Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Drug Madness Costs Decades of Research

For the last 100 years, politics, moral panic and special interest groups have shaped the world’s drug policies often leaving facts and science behind in the race for a drug free world. Just last week, Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the UK was sacked after he claimed that cannabis, ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than the legal drugs tobacco and alcohol. Professor Nutt, head of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol has long been a critic of the UK drug scheduling list, often saying that drug policy is not based on science or research but political posturing. The current UK government is the countries first administration in power to ignore a report from the AMCD and implement contradicting recommendations. The science community is in an uproar that an independent scientific committee can have their chief scientist sacked for simply telling the truth that just happens to conflict with the government’s political position. Professor Nutt and his colleagues had previously initiated several government enquiries into drug policy but each one has been shut down by members of the government when it threatened their political position. The failure to class drugs appropriately might seem illogical or just a political game by dopey politicians but the real world carnage for users is life changing. With courts able to dish out some serious prison time, addicts, users and dealers face daily the possibility of spending decades behind bars. The effects are usually devastating on the families and friends involved.

Led by the US, the UN has constantly pushed all member countries to support and ratify treaties with more restrictive and harsher drug policies. This led to various treaties for different regions but they were eventually wrapped into The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances following a decade later. The 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances later expanded the two existing treaties to better tackle global organised crime and place more pressure on consumer countries to arrest drug users and addicts instead of just the manufacturers, suppliers and dealers. Yes, you read that right ... a concerted effort to arrest more users and addicts.
... each Party shall adopt such measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence under its domestic law, when committed intentionally, the possession, purchase or cultivation of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances for personal consumption contrary to the provisions of the 1961 Convention, the 1961 Convention as amended or the 1971 Convention.
-The 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances

The reliance on extreme and harsh punitive measures to manage drug policies has created a massive artificial, illegal industry worth $400 billion dollars a year. It also created a world living in fear. It started in the early 1900s when authorities arrested doctors who prescribed opiates for addiction and continued to the current day restrictions on medical research involving illicit drugs. Drugs that held great promise for various ailments were often forced unnecessarily onto the most dangerous list when they became popular for recreational use by the public. Doctors are hesitant to prescribe strong painkillers for fear of being targeted by the over zealous authorities. Substitution treatment for heroin addicts is limited to a few basic opioids as heroin assisted treatment (HAT) was deemed to breach UN drug treaties. Even medical marijuana has been ignored by most countries as decades of propaganda has tarnished it’s image as a dangerous drug.

Strangely enough, cannabis would have never been banned had the US congress accepted the advice of the American Medical Association(AMA) and not the racist views of Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger hated Mexicans (who were the main users then) and had a lot of personal interest in banning marijuana. Incidentally, Anslinger had once claimed it’s use was harmless. Dr. William Woodward from the AMA also appeared in congress that day and contradicted every reason put forward by Anslinger for banning cannabis. But the chairman chose to read articles from the media as proof that cannabis was as dangerous as Anslinger claimed. Ironically, the beat-up in the media was the main issue raised by the AMA that said the US media was not basing their articles on any evidence whatsoever and none of their claims have ever been scrutinised by research. It’s worth noting that the owner of the newspapers that printed these stories was William Randolf Hearst who had huge financial interests in closing down the hemp industry. He was also a well known racist who hated Mexicans as much as Anslinger. After ignoring any science put forward by the AMA, the bill was passed. When the bill went to the floor of the house to be approved another incredible incident helped seal the fate of cannabis and hemp.
Member from upstate New York: “Mr. Speaker, what is this bill about?”

Speaker Rayburn: “I don’t know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it’s a narcotic of some kind.”

Member from upstate New York: “Mr. Speaker, does the American Medical Association support this bill?”

Member on the committee jumps up and says: “Their Doctor Wentworth(Woodward) came down here. They support this bill 100 percent.”

And on the basis of that lie, on August 2, 1937, marijuana became illegal at the federal level.

-Why is Marijuana Illegal? - Drug War Rant

Although 15 states in the US now support medical marijuana which treats millions of patients, it is still listed as a schedule I drug.
Schedule I Drug:
(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States
(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

As you can see, points B and C simply do not apply to cannabis. This is an example of how outdated and obsolete that drug scheduling is in it’s current form. Since drug laws and punishment are usually based on scheduling a huge array of issues are distorted including crime, sentencing and research.

Although cannabis is classed as having “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” , there are many claims about it being a miracle treatment for all sorts of conditions, including cancer. From Ricky Simpson to Harvard University, claims of cannabis fighting cancer cells or even being a cure have been circulating since the 1960s. According to the BBC in their health section, cannabis helps reduce the side effects of chemotherapy by allowing patients to regain their appetite quickly and reduce nausea. For these reasons, it is also used for AIDS patients with Wasting Disease. Cannabis also helps treat multiple sclerosis, menstrual cramps, depression, mood disorders, glaucoma, asthma, strokes, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, alcoholism and insomnia. However, according to the BBC there are side effects and the “opponents of the use of cannabis” point out - it damages the ability to concentrate. If these “opponents of the use of cannabis” get their way, all the people suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis etc. can concentrate all the better on dying a slow, painful death.

Apart from marijuana, other drugs listed in the US as schedule I are heroin, mescaline, MDMA(ecstasy), GHB, LSD and psilocybin(magic mushrooms). You might notice that some of these drugs don’t fit the criteria very well especially point B that says, The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. MDMA, LSD and psilocybin were showing great potential when used during the 1960s and 1970s for various psychiatric studies and physiological therapy. But like all drugs that become popular for recreational use, they were quickly banned in a bid to protect the public from harming themselves. In their haste though, the science community were also mostly denied access to these drugs regardless of their potential medical use.
Prof Roland Griffiths at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore Maryland recently published a study of 36 healthy volunteers who were given psilocybin and then observed in the lab. The participants' ages ranged from 24 to 64 and none had taken hallucinogens before. When the group were interviewed again 14 months later 58% said they rated the experience as being among the five most personally meaningful of their lives, 67% said it was in their top five spiritual experiences, and 64% said it had increased their well-being or life satisfaction.
-The Guardian: Clinical Trials Test Potential Of Hallucinogenic Drugs To Help Patients With Terminal Illnesses

Prior to the popularity of these new hallucinogenic drugs for recreational use, they were considered to be cutting edge science. They helped scientists better understand the mind and how the brain works including the treatment of several conditions like alcoholism. The potential was exciting for the many scientists who were exposed to a whole new field and were able to treat patients that had not responded to previous treatments. But the rising use of these drugs for pleasure, especially LSD, was just too much for a conservative America and soon stories of people jumping out windows and crossing busy roads while “tripping” became urban myths. Hippies with long hair and other anti-establishment behaviour became the image embedded in the public’s mind when LSD or other hallucinogenic drugs were mentioned. Eventually the media and the government started questioning the safety of using these drugs for research with exaggerated stories of psychosis and other mental health problems. The truth is that these drugs are basically non toxic, non addictive and rarely have long term effects unless there is a pre-existing mental illness. All the success and potential didn’t matter though. They were seen as dangerous to society, immoral and a symbol of rebellious, anti-American youth.

The story of how MDMA(ecstasy) became a schedule I drug is just one of the amazing examples of how obscure drug scheduling still is.
Most of the information available regarding street use of MDMA(in the 80s) is based on anecdotal accounts given to the media, therapists, and substance abuse professionals...
-Erowid (1987)

Without any qualified evidence, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defied medical research and used their emergency scheduling powers to temporarily make MDMA a Schedule I drug. Several medical professionals including pharmacology experts argued that a Schedule I status would severely hinder their research into MDMA's therapeutic potential. The science community appealed the emergency classification before the administrative law judge, Francis Young who recommended that MDMA be classed as a Schedule III drug. The DEA rejected the judge’s recommendation and MDMA was made a Schedule I drug permanently. Obviously the medical experts, researchers and scientists were wrong. God damn, even the judge was wrong.

MDMA - Another Case of Crack/Cocaine Disparity?
In response to a mandate from the US Congress and after weighing the views of the Justice Department, the US Sentencing Commission in 2001 increased the penalties for MDMA offences by nearly 3000%. This made the penalty for possessing 4 ecstasy pills the equivalent of having 1 kilogram of cannabis or 1 gram of heroin.
The change makes ecstasy five times more serious to possess or sell than heroin on a per-dose basis [...] This is a wholly political act, not one based on scientific evidence
-Edward Mallett - President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Opposing the new laws and armed with scientific evidence that MDMA was nowhere near the danger levels of heroin to both society and the user, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Federation of American Scientists called for a relaxing of the laws involving MDMA distribution, possession and use. They were ignored of course in what appears to be the new crack/cocaine disparity fiasco from the 80s.

The crack/cocaine disparity laws were introduced in 1986 by Ronald Reagan in response to the crack epidemic as exaggerated claims of “crack babies” and “instant addiction” hit the media. A mandatory five-year sentence was dished out to anyone caught with 5 grams or more of cocaine which meant crack users were jailed for a drug that was much heavier than it’s powder form. Incidentally, most crack users were African American and later Hispanics. The new laws copped plenty of criticism over the years for creating severe racial disparities in the prison system but for cocaine using middle America, it wasn’t their problem.
The mechanism is known as the "100-to-1 drug ratio," which gives crack cocaine 100 times the weight of powder cocaine. Under the ratio, a person convicted of selling five grams of crack — about the weight of a teaspoon of salt — triggers the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as a person convicted of selling 500 grams of powder cocaine, roughly the weight of a loaf of bread.
-TIME. August 2009

I mentioned the crack/cocaine disparity as it is a clear example of how misguided drug laws can reap so much damage especially for minorities. What’s really interesting though is that the 2001 push for ecstasy offences to be increased so heavily coincide with a White House report showing an increase in use by minorities.
The availability of ecstasy increased dramatically and more blacks and Hispanics are using the drug
-White House Drug Policy Report

And then the crunch.
We never again want another 'crack epidemic' to blindside this nation
-Edward H. Jurith - Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

Is this a coincidence? A new drug policy that penalises by weight instead of dosage when the heaviest drug is being used increasingly by Blacks and Hispanics? It may sound somewhat like a conspiracy theory but since there was so much scientific evidence against these laws and with the history of US drug laws, I can’t help but wonder.

MDMA is now officially classed as having no medical value and too risky for research. How can such a potentially useful drug with a small but significant history of success suddenly be banned and placed onto the US schedule I list? How can they then increase penalties disproportionally to other drugs purely for political reasons? Is research using MDMA dead in the US?

The mere mention of street drugs sends shivers down the spine of most politicians. Unless they play the “Tough on Drugs” game, they risk the chance of being singled out as “Soft on Drugs” by the many anti-drug nutters in politics. Even those who aren’t zealots will still see it as an opportunity to attack their opposition and score political points. The sad part isn’t that it’s confined to just recreational drug use but also when these drugs are associated with medical procedures that they were originally developed for. Nothing highlights this more than when SA Attorney General, Michael Atkinson bucketed Democrat, Sandra Kanck when she suggested a study into MDMA as a possible treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome(PTSS). In a public dressing down, Atkinson said the Government would "not be supporting Sandra Kanck's latest rave" and "Vietnam Veterans are not laboratory mice for a left-wing social experiment". A year later the study was taken up by the Canadian government.

How can we forget John Howard who in August 1997, vetoed the proposed ACT heroin trial. Although the trial had support from the AMA, the medical community, both sides of parliament and most states, Howard claimed it 'sent the wrong message' and refused to sign off on the proposal wasting 6 years of careful scientific research. Importing heroin is controlled by the federal government and without their approval, the states could not source the drug from overseas. Prior to the proposed ACT heroin trials, Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett had commissioned Prof. David Pennington to report on Victoria’s drug laws. He also favoured a trial of prescription heroin and his report caught the attention of the US government. US president, Bill Clinton sent a few of his heavies to investigate the rumblings of a proposed heroin trial and Prof. Pennington was swiftly summoned to a meeting. The US and their staunch Zero Tolerance policy has dominated the UN drug offices since it’s inception. Any country that dared upset their moralist and anti-drug views were called into line very quickly often with threats. Unlike Switzerland that could run their own heroin trials without fear of US intervention, Australia had a lot under the control of the US/UN particularly, the Tasmanian poppy industry. The US goon squad made it clear that the UN run International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) managed Tasmania’s poppy production levels and a heroin trial was not welcomed by the US/UN. Although the proposed heroin trial was classed as “scientific research”, drug free rhetoric was more important to the US/UN and trumps any namby pamby scientific argument. It seems that the US not only prohibited drug research internally but in any country where they can extend their influence.

It is always sad when science is stymied by ideology, religion or ignorance. The US Bush administration and the Australian Howard government are 2 classic examples of this. During the Bush years, science was pushed aside for the religious convictions of the president and the religious right who supported him. In Australia around the same time, Bush crony, John Howard threatened non-government organisations(NGOs) and other groups who relied on government funding to submit all media releases before publishing them. It was the darkest period in Australia’s scientific history with a great number of important research studies being disregarded by our own government. Instead we were exposed to absolute tripe like The Bishop Report: “The Winnable War on Drugs” and government funded evangelistic groups like Drug Free Australia(DFA). The hardest hit were the NGOs who worked in welfare and of course were supporters of Harm Minimisation. Howard hated Harm Minimisation and even denied it was Australia’s official drug policy. A change of government was welcomed by the scientific community but they were soon faced with political reality when Kevin Rudd requested all media statements from government research groups be cleared with the Prime Minister’s office.

Fortunately, the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs has a clause that allows some programs to be classed as “scientific research”. Although it doesn’t guarantee acceptance by the UN it is often used by countries that want to keep within UN guidelines and aren’t in the position of being threaten with a US embargo like Australia was with the Tasmanian poppy industry. The Netherlands heroin assisted treatment (HAT) program is still classified as “scientific research” and has to be renewed every few years. Also, the Dutch “coffee shops” that sell cannabis are still technically illegal which keeps them inside the UN guidelines but they choose to de-prioritise the laws under a “gedoogbeleid” or tolerance policy. Australia has the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) which conflicts with UN policy but since it’s classed as a “scientific trial” and the US hasn’t tried to intervene, it’s free to operate but still needs to be re-established every 4 years.

During the Bush years, Mexican president, Vincente Fox introduced a bill that would decriminalise small amounts of all drug. The bill was passed in the Mexican congress but after intense pressure from the US, president Fox vetoed his own bill. An almost identical bill was passed this year under different US and Mexican presidents. Is this a sign of change? Has the anti-drug madness of US presidents like Reagan, Clinton and Bush(Snr. & Jr.) been confined to the history books to haunt them forever? Is the UN’s lack of criticism for the new drug laws in Mexico and Portugal suggesting a rethink of drug policies? Is this a new era for science?

We have lost nearly 40 years of research and potential medical breakthroughs because of the elected twats we put in power, Those who selfishly put their own agenda ahead of the millions who may have benefited by research into illicit drugs. From the US and their objection to researching these drugs down to state governments that oppose medical clinics as being immoral ... the winners are organised crime like drug cartels and some may argue the government who are technically “organised criminals”. The losers are clearly us, the public.

Scientists Study Possible Health Benefits Of LSD And Ecstacy
The Guardian
By Denis Campbell - Health Correspondent
October 2009

 A growing number of people are taking LSD and other psychedelic drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy to help them cope with a variety of conditions including anorexia nervosa, cluster headaches and chronic anxiety attacks.

The emergence of a community that passes the drugs between users on the basis of friendship, support and need – with money rarely involved – comes amid a resurgence of research into the possible therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. This is leading to a growing optimism among those using the drugs that soon they may be able to obtain medicines based on psychedelics from their doctor, rather than risk jail for taking illicit drugs.

Among those in Britain already using the drugs and hoping for a change in the way they are viewed is Anna Jones (not her real name), a 35-year-old university lecturer, who takes LSD once or twice a year. She fears that without an occasional dose she will go back to the drinking problem she left behind 14 years ago with the help of the banned drug.

LSD, the drug synonymous with the 1960s counter-culture, changed her life, she says. "For me it was the catalyst to give up destructive behaviour – heavy drinking and smoking. As a student I used to drink two or three bottles of wine, two or three days a week, because I didn't have many friends and didn't feel comfortable in my own skin.

"Then I took a hit of LSD one day and didn't feel alone any more. It helped me to see myself differently, increase my self-confidence, lose my desire to drink or smoke and just feel at one with the world. I haven't touched alcohol or cigarettes since that day in 1995 and am much happier than before."

Many others are using the drugs to deal with chronic anxiety attacks brought on by terminal illness such as cancer.

Research was carried out in the 1950s and 1960s into psychedelics. In some places they were even used as a treatment for anxiety, depression and addiction. But a backlash against LSD – owing to concerns that the powerful hallucinogen was becoming widespread as a recreational drug, and fear that excessive use could trigger mental health conditions such as schizophrenia – led to prohibition of research in the 1970s.

Under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act it is classified as a Class A, schedule 1 substance – which means not only is LSD considered highly dangerous, but it is deemed to have no medical research value.

Now, though, distinguished academics and highly respected institutions are looking again at whether LSD and other psychedelics might help patients. Psychiatrist Dr John Halpern, of Harvard medical school in the US, found that almost all of 53 people with cluster headaches who illegally took LSD or psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, obtained relief from the searing pain. He and an international team have also begun investigating whether 2-Bromo-LSD, a non-psychedelic version of LSD known as BOL, can help ease the same condition.

Studies into how the drug may be helping such people are also being carried out in the UK. Amanda Feilding is the director of the Oxford-based Beckley Foundation, a charitable trust that investigates consciousness, its altered states and the effects of psychedelics and meditation. She is a key figure in the revival of scientific interest in psychedelics and expresses her excitement about the initial findings of two overseas studies with which her foundation is heavily involved.

"One, at the University of California in Berkeley, was the first research into LSD to get approval from regulators and ethics bodies since the 1970s," she said. Those in the study are the first to be allowed to take LSD legally in decades as part of research into whether it aids creativity. "LSD is a potentially very valuable substance for human health and happiness."

The other is a Swiss trial in which the drug is give alongside psychotherapy to people who have a terminal condition to help them cope with the profound anxiety brought on by impending death. "If you handle LSD with care, it isn't any more dangerous than other therapies," said Dr Peter Gasser, the psychiatrist leading the trial.

At Johns Hopkins University in Washington, another trial is examining whether psilocybin can aid psychotherapy for those with chronic substance addiction who have not been helped by more conventional treatment.

Professor Colin Blakemore, a former chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said the class-A status of psychedelics such as LSD should not stop them being explored as potential therapies. "No drug is completely safe, and that includes medical drugs as well as illegal substances," he said. "But we have well-developed and universally respected methods of assessing the balance of benefit and harm for new medicines.

"If there are claims of benefits from substances that are not regulated medicines – even including illegal drugs – it is important that they should be tested as thoroughly for efficacy and safety as any new conventional drug."

Past reputations may make it hard to get approval for psychedelic medicines, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

"The known adverse effect profiles of psychedelic drugs would have to be considered very carefully in the risk/benefit analysis before the drugs may be approved for medicinal use," said a spokeswoman. "These products, if approved, are likely to be classified as a prescription-only medicine and also likely to remain on the dangerous drug list, which means that their supply would be strictly controlled."

Related Articles:

•Clinical Trials Test Potential Of Hallucinogenic Drugs To Help Patients With Terminal Illnesses - The Guardian
•Why is Marijuana Illegal? - Drug War Rant
•Breakthrough Discovered in Medical Marijuana Cancer Treatment - Salem News
MDMA Scheduling Hearing
•Will Crack-Cocaine Sentencing Reform Help Current Cons? - TIME
•Why the US won't let Australia reform its drug laws - SMH


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Gledwood said...

Yeah but drugs policy is total bullshit, as you know. They keep talking about prescribing diamorphine to addicts here. There's less of a hurdle than in other countries bc diamorphine is given routinely to people in severe pain. Some lucky addicts already have diamorph scripts. But why keep on tormenting people like me, raising hopes... etc etc etc. Just give us the shit or shut up about it!

Michael Slezak said...

Hi there. Great post.

I'm looking into the Nutt affair and thinking of writing something about it. One thing I've been looking for is any "official" Australian response to the situation. Have any Australian politicians or government advisers commented on the Nutt affair to your knowledge?

Mikey Slezak said...

oops. I forgot to subscribe to the comments.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Aron.
Well, that is just sensational! I saw the first part and was really impressed. I will finish watching it all later today.

I suggest that everyone watch it!

Click Here to Watch

Thanks again.

Terry Wright said...

Howdy Gleds.
Years ago I was like just you waiting for it to happen. Then I went on my new meds and I don't really have an interest anymore. But I get what you're saying.

Someone emailed me from Canada a while back and said he couldn't get on the trial because they were focussing on the homeless and really severe cases.

The situation in the UK is that although they can already prescribe heroin to addicts there has never been a proper study of it. Only a certain few doctors can now prescribe heroin and it needs an approval from the health dept. It just doesn't happen anymore as methadone is now the "preferred" treatment.

Importing heroin has always been a problem for a trial of prescription heroin in most countries but as you said, the UK already that in place. It's one hurdle the UK won't have to face. Some states in Australia could not consider a trial because the federal government has full control of narcotics and the government at the time was dead against it. One state came up with the great idea of using injectable Hydromorphone because it is already in wide use here. I have no idea what happened to that. [article here]

The other oddity is that one state, Tasmania is one of the largest growers of opium and suppliers of morphine in the world. Couldn't they just convert the morphine to heroin? It's an easy process. But no, the UN run, International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) won't allow that and we would have to export the morphine to another country and import back the heroin. Typical of the UN!

I think you might be waiting a long time unfortunately.

Terry Wright said...

Howdy Michael.

I'm sorry but I haven't seen any response from Australia. I'm sure most politicians would want to ignore the situation in the UK as it would raise similar concerns here.

Good luck and thanks for the compliment.