With seventeen states now implementing medical marijuana programs, a growing admission of the “War on Drugs” as a failure and over half of all Americans favoring legalizing marijuana, it feels like we’re at a kind of tipping point in the case for legalization. If rumors at GQ magazine are to be trusted, President Obama plans on tackling the drug war if elected to a second term. (Although it’s fair to be skeptical after Obama broke his campaign promise to leave state medical dispensaries alone, in fact coming down harder on them than Bush ever did. Read more about “Obama’s War on Pot” in Rolling Stone magazine.) Politics aside, sometimes a picture’s worth a thousand words. Here’s a graphic to show your conservative friends who might not be convinced yet:
Created by: OnlineParalegalPrograms.com
With Columbia decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and cocaine, and Uraguay talking about full-fledged legalization of marijuana it looks like the Latin American countries are set to lead the way in demanding an end to this senseless bloodshed and persecution. Let’s hope the “Land of the Free” isn’t too far behind.
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The “Miami Zombie” or “Miami Cannibal” was the perfect headline to go viral, as it shocked people around the world. For those of you who somehow avoided the media blitz, a naked homeless man was shot and killed by Miami police after he was caught literally chewing off the face of another homeless man on a sidewalk near the MacArthur Causeway. The poor man’s face was unrecognizable by the time he was sent off to the hospital, you can see pictures of him pre-surgery and post-surgery (but please don’t click if you have a weak stomach.)
Finding out victim Ronald Poppo was an alumni of Stuyvesant High School in New York City (my alma mater) piqued my personal interest in the story. How does one go from Stuyvesant graduate to homeless in Miami and victim of a freak cannibal attack? More confirmation that attendance at a ‘prestigious’ school guarantees nothing.
Back to the story. From the very beginning, it was portrayed as a drug-related incident – adding another sensationalist layer to the headlines:
“Cops: New LSD May Be Behind Miami Cannibal Attack” – CBS News
“Apparently LSD Can Turn You Into a Face-Eating Zombie Now” – NY Magazine
The first headlines said attacker Rudy Eugene was high on LSD. New York Magazine reports:
[Armando] Aguilar, president for the Fraternal Order of Police, tells Banana Republican that Eugene exhibited signs he was high on LSD, as well as symptoms for “excited delirium,” a controversial syndrome that supposedly turns drug users (primarily cocaine enthusiasts) into raging and almost unstoppable incredible Hulks. “I’m going by similarities in other cases of excited delirium I’ve researched in the last couple of days,” Aguilar says.
Spoken like someone who’s definitely never taken psychedelics. Remember all those violent hippies in the 1960s?
The story quickly shifted over to ‘bath salts’, a legal high that commonly contains research chemicals mephedrone and MDPV. But the LSD angle still stuck.
“Miami man shot dead eating a man’s face may have been on LSD-like drug” the Guardian reports. Hilarity ensues as one reads the article:
A man shot dead by police as he ate the face of another man may have been under the influence of a potent LSD-like drug called bath salts, investigators believe.
Eugene was naked and Poppo was wearing only a shirt when police arrived, possibly a result of the delirium-inducing drug, which can have effects similar to cocaine and LSD. It can raise users’ body temperature significantly and make them feel they are burning up inside.
“When a person has taken all of his clothes off and become violent, it’s indicative of this excited delirium that’s caused by overdose of drugs,” Armando Aguilar, head of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, told the city’s WSVN news. “What’s happening is, inside their body their organs are burning up alive.”
Paul Adams, an emergency room doctor, said that synthetic stimulant drugs such as bath salts, named for its powdery substance, can make users feel invincible and give them superhuman strength, but can also trigger aggression, extreme paranoia and hallucinations.
“It’s the new designer drug,” he told the Guardian. “It causes a state of excited delirium, raises the body temperature and causes irritability and confusion, which is heightened when combined with a lack of adequate hydration. You find yourself not making sense, and you don’t control your emotions or your actions.”
How a drug can have “effects similar to cocaine and LSD” is beyond me, as the two drugs have almost polar opposite effects on consciousness and behavior. And “their organs are burning up alive”? Who is this guy?
In fact, “bath salts” (as they are sold in the US) are another name for the legal high that caused a similar (although not quite as sensational) moral panic in the UK a few years ago: mephedrone (sold as “plant food” and commonly called “meow meow” or “mcat”.) A story based on rumor and police statements claiming that a fourteen year old girl had died due to mephedrone led to a swift ban at the end of 2009. Less than a year later the Guardian reported “Mephedrone found not guilty” as it turned out mephedrone was not involved in the incident at all. (Several additional incidents cited as reasons to ban mephedrone turned out to be hoaxes or unrelated to mephedrone as well.) If only newspapers bothered to fact-check against their own prior reporting mistakes before publishing…
Mephedrone’s pharmacology has hardly been studied but it is chemically related to the amphetamines. Users describe effects that suggest its actions are between those of amphetamine (speed) and MDMA (ecstasy); it activates, energises and makes them feel good but is relatively short-lasting. This has been known for years, so articles describing mephedrone as LSD-like should be completely unacceptable under any standard of journalism.
But it’s not. Why? Because unfortunately our media (and police) are about as educated on the effects of drugs and illicit substances as the rest of society. The group of illicit substances that we colloquially label “drugs” have a mind-blowingly vast range of effects on consciousness and often have nothing in common other than their illegality. Only in a society this ignorant could articles like this be published and syndicated again and again with little to no questioning. Not to mention the fact that whenever anyone does something crazy, LSD is the favored scapegoat. Ironic when the heavily over-prescribed (legal) anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, painkiller and ADHD medications all cause various levels of psychosis either in overdose or withdrawal. But the tripped out “Ritalin Cannibal” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
So that’s it, case closed. Mention “bath salts” to your average person, and it’s likely that the “Miami Cannibal” will be the first thing that comes to mind.
Except that yesterday the coroner’s report on attacker Rudy Eugene was released. Time Magazine reports “The Cannabis Cannibal? Miami Face-Eater Didn’t Take ‘Bath Salts’”. It was found that the only drug in his system was cannabis, confirming earlier reports where his girlfriend stated that he never took drugs other than marijuana. Bath salts were only ever part of this story as pure police and media speculation, based on a complete lack of knowledge as to what effects bath salts generally have on the user.
Inevitably of course, the true story will never get circulated even a fraction as widely as the original was. And so another urban legend is born. Now all there is to do is wait for the inevitable political backlash against bath salts, which remain legal in some states. Not for long!
Last night I had the pleasure of attending UK ex-chief drug advisor David Nutt’s lecture here in London at the Hub Islington, one of a dozen such Hub communities that bring together people working for social change across the globe.
David Nutt was fired for standing up for scientific evidence that showed, for example, that ecstasy, cannabis, and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol. Or that more people die falling off horses every year than taking ecstasy (see his article on Equasy vs Ecstasy.) But it didn’t take long for Professor Nutt to get back on his feet: he’s just started the new Independent Council on Drug Harms with some of the top scientists in the field, which will rival the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
The most crucial data that the government doesn’t want to deal with appears in the graph below, from the 2007 Lancet article ‘Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse’:
The paper, co-authored by Prof Blakemore and Prof David Nutt, et al. , ‘presents a scale of harms based on three scales – physical harm, dependence and social harm – which were independently assessed by two groups of experts from the fields of chemistry, pharmacology, forensic science, psychiatry and other medical specialties.’
There was a surprisingly poor correlation between drugs’ class according to the Misuse of Drugs Act and their actual harm scores. Alcohol, ketamine, tobacco, and solvents (all unclassified at the time of assessment) were ranked as more harmful than LSD and ecstasy (class A drugs).
It’s obvious that something’s wrong here.
Professor Nutt talked about politicians feeling the pressure to be tough on drugs – but it turns out that at the time cannabis was reclassified as a Class B drug, two thirds of the public wanted cannabis to remain Class C or less. Maybe one of the answers is that we the public need to be more vocal in our desire for drug policy reform.
During the lecture at times I believe many of us didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, like when we read MP Vernon Coaker’s statement that “We look for evidence to support our policy decisions.” Surely it should be the other way around?
Last but not least is media bias. Scottish graduate Alasdair J M Forsyth wrote his PhD having looked at every single newspaper report of drug deaths in Scotland from 1990 to 1999 and then compared them with the coroners’ data. Check out the results below:
Out of the 2,255 drug deaths that decade, only certain drugs tended to attract media attention. 1 out of 265 involving paracetamol, 1 out of 72 involving morphine, 1 out of 48 involving diazepam – the media were clearly not interested in these drugs. They were more interested in cocaine (8:1), amphetamines (3:1) and heroin (5:1). But unbelievably, out of the 28 deaths from ecstasy in ten years, 26 were reported, meaning a near 1:1 ratio. An astounding bias.
Professor Nutt also pointed out that cannabis is not on this chart because cannabis doesn’t kill – you cannot die of a cannabis overdose. Of course alcohol is also missing off that list. Alcohol alone will have killed between 2000-3000 people in Scotland in that same decade – the same as all the other drugs combined. Makes you wonder why it is we consider alcohol in a separate category from the drugs we classify due to their potential harm.
One final example of how even some scientific reporting about drugs is biased. A study that made front page headlines claiming that ‘ecstasy fries your brain’ was later quietly retracted when the researchers realized they had given their subjects methamphetamine instead of ecstasy. Oops!
It’s enough to fry your brain without the drugs.
‘Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse’
D Nutt, LA King, W Saulsbury, C Blakemore
Lancet 2007: 369, 1047-1053
‘Distorted? a quantitative exploration of drug fatality reports in the popular press’
International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 12, Issue 5, Pages 435-453
Looks like it’s the beginning of the end. Yesterday’s Independent featured an excellent article by Hugh O’Shaughnessy called “US Waves White Flag in Disastrous ‘War on Drugs'”:
“After 40 years of defeat and failure, America’s “war on drugs” is being buried in the same fashion as it was born – amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America’s longest “war” may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard.”
“For the lives and sanity of millions, the seeing of the light is decidedly late. The conditions of the 1920s, when the US Congress outlawed alcohol and allowed Al Capone and his kin to make massive fortunes, have been re-created up and down Latin America.”
Highly recommended reading. Are we finally coming out the dark ages? It’s only in the last hundred years that we made it illegal to eat, drink, and/or smoke certain plants. Brainwaving.com has a fascinating history of what happened when drugs were legal and why they were prohibited.
All this comes in the same month that a New Jersey vote backed marijuana for the severely ill and California’s proposal to legalize and tax marijuana was approved by a key committee of the Assembly. Not to mention the opening of Oregon’s first marijuana restaurant/cafe.
Kind of ironic considering it was only last year the UK government reclassified cannabis as a Class B drug, meaning that in the eyes of the law, weed is as bad as amphetamines and barbiturates.
Fourteen states in the US now have medical marijuana laws, recognizing the positive potential of cannabis. Come on England!
In the face of the UK government’s current drug policy of scare tactics and ignorance, it looks like David Nutt, the ex-chief drug advisor who was fired last year, is making a comeback.
The BBC reported on Nutt’s ‘powerful grouping’, the Independent Council on Drug Harms, to be launched at a meeting in January 2010. Dose Nation was one of the first to praise Prof Nutt’s new drugs group, which will rival the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
Then Sphere reported on a Telegraph article that slipped under the radar during Christmas. Professor Nutt is working at Imperial College to develop an alcohol substitute that avoids drunkenness and hangovers.
While I’m skeptical about society substituting a valium-type drug for alcohol, it would be an improvement on the fairly dire situation we’re in with alcohol abuse today. More promising is Nutt’s refusal to back down when it comes to providing independent scientific evidence about the effects of drugs. It’s about time someone stood up for the truth.
Knowing Nutt’s public disagreement with the government’s decision to re-classify cannabis as a Class B Drug and not to downgrade ecstasy, change could be in the air.
President Obama might have laughed off the question at a Pennsylvania Jobs Town Hall, but legalizing prostitution, drugs, and gambling makes sense both in terms of personal rights and economic growth.
The fact is that these things go on anyway, untaxed. That is a major source of government revenue lost every year. On top of that, because all these industries are forced underground, criminal gangs get involved and violence enters the picture where it certainly shouldn’t have to. Leading, of course, to the government instead spending endless money fighting the crime that arises and a “War on Drugs” that can’t be won.
Never mind the fact that nothing involving two consenting adults, or the ingestion of a substance by personal choice should really be illegal.
Why is it that we are so far from making these changes that our so-called “liberal” president can literally just laugh off the question?
Of course these things aren’t going to become legalized overnight. But decriminalization would be a first great step. We could learn a lot from Portugal’s 2001 decriminalization of all drugs, for example. Seven years later the data is in, and the policy has been a “resounding success”.
What really killed me was President Obama praising the student who asked the question for “doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing,” in college by “thinking in new ways about things.”
Well yes, Mr. President, exactly. Something that shouldn’t end in college. Something we need to see more of in this country’s social policies across the board. You campaigned on the concept of change. Isn’t it about time we saw some?
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Posted: December 6th, 2009
, Sex Work
, President Obama
, sex industry
, Sex Work
Brilliant study at University College of London (UCL) published this week confirms what ex-government advisor David Nutt was saying before he got fired by the UK government for saying it. The classification of a drug as illegal has no correlation to it’s harmfulness, especially when compared to legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco. On top of it all, the study found that drug users’ ratings of the relative safety of different legal and illegal substances had a high correlation to the harm ratings made by scientific experts. In other words, the scientists know it and the drug users know it. Isn’t it time the government caught on?
Maybe we need to start questioning exactly whose interest it is in to have substances like alcohol and cigarettes legal while prosecuting the use of cannabis and other psychedelic drugs.