Scott Sumner  

Speaking of torture . . .

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The Man of One Study... Kling on the Constitution and ...

Here's the New York Times:

I TRIED magic mushrooms out of curiosity and in middle age. I'd been on the amateur mycological circuit for a couple of years, but hallucinogenic species were rarely mentioned at the foraging expeditions and conferences I attended. It's almost as if they were the black sheep of mycology: embarrassing to serious taxonomy jocks. I read some books on the subject, but most were tripper's guides that didn't utilize, um, specific language or current science. Psychoactive mushrooms had been in a kind of scientific ghetto ever since they were criminalized in 1968.

. . .

A study published last month in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface compared M.R.I.s of the brains of subjects injected with psilocybin with scans of their normal brain activity. The brains on psilocybin showed radically different connectivity patterns between cortical regions (the parts thought to play an important role in consciousness). The researchers mapped out these connections, revealing the activity of new neural networks between otherwise disconnected brain regions.

. . .

The fact that under the influence of psilocybin the brain temporarily behaves in a new way may be medically significant in treating psychological disorders like depression.

. . .

Outlawed in 1968, it was swept up in the counterculture panic of the Nixon era and classified as a Schedule 1 drug, like heroin, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. A Schedule 1 drug means it is considered to have the highest potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.

. . .

A study published last year in the journal Experimental Brain Research found that psilocybin eliminated conditioned fear responses in mice, which has implications for sufferers of PTSD. And psilocybin has been shown to relieve anxiety, depression and despair in terminal cancer patients, who describe their experience as giving them a new perspective on their lives.

Anecdotally, psychoactive mushrooms may positively affect even nonsufferers. They did for me. I ate the mushroom as part of research for a book. The experience lasted about four hours, much of which I spent outdoors, but seemed to last much longer. I think because everything I was seeing was so new: the way the air was disturbed behind the flight of a bee, the way the trees seemed to respire, how the clouds and breeze and rocks and grass all existed in a kind of churning symbiosis.


There's been a lot of recent discussion of torture allegations against the CIA, and rightfully so. But let's not lose sight of the others ways in which our repressive government inflicts pain on the public. It is illegal for a trained doctor to prescribe this type of mushroom to a depressed cancer patient, with only 6 months to live. No different from selling heroin on the street. How do you feel about living in a country governed by people that cruel?

BTW, I notice that Congress has finally said NO!! to the Obama Administration's insane war on the use of medical marijuana:

The spending bill passed by Congress on December 14 includes a provision that prevents the Department of Justice, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from interfering with states' medical marijuana laws.

The provision applies to 32 states and Washington, DC, which allow the use of marijuana or a marijuana-based compound, such as the non-psychoactive CBD, for medical purposes.

. . .

Advocates hope the provision will stop the DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies from conducting raids on state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries. These raids have continued under the Obama administration, despite campaign promises to end them.


The bill's repeal of DC pot liberalization was a step backwards, but reining in the DEA on medical marijuana will be far more important in the long run. Glad to see bipartisan support for this in Congress. I had thought Obama would back off on the drug war after getting re-elected---he no longer has to worry about the voters. The Obama Administration's continued war on medical marijuana is a disgrace. The voters (and GOP) are actually ahead of Obama.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Tom West writes:

Does anyone have an explanation for the administration's continued war on medical marijuana?

I can understand "playing to the base even as it hurts the country"-type snipes, but this doesn't seem to qualify at all.

Presumably, somewhere there's got to be a strong interest group with powerful influence inside the administration. What group would that be?

Any explanation outside of the "Obama is pure evil" camp?

Christophe Biocca writes:

Tom West:

My guess is that states defying the DEA's edicts is the issue, not medical marijuana per se.

If you're a strong believer in the usefulness of centralized unitary authority, then states undermining that authority may be harmful even if you think they're right on the particular topic, because it sets a harmful precedent.

Tom West writes:

Well, that's the most rational explanation I've heard, and I hadn't thought of that.

Thanks.

Sam writes:

Tom, all the evidence seems consistent with the view that presidential administrations have only a modicum of control over the activities of the military-industrial complex (which, let's be honest, certainly includes the criminal justice system, especially the DEA).

That said, this quote from Obama in a HuffPo article seems to me to display no more than the baseline level of Orwellian dissemination:

The president continued: "I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, 'Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books.' What I can say is, 'Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.' As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes."

(I don't know whether his final sentence is actually factually correct, but I'm more interested here in the first part.)

Ironically, the explanation seems to be that he was reluctant in this case to instruct the office of legal counsel to write a memo warping the letter of the law beyond all recognition, as Bush was so wont to do. Maybe that's a good thing -- although note that Obama had no such qualms in the case where he droned a U.S. citizen, which circles us back to my first paragraph...

It's pretty depressing to be an American.

Richard A. writes:

Back in 1961, One Step Beyond did an episode on "The Sacred Mushroom"

H.L. Mencken: "Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under".

Scott Sumner writes:

Christophe, Very interesting observation. Among American progressives the term "states rights" has a sort of right wing connotation.

Sam, I believe they went after the stores selling medical marijuana. So while Obama may be technically correct, it's a very misleading observation.

Richard, Interesting, we've regressed since 1961.

Gordon writes:

"Does anyone have an explanation for the administration's continued war on medical marijuana?"

Didn't Obama need support from the pharmaceutical industry to get the ACA passed? If so, I assume that he needs their continued support. The pharmaceutical industry is hoping to make billions on cannibinoid (sp?) based medicines.

Tom West writes:

Sam, that also sounds highly, if not even more, plausible. I suspect we greatly exaggerate the actual control of the men at the top for a great many things.

Gordon, thanks, although I feel that's stretching. However, who knows?

Christophe Biocca writes:

Scott Sumner:

From the horse's mouth. It's about the NSA but it's the same reasoning.

It isn't just a culture war thing, it's the realization that the end of unenumerated federal powers spells doom for their policy goals.

Jacob A. Geller writes:

Scott, Tom West,

Obama's approach to the drug war is for me probably the most surprising thing about his presidency so far. In fact it's a little shocking. I don't know how to explain it.

My best guess is that it's a good idea to look a document like this:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/frequently-asked-questions-and-facts-about-marijuana#prison

...and remember that the Federal Government employs some people who really, really, really don't like marijuana, medical or otherwise, and that has been the case since long before January 2012.

What could an executive do, given that Congress legislated the drug war into existence, and that the people responsible for enforcing federal drug laws nod in agreement while reading this document?

Maybe he really is constrained, internally by the folks at the DEA, ONDCP, etc, and externally by both Congress and the American voter (I believe marijuana legalization only passed the 50% approval mark in late 2012?).

That is a lame explanation, but as I said I am genuinely perplexed by Obama on the drug war.

Hazel Meade writes:

Jacob Sullum at reason had a pretty good article the other week on this subject:
http://reason.com/archives/2014/12/08/turn-on-tune-in-drop-dead

Point being that prohibiting drugs like LSD and mushrooms have created a market for some much more dangerous alternatives.

Nathan W writes:

How many cancer patients could benefit every year from cannabis as a pain treatment instead of using legal alternatives which are more addictive and which have well-known and easily proven negative impacts on health? A million? More? If it was just a few thousand, would the unsubstantiated war on cannabis still be OK?

As laws which originated in the 1930s, and which primarily carry their torturous and discriminatory effects on vulnerable populations with existing medical conditions and/or who belong to non-majority groups (African Americans), I truly believe that these are tantamount to Nazi policies from bygone days of excessive influence of big pharma in matters of public interest. Consider the effects of criminalization, which was used to legitimize things such as exclusion from labour markets, state-sanctioned theft of children, and in general broad strokes to reduce the quality of the experience of life for all parties and individuals who did not tow the line.

Big pharm didn't have to WANT to hurt people. It just had to see the bottom line. The mafia didn't have to WANT to hurt people, it just had to see the bottom line. State security forces didn't have to WANT to hurt people, they just had to see the bottom line.

What about OUR bottom line? This stuff grows like a weed, should be free of charge, and adult discussion should be used to emphasize that there are a great number of other things that people can do with their time. The status quo is evidence of brainwashing (most powerful nation on earth tries for decades, yet can only produce a handful of studies which do not pass muster to a first year social sciences student) whereby broad swathes of the population will insist that it is correct for people to go to prison if they don't do as they are told.

The saddest part is the negative impact this has on authority. Children who rightly see through the lies will lose all respect for those who propagate the lies. Respect respectable authority. Even the most rebellious of renegades can do that.

mk writes:

I'm a bit late to this thread (I have trouble moving at the speed of blog comments), but the mention of medical psilocybin caught my attention.

I used to suffer from cluster headaches. It's been six years since I've had a bout *fingers crossed*. Last time around, I spent about an hour a day for several months rolling around on the floor and clutching my head.

A few years ago I read that there is substantial anecdotal evidence that psilocybin and LSD can arrest individual attacks and sometimes terminate the cluster. This apparently hasn't been studied very extensively, because it's illegal.

If the headaches ever come back, I imagine my wife will offer to run out to the nearest Disco Biscuits concert parking lot for some mushrooms. I hope I will be able to muster the willpower to say no. If she would get caught, after all, I would have to explain to our boys why mama isn't coming home tonight. That would be more painful than the headaches.

GU writes:

Don't overlook the connection between Progressivism and the Public Health field. The progressives in the Public Health and Public Policy programs across the country are not very impressed by arguments for legalization. These groups provide scholarly support for all sorts of "social" regulation, an important category for Progressives.

They see drug use as harmful, and reason that under legalization there will be more use, and therefore more harm. Of course this fails to take into account the extremely harmful side effects of prohibition (and I'm not even sure drug use is as harmful as they say it either).

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