Drug Policy

How Hysterical Do You Have to Be for Newsweek to Suggest That You're Overreacting to a Drug Menace?

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This doesn't quite make up for Newsweek's anti-crack hysteria circa 1986 or its anti-meth hysteria circa 2005, but the magazine's latest issue includes a careful, balanced story about Salvia divinorum that could serve as a model for how the press should handle controversies involving psychoactive substances. Noting salvia's longstanding use as a Mazatec folk remedy, its modern use as an aid to introspection, and its medical potential, author Brian Braiker says media attention attracted by YouTube videos of teenagers smoking salvia "is spooking legislators and law enforcement" into banning the plant and arresting people for possession. A few excerpts:

Used in small amounts, salvia…contains no known toxicities. But when its extract is smoked in larger dosages, it can yield frightening results….

But is strict regulation the best way to deal with salvia? Obviously, any impairing agent could lead to accidents. But there have been no recorded injuries or deaths resulting from its use, as drug-reform activists like Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance point out. "Most people who do it don't want to do it again," says Nadelmann. The salvia panic "is essentially an extension of the old drug-war debate in that there's this knee-jerk reflex on the part of legislators to criminalize first and ask questions later, if ever. There's no stopping to listen to scientific evidence, no cost-benefit analysis of the effect the law would have." California wants to ban the sale of salvia only to minors, a move that Nadelmann supports….

Condemning the drug to Schedule I status (the same class as heroin or cannabis), as some legislators have suggested, would make it virtually impossible for the medical community to obtain for research. It seems that sober thinking is needed on both sides of the debate.

My previous post on "the salvia panic" are here, here, and here.

[Thanks to the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman for the tip.]

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  1. It seems that sober thinking is needed on both sides of the debate.

    Umm, huh? It seems the good guys are already using sober thinking. (no pun intended on my part, not sure about Newsweek)

  2. Ooh, ooh, is this a contest? I’m going to say… hmm, “extremely.” Rather conventional, I admit, so how about “worse than Tipper Gore when she comes home to find Al playing GTA while listening to rap and smoking a joint.”

  3. Heroin is schedule 1?

    Huh. I thought it was sched 2…

  4. jaybird —

    You’re thinking of cocaine and morphine. Heroin, despite its fucking obvious medical potential, is classified in Sched I in the US and Canada.

  5. @Elemenope May 14, 2008 6:05 PM

    jaybird —

    You’re thinking of cocaine and morphine. Heroin, despite its fucking obvious medical potential, is classified in Sched I in the US and Canada.

    It’s for the children, don’tchaknow.

    (sigh)

  6. Heroin’s medical potential is already being exploited by morphine and other opiates. That said, I don’t support it being a Schedule I narcotic (or any, for that matter).

    Pot as a Schedule I is a throwback to “Reefer-Madness” and the ludicrous “gateway drug” theory. The fact that cocaine is a lower Schedule than pot goes to show the mind-boggling obtuseness of government.

  7. Not that it matters, but H&R recently posted a study showing that, indeed, dependency rates were higher among pot users than for cocaine…

    An evidence-based rating of societal harm would seem to indicated that alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana have bigger negative impacts on society than harder drugs.

    Doesn’t mean prohibition makes sense, but if you are gonna rank potential harm, seems that “cocaine is a lower Schedule than pot” is an example of the government getting it correct.

    No?

  8. Condemning the drug to Schedule I status (the same class as heroin or cannabis), as some legislators have suggested, would make it virtually impossible for the medical community to obtain for research.

    It’s a drug = it’s bad = we don’t need no stinking research. See marijuana.

    Doesn’t mean prohibition makes sense, but if you are gonna rank potential harm, seems that “cocaine is a lower Schedule than pot” is an example of the government getting it correct.

    It’s relatively easy to overdose on cocaine. Almost impossible with pot.

  9. Neu Mejican: Remember the study a few weeks ago posted on H&R about “addicts” according to the government? Pot users who used once or month or less were accounted for as addicts. So I don’t really buy that.

  10. > It’s relatively easy to overdose on cocaine. Almost
    > impossible with pot.

    I don’t know if relatively easy is correct. Most cocaine users never overdose.

    Easy also implies that they don’t have to work at it, and I assure you, with the cost of cocaine, they’re working at it.

  11. I ordered some Salvia Divinorum through the internet once ten years ago. Like the article says most people only try it once. There was no intoxicating effect from it at all. I might as well have been smoking bannana peels, maybe the government should ban bannanas as well while they are at it.

  12. “It’s relatively easy to overdose on cocaine. Almost”

    The only person I have ever personally met who has overdosed on cocaine was when I was an EMT. He told he had snorted 2 grams of coke and 1 1/2 grams of crank in a 24 hour period & he thought it was strange that he was having chest pains.

    So yeah he was really working at it.

  13. I ordered some Salvia Divinorum through the internet once ten years ago. Like the article says most people only try it once. There was no intoxicating effect from it at all. I might as well have been smoking banana peels, maybe the government should ban bananas as well while they are at it.

    From the decent goodly bit of anecdotal Internet research I’ve done on the stuff, it appears that many (60%+) people require a higher dose than the unconcentrated leaves can provide, especially since despite Salvinorin being one of the most potent psychoactive substances known to man, its vapor point is ridiculously high and so most smoking techniques don’t effectively deliver the substance into the lungs.

    Apparently, mixing it with marijuana helps facilitate the effects.

  14. I’ve always understood cocaine overdoses to be mainly caused by the impurities in black-market, heavily-cut cocaine.

  15. But there have been no recorded injuries or deaths resulting from its use…

    Like that matters to the prohibitionists.

  16. “I’ve always understood cocaine overdoses to be mainly caused by the impurities in black-market, heavily-cut cocaine.”

    Also with the black market you never know the purity level. If you are use to heavily cut cocaine & then you get some pure cocaine you might use to much.

  17. “Apparently, mixing it with marijuana helps facilitate the effects.”

    That reminds me of the movie GO when Katie Holmes & Sarah Polley are selling the rave kids fake MDMA & telling them to smoke a lot of pot with it to get the best effect.

    Like I said it was a long time ago, but I believe the Salvia I got was suppose to be taken oraly via an eye dropper that came with it. Honestly, I don’t even know if it was actual saliva Divinorum. Caveat Emptor.

  18. FUCK ALL THE FAGGOTS THAT WANT TO MAKE SALVIA ILLEGAL!!!!!!!

  19. You’re being way too optimistic and generous to Newsweek Jacob. Theres no need to make Salvia illegal because most people don’t enjoy it. Only drugs that people like turn people into addicts the first time they try it and destroy children.

  20. Only drugs that people like turn people into addicts the first time they try it and destroy children.

    Tobacco? Alcohol?

    I can’t think of any others that fit this precise profile.

  21. The inventor of acid recently passed on at age 101 or somewhere up there really high. Maybe LSD should be studied as a longevity drug. Of course, don’t know how much Hofman actually dropped, but must have tried some.

  22. LMNOP
    OW!

  23. Neu Mejican: Remember the study a few weeks ago posted on H&R about “addicts” according to the government? Pot users who used once or month or less were accounted for as addicts. So I don’t really buy that.

    You are clearly missing my point.
    Of the drugs on the list, MJ had close to the highest level of “dependence” reported. Dependence is, by definition, a problem…it is also a self-reported problem. Meaning that the people who claim it recognize that they are experiencing a problem. Given that it has higher % of people using it report problems associated with that use, and given that it is many times more popular than cocaine, the government has ranked the drugs correctly…based on amount of societal harm.

    Not that that justifies prohibition.

  24. Given that it has higher % of people using it report problems associated with that use, and given that it is many times more popular than cocaine, the government has ranked the drugs correctly…based on amount of societal harm.

    I would hazard that *death* is a major component of societal harm due to drugs, and since cocaine does occasionally kill people and marijuana *doesn’t*, the government dicked up its ratings even if it were operating on some sort of utilitarian rubric (which both you and I know it fucking isn’t).

  25. While dependence may always be a problem (though I don’t think it is quite so by definition), it is not always the same problem. I know a lot of daily pot smokers. While it might be the case that they would be better off never having smoked pot, it is certainly not a problem to the degree that cocaine use is for the regular cocaine users I have encountered.

  26. Findings There were statistically significant bivariate associations between increasing levels of cannabis use at ages 14-21 and: lower levels of degree attainment by age 25 (P < 0.0001); lower income at age 25 (P < 0.01); higher levels of welfare dependence (P < 0.0001); higher unemployment (P < 0.0001); lower levels of relationship satisfaction (P < 0.001); and lower levels of life satisfaction (P < 0.0001). These associations were adjusted for a range of potentially confounding factors including: family socio-economic background; family functioning; exposure to child abuse; childhood and adolescent adjustment; early adolescent academic achievement; and comorbid mental disorders and substance use. After adjustment, the associations between increasing cannabis use and all outcome measures remained statistically significant (P < 0.05).

    Volume 103 Issue 6 Page 969-976, June 2008

    Zeb,

    By definition, dependence is a problem. If you use frequently, but don’t consider that use to interfere with other life functions, you aren’t dependent.

    LMNOP,
    Yes, it is harder to overdose on MJ (impossible, probably) than cocaine. I wonder, however, what the death-by-accident rate is while high. Just putting that out there.

    And no, I don’t think there was good evidence base when the regs were written.

  27. Who do I call for my oxygen dependence issue?

  28. Yes, it is harder to overdose on MJ (impossible, probably) than cocaine. I wonder, however, what the death-by-accident rate is while high. Just putting that out there.

    I wondered that too. There was even a (short-lived) ONDCP ad campaign a few years ago featuring a baked teenage driver plowing into a little girl on a bike in a parking lot that made a visceral impression, though absolutely nothing beats watching a young, hot Rachael Leigh Cook thrashing a kitchen with a frying pan for making impressions, IMO.

    So I did a little checking. Turns out that unlike alcohol, there are next-to-no cases of harm due to impaired judgment or coordination due to marijuana in the literature. If there were any significant cases, you can be damn sure you’d have heard about them from the drug warriors by now ad nauseam.

    This, upon reflection, is unsurprising, since the contexts that MJ is used are very, very different from alcohol use. Alcohol is often drunk in public, at bars or restaurants. MJ, by contrast, is normally consumed in the home. So, there is a shitload more driving after alcohol intoxication than after MJ intoxication.

    Anecdotally (i.e. I have been stupid enough to experience the following), the primary practical effect of being intoxicated with MJ while driving is that you drive *a lot* slower than normal. So, it might raise the suspicions of police (who the hell drives 10 mph *under* the speed limit?), it certainly doesn’t lend itself to a *more* dangerous behavior, such as speeding and swerving from alcohol.

  29. Troy,

    I assume that your oxygen use does not have detrimental impacts on your other life functions. It would be improper to call your usage level dependency unless it interferes with other activities. You, of course, might be huffing pure oxygen to get high and doing it so often that it interferes with life function. If so, any drug abuse counselor should provide you with resources.

    😉

  30. LMNOP,

    Driving is only one way to accidentally kill yourself. I remember in HS setting a pot of caramel on fire while high at my friends house (we needed that fondue, but then forgot we have put it on the stove). Nothing like trying to put out a sugar fire…shit burns HOT. Melted the pan all over the stove and nearly caught the house on fire.

    Not sure if our corpses would have been tested for MJ had we all died in the fire.

  31. I remember in HS setting a pot of caramel on fire while high at my friends house (we needed that fondue, but then forgot we have put it on the stove). Nothing like trying to put out a sugar fire…shit burns HOT.

    I remember setting my stove on fire in HS too (though that was an oil fire; damn popcorn…:) and I wasn’t high at the time. I imagine that MJ, due to its particular effects, would make it more likely to forget about a pot on the stove, but also make it less likely for a person to start a complex task like cooking in the first place. Do these effects wash out? Who knows…but if there were a significant positive correlation between MJ and accidents, I think someone would have noticed it by now.

    Besides, most people prepare for the munchies with bags of chips, etc. I’ve never heard of someone going on a culinary adventure to quell them. P.S. do you mean *fondant*? Fondue is made of cheese, not sugar. Fondant is the creamy sugar stuff.

    Not sure if our corpses would have been tested for MJ had we all died in the fire.

    A good point, though if a drug has the effect of making any complex task more dangerous (and I can’t see how MJ would make cooking more dangerous but not driving) then the increases should show up across a broad range of activities, including those, like driving, that generally provoke substance testing.

  32. Some basic cooking lessons for LMNOP

    Dessert Fondue
    Dessert fondues became very popular in the 1970’s. Chocolate fondue was a favorite used for dipping ripe fruits such as bananas, strawberries, and tangerines. Some recipes suggest dipping some cubes of angel food cake as well. Other dessert fondues include caramel, coconut and marshmallow.

    fondant:
    Fondant is a cream confection used as a filling or coating for cakes, pastries, and candies or sweets. In its simplest form, it is sugar and water cooked to a point, specifically the soft-ball stage, cooled slightly, and stirred or beaten until it is an opaque mass of creamy consistency. Fondant is commonly used to decorate wedding cakes. This gives the cakes a smooth appearance.

  33. fondue
    1878, Fr. cooking term, fem. pp. of fondre “melt”

  34. A good point, though if a drug has the effect of making any complex task more dangerous (and I can’t see how MJ would make cooking more dangerous but not driving)

    A very different set of cognitive skills are involved, and a very different set of dangers.

  35. Some basic cooking lessons for LMNOP

    Very true, but when most people say “fondue” they are referring to the gooey cheese stuff. My apologies.

    A very different set of cognitive skills are involved, and a very different set of dangers.

    I’m not sure I buy that, except to say that driving is a more cognitively *intense* activity for sure, because the stream of information is large and constant and needs to be reacted to on the order of fractions of a second, as opposed to a few seconds-to-a-minute reaction times necessary for most types of cooking (which also has less variables to compensate for).

  36. Cognitive skills for remembering to turn off the heat in 20 minutes, for instance, have very little overlap with the cognitive skills used to react to the second by second changes of driving.

    And there’s the whole cutting your finger off thing…fine motor versus gross motor systems involved.

  37. NM,
    What you are calling dependence, I would call addiction. Not the same thing. “By definition” is a pretty useless thing to say, really, unless we have all already agreed on definitions of things, which clearly is not the case.

    So, to say my piece in the simplest way: Being a pot head: not too bad. Being a coke head: bad.

  38. Zeb,

    Indeed it is important to agree on definitions.
    The study I referenced defined “dependence” using standard criteria in the field. Meaning that it is not the usage level that is as important as the interference that usage causes with other life functions.

    So, objectively, evidence suggests that using pot is more likely to lead to you becoming a pot head…holding your metric of “bad” equal at “dependent.”

    I have known a lot of addicts in my life.
    Some people may prefer to associate with one flavor or another, but few are as annoying as a pot head. Although your typical junkie is probably the worst.

  39. As a responsible online vendor of this controversial herb, I welcome the mainstream exposure the media has placed on salvia divinorum. I however dislike the misconceptions they portray of it; the draconian laws they seduce, and the lures of the forbidden they give minors. I know this plant is very special having personally seem it help aids patients, chronically depressed people, and cocaine/methamphetimine addicts. It certainly is not a recreational drug nor the next marijuana. It should be respected and researched, not banished and criminalized.

  40. Salvia is a wonder drug dude. it gives you a kick for around six hours or something

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