Annual Deaths from Various Drugs in Britain
I'm in favor of legalising drugs.
- Milton Friedman
Number of deaths each year caused by driving under the influence of marijuana in Britain: 0
Study: Smoking Marijuana Does Not Cause Lung Cancer
by Fred Gardner
Marijuana smoking - "even heavy longterm use" - does not cause cancer of the lung, upper airwaves, or esophagus, Donald Tashkin reported at this year's meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. Coming from Tashkin, this conclusion had extra significance for the assembled drug-company and university-based scientists (most of whom get funding from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse). Over the years, Tashkin's lab at UCLA has produced irrefutable evidence of the damage that marijuana smoke wreaks on bronchial tissue. With NIDA's support, Tashkin and colleagues have identified the potent carcinogens in marijuana smoke, biopsied and made photomicrographs of pre-malignant cells, and studied the molecular changes occurring within them. It is Tashkin's research that the Drug Czar's office cites in ads linking marijuana to lung cancer. Tashkin himself has long believed in a causal relationship, despite a study in which Stephen Sidney examined the files of 64,000 Kaiser patients and found that marijuana users didn't develop lung cancer at a higher rate or die earlier than non-users. Of five smaller studies on the question, only two - involving a total of about 300 patients - concluded that marijuana smoking causes lung cancer. Tashkin decided to settle the question by conducting a large, prospectively designed, population-based, case-controlled study. "Our major hypothesis," he told the ICRS, "was that heavy, long-term use of marijuana will increase the risk of lung and upper-airwaves cancers."
The Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance program provided Tashkin's team with the names of 1,209 LA residents aged 59 or younger with cancer (611 lung, 403 oral/pharyngeal, 90 laryngeal, 108 esophageal). Interviewers collected extensive lifetime histories of marijuana, tobacco, alcohol and other drug use, and data on diet, occupational exposures, family history of cancer, and various "socio-demographic factors." Exposure to marijuana was measured in joint years (joints per day x 365). Controls were found based on age, gender and neighbourhood. Among them, 46% had never used marijuana, 31% had used less than one joint year, 12% had used 10 - 30 j-yrs, 2% had used 30 - 60 j-yrs, and 3% had used for more than 60 j-yrs. Tashkin controlled for tobacco use and calculated the relative risk of marijuana use resulting in lung and upper airwaves cancers. All the odds ratios turned out to be less than one (one being equal to the control group's chances)! Compared with subjects who had used less than one joint year, the estimated odds ratios for lung cancer were .78; for 1 - 10 j-yrs, .74; for 10 - 30 j-yrs, .85 for 30 - 60 j-yrs; and 0.81 for more than 60 j-yrs. The estimated odds ratios for oral/pharyngeal cancers were 0.92 for 1 - 10 j-yrs; 0.89 for 10 - 30 j-yrs; 0.81 for 30 - 60 j-yrs; and 1.0 for more than 60 j-yrs. "Similar, though less precise results were obtained for the other cancer sites," Tashkin reported. "We found absolutely no suggestion of a dose response." The data on tobacco use, as expected, revealed "a very potent effect and a clear dose-response relationship - a 21-fold greater risk of developing lung cancer if you smoke more than two packs a day." Similarly high odds obtained for oral/pharyngeal cancer, laryngeal cancer and esophageal cancer. "So, in summary" Tashkin concluded, "we failed to observe a positive association of marijuana use and other potential confounders."
There was time for only one question, said the moderator, and San Francisco oncologist Donald Abrams, MD, was already at the microphone: "You don't see any positive correlation, but in at least one category [marijuana-only smokers and lung cancer], it almost looked like there was a negative correlation, that is, a protective effect. Could you comment on that?"
"Yes," said Tashkin. "The odds ratios are less than one almost consistently, and in one category that relationship was significant, but I think that it would be difficult to extract from these data the conclusion that marijuana is protective against lung cancer. But that is not an unreasonable hypothesis."
Abrams had results of his own to report at the ICRS meeting. He and his colleagues at San Francisco General Hospital had conducted a randomised, placebo-controlled study involving 50 patients with HIV-related peripheral neuropathy. Over the course of 5 days, patients recorded their pain levels in a diary after smoking either NIDA-supplied marijuana cigarettes or cigarettes from which the THC had been extracted. About 25% didn't know or guessed wrong as to whether they were smoking the placebos, which suggests that the blinding worked. Abrams requested that his results not be described in detail prior to publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but we can generalise: they exceeded expectations, and show marijuana providing pain relief comparable to Gabapentin, the most widely used treatment for a condition that afflicts some 30% of patients with HIV.
To a questioner who bemoaned the difficulty of "separating the high from the clinical benefits," Abrams replied: "I'm an oncologist as well as an AIDS doctor and I don't think that a drug that creates euphoria in patients with terminal diseases is having an adverse effect." His study was funded by the University of California's Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research.
Source: CounterPunch 2 July 2005 via mapinc.org or see image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2005/07/05/Report.pdf for the full report - some unexpected findings.
Peyote Not Harmful to American Indians
by Michael Kunzelman
Boston - A study of the effects of peyote on American Indians found no evidence that the hallucinogenic cactus caused brain damage or psychological problems among people who used it frequently in religious ceremonies. In fact, researchers from Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital found that members of the Native American Church performed better on some psychological tests than other Navajos who did not regularly use peyote.
A 1994 federal law allows roughly 300,000 members of the Native American Church to use peyote as a religious sacrament. The 5-year study set out to find scientific proof for the Navajos' belief that the substance, which contains the hallucinogen mescaline, is not hazardous to their health even when used frequently. The study was conducted among Navajos in the Southwest by McLean psychiatrist John Halpern. It compared test results for 60 church members who have used peyote at least 100 times against those for 79 Navajos who do not regularly use peyote and 36 tribe members with a history of alcohol abuse but minimal peyote use. Those who had abused alcohol fared worse on the tests than the church members, according to the study.
Church members believe peyote offers them spiritual and physical healing, but the researchers could not say with any certainty that peyote's pharmacological effects were responsible for their test results. "It's hard to know how much of it is the sense of community they get (from the religion) and how much of it is the actual experience of using the medication itself," said Harrison Pope, the study's senior author and director of the biological psychology laboratory at the hospital near Boston. The researchers argue that their findings should offer "reassurance" to the 10,000 Native American Church members serving in the military who were barred from using peyote before new guidelines were adopted in 1997. "We find no evidence that a history of peyote use would compromise the psychological or cognitive abilities of these individuals," they wrote in their paper published in the 4 November issue of Biological Psychiatry.
The researchers note that their study draws a clear distinction between illicit and religious use of peyote. They did not rule out the possibility that other hallucinogens, such as LSD, may be harmful. "In comparison to LSD, mescaline is described as more sensual and perceptual and less altering of thought and sense of self," they wrote, adding that peyote does not seem to produce "flashbacks" the same way that LSD apparently does.
The project was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. A NIDA spokeswoman would not comment on the study. Lester Grinspoon, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor who was not involved in the research, said the study lends scientific weight to a long-held belief that peyote is not harmful. "The thing that excites me most about the paper is that the study was actually done," he said. "The US government - and NIDA, in particular - has been rather balky about allowing studies of psychedelic drugs of any kind."
Source: guardian.co.uk 4 November 2005
Random Drug Facts
This is what a legal marijuana plant looks like. It is made of silk.
Less than $200 and risk free (but not, perhaps, inspiring)
I Take Illegal Drugs for Inspiration
by Susan Blackmore Phd
Every year, like a social drinker who wants to prove to herself that she's not an alcoholic, I give up cannabis for a month. It can be a tough and dreary time - and much as I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, alcohol cannot take its place. Some people may smoke dope just to relax or have fun, but for me the reason goes deeper. In fact, I can honestly say that without cannabis, most of my scientific research would never have been done and most of my books on psychology and evolution would not have been written. Some evenings, after a long day at my desk, I'll slip into the bath, light a candle and a spliff, and let the ideas flow - that lecture I have to give to 500 people next week, that article I'm writing for New Scientist, those tricky last words of a book I've been working on for months. This is the time when the sentences seem to write themselves. Or I might sit out in my greenhouse on a summer evening among my tomatoes and peach trees, struggling with questions about free will or the nature of the universe, and find that a smoke gives me new ways of thinking about them.
Yes, I know there are serious risks to my health, and I know I might be caught and fined or put in prison. But I weigh all this up, and go on smoking grass. For both individuals and society, all drugs present a dilemma: are they worth the risks to health, wealth and sanity? For me, the pay-off is the scientific inspiration, the wealth of new ideas and the spur to inner exploration. But if I end up a mental and physical wreck, I hereby give you my permission to gloat and say: "I told you so".
My first encounter with drugs was a joint shared with a college friend in my first term at Oxford. This was at the tail end of the days of psychedelia and flower power - and cannabis was easy to obtain. After long days of lectures and writing essays, we enjoyed the laughter and giggling, the heightened sensations and crazy ideas that the drug seemed to let loose. Then, one night, something out of the ordinary happened - though whether it was caused by the drug, lack of sleep or something else altogether, I don't know. I was listening to a record with two friends, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and I had smoked just enough to induce a mild synaesthesia. The sound of the music had somehow induced the sensation of rushing through a long, dark tunnel of rustling leaves towards a bright light.
I love tunnels. They come on the verges of sleep and death and are well known in all the cultures that use drugs for ritual, magic or healing. The reason for them lies in the visual cortex at the back of the brain, where certain drugs interfere with the inhibitory systems, releasing patterns of circles and spirals that form into tunnels and lights. I didn't know about the science then. I was just enjoying the ride, when one of my friends asked a peculiar question: "Where are you, Sue?"
Where was I? I was in the tunnel. No, I was in my friend's room. I struggled to answer; then the confusion cleared and I was looking down on the familiar scene from above. "I'm on the ceiling," I said, as I watched the mouth down below open and close and say the words in unison. It was a most peculiar sensation. My friend persisted. Can you move? Yes. Can you go through the walls? Yes. And I was off exploring what I thought, at the time, was the real world. It was a wonderful feeling - like a flying dream, only more realistic and intense.
The experience lasted more than two hours, and I remember it clearly even now. Eventually, it came to seem more like a mystical experience in which time and space had lost their meaning and I appeared to merge with the universe. Years later, when I began research on out-of-body and near-death experiences, I realised that I'd had all those now-familiar sensations that people report after close brushes with death. And I wanted to find out more.
However, nothing in the physiology and psychology that I was studying could remotely begin to cope with something like this. We were learning about rats' brains, and memory mechanisms, not mind and consciousness - let alone a mind that could apparently leave its body and travel around without it. Then and there, I decided to become a parapsychologist and devote my life to proving all those closed-minded scientists wrong. But I was the one who was wrong. I did become a parapsychologist, but decades of difficult research taught me that ESP almost certainly doesn't exist and that nothing leaves the body during an out-of-body experience - however realistic it may feel.
Although parapsychology gave me no answers, I was still obsessed with a scientific mystery: how can we explain the mind and consciousness from what we know about the brain? Like any conventional scientist, I carried out experiments and surveys and studied the latest developments in psychology and neuroscience. But since the object of my inquiry was consciousness itself, this wasn't enough. I wanted to investigate my own consciousness as well.
So I tried everything from weird machines and gadgets to long-term training in meditation - but I have to admit that drugs have played a major role. Back in those student days, it was the hallucinogens, or "mind-revealing" psychedelics, that excited us - and the ultimate hallucinogen must be LSD. Effective in minuscule doses, and not physically addictive, LSD takes you on a "trip" that lasts about eight to 10 hours but can seem like forever. Every sense is enhanced or distorted, objects change shape and form, terrors flood up from your own mind, and you can find joy in the simplest thing. Once the trip has begun, there is no escape - no antidote, no way to stop the journey into the depths of your own mind. In my 20s, I used to take acid two or three times a year - and this was quite enough, for an acid trip is not an adventure to be undertaken lightly. I've met the horrors with several hallucinogens, including magic mushrooms that I grew myself. I remember once gazing at a cheerfully coloured cushion, only to see each streak of colour turn into a scene of rape, mutilation or torture, the victims writhing and screaming - and when I shut my eyes, it didn't go away. It is easy to understand how such visions can turn into a classic "bad trip", though that has never happened to me.
Instead, the onslaught of images eventually taught me to see and accept the frightening depths of my own mind - to face up to the fact that, under other circumstances, I might be either torturer or tortured. In a curious way, this makes it easier to cope with the guilt, fear or anxiety of ordinary life. Certainly, acceptance is a skill worth having - though I guess there are easier ways of acquiring it.
Then there's the fun and just the plain strangeness of LSD. On one sunny trip in Oxford, my friend and I stopped under a vast oak tree where the path had been trampled into deep furrows by cattle and then dried solid by the hot weather. We must have spent an hour there, gazing in wonder at the texture of this dried mud; at the hills and valleys in miniature; at the hoof-shaped pits and sharp cliffs; at the shifting patterns in the dappled shade. I felt that I knew every inch of this special place; that I had an intimate connection with the mud. Suddenly, I noticed a very old man with a stick, walking slowly towards us on the path. Keep calm, I told myself. Act normal. He'll just say hello, walk by, and be gone.
"Excuse me, young lady," he said in a cracked voice. "My eyes are weak and, in this light, I can't see my way. Would you help me across?" And so it was that I found myself, dream-like, guiding the old man slowly across my special place - a patch of mud that I knew as well as my own features. Two days later, my friend came back from lectures, very excited. "I've seen him. The man with the stick. He's real!" We both feared that we'd hallucinated him.
Aldous Huxley once said that mescaline opened "the doors of perception"; it certainly did that for me. I took it one day with friends in the country, where we walked in spring meadows, identified wild flowers, marvelled over sparkling spider's webs and gasped at the colours in the sky that rippled overhead. Back at the farmhouse, I sat playing with a kitten until kitten and flowers seemed inextricable. I took a pen and began to draw. I still have that little flower-kitten drawing on my study wall today.
On another wall is a field of daffodils in oils. One day, many years later, I went to my regular art class the day after an LSD trip. The teacher had brought in a bunch of daffodils and given us one each, in a milk bottle. Mine was beautiful; but I couldn't draw just one. My vision was filled with daffodils, and I began to paint, in bold colours, huge blooms to fill the entire canvas. I will never be a great painter but, like many artists through the ages, I had found new ways of seeing that were induced by a chemical in the brain.
So can drugs be creative? I would say so, although the dangers are great - not just the dangers inherent in any drug use, but the danger of coming to rely on them too much and of neglecting the hard work that both art and science demand. There are plenty of good reasons to shun drug-induced creativity. Yet, in my own case, drugs have an interesting role: in trying to understand consciousness, I am taking substances that affect the brain that I'm trying to understand. In other words, they alter the mind that is both the investigator and the investigated. Interestingly, hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin are the least popular of today's street drugs - perhaps because they demand so much of the person who takes them and promise neither pleasure or cheap happiness. Instead, the money is all in heroin, cocaine and other drugs of addiction.
I have not enjoyed my few experiences with cocaine. I don't like the rush of false confidence and energy it provides - partly because that's not what I'm looking for and partly because I've seen cocaine take people over and ruin their lives. But many people love it - and the dealers get rich on getting people hooked. This is tragic. In just about every human society there has ever been, people have used dangerous drugs - but most have developed rituals that bring an element of control or safety to the experience. In more primitive societies, it is shamans and healers who control the use of dangerous drugs, choose appropriate settings in which to take them and teach people how to appreciate the visions and insights that they can bring. In our own society, criminals control all drug sales. This means that users have no way of knowing exactly what they are buying and no-one to teach them how to use these dangerous tools.
I have been lucky with my own teachers. The first time I took ecstasy, for example, I was with three people I had met at a Norwegian conference on death and dying. It was mid-summer, and they had invited me to join them on a trip around the fjords. One afternoon, we sat together and took pure crystals of MDMA - nothing like the frightening mixtures for sale on the streets today. MDMA has the curious effect of making you feel warm and loving towards everyone and everything around you: within a few short hours, we were all convinced that we knew each other in a deep and intimate way. Then we deliberately each set off alone to walk in the mountains, where the same feeling of love now seemed to encompass the entire landscape.
I was told then that I should make the most of my first few experiences with MDMA because, after five or six doses, I would never get the same effects again. In my experience, this has been true, although prohibition makes it all but impossible to find such things out. In fact, we know horrifyingly little about the psychological effects of drugs that people take every day in Britain because scientists are not allowed to carry out the necessary research. That is why I've had to do my own. I once had an expert friend inject me with a high dose of ketamine because I had heard it could induce out-of-body experiences. Known as K, or Special K, on the street, this is an anæsthetic used more often by vets than anæsthetists because of its unpleasant tendency to produce nightmares. Get the dose right, as I did, and you are completely paralysed apart from the ability to move your eyes. This is not very pleasant. However, by imagining I was lifting out of my body, I felt I could fly, and I set off home to see what my children were up to. I was sure that I saw them playing in the kitchen; but when I checked the next day, I was told they had been asleep.
Back in the room, my guide began holding up his fingers out of my line of vision and, as soon as my mouth started working again, made me guess how many. I seemed to see the fingers all right, but my guesses were totally wrong. I didn't repeat the experiment. It was not nearly as interesting as those drugs, such as LSD, psilocybin, DMT or mescaline, that undermine everything you take for granted. These are psychedelics that threaten our ordinary sense of self, and that is where they touch most deeply on my scientific interests.
What is a self? How does the brain create this sense of being "me", inside this head, looking out at the world, when I know that behind my eyes there are only millions of brain cells - and nowhere for an inner self to hide? How can those millions of brain cells give rise to free will when they are merely physical and chemical machines? In threatening our sense of self, could it be that these drugs reveal the scary truth that there is no such thing? Mystics would say so. And, here, we hit an old and familiar question: do drugs and mystical experiences lead to the same "insights"? And are those insights true?
Since those first trips, I have taken many other drugs - such as nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. For just a few moments, I have understood everything - "Yes, yes, this is so right, this is how it has to be" - and then the certainty vanishes and you cannot say what you understood. When the discoverer of nitrous oxide, Sir Humphrey Davy, took it himself in 1799, he exclaimed: "Nothing exists but thoughts". Others, too, have found their views profoundly shifted. It seems quite extraordinary to me that so simple a molecule can change one's philosophy, even for a few moments, yet it seems it can. Why does the gas make you laugh? Perhaps it is a reaction to a brief appreciation of that terrifying cosmic joke - that we are just shifting patterns in a meaningless universe.
Are drugs the quick and dirty route to insight? I wanted to try the slow route, too. So I have spent more than 20 years training in meditation - not joining any cult or religion but learning the discipline of steadily looking into my own mind. Gradually, the mind calms, space opens up, self and other become indistinguishable, and desires drop away. It's an old metaphor, but people often liken the task to climbing a mountain. The drugs can take you up in a helicopter to see what's there, but you can't stay. In the end, you have to climb the mountain yourself - the hard way. Even so, by giving you that first glimpse, the drugs may provide the inspiration to keep climbing.
Posted by jiva 29 May 2005 06:00 PM
I have a great admiration for Susan Blackmore for her courage in acknowledging her debt to the drugs that lift her out of her life and give her perspective. It is that perspective that causes some drugs to be illegal, though the logic behind it seems at times a bit irrational to me. Visit her unusual website at susanblackmore.co.uk.
New Rule: We Don't Need Drug Tests for Librarians
by Bill Maher
They can't have very nice lives - librarians. It's like being a teacher, only without the opportunities for dating, because the only kids you meet are the nerds. So the last thing America's shsssshing minority needs is the indignity of a urine test. But that's just what we're doing. I'm not sure this is the best use of our time.
The last time a librarian did something really stupid and reckless on drugs was when Laura married George.
Last year, Florida's Levy County introduced drug testing for library volunteers. Whose average age is between 60 and 85. The volunteers were required to drive to another city - Gainesville - and urinate in a cup "within hearing distance" of a laboratory monitor. That'll teach 'em for offering to work for free. "Okay, grandma, now get pissing. And I'd better hear a nice even unbroken stream."
And then something weird happened. Inexplicably, the number of volunteers dropped from 55 to two. It's almost like they didn't enjoy being degraded. And they call themselves the greatest generation.
I know what you're thinking. If Aunt Iris has nothing to hide, she can get a little of her own urine on her hands and prove she's not strung out on junk. Then we can feel safe, and she can go back to mis-shelving the Reader's Digests. But then a second thought occurs to you, later, when you really, really think about it. And that thought is this: What the fuck is wrong with us? Are we high?
They're not flying planes. They're showing the homeless how to use the microfiche readers. For free. The only people who profit from this are the stockholders of the drug testing company, who stood to make $33 a head, money the library would have otherwise just wasted on books.
A spokesman for the libraries said she wouldn't make the volunteers drive to Gainesville for their cavity searches anymore. And she also thought the problem wasn't the drug test itself, but the method they used. That's why they're looking into switching from urine tests to mouth swabs. The same method used by the Florida Department of Corrections.
Bill Maher is the host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" which airs every Friday at 11PM.
Source: huffingtonpost.com 25 October 2006
Drinking Fruit Juice May Stop Medication Working
by Fiona Macrae
Drinking fruit juice dramatically reduces the effectiveness of drugs used to treat cancer, heart conditions and high blood pressure, scientists say. Research has shown that orange, apple and grapefruit juice can also wipe out the benefits of some antibiotics and hay-fever pills. It is thought the drinks stop drugs from entering the bloodstream and getting to work in the body - possibly rendering them useless. The potential effects are so serious, researchers warned, that if in doubt, patients should swap fruit juices for water when on medication.
Researcher David Bailey said: "This is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure we'll find more and more drugs that are affected this way." Twenty years ago, Professor Bailey showed that grapefruit juice dangerously magnifies the effect of the blood pressure drug felodipine. His findings led to warnings that the drink should be avoided by those on some medicines. The latest study shows that fruit juices can also reduce the power of medicines - potentially stopping them from doing any good. Professor Bailey, of the University of Western Ontario, in Canada, said: "The concern is loss of benefit of medications essential for the treatment of serious diseases." Drugs shown to be weakened by grapefruit, orange and apple juices include the blood pressure-lowering beta blockers atenolol, celiprolol, and talinolol and the hay-fever treatment fexofenadine. The multi-purpose antibiotic ciprofloxacin, used to combat germs behind food poisoning and bone and joint infections, is also affected. So is the cancer drug etoposide and a drug given to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs.
Many other drugs are also likely to be affected, an American Chemical Society conference heard yesterday. The study showed juices do not need to be taken at the same time as drugs to have a dangerous effect. Those drunk up to two hours before can reduce drug absorption. But patients need not stop drinking juice altogether. Professor Bailey said: "Juice taken 4 hours prior to drug intake did not have an effect. Thus, it should be possible still to take grapefruit, orange and apple juices while on affected medications provided there is a sufficient time interval. I would recommend taking drugs with water on an empty stomach to get the most consistent effect." Researcher Bailey, a professor of pharmacology, advised patients to speak to their doctor or pharmacist before taking fruit juice with medicines.
Professor Bailey made the link after asking volunteers to take the hay fever drug fexofenadine at the same time as either a glass of water or grapefruit juice. Taking it with juice cut its absorption into the bloodstream by half. Experiments showed naringin, the chemical which makes grapefruit taste bitter, blocked the drug from moving from the small intestine into the bloodstream. The researchers have pinpointed a naringin-like compound in orange juice and are looking for a similar one in apples. A different mechanism is at play with the drugs whose levels are boosted by grapefruit juice. There, juice deactivates a liver enzyme that breaks down drugs, making normal doses potential overdoses.
The study is not the first to highlight the dangers behind supposedly healthy juices. Last month, research from Harvard Medical School in the US, showed that one glass of orange juice a day can increase the risk of a form of diabetes linked to poor diet and obesity. But eating whole pieces of fruit cuts the likelihood of developing the disease. It is thought the lack of fibre in juices may cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
Source: dailymail.co.uk 19 August 2008
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