Article 43


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Case For Decriminalizing Drugs


The essence and origin of religion is the use of visionary plants to routinely trigger the intense mystic altered state, producing loose binding of cognitive associations. This loose cognitive binding then produces an experience of being controlled by frozen block-universe determinism with a single, pre-existing, ever-existing future.... Myth describes this mystic-state experiential insight and transformation. Religious initiation teaches and causes this transformation of the self considered as a control-agent, through a series of visionary-plant sessions, interspersed with study of perennial philosophy. Most modern-era religion has been a distortion of this standard initiation system, reducing these concepts to a weak interpretation that is based in the ordinary state of consciousness.....The proper role for representative democracy regarding drugs is to work out how visionary plants and psychoactive substances are to be healthily integrated into mainstream culture, making dissociative-state religious initiation as ergonomic and as safe as possible. Drugs are not a problem to be eliminated and suppressed, but a means of maturing to be channeled.
- The Entheogen Theory of Religion and Ego Death, Michael Hoffman

When you use cannabis, ideas and changes come out of your hands as if they are waiting to be played. Your fingers are running over the frets, hitting the right notes, and your soul integrates them into a structure.
- Cannabis and Music, Anonymous

The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate.
- Carl Sagan

Scuse me while I kiss the sky.
- Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix


During my SPIRITUAL SEARCH, people would ask how I learned to IMPROVISE on guitar.  A lof of it’s owed to teachings from a jazz player whom I idolized along with rock legends JIMI HENDRIX, RITCHIE BLACKMORE, RICK DERRINGER, ALVIN LEE, ERIC CLAPTON, JIMMY PAGE, and fusion great AL DIMEOLA

But the truth is my MOST CREATIVE solos happened while HIGH AS A KITE ON POT. The inspiration behind those RIPPING GUITAR LEADS just flowed without thinking. Like meditating, or channeling, OR SOMETHING.

We’re a free country aren’t we? I’D LIKE TO DECIDE what I put in my body, not Uncle Sam. And just think of all the money our government could make by taxing MARIJUANA, how much less crowded our JAILS would be, and how much BETTER USE we can make of LAW ENFORCEMENT

And think of those 20 minute guitar solos.


Did Religion Begin With Drugs?

Drugs have long been associated with religion. Psychedelic mushrooms were used in Siberia more than 6,000 years ago. The ceremonial use of marijuana among the Scythians dates back almost 2,500 years. Haoma, a sacred drink of the Zoroastrians, and soma, an early Hindu analogue, are both presumed to have been made from psychedelic plants; scriptural references to the drinking of “sacred urine” have led some historians to propose that the plants in question may have included the Amanita muscaria mushroom, whose active ingredient passes into urine without a significant loss of potency. The ancient Greek cult of Dionysus used wine to provoke visions, and other Greek mystery cults may have used psychoactive substances. (The use of wine in Christian rituals may be a remnant of similar practices.) In the New World the religious use of psychedelic mushrooms has been widely practiced - among the Mayans, in the Aztec empire, and today, by many members of the Native American Church. In view of this extensive transcultural association between religion and drug use, at least one scholar - R. Gordon Wasson, an authority on mushroom cults - has proposed that the religious impulse itself originated with drugs, as a confused reaction to intense experiences provoked by the accidental ingestion of psychoactive plants.



Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?

By Maia Szalavitz
April 26, 2009

Although its capital is notorious among stoners and college kids for marijuana hazefilled “coffee shops,” Holland has never actually legalized cannabis - the Dutch simply don’t enforce their laws against the shops. The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and METHAMPHETAMINE.

At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal’s drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.

The question is, does the new policy work? At the time, critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to “drug tourists” and exacerbate Portugal’s drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

Portugal’s case study is of some interest to lawmakers in the U.S., confronted now with the violent overflow of escalating drug gang wars in Mexico. The U.S. has long championed a hard-line drug policy, supporting only international agreements that enforce drug prohibition and imposing on its citizens some of the world’s harshest penalties for drug possession and sales. Yet America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the E.U. (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the U.S., it also has less drug use.

“I think we can learn that we should stop being reflexively opposed when someone else does [decriminalize] and should take seriously the possibility that anti-user enforcement isn’t having much influence on our drug consumption,” says Mark Kleiman, author of the forthcoming When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment and director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA. Kleiman does not consider Portugal a realistic model for the U.S., however, because of differences in size and culture between the two countries.

But there is a movement afoot in the U.S., in the legislatures of New York State, California and Massachusetts, to reconsider our overly punitive drug laws. Recently, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter proposed that Congress create a national commission, not unlike Portugal’s, to deal with prison reform and overhaul drug-sentencing policy. As Webb noted, the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of its prisoners.

At the Cato Institute in early April, Greenwald contended that a major problem with most American drug policy debate is that it’s based on “speculation and fear mongering,” rather than empirical evidence on the effects of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country’s number one public health problem, he says.

“The impact in the life of families and our society is much lower than it was before decriminalization,” says Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugual’s “drug czar” and president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, adding that police are now able to re-focus on tracking much higher level dealers and larger quantities of drugs.

Peter Reuter, a professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Maryland, like Kleiman, is skeptical. He conceded in a presentation at the Cato Institute that “it’s fair to say that decriminalization in Portugal has met its central goal. Drug use did not rise.” However, he notes that Portugal is a small country and that the cyclical nature of drug epidemics ח which tends to occur no matter what policies are in place may account for the declines in heroin use and deaths.

The Cato report’s author, Greenwald, hews to the first point: that the data shows that decriminalization does not result in increased drug use. Since that is what concerns the public and policymakers most about decriminalization, he says, “that is the central concession that will transform the debate.”



Marijuana Myths

By Paul Hager Chair, ICLU Drug Task Force

1. Marijuana causes brain damage

The most celebrated study that claims to show brain damage is the rhesus monkey study of Dr. Robert Heath, done in the late 1970s. This study was reviewed by a distinguished panel of scientists sponsored by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. Their results were published under the title, Marijuana and Health in 1982. Heath’s work was sharply criticized for its insufficient sample size (only four monkeys), its failure to control experimental bias, and the misidentification of normal monkey brain structure as “damaged”. Actual STUDIES of human populations of marijuana users have shown no evidence of brain damage. For example, two studies from 1977, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed no evidence of brain damage in heavy users of marijuana. That same year, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially came out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana. That’s not the sort of thing you’d expect if the AMA thought marijuana damaged the brain.

2. Marijuana damages the reproductive system

This claim is based chiefly on the work of Dr. Gabriel Nahas, who experimented with tissue (cells) isolated in petri dishes, and the work of researchers who dosed animals with near-lethal amounts of cannabinoids (i.e., the intoxicating part of marijuana). Nahas’ generalizations from his petri dishes to human beings have been rejected by the scientific community as being invalid. In the case of the animal experiments, the animals that survived their ordeal returned to normal within 30 days of the end of the experiment. Studies of actual human populations have failed to demonstrate that marijuana adversely affects the reproductive system.

3. Marijuana is a “gateway” drug-it leads to hard drugs

This is one of the more persistent myths. A real world example of what happens when marijuana is readily available can be found in Holland. The Dutch partially legalized marijuana in the 1970s. Since then, hard drug use-heroin and cocaine-have DECLINED substantially. If marijuana really were a gateway drug, one would have expected use of hard drugs to have gone up, not down. This apparent “negative gateway” effect has also been observed in the United States. Studies done in the early 1970s showed a negative correlation between use of marijuana and use of alcohol. A 1993 Rand Corporation study that compared drug use in states that had decriminalized marijuana versus those that had not, found that where marijuana was more available-the states that had decriminalized-hard drug abuse as measured by emergency room episodes decreased. In short, what science and actual experience tell us is that marijuana tends to substitute for the much more dangerous hard drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.

4. Marijuana suppresses the immune system

Like the studies claiming to show damage to the reproductive system, this myth is based on studies where animals were given extremely high-in many cases, near-lethal-doses of cannabinoids. These results have never been duplicated in human beings. Interestingly, two studies done in 1978 and one done in 1988 showed that hashish and marijuana may have actually stimulated the immune system in the people studied.

5. Marijuana is much more dangerous than tobacco

Smoked marijuana contains about the same amount of carcinogens as does an equivalent amount of tobacco. It should be remembered, however, that a heavy tobacco smoker consumes much more tobacco than a heavy marijuana smoker consumes marijuana. This is because smoked tobacco, with a 90% addiction rate, is the most addictive of all drugs while marijuana is less addictive than caffeine. Two other factors are important. The first is that paraphernalia laws directed against marijuana users make it difficult to smoke safely. These laws make water pipes and bongs, which filter some of the carcinogens out of the smoke, illegal and, hence, unavailable. The second is that, if marijuana were legal, it would be more economical to have cannabis drinks like bhang (a traditional drink in the Middle East) or tea which are totally non-carcinogenic. This is in stark contrast with “smokeless” tobacco products like snuff which can cause cancer of the mouth and throat. When all of these facts are taken together, it can be clearly seen that the reverse is true: marijuana is much SAFER than tobacco.

6. Legal marijuana would cause carnage on the highways

Although marijuana, when used to intoxication, does impair performance in a manner similar to alcohol, actual studies of the effect of marijuana on the automobile accident rate suggest that it poses LESS of a hazard than alcohol. When a random sample of fatal accident victims was studied, it was initially found that marijuana was associated with RELATIVELY as many accidents as alcohol. In other words, the number of accident victims intoxicated on marijuana relative to the number of marijuana users in society gave a ratio similar to that for accident victims intoxicated on alcohol relative to the total number of alcohol users. However, a closer examination of the victims revealed that around 85% of the people intoxicated on marijuana WERE ALSO INTOXICATED ON ALCOHOL. For people only intoxicated on marijuana, the rate was much lower than for alcohol alone. This finding has been supported by other research using completely different methods. For example, an economic analysis of the effects of decriminalization on marijuana usage found that states that had reduced penalties for marijuana possession experienced a rise in marijuana use and a decline in alcohol use with the result that fatal highway accidents decreased. This would suggest that, far from causing “carnage”, legal marijuana might actually save lives.

7. Marijuana “flattens” human brainwaves

This is an out-and-out lie perpetrated by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. A few years ago, they ran a TV ad that purported to show, first, a normal human brainwave, and second, a flat brainwave from a 14-year-old “on marijuana”. When researchers called up the TV networks to complain about this commercial, the Partnership had to pull it from the air. It seems that the Partnership faked the flat “marijuana brainwave”. In reality, marijuana has the effect of slightly INCREASING alpha wave activity. Alpha waves are associated with meditative and relaxed states which are, in turn, often associated with human creativity.

8. Marijuana is more potent today than in the past

This myth is the result of bad data. The researchers who made the claim of increased potency used as their baseline the THC content of marijuana seized by police in the early 1970s. Poor storage of this marijuana in un-air conditioned evidence rooms caused it to deteriorate and decline in potency before any chemical assay was performed. Contemporaneous, independent assays of unseized “street” marijuana from the early 1970s showed a potency equivalent to that of modern “street” marijuana. Actually, the most potent form of this drug that was generally available was sold legally in the 1920s and 1930s by the pharmaceutical company Smith-Klein under the name, “American Cannabis”.

9. Marijuana impairs short-term memory

This is true but misleading. Any impairment of short-term memory disappears when one is no longer under the influence of marijuana. Often, the short-term memory effect is paired with a reference to Dr. Heath’s poor rhesus monkeys to imply that the condition is permanent.

10. Marijuana lingers in the body like DDT

This is also true but misleading. Cannabinoids are fat soluble as are innumerable nutrients and, yes, some poisons like DDT. For example, the essential nutrient, Vitamin A, is fat soluble but one never hears people who favor marijuana prohibition making this comparison.

11. There are over a thousand chemicals in marijuana smoke

Again, true but misleading. The 31 August 1990 issue of the magazine Science notes that of the over 800 volatile chemicals present in roasted COFFEE, only 21 have actually been tested on animals and 16 of these cause cancer in rodents. Yet, coffee remains legal and is generally considered fairly safe.

12. No one has ever died of a marijuana overdose

This is true. It was put in to see if you are paying attention. Animal tests have revealed that extremely high doses of cannabinoids are needed to have lethal effect. This has led scientists to conclude that the ratio of the amount of cannabinoids necessary to get a person intoxicated (i.e., stoned) relative to the amount necessary to kill them is 1 to 40,000. In other words, to overdose, you would have to consume 40,000 times as much marijuana as you needed to get stoned. In contrast, the ratio for alcohol varies between 1 to 4 and 1 to 10. It is easy to see how upwards of 5000 people die from alcohol overdoses every year and no one EVER dies of marijuana overdoses. WHAT IS THE ICLU DRUG TASK FORCE?

The Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) Drug Task Force is involved in education and lobbying efforts directed toward reforming drug policy. Specifically, we support ACLU Policy Statement number 210 which calls for the legalization of marijuana. We also support an end to the drug war. In its place, we favor “harm reduction” strategies which treat drug abuse as what it is- a medical problem-rather than a criminal justice problem.

The Drug Task Force also works to end urine and hair testing of workers by private industry. These kinds of tests violate worker privacy to no good purpose because they detect past use of certain drugs (mostly marijuana) while ignoring others (e.g., LSD) and cannot detect current impairment. In situations where public and worker safety is a legitimate concern, we advocate impairment testing devices which reliably detect degradation of performance without infringing upon worker privacy.

For more information about the activities of the Drug Task Force, call the ICLU at (317) 635-4059 or call Paul Hager at (812) 333-1384 or e-mail to hagerp at on the InterNet.


1) Marijuana and Health, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 1982. Note: the Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior of the “Marijuana and Health” study had its part of the final report suppressed when it reviewed the evidence and recommended that possession of small amounts of marijuana should no longer be a crime (TIME magazine, July 19, 1982). The two JAMA studies are: Co, B.T., Goodwin, D.W., Gado, M., Mikhael, M., and Hill, S.Y.: “Absence of cerebral atrophy in chronic cannabis users”, JAMA, 237:1229-1230, 1977; and, Kuehnle, J., Mendelson, J.H., Davis, K.R., and New, P.F.J.: “Computed tomographic examination of heavy marijuana smokers”, JAMA, 237:1231-1232, 1977.

2) See Marijuana and Health, ibid., for information on this research. See also, Marijuana Reconsidered (1978) by Dr. Lester Grinspoon.

3) The Dutch experience is written up in “The Economics of Legalizing Drugs”, by Richard J. Dennis, The Atlantic Monthly, Vol 266, No. 5, Nov 1990, p. 130. See “A Comparison of Marijuana Users and Non-users” by Norman Zinberg and Andrew Weil (1971) for the negative correlation between use of marijuana and use of alcohol. The 1993 Rand Corporation study is “The Effect of Marijuana Decriminalization on Hospital Emergency Room Episodes: 1975 - 1978” by Karyn E. Model.

4) See a review of studies and their methodology in “Marijuana and Immunity”, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Vol 20(1), Jan-Mar 1988. Studies showing stimulation of the immune system: Kaklamani, et al., “Hashish smoking and T-lymphocytes”, 1978; Kalofoutis et al., “The significance of lymphocyte lipid changes after smoking hashish”, 1978. The 1988 study: Wallace, J.M., Tashkin, D.P., Oishi, J.S., Barbers, R.G., “Peripheral Blood Lymphocyte Subpopulations and Mitogen Responsiveness in Tobacco and Marijuana Smokers”, 1988, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, ibid.

5) The 90% figure comes from Health Consequences of Smoking: # Nicotine Addiction, Surgeon General’s Report, 1988. In Health magazine in an article entitled, “Hooked, Not Hooked” by Deborah Franklin (pp. 39-52), compares the addictives of various drugs and ranks marijuana below coffeine. For current information on cannabis drinks see Working Men and Ganja: # Marijuana Use in Rural Jamaica by M. C. Dreher, Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1982, ISBN 0-89727-025-8. For information on cannabis and actual cancer risk, see Marijuana and Health, ibid.

6) For a survey of studies relating to cannabis and highway accidents see “Marijuana, Driving and Accident Safety”, by Dale Gieringer, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, ibid. The effect of decriminalization on highway accidents is analyzed in “Do Youths Substitute Alcohol and Marijuana? Some Econometric Evidence” by Frank J. Chaloupka and Adit Laixuthai, Nov. 1992, University of Illinois at Chicago.

7) For information about the Partnership ad, see Jack Herer’s book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, 1990, p. 74. See also “Hard Sell in the Drug War”, The Nation, March 9, 1992, by Cynthia Cotts, which reveals that the Partnership receives a large percentage of its advertizing budget from alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies and is thus disposed toward exaggerating the risks of marijuana while downplaying the risks of legal drugs. For information on memory and the alpha brainwave enhancement effect, see “Marijuana, Memory, and Perception”, by R. L. Dornbush, M.D., M. Fink, M.D., and A. M. Freedman, M.D., presented at the 124th annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, May 3-7, 1971.

8) See “Cannabis 1988, Old Drug New Dangers, The Potency Question” by Tod H Mikuriya, M.D. and Michael Aldrich, Ph.D., Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, ibid.

9) See Marijuana and Health, ibid. Also see “Marijuana, Memory, and Perception”, ibid.

10) The fat solubility of cannabinoids and certain vitamins is well known. See Marijuana and Health, ibid. For some information on vitamin A, see “The A Team” in Scientific American, Vol 264, No. 2, February 1991, p. 16.

11) See “Too Many Rodent Carcinogens: Mitogenesis Increases Mutagenesis”, Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold, Science, Vol 249, 31 August 1990, p. 971.

12) Cannabis and alcohol toxicity is compared in Marijuana Reconsidered, ibid., p. 227. Yearly alcohol overdoses was taken from “Drug Prohibition in the United States: Costs, Consequences, and Alternatives” by Ethan A. Nadelmann, Science, Vol 245, 1 September 1989, p. 943.



The Laidback Meerkat

By Carla
Marijuana Uses

Carla is a 53-year-old woman with two grown sons, originally from Texas. She has a degree in Psychology and Computer Science and has worked both as a computer programmer and public school teacher (science and technology). She feels her animal totem is a hyper-alertmeerkat that needs to relax. After major lifestyle changes at midlife shes establishing an education-related business on the Internet and spends her summers in Sweden.

I guess I’ve always been a bit different. When other teenage girls were reading fashion magazines, I was reading Freuds The Interpretation of Dreams or Alan Watt’s In the Way of Zen. I also had a subscription to Psychology Today. So I’ve always been interested in philosophy, psychology, and the nature of consciousness. Another interest is computers to the degree that they record/simulate human intelligence and facilitate communication.

I’ve experimented with marijuana over the years with mixed results, but I no longer have any doubts about the benefits. The first time I smoked pot, as a teenager, was one of the most ecstatic highs of my life. I was outside on a steep bank beside a river with my two brothers and my best friend. The moon illuminated the landscape with a soft silver glow and the sound of the breeze rustling the tall grass was indescribably beautiful, like music.

Over the next year, I experienced several more very enjoyable highs. But after being confronted with problems in my family in addition to problems in other relationships, I found myself experiencing considerable anxiety after getting high. So I moved away from all drugs, including alcohol, and began to study yoga and meditation. I found meditation especially helpful in reducing anxiety.

In my first experiences with marijuana, I identified pot as a source of euphoria. Later I identified it as a source of anxiety and I believe this was a natural assumption for my immature mind. Perhaps when were young and dependent, it’s in our best interest to view the source of happiness as external. It comes from our parents, our friends, our possessions, and from substances we may ingest. But now that Ive reached mid-life I’ve discovered a new way to use marijuana thats led me to a very different conclusion.

I experienced many things between my marijuana use as a teenager and my renewed usage in middle-age. I got an education, worked, married, made a home, raised a family, entered a profession, and grew relatively wealthy. I played by the rules and did all the things authority figures say will make us happy. During all this time, I continued to identify the source of happiness as outside myself, seeking it especially in relationships. I know some people find happiness this way, but I was consistently dissatisfied and sad. I was never able to establish a truly fulfilling love relationship, although my ex-husband and I stayed together 22 years in order to raise our children. During these years, when meditation seemed ineffective, too time-consuming, or just plain tedious, I used other substances to life my mood including alcohol, antidepressants, and tranquilizers.

Then after almost two decades of low-grade depression, during a visit with the friend who shared my first high, I smoked pot again. She and I always make each other laugh and it was a great experience that lifted my spirits tremendously. Since then I’ve continued to use pot as a mood elevator, but theres a catch. I still sometimes experience anxiety, especially if it’s been awhile since Ive smoked.

Right after getting high, I sometimes experience a rush of thoughts and feelings and may even cry. And I think this happens because I’m processing negative emotions that have been repressed. But now, instead of swearing off pot, I surrender to the feelings until they pass. This process only takes a few minutes and its like the sun coming out from behind dark clouds. By getting past the anxiety I’m able to put things in perspective and regain my sense of humor. I can laugh and achieve a more positive affect not numbed by repression or denial. Using pot in this way is an educational experience and a way to gain insight. Best of all, Ive found that the benefits continue into normal waking (or down) consciousness. I tend to be happier and have a more philosophical mindset.

Maybe marijuana is not the source of either euphoria or anxiety. Perhaps the human nervous system is the source and pot is a key that turns the engine on. And saying that pot causes anxiety is like saying that turning a rock over causes creepy things to materialize. The creepy things are under the rock whether we’re aware of them or not.

When I was young I tended to deny painful feelings and become numb. There have been times when I didnt have a head for ganja, because I was overly fearful. It takes courage to face one’s mortality and choose the risk of living fully rather than clinging to the illusion of safety through denial. Smoking pot has helped me face my fears. And although alcohol can sometimes help me relax and it may even feel euphoric, Ive never found getting drunk to be an educational experience.

When we actively seek a higher plane of existence, I think marijuana facilitates our search. By actively seeking ecstasy we give ourselves permission to experience it and marijuana seems to be a chemical trigger that alters our perceptions and enhances the quality of our consciousness. Once our chemistry is altered, it’s up to us to choose and create either a positive or a negative experience.

The practical demands of life make it necessary to focus on tasks that ensure our survival and screen out extraneous stimuli. But if, in the name of survival, we adhere to this narrow focus too slavishly, we miss a lot of wonderful experiences and pass through our lives almost without noticing.

When I get stressed I feel like a hyper-alertmeerkat scanning the horizon for predators and I hold a lot of tension in my muscles without being aware of it. But smoking pot reminds me that I have a body and its ok, even imperative, to relax and enjoy it. Time stretches out, but instead of killing time and feeling bored, I’m making the most of it by choosing pleasurable experiences and being creative. Im remembering to enjoy life.

Using marijuana seems to make the screen through which we perceive the universe more porous, even though it’s still easy to focus. In addition, it seems to stimulate creative thought processes and awaken appetites. I believe it can be used to enhance the quality of consciousness and teach individuals to experience a more mature, self-sufficient form of happiness. Marijuana may be a catalyst that helps us discover and expand our inner capacity for joy.



Are Mind-Enhancing Drugs a Dangerous Fad or a Great Way to Get Ahead?

By Jeremy Laurance
Independent UK
June 23, 2009

In the middle of the exam season, the offer of a drug that could improve results might excite students but would be likely to terrify their parents. Now, a distinguished professor of bioethics says it is time to embrace the possibilities of “brain boosters”—chemical cognitive enhancement. The provocative suggestion comes from John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Ritalin is a stimulant drug, best known as a treatment for hyperactive children. But it has also found a ready black market among students, especially in the US, who are desperate to succeed and are turning to it in preference to the traditional stimulants of coffee and cigarettes. Users say it helps them to focus and concentrate, and this has been confirmed in research studies on adults.

David Green, a student at the University of Harvard, told The Washington Post: “In all honesty, I haven’t written a paper without Ritalin since my junior year in high school.”

Matt, a business finance student at the University of Florida, claimed a similar drug, Adderall, had helped him improve his grades. “It’s a miracle drug,” he told The Boston Globe. “It is unbelievable how my concentration boosts when I use it.”

Some experts have condemned the trend and accused students of gaining an “unfair advantage” by doping, without explaining why it is any more unfair than hiring a private tutor or paying for exam coaching.

Professor Harris says that the arguments against the drugs “have not been persuasive” and that society ought to want enhancement.

“It is not rational to be against human enhancement,” he writes. “Humans are creatures that result from an enhancement process called evolution and moreover are inveterate self improvers in every conceivable way.”

Although no drug can be guaranteed safe and free of all side-effects, Ritalin has been judged safe enough for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and has been widely used to treat them over many years, he says.

The drug is a stimulant which was introduced in 1956 and appears to influence the way the brain filters and responds to stimuli. It increases energy as well as confidence and has been compared to cocaine. Possible side-effects are typical of stimulants and include insomnia, loss of appetite, dizziness and depression on withdrawal.

Other drugs investigated for their mind-enhancing properties include donepezil, a treatment for dementia and modafinil, used in narcolepsy, the condition in which sufferers repeatedly fall asleep.

Both drugs are thought to boost highly skilled performance, where concentration and alertness are prerequisites. One study found commercial pilots who took donepezil for one month performed better than pilots on a placebo when dealing with emergencies on a flight simulator. A study of modafinil found that it boosted the performance of helicopter pilots flying on simulators who had been deprived of sleep.

Writing in the online British Medical Journal, Professor Harris says the use of cognitive enhancing drugs should be seen as a natural extension of the process of education. Drug regulatory agencies should assess the benefits and risks in the same way as they would for any other medical intervention.

“Suppose a university were to set out deliberately to improve the mental capacities of its students. Suppose they further claimed that not only could they achieve this but that their students would be more intelligent and mentally alertthan any in history. We might be sceptical but if the claims could be sustained should we be pleased?”

His answer is an unequivocal yes. He concludes that it is unethical to stop healthy people taking Ritalin to enhance their mental performance.

But in total disagreement, Professor Anjan Chatterjee from the University of Pennsylvania argues in the BMJ that there are too many risks. In the US, the drug carries a “black box” warning, the most serious, because of its high potential for abuse, serious adverse risks on the heart and the risk of sudden death.

He adds that there are cognitive trade-offs in taking Ritalin, with a loss of creativity, and points out that “being smarter does not mean being wiser.” He raises the spectre of children at top preparatory schools taking Ritalin in “epidemic proportions” and pilots, police and doctors being pressurised to take it when on-call.

Progress often carries risk, says Professor Harris. The development of “synthetic sunshine” (firelights, lamplight and electric light) could have forced people to work through the night. The answer was not to ban it but to introduce laws to regulate working hours. “The same is or will be true of chemical cognitive enhancers,” he concludes.

A stimulating debate: The pills in question


A stimulant drug introduced in 1956 for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, it has become increasingly widely used, especially in the US. In recent years, reports have emerged of it being abused by students seeking aids to help them through their exams.


The stimulant was first synthesised more than a century ago and has been used and abused to boost energy, increase wakefulness and prolong endurance. Its users have been as diverse as long distance lorry drivers wanting to ward off drowsiness and women trying to lose weight. Today it is prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy, and has been investigated for its role in helping stroke victims re-learn motor skills.


Scientists in aviation medicine and in the military have been examining medicines which might increase alertness and concentration to minimise risk of pilot error and maximise endurance. Donepezil, used to treat of dementia, has been shown to boost the performance of pilots on flight simulators, especially in emergencies.


Modafinil, a drug used to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy, has also been tested on pilots and other members of the armed forces. While commercial pilots have strict rules governing flying time and rest periods, fighter pilots may be called to action at a moment’s notice. Tests on helicopter pilots flying on simulators who had been deprived of sleep showed the drug boosted performance.



White House Czar Calls for End to “War on Drugs”
Kerlikowske Says Analogy Is Counterproductive; Shift Aligns With Administration Preference for Treatment Over Incarceration

By Gary Fields
Wall Street Journal
May 14, 2009

The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

Mr. Kerlikowske’s comments are a signal that the Obama administration is set to follow a more moderate—and likely more controversial—stance on the nation’s drug problems. Prior administrations talked about pushing treatment and reducing demand while continuing to focus primarily on a tough criminal-justice approach.

The Obama administration is likely to deal with drugs as a matter of public health rather than criminal justice alone, with treatment’s role growing relative to incarceration, Mr. Kerlikowske said.

Already, the administration has called for an end to the disparity in how crimes involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine are dealt with. Critics of the law say it unfairly targeted African-American communities, where crack is more prevalent.

The administration also said federal authorities would no longer raid medical-marijuana dispensaries in the 13 states where voters have made medical marijuana legal. Agents had previously done so under federal law, which doesn’t provide for any exceptions to its marijuana prohibition.

During the presidential campaign, President Barack Obama also talked about ending the federal ban on funding for needle-exchange programs, which are used to stem the spread of HIV among intravenous-drug users.

The drug czar doesn’t have the power to enforce any of these changes himself, but Mr. Kerlikowske plans to work with Congress and other agencies to alter current policies. He said he hasn’t yet focused on U.S. policy toward fighting drug-related crime in other countries.

Mr. Kerlikowske was most recently the police chief in Seattle, a city known for experimenting with drug programs. In 2003, voters there passed an initiative making the enforcement of simple marijuana violations a low priority. The city has long had a needle-exchange program and hosts Hempfest, which draws tens of thousands of hemp and marijuana advocates.

Seattle currently is considering setting up a project that would divert drug defendants to treatment programs.

Mr. Kerlikowske said he opposed the city’s 2003 initiative on police priorities. His officers, however, say drug enforcement—especially for pot crimes—took a back seat, according to Sgt. Richard O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. One result was an open-air drug market in the downtown business district, Mr. O’Neill said.

“The average rank-and-file officer is saying, ‘He can’t control two blocks of Seattle, how is he going to control the nation?’ “ Mr. O’Neill said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, the lone senator to vote against Mr. Kerlikowske, was concerned about the permissive attitude toward marijuana enforcement, a spokesman for the conservative Oklahoma Republican said.

Others said they are pleased by the way Seattle police balanced the available options. “I think he believes there is a place for using the criminal sanctions to address the drug-abuse problem, but he’s more open to giving a hard look to solutions that look at the demand side of the equation,” said Alison Holcomb, drug-policy director with the Washington state American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Kerlikowske said the issue was one of limited police resources, adding that he doesn’t support efforts to legalize drugs. He also said he supports needle-exchange programs, calling them “part of a complete public-health model for dealing with addiction.”

Mr. Kerlikowske’s career began in St. Petersburg, Fla. He recalled one incident as a Florida undercover officer during the 1970s that spurred his thinking that arrests alone wouldn’t fix matters.

“While we were sitting there, the guy we’re buying from is smoking pot and his toddler comes over and he blows smoke in the toddler’s face,” Mr. Kerlikowske said. “You go home at night, and you think of your own kids and your own family and you realize” the depth of the problem.

Since then, he has run four police departments, as well as the Justice Department’s Office of Community Policing during the Clinton administration.

Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization of medical marijuana, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Mr. Kerlikowske. “The analogy we have is this is like turning around an ocean liner,” he said. “What’s important is the damn thing is beginning to turn.”

James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest law-enforcement labor organization, said that while he holds Mr. Kerlikowske in high regard, police officers are wary.

“While I don’t necessarily disagree with Gil’s focus on treatment and demand reduction, I don’t want to see it at the expense of law enforcement. People need to understand that when they violate the law there are consequences.”



Ecstasy is the key to treating PTSD
At last the incurably traumatised may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And controversially, the key to taming their demons is the killerђ drug Ecstasy

By Amy Turner
Times Online UK
May 4, 2009

An Ecstasy tablet. Thats what it took to make Donna Kilgore feel alive again - that and the doctor who prescribed it. As the pill began to take effect, she giggled for the first time in ages. She felt warm and fuzzy, as if she was floating. The anxiety melted away. Gradually, it all became clear: the guilt, the anger, the shame.

Before, shed been frozen, unable to feel anything but fear for 10 years. Touching her own arms was, she says, “like touching a corpse.” She was terrified, unable to respond to her loving husband or rock her baby to sleep. She couldn’t drive over bridges for fear of dying, was by turns uncontrollably angry and paralysed with numbness. When she spoke, she heard her voice as if it were miles away; her head felt detached from her body. “It was like living in a movie but watching myself through the camera lens,” she says. I wasn’t real.

Unknowingly, Donna, now 39, had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And she would become the first subject in a pioneering American research programme to test the effects of MDMA - otherwise known as the dancefloor drug Ecstasy - on PTSD sufferers.

Some doctors believe MDMA could be the key to solving previously untreatable deep-rooted traumas. For a hard core of PTSD cases, no amount of antidepressants or psychotherapy can rid them of the horror of systematic abuse or a bad near-death experience, and the slightest reminder triggers vivid flashbacks.

PTSD-specific psychotherapy has always been based on the idea that the sufferer must be guided back to the pivotal moment of that trauma - the crash, the battlefield, the moment of rape and relive it before they can move on and begin to heal. But what if that trauma is insurmountable? What if a person is so horrified by their experience that even to think of revisiting it can bring on hysterics? The Home Office estimates that 11,000 clubbers take Ecstasy every weekend. Could MDMA - the illegal class-A rave drug, found in the system of Leah Betts when she died in 1995, and over 200 others since - really help? Dr Michael Mithoefer, the psychiatrist from South Carolina who struggled for years to get funding and permission for the study, believes so. Some regard his study - approved by the US government - as irresponsible, dangerous even. But Mithoefer’s results tell a different story.

MDMA was patented in 1912 by the German pharmaceutical company Merck. To begin with, it was merely an intermediate chemical used in creating a drug to control bleeding. In the 1920s MDMA was used in studies on blood glucose as a substitute for adrenaline. The Merck chemist Max Oberlin concluded that it would be worth keeping an eye on this field. Still, no further studies were carried out until 1952, when the chemist Dr Albert van Schoor tested the toxicity of MDMA on flies. “Flies lie in supine position, then death,” he recorded.

MDMAs therapeutic potential wasn’t realised until 1976, when the American chemist Alexander Shulgin tried it on himself. He noted that its effect, an easily controlled altered state of consciousness with emotional and sensual overtones, could be ideal for psychotherapy, as it induced a state of openness and trust without hallucination or paranoia. It quickly became known as a wonder drug, and began to be used widely in couples therapy and for treating anxiety disorders. None of these tests was empirical in the scientific sense no placebos, no follow-up testing - but anecdotally the results were almost entirely positive.

Word, and supplies, of the new love drug got out, and in the early 1980s it became popular in the fashionable clubs of Dallas, LA and London, where it was known as Ecstasy, X or dolphins. As use became widespread, the US authorities panicked, and by 1985 MDMA was an illegal, schedule-1 drug. UK laws were even tighter: MDMA, illegal under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, was categorised class A in 1977, carrying a sentence of up to seven years for possession.

Criminalisation put paid to MDMA research almost overnight, at least until Mithoefers current programme began. But it didn’t stop the ravers. The drug was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s for its energising, euphoric effects. There are no official figures for that period, but the Home Office estimates that in 2006/7, between 236,000 and 341,000 people took Ecstasy. Experts say the drug is far less fashionable now than in its heyday in 1988, the second so-called summer of love.

The MDMA used in the studies the drug Dr Mithoefer gave Donna and other patients - was the pure chemical compound, not the black-market Ecstasy bought by recreational users. “A lot of Ecstasy pills aren’t MDMA at all,” says Steve Rolles of the drug-policy reform group Transform. “They may be amphetamines, or unknown pharmaceuticals, or they can be cut with almost any drug in pill or powder form. Thats when you magnify risks associated with taking a drug that’s already toxic. Plus, people use it irresponsibly, mixing it with other drugs, not drinking enough water or drinking too much.”

The images of Leah Betts and Lorna Spinks lying in hospital on life-support, bloodied and bloated, are familiar to all of us - we know drugs cost lives. But has MDMAs reputation been tarnished so badly that its potential medical value has been overshadowed? That question is the reason that Donna agreed to speak to The Sunday Times about her MDMA treatment. “Its so important people know what it did for me, what it could do for others,” she says. Her voice trembles: it isnt easy to talk about what she went through.

In 1993, Donna was brutally raped. She was a single parent living in a small town in Alaska, working as a dental nurse for the Air Force. She was due to work an early shift the next day and her two-year-old daughter was staying with a friend for the night. She was alone at home. At midnight she opened the door to a stranger who said he was looking for his dog. He asked if her husband was at home, and a second’s hesitation was enough. He burst in, backing her up against the fireplace in the living room. Donna picked up a poker to defend herself. He said: “If you co-operate, I won’t kill you. Ive got a gun.” And he reached into his jacket.

“I dropped the poker and that was it,” she says.” I thought, this is how I’m going to die. No life flashed before my eyes, I didn’t think about my daughter. Just death. I left my body and I stayed that way. The next thing I remember, the cops were coming through the door with a dog.”

She endured the rape with her eyes squeezed shut. That she hadn’t physically struggled would later form a large part of the guilt and shame that contributed to her PTSD. “I guess a lot of women would say, Someone would have to kill me before I’d let that happen. Well, I did what I thought I had to do to survive,” she says. When she heard a shuffle of feet outside the door she screamed for all she was worth. Her attacker beat her. Two policemen, probably alerted by a neighbour, broke down the door and arrested the man, then drove Donna to the Air Force hospital where she worked. “Of course it was full of people who knew me,” she says.” It was completely embarrassing. And after that, nobody knew what to say. People avoided me, they looked at me funny. It was miserable.”

Afterwards, convinced that getting on with life was the best thing for herself and her child, Donna carried on as usual. She was embarrassed that people who knew her also knew about the rape, particularly as she was still working at the hospital. But she couldn’t remember much of the attack itself, and didn’t try. So she was surprised when, four years later, her symptoms started to kick in. “I had no idea it was PTSD. I couldn’t understand why I was so angry, why I was having nightmares, flashbacks, fainting spells, migraine, why I felt so awful, like my body was stuffed with cotton wool. Things had been going so good.”

She started drinking heavily and went from relationship to relationship, finding men hard to trust and get close to. Convinced that she was dying and wouldn’t live to see her next birthday, she went to the Air Force psychiatrist. And that’s where it started take this pill, that pill. “I’ve been on every kind of antidepressant Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil. Wellbutrin made me feel suicidal. Prozac did the same. The pills were just masking the symptoms, I wasn’t getting any better.”

Yet she met her soul mate, Steve, and married him in 2000. “When I first saw him I thought, This is the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. We were like one person, finishing each other’s sentences,” she says. They muddled along, with Donna putting on a brave face. She had two more children. But getting close wasn’t easy: “The longer we were married, the worse I got.”

Once, Steve and Donna were watching TV when she had a vivid flashback to the night she was raped. “I looked at the door, I saw it open, and that feeling came over me all over again.”

“I thought, My God, why wont this go away? Steve tried to understand, but unless youve been through this, you don’t know what its like.”

Donna moved to South Carolina in 2002 when Steve - also in the services - was posted there. She began seeing a psychiatrist called Dr Marcet, who diagnosed her with PTSD and attributed it to the rape. It helped to know that whatever it was had a name and a cause: I was like, why hasn’t anybody told me this before? It was Marcet who referred her to the Mithoefers.

Donna had never taken Ecstasy before. “I was a little afraid, but I was desperate. I had to have some kind of relief. I didn’t want to live any more. This was no way to wake up every morning. So I met Dr Mithoefer. I said, Doctor, I will do anything short of a lobotomy. I need to get better.” Thats how, in March 2004, Donna became the first of Mithoefer’s subjects in the MDMA study. Lying on a futon, with Mithoefer on one side of her and his wife, Annie, a psychiatric nurse, on the other, talking softly to her, she swallowed the small white pill. It was her last hope.

After 5 or 10 minutes, I started giggling and I said, “I dont think I got the placebo,” she recalls. “It was a fuzzy, relaxing, on-a-different-plane feeling. Kind of floaty. It was an awakening.” For the first time Donna faced her fears. “I saw myself standing on top of a mountain looking down. You know youve got to go down the mountain and up the other side to get better. But there’s so much fog down there, youre afraid of going into it. You know what’s down there and its horrible.”

“What MDMA did was clear the fog so I could see. Down there was guilt, anger, shame, fear. And it wasnt so bad. I thought, I can do this. This fear is not going to kill me. I remembered the rape from start to finish those memories I had repressed so deeply.” Encouraged by the Mithoefers, Donna expressed her overwhelming love for her family, how she felt protected by their support and grateful for their love.

MDMA is well known for inducing these compassionate, loved-up feelings. For Donna, the experience was life-changing.

So what happened when she went home? Was she cured? She sighs. “I dont know if there’s such a thing as a cure. But after the first session I got up the next day and went outside, and it was like walking into a crayon box - everything was clear and bright. I did better in my job, in my marriage, with my kids. I had a feeling I’d never had before hope. I felt I could live instead of exist.”

What makes MDMA so useful, Mithoefer believes, is the trust it establishes. Many people with PTSD have a great deal of trouble trusting anybody, especially if theyӒve been betrayed by someone who abused their trust, like a parent or a caregiver, he says. ԓMDMA has this effect of lowering fear and defences. It also allows more compassion for oneself and for others. People can revisit the trauma, feel the original feelings but not be retraumatised, not feel overwhelmed or have to numb out to cope with it.

Before they can take part in Mithoefer’s study, every participant undergoes rigorous testing. There are 21 participants per phase and the study is now in its second phase. First, they must be diagnosed with PTSD. Then its severity is measured on the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (Caps) it must be at least ֓moderately severe. They must be treatment-resistant, meaning they have failed to respond to at least one other type of psychotherapy and also drug treatment with an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant. They must sign a 20-page documentgiving informed consent; they cannot have an addiction, psychosis or bipolar disorder, because these conditions affect the ability to give consent. Then they have a physical examination, a full medical-history check and lab tests for cardiovascular disease.

After the screening, the patient has two 90-minute preparatory sessions with the Mithoefers, to begin to build trust and get an idea of what may lie ahead. “We make sure they understand that symptoms will be stirred up, that painful feelings will come before they feel better and that they should experience them as fully as they can, and express them, rather than blocking them out,” Mithoefer says. “We have one rule: during the session they dont have to talk at all if they don’t want to, or they can talk about anything they feel like. But if, after an hour, the trauma topic hasnt come up, we can bring it up. But it always does come up,” he chuckles.

The patient lies on the futon in the Mithoefers living-room-style office in Charleston, South Carolina. They wear eye shades to encourage introspection, and headphones through which relaxing music is played. Annie keeps an eye on the blood-pressure cuffs and temperature gauge. Mithoefer sits opposite, taking notes. Each patient is given a recording of their session afterwards.

The patient takes either a 125mg tablet of MDMA or a placebo pill, followed by a 62.5mg dose about two hours into the therapy session. The study is double-blind, so only the emergency nurse who carries the drugs from the safe to the office knows whether the patient is getting the drug. “We can always tell whether its real or placebo. The patient can’t some people thought they got MDMA when they didn’t,” says Mithoefer. “But were seeing very encouraging results. There’s a real difference between placebo patients and patients who got MDMA, in terms of their ability to relive the trauma.”

Michael and Annie Mithoefer “arent your typical kind of therapists”, says Donna. She was dubious about Michaels ponytail and sandals when they first met, but she is emotional as she talks about him now. “I dont think I’ve ever met two people who cared so much about people getting well. Id see tears in their eyes when I told them what I went through.” Three other former patients of the Mithoefers who contacted me about this article described them as heroes, pioneers, even life-savers.

At the time the Mithoefers treated Donna, in March 2004, their study had been a long time in the pipeline. Convinced of MDMAs potential, Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (Maps), had been in and out of the courts seeking permission from the Food & Drug Administration for clinical research since 1984. Maps, a group set up to fund psychedelic research, agreed to fund Mithoefer’s study in 2000. The next year the FDA approved it. Then approval was withdrawn because of research by the neurologist George Ricuarte, at Johns Hopkins University, claiming that MDMA was lethally toxic. Even a single use, he reported, could cause brain damage and possibly Parkinsons disease. Ricuarte retracted his findings in 2002 when it turned out that bottles had been mixed up and the monkeys used as subjects had received lethal doses of methamphetamine (speed), rather than MDMA. “It was incredibly frustrating,” Mithoefer says.

Mithoefer’s study, which looks set to cost $1m by the time it finishes in four years time, is scrupulously monitored. Doblin had 1,000g of MDMA made specially, each gram costing $4. Mithoefer had to obtain a licence from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which keeps track of exactly how much MDMA each licence-holder has, and periodically checks the stocks for purity. A defibrillator must be kept in the building at all times in case of cardiac arrest, and an emergency nurse must be present during the treatment session. Once the study is complete, it will be subject to peer review. Then, all being well, Mithoefer hopes to see MDMA therapy available on prescription, administered in controlled surroundings, in 5 to 10 years.

Interest is growing in the UK too, but scientists admit it will take time to change hearts and minds. Dr Ben Sessa of Bristol UniversityҒs Psychopharmacology Unit has been writing papers on MDMA therapy for two years. The MithoefersӒ struggle has been ludicrous, he says. ԓTheres plenty of anecdotal evidence that it could be really useful in psychotherapy. There they are, qualified doctors with experience and medical backup, giving people this tiny dose of MDMA with safeguards in place. It took them 20 years for Maps to get it off the ground and it costs $1m. The irony is that thousands of people are taking this stuff every weekend and thereҒs a 15-year-old on the street corner wholl sell it to you for a tenner.Ҕ

Sessa would like to set up a programme of research in the UK, pointing to the thousands who could benefit: For severe, unremitting PTSD sufferers, it could be a lifeline. What there seeing in the US is people who have suffered for years suddenly saying, Wow, for the first time in my life I can talk about this, I can live with it. And these are not young ravers. They’re people in their thirties, forties, fifties who have never taken drugs. I’Ғs quite remarkable.

But what about the potential for post-study abuse? Might someone who felt deflated after the elation of their MDMA session find the urge to self-medicate irresistible and pop to that 15-year-old on the corner for a quick fix? Not at all, says Sessa. “I prescribe Valium all the time, and when the course is finished the patient could go and buy Valium on the street, but they dont. Very few people are interested in recreational drugs.”

I ask Donna the same question. “Would I take the drug again? Yes, definitely,” she says. “But not without a therapist. It’s illegal.”

Another former patient of Mithoefer’s, a 42-year-old woman, had severe PTSD after being repeatedly and horrifically beaten and locked in a basement by her father during childhood. She wished to remain anonymous because she is still in contact with her parents. When I asked her the question, she replied: “I did it to get better, not to get high. Before the treatment, I would drink to hide my symptoms. But I don’t want to get drunk now, let alone take drugs. I just dont need it any more.”

The harmful effects of MDMA are still under investigation. The type of research that is carried out normally with animals or with recreational users who also take other drugs means that the exact levels of toxicity it causes are unknown. In 2006 Dr Maartje de Win of the University of Amsterdam published research showing that Ecstasy could cause depression, anxiety and long-term memory damage after one small dose. We really donӒt know how much Ecstasy affects the brain in the long term, she says. “I would be very cautious about giving it therapeutically. We need to conduct much more research. And even then it should only be given as a last resort, after weighing the benefits against the risk of harm.”

Sessa is adamant that research into MDMA is justified. “Look at heroin. Its a class-A drug that’s dangerous when used recreationally, but its used widely in medicine, and so it should be - its a very useful drug. Can you imagine saying to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, ‘You cant use morphine or diamorphine [heroin] or pethidine or codeine or any opiate-based drugs because heroin is dangerous and people abuse it?’ Its culturally bound. MDMA has been demonised.”

In 2004, the most recent year for which there are records, 46 people died after taking Ecstasy, as against 8,221 alcohol-related deaths. And most of those who die with MDMA in their system have mixed it with substances such as alcohol or cannabis, which confounds the picture.

Earlier this year, the police chief for North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, called for the drug to be reclassified, claiming it was safer than aspirin. He was widely shouted down, but Steve Rolles of Transform believes he may have a point. It’s not appropriate to have Ecstasy in class A. In terms of indicators of harm toxicity, mortality, addictiveness and antisocial behaviour - its not comparable to heroin or cocaine. But the government won’t reclassify it. Reclassifying cannabis [from class B to C] in 2004 caused years of grief from opposition parties and the media.

The minister for drugs policy, Vernon Coaker, declined to comment on reclassification for medical purposes, but a spokesman said: “The government has no intention of reclassifying Ecstasy. It can and does kill unpredictably; there is no such thing as a safe dose. We firmly believe it should remain a class-A drug. In addition, the government warns young people of the dangers of Ecstasy through the Frank campaign.”

It does. But it also gives advice on safe Ecstasy use, or harm minimisation. This is precisely the mixed message that Rolles believes is damaging. “Harm reduction is reducing the harm that’s created by illegal supply in the first place,” he says. “So you have harm-reduction information within a legal framework that maximises harm. Its a clear contradiction.”

Then there is the problem of funding. MDMA therapy is based on the idea of a single treatment, or a course of treatment sessions, rather than long-term prescriptive use. This presents little or no benefit to drug companies that have huge budgets for research as long as theres a saleable product at the end. And if MDMA does prove effective, companies could stand to lose millions from lost sales of long-term antidepressants prescribed for PTSD.

Sessa says: “Theres no financial incentive for the pharmaceutical companies to look into it. Psychotherapy is notoriously underfunded and discredited by the drug companies. It could benefit the government to look into MDMA, but their funding is a drop in the ocean next to a company like Pfizer’s research budget. So whos going to pay for a multi-centre psychotherapy trial for 10,000 people the couch-makers?”

PTSD therapy currently costs the NHS L14m a year, and with more veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, that figure is set to rise. Last year, 1,200 new veterans sought treatment for PTSD from the organisation Combat Stress, compared with 300 in the year 2000. But realistically, would the government ever sanction MDMA research? “Its not impossible, but it’s improbable,” says Sessa. “It takes a very brave politician to look at the evidence and say, Well, there might be positive aspects to this class-A drug. Let’s look into it. It’s a conceptual, social battle which wont be easy to win.”

Posted by Elvis on 07/01/09 •
Section Revelations • Section Spiritual Diversions
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