is in charge, not you, there are some things better off left to God...etc, etc, etc. The further problem with this is issue is that the whole notion of drug abuse being a disease, drunk driving being tied to drinking age, any behavior engaged in above the norm is "addictive"(read too much? exercise too much? you're an addict!), as well as an all or nothing attitude towards drinking or drug use all goes back to AA, Bill Wilson, The Oxford Groups and Buchmanism. AA is nothing more than a recruiting ground for fundamentalist Christians. You've got to believe in a controlling God, nothing else will do.
    3. Based on all of that, before we start talking about criminalization or de-criminalization, we need to really define what drug abuse is, how we are going to treat it, and as a nation come to recognize that just because something is legal, doesn't mean it is healthy...which requires personal responsibility.
    4. I'd also largely agree with Megan. I got tired of my local paper because it came down to nothing more than arguments over God, gay rights, abortion, and frequently addiction. I'd hoped to find more science on science blogs. I'll continue to look. And yes, if I didn't like it I shouldn't comment...My only excuse is that AA and AA folks are some of the most frightening folks I've met. There is no logic, no science, no rationale...simply labeling and self-labeling...a chronic heroin user is held to higher esteem than responsible citizens not in a 12 step program. Freaky...very freaky.

  • DSKS says:

    inre: #14 and "corporeal punishment"
    When the gummint advocates for "beating the dead addict", drug prohibition has gone too far, imho.

  • Dallas says:

    The drug war has always been an important issue with me and is something I argue against often (in fact I just happened to have blogged about it yesterday), but I've never tried to argue that it wouldn't increase health costs and risks of drug-related diseases. I don't think those issues are relevant to the problem, which is about the freedom to do something stupid and unhealthy, because it's your business and no one elses'. It's unfortunate that the few that are publically speaking on the my side are being disingenuous with their arguments, but hopefully we can acknowledge their faults and then move on to the important issues. This is something that really requires serious public consideration and it's a problem that's been tolerated for too long.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    megan @#12; and Mike @#21: I'd hoped to find more science on science blogs. I'll continue to look. And yes, if I didn't like it I shouldn't comment
    Not at all. But what you should do is to click the links to my prior posts. And or head up to the archive and hit the 'drug abuse science' or 'cannabis' links. There are many aspects of scientific inquiry into drug abuse from the basic to the human social/epidemiological. I touch on the barest sliver of it here. But it exists. And I find many who hold strong opinions on the likely health impact of wider-spread drugs use to be ignorant of much extant knowledge. I will also note that most of those who are interested in the scientific inquiry end don't really consider legal status to be that informative about addiction.
    #19: blathering on about 'bias' because you don't like the findings is laughable. please explain, with specifics, exactly how the available science is all just the Government "trashing" cannabis. (be sure to include the Grant et al 2003 meta-analysis showing essentially no lasting impact of cannabis smoking on cognitive function and to mention how that group's NIH funding has been since)
    #16: By comparison only 19% of children and 30% of adults mentioned 'illegality' and 12% of children and 17% of adults cited 'fear of being caught by the police'.”
    Right, so some fraction of individuals endorse legal status as a reason they don't take currently-illicit drugs. Start with my post here and then go pour through the MTF data . Look at prevalence of alcohol and tobacco with marijuana and other drugs (and make sure to reference all the cannabis and MDMA fans comments about how the subjective experience provided by alcohol and nicotine is objectively the suxxors in comparison to their favored drugs). Full legalization country-wide is a far different cry from spot "maybe we'll arrest you, maybe not" decriminalization efforts when it comes to the arrest-sensitive fraction (and 17-20% is not chump change, epidemiologically speaking) you have identified.
    LL @#15 the very successful war on drugs that has been won in many Asian countries with zero tolerance laws and copious use of the death penalty and corporeal punishment.
    Dunno if you are being sarcastic but you are spot-on. Those who say "prohibition doesn't work" refuse to countenance the fact that the US, at least, doesn't actually commit itself to prohibition. We are far too fond of personal liberty to do so. steve@#15, this is the answer to your WHO study cite and headline- none of the draconian countries were included in that study. And as the study in Portugal cited above shows, until we determine sources of variance in drug use that exist apart from legal status we really don't know what the formal legal consequences mean.
    @#13 and #14: pinus is correct. see this post for my thoughts on the matter. http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/04/recreational-drug-use-in-the-year-after-initiation

  • Kat says:

    I think the real reason you're upset is because if we didn't have the "war on drugs" (or, as it has become lately, the "war on addiction"), then you would be unemployed.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Kat@#25if we didn't have the "war on drugs" (or, as it has become lately, the "war on addiction"), then you would be unemployed.
    Doubtful. Alcohol and nicotine research is a huge part of the NIH portfolio and in fact the NIAAA has a budget of about 40% of the entire NIDA budget. Plus, I have all kinds of fascinating research questions that have nothing to do with recreational drugs in particular. Thanks for your concern, though.
    Pete @#11Why is that necessarily reasonable? It may be true, but it certainly doesn't follow.
    I suppose what I meant was that if there is a general principle from animal models, it is that essentially 100% of a population can be made to look dependent *given sufficient exposure*. A distribution and a dose-response function exists, of course. All of this suggests that more drug use increases the number who will exhibit a dependence state. You can see this in what estimates we have about prior history in the human populations as well. Dependency is correlated (not perfectly, but correlated) with amount of use.
    Now in terms of more individuals using? Well, I suppose I might be on slightly shakier ground but at least it relies on the null hypothesis. I.e., that there is nothing universally and uniquely selective-for-dependence under current legal conditions. The alternative would require that somehow those who are destined to become addicted are already using the drug. Seems highly unlikely. Now in terms of numbers and whether it is something we'd find to be significant do remember that you have to multiply by the population. Your point about wine-with-dinner drinkers is apt- a much, much lower apparent conditional probability of dependence rate for alcohol over, say, IV heroin, translates to many times more people affected. The post on conditional probability that I linked in comment #24 makes the case for this.
    I agree that early detection, awareness and prevention/treatment would mitigate harm. Trouble is, the experience with alcohol and cigarettes shows we are not good at this even for legal substances. So why should we hypothesize that mere legalization would do the trick for currently-illicit drugs? The only way I see that working is on the front which is totally independent of legal status- i.e., improving the funding for (insurance and otherwise), and access to, care for substance dependence.

  • Tom says:

    "Trouble is, the experience with alcohol and cigarettes shows we are not good at this even for legal substances."
    Except, we seem to be getting better at it.

  • Isabel says:

    Well, an immediate experiment is certainly called for, as there is no reason at all that cannabis should be illegal, based on our current system (not on some ideal of freedom). None at all. DrugMonkey do you at least agreed with that? If not, are you willing to hold all substances to those same standards? For example, coffee, energy drinks, food additives? And are you tryng to claim that these addiction studies have no affect on the legal status of the drug? I'm not so sure.
    Otherwise, if it's completely legalized on a wide scale, there will be many potential positive health outcomes, as well as better access by users to less harmful delivery systems and pesticide free product. People will have more money and have less stress over breaking the law and financial stress over their expensive habits. Most illegal drug users use only cannabis. If they could just grow some, or get some from a friend, they would never be exposed to other harmful illicit drugs (like meth...)not to mention all the other health benefits to legalisation, too numerous to list here.
    Yes I'm familiar with the positive study you mention, but it doesn't change what I am saying. As for the two you discussed in your previous post, first of all, sample size N=12 and all are current 'addicted' users of both drugs? Typical. Yeah, that's much more scientific than basing an opinion on the hundreds of people you've actually known, which is after all, anecdotal. The other study is based on the foggy remembrances of a few dozen admitted addicts (seeing as they had to "try" to quit). Very scientific! And again, beats the hundreds of people you have randomly crossed paths with.
    And there has to be something wrong with the methodology of these studies that causes them to lead to results that go against everyone's experience. There is no way that people are climbing the walls craving pot like cigarettes. Furthermore the cigarette thing kicks in much sooner (for a real addict - and are the 10/cig a day smokers really "heavy users" compared to other smokers, as the cannabis users are? In other words is that study it comparing a mild nicotine addiction with a strong cannabis one?) as in nicotine addicts having trouble getting through a flight or a meeting, and then nicotine withdrawal lasts for months and years, while as one commenter mentioned even the cravings that do occur with pot are usually over in a few days, while that never happens with cigs. That is the big difference people are referring to.
    Finally, the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population is exposed to cannabis during the time they are first exposed to cigarettes and alcohol, so why do you think there is no reason to think that most of those potential 'addicts' are not already 'addicted?'

  • Pete Guither says:

    Re: your response in #26: The alternative would require that somehow those who are destined to become addicted are already using the drug. Seems highly unlikely.
    That's something we should be exploring much more thoroughly. Clearly there are many people who are less susceptible to dependency (of any drug). They're not dependent on marijuana despite years of occasional use, can use cocaine recreationally with no danger of dependence, same with alcohol (have a bar at home and never drink except when friends are over), etc. (I know these people.) There are others who seem to be drawn to drug dependency -- and it often doesn't matter what drug -- whatever's available, whether it's alcohol, marijuana, etc. I know some of these people as well, and legal status never seemed to affect them (although I'm sure there are many who simply choose the legal option - alcohol - as being easier).
    If this dynamic is real - and I'd really like to see more research in this area -- then it could be highly irresponsible not to legalize marijuana (as it is the least dangerous/damaging popular drug for those few who become dependent).
    [I realize that "I know some of these people" is not science nor is it reliable, but I'm unaware of proper studies that have examined whether those likely to become dependent on a drug become dependent on some drug regardless of prohibition efforts.]
    That, to me, is the most important (and most avoided) question in the prohibition debate. If prohibition does not, in fact, in any significant way, affect the population of drug abusers, then the only reason (still grossly insufficient IMO) for supporting the damage of prohibition is gone.

  • niewiap says:

    DM, I am really happy to hear a voice of reason in this whole jumble of libertarian self-righteousness. I have commented on a previous article in The Economist endorsing drug legalization on my blog, and of course I have attracted dumb-ass comments from a member of "let's end this pointless war" crowd.

  • steve rolles says:

    "the very successful war on drugs that has been won in many Asian countries"
    Im not sure what is being discussed here - if we are seriously talking about the (illegal) use of the death penalty as public health intervention I will have to retire from the conversation.
    Citing draconian states as evidence for an enforcement approach doesn't stand up. Singapore is often cited but they do not collect or publish any credible data on levels of use. Malaysia - death penalty galore - one of the highest levels of meth use in the world. Thailand - death penalty, 2500 extra judicial murders in the recent war on drugs crack down - also one of the highest level;s of meth use on Earth.
    As for there being 'no draconian states' in the WHO study - what about the US - with the highest incarceration rate, longest sentences, biggest enforcement budget, and death penalty for drug offences (and worlds worst drug problem). The point about the WHo study is that there was no correlation established between intensity or punitiveness of enforcement and levels of use - a link that might support the deterrence theory or an enforcement led approach more generally. Some work (by Wilkinson for example) has however found a correlation between levels of inequality and levels of drug misuse (the US and UK for example regularly topping drug use tables and inequality measures).
    My point is that enforcement and drug policy have little impact on prevalence of use or misuse - but can impact significantly on drug related personal and social harms. Ive written about this in detail in the linked report and elsewhere. Drug use is primarily determined by the complex interplay of a number of economic, social and cultural variables (perhaps usefully coming under the umbrella term of wellbeing), not the length of prison sentences, or the numebr of just say no billboards.
    Having a criminal justice/ enforcement/ military led response to a public health problem is at the heart of the what is wrong with contemporary drug policy, and the past 40 years provide ample evidence of its ineffectiveness. There is something profoundly anti-science and intellectually offensive about the way in which prohibition's absolutist tenets prevent even exploration or experimentation of legal regulatory options - despite the fact that this is precisely how society deals with risky products services or activities in almost all other aspects of life.

  • Mike says:

    "DM, I am really happy to hear a voice of reason in this whole jumble of libertarian self-righteousness."
    Agree. One reason I like this blog is that it's about the only place on the Internet that even tries to question the group-think pro-legalization consensus that seems to pervade the web.

  • Isabel says:

    "I have commented on a previous article in The Economist endorsing drug legalization on my blog, and of course I have attracted dumb-ass comments from a member of "let's end this pointless war" crowd."
    Your post on the subject makes little sense because you have casually linked cannabis with some really harmful drugs it has no business being connected with in paragraph 1 and then seem to forget about it. And it's by far the most commonly used illegal drug.
    I challenge you to defend this. Remember, everything else we consume should be held to the same standard as cannabis, and should also be illegal if it is as "harmful" as cannabis - agreed? Okay I'm listening.

  • Isabel says:

    "only place on the Internet that even tries to question the group-think pro-legalization consensus"
    Oh please. You can find plenty of the same crap on the govt. sites.
    And what consensus? It's not libertarian to support cannabis legalization - it's just being consistent with our drug laws. Every governmental commission which has looked at the situation agrees.
    And many feel the libertarian position of insisting on legalizing all drugs obscures this.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Isabel @#28 the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population is exposed to cannabis during the time they are first exposed to cigarettes and alcohol, so why do you think there is no reason to think that most of those potential 'addicts' are not already 'addicted?'
    This is just demonstrably false. Start with the MtF site linked in the sidebar. Move on to any other survey you can find and it is simply not true that the same number of adolescents try cannabis as try either cigarettes or alcohol. False assertion. You can also review the survey data on "ease of acquiring/availability" and you will be hard pressed to make your case there either. Can you not consider that just perhaps whatever your experiences are/were they are not representative?
    And there has to be something wrong with the methodology of these studies that causes them to lead to results that go against everyone's experience. There is no way that people are climbing the walls craving pot like cigarettes.
    Did you even read the methods? Are you familiar with how science actually works? Yes, all studies are limited. This does not mean they are biased or evidence of a grand conspiracy. You get a little better when you start asking relevant questions about how we match severity of addiction...but is this not the very point of the study itself? If you take the logic backward you look at the equivalent withdrawal symptoms and then say that the exposure to cannabis and cigarettes must be about equivalent...on this particular aspect of addiction "severity". Now, you have a problem with the methods? fine, generate your own "unbiased" study and publish some results.
    first of all, sample size N=12 and all are current 'addicted' users of both drugs? Typical. Yeah, that's much more scientific than basing an opinion on the hundreds of people you've actually known, which is after all, anecdotal. The other study is based on the foggy remembrances of a few dozen admitted addicts (seeing as they had to "try" to quit). Very scientific! And again, beats the hundreds of people you have randomly crossed paths with.
    Yes, these methods do indeed beat your personal anecdotes. First, with respect to sample size this is relatively standard for many types of studys, human and animal. It meets traditional tests for statistical reliability, etc. It is, I will note, far in excess of the typical bench experiment in which the "representative" (wink, wink) single datum is presented as a general reflection of objective reality. So this is not a legitimate beef until and unless you show how you have criticized all other research with these sample sizes and statistical results. Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, unusual cancers...all totally biased conspiracy reports are they? Or are you the one applying a unique standard to cannabis research? The samples were selected for heavy users, yes. right there in the Methods. The random sampling process is, again, accepted in similar types of research including other recreational drugs and unrelated to same. You do understand the relationship of samples to underlying populations in science, right? This is a comparatively less biased sampling procedure which is way less biased than is the sample of your personal acquaintances. It is therefore more likely to be representative. Note also that these are just two studies of many that we are discussing. When you put together multiple papers across multiple labs and geographic regions...the respective samples become representative of very large underlying populations of cannabis consumers.
    And speaking of those individuals, it is total BS that you know all there is to know about whether your friends have dependence issues, unless you are in the field and have been conducting extra-IRB studies. I very much doubt you have. I very much doubt you have consistent, standardized and validated measures on your supposed hundreds of subjects. Have you performed the discontinuation experiment? Do you know how to consistently assess affect, sleep quality, etc? Have you assessed cannabis intake in your subjects and stratified your conclusions accordingly?
    there is no reason at all that cannabis should be illegal, based on our current system (not on some ideal of freedom). None at all. DrugMonkey do you at least agreed with that? If not, are you willing to hold all substances to those same standards?
    It is certainly the case that if we re-started from zero and lined up the most common recreational drugs and had a debate about the totality of "harms" we would likely end up with a different schema than at present. I agree totally.
    So what? You, and your co-denialists, continually make the logical error of thinking that just because Substance A has a harm value that is greater than Substance C, this magically disappears the harm value of Substance C. It does not. You then go on to make all kinds of unwarranted attacks on the extant evidence about this harm value, which is where I come into the picture.

  • Isabel says:

    You, and your co-denialists, continually make the logical error of thinking that just because Substance A has a harm value that is greater than Substance C, this magically disappears the harm value of Substance C.
    NOONE has done this! But I assert that the harm value of prohibition greatly outweighs the harm value of your potential aditional "adicts" - something you seem completely blind to.
    And if N=12, all double addicts, is an acceptable sample of users as a whole (even dependent ones) in medicine no wonder I have an issue with so many of the results.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Really Isabel? Than what IS the point of bringing up Substances A, N, ....Z and their attendant harms? Comes up every time ..
    And are you being serious? You really don't understand about representative sampling? Honestly? Are you not in any type of science yourself?

  • becca says:

    Agghh this makes my head hurt.
    Look, I'm inclined to think that anyone who believes we can justify legalization solely on public-health grounds is talking out their wazoozoo- unless *maybe* if we were to start counting mortality from the drug war, and the medical problems that increase when you increase poverty and civil strife as a result of the drug war (which would be extremely difficult to quantify, I suspect). Unless pot cures AIDS and nobody told me?
    At the same time, DM, when you *refuse* to consider the various non-public health harms being done by the drug war, you don't come off sounding like you are simply refraining from comment because it's not your field of expertise. You come off sounding like you are refraining from comment because the suffering involved in that doesn't matter- which is every bit as much a denialist position, in it's own way.

  • Isabel says:

    Becca,
    I'm not clear - what would be grounds for legalization for you? And I did not say it should be based only on public health grounds. The whole point is it is the prohibition which needs to justify itself. There is just no justification at all in the case of cannabis. It's a political issue, and everyone in jail for using or dealing (cannabis only!!) is a political prisoner of sorts.
    "Really Isabel? Than what IS the point of bringing up Substances A, N, ....Z and their attendant harms? Comes up every time .."
    The point is the relativity of the harm, not trying to saying that the least harmful is magically harmless. And yes cannabis is relatively harmless. But not harmless. Just almost, compared to hundreds of common legal substances. Cannabis has no more business being grouped with cocaine and heroin than coffee does.
    And I admit I am struggling with the sampling questions, though I've taken the stats classes and read a gazillion studies. I don't work with human or lab animals. I mean, I understand when it's the life or death of a laboratory animal, but with millions of regular cannabis users in every direction why limit yourself to 12 that are all also addicted to another specific substance? Why not hundreds? Neither study sounds particularly expensive.....I will reluctantly take a closer look at these studies you have so much faith in. But I dread it, when I read about them it's like reading about 'IQ and the wealth of nations', where I discover that the IQ's were estimated based on the IQ of a neighboring country, or extrapolated from SAT scores or based on a single test of nineteen 7th graders who took a test designed for another culture. or whatever. Yeah I know, those are scientific studies, and it's all laid out in the methods section...
    I do believe you can influence the outcome of a study by designing it a certain way. For example, limiting the length of the study to a tiny percentage of the withdrawal time a nicotine addict has to suffer through, and to what may not even cover the most intense period of cravings, but that represents the complete period of cannabis withdrawal in most cases. So of course that will automatically equalize the two somewhat. You call that data?
    "It is certainly the case that if we re-started from zero and lined up the most common recreational drugs and had a debate about the totality of "harms" we would likely end up with a different schema than at present. I agree totally."
    And we have done so. Quite thoroughly, numerous times in the last century. The verdict is, every time, even by conservatives who generally support prohibition, as follows: We have no business here. Not only should this product be de-criminalized, it should not be illegal at all. There are plenty of every day foods that are more dangerous etc etc etc etc.
    So what gives?
    I firmly believe that if you go looking for something you will find it, even via scientific methods.

  • Isabel says:

    "And are you being serious? You really don't understand about representative sampling? Honestly? Are you not in any type of science yourself?"
    I finally got around to reading the first one of your recommended papers, and I am going to have to pass on the other, I am just too burnt out on the subject. But I have to say you were pretty harsh in your criticism DrugMonkey, especially considering that the authors of the study had all the same supposedly ignorant concerns that I did. They also added a few more and overall recommended NOT extrapolating the results to users in general.
    Their added concerns were 1. regarding the double addictions, their was a potential "expectancy effect" and 2. they were most concerned about the huge drop out rate, in fact most of the participants dropped out, and the 12 participants were the small remainder. The authors felt that the study needed to be redone with a larger sample but doubted that would be possible to achieve with the high drop out rate.
    One thing I disagree with them on is the length of the withdrawal symptoms - they claim they peak for both drugs in that period but I would say maybe the intensity goes down a bit for the cigarettes but it just goes on and on and the cravings keep getting triggered, which is what makes it so comparatively difficult in my opinion.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Well now we are making progress, Isabel. Caveats are fine, I point out repeatedly that ALL studies have caveats. You, however, started from the position that all cannabis research is (and I quote) BULLSHIT. Implying that normal science factors were the very evidence of a massive gov conspiracy. That is what I criticize, not an informed analysis of the study limitations in a way that is not applying differential standards to cannabis research.

  • Isabel says:

    DrufMonkey, I would never say that all studies of anything are bullshit.
    Yes there are always caveats, but not all caveats are equal. Some are more serious than others. (Most people dropping out leaving a number too small is a pretty big caveat). No study is perfect. Etc. But I've been around long enough to see a pattern to these 'marijuana danger' studies. There's always a strong deja vu aspect.
    And the running counter to common sense element can be maddening. I remember when the govt was warning that young men might grow breasts. This was based on a very small study involving rats that no one was ever able to duplicate, despite trying, yet the govt refused to remove it from its warning list for many years after it was disproven. Now, after all these centuries of use, and all these millions of users, wouldn't we have noticed the breasts? It's just so zany to get a sudden warning about the danger. This is where many of us are coming from.

  • Isabel says:

    Sorry I meant DrugMonkey:)

  • Now, after all these centuries of use, and all these millions of users, wouldn't we have noticed the breasts? It's just so zany to get a sudden warning about the danger. This is where many of us are coming from.

    Well, there was that one govt propaganda advertisement where the two kids are sparking a doobie and then they find a loaded handgun in the one kid's father's desk drawer, and then the one kid blows the other kids brains out by mistake. That's because DRUGS KILL!!!!!!11!!111!!1!

  • random commenter says:

    just because the government (and other 'authorities', such as university admins) are into scare tactics rather than providing real information does NOT mean that all NIDA-funded cananbis research lacks credibility. that's an illogical conclusion at best. it's not like we have officials running around here suppressing the release of even the slightest suggestion that cannabis use is maybe not damaging.
    i can assert that because there are plenty of publications out there that fail to find a significant negative long-term effect of cannabis use. (though there are several examples where they DID find a significant difference, and those cannot be ignored simply because you don't like the data.)
    for someone so vociferous, Isabel, you did run out of steam pretty quickly. too burned out to read more than a single paper? put bluntly, you are only an expert on your own experience with cannabis. N=1 is damned useless- far more so than the N=12 you were criticizing. i know what my own experiences with drugs are/were like, but i'm not exactly a representative sample of the entire population.

  • DuWayne says:

    Holy Fucknoly!!! The Stoopid is strong here, oh so very strong...Between Isabel"the weed is harmless"Uber-Loon and niewiap's hysterical bullshit, we have a full motherfucking spectrum of the extreme idiocy.
    Isabel -
    You do understand do you not, that engaging in the self-same propagandizing that the die-hard drugwarriors engage in on the other side, makes you and people like you look just as fucking stoopid as they do? Sorry Uber-Loon, but cannabis isn't benign and being addicted to cannabis sucks. Is it as bad as dealing with many other addictions - depends on the addict.
    niewiap -
    HAHAHAHAHA!!!11!!1!!!
    If you get to take away my weed, I get to take your motherfucking twinkies. And any other fucking junk food you might be wasting your health on, making the society we live in that much worse. While we're at it - I have friends who're kind of bitter about their sex lives - you having sex for anything but reproductive purposes makes society a dark place for them - so we should outlaw sex too. And dammit - cars are really fucking dangerous and they pollute something aweful - we'll need to take your fucking car too then. Those kids, can't forget those irritating kids - if you can't keep a handle on your child's behavior - we don't want to see them outside your home. Whining - not allowed, hitting or throwing fits - not allowed. Can't stop them, lets just make it illegal for them to be out in public.
    Fuckall, but society is looking better and better every minute...

  • Isabel says:

    "it's not like we have officials running around here suppressing the release of even the slightest suggestion that cannabis use is maybe not damaging."
    They would never be so obvious, duh.
    What about the access to cannabis by independent researchers?
    As far as critiques of me "reading one paper and running out of steam...."
    Did you read the Indian Hemp Commissions report?
    Did you read the LaGuardia Commission's report?
    Did you read the Shafer commisssion's report?
    I did. And it's the same fucking shit over and over for 100 fucking years. And we go back to square one because Nixon hates hippies or some bullshit. I just have less tolerance for repetitive bullshit than you do apparently.
    IT'S NOT ABOUT THE " HEALTH RISKS"
    I've read plenty of other papers.I am a regular user, and interested in the results. I've read plenty of other literature on the subject.
    The point is, you are having the wrong discussion. And these bogus studies have real effects on human beings. And I'm sick of paying through the nose for something I could grow in my back yard because of this bullshit.
    And duWayne you are a rude asshole so I don't read or respond to your tantrums so save your energy.

  • Klem says:

    DM@#26 I suppose what I meant was that if there is a general principle from animal models, it is that essentially 100% of a population can be made to look dependent *given sufficient exposure*.
    What about "environmental enrichment" studies? Laboratory animals living in social groups in large cages with toys tend to be less interested in using addictive drugs. Suggests that while drug availability is of course a necessary factor, social+environmental factors are extremely important.
    For example, Solinas et al. Reversal of cocaine addiction by environmental enrichment. PNAS 2008, found that "30 days of environmental enrichment completely eliminates behavioral sensitization and conditioned place preference to cocaine. In addition, housing mice in enriched environments after the development of conditioned place preference prevents cocaine-induced reinstatement of conditioned place preference."

  • random commenter says:

    They would never be so obvious, duh.
    right, they all work behind the scenes to keep the information from getting out there. that's why it's so hard to publish these studies and so few exist in peer-reviewed journals... OH WAIT. being that you're so familiar with the literature and all, you should be aware of how many such studies are out there. right?
    I just have less tolerance for repetitive bullshit than you do apparently.
    or it could be because this is the field i study and i spend a fair amount of time reading peer-reviewed studies because of their relevance to my own work.
    note i specified peer-reviewed studies for a reason. you may want to take that into consideration.
    i've got my own history with cannabis, as does the (ballpark figure) 40% of the US population that has tried it in their lifetime. i'm not trying to villify recreational, self-limited cannabis use to any extent. i'm just saying the self-righteousness of proclaiming that you know everything about what it's like for anyone and everyone who smokes pot, and therefore it should be legal because it's ok by you and some other people who choose to speak out about it, is pretty outrageous.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Conditioned place preference and behavioral sensitization are crap models of "addiction", Klem.
    but nothing in this paper is incompatible with my position. yes, you can nudge the percentages around depending on drug dose, route, schedule and environmental circumstances. Yes, those circumstances are important when it comes to translation/inference to humans. but all that does is beg the question as to why this human exposes itself to drug X in the right pattern and the other one does not. It says nothing about the potential of that drug to cause physiological effects such as dependence (again) *given the appropriate exposure*.
    And even if you don't like my assertion about nearly 100%, it is very hard to escape the underlying point that more exposure means more expressing the adverse phenotype of interest.

  • Your tax dollars at work! says:

    1988 US DEA Docket No. 86-22, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge ruling on medical marijuana
    This is the ruling of the DEA's own Chief Administrative Law Judge which arose as the result of a suit against the Federal Government, seeking to reschedule marijuana for medical purposes. Before issuing his ruling, Judge Francis Young heard two years of testimony from both sides of the issue and accumulated fifteen volumes of research. This was undoubtedly the most comprehensive study of medical marijuana done to date. Judge Young concluded that marijuana was one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man, that it had never caused a single human death, and that the Federal Government's policy toward medical marijuana is "unconscionable."

  • Isabel says:

    I propose a compromise:
    De-criminalization of cannabis for personal use, release of all cannabis-related drug war prisoners, and commitment to legal availability of cannabis products for use by ALL researchers
    -AND- at the same time, continued funds for research into dependence AS WELL AS other health related issues (eg safer delivery systems)

  • Klem says:

    Hi DM, You seem to be saying that as long as the drugs are administered in "the right pattern" there is a very high likelihood of inducing addiction (however defined), so that social/environmental factors are most important only in influencing initial "pre-addictive" drug use, after that drug-related biological factors would take over.
    But, in the Solinas 2008 study all the mice were repeated injected with cocaine until they developed behaviors associated with addiction (I share your skepticism to animal models of addiction) - the mice did not get to choose. Only then were the animals randomized to standard housing (possibly similar to a human prison environment) or an "enriched environment" with toys etc. After between 7-30 days of abstinence, the standard environment mice still showed the same level of "addictiveness" to cocaine on three behavioral measures, but the enriched environment mice behaved the same as cocaine-naive mice.
    There are many similar studies of a beneficial influence of environmental enrichment on effects of drug use, including more directly on self-administration.
    A main argument for refusing to regulate the drug market, is that some drugs (such as cocaine) are inherently addictive, so that if they were distributed by pharmacists in standardized doses with warning labels, then consumption would necessarily increase dramatically.
    An alternative view is that drug addiction is comparable to other compulsive behaviors, in that is primarily about regulation of stress/anxiety/emotions, and so (highly dependent on the circumstances) only a subset of the exposed population will develop a compulsive desire to use drugs.
    Consider, despite harsh prohibition, the US has the world's highest rate of past-year cocaine use, higher than Mexico, where pure cocaine is very cheap, or Columbia and Bolivia, where cocaine is manufactured and unrefined coca tea is a popular drink. (And yes, higher than in 1909 when pure cocaine was available over-the-counter in pharmacies in the US.)
    Also, consider abortion, globally prohibitive laws have little effect on the overall rate of abortion, yet almost all harms from abortion are in countries were it is prohibited.
    Similarly, prohibition has greatly increased the harms from cocaine use, with no clearly demonstrated reduction of use or abuse.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Well, Klem, I suppose we are not covering any new ground. Fact is drugs are "inherently addictive" and this is my point about with sufficient exposure.
    Your point is that there are protective environmental circumstances which is a point with which I agree. It is indubitably the case that some circumstances will bias against development of compulsive use.
    Where we seem to disagree is that you seem to be falling into this trap of assuming that everyone who is vulnerable has already had access to drug and therefore broad legalization wouldn't affect anything. There is no support for your hypothesis. None. Within a given population, legal drugs are used by more people than illicit ones. The Portugal whitepaper shows quite clearly that you cannot make comparison across societies which differ in their base rate. Until and unless you identify and account for the reasons for those base-rate differences.
    Availability in the "market" is correlated with population incidence (again, despite the cannabis/MDMA advocates who argue that their drugs of choice are empirically better than nicotine and alcohol. I'm willing to buy the assertion but then you have some 'splainin to do about your hypothesis that anyone who really wants illicit drugs gets them anyway). There are large fractions of nonusers who cite legal status as a significant motivator of their use patterns.
    Your abortion argument is very revealing. It only holds up under the a priori assumption that abortion itself has no costs- a point which is vigorously opposed by the anti-choice crowd. This is similar to your insistence that drugs themselves have nothing to do with addiction...it is only the addictive person that is at risk. This flies in the face of available evidence which you wish to deny. Fine, you can continue to do so, but it is about as ridiculous as a pro-choice advocate claiming that a late term (say 32 wk) fetus isn't a viable person. To have a reasonable discussion, those that wish to maintain the right to late-term abortion for health of mother or other reasons have to accept reality and say that they are making a choice about relative interests. That's a legitimate argument.
    In your case, if you admit that there will be an uptick in addiction and other adverse health costs following legalization but that you are willing to incur the societal cost then we would have far less of a disconnect. I am far more interested in honestly identifying those costs than I am in telling anyone what political policy balances should be struck in the context of extant facts.

  • Isabel says:

    But you seem to have a very narrow view of what "health costs" are, at least in the case of cannabis legalization. Also the Indian Hemp Commission extensively interviewed hundreds of health officials and practitioners across India at a time when it was legal and everyone had easy access, and they did not discover that it was a major health issue.
    Thanks a lot for removing my posts by the way DrugMonkey. I put a lot of time into editing those to include the relevant sections of major investigations of the last hundred years, and to providing links that people are always demanding of me. Did you even read them? What is so new about 2009?

  • Isabel says:

    I summarized these important, extremely relevant reports, but DM removed my posts, and I don't have time to do so again, sorry. Perhaps because he wants us all to be doomed to repeat history.
    http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/inhemp/ihmenu.htm
    http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/lag/lagmenu.htm
    http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Editing or not, I'm not keen on a bunch of cut/paste as commentary. You can easily start your own blog if you want to do that.
    put in the links to the stuff and make some relevant arguments yourself with minimal paste quoting and I'll let it fly.

  • Isabel says:

    Did you read the posts? I did add commentary, and edited severely to include the most relevant portions. I was trying to save people time who didn't want to deal with the long reports. It took me two hours! I aint doing it again.
    I re-sent the links but it is in moderation I guess.

  • DuWayne says:

    Oh for fuck sakes DM, don't you get it? Cannabis is fucking magical...

  • Isabel says:

    from a comment on asshole's site:
    "I don't think, though, the people who usually go off on the hypocrisy of banning pot but not alcohol, do so because they think pot is magically harm-free -- just that it's significantly less harmful than alcohol."
    I think we have a responsibility to not advertise poorly designed and executed studies, suggesting that they link cannabis and nicotine in terms of addiction and withdrawal difficulties in a way that could be generalized, until sanity is restored. Certainly while cannnabis is considered a 'schedule I' drug these studies run the risk of adding fuel to the fire. People are in jail, have criminal records, aren't getting their medicine, are smoking weed that's been sprayed, are having their state and national parks trashed by Mexican drug cartels, students are losing access to financial aid, kids are being exposed through dealers to dangerous illegal substances, we are all paying way too much.
    And if we insist on doing these studies, we need to be clear that we are talking about exceptional cases and circumstances, that the results are not meant to apply to ordinary users, and the studies should be carefully designed.
    I have yet to see anyone point to "magic" or "conspiracies" although many like to constantly assert that myself and others are doing that. You might want to examine your need to do this. In the meantime, although cannabis does in fact have some amazing qualities, that specialness is not the topic of this discussion.
    But bias is uncontested. What did Nixon do when he got the report from the Shafer commission? That was not a sane reaction, and we are still suffering the consequences. There are many reports of independent researchers unable to obtain access to the drug. And we keep forgetting what we knew, we don't build on our previous knowledge. Again we are living an upside-down nightmare.
    I'm sorry the links did not go through. I think it's important to consider the major studies that have already been done. The Indian Hemp Commission report is especially important because it was done at a time and place when cannabis was freely available to a very large population and when people were honest with their doctors about their drug use. We could not do a study like that today, unfortunately.
    The links can be found on the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy's website, under 'major studies.'
    This brings me to another issue I have with pot addiction studies - the environment they are being done in, being irrational, will of course affect the outcome. Claiming complete objectivity is no more reasonable then claiming conspiracy. For example, millions of people are coerced into therapy nowadays for their 'marijuana use problems' just because they were identified as users because of a drug test. It's a small step to assuming these people actually have a drug problem (and for the people themselves to think so), and to blame other problems on the drug, assuming a cause and effect relationship. And of course all these people in the system getting therapy for their marijuana use creates a belief in the reality of a need for such therapy.
    And when quitting a substance, the worst thing you can do is think about how you are feeling. It's about mind control, you have to 'change the channel' as soon as you start to think about it. I would not have been able to quit cigarettes if I had not done so. I could easily see how just being part of a study could influence the severity of symptoms.

  • Chris says:

    Isabel: Millions of people coerced into therapy could apply to any addiction. People don't usually go into therapy for addiction voluntarily. They have to be coerced. Part of addiction is denial that the addiction is causing harm. Those who "coerce" them into therapy, you think, confuse cause and effect. Family members usually don't want to coerce people into rehab because of the social stigma unless they see a problem because the person's behavior is out of control. I can assure you that marijuana addiction is real. Everyone recognizes alcohol addiction, smoking addiction, cocaine addiction, but the fact that marijuana addiction is questioned is the problem, not that it is a made up addiction. Many of those in "treatment" are adolescents referred by the justice system, because that is what decriminalization did--it created an alternative to punishment which is treatment. Some of these kids may not be dependent in the strict sense of the word. But given that they are facing the consequences of their marijuana use by having to attend treatment in the first place, putting their education at risk, etc., one would think that they would be able to stop smoking to reduce the harm they are doing themselves. However, from my admittedly limited experience, the kids often continue smoking despite the consequences.
    Regarding the Indian Hemp study, I wonder if you think our society is really comparable to the society in which the study took place and if a duplication of the widespread use of hashish in our society would be desirable.

  • drugmonkey says:

    For newcomers, one of the fascinating discussion threads from before

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