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Random Thoughts on America's Recent Birthday

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 09:38
238 years ago, 13 British colonies on the Atlantic seaboard of North America declared themselves independent of British rule in a document now famous as the Declaration of Independence. Its author, Thomas Jefferson went on to become one of the founders of the new nation and its 3rd President.

Recently, DNA evidence confirmed that following the death of his wife, Martha, Jefferson had several children by Sally Hemings, a woman of color who was both his slave and Martha's half sister. Such tangled relationships were probably not rare, given the degree to which chattel slavery had become essential to the economy of Southern colonies before our successful rebellion against British rule. There can also be little doubt that our forefathers' dependence on chattel slavery has adversely affected our development as a nation. As W.E.B. DuBois noted in 1896, the 3/5 compromise, resolved the deadlock over slavery and enabled our founders to finish drafting their Constitution in 1787, but was ultimately responsible for the bitter Civil War we were lucky to survive. Sadly, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln almost immediately following his reelection in 1865 deprived us of his leadership during the critical Reconstruction era.

In 1896, the Supreme Court's thoughtless Plessy decision essentially re-enslaved blacks by trapping them in the sharecropping economy of the "deep" South. The continuing rancor of Southern Democrats was also painfully evident throughout the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, it was not until after World War II that the Armed Forces were desegregated by Harry Truman's Executive Order in 1947- at about the same time that the color line in baseball was broken by Jackie Robinson.

Although progress in race relations in the United States since the end of WW2 has been slow, difficult, and erratic; "African-Americans' now have the right to vote and their civil rights are protected, albeit better in some states than others. However it's already been a Century and a half since the Civil War ended. There's also little doubt that Republican “red" states (predominantly ex-Confederate) still discriminate and there's also significant income and educational disparity on he national level.

Shifting to our history as a species- humans remain conspicuously vulnerable to jealousy, greed, and insecurity. The UN now enforces a a major anomaly of American Law, the War on Drugs ;despite it's well-known record of failure.

Finally, we also have abundant evidence that we have dangerously overpopulated our species' only available habitat for the foreseeable future, yet humans obviously find waging war against each other preferable to reaching agreement.

Ironically there is now a biracial President in the White House (who is nonetheless seen as black in most "red" states}. Safely reelected to a second term in 2012, he would to have little to lose- and predictably much to gain- by endorsing cannabis legalization.

I base that opinion on a study of (now) over 7000 cannabis users revealing that paternal participation in the life of their children is particularly important to their self-esteem and early adolescent behavior.

Finally, Obama's own adolescent pot use as a member of the Choom Gang should be pointed out to him within the context of his own upbringing. He's certainly smart enough to understand that ending Tricky Dick's punitive drug war will look a lot better on his ex-Presidential resume than having had that chance and wimping out.

Doctor Tom
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Supremes Run True to Form

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Tue, 07/01/2014 - 10:31
In a blog entry dated April 20, 2811, I wrote. "Notwithstanding the 2012 election results, the drug war seems assured of enough Congressional support to survive as a protected policy for the indefinite future. Nor does it lack support from a Supreme Court that's been stacked with a Roman Catholic majority by fundamentalist Republicans intent on overturning Roe V Wade.

Yesterday's "Hobby Lobby" decision by the Supreme Court will, if nothing else, cause an increase in the numbers of unwanted children. My work with cannabis applicants revealed- somewhat unexpectedly- that children who–- for whatever reason- do not have the support of their biological fathers during critical childhood years, are prone to exhibit maladaptive behaviors such as ADD and ADHD from as early as age 4 or 5 (some even younger). It was also discovered that adolescent use of cannabis not only mitigated those behaviors, but exerted a positive influence on symptoms by reducing anxiety while enhancing focus, concentration, and memory with attendant improvement in school performance.

Associated findings (which make sense in the light of those discoveries) included an increased tendency by affected children to try (initiate) other psychotropic drugs such as nicotine, alcohol, and a bevy of so-called psychedelics in early adolescence. Needless to say, when the repressive Controlled Substances Act of 1970 with its emphasis on police as society's primary agents for dealing with "addiction," collided with the record population of young people produced in the immediate aftermath of World War Two (the “Baby Boom”) things began to happen.

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Ms Dowd's Rocky Mountain High, Part 2

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Sun, 06/29/2014 - 15:18
In the last entry,I pointed out that edible cannabis is processed very differently than smoke, primarily because it is swallowed; which means it must be broken down by the gastrointestinal tract. Thus rather than traveling immediately to the brain like smoke, the cannabis in a pot confection is digested , a process that takes 20-40 minutes and– so far as I can tell– has yet to be studied in detail in the modern era.

As soon as I read Ms Dowd's account of her edible misadventure, I knew her prominence as a New York Times columnist would evoke considerable commentary and was curious as to whether it would reflect any better understanding of the edible-smoke difference than I'd encountered in my patient histories a few years ago. The first author to deal with what I've come to think of as Dowd's Rocky Mountain High was Steve Wishnia, a medical marijuana advocate whose piece in the Daily Beast included quotes from several prominent medical marijuana supporters, all of whom agreed that edibles and smoke are indeed different, but gave multiple conflicting opinions about why that was so. Read in sequence, the reasons offered were laughably out of synch with basic anatomy and physiology as well as with each other.

Wishnia started out well, "the pharmacokinetics of marijuana—the way it is absorbed and excreted by the body—are different for smoking and eating." However, he then quoted psychologist Mitch Earleywine, a pyofrssor at the State University of New York in Albany, “Smoked or vaporized cannabis bypasses the liver and doesn’t create the same 11-hydroxy-THC." Wrong. The 11-hydroxy-THC idea is a canard dating back to a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 1973 which did not specify how the 11-hydroxy-thc is produced and certainly did not consider the effect of liver processing on the products of enteric digestion. We now know that a plethora of complex molecules are found in 2 different strains (indica and sativa) of cannabis, each with its own plethora of individual components. The truth is that the liver has the last word on edible effects, which are far more complex than smoke because the liver breaks down complex cannabinoid digestion products (that have also been incompletely studied). The liver is clearly the basis for the "body high" which on the basis of patient data, seems more likely to be responsible for the benefits cannabis provides important (and to date unrecognized) relief to people afflicted by a relatively recent cluster of illnesses known as autoimmune disorders.

One would think that with all of the medical interest in marijuana since California opted to vote for "medical" use in 1996, that the physicians charged with finding out what its users found so good about it might have done a better job of learning why its chronic users liked it so much. One of the reasons for the fog of persistent ignorance has been the malevolence of the DEA, but that still doesn't account for why such a stupid and irrational law should remain the global default on an herb that appears to be the richest source of natural medicine ever encountered.

All of which prompts a logical question: can a species this stupid be saved from itself?

Doctor Tom
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Drug War Insanity; Ms Dowd's Rocky Mountain High: Part 1

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Sat, 06/28/2014 - 13:41
Relatively early in the unauthorized study of cannabis users I began 10 years ago, I discovered several differences between the "high" produced when pot is inhaled as smoke vs consumed by mouth. Those differences were well known to chronic users, but– as I also discovered– the reasons for them remain obscure.

In a nutshell. one can get high either way, but the "head" high produced by smoke comes on faster, is over sooner, and– perhaps most importantly– can be titrated (measured) on a toke-by-toke basis. That ability to titrate is important, because contrary to cherished beliefs of the DEA and many pot naive people, "stoners," don't always want to be stoned; they simply want to relax, which brings up a critical difference in terminology.

While being under the influence of marijuana and alcohol are both considered being "high," the marijuana high is most often a therapeutic (anxiolytic) state, under the control of its experienced users, especially when it is inhaled. That's because the quickest route to the brain is by inhalation. The experienced user feels the 1st toke and is thus able to follow the progress of the high, toke by toke. There is no alcohol equivalent because alcohol cannot be inhaled. Thus alcohol is always treated as an "edible;" consumed by mouth and processed by the gastrointestinal tract.

Other drugs inhalable drugs are nicotine, heroin, meth, and more recently- crack. All are sensed almost immediately by the brain with the 1st toke (inhalation) thus giving the user a degree of control over the "high." But when we compare the various “highs,” we find significant differences. That produced by nicotine delivered by a cigarette is of the shortest duration and is now conceded to be the most addictive and dangerous to user health. Nevertheless, cigarettes are still legal everywhere and despite their well-recognized dangers, are used chronically by approximately 30% of people in the US and most modern nations.

On a purely rational basis, if a prohibition policy were really effective, cigarettes should be the first "substance" listed on "schedule one." However that's not the case. Despite relatively huge increase in cigarette taxes intended to discourage their use, approximately 1/3, or more of the world's population still smokes. In fact, China, which has a government monopoly on cigarettes and thus profits from their use, is estimated to consume 3 out of every 10 cigarettes smoked the world today. The long term adverse health consequences of such a situation would seem obvious.

As mentioned earlier, edible marijuana affects all users a lot differently than smoke. That's because its processing by the body is entirely different. The gastrointestinal tract does not provide instant feedback because pot digestion products take longer than smoke to reach the brain thus eliminating any rapid titration benefit. Another big difference is that the breakdown products of cannabis digestion have not been studied in significant detail since 1973, nor have they ever been studied as completely as they might have been to which compounds are produced by hepatic processing, a step that smoke is not subjected to.

NYT columnist Maureen Dowd had a typical edible experience during a recent trip to Colorado.

A self-confessed pot novice, the normally unflappable Ms Dowd was still clearly distraught when she reported on her "bad trip" to readers in a column written the next day. Of considerable interest to me was that the explanations offered for her distress were just as uninformed as I have come to expect from both novices and seasoned heads. In the interests of clarity, I will try again to explain the edible mystery in terms of its pertinent anatomy and physiology.

However, this lesson has already become too long and complicated, so in the interests of clarity, I'll complete the explanation of the "edible" difference in another entry.

Doctor Tom
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The Approaching Centennial of American Drug Insanty

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 13:55
On December 17th of this year the American policy that matured into a global "war" on drugs in 1970 will celebrate a painful centennial; it was on that day in 1914 that Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act, the first of three punitive laws based on the idea that police are the professionals most qualified to define and treat "addiction," a condition that still can't be defined as other than an undesirable behavior. Harrison was the first of 3 major pieces of inept American legislation that would coalesce into a global "drug war" with passage of the most misguided of all in 1970: Richard Nixon's Controlled Substances Act.

In a bizarre twist, the 18th amendment mandating the prohibition of alcohol was not passed until 1918, 4 years after Harrison. The much-anticipated ban on commerce in alcohol, which had been expected by many to bring about an alcohol free utopia, failed miserably and had to be repealed a mere 14 years after ratification. Perhaps the most obvious lesson (not) learned from that failure is that prohibition laws forbidding products or services desired by a significant minority of the population will inevitably create illegal markets which, in turn, induce wholesale corruption and end up doing far more harm than good.

Nevertheless, Harrison remained in force by surviving several 5-4 Supreme Court decisions between 1915 and 1920. Later, the Court ruled unanimously against itself in Linder in 1925, but because no other drug cases were decided after that, Harrison continued to survive under the watchful eye of Harry Anslinger.

In 1937, a 2nd critical piece of prohibitive legislation– known as the Marijuana” Tax Act was pushed through Congress by Anslinger himself, who had been made Chief of the Federal Bureau of narcotics, despite his complete lack of qualifications for the position. However, he had important political connections: his uncle was Andrew Mellon, who just happened to be Secretary of the Treasury and the richest man in America.

The third act in this legislative farce took place over 30 years later when Richard Nixon-possibly the least qualified American president ever– took it upon himself to enhance the scope and power of American drug policy in the complete absence of supporting evidence. He then compounded the felony by announcing criteria for the establishment of new illegal drug markets on a substance by substance basis, a privilege awarded to the Attorney General, thus excluding Medicine completely from both the legal and regulatory processes.

In an astounding example of the blind following the blind, The UN then updated, without significant discussion, its original 1961 commitment to ape American drug policy.

To a degree that has yet to be appreciated, Nixon's need to deal with the hippies then protesting the war in Vietnam, who were also the leading edge of an emergent new “drug culture,” dovetailed almost perfectly with the confusion and distress felt by their parents and elders over their behavior. That mutual generational ignorance led to an uncritical acceptance of Nixon' (and John Mitchell's) Controlled Substances Act which– in retrospect– can be seen as a purely rhetorical exercise aimed directly at the young political rebels then (understandably) protesting America's sadly mistaken war in Vietnam.

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The Drug War's Cardinal Errors

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Tue, 06/03/2014 - 10:25
America's War on Drugs is a humanitarian catastrophe that evolved from three erroneous beliefs about "addiction," an entity that was not understood in 1914 and has yet to be precisely defined– thanks in large measure to American hubris. In essence, the erroneous beliefs embraced by the Harrison Act of 1914 have not only been retained, they have been amplified and multiplied, thus turning a potentially remedial policy mistake into a global disaster in conjunction with America's greatly enhanced wealth, and concomitant economic and military importance.

The three cardinal errors embodied in Harrison were 1) that the federal government understands "addiction." 2) that it has an obligation to treat it; and 3) that the criminal justice system is the treatment bureaucracy of choice (actually the Treasury Department had initially been charged with that responsibility, but the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, by creating the DEA, clearly assigned the burden of explaining and prosecuting the phenomena of "addiction" and 'drug abuse" to the Department of Justice.
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Aspberger's and PTSD in the News

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Mon, 05/26/2014 - 17:41
Asperger syndrome and PTSD are both are emotional disorders which have been effectively self-medicated by many of the patients I've interviewed pursuant to their use of (federally illegal) "medical marijuana" during the past 10 years. I've now taken histories from over 7000 applicants seeking to use pot medically in California. Despite an increasing voter demand for liberalizing our rigid federal "marijuana" laws, there is no significant movement to remove it from the list of Schedule One (totally forbidden) drugs and the US federal bureaucracy has remained adamant that it will not be "rescheduled," a position that's becoming increasingly difficult for them to defend in light of current news.

For example, 2 of the leading stories on this Memorial Day Weekend dealt with conditions cannabis treats very effectively. One involved a typically troubled youth who had been diagnosed and treated within the "system" for Asperger's for at least three years. He uploaded both his bitter feelings and his proposed solution on You Tube before setting out to make good on his threats. In a more rational setting, an honest Pharmaceutical Industry could easily have made a nebulized cannabis preparation available. Sadly, sixteen years after "medical use" was approved for California, both an honest federal bureaucracy and and an honest pharmaceutical industry are still distant pipe dreams.

Even more maddening to me is that our President is a living, breathing example of someone who successfully treated his own ADD with illegal cannabis while a prep school student in Hawaii and doesn't even know it. My study, first presented to the pathetically uninformed "Medical Marijuana" lobby 1995 (and ignored by them ever since) pointed out the consistent relationship between absence of the biologic father from a child's life and how the symptoms of ADD are mitigated by (illegal) adolescent use: a correlation first noted among the "baby boomers" now aging into Medicare and still continuing among their grandchildren.

The other Memorial Day story was a criticism of inadequate VA care of the "Wounded Warriors" Ironically, both the Controlled Substances Act and the All Volunteer Army, both of which were conceived of by Richard Nixon, are continuing to wreak havoc long after the Trickster died in1994. There are now an average of 22 suicides /day being among returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan and the VA, which is responsible for their medical care, is forbidden to use the one drug my study shows mitigates PTSD better than any of the synthetic pot imitators being pushed by Big Pharma.

Abilify anyone?

Doctor Tom
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An American Hitler's Deadly Prescription for "improving" the Species

Dr. Tom O'Connell's Blog - Wed, 05/21/2014 - 13:07
It would be considered a stretch by most to compare any American President with Adolph Hitler, perhaps the most infamous tyrant in human history to date. However, there are several cogent reasons for comparing him to Richard Nixon.

Both men were ambitious national leaders who were very resentful after being traumatized during childhood by unsatisfactory relationships with their biological fathers; a circumstance identified as surprisingly common in my opportunistic study of over 7000 American cannabis users seeking my approval tP use as marijuana "medically" between 2001 and 2013.

Nixon was guilty of perjury and bribery in the Watergate scandal, also the disruptive secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia, yet the disrespect in which his truncated presidency is held by most historians has little to do with what I consider his worst crime: the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which was approved by Congress with minimal discussion midway through his first term and has since been loyally supported by state and federal police ever since. That the CSA has has remained global drug policy despite its disruptive influence on the lives of so many humans since 1970 is not encouraging.

At least Hitler's crimes ended with his death. Nixon's victims are still being born and then being victimized by the predatory illegal markets encouraged by a law being enforced by police in he mistaken notion that they are "protecting" society.

In truth, the CSA is classic fascism. It has "succeeded" by masquerading as (virtuous) Public Health for over forty years, but at terrible human and social cost which is compounded every year.

Why that is so has a lot to do with human culture, which– in turn– has a lot to do with our (relatively) recent appearance among mammalian species; about a quarter of a million years ago, most of it before we could think clearly or write,

Before pooh-poohing that line of reasoning too vigorously, nay-sayers should realize that a) this is not a bible-friendly site and b) the best scientific information on our origins is that Evolution happened; also that H. sapiens is a relative newcomer on a planet that's been in our galaxy for over 4 billion years– and home to life for about 500 million. There's obviously a lot we have yet to learn.

Since we don't know much about the process of speciation, we can on;y surmise that it did happen without worrying how. It's also very human to want coherent answers for our most existential questions and then argue about which are true and what they all mean.

However, given our terrible record of failure at correcting human behavior by repressive laws, it might be better to worry about how we can get help each other succeed than how best to punish those we disagree with. Neither Genocide nor mass incarceration for spurious reasons has worked and both have had extensive trials throughout human history.

Doctor Tom
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