Drug control policies, like gun control policies, tend to be driven by irrational fears rather than a calm assessment of the facts. When Congress banned marijuana back in 1937, the few legislators who had heard of the plant knew it as the "killer weed" supposedly responsible for horrifying homicides. Several years before Congress banned LSD in 1968, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert observed that "psychedelic drugs cause panic and temporary insanity in people who have not taken them." The Drug Enforcement Administration imposed an "emergency" ban on MDMA back in 1985, after it became clear that people were having fun with it at parties and dance clubs, and only now is it beginning to emerge again as a legitimate psychotherapeutic catalyst. When states began banning Salvia divinorum in 2005, legislators were trying to protect the youth of America from a psychedelic herb that was not nearly as dangerous as they supposed and in any case never became very popular.
This year various drug scares influenced public opinion and public policy. These five stand out.
5. Ice, Ice Baby
A study of children who were prenatally exposed to methamphetamine, published online by the journal Pediatrics in March, prompted alarming headlines that recalled the "crack baby" panic of the 1980s and '90s. "'Meth Babies' Show More Behavior Problems," Reuters announced. "Mom's Meth Use During Pregnancy Causes Kids' Behavioral Problems," reported CBS News.
But just as the warnings about crack babies handicapped for life by their mothers’ drug use turned out to be wildly overblown, there was less to this study than the press coverage suggested. The researchers, led by Brown University psychologist Linda LaGasse, claimed to have identified “an important public health problem” that could “place tremendous burdens on society” based on small differences in test scores that may not even have been caused by meth exposure. As with the "crack baby" research, the major weakness was failing to account for all of the relevant differences between women who use a notorious drug when they're pregnant and women who don't.
Next: Got those caffeine jitters.