The Dim-Post

September 26, 2011

Drugs, the law and free will

Filed under: drugs — danylmc @ 4:25 pm

I/S comments on pot decriminalisation:

From a liberal perspective, the state has no interest in policing what people stick in their bodies for fun. If it causes public health problems, like alcohol and tobacco, then you treat it as a public health issue, like alcohol and tobacco. But you don’t go around banning things just because old farts disapprove.

That is the strict liberal perspective. I used to adhere to it myself: ‘People should be free to take whatever substances they want.’

The problem with this is that many drugs have addictive properties. They actually take away the individuals’ freedom to choose whether to consume them or not: nicotine and heroin are the classic examples. By banning their sale and preventing addiction, aren’t you actually increasing the total aggregate of freedom? (I guess this forms the core of almost all left-wing politics: by removing freedom in one area we greatly increase it in another).

The liberal counter-argument is that people have to consume the product to become addicted, and that’s a matter of choice. But the companies that sell these products target them at low-information demographics, like children and teenagers, whose ability to make rational choices is reduced. And when they are able to make rational decisions they’re addicted.

I don’t think pot is addictive (although some people demonstrate compulsive behaviour towards it, and the effect is similar to addiction), so I think it should be decriminalised. But I don’t buy into the liberal philosophy of a broad legalisation of drugs of abuse.

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65 Comments »

  1. By banning their sale and preventing addiction…

    Evidence, please.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — September 26, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

  2. I don’t buy into the liberal philosophy of a broad legalisation of drugs of abuse.

    The fact is that under prohibition, people who want these “drugs of abuse” can get them anyway. The question we should be asking is; do we want to help these people get healthy or do we just want to throw them in prison and let them rot, with all the attendant problems still there when they get out?

    Prohibition simply does not work. Harsher penalties do not work. It’s time to try something different.

    Comment by Purple-Shirted Eye Stabber — September 26, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  3. And if everything was legalised, at some point you’d hit the law that stops Nutrapet from selling its dog roll as fit for human consumption…

    Comment by garethw — September 26, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  4. Evidence, please.

    The number of heroin addicts < number of nicotine addicts.

    Comment by danylmc — September 26, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

  5. @ #4

    +1

    Comment by amc32 — September 26, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

  6. What? Marijuana is definitely addictive. I know several people who have had marijuana addictions they have struggled to overcome for many years. It may not be as addictive as nicotine or alcohol and it doesn’t have such bad withdrawal symptoms but it is definitely an addictive drug. apparently about 10% of users get an addiction serious enough to be diagnosed (which generally means it impairs your ability to carry out your everyday life and/or causes you serious distress and suffering). http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-teenage-mind/201012/is-marijuana-addictive

    Comment by Amy — September 26, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

  7. It bears noting that it’s possible to regulate or even prohibit supply of a substance and still treat it as public health issue, rather than a criminal issue, for end users. We do quite a bit of that already, in the food safety area and in dietary supplements, for example. Portugal did it with the decriminalisation of formerly illicit drugs, and has seen drug-related harm fall across the board (if not always drug use per se).

    The UK drug policy think-tank Reform has published quite a lot on how a more enlightened system might work, and has quite specific recommendations on availability and commercial supply. BZP and the fake-pot products really only became a problem when they turned up behind big point-of-sale displays in dairies (the old-school head shop types hate the people behind Kronic). Making pure methamphetamine available widely available would be a nightmare: it can be ferociously addictive when smoked, especially to inexperienced drug users who don’t grasp what’s happening to them.

    The state also has the right to pick winners, or substitutes for more harmful drugs. You’d certainly pick cannabis over the JWC cannabinoids, because we know a lot more about cannabis, certainly more than we know about the new chemicals. If were to acknowledge that people like to stay up late and dance and the law will not change that, you might look for a more benign stimulant than meth. Something more like, say, Ritalin. You’d justify regulating the sale of MDMA on the basis that that’s better than people taking god-knows-what in illicit pills — or at least allow for some means of testing quality and purity for consumers.

    I do worry that when we finally get a new regime, it’ll take out products which would be hard or uneconomic to make a safety case for, but which don’t really cause any problems. Salvia divinorum, for example, which has been helping local psychonauts see alien life forms for years now.

    Comment by Russell Brown — September 26, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

  8. “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.”
    There, sorted.

    Comment by Roger Parkinson (@RogerParkinson) — September 26, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  9. The number of heroin addicts < number of nicotine addicts.

    If the number of heroin addicts is non-zero, then you haven’t prevented addiction.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — September 26, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  10. You’d justify regulating the sale of MDMA on the basis that that’s better than people taking god-knows-what in illicit pills — or at least allow for some means of testing quality and purity for consumers.

    And right on cue …

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/5687248/Several-sedated-after-taking-fake-ecstasy

    Comment by Russell Brown — September 26, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  11. “Marijuana is definitely addictive. I know several people who have had marijuana addictions they have struggled to overcome for many years.”

    It’s possible to develop compulsive behaviour towards marijuana in that a person feels pyschologically unable to function without consuming it. It’s similarly possible to develop compulsive behaviour towards sex, sugar, fat, exercise, television or just about anything really.

    Marijuana is not addictive in the same way, say, heroine is in that the human system isn’t capable of becoming dependent on regular infusions of it to retain homeostasis. There is no such thing as “marijuana withdrawal”.

    Not to downplay your friend’s struggles, which I’m sure were really difficult and grim for them, but they are not technically addictions.

    Comment by Hugh — September 26, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

  12. <Prohibition simply does not work.

    @PSEB

    I suspect prohibition of drugs (like the prohibitions against drunk-driving, murder and sexual assault) stops a fair few people.

    It’s probably more accurate to say that prohibition does not stop people determined to use drugs (or drink-drive, commit murder or sexual assault for that matter).

    It’s all about the moral intensity of the act and the punishment levied; essentially the cost/benefit ratio.

    If the punishment for smoking pot was to have your hands cut off, you can bet usage would go down.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 26, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  13. I believe I/S has previously said on his blog that he probably wouldn’t be in favour of legalising P, so he probably agrees with you to an extent, Danyl. But even when you accept that it’s desirable to have fewer people consuming addictive drugs, then the question becomes what the most effective legal response is. There’s good reason to believe that a public health approach will be more effective than a prohibitionist one.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 26, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

  14. I’d go as far as to say making marijuana may even contribute to MORE people dabbling in it than otherwise would be the case. I offer no evidence, it’s just a suspicion.

    If the drug is addictive – I can’t tell you if it is or isn’t – wouldn’t that also qualify as a public health issue that our medical experts can deal with? I’m guessing that decriminalising dope would free up a huge amount of money to spend on better healthcare.

    Comment by Bill Bennett — September 26, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

  15. It’s all about the moral intensity of the act and the punishment levied; essentially the cost/benefit ratio.

    To which equation you also need to add prohibition costs. The costs of policing and organised crime, of course, but also public health costs. In Sweden, they’ve doubled down on prohibition in recent years, and their drug harms, especially drug-related deaths, are rising. In Portugal, those indicators are falling and engagement with drug health services has increased.

    This is a particular issue with IV drugs and the substantial risk of blood-borne disease they can carry when illicitly supplied and used. Your true prohibitionist thinks needle exchanges (let alone prescribed heroin, like they do in the Netherlands) are the thin end of the wedge. Your public heath wonk will think that’s a completely insane stance (which, objectively, it is).

    If the punishment for smoking pot was to have your hands cut off, you can bet usage would go down.

    Some jurisdictions get close. If you’re a Singaporean citizen who has been to Europe and enjoyed a smoke in Amsterdam, your government can pull you aside at the airport and forcibly test your blood — and then prosecute and punish you. So-called libertarians who sing the praises of Singapore are kinda crazy.

    Comment by Russell Brown — September 26, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

  16. I suspect prohibition of drugs (like the prohibitions against drunk-driving, murder and sexual assault) stops a fair few people.

    It’s interesting. By the time they’re 30, about two thirds of New Zealanders will have tried marijuana. The public health research unit at the Auckland School of Medicine has consistently found that the large majority of them stop using it. The reasons given for stopping are overwhelmingly along the lines of “just didn’t like it any more”. The number of people who stop because of the law or fear of prosecution is notably small.

    Comment by Russell Brown — September 26, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  17. You might be interested to read my new book “Matters To A Head: Cannabis, mental illness & recovery”. You can check it out through my website http://www.matterstoahead.co.nz The book discusses extensively the relationship between cannabis and mental illness, and why the decriminalisation argument is far less important to NZ than the real issue of providing and resourcing appropriate treatment and services to those who become unstuck by the drug. Of which our mental health services and prisons have many such sufferers.

    Comment by Kate K — September 26, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

  18. But the companies that sell these products target them at low-information demographics, like children and teenagers, whose ability to make rational choices is reduced.

    There is some interesting data on intelligence and drug use at psychology today: Why Intelligent People Use More Drugs.

    Consistent with the prediction of the Hypothesis, the analysis of the National Child Development Study shows that more intelligent children in the United Kingdom are more likely to grow up to consume psychoactive drugs than less intelligent children. Net of sex, religion, religiosity, marital status, number of children, education, earnings, depression, satisfaction with life, social class at birth, mother’s education, and father’s education, British children who are more intelligent before the age of 16 are more likely to consume psychoactive drugs at age 42 than less intelligent children.

    The following graph shows the association between childhood general intelligence and the latent factor for the consumption of psychoactive drugs, constructed from indicators for the consumption of 13 different types of psychoactive drugs (cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, LSD, amyl nitrate, magic mushrooms, cocaine, temazepan, semeron, ketamine, crack, heroin, and methadone). As you can see, there is a clear monotonic association between childhood general intelligence and adult consumption of psychoactive drugs. “Very bright” individuals (with IQs above 125) are roughly three-tenths of a standard deviation more likely to consume psychoactive drugs than “very dull” individuals (with IQs below 75).

    Although it doesn’t hold as true for Americans I think such results, which are pretty intuitive anyway, further undermine the paternalistic case for prohibition.

    Comment by Quoth the Raven — September 26, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

  19. You might be interested to read my new book “Matters To A Head: Cannabis, mental illness & recovery”. You can check it out through my website

    Your own experience tallies with the Christchurch and Dunedin longitudinal studies’ finding that late adolescent marijuana use increases the lifetime risk of mental illness and other harms. The risks are higher with earlier onset and heavy use, and fall away when first use of of cannabis is 18 or 20.

    This is actually the debate we should be having: how do we prevent early use of cannabis?

    Comment by Russell Brown — September 26, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

  20. Although it doesn’t hold as true for Americans I think such results, which are pretty intuitive anyway, further undermine the paternalistic case for prohibition.

    The poster child for psychoactive drug use is Steve Jobs, the greatest CEO of his generation, who famously credited taking LSD as one of the “two or three most important” experiences of his life. He is also supposed to have said of Bill Gates that: “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.”

    Firms like Apple, Microsoft and Sun were notable holdouts on the US craze for drug-testing employees, and still do not do it. HP tried it, and eventually reversed the policy: it couldn’t attract enough bright people if it drug-tested them.

    Comment by Russell Brown — September 26, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

  21. This is actually the debate we should be having: how do we prevent early use of cannabis?

    I’m lead to believe that this occurs “By banning their sale and preventing addiction.”
    :-)

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — September 26, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

  22. @RB

    My point re moral intensity was from the POV of user rather than society inasmuch as people are deterred from doing all sorts of things if the threat of force outweighs the immediate percieved benefits.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 26, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

  23. I see Graeme is being his useful self tonight. Seriously mate, more on the law, less on the pedantry.

    Comment by Bilbo — September 26, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  24. The problem with this is that many drugs have addictive properties. They actually take away the individuals’ freedom to choose whether to consume them or not: nicotine and heroin are the classic examples. By banning their sale and preventing addiction, aren’t you actually increasing the total aggregate of freedom?

    Not really. There’s hardly anything more addictive than tobacco but we haven’t banned its sale, settling for bombarding potential users with information about the dangers of using it and attempting to enforce an age limit for first use. There’s no reason this approach couldn’t be taken with other addictive drugs.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 26, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

  25. There’s no reason this approach couldn’t be taken with other addictive drugs.

    Yes there is. There’s about 21,800 reasons why you wouldn’t do that.

    And they’re all in Epsom.

    Comment by Nick K — September 26, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

  26. Regardless of whether you are harmed,damaged or totally destroyed its still your right to do with your body and life as you will…..no matter what others want. As long as no one else is FORCED to help you directly or indirectly via taxation then do as thou wilt…and take personal responsibility for it.

    Comment by James — September 27, 2011 @ 3:19 am

  27. People want to get high and out of it…. Government should be doing all it can to facilitate this wish by leaving people alone….its not their job to nanny us.

    Comment by James — September 27, 2011 @ 3:21 am

  28. Yes. And what about those motorcycle helmet laws? Nazis.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — September 27, 2011 @ 7:57 am

  29. Godwinned by Guy.

    GG’d.

    /yawn

    Comment by little_stevie — September 27, 2011 @ 8:21 am

  30. He is also supposed to have said of Bill Gates

    Yeah, he said it in an NYT interview from like 1997 or something. Which is funny, because Gates as much as admitted to taking acid in his youth in a 1994 interview with (I think) Playboy.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 27, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  31. Act dumb? Or have a decent debate when it can be done properly?

    http://yournz.org/2011/09/27/cannabis-deserves-a-decent-debate/

    Comment by Pete George — September 27, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  32. I just think drugs are very dangerous.

    The last time I was foolish enough to take something “mind expanding” I wound up at a party trying to play the didgeridoo with someone who worked for Greenpeace.

    It’s only a short way down that slippery slope to something much worse like a male drum group.

    Comment by NeilM — September 27, 2011 @ 9:06 am

  33. Regardless of whether you are harmed, damaged or totally destroyed its still your right to do with your body and life as you will…..no matter what others want. As long as no one else is FORCED to help you directly or indirectly via taxation then do as thou wilt…and take personal responsibility for it.

    So in a nutshell;

    1. People are all identically morally and intellectually responsible
    2. Drug use is a voluntary contact with your substance of choice
    3. We have no responsibility to any other agency other than our own narrow and immediate self gratification
    4. Society does not exist

    Missed you, James!

    Comment by Gregor W — September 27, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  34. The drugs only work on what’s already there Neil.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — September 27, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  35. Believe me, we are all paying for it, nothing’s going to change that.

    Comment by Kate K — September 27, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  36. Kate K, as you’ve said elsewhere, often the only intervention the vulnerable may expect is the law. We currently routinely jail the mentally ill and intellectually handicapped when their symptoms manifest as criminal behaviour. The regular “dumb crim” stories in the media demonstrate that society is generally happy with this approach.

    According to the form of libertarianism that Brash appears to favour there’s no such thing as mental illness, only a lack of personal responsibility. Rodney Hide has endorsed this view in the past.

    Comment by Joe W — September 27, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  37. Hey James what is it about involuntary addiction that you don’t understand? Imbecile.

    Comment by The Fox — September 27, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  38. So which part of ‘control and regulate’ does this recreational psychoactive ‘soft drug’ legislative reform fail to embrace?

    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2008/0373/latest/DLM1628501.html

    Instead of trying to rewrite the rules of supply and demand (what is John Key on?) work within societal norms, empower people and monitor monitor monitor…..

    Comment by Another MildGreen Initiative — September 27, 2011 @ 11:11 am

  39. NeilM@23 I just think drugs are very dangerous.

    So do I, last time I took Panadol I had a huge headache. So I’ve sworn off the lot, from asprin to zanaflex. No more of those mood-latering, mind-wrecking things for me, I’ll just have a nice cup of tea (decaffienated, oibviously) and a lie down.

    Comment by moz — September 27, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  40. “So-called libertarians who sing the praises of Singapore are kinda crazy.”

    Name 1.

    Comment by Dean — September 28, 2011 @ 1:07 am

  41. It would be nice if the attention wasn’t on decriminialise or not, but how New Zealand could rebuild it’s once world-class addiction treatment facilities, and strengthen facilities for related disorders such as eating disorders.

    Comment by R Singers — September 28, 2011 @ 11:49 am

  42. The concept of addiction seems extremely fraught to me. There are a lot of reasonably clear exemplars. But there are nebulous boundaries to it, and they extend even into the activities in which there are clear exemplars. Highly addictive substances like heroin and nicotine still have a lot of people just walking away from them with no help whatsoever. At the other end of the scale, treating practically any compulsive behaviour as an addiction puts virtually no limits on what kinds of activities could be considered an illness of the mind/body. It’s the free will and determinism debate writ large, and treating addiction as illness takes determinism to its natural limits, in which humans have no real volition about anything they do. I’ve never known the answer to this conundrum – determinism seems scientifically likely, but I think belief in determinism is built deeply into science, it’s a negative heuristic of the entire program (in a Lakatosian sense) and is therefore ultimately not a scientific question, but a philosophical one, right back where it started. It seems utterly insoluble to me, like most philosophical questions.

    Practically, you can “fix” addiction. Any human behaviour can be changed with sufficiently powerful levers. You can take away the desire to live. You can take away the desire for sex. You can force people not to take drugs, and if you treat them in the right way you can probably stop almost anyone ever wanting to do them again. As in the book 1984, you just have to wield unlimited state power on them, and make enough of a science out of mind control that you can find even the toughest nut’s darkest fear, or greatest weakness.

    In another dystopian vision, Huxley’s, you might even do this for the apparent benefit of the people and the society, using a mixture of coercion and other less harsh therapies, like freely dispensing opiates, and prescribing them for practically anything you consider socially harmful. This seems to be the actual direction society is taking. I can’t really decide if I like that kind of society, probably because something about it strikes right at the very core of what it is to be human and fallible, and wanting to be free. Fighting the future is something conservatives have always done, and I’d not usually consider myself conservative, but when it comes to the actual issue of what being human really is, I find myself rating far more highly what we were than what we are likely to become.

    In between these extremes is the practical view that some things are addiction and some are not. If there seemed to be a really clear dividing line, a set of straightforward principles by which something could be in the set or not, it would get a lot more traction. Mostly the divisions are ad hoc, picking on one particularly disliked addiction (like nicotine) and then providing a long argument about how bad it is. The longer you make this kind of argument, the wider the net is cast, and the more the reasoning resembles an extremely paternalistic one.

    In the end, I kind of follow the line that is held by most psychological counsellors, that people who don’t want to be treated can’t be effectively treated, but treatment is available for those who do want it. And the business of getting people to decide they want it is the purpose of mass education/propaganda campaigns (and every conscientious citizen can do it privately, bloggers and commenters are not exceptions). This is treating addiction as a health issue, but still preserving some form of human dignity in the process.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — September 28, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

  43. @Ben Wilson. Your quandary with the concept is easy to resolve. Addictive behaviour is a manifestation of a disorder such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The number of compulsive behaviours that you see from OCD sufferers as probably numbers as many as the sufferers. Drug addiction is just a path that our society makes it easy to follow. And as you say, you can change behaviour; you could for example turn someone from a heroin addict to a train spotter if you followed the right course of conditioning. What needs to happen with drug addicts is that they learn to cope with the chemical\structural changes to their brains that the use of a drug has caused, the same way as an amputee has to learn to use a prosthetic. You don’t get to fuck with your dopamine pathways and walk away without any side effects.

    As for your points about free will vs. determinism. It’s very hard for a person with no experience of compulsive behaviour to understand it. How can you understand another person’s brain making them do something they do not want to do, and the corresponding pain that that causes them. Like any question that comes back to Nature vs. Nurture, the most pragmatic answer is “Both”.

    Comment by R Singers — September 28, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

  44. Excellent contribution : As with addiction, the co relate vs causation to mental health carries contempranous arguemnt and is, certainly in the public realm, miscontrued by agenda and fears. Whereas the science (meta studies) tell us, certianly where cananbis’s prevelence of and access by youth is concerned, there is no good reason to believe the harms are as great as the current meme would have us believe (even the NZ health Select Commitee reports nailed this, I paraphrase but pretty close… “the harms are largely overstated”. )

    That there is a grave ommission centred around the antianxiolotic properties of some specific pot plants, attributable to both genetics and cultivation technique, that offer higher ‘protection’ against anxiety, and in so doing provide a thereapeutic value to those who may be suspectable to depression/delusion/skitz tendencies [that may fail a double blind test vs a placebo but pass muster in dispalcing contingent downsides from access to alcohol, say]. This needs to be fleshed out… and can be, but only in unfettered epidemiological studies where prohibition plays no part. The problem with the current scenario is such research is unethical. Whereas in a post prohibtion paradigm a truly patient centred approach (as they have found works very very well in Colorado) is core to harm reduction/minimisation in at risk populations.

    Comment by Another MildGreen Initiative — September 28, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  45. If cannabis were responsible for mental illness then we would expect to see a correlation in the general population with the increased use over the past half century. From what I’ve heard no such correlation exists.
    Instead it seems likely that those who suffer from mental illnesses are attracted to cannabis for whatever reason.

    Comment by Joshua — September 29, 2011 @ 3:40 am

  46. Sorry, my source:

    Ockham’ s Razor
    ABC Radio National

    “There are about 200 million cannabis users in the world. Cannabis use became globalised during the 1960s. By 2006 there were 191 countries or territories that reported cannabis offences to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, yet nowhere in any of these countries or territories was there any evidence that showed increasing levels of psychosis in the population.

    The best Australian research – Living with Psychotic Illnesses: An Australian Study 1997-1998 looked at 28 surveys into the incidence of schizophrenia and psychosis. It showed that the incidence of schizophrenia had been stable across time and cultures since it was first measured in Norway in the 1930s. Countries with high cannabis use, like Jamaica (1995) and Australia (1998) had levels of schizophrenia similar to the rest of the world.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ockhamsrazor/stories/2011/3302981.htm

    Comment by Joshua — September 29, 2011 @ 3:44 am

  47. @Joshua having similar levels of schizophrenia is not the same as not having higher levels of individuals suffering from some forms of psychosis. Also hand waving away people suffering from cannabis psychosis by saying those people probably have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia is not actually helpful from a community health perspective. Some people do have adverse reactions to cannabis and hopefully the experience is unpleasant enough for them that they do not use it again, but at the time the situation and be dangerous and life threatening.

    Comment by R Singers — September 29, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  48. Some people do have adverse reactions to cannabis and hopefully the experience is unpleasant enough for them that they do not use it again, but at the time the situation and be dangerous and life threatening.</I.

    Oddly enough, exactly what happened to me, and this was after more than a decade of pretty regular pot smoking + other recreational drug use.

    Even the smell of cannabis now physically repulses me.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 29, 2011 @ 10:20 am

  49. @Gregor since my twenties cannabis smoke has caused me migraines severe enough for me to vomit. So I have to be careful what gigs and other events I go to. There’s no point paying money for something I end up having to leave.

    Comment by R Singers — September 29, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  50. Our excessive, enforcement driven focus on the “payload” in addiction (i.e. the drug, be it cocaine or meth or pills or pot) means we more or less completely ignore the behavioural component.
    Methampetamine is psychologically addictive in the same way poker machines are, because the ritual of its use is almost exactly the same. This is why people can rail speed on a Saturday night for years and not develop a problem, yet become addicted with they smoke exactly the same drug using a glass pipe. My view is the rapidity of onset is also a big determinant in addiction. thus, a ciggie – or meth or indeed anything smoked – offers almost immediate gratification. An Ecstasy pill, on the other hand, can take from 10-30 minutes to affect a user. Behaviourally this is important, since like any animal we can be trained for a Pavlovian response. This to my mind is why there are for all intents and purposes no E addicts and plenty of smokers who can’t give up. Cannabis is far more addictive than it’s users let on – almost as addictive as cigarettes. Given the associated lung disease, I would argue that legalising MDMA probably makes more sense than legalising cannabis. Of course, if cannabis was legalised, I would immediately set up a “brewery” to make cannaboid “beer”, and promote it as a healthier way to get stoned.

    In a more general sense, just how addictive drugs are is a moot point. Almost everyone people who uses a range of recreational drugs through university and early careers give them up without any problem wahtsoever when that lifestyle becomes incompatible with their job or family commitments. in fact, giving up, say, meth is in many ways a lot easier than deciding to stop drinking given the ubiquity of the latter at practically every social occassion. To give up meth, you just have to avoid a narrow range of socially frowned upon places activities. Stopping being a 24 hour party person and buying a sea kayak instead is warmly endorsed by wider society; Giving up drinking makes you a wowser.

    If we are to accept that the culture and behaviour that surrounds current drug use is likely to make them ten times more dangerous in terms of addiction and addictive behaviour than having them all legal then I think we are well on our way to understanding why countries that legalise drug use & treat it as an education and health issue instead do not experience a spike in addiciton amongst the general population, and of course we would also save an absolute fortune on enforcement costs and migh even be able to reclaim some of our liberties by rolling back a lot of the powers that we’ve given to enforcement agencies in our panic over the failure of the war on drugs.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 29, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  51. Some people accuse me of bias on the drug issue because I have made up my mind after 40-odd years of watching people experiment with various drugs. Personally, I think if you persist in taking drugs you must be stupid. They only damage you in the end. The more you take, the more damage they do. They hurt you mentally, physically and emotionally. They damage your relationships: family, friends and work. The people who usually argue about this are those who haven’t yet been damaged to the point where even they realise they have been damaged…and some people never get there despite losing their jobs, their family and passing out in vomit with a needle in their arm. That’s how some people are.

    I last touched dope on April 10th, 1978 and consider it to be a good decision. One of the best. I recommend it to anyone. The guys I used to smoke dope with took different paths. One went insane and has been on a disability pension more or less since he was 25. Another decided he was the second coming of Christ and gutted himself on the floor of his apartment trying to release the Holy Spirit into the world. Another dropped out of medical school and went to New York City to find some heroin. His best mate went with him. They were both strong advocates of drug law reform. Not sure what happened to them. Jail, maybe.

    Of course this doesn’t happen to everyone. Only about half the people I knew who smoked dope regularly actually ended up mentally ill or dead across 20 years.

    I’m all for harm reduction….and one of the very best ways to reduce harm is avoid drugs: including alcohol.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — September 29, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

  52. @Steve 51. nice story, what is your opinion re prohibition though? And while we’re at it, problem gambling?

    prohibition does not equal harm reduction.

    Comment by R — September 30, 2011 @ 12:04 am

  53. @R Singers

    The point was not that it has no effect but that it cannot have had the effect the media would ask us to believe. If the effect on mental illness were significant it would have had a noticeable effect on the general population, and it hasn’t. If you haven’t ,please read the whole transcript (or listen to the podcast).

    Comment by Joshua — September 30, 2011 @ 12:06 am

  54. @Joshua I don’t dispute that the media like a good beat up and Reefer Madness is as good as any, but your point is mere sophism. Measurements of the numbers of suffers are only one aspect. They say nothing about the harm caused, nor other factors about the age of onset etc.. Cannabis is a harmful substance just as alcohol is. From my experience is does far more long term and permanent harm than alcohol. So while I think it’s prohibition (to help secure the fortunes of the wood pulp industry) was unfair, I don’t support the whole glib it’s not bad at all attitude towards the debate.

    Comment by R Singers — September 30, 2011 @ 9:30 am

  55. I commend you to check your evidence for alcohol and cannabis.
    It is both timely and useful that Professor David Nutt has published on this issue today… see http://profdavidnutt.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/popular-intoxicants-%e2%80%93-how-do-alcohol-and-cannabis-compare/

    Comment by Another MildGreen Initiative — September 30, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  56. Methampetamine is psychologically addictive in the same way poker machines are, because the ritual of its use is almost exactly the same. This is why people can rail speed on a Saturday night for years and not develop a problem, yet become addicted with they smoke exactly the same drug using a glass pipe.

    @Sanctuary

    Partly correct re ritualism, to the extent that the same expectation/reward stimulates the nucleus accumbens (NAcc).

    That does not in any way preclude the fact that Meth has phyically addictive properties to the extent that physical/somatic responses are exhibited during withdrawal.

    I would suggest that anyone who rails or mainlines Meth every Saturday for years does in fact, have a problem.

    Addiction is a pretty complex phenomenon with a huge number of variables

    Comment by Gregor W — September 30, 2011 @ 10:12 am

  57. @MildGreen your cite supports my point. I’d suggest you actually read what I wrote, not what you assumed I wrote.

    Comment by R Singers — September 30, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  58. @R Singers
    If a measurement of the number of people affected is not sufficient, what is? Did you read the transcript?

    Comment by Joshua — September 30, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  59. I think my comment re Nutt was directed at those who are confused about the comparative differences and who dont understand that its a polydrug issue at the alcohol/cannabis end of the debate that really needs fixing. In order to do that there has to be a rational point to commence with, the first being that drug use (licit or otherwise) is for the greater part inelastic. That to come down on pot is to drive people to drink (Nutt hints quite strongly that this is the case) it also follws that raising the age on alcohol, or increasing its price (targeting youth) drives people to the illicit ‘harms’ of the black market etc. that in and of itself can cause paranoia and mistrust. Not helpful when you diagnosing a clinical condition. One thing is for certain, the current model (criminal prohibition) serves us very poorly. It get in the road of the good work that could be done, strips resourcing away from effective options, and leadds to exageration of harms, bigotry and prejudice non of which does an IOTA og good in reducing mental health issues that may be contingent to drug use, or may as Nutt also seems to support – was there already.

    Comment by Another MildGreen Initiative — September 30, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

  60. @Joshua yes I did read the transcript. It was nothing new, and no it is not sufficient. Just like the like the statistics relating to the number of cars owned by NZers says almost nothing about pollution.

    Comment by R Singers — September 30, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  61. @R Singers
    Ok. Thanks for clearing that up. I guess there is no hope of a rational discussion then.

    Comment by Joshua — September 30, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

  62. @Joshua own your own denial mate.

    Comment by R Singers — October 1, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  63. If it’s a strictly liberal perspective on the issue, then I believe it isn’t quite right. But then again the same may be able to be said if it’s a strictly conservative view on the issue as well.

    Alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis all need some sort of regulation. Regulations when it comes to driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, etc.

    As for cannabis, we don’t need to legalise it for recreational purposes because people smoke it anyway without a lot of consequences in this country, and to impose harsher punishments for it will just waste more time and money.

    Comment by Betty — October 3, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  64. @R Singers
    Sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming “nah nah nah I can’t hear you” is not very becoming of you R.

    Comment by Joshua — October 4, 2011 @ 1:18 am

  65. It will be true that Alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis all need some sort of regulation. Regulations when it comes to driving under the influence, disorderly conduct.

    Comment by Psychoactive Herbs — October 11, 2011 @ 7:03 pm


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