Gosh, there seem to be a lot of drugs in the news these days. There’s a study out associating cannabis and mental illness. Meanwhile, drugs destroyed the Tour de France, are one of the main obstacles to peace in Afghanistan, and my home town of Vancouver is itself an interesting little narcotics lab (for what it’s worth, I think the 2003 piece linked there is one of the best things I ever wrote on this blog).

Pot · On that psychotic-disease study: Andrew Sullivan does some numbers, and one of his correspondents raises the obvious point about correlation and causation.

In the original write-up of the study, some researcher is quoted as saying “Experts are now agreed on the connection between cannabis and psychoses. What we need now is for 14-year-olds to know it.” Well, yeah, I was once a teenager being cautioned about the dangers of marijuana, and I’m still kind of mad at my parents’ generation: its officials and authorities told us, time and again, that it led to heroin, that it caused all kinds of diseases, that it was actually addictive. “The really damning research is just emerging” they kept saying. In fact they were lying, and caused a whole generation of people to disbelieve anything grown-ups said about drugs.

I smoked pot in the Seventies and enjoyed it. If it were legal I might do it again, except for probably not; I seem to recall it being extremely time-consuming, and my time is pretty well spoken for.

Maybe when I’m a bit older; I saw my Dad get sucked into the Alzheimer’s vortex, and that’s a bad, bad way to go. I see that there’s reason to think that cannabis’ active ingredient might mitigate or delay Alzheimer’s. I was amused by this quote: “Wenk cautions, however, that WIN-55212-2 still causes psychoactive effects similar to cannabis, and as such is not yet a candidate for human use.” Um, let’s see... the cost of pushing back a brutal ugly slow path to death is getting high from time to time. Yep, I could make that sacrifice.

But still, when the subject comes up with my kids, I’m going to be brutally honest, show them exactly where heroin and crack and meth lead—the facts aren’t hard to come by, and you can see them walking down the street ten minutes’ drive from where I live. On pot, they’ll hear from me about the bad side of going outside the law even when the law is stupid, and how they ought to be focusing on learning and figuring out what their life’s going to be. But I’m not going to tell them it’ll turn them into junkies or psychotics, because we should have learned by now that lying doesn’t work.

And any thinking person can see that law-enforcement efforts against cannabis have been a messy, expensive failure whose main accomplishment is enriching a great many very bad people.

Drugs OK, Then? No · My basic point is the same one I was making in 2003: narcotics are different enough from each other that any phrase involving the word “drug” is probably dangerously misleading: “drug abuse”, “war on drugs”, and so on. It’s the kind of thinking that leads to parents lying to teenagers.

Let’s look at the Tour de France, for example; recently I wrote that it should just be bloody well shut down. Check the comments to that piece; quite a few people are saying “whatever, let ’em take what they want”. That seems all wrong to me; research has shown that these people will trade their health, their life even, for winning this race this year. We can’t let them do that, and turning the competition into lab-vs-lab seems to miss the point in an obscene kind of way. If they can’t fix it, they should stop the race.

Afghanistan · This is a tough one. The guys we’re fighting over there are bad guys, the worst kind of menacing medievalist morons; I have no qualms about trying to wipe ’em out. On the other hand the vast majority, just like everywhere, want to earn their living in peace, and the best way for them to do that is by growing opium poppies. If we try to stop them, maybe we drive them into the arms of the other side; odd, that, since the Taleban, who did not offer good government, did nonetheless temporarily shut down the opium biz.

There are lots of legal opiates, I’ve been thankful for them once or twice in post-op mode myself. But that’s not a solution, because it’s the fact that heroin is illegal that makes the crop profitable. I have no idea what to do. On the face of it, heroin isn’t like pot and it’s hard to be comfortable decriminalizing it. But a reasonable person has to ask, given that all these decades of law enforcement haven’t made much progress, and that the War on Drugs is enriching all the wrong people, and the fact that while heroin is bad, it’s nowhere near as bad as crack and meth and friends, whether our current approach is really, at the end of the day, rational.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Phil Aaronson (Jul 29 2007, at 15:42)

I don't believe there is a "fixing" of drug problems in sports. We can wish for a fix, but you might as well wish for world peace, it's just not about to happen any time soon.

What we're seeing in cycling right now is a shifting of the balance between those who would cheat, and those who are trying to catch them.

Up until very recently, detecting doping/performance enhancing drugs was useless. The only reason cyclists, as opposed to other sports have been caught in the past is that their premier events are 23 days long and often crossed national borders where drugs are actively looked for.

This year's Tour hopefully got the message across to the riders that what was once common, for the past couple decades, is over. That is, until someone figures out some new way to get an edge, and the whole process starts all over again.

But to shut down the Tour? Are you similarly prepared to shut down Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, and most Olympic sports aside from curling, from the high school level on? I'm not. Vive Le Tour, but test the crap out of the riders.


From: Pat Patterson (Jul 29 2007, at 15:44)

Heh - I read "drugs destroyed the Tour de France, one of the main obstacles to peace in Afghanistan" (my eye missed the 'are' after the comma) and wondered for a second why the Tour de France was an obstacle to peace in Afghanistan...


From: paul (Jul 29 2007, at 17:30)

I think I know what to do about opium in Afghanistan (or anywhere). Buy it, all of it, and for a price that makes it possible for the growers to live while they move to something more useful as a crop.

I excerpted this quote on my own site a couple of weeks ago:

<blockquote>“We’re not here to fight the Taliban. We’re here to make the Taliban irrelevant.”</quote>

I think that nails it. Destroying cropland that may also have food crops is stupid on a couple of levels, economic and political, since it undermines what is probably subsistence agriculture and feeds a hatred of outside meddling that doesn't need feeding.

I agree with your central premise that lying about the effects is a waste of time and counter-productive. The facts about drug abuse are a useful deterrent of presented honestly, and if they don't deter, at least the decision was made on facts, not hysterical fiction.

But drying up the foreign supply will go a long way to solving our domestic abuse problems, and we can do it in a way that lifts people out of the subsistence age at the same time.


From: Wille (Jul 29 2007, at 17:37)

I've always found Americas (and large parts of Europe's) drug policies to be moronic. I don't do drugs, nor would I ever want to.

But the idea of incarcerating people because they have a chemical substance in their blood? Common..

People argue that "drug addicts are violent", but.. there are laws against any crimes they may commit under the influence. I don't see alcoholics getting thrown into jail for being potentially violent, and if you look at drugs and their consequences, I'm pretty sure alcohol is right at the top when it comes to people becoming violent (pot? I highly doubt it..).

I'm pretty sure that if alcohol was a recent drug, it would have been banned (only heroin and cocaine are more dangerous, according to a recent UK government study). But now it is so entrenched in our culture that instead it is a source of endless tax revenue.

It seems in the discussion about drugs, reason is the first thing to go out the window..


From: dr2chase (Jul 29 2007, at 17:43)

For a while now, I have thought that the government should sell heroin to anyone willing to register as an addict. It will be unglamorous, and it will undercut the illegal trade. What's the point in pushing, if the government steals all your customers? This would also remove the need for addicts to scam doctors for drugs, which would mean that doctors would not need to doubt the word of patients who claimed to be in pain, and could just deal with the pain.

And pot, pot ought to just be legal. It's a heck of a lot less poisonous than alcohol, long-term or short-term, and our fearless drug warriors have been busting their butts for years trying to find something wrong with it. It's not 100% harmless, but what is?


From: Michael C. Harris (Jul 29 2007, at 19:10)

As I'm sure you know, the reality is your kids are likely to experiment, no matter what you tell them about the effects of different substances. That might be alcohol, it might be pot (it's strange to use that word, it's not really used here in Australia), it might be other things. I think the most important thing to stress to them is that if they do experiment, they should only experiment in a safe environment with people they trust. And trust that they're smart enough to recognize those things.


From: Sam Penrose (Jul 29 2007, at 20:08)

I suspect you'd enjoy the work of an expert, Mark Kleiman:


His overall take on American public policy is summarized at:



From: Bernd (Jul 29 2007, at 20:46)

Well, that was all very sane - but doesn't it make you fear for your travelling to Menlo Park privileges?



From: John Cowan (Jul 29 2007, at 21:44)

You wrote:

"That seems all wrong to me; research has shown that these people will trade their health, their life even, for winning this race this year. We can’t let them do that [...]."

By what right do we *stop* them from doing that? I just went to see *La Vie En Rose*; sure, I'd have liked Edith Piaf not to have been an alcoholic with massive abandonment issues. Is it up to me to tell her she had to face her life without drink? No. (I'm not even touching the "if she hadn't had an awful life she wouldn't have been as great an artist" meme.)

For that matter, boxing is the ultimate "trade your health for the chance at fame and fortune" sport: the evidence is clear that the brain damage is cumulative and unpreventable (helmets would actually make it worse, it turns out). We don't ban that. Same thing with most extreme sports. People are entitled to decide that their health is theirs to risk in pursuit of something that matters to them.

(Okay, I'm an American, I'm not paying for their health care out of my pocket; and yes, I do favor a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system in the U.S. I don't think that's inconsistent at all.)


From: Dominic Mitchell (Jul 29 2007, at 23:48)

When it comes to stories like the cannabis / psychosis stuff, I always feel it's worth checking out Ben Goldacre. He writes a "Bad Science" column for the guardian, but also has a blog:



From: Haacked (Jul 30 2007, at 00:00)

The problem with just allowing them to use perf enhancing drugs is that it then forces those who *don't* want to use them to use them if they want to remain competitive.

Not to mention the fact that some of these perf enhancing drugs are illegal in general. Why should these bikers have access to these illegal drugs. If you say they should be able to use any legal drug, then you're in the same boat as today.

Some will use the illegal drugs to get an unfair advantage.


From: Arthur Davidson Ficke (Jul 30 2007, at 04:43)

Pot in the 70s is nothing like pot now. I can easily understand how today's pot could lead to a psychotic episode.


From: Daniel Haran (Jul 30 2007, at 05:56)

I read your 2003 piece. Very sane stuff, thank you for writing it.

One solution for the uppers is to disrupt the market at many levels, *at the same time*.

If you took out all the dealers in the East Side the same day, would enough new dealers pop up to make it a viable market? It might take a year of undercover work to have enough evidence to bust everyone selling - time enough to spot a few more wholesalers.

One approach I heard of (the link I had is now 404, sorry) didn't even prosecute the low-level dealers - they were shown the evidence cops had gathered, and offered help to get real jobs if they got out right away. It seemed to work, although it enraged all the anti-drug zealots.

I'd also buy opium from farmers, and give heroin to junkies in a controlled site. Basically, the policy that Vancouver is trying to follow - police the dealers, prescribe to junkies. It's worked in other places, destroying the demand for illegal heroin while keeping people healthier and crime low.

For weed: just make it legal to grow small quantities. Organized crime makes money from grow-ops; let's make those irrelevant.


From: Rick Jelliffe (Jul 30 2007, at 08:23)

I arrived home Saturday after a week away to discover a boyfriend had been hospitalized and almost died with a party drug overdose the day I left, after his pushers got him drunk and give him some GBH. (I am still not sure if they were trying to murder him, since he had stopped using other drugs and encouraging his friends to stop too, or it was an accident, or if they just didn't care: as in, not my brother's keeper.)

So one of the problems of drugs is this fantasy that it is just people trying to make each other happy. In fact, there are cynical people, who don't care who lives or dies, abusing the trust of addicts and hedonists.

Vlacek Havel wrote that the problem with Communism was that language, instead of being a tool for revealing the truth, instead became a tool for hiding the truth. The same is true of the drug world, where so frequently people using drugs switch into a mode where people who are in on the joke get one version of the the truth while straight people get a different version, to hide and deny what is going on.

So I guess I am not in a mood to hear a discussion of drugs without mentioning the heartlessness of big business and organized crime. Private cultivation of small quantities for medicinal use is entirely different.


From: Rob (Jul 30 2007, at 08:55)

As a parent of teenagers, I have had occasion to be exposed to today's drug education, and it hasn't changed much at all in the last 30 years. Pot is still a gateway drug, all drugs are drugs and do the same thing, yadda yadda yadda.

The only new wrinkle is the canard that Arthur Davidson Ficke repeats above: pot is so much stronger now, you see, it isn't your parent's weed anymore. This is absolute horseshit: it just takes less smoking to get high. (Which is probably a good thing.) And back in the day we had hash and hash-oil to hot-knife, an art that seems to have died out these days, due to the increased strength of the stuff.

So I sat down with my kids and told them the truth.

Oh, and the commenter on Sullivan's blog nails it exactly right: professionally, I have had no small amount of contact with the severely mentally ill, and every single one, and I mean Every Single One, self-medicated. A lot. With everything they could get their hands on. A correlation between psychosis and pot is about as surprising as one between porn and masturbation.


From: paul (Jul 30 2007, at 16:17)

<blockquote>The only new wrinkle is the canard that Arthur Davidson Ficke repeats above: pot is so much stronger now, you see, it isn't your parent's weed anymore. This is absolute horseshit: it just takes less smoking to get high. (Which is probably a good thing.)</blockquote>

I'm missing something here: I think you are in violent agreement with ADF on the strength of today's product (due to the efforts of many a horticultural grad student and other enthusiasts). From all accounts today's herb is more potent and consistently so. So the experience is likely to be quite different for new user today vs one 30 years ago.

This is one of the few areas where I am lockstep with the libertarians and more free-thinking social democrats, which position is at odds with the modern-day Puritans who control the debate and the policy. Legalize it, treat people who want to be treated, make penalties for abuse (driving while blind) severe but just, and let people live their lives.


From: Eric Meyer (Jul 30 2007, at 18:41)

I have to say that as a father, I'm concerned about how I'm going to steer my kids away from pot, because-- based on my observations of members of the American generation previous to mine-- marijuana seems to be a gateway to Republicanism.


From: gregk (Jul 30 2007, at 23:51)

Here's an alternative - focus on sporting events where you know the participants - where's there's some kind of bond between you and the players.

In bicycling, this can mean the Paris/Brest/Paris (the oldest continuously run cycling race in the world) - for me it's interesting cause I know bike builders who have bikes being ridden in it and people who are doing it. (And its coming up in August!)


Perhaps it's time to move away from mass corporate sports to local and specialty events where the point of the race/contest/game isn't so much the money but the web of relationships that surround the event.


From: Mark (Jul 31 2007, at 00:51)

Living in Japan, I see the other side: throwing people in jail and keeping them there for the smallest infraction does seem to have its upsides.

You can walk around any part of Tokyo in the middle of the night and feel safe. The negative side effects of drugs I experienced in Los Angeles (burglaries, robberies, gang shootings) don't happen.

Of course, on the downside, unlike Tim I don't have the convenience of having junkies a mere ten minutes drive from where we live, so my kids have to make do with going to the zoo to see the pandas.

(It's at this point that some know-it-all expat always chimes in about how there are drugs everywhere in Japan, "if you know where to look.")

I'm not saying, however, that you can put the toothpaste back in the tube once you have a mess like exists in the U.S. and elsewhere.


From: len (Jul 31 2007, at 06:33)

We learned by experience: as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. If there is competition, there will be an increase in quality and if the supplies have any restrictions, an increase in price. Marijuana was the basement drug of choice with low quality and lower price until the Federal government stepped in first in the Anslinger period, then the Spiro Agnew period. It wasn't a large criminal enterprise until it was heavily criminalized and the risks of procurement equalized the potential profits. The bad guys ignored it until the good guys made it profitable.

The soaring point came when the war on drugs was declared in the Reagan administration when someone decided it was Ok to paraquat the pot and poison the people. The idiocy of the Eighties was pandemic.

The quality difference is there at scale (more of it is better) but not exceeding the strength of the columbian and jamaican sources of the mid-seventies. The difference is how much of the supply is now from the US In the US and that the quality *homegrown* is now ten times what it was in the Seventies. So across the board, the overall supply is better but the cost is also a factor of 8 to 1.

1. Tell the kids the straight story. They already have access. They need to understand the different risks of the different substances. Our generation glamorized these in our music, our dress and our other forms of communication. Our kids have tapped into those memes and accept them.

2. Pot will not go away no matter how much force is exerted. It is a middle class drug and the middle classes don't give up their vices. Either change the possession rules to match the risks of consumption or tax it like wine and use the taxes for something smart. Choose wisely here. Where pot is the subject, the war on drugs is over. The Feds lost.

3. Don't allow the creeping argument that if pot is legal, other far more dangerous drugs should be as well. My generation played with all of them and knows the difference. Until you've had to wrestle down a drummer high on meth and alcohol (combos are where the most deadly events occur), or bury a friend who couldn't resist combining drink and coke over his diabetes, you really haven't had the *ultimate experience*. I have.

4. None of this is good for a teen ager. You have to watch them, watch their friends, know where they are, know what they are doing, keep up and don't let up. If you are leading a self-absorbed life while your kids are 'doing their own thing', someone needs to take your kids off your 'too busy' hands and give them to an adult.

Of all the things my kids could be doing pharmaceutically, pot is the least of my worries. It slows them down, makes them lazy and hungry, but otherwise just stinky and creative. Compared to the alcohol consumption, it is a minor issue but a real one if they think they can smoke and drive, or smoke and study or go to work.

Tim is dead right: tell them the truth. I add, and keep up with them. Once out of the house, you can't do much but as long as they are under your roof, there is a LOT you can do if you will. Scaring them won't work. They'll just quit talking to you (something a teen ager does anyway). Keep a light hand but an eagle eye on them because they are the reason you are here as my Mom told me, and as Dr. Goldfarb told me, 'the best art you will ever make'.

Don't be stupid as a way to hide your past. They know what we did. They know what we do. They know when we lie. They don't appreciate it anymore than we did.


From: Adam Trickett (Jul 31 2007, at 13:24)

In the UK the predominantly right wing press get up in arms every time the government grants a licence for some phrama company to do some actual trials on Cannabis sativa products.

I have no idea if there are any useful chemicals to be dervied from the plant, the results haven't seen the light of day.

Where I live, you can at the right time of the year, see fields of bright mauve opium poppies, which are grown on a huge commercial scale for opium production (under government licence). Opiates are used in various legal pain killing products.

I don't take "drugs" but there has to be reasoned debate based on real facts not unsubstantiated gibberish from the press and politicians.

Several members of my family died prematurely and in with great suffering because of their addiction to a legal "drug".

While some people talk about decriminalising some "drugs" I'm also an advocate of delegalising some legal "drugs".


From: John Dougan (Jul 31 2007, at 20:15)

When I still was living in Vancouver, my roommate and myself would ruminate on the problem. We were looking for short advice that is true and could have a more general applicability. What we came up with was:

"Drugs make you feel fabulous. Never trust ANYTHING that makes you feel that way."

You could add an addendum: "...that doesn't involve hard work." but it loses some of it's T-shirt slogan quality that way.


From: Bob McCabe (Aug 02 2007, at 05:13)

You might want to rethink admitting you used pot in the seventies. It might get you banned from entering the US.



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