Pharyngula Podcast #2: The silly things those creationists say »« Why I am an atheist – Danielle

Woo hoo! ‘Shrooms and acid party at my house tonight!

We do not have a rational drug policy. There are potent and dangerous drugs that are socially accepted because hey, we’ve always drunk alcohol and smoked cigarettes, while there are milder, far less dangerous drugs that are damned because they’re new and unfamiliar. And so we throw people in prison for long jail terms if they are caught with some marijuana, while people can go out every weekend and drink themselves into an abusive, obnoxious state, and we just tell them they’re cool.

It is possible to take an objective look at the effects of various drugs on individuals and society, and ask “where’s the harm?” Here’s an example, the dangers of an array of drugs characterized and ranked.

There’s lots of small print there, so you may have to click to embiggen, but I can tell you what the extremes are: alcohol is the worst, and psychoactive mushrooms are the least. Heroin and meth are bad, LSD and Ecstasy are among the least dangerous.

And there are good biological reasons for this ranking.

The particular type of neurotransmitters that a drug affects in the brain has a huge impact on the harms the drug can contribute to. A major similarity between the drugs that tops the list above is that these drugs, in addition to other areas in the brain (click here for a discussion), directly affect the dopaminergic “reward system” in the midbrain. This area has been shaped and “designed” by millions of years of natural selection in mammals to reward for adaptive behavior such as sex and the intake of nutritious food. When they are artificially stimulated by drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine they have adverse consequences for addiction and health (that is the reason why drugs such as nicotine and heroin have the characteristic addictive effects). Drugs at the bottom of the list, such as MDMA (ecstasy), mushrooms and LSD stimulate mainly serotonergic neurons (several places in the brain), and does not directly stimulate the mesolimbic reward systems (which is why they are not addictive).

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had laws and penalties that were actually informed by science, rather than fear and naivete?

I will add, though, that there’s more to this than just biology: there are the sciences of sociology and pyschology that have to be taken into account. We’ve done the experiment of trying to criminalize alcohol in the same way we do heroin; it didn’t work.

Comments

  1. Matt Penfold says

    When the head of the UK Government’s scientific advisory committee on drugs made the suggestion that policy ought to be governed by the harm each drug can cause, and that tobacco and alcohol by that measure were worse than many illegal drugs he was forced to resign.

  2. craigrheinheimer says

    @Glen Davidson

    Yeast? Or do you simply mean the ease with which people can ferment alcohol in their own homes?

    The big reason alcohol became legal again is because it was an established and socially accepted drug. Prohibition was pushed through by a minority group of religious conservatives. Much like the conservative agendas of today.

  3. ChasCPeterson says

    ‘Shrooms and acid party at my house tonight!

    man, you just whisked me back 25 years.

    that was disconcerting.

  4. thebobs says

    Mushrooms changed my life and made me a better person. I’m happier, healthier and more functional. They rid me of my lifelong battle with depression by showing me it’s origin.

  5. truthspeaker says

    It is possible to take an objective look at the effects of various drugs on individuals and society, and ask “where’s the harm?”

    Here’s what happened when a Representative Jared Polis (D, Colorado), asked the administrator of the DEA to take an objective look at the effects of various drugs:

  6. raven says

    Not to pretend that drug policy is at all rational, but a big reason alcohol became legal again is because of the ubiquity of yeast.

    Cannabis is similar.

    Dirt is ubiquitous as is light.

  7. raven says

    A lot of states have decriminalized marijuana, all the ones on the west coast. 17 states have legalized medical marijuana.

    It really hasn’t made any difference one way or another. Except far fewer people have criminal convictions and the state isn’t locking up people for possession of small amounts.

  8. says

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had laws and penalties that were actually informed by science, rather than fear and naivete?

    In the UK we had somebody who thought something similar, David Nutt. He was chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, until he was fired by the government. I felt this sent an absolutely terrible message to young people in Britain: “you can reach the very top of your scientific field, become a world leader in your discipline, but you don’t mean shit to us.”

    Nothing says more clearly ‘we the government don’t give a damn about evidence.’ Yet the popularity of Alan Johnson, the politician responsible hardly flickered. When politicians can’t behave like that, for fear of the consequences, thats when we have won. Its the voters that need to be educated, to achieve that victory.

  9. localnebula says

    w/r/t a couple of those metrics (I’m looking at you, “Loss of relationships” and “Family adversities”), they strike me as more risk factors leading to substance abuse rather than results of it. Or, to paraphrase (actually, probably fairly close to original wording for much of it) r/cripplingalcoholism:

    “No one ever died of alcohol. Maybe some dumb party kids, but not the real alcoholics. Real alcoholics die of loneliness. Of depression. Of a broken heart. Because no one was there for them when they needed it. The drinking is just a symptom. A sign that life is too painful to endure sober. And they die when it’s finally too much. When the alcohol isn’t enough anymore, when the body can’t take enough alcohol to forget; when nature finally admits that death is the only escape from the daily misery of life.”

    Still, the basic point that our drug policy bears no meaningful relationship to reality stands.

  10. ChasCPeterson says

    “Real alcoholics die of loneliness. Of depression. Of a broken heart.”

    yeah, that’s bullshit. sorry.

  11. says

    Cannibis is illegal because it was popular among poor black people. Bizarre but well-documented.

    That chart is awesome, but it does include social consequences in mix. Alcohol obviously is going to get a boost to any metric that includes social anything. The article mentions that booze drops to number four on the list without all the DUI and football riots.

    One huge problem is that we don’t really know how life would change if you could buy pot at the 7-11. Everyone knows at least one low-functioning pothead. Politicians have their own views of what social consequences are desirable and which aren’t.

    BTW PZ, I would never use illegal acid. Only a small percentage of what is sold as acid is even meant to be pure acid, and of the real acid much of it is poorly purified and capable of harm. I have seen some serious problems among people taking something that they were told was acid.

  12. says

    Truthspeaker

    Here is the link you want.

    Maybe all that medical marijuana has damaged your ability to figure out how to link to videos. :)

    On a more serious note, while it’s obvious that Rep Polis is pushing for a medical marijuana exception to the law (and I’m not unsympathetic to that), I wonder how the witness would have reacted if he’d pointed out that all the harms she ascribes to the interdicted drugs is as or more true with alcohol, and asked her to give a medical and/or scientific rationale for banning the current interdicted drugs while leaving alcohol legal. I suspect she’d be no more convincing.

    This is an excellent example of what I call “people putting on their stupid hats” when they testify at hearings of this sort. Intellectually honest discussion is precluded by legal or political considerations, so highly trained and knowledgable experts end up repeating utter drivel that they know is drivel, as does everyone else listening.

  13. says

    I remember reading some articles not so long ago, which mentioned that kids, who were properly informed about ther health risks of various drugs (including alcohol) were far less likely (about 50%) to become addicted as adults.

    As well as kids, who meet alcohol early on, became far more often addicted.

    To me the conclusion drawn even from these studies is pretty simple – well informed and educated people are far better protected from any harm drugs can do to them, than sweeping prohibitions, which do not work anyway.

    But try and reason with politicians. To try and reason a cactus might be more productive.

  14. localnebula says

    > yeah, that’s bullshit. sorry.

    The point, which admittedly is deliberately made in a snarky manner, is that psychological anguish leads to substance abuse — it doesn’t appear spontaneously out of the aether. Any actual policy to reduce it would focus on the causes rather than “fuck you, you damn junkie”.

  15. Gnumann, quisling of the MRA nation says

    A slight caveat:
    As far as I can tell these are absolute harm figures, not harm pr user.

    So some things at the end of the list seem more innocent than they are because of the number of users.

    I would never do MDMA for instance. Might do ok, might fuck you up permanently after one regular user-dose.

  16. Artor says

    One of the ignored effects of prohibition is that it actually makes drugs worse. In the 20’s people would get sick, go blind, or die from drinking illicit bathtub gin or contaminated moonshine. Nowadays, the tweekers who can’t get pharmaceutical-grade meth use the shit brewed in pop bottles and trailer parks, which is even nastier than the pure stuff. We have to deal with bunk acid, cut cocaine, “bath salts,” and the like, because people can’t get clean, pure, regulated intoxicants, or the knowledge of how to use them safely.

  17. dianne says

    Sorry, but I’m dubious about this table. A couple of criticisms:

    1. It doesn’t appear to be normalized for the number of people using a given substance. So we don’t know if alcohol is really safer than mushrooms or if it is just massively more popular and therefore doing more damage. So it’s hard to say whether the risk for a given user is higher or lower.

    2. The “drug related mental impairment” category. All the drugs listed, except possibly tobacco, cause mental impairment as a desired effect. Drink alcohol, feel relaxed. Take LSD, get high and have interesting hallucinations. That’s what it’s supposed to do. But in both cases, brain function is altered and less than baseline adequate. Therefore, the category of “DRMI” probably means something other than expected effects of use, because otherwise each bar would be huge. LSD and mushrooms, despite their relative safety in other areas, have large DRMI areas. Probably best to stay away from them. Unless, that is, there is some unfairness in the category. Maybe the normal hallucinations of shrooms and LSD are being counted as impairment whereas the normal buzzed/drunk of alcohol isn’t.

  18. says

    @23: My reaction exactly. I assume that the chart shows total observed harms across society, which is a combination of usage rates and whatever intrinsic hazard the drug presents. A rational policy should track just the hazard level and regulate accordingly (if at all).

  19. jaxkayaker says

    Like Diane, I also was wondering whether the harm metric has been adjusted by the usage rate and/ or the number of users.

    Regardless, a more sane and simple drug policy would be that adults are allowed to do as they wish, provided they take responsibility for their actions, whether sober or under the influence.

  20. vytautasjanaauskas says

    @26, horseshit.
    The effects on the brain are by no means necessarily negative. Effects of seratonergic drugs has been shown to be largely possitive to the user, look up studies on long term effects of mescaline or DMT (ayahuasca). I’m betting mushrooms and LSD have similar benefits, since they all work as seratonin receptor agonists.

  21. dianne says

    Regardless, a more sane and simple drug policy would be that adults are allowed to do as they wish, provided they take responsibility for their actions, whether sober or under the influence.

    Works for me, but I’d like to be able to ensure that they had data on what harm was being done for any given drug. And what benefits they could expect from each drug. As far as I’m concerned, you have the right to do what you want with your body, but also to know what you’re doing and have accurate information given.

    Some people may do better with one drug versus another. For example, some people have bad alcohol dehydrogenase genes. They’d probably be best advised to stay away from alcohol. IIRC, risk of addiction to some of the illicits (cocaine, opiates) can be at least somewhat predicted based on predicted metabolic pathways.

    Maybe at age 18, people should be genotyped for their drug vulnerabilities and recommendations made for which drugs are safer for them and which are less safe. (Note: I’m suggesting recommendations, not random movement of legality for some and illegality for others based on genetic differences. What a nightmare that would be!)

  22. Enkidum says

    We’ve done the experiment of trying to criminalize alcohol in the same way we do heroin; it didn’t work.

    Eh, we’ve also done the experiment of trying to criminalize heroin in the way that we criminalize heroin. It also didn’t work.

  23. Robert B. says

    @ dianne:

    I wondered about normalization, too. How did you tell it wasn’t normalized?

  24. Christopher says

    A lot of states have decriminalized marijuana, all the ones on the west coast. 17 states have legalized medical marijuana.

    It really hasn’t made any difference one way or another.

    Depending on how you interpret the statistics, liberalized cannabis policy can result in a ~9% drop in traffic deaths due to people swapping ethanol for cannabis. That is a huge number of lives saved.

    To date, 16 states have passed medical marijuana laws, yet very little is known about their effects. Using state-level data, we examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and a variety of outcomes. Legalization of medical marijuana is associated with increased use of marijuana among adults, but not among minors. In addition, legalization is associated with a nearly 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption. Our estimates provide strong evidence that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

  25. dianne says

    @Robert B: I don’t know for absolute certain, but in a normalized table tobacco should be higher on the list of risks. About 20-25% of people in the US smoke, whereas most adults in the US drink alcohol. OTOH, most people who smoke are addicted and harmed by it, whereas only a minority of people who drink alcohol are. Therefore, a normalized per user chart should show more damage from tobacco than alcohol. That’s my case for saying it’s probably not normalized per user.

  26. Rasmus says

    Another problem with this diagram is that it treats existential risks (drug-specific mortality and drug-related mortality) as if they were the same sort of risks as the risk of incurring physical or economic damage.

    If you would rank the drugs first by mortality and second by everything else you would get a more informed ranking. (If you don’t mind dying you could rank them first by everything else and second by mortality…)

  27. dianne says

    @29: Fair enough point. But as far as the mental functioning impairment on the chart goes, I still have a suspicion that it’s not being counted fairly, i.e. the normal effects of LSD (hallucinations, etc) may be being counted as an impairment whereas the normal effects of alcohol (feeling relaxed, worsening of reflexes and judgement) may not be. I’d like to see a definition of “mental functioning impairment” before making a definitive statement of which drug was causing more damage.

  28. RFW says

    @ #16 localnebula quoted somebody:

    “No one ever died of alcohol.

    Not so. Some twenty years ago, a local musician, a very talented flautist and a serious alcoholic, died when one of his esophageal arteries burst. A well-known side effect of serious chronic alcoholism. He did not die of loneliness; he was married and as far as I know had a loving relationship with his wife.

    In, iirc, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, Oliver Sacks tells us of a patient whose short term memory had been totally destroyed by acute alcoholism: Korsakov’s syndrome. Not quite a death, but when a middle-aged man remembers nothing since early adulthood, including what happened five minutes earlier, it’s a sort of living death.

    Ethyl alcohol is an extraordinarily harmful intoxicant.

  29. dvizard says

    One question is, and I haven’t read up on it: are these scores “per person” or “per society”, i.e. do they scale with the number of people using the drugs? Because then it would be no surprise that alcohol looks so bad… It’s a difference whether you ask the question “how much does alcohol, in general, damage our society, currently, right now” or whether you ask “how dangerous is alcohol for one individual user”.

    (That being said, I concord that the current drug laws are irrational and the special treatment of alcohol/tobacco is not based on facts; also, having a libertarian vein, I think drug use should be anyone’s personal responsibility at least for the not-extremely-addictive drugs, regardless of the actual amount of danger emanating from the specific drug of choice.)

  30. RFW says

    @ #18 ChristineRose says:

    Cannibis is illegal because it was popular among poor black people. Bizarre but well-documented.

    One of the earlier examples of the right wing tactic of setting up a straw man “other” as a bogeymen to frighten the stupids and to justify establishment of a quasi police state. Later on, after those nasty dark skinned, pot smoking jazz musicians had been put in their place, it was the commies; and now it’s those evil gays and vile evolutionists. J. Edgar Hoover has a lot to answer for.

    One huge problem is that we don’t really know how life would change if you could buy pot at the 7-11. Everyone knows at least one low-functioning pothead. Politicians have their own views of what social consequences are desirable and which aren’t.

    Marijuana (and nearly every other drug on the list in that graphic) is so readily and easily available that imho it’s safe to say we do, in fact, know what would happen if the 7-11 sold marijuana because in effect we’re already there.

    I would never use illegal acid. Only a small percentage of what is sold as acid is even meant to be pure acid, and of the real acid much of it is poorly purified and capable of harm. I have seen some serious problems among people taking something that they were told was acid.

    Yes, absolutely, in spades. You have said a mouthful, a very big mouthful of accurate insight, in saying that. I know someone who bought some supposed ecstasy that turned out to be methamphetamine. He said it was a great drug for sex, but knowing how harmful meth can be, dumped the unused capsules.

  31. ekwhite says

    Local Nebula @ 16

    “No one ever died of alcohol..”

    I’m sorry, but that quote doesn’t fit the reality I have seen. I come from a family of alcoholics, and I have seen the drug kill people, not loneliness or some kind of existential angst. Alcohol is addictive, and has horrendous withdrawal symptoms – I have seen someone experiencing delirium tremens, and I can still visualize it, even after 50 years. Alcohol will kill you and spit on your grave if you abuse it.

  32. marilove says

    There have been studies recently that have shown that magic mushrooms can help with anxiety. As someone who deals with anxiety and has eaten magic mushrooms on occasion, my anecdotal evidence seems to confirm that. I mean, hell, at the very least, watching Dumb & Dumber on the comedown last time caused us to laugh and giggle so much that whenever I think about it, I get a happy-fuzzy feeling inside. For the record, Dumb & Dumber is fucking hysterical when you’re on mushrooms. Ridiculous, really.

  33. marilove says

    Not to pretend that drug policy is at all rational, but a big reason alcohol became legal again is because of the ubiquity of yeast.

    Same with marijuana — and magic mushrooms. That shit can grow almost anywhere, with almost no help (I mean, it might not be the bets weed or fungus if you don’t help it along, but it WILL grow anyway, because they are basically WEEDS and MUSHROOMS, and that’s what they *do*).

    This argument doesn’t really hold.

    I mean, seriously.

  34. madtom1999 says

    Heroin was available in the UK for many years and addicts were treated medically. There werent many addicts. It was made illegal and use has boomed.
    Portugal decriminalised cannabis 10 years ago and use has halved.
    Prohibition made organised crime into a very big business. In order to get more effect people turned to hard alcohol – spirits. Herbal cannabis is now mostly very high strength varieties for similar reasons and consequently much more dangerous.
    I can see why some people want drugs made or kept illegal – there is so much more money for them that way.
    I cant argue with the fact that drugs cause damage. But nowhere near the damage caused by making them illegal.

  35. marilove says

    and of the real acid much of it is poorly purified and capable of harm. I have seen some serious problems among people taking something that they were told was acid.

    Tip: Only take acid if it is on a tiny, tiny little strip of paper. I mean, TINY. Acid doesn’t need much space to live.

    If it’s a big piece of paper or a pill, it’s probably not acid.

    Anyway, random question: Anyone here have any experience with DMT? I’ve got some friends who have, and apparently, it’s nothing like you’ve ever experienced.

    James, I don’t use marijuana for medical reasons. I use it for fun!

    Me, too! But not everyone does. A friend of mine has a severe auto-immune disorder that has caused SEVERE arhtritis and other painful problems. She smokes pot because it means she can take less narcotics day-to-day. She also enjoys it for recreational purposes, but in the end, it helps ease her suffering, a LOT.

  36. says

    The charts are interesting but if the deaths aren’t related to number of users, it does all become a bit pointless. Although I hate to think what Saturday night costs the police and hospitals each week.

    A nuisance with legalising something is that you have to go around again getting people to understand the risks. It’s now really not done to drink-drive in England but i’ve noticed a number of cars trailing pot fumes. I suspect people are treating it like a type of cigarette, rather than a drug in it’s own right.

  37. marilove says

    It’s now really not done to drink-drive in England but i’ve noticed a number of cars trailing pot fumes.

    While I certainly don’t advocate driving after getting high, I’m not sure it’s all that comparable to drinking and driving.

    People drive when they shouldn’t all the time. Maybe they are very angry. Or very tired. Or they are otherwise distracted. Or maybe they just took some vicodin. Or OTC cold medicine — sudafed fucks me right up and yet people drive on it every day.

    People seem to think the problem only comes when you’re drunk (or high), but they seem to forget that people drive impaired EVERY DAY. But it’s all on legal shit so it’s ignored like it doesn’t happen.

  38. pikaia says

    It doesn’t look very scientific to me! How much injury is equal to one mortality or one loss of relationship? How on earth can you reasonably combine them into a single score?

    This histogram does not show any actual measurements, it was done at a workshop, presumably by people arguing about their personal opinion then coming to some sort of consensus. Totally worthless.

  39. maureenbrian says

    “it was done at a workshop”

    Where did you get that idea from? If you click on the link in the OP you’ll see where it came from – work officially commissioned from the expert committee and published in the Lancet!

    It is perfectly possible to argue about the methodology of Professor David Nutt and about the way his work is presented – I have heard intelligent people do both – but trying to make it sound as though a bunch of crackheads got together one afternoon and drew a picture brings great discredit on you, pikaia.

  40. paulburnett says

    Number 14 on the list is “Butane.” Call me naive, but I didn’t know butane was a drug, much less a drug of abuse – it’s a simple asphyxiant*. One could as easily use propane or helium or a pillow.

    * Butane is also grossly flammable, which is a different hazard class entirely.

  41. marilove says

    Number 14 on the list is “Butane.” Call me naive, but I didn’t know butane was a drug, much less a drug of abuse – it’s a simple asphyxiant*. One could as easily use propane or helium or a pillow.

    * Butane is also grossly flammable, which is a different hazard class entirely.

    It’s considered an “inhalant”.

    You would be surprised at what people inhale.

    I was able to find quite a few examples just with a quick google.

    http://messageboard.inhalant.org/post/A-personal-account-of-butane-sniffing-(Not-me)-2666713

    All I got is … O_o

  42. pikaia says

    “it was done at a workshop”

    “Where did you get that idea from?”

    From the Lancet:

    “Methods
    Members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, including two invited specialists, met in a 1-day interactive WORKSHOP to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria: nine related to the harms that a drug produces in the individual and seven to the harms to others. Drugs were scored out of 100 points, and the criteria were weighted to indicate their relative importance.”

    So no actual measurements that I can see!

  43. marilove says

    This reminds me of the time I was at a random party and some woman there kept inhaling all of the canned air. Then she fainted and nearly fell into the pool. Thankfully she was okay. I think that’s when I left.

    And I did my share of “whippets” when I was younger. But yiiiikes.

  44. Gnumann, quisling of the MRA nation says

    presumably by people arguing about their personal opinion then coming to some sort of consensus

    You could try reading the paper you know.

    It’s usually more becoming rather than sprouting nonsense based on you own presumptions.

  45. vytautasjanaauskas says

    @45 marilove, I totally, and I repeat totally don’t have extensive experience with DMT in ayahuasca form and would not know that it is fun to do not any more often than once a month because if you do it like once a week it gets progressively more scary and scary and that it is like the strongest psychedelic ever in terms of terror it can instill. Other than that the “hallucinations” are usually quite interesting, they often have an ‘entity’ quality, thus all the stories about DMT elves. It is not a good choice until you have your feet sufficiently wet in milder psychedelics. However I have never tried the stuff, wouldn’t know for sure.

  46. therealsoylentgreen says

    marilove @45:

    DMT is very intense. It’s kind of like the most vivid part of a mushroom trip condensed down to 5 very exciting minutes. It hits immediately and BAM! you’re in psychedelic land.

    That’s for inhaled, mind. The oral kind (ayahuasca) lasts longer and is not as intense.

    If you’re comfortable with psychedelics, then DMT should be ok for you. Just be ready to be hurled out of a cannon at the universe.

  47. marilove says

    vytautasjanaauskas & therealsoylentgreen … this aligns with what I’ve heard. There is a documentary on DMT I keep wanting to watch but haven’t had the time, yet. I thin it’s on Netflix.

    That’s for inhaled, mind. The oral kind (ayahuasca) lasts longer and is not as intense

    I didn’t know there was a difference! Fascinating!

    I totally don’t know someone who totally didn’t help a chemistry buddy of his make the inhaled (smoked) kind which is totally apparently not fantastic, so I totally don’t have access. Totally.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_elf

    DMT is endlessly fascinating, man.

  48. marilove says

    Also: Trips with a bit of “terror” or anxiety in them aren’t necessarily bad. I think sometimes people get afraid of the darkness that can come from hallucinatory drugs. Sometimes you need to confront the darkness.

    Or just sit in the bathtub and let it pass.

    Bathtubs are fantastic places.

    So, uh, the last time I totally didn’t eat magic fungus, my friend totally didn’t put on the movie Red State as we were totally not coming up. He had heard it was a Kevin Smith movie but nothing more. (He rarely reads synopsis of movies, and this is dumb sometimes.)

    THAT WAS NOT A GOOD IDEA.

    After the first kid was murdered, he popped on Firefly.

    The rest of the night, I teased him mercifully. I still have yet to watch the movie in full, lol, but otherwise I don’t even remember being all that bothered by it.

    Maybe Captain Tight Pants helped me forget the horror.

  49. Amphigorey says

    I know someone who bought some supposed ecstasy that turned out to be methamphetamine.

    This is why you always buy a test kit if you buy MDMA. Always.

  50. marilove says

    This is why you always buy a test kit if you buy MDMA. Always.

    Yes.

    100%

    They aren’t even that expensive or hard to get.

  51. radpumpkin says

    While we’re on topic of horribly illicit things, I’ve always wanted to try LSD, but I have absolutely no idea what to expect, or how I would go about procuring pure samples. Anybody got any good stories on good ol’ German-name-makes-for-shitty-initialisms-in-English?

  52. pikaia says

    “You could try reading the paper you know.

    It’s usually more becoming rather than sprouting nonsense based on you own presumptions.”

    Ok, I have now read the paper, and this is what it says:

    ‘The question posed to the group in comparing the swing in harm from 0 to 100 on one scale with the swing from 0 to 100 on another scale was: “How big is the difference in harm and how much do you care about that difference?” ‘

    So like I say, no actual measurement, just personal opinion.

    This is bad science, and there is plenty of it around – Ben Goldacre makes a healthy living from it so we should not be surprised by it. I would love to hear his thoughts on this “research”!

  53. radpumpkin says

    Thanks, marilove! Looks like I’ve got me some fine reading to do tonight.

  54. says

    Marijuana (and nearly every other drug on the list in that graphic) is so readily and easily available that imho it’s safe to say we do, in fact, know what would happen if the 7-11 sold marijuana because in effect we’re already there.

    Well, in the 7-11 parking lot, at least around here.

    But I don’t really agree with your assessment because of the other reason I gave–the stuff in the parking lot is of variable quality and frequently cut with something I do not want in my liver. However pot is not a great example as there is a “clinic” right down the street from where I sit now which does sell good quality marijuana and the world is not ending.

    I gave the advice earlier not to buy illegal acid. If acid were legal and verified, I would give the advice that people who want to try it and are in a safe setting can go ahead and do so. What I can’t tell you is how many more people would try it and what effect this would have on society.

    It’s not so much that I think drug use would be a direct negative but there will still be consequences–like the first time someone tries to drive after a legal acid party and crashes into a tree. That would be painful because someone would get hurt but it would also take the social conversation into places that a lot of people don’t want to go.

  55. marilove says

    I gave the advice earlier not to buy illegal acid. If acid were legal and verified, I would give the advice that people who want to try it and are in a safe setting can go ahead and do so. What I can’t tell you is how many more people would try it and what effect this would have on society.

    But do you really think that if LSD was suddenly made legal (lol), that there would be a significant influx in users? I just don’t really see that. Not with LSD. LSD is not marijuana and I just don’t see a huge influx of use if it’s made legal. It seems like a pretty big jump to assume that.

    like the first time someone tries to drive after a legal acid party and crashes into a tree.

    Stupid people already do that. With illegal acid. (Although I imagine it’s pretty rare.)

    Oh, and legal prescription and OTC drugs or just because they are running on 3 hours of sleep in 36 hours and they drifted off the road when they started snoring…

    That would be painful because someone would get hurt but it would also take the social conversation into places that a lot of people don’t want to go.

    I’m also pretty sure that nearly everyone is aware that driving while impaired is NOT A GOOD IDEA, no matter the substance. Why do you seem to be making the assumption that making a drug legal suddenly means everyone is going to be driving on the stuff?

    Stupid people already drive impaired, and I don’t really see the evidence that making a drug legal will change that much.

    Indeed, Christopher on comment 33 provided some information that seems to show that at least marijuana may increase DUI-related accidents.

  56. marilove says

    at least marijuana may increase DUI-related accidents. <– decrease! DECREASE! Argh! I hate when I do that.

  57. maureenbrian says

    ‘Fraid so, Audley. It’s got similar stuff in it. It also had a mortality rate before they changed the law. But then your kids can’t buy booze until they’re 21 as I understand it.

  58. jaybee says

    I have often heard it said that the much heavier penalty on crack cocaine vs powder cocaine was driven by the fact that crack was much more common in poor, black neighborhoods, while powder cocaine was used by upper class whites (to paint with broad strokes).

    This disparity is sentencing consequences, often 10x worse for the equivalent amounts of crack vs powder, was decried as nothing but racist, that the two forms are roughly the same gram for gram.

    Yet this study does say that crack is actually 2x as damaging as powder cocaine, putting crack just hair better than heroin. I don’t doubt that the sentencing guidelines were heavily influenced by the racist motivations brought up before, but the issue isn’t quite so clear cut as I had been lead to think.

  59. marilove says

    Yet this study does say that crack is actually 2x as damaging as powder cocaine, putting crack just hair better than heroin. I don’t doubt that the sentencing guidelines were heavily influenced by the racist motivations brought up before, but the issue isn’t quite so clear cut as I had been lead to think

    I think this is where pikaia’s concerns actually become important:

    The question posed to the group in comparing the swing in harm from 0 to 100 on one scale with the swing from 0 to 100 on another scale was: “How big is the difference in harm and how much do you care about that difference?” ‘

    So like I say, no actual measurement, just personal opinion.

    The perception with most is that crack IS worse, but that perception is based off of what you mentioned — for most people, if the government says something is Worse, most people are going to believe it, even if they don’t realize it. It’s become part of our culture.

  60. marilove says

    And for the record, I agree with pikaia. This is interesting and is a good place to start a discussion, but it’s not particularly scientific.

  61. says

    But do you really think that if LSD was suddenly made legal (lol), that there would be a significant influx in users? I just don’t really see that. Not with LSD. LSD is not marijuana and I just don’t see a huge influx of use if it’s made legal. It seems like a pretty big jump to assume that.

    Actually, yes I do think that. I’m not claiming to be psychic about it but I think that there are many people who would try it if it were safe and legal.

    Stupid people already do that. With illegal acid. (Although I imagine it’s pretty rare.)

    Oh, and legal prescription and OTC drugs or just because they are running on 3 hours of sleep in 36 hours and they drifted off the road when they started snoring…

    Of course, but all this is irrelevant to what would happen if acid were legalized. It isn’t just a question of whether more people would do stupid things, it’s also a question of how people would feel about it.

    I’m also pretty sure that nearly everyone is aware that driving while impaired is NOT A GOOD IDEA, no matter the substance. Why do you seem to be making the assumption that making a drug legal suddenly means everyone is going to be driving on the stuff?

    I make no such assumption. Do you assume that NO ONE is going to be driving on the stuff? And you are wrong about “nearly everyone”, spend fifteen minutes questioning the drunk college boys in a bar and you’ll get “I drive better falling down drunk than most people drive stone sober!” pretty quickly.

    Stupid people already drive impaired, and I don’t really see the evidence that making a drug legal will change that much.

    Actually this is a tricky question because the decision to drive impaired is a combination of impaired judgment, circumstances, and just plain stupidity. For example, someone getting high in a rural bar with a parking lot is more likely to drive impaired than someone getting drunk at home. And drunk driving was far more common a generation ago because people didn’t think it was a big deal. So I can easily see scenarios where the problem gets worse, doesn’t get worse, or gets better.

    Indeed, Christopher on comment 33 provided some information that seems to show that at least marijuana may increase DUI-related accidents.

    See above. This was based on states that implemented medical marijuana. I’m not familiar with all the states but around here the usual practice is to get it from a clinic and take it home to smoke it in private or with your friends. This is an alternative to drinking in a bar. If it were common for marijuana to be sold in clubs located in small towns and off the beaten path, it might be different.

    But that’s not really the point–legalizing might save ten lives and cost one life, hence logically we should do it, but that one life is still going to be a problem because don’t just do the math. Things are interpreted in a social context. Ten people dying because they did something illegal are ten people who “deserved” to die but one person dying who wouldn’t have been one of the ten is a story on CNN.

  62. marilove says

    My point really is that we don’t have a lot to go on and so certain assumptions are pointless. They are just guesses.

    I imagine there would be some who would do it if it were legal but I’m not sure I believe it would be a significant amount. I will have to see what data Is out there, maybe for other countries and drugs before I make an opinion.

    You’re correct that circumstances can effect the decision to drive while impaired. But even if made legal, I think the majority of users would be taking the acid at home or some other safe location. Not a bar.

    Also, I don’t really believe a ton of people are going to be compelled to drive when tripping balls. But maybe that’s just me. I know idiots exist. And those idiots are probably just as likely to drive drunk. I have known a lot of such idiot. Which I know is anecdotal.

    I agree with your last paragraph totally.

  63. says

    A. Z. Darkheart (liar and scoundrel) #75

    Granted, but booze has one purpose only: consumption. Hairspray on the other hand…

    …is the propellant of choice for potato guns.

  64. RFW says

    Regarding the methodology leading to that graph:

    From what’s been repeated here from the original study, it sounds to me like a perfectly valid way to get a grip on an issue that would otherwise be impenetrable. Professor Nutt has his opinions, but they are informed opinions, and he is unlikely to have any vested interest in the outcome of the study. I am pretty sure the same could be said of the participants in that little workshop.

    That it’s not a double-blind study with effects measured to N decimal places doesn’t mean the results can be dismissed. Indeed, my question for the pooh-pooh gang is “do you have better figures?”

  65. says

    @RFW

    That’s not exactly an arguement from ignorance but it’s a fallacy that’s close.

    Let’s call it the Film Makers Fallacy for now. If I want to critique a movie, my actual expertise on making a movie is irrelevant. I can still point out flaws even if I cannot personally do better at this time or at any time in the future.

  66. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Or, to paraphrase (actually, probably fairly close to original wording for much of it) r/cripplingalcoholism:

    “No one ever died of alcohol. Maybe some dumb party kids, but not the real alcoholics. Real alcoholics die of loneliness. Of depression. Of a broken heart. Because no one was there for them when they needed it. The drinking is just a symptom. A sign that life is too painful to endure sober. And they die when it’s finally too much. When the alcohol isn’t enough anymore, when the body can’t take enough alcohol to forget; when nature finally admits that death is the only escape from the daily misery of life.”

    Interesting.

    Although there wasn’t a death resulting (or, alternatively, the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet), the secondhand experience of alcoholism was………somewhat….different.

  67. Holms says

    An “objective look at the effects of drugs on individuals and society” this is not. It’s a goddamn survey, with weightings replacing measurements:

    Methods
    Members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, including two invited specialists, met in a 1-day interactive workshop to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria: nine related to the harms that a drug produces in the individual and seven to the harms to others. Drugs were scored out of 100 points, and the criteria were weighted to indicate their relative importance.

    No findings of any such process can possibly be called objective.

    …Despite this lack of veracity, I still agree that substances should not be made illegal, but on the basis that it is up to the autonomous individual to make that decision for their own body.

  68. Musca Domestica says

    RFW

    @ #18 ChristineRose says:

    One huge problem is that we don’t really know how life would change if you could buy pot at the 7-11. Everyone knows at least one low-functioning pothead. Politicians have their own views of what social consequences are desirable and which aren’t.

    Marijuana (and nearly every other drug on the list in that graphic) is so readily and easily available that imho it’s safe to say we do, in fact, know what would happen if the 7-11 sold marijuana because in effect we’re already there.

    ChristineRose already addressed this, but I wanted to add myself to her camp. I, personally, don’t know where I could get marijuana right now, because I don’t use it, don’t want to use it, and don’t even know if any of my local friends do. The only place I know about, is in a different country. I’ve never even seen any other drugs (except prescription). Then there is also the factor that something being illegal has on people – I’m quite a goody two-shoes, so the line is harder for me to cross. I’m sure I’m not the only one. (Having spent some time in circles where pot was nothing special, I’m desensitized to the feeling of its wrongness, but I just don’t feel like trying it.) I’m a little worried about what would happen, if marijuana, or even all drugs were made legal – people start using them quite young, when they think they are immortal. I don’t know what would happen, if kids had more readily available temptations than alcohol and tobacco. Maybe some would use responsible amounts of marijuana/other drugs instead of too much alcohol, maybe they would try out everything, even mix them.

    Then there is the traffic safety, and how to test and regulate driving under the influence of all kinds of drugs… Would we have zero tolerance on everything, or would we define limits for everything?

    As for the validity of this graph, I find it a little misleading, if it actually counts in the overall effects now, instead of the objective effects of each drug on one individual. From PZ’s introduction, I thought this was based purely on neurological effects, not the current effects on the society.

    All that said, I’m not 100% against legalising some or all drugs, I’m not at all sure what would be the best choice. I don’t have any personal experience with anything else than caffeine and alcohol, so I don’t even have any idea of how they feel. Strike that, I have taken codeine a few times (when prescribed), didn’t find it very pleasant, though one time it did make me a little giddy. I wouldn’t drive under the influence of codeine.

  69. fredbloggs says

    So “drug specific mortality” is those killed specifically by the drug in question? Really? People have died specifically by consuming marijuana?

    Does anyone know of any cases where this has happened?

  70. Gnumann, quisling of the MRA nation says

    People have died specifically by consuming marijuana?

    It’s not just acute overdose. Smoked maryjane has substantially more cancer-risk than tobacco (observe the lethality of tobacco).

    There is also other risks of indirect death too. Not hearing a fire-alarm while zonked out for instance.

  71. opposablethumbs says

    The criminalisation model is disastrous, to judge by actual results world-wide – just for one example, compare heroin use and related problems in the UK, say, with what is happening in Portugal. The chief beneficiaries of the current model are criminals, law enforcement professionals and of course certain politicians who make a living from it at the cost of lives lost or ruined.
    .
    I do not mean to belittle the suffering nor to denigrate those risking their lives with the aim of preventing harm; but if all drugs were decriminalised and drug abuse treated as a disorder rather than a crime – on a par with alcoholism – and if we put all those millions, in money and working hours, into help and treatment and education and child protection instead … our efforts would be more productive, less contradictory and self-defeating, and criminal revenues would be reduced.
    .
    I despise BAT, but I think we would be better off fighting even a multi-billion-turnover BAT-alike and their ilk through courts and legislatures than drug cartels through fields and streets.

  72. AshPlant says

    fredbloggs, there, um…isn’t a section for drug-specific mortality on the ‘cannabis’ bar in the graphic. Look more carefully. It’s the dark blue one at the top of the bar that isn’t there.

  73. marilove says

    It’s not just acute overdose. Smoked maryjane has substantially more cancer-risk than tobacco (observe the lethality of tobacco).

    Citation needed. In fact, I am pretty sure this is bullshit.

  74. marilove says

    If kids had more readily available temptations than alcohol and tobacco.

    Lol. Just because it is illegal does not make it harder to get. In fact, it often makes it easier because all you need to know is someone who knows someone, no fake ID required. I didn’t even start drinking before I was 19 and was a total goody goody in high school, lived in a very small town and still knew where I could get meth and weed.

    After I moved to the big city at 19, it was waaaay easier to get weed than it was to find someone willing to buy us booze.

    Just ask any high school kid which is easier to get: illegal drugs or alchohol. They will tell you drugs.

    Prescription drugs are easy too as no one locks that shit up.

  75. fredbloggs says

    I think everyone here (and any intelligent person) would agree that drugs (ALL of them) involve a cost-benefit analysis of pleasure versus harm, and being provided with accurate UNBIASED information about the drug in question is a good thing.

    What I hate is the demonisation of users and those who provide the drugs, while governments make vast amounts of tax from the sale of tobacco and alcohol.

  76. Musca Domestica says

    marilove

    If kids had more readily available temptations than alcohol and tobacco.

    Lol. Just because it is illegal does not make it harder to get.

    Maybe not, but it would be a stronger temptation, because it’s legal for adults. It might also be more readily available at homes, because their parents would have them. What I was trying to say was, that you have to actively look for it, and for some, the line of legal/illegal will affect their willingness to actively look for something.

  77. marilove says

    Musca Domestica: Take a look at the two studies I linked which seems to dispute the notion that legality means a higher use among youths. I would be willing to take a look at anything that supports your assumptions, if you’ve got it..?

  78. Musca Domestica says

    Sorry, I didn’t notice that post before. If the studies are valid, it’s of course a good thing. I never said I had evidence, they are just my thoughts on the subject.

  79. marilove says

    Part of the biggest problem with the War on Drugs is that people don’t base their opinions and policies on fact. Just feeling. And thoughts. I encorage people to educate themselves instead of spreading yet more ignorance. You are parroting the same bullshit every other War on Drugs supporter does. It is infuruating. Please do some research instead of relying on biased bullshit and assumptions.

  80. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Maybe not, but it would be a stronger temptation, because it’s legal for adults.

    It’s just as likely that it not being illegal will take all the rebellious glamor out of it.

  81. jamesevans says

    You could argue that continuing the asinine war on drugs, despite overwhelming evidence of its socially deleterious impacts, is yet another reason why a looming, self-imposed, human extinction is a positive, suitable outcome for this planet, and maybe even the universe as a whole.

    Couldn’t happen to a more deserving species, frankly.

  82. gravityisjustatheory says

    jamesevans
    1 July 2012 at 4:04 pm

    You could argue that continuing the asinine war on drugs, despite overwhelming evidence of its socially deleterious impacts, is yet another reason why a looming, self-imposed, human extinction is a positive, suitable outcome for this planet, and maybe even the universe as a whole.

    I’m pretty sure that “a looming, self-imposed, human extinction” would be even more socially deleterious than continuing the war on drugs.

    Couldn’t happen to a more deserving species, frankly.

    That’s unfair. Other apes can be just as vicious, and the hymenoptera can be just as genocidal. And when it comes to environmental devestation, we’re still amatures compared to the early photosynthesisors responsible for the Great Oxygenation Event. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Oxygenation_Event

  83. jamesevans says

    I’m pretty sure that “a looming, self-imposed, human extinction” would be even more socially deleterious than continuing the war on drugs.

    Yes, but if someone discovers a way to stop said self-imposed, socially-deleterious extinction BEFORE law enforcement agents and other culpable authorities publicly admit the drug war is one of the most pointless and pernicious endeavors humans have ever gormlessly patted themselves on the backs for (with clumsy, oafish, hairy-knuckled, ground-scraping hands, mind) and announce an immediate end to it, that potential hero of an obviously undeserving civilization should be promptly bundled into an interplanetary rocket and blasted to Mars with no communication equipment, before something horribly untoward—like the continuation of a thoroughly unapologetic and shameless primate species—occurs on this planet.

    I’m jussayin’.

  84. ChasCPeterson says

    Smoked maryjane has substantially more cancer-risk than tobacco

    say what?

    prove it.

  85. nermd says

    thanks a lot for this post PZ unfortunately i overlooked it at the time you posted it. I want to share a personal story.

    I have to admit that i never really stopped experimenting with drugs – sure its not that “excessive” as it was in my younger years but from time to time …
    How ever whats more important is that my interest in chemistry, neurobiology and related topics arose from my relationship with drugs. When i started experimenting with drugs i found absolutely no scientific information about “how drugs work” anywhere. All i found was either stuff i already knew (like typical safer use advice’s), some lame propaganda, childish simplifications or totally brain-dead new-age drug “philosophy” (its like deepak chopra on LSD). Non the less, i was immensely fascinated by this topic, i could not believe how a not-even-visible dose of some chemical could change your perception in such ways. And so i started listing to my chemistry and biology teacher, started reading books about the topic and almost in no time became a total drug-science addict. And from their it was only a small step to see my “personal interest” in drug-chemistry in a broader light. I became interested in biology as a whole, became interested in science as a tool to explore the world and so on.

    As this is a nice story i wanted to share it here. Non the less, its an anecdote and it is – unfortunately – not very common. This of course doesn’t mean that i dont know a lot of people with comparable biographies which all do good in their lives and i consider mature and intelligent. It just means that i also met a lot of people who got directly or indirectly harmed by drugs. At my young age it was sometimes hard for me to understand why things that can be so fun and beautiful can be so devastating at the same time. Retrospectively i didn’t do much wrong, i made the right decisions most of the time so i stayed healthy and intelligent. But not all where that lucky – and yes, sometimes it was pure luck. Also from a medical/scientific point of view i was much too young when i started with this kind of experiments.

    but BTT:
    Its strikes me when i hear the story’s about the social impact of the WoD around the world. Its cruel and inhuman in its practice, its absolutely dishonest and hypocritical in its theory, its just childish in its (ridiculous) goal of “a world without drugs” and it actually plays in the hand of organised crime. Which is all very obvious imo and known for quite some time in the scientific community.
    I really hope we can stop this insane “war”.

    Also i wanted to say, i was always and will always be totally down turned by any kind of new-age-hippy-drug-philosphy shit, ppl who believe LSD opens some door into some kind of another dimension should stay away from drugs!

    That said, have a nice day all of you :).

  86. says

    one man per prison or jail gets out to a hut shack 1000 miles of the dirt road. 4000 foot strap or 3000 foot strap-locktite new clothes from the store and a picture standing in desert to give to friends tray comes with a locked lid the one scared of murduree or been there to long gets this privlige quitest spot on the map the prison warden will escort the man deliverd by the courts to the new sector one man per prison. Hospital is a lock up biulding to dont forget!! HE wants out!!!!

  87. Tethys says

    What are you trying to say with that word salad scottflorance? And why are you saying it on a dead thread?

  88. Ogvorbis: The only post-Permian seymouriamorph says

    Word Salad Alert!

    Tried Google Translate. Had to reboot my computer.

    Care to try that in a recognizable language, scottflorance?