August 27, 2005

Anti-marijuana, anti-science.

John Tierney blasts the Drug Enforcement Administration for standing in the way of research into the medicinal uses of marijuana. Currently, there is only one legal source of marijuana — of terrible quality — and the DEA resists authorizing the production of a better grade of marijuana. This makes it look as though the DEA is trying to prevent scientists from proving medicinal benefits.
Phillip Alden, a writer living in Redwood City, Calif., told me that marijuana was a godsend for him in dealing with the effects of AIDS. He said it eased excruciating pains in his fingertips, controlled nausea and enabled him to avoid the wasting syndrome that afflicts AIDS patients who are unable to eat enough food.

But Mr. Alden said only some kinds of marijuana worked - not the weak variety provided by the federal government, which he smoked during a research study.

"It was awful stuff," he said. "They started out with a very low-grade plant, rolled it up with stems and seeds, and then freeze-dried it so that they probably ruined any of the THC crystals. All it did was give me headaches and bronchitis. The bronchitis got so bad I had to drop out of the study."

Mr. Alden was scheduled to testify at this week's hearing, but he told me he had to withdraw because the D.E.A. refused to give him legal immunity if he admitted using marijuana not from the government. It's a shame the judge will be making a decision without hearing him, but I can understand Mr. Alden's hesitancy.

It's one thing to be against marijuana, quite another to be against scientific research.


Troy said...

The government can't even deal good pot. Typical... US Postal, Amtrak, weak and dry pot.

I agree the government should -- at the least -- allow scientific research on it. They should've stayed out period, but Gonzales v. Raich makes that unlikely for a while.

I sense a bit of irony that, while I know many on the right -- myself included -- would favor some type of relaxation of pot laws -- a lot of the warriors of this issue are on the left and the very big government we have is partly the result of their fights on other social issues. And now that very big government is against them.

Sad that those with AIDS, cancer, etc. are foreclosed from a medicine that might at least ease their suffering. Not surprising that the avenue to that easement is blocked by pencil pushers in a dense bureaucracy of a federal government that doesn't trust the states or the people to make these decisions.

Art said...

This may be the wrong place to raise this argument but the culture war our nation is now experiencing is essentially over "authority". "Authority" could be the President, your parent, your church, your neighborhood association, your boss, or your husband. What's important to understand is, it's not you.

Cultural conservatives see the use of marijuana during the 1960s as symbolic of all that's gone wrong since them. If America's youth hadn't been smoking dope, there would have been no riots in the cities, we would have won the Vietnam war, people would stop having extramarital sex and hence wouldn't be seeking abortions.

The fact that research may show few problems and some benefits from medical marijuana. It doesn't make any difference. The answer is "No!" Why? Because we said so.

The fact that voters in some states have chosen to allow its use shows they don't understand that authority must be respected. States rights? Not any more.

When Troy criticizes the government, he just doesn't realize that the government is now run by people who are totally incapable of error. Just ask them.

Paul said...

I'm a retired police officer, a simple man, I and many other colleagues have never understood the firestorm brought against the use of marijuana for medical use.
Sure, it can be abused, duh, what can't, what isn't?
If it can relieve someone of pain, if it can do so more cheaply, then what is the problem?
Uhhh, I think I've answered my own question, the drug industry apparently sees no way they can make money on this if their pain drugs are not bought.
Told you I was a simple man.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I know nothing of the science except what I read, but according to this clinical consulting pharmacist marijuana is not an analgesic.

But research should be done for medical benefits. And I'm a religious conservative.

Troy said...

Art, This has nothing to do with George W. Bush. Clinton, all the way back through LBJ offficially pushed the Prohibition model. I am criticizing trhe government -- I'm a lifelong politically Southern Baptist -- many of us consider decrim or legalization of pot -- the "official" Southern Baptist COnvention does not.

This is about government power. The DEA is an executive agency no doubt, but the COntrolled Substances Act was passed by a Dem Congress in the 1970s. The Boggs Act in the 1950s didn't help and it's part of encroaching federal power all the way back to the Harrison Act before WWI. I refer you to a (very bad) movie from the mid 1930s "Reefer Madness" for the alliance of schools, gov't, etc. to demonize pot

Troy said...

The gov't -- whether Dem or Rep has an institutional bias against pot. They don't seem to care what the potential science is -- you're just not going to have access to any pot.

Too bad, because I'm sure we could all take about 5 minutes and score pounds of the stuff in our respective localities -- and better quality than the gov't would give in the 1st place since they keep the crap and incinerate the rest (at least according to my experience with Texas gov't). No one has held the science as worth years in the federal or state pen.

jvg1249 said...

I think it was Mel Brooks who said in one of his movies: "Gentlemen, we have to protect our phony baloney." Such is, I think, the DEA mentality.

This has less to do with general principles of Government and individual rights than some have argued. I think it has everything to do with the DEA's protection of its fief, its turf, its budget and reason for existence.

To a bureaucrat, smaller is not better regardless of the merits of the reason. For the DEA to give up jurisdiction of any portion of the "Drug War" translates into smaller budgets, smaller size, and ultimately less power and influence.

To a Washington bureaucrat, power and influence are everything. Loss of either is resisted reflexively.

gs said...

If someone is in serious pain, especially if their condition is life-threatening or terminal, they should have access to what makes them feel better, whether or not the alleviation is psychosomatic. Even under drug prohition, the benefit of the doubt about palliatives should go to people who suffer. The medical marijuana policy descends to the level of an atrocity perpetuated against a defenseless minority.

Not all drug warriors are on the left. Prohibition is fine and dandy with many in the religious right. (No offense to commenter Dean.) The site recently had a brouhaha about drug legalization; the comments there show a difference between laissez-faire conservatives and the religious right.

Art puts it well. The issue is authority. Limitations of individual liberty are justified in terms of a collective good or protection from a common peril.

I read somewhere that every government agency has a bit of funding associated with drug prohibition. The practical effect is to disincentivize institutional opposition. Research is being discouraged. Yes, drugs corrupt...

JVG: I've liked most of the civil servants I've worked with. They want to expand their turf in the same way I might want a nicer car; they expect that restraints will be imposed from outside their department, and they don't view self-restraint as their job. I tend to agree; I fault people at the policy-making level.


"Anti-marijuana, anti-science." It brings to mind Bush's supportive remark about teaching intelligent design in schools. Bush and stem cells. Bush and the Schiavo issue.

Do Bush and the Republicans "get" science and technology? I'm not at all sure. The consequences could be significant for the USA's competition with Asia and Europe.

Troy said...

gs... Good grief. The anti-pot government stance was here deacdes before Bush and it will be here decades after absent a fundamental polical shift by the people. Eventually voters will tire of the war on pot.

Bush is not anti-science -- the government is not either per se -- they've just got a hard on against pot.

Let's reverse your last staement... Do Hillary Clinton "get" religion and morality? I'm not at all sure. The consequences could be significant for the USA'competition with China and Europe for decades.

That's right -- it sounds stupid and insulting. Ditto. Argue the point -- not drag down some caricature of religious people -- the very people responsible for the beginnings and continuance of higher education in this country.

Ann Althouse said...

""Anti-marijuana, anti-science." It brings to mind Bush's supportive remark about teaching intelligent design in schools. Bush and stem cells. Bush and the Schiavo issue."

It seems to me COMPLETELY different from these things. These things involve Bush trying to blend science with moral reasoning and religious understanding. The DEA's refusal to allow scientists to get the raw material they need to do their research is an attempt to prevent science from operating within its own system. Let the scientists do their work and produce their results. Then if you still want to deny people access to drugs for moral reasons you will be doing it weighing morality against science. There's no moral argument for using bad marijuana instead of good marijuana to do the research!

John A said...

As I understand it, the law concerning mj has it in the section "of no medical use" rather than one of the "controlled substance" sections, because it has not been updated for a long time. This is patently false, since there are several medicines based on the "active ingredient" TCH, but our congresscritters are not motivated to change it.

As to studies, MJ itself is hard to study because it varies in potency even in leaves from the same plant. So most studies are with purified extracts, even when indications are that something is lost since patients who smoke the plant report better effects than those who smoke (or otherwise ingest) the extract[s].

More studies should be done, but it might need a change in the law (I am not sure the NIH could license the whole state of California as a study director), and patients have even less political organization and clout than those of us who smoke tobacco.

gs said...

Troy, I'll enumerate and respond to the paragraphs in your comment.

1. Regarding the eventual enlightenment of the electorate regarding pot, you're saying what I want to believe, but you're more optimistic than I am; on this issue, my primary concern is not the electorate, but the intransigence of the government. The fact that pot prohibition has been around for decades does not mean the prohibition was ever legitimate. It seems to me that government zeal about drugs waned during the 60s and 70s but has grown since then. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I wouldn't say that the War on Drugs is a low priority of this administration.

2. I do not believe that Bush is anti-science and did not claim he is. My concern is that he does not "get" science and technology; that he does not recognize their impact on the future; that he is more indifferent than he should be.

3. I have trouble following this paragraph. You say we should reverse my statement; I don't see why the statement is presumed reversible. Your version mentions competition with China whereas I said competition with Asia; that is a major difference.

I'm having more difficulty than usual formulating the phrase I want, but let me try this: if POTUS and the majority party do not understand the moral/philosophical/religious/ethical
outlooks (Weltanschauung?) by which America rose to national greatness, the consequences could be significant for the USA's competition with Asia and Europe.

I hope that the civilization(s) of the emerging century will be characterized by ethics/morality and by the blessings and possibilities that scitech can bring. That outcome is not guaranteed.

4. Again, I'm not following you here, Troy. My intent is neither to caricaturize believers nor to drag them down; fwiw, I usually get on well with people of faith. These Comments are a pretty freewheeling discussion, but if you took personal offense, that is unfortunate and I regret it; I apologize if such offense was caused by negligence on my part.


Ann: Unfortunately I can't respond tonight. If the fast-moving Althouse limelight points elsewhere before I can, that's the way it goes.

Robert Holmgren said...

Would it serve any purpose to wonder if Mr. Alden acquired AIDS with the aid of marijuana...prossibly not. Then again, one wonders just where his mind has been since 1985.

retired randy said...

If you are interested in medical proof of mj, I would refer you to a book by Susan Weed, titled,"Wise Woman's Herbal for the Childbearing Year." And this article at, I dont know how to link yet.)

gs said...

The administration is denying biology researchers their desired degree of access to marijuana. The administration is denying biology researchers their desired degree of access to stem cells. I don't see that these are "COMPLETELY different".

I grant that a classifier can be formulated which separates marijuana research from the things I mentioned, but such a classifier is not unique.

Emerging scitech capabilities have political, economic, ethical and religious dimensions in addition to their scientific ones. A precautionary concern not to create a chamber of horrors might result in cornucopias being left on the drawing board; on the other hand, reckless enthusiasm about producing cornucopias...

Bush does not have my confidence on these issues. However, they currently are less important than the war.

Ann Althouse said...

GS: There is a moral objection to experimenting with the stem cells. The experimentation on what is viewed as human is itself viewed as wrong. There's no equivalent moral problem with the marijuana experiments by scientists. There is a moral objection to marijuana use, and a desire to suppress discovery of things that would make the marijuana moralists lose in the political process. Completely different.

Kurmudge said...

Why is it that when libertarians talk about this issue it so often sounds like they are not really interested in cancer sufferers, they are just eager to get their hands on a good stash for recreational use? The public can be forgiven for concluding that they are, as in the California case (Gonzales-Raich), eagerly jumping on whatever train will get them there.

There is no drug in existence that does not have unintended consequences (just ask any COX-II inhibitor manufacturer, or chemotherapy patient, about side effects). And MJ, like another very effective drug, thalidomide, has a nasty reputation. But, just because a drug is capable of being misused does not mean that its therapeutic effects should be denied to sick people for whom its use is indicated.

However, the problem here is not the FDA, the DEA, or any other bureaucracy- bureaucrats do nothing more than what all bureaucrats do, that is, go with the flow and offer the policy proposals favored by those who provide the money. The issue is with Congress, where there are few serious policy people willing to play this issue when there are more camera-friendly dragons to assault.

The reason that Congress won't change? There are two. First, there are those who are anti-recreational-drug and pretty much enthralled with the memories of Reefer Madness, just as there are those who want to kill vaccines and thalidomide. Second, the California gang that gave us the very dumb Raich law is the perfect illustration of how to kill any progress, by letting the overage '60's hippies get near the issue.

Raich, as written, was not a medical marijuana bill, it was an ill-disguised Trojan Horse for unfettered home cultivation by the most intemperate of recreational users. If you are trying to get some relaxation against a Schedule I drug on scientific grounds, you don't pass a law changing the drug all the way out to Schedule III instead of II, and then eliminate the requirement that it be prescribed (what sane person would only require a doctor to "recommend" use of MJ). That philosophy of treating marijuana as being less problematic than Allegra and Viagra may reflect what the hemp enthusiasts truly believe, but it is no way to change either minds or laws.

The smart way for California to have handled this, before poisoning the well as they now have, would have been for a UCLA team to set up a carefully controlled double-blinded study using high quality extracted THC in suppository form, with a patient population that was clearly compassionate use- late stage cancer patients, hospice AIDS patients, etc. That gets away from the emotion and treats the alternate route administration drug as a drug.

Then, if the results are as expected- patients get relief from nausea, you publicize the outcomes broadly, expose the inevitable blue-haired Priscilla Goodbody opponents for the anti-science bluenoses they are, and move to the next stage, inhalation.

In the end, if you are right about the drug, you have the true clinical data to support a compassionate use application for Schedule II prescription in two different alternate administration forms. But MJ should be usable like any other drug, and controlled- by DEA prescription reporting, if appropriate, like any other abusable drug to prevent the wrong people from getting it or overdoing it. And I say that as a conservative evangelical who doesn't even like wine, myself (I wish I did- red wine has very real health benefits).

Of course, if the real agenda is to make it easy for spaced out refugees from Haight-Ashbury 1968 to grow their own stuff, that strategy wouldn't be terribly helpful in the short run.

(I cross-posted this at my own diatribe corner,

gs said...

Ann: The motivations for the marijuana and stem-cell actions could be significantly different, yes.

Other instances of Bush and scitech:

1. He deployed an operational antimissile system despite a, cough, less-than-impeccable test record. Much of the science community not on the DoD payroll believes this decision is technically unsound.

2. Bush created a presidential Council on Bioethics and proceeded to dismiss two members who held expansive opinions about stem cell research.

3. The climatology community expresses considerable frustration with Bush's stance on global warming.

4. I read Internet accounts that a highly placed government actuary was threatened with dismissal if he released accurate estimates to Congress of the cost of the administration's then-proposed prescription-drug benefit.

No doubt there are positive counterexamples. War should not be left exclusively to generals, and science should not be left exclusively to scientists. Nevertheless, in this general area I am uneasy with Bush.

gs said...

Ann: The post "The Republican War on Science" reviews a book of the same title.

In no way do I shudder advocate leaving science exclusively to scientists, but your marijuana example could be a piece of a mosaic.

Kyle said...

There is an interesting documentary about marijuana that I stumbled across when surfing the channels. It is called "In Pot we Trust" you can find it on google video (make sure you have safesearch off). It has a ton of marijuana info both on the legal level and on the medical level.