Drug Policy

Crack Canards and Meth Myths

A neuroscientist corrects widely accepted misconceptions about two notorious drugs.

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Growing familiarity with marijuana has been accompanied by growing support for legalization because people discovered through personal experience that the government was lying to them about the drug's hazards. But it is easier to demonize less popular drugs such as crack cocaine and methamphetamine, which in the public mind are still linked, as marijuana once was, with addiction, madness, and violence. Any attempt to question the use of force in dealing with these drugs therefore must begin by separating reality from horror stories.

That is where Carl Hart comes in. Hart, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Columbia who grew up in one of Miami's rougher neighborhoods, has done bold, path-breaking research that challenges widely accepted beliefs about crack and meth. In his inspiring and fascinating new memoir High Price, he describes both how he overcame his early disadvantages to secure a tenured position at an Ivy League university and how he came to question everything he thought he knew about drugs as he learned to think critically about the issue.

Before he became a scientist, Hart believed that people who use crack generally get hooked on it and thereby lose control of their behavior. But when he looked at the data on patterns of drug use as an academic, he could plainly see that only a small minority of people who try crack become heavy users. "Even at the peak [of] widespread use," he writes, "only 10–20 percent of crack cocaine users became addicted." According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, just 3 percent of Americans who have tried this reputedly irresistible and inescapable drug have smoked it in the last month.

Contrary to what anti-drug ads claim, Hart observes, addiction "is not an equal-opportunity disorder." He notes that even rats, whose voracious consumption of cocaine in certain contrived conditions supposedly shows how powerfully addictive that drug is, tend to use it in moderation when they have other options, such as food, sex, or an interesting environment to explore.

Crack "gained the popularity that it did in the hood…because there weren't that many other affordable sources of pleasure and purpose," Hart writes. "And that was why, despite years of media-hyped predictions that crack's expansion across classes was imminent, it never 'ravaged' the suburbs."

Furthermore, Hart's own research with heavy crack smokers found that, in contrast with the stereotypical addict who cannot help but immediately consume whatever crack is available, they frequently rejected the drug in favor of small cash payments or vouchers. He got similar results with meth snorters, even though he deliberately recruited frequent consumers who had no interest in stopping. These findings underline a crucial truth that Hart emphasizes: "The effects of drugs on human behavior and physiology are determined by a complex interaction between the individual drug user and her or his environment."

Hart debunks various other misconceptions about crack and meth. He notes that the vast majority of violence attributed to crack grew out of black-market disputes, as opposed to the drug's pharmacological effects. His studies found that cocaine and methamphetamine do increase heart rate and blood pressure, but the effect of typical doses is not dangerous in otherwise healthy people. He argues that research linking meth to brain damage confuses correlation with causation and fails to show that meth users' cognitive capabilities are outside the normal range. And in case you were wondering, "There is no empirical evidence to support the claim that methamphetamine causes one to become physically unattractive."

Hart is well aware of the hostility he is apt to provoke by challenging the myths underlying the war on drugs. He describes a 2005 meeting with journalists, arranged by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, where he tried to put the dangers of methamphetamine in perspective, noting that the drug is a government-approved treatment for narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He cited his own research finding that methamphetamine has "the same effects" as a more familiar ADHD drug, Adderall, which has a "nearly identical" chemical structure. He added that pilots and soldiers commonly use amphetamines to stay alert.

Yet for some reason amphetamine use in these contexts is not considered alarming, physically dangerous, dentally destructive, or apt to produce outbursts of irrational, murderous violence. Hart's calm and accurate presentation contrasted sharply with the tales of chemical slavery, degradation, and monstrous mayhem told by the other "experts" invited to the meeting: a cop, a prosecutor, and a self-identified meth addict. "My fellow panelists were horrified," he says.

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  1. If you shoot a duck full of speed, it will just swim around in circles until it wears itself out and drowns. So kids, don’t use speed. Smoke pot for Christ’s sake.

    1. And whatever you do, don’t shoot your ducks full of speed if you don’t want them to swim in circles until they die.

        1. I could have gone all day, or for the rest of my life really, without seeing that.

    2. Clockwise or counter-clockwise?

      1. It probably depends on which hemisphere you’re in.

      2. depends on which side you inject into.

    3. Not as much fun as if you put a mouse on reserpine for 2 weeks, then shoot it with speed. It runs around like a poisoned mouse!

  2. “My fellow panelists were horrified,” he says.

    Zealots do not like it when their faith is questioned.

    1. In the show “Inside: Secret America – Bath Salts” there is presented a segment where the author/interviewer Mariana van Zeller goes along on a bust of a bath salts production facility.

      After the bust a burly black cop is shown on camera and he says this:

      “For every one of these we take down, there are just that many more out there that we’re gonna have to find until we can get a grip on this.”

      The statement is absolutely simpleminded! He is essentially saying that it doesn’t matter how many of the places are busted because there are many more out there. He seems to indicate that continuing to bust the makers, sellers and users will eventually achieve the goal of total control. Total control has to be the goal as anything less is really failure.

      Barry McCaffrey (Clinton’s “drug czar”) admitted that the interdiction efforts of the US government only stopped about 13 to 15 percent meaning the other 87 to 85 percent gets through. FAIL!

      Insanity epitomized. Prohibition of intoxicants is just one more attempt to control the behavior of the citizens. Starting more than 100 years ago it suffered a huge FAIL with alcohol. The failed model has been used ever since with the government morons and the cops evidently thinking that the next bust will be the turning point.

      Daily, 40,000 cars cross the border through California. For every mule car stopped 10 get through. The government can’t be seen as doing nothing. Too bad it isn’t seen as “doing nothing”!

      PATHETIC!

  3. Crack is whack yo!

  4. He’s being generous at 10-20%. That is just the number who make using decisions outside of the “reasonable” case.

  5. “My fellow panelists were horrified,” he says.

    “It is impossible to make a man believe something when his livelihood depends upon him not believing it.”

  6. “neuropsychopharmacologist” Just because you have a long title before your name does not mean you are infailable or without biases to prove points, history is filled with them. You can tell meth has savaged parts of this country and you can see them a mile away. Is every drug an immediate addictor of course not but clearly some drugs have great sticking power and you never know if your an addictive person or not until its to late. Better to not try to avoid that awful outcome

    1. I think your dose seems a little high.

    2. Have you read his book or research, or are you just infallible and without bias?

      1. I don’t have to read his research. When you see it on the street daily in every city thats enough research. I’m not talking annicdotal(sp) evidence I’m talking everywhere you go you see it. This is like our local weather man who has no window and tells us its clear when it actually raining, which he has done many times.

        1. Actually, you are literally talking anecdotal evidence.

          1. The plural of anecdote is data.

        2. You didn’t even read his bio.

        3. I guess stuff like this is what makes it hard for me to be a full blown “pure” Libertarian. How do you tell people that have seen relatives go fucking, batshit crazy on meth that their negative attitude towards meth is way over reacting? My brother in law, even after he’s been clean for years, still constantly sticks his jaw out like he’s trying to chew his ear off. He still can’t string a coherent sentence or thought together. And I’ve seen this otherwise mild mannered guy go literally schizophrenic on it. At some point yes, it’s reasonable for personal/observed/anecdotal evidence to trump what the neuronuclear anthropsychopharmaologycologist from the State Science Institute claims to have observed.

          I mean, from a Libertarian perspective, I could see saying “tough shit” and that people should be accountable for their actions without taxing my money to make them pay MORE for it in jail, but don’t fucking try to tell me that that shit doesn’t fuck the chemistry in your brain up.

          1. Exactly correct.

            Libertarians really shoot themselves in the foot with crap like this. Meth and crack epidemics are not government propaganda, they’re real things that I’ve seen with my own two eyes, and so have millions of other people across the country, in rural and urban areas alike.

            It is absurdly silly to write this reality off because a few studies say that for a certain segment of the population, these drugs may not be as addictive as once thought.

          2. Based on this article, Hart doesn’t appear to be arguing that drugs don’t mess with you. I think what he is arguing is that it is not the bogey man the war on drugs has made it out to be. Yes, people get messed up by crack and meth use. People also get messed up by alcohol consumption, tobacco use, over eating, and a whole host of other things that aren’t nearly as demonized in such an irrational manner.

            The bottom line is use your own judgement and make your own decisions with as little over wrought propaganda as possible.

          3. The point is not that drugs aren’t bad for some people, it’s that the prohibition has so many other, often unintended, side effects.

            The prohibition *didn’t* help your brother, and on top of that, it has eroded civil liberties, the constitution, killed millions of people, etc, etc.

            1. If prohibition has some unintended consequences, doesn’t it stand to reason that legalization will have them as well?

              Pure-blood libertarians act as though drug problems will simply vanish once we legalize everything. It won’t. You can’t claim ‘unintended consequences’ as a shot against prohibition and then ignore the reality of what legalization will — and will not — actually do.

              1. You still have to explain why prohibition hasn’t solved the drug problem. Why do we have meth and crack “epidemics” (if indeed we actually do have them) if these drugs are illegal? Do you have an alternate suggestion, or are you going to pointlessly recommend more of the same thing that’s *already failed* to solve the problems?

    3. You can tell meth has savaged parts of this country

      See, here’s the thing. Meth has not done anything of the sort. It is a chemical. People who use, make and sell meth have caused big problems in some areas.
      I don’t think anyone is arguing that some drugs are not more dangerous and likely to be the objects of addictions. The point is that the reality is far more complicated than the scare stories woudl suggest.

      1. Also, many of the “problems” of meth — for example “meth teeth” or blood infections from sharing needles are problems of prohibition, not the drug.

        1. Exactly. Adderall users don’t have melting faces, but people who use street meth with un-reacted red phosphorus or lye sure do.

          1. I used to smoke Adderall and snort it. I turned out just fine. Just get the fucking SPIDERS of my fucking back. Also, I am now a Constitutionalist.

        2. And the lifestyle helps too. If you smoke meth and eat nothing but sugar all day for long enough, yeah, your teeth are probably going to fall out.

          1. In a year? I’ve seen that in more than one case involving meth heads.

            1. This is why:
              Xerostomia

            2. Yeah, if you ignore hygiene, eat tons of sugar and have chronic dry mouth your teeth will rot pretty fast.

    4. I can spot a “meth-head” a mile away. But according to the author, not all users are addicts, or addicts that out of control. Kind of like the “functional alcoholic”.
      This is why what you see everyday doesn’t contradict what he is saying.

  7. I was with him until the part about “meth does not make you unattractive”. Yes, prolonged meth usage is terribly destructive to a person’s body and appearance; their teeth rot and fall out, their hair falls out, their skin acquires sores and the general appearance of a corpse. Have you ever seen anyone you knew go downhill with meth very fast, like you don’t see her for a year and she’s almost unrecognizable?

    Will this guy stand beside a krokodil abuser and tell me “correlation does not equal causation” as a rotten arm hits the floor?

    “Correlation does not equal causation” is too often abused as a simplistic bromide of dogmatic skepticism.

    1. Is it the meth that destroys the body or is it the neglect of hygiene and nutrition that rises out of any addiction?

      As far as was stated in the article, he didn’t do any research on this krokodil stuff, just crack and meth, so leave your strawman at the door.

      1. It wasn’t a straw man, it’s a logical conclusion; if this guy is telling me that drugs don’t destroy your body, where am I supposed to draw the line?

        Fuck off.

        1. Whoa, chill out man. Just use your critical reading skills and you’ll see he never says ALL drugs aren’t bad. He states that his evidence based research shows that meth and crack aren’t necessarily the devil they are made out to be. I can’t help but wonder if you actually read the article.

          You bringing up krokodil is a strawman. You are misrepresenting Hart’s position and research, which can be read in the last 5 or 6 paragraphs of the article.

          As far as drawing the line, you’re an adult and are welcome to draw the line for yourself wherever you’d like. Just don’t go drawing the line for me too.

          Have a nice day.

        2. Krokodil doesn’t exist without prohibition.

          1. ^ This exactly.

            Tons of weird drugs would never had been designed, if opium and coca could be imported unregulated.

          2. Bullshit.

            Unless you plan on giving heroin out for free, broke addicts — and they will go broke eventually — are going to seek a cheaper high.

            So, are there going to be price controls on all these legalized drugs? Are we going to provide them for free through Obamacare or EBT cards?

            Libertarians who claim that prohibition causes these issues are naive to think that legalization will solve anything at all.

            1. You have clearly failed to make a distinction between problems caused by the drugs themselves with the problems caused by the criminalization of drugs. Of course legalization will only get rid of the problems caused by criminalization. However, it will also make it easier to for society to handle the problems actually caused by the drugs themselves.

              People who claim that the way to help drug addicts is by throwing them in jail and confiscating their property are the naive and unrealistic ones.

      2. Greenthumb: It is the lack of hygiene and nutrition plus the dehydration associated with tweaking. Most of the “faces of meth” pictures you see on the internet are of people who have been tweaking for days, perspiring 2 + liters per day without replenishing. It gives the sunken-in, wrinkly look. If you took their picture after they had a few days sleep and some gatorade/pedialyte, they would look normal again…

        The fucked up teeth are from dry mouth, not from contaminated chemicals in the meth.

        1. I gathered that from reading.

    2. Anecdotes aren’t helpful. All that tells us is that some people who use meth go downhill very fast. You have no idea how many people use meth and that doesn’t happen to them. I don’t either. But supposing that it is a relatively small proportion of people who ever use meth that end up toothless and falling apart, then you can’t say that meth causes those things. It may be a factor in that sort of thing happening. But you can’t conclude that there is a simple cause and effect relationship.
      Drugs being illegal exacerbates the information problem. Since almost all users will want to conceal their use, the only cases you will hear about are the real horror stories.
      I’m not trying to say that meth isn’t so bad. It’s almost certainly a bad idea to start using it recreationally. Krokodil is a very poor example. It clearly does cause horrible injury to people who inject it, but that has nothing to do with the drug that people want, but with the contaminants left over since it is very crudely produced. It is entirely because of prohibition that people’s arm’s are falling off.

      1. It’s the same issue. It’s the chemicals left over that haven’t reacted that cause the problem. Chemically pure desomorphine and methamphetamine don’t cause the problems street meth and krokodil do.

      2. Is it the prohibition that is causing peoples arms to fall off or the usage of a drug with contaminants in it that is causing peoples arms to fall off ?

        My arm isn’t falling off in spite of krokodil Prohibition.

        I know you are making the point that without prohibition the contaminants would not be in the drug. But without the addiction the contaminants would not be in the person.

        1. And, as we’ve seen from Portugal, prohibition does nothing positive for addicts.

        2. Again, there is no evidence of “krokodil” or any type of contaminated desomorphine in the US. None. The CDC investigated and found nothing except IV morphine users with poor needle hygiene.

          Second, why are you wishing additional harm on people who you yourself consider addicted, and thus unable to control their behaviors. If addiction exists and the substances exist, then why wish the poor people who cannot control their behaviors more harm?

        3. So what? Did you really think I was suggesting that prohibition leads directly to people’s arms falling off completely at random?

      3. Try Erowid.org.

      4. “Anecdotes aren’t helpful.” Bullshit, I don’t need reams of peer-reviewed groupthink to tell me that slamming my genitals in the door is a bad idea (Only 10-20% of men sterilize themselves!!!).

        I 100% understand Dr. Hart’s is experience, I can smoke a 2-3 packs of smokes a week for a month, stop, and not have a craving to smoke again. I’m intimately familiar with responsible use of steroids and wholly agree that many drugs can be used sanely by large numbers of people without incident. My personal weakness is Caffeine and other stimulants and I’m like Charlie Brown with a football there…

        And that’s the issue more so than strictly the legal status of the drug(s). ‘Drugs ruined your life.’ vs. ‘You ruined your life with drugs.’ is inaccurate and somewhat moot (steroids and lifting are nowhere near as effective individually as they are together). Addiction is defined as the point where you know the substance is doing you more harm than good and you choose to use it anyway, and 10-20% of users is a pretty fucking scary number of addicts. Especially considering that, as Dr. Hart points out, there is little chance of (self-)identifying addicts up front.

        IMO, this article speaks more against mandatory sentencing laws and in favor of judicial discretion than it does the legal status of the substance. Moreover, considering the state of soda bans, gov’t spending, and prison crowding; I’d advocate altering sentencing before anything to do with outright legalization.

    3. Yes, meth made in home labs has lots of solvents and intermediates that are harmful and don’t get thoroughly washed out. Yes, meth acquired by illicit means is often cut with chemicals that are not good for humans to consume. Until you take those out of the equation, or find any actual krokodil users (a former colleague of mine was on the CDC team and found no credible evidence of anything other than common needle infections), you can’t talk about the “problems” of the drug versus the imposed health risks of prohibition.

  8. Socons hate these dopers. Why do they care if they kill themselves? Maybe they’re afraid that their prognostications do not pan out. Drugs are not nearly the horror that they wail about.

  9. They don’t seem to have the same misgivings when combat troops or pilots (ab)use these substances, let alone their own special snowflakes (AKA children) (ab)use them.

    1. Of course not. In those cases Authority *slurp* *slurp* says it’s OK.

  10. 10% to 20% seems like a pretty high percentage of addiction/heavy use to me.

    But I’m not a scientist researching the use of crack and crystal meth. I’m just a guy working in the court system who sees crack and meth heads work their pathetic ways through the criminal justice because drugs have ruined their lives.

    But it’s only 10% to 20% of the users, so it’s fine. Just legalize the stuff and the problem goes away (except for shoplifting, assaults, fighting, burglaries, rip-offs, prostitution, and other low-level crimes).

    1. I am sure that you do see what you describe working in the court system. But you see a highly biased sample. The people who end up in the court system are the worst, most extreme cases, not necessarily typical ones.

      Again, I don’t think anyone is saying that meth is not a powerful drug that many people manage to badly fuck themselves up with.

    2. I’m sure most of those people were quite capable of ruining their lives without the drugs.

      1. That’s quite possible too. Whenever I hear “drugs ruined my life” or something like that I want to say “no, you ruined your life with drugs”. Drugs didn’t do shit.

  11. 10% to 20% seems like a pretty high percentage of addiction/heavy use to me.

    But I’m not a scientist researching the use of crack and crystal meth. I’m just a guy working in the court system who sees crack and meth heads work their pathetic ways through the criminal justice because drugs have ruined their lives.

    But it’s only 10% to 20% of the users, so it’s fine. Just legalize the stuff and the problem goes away (except for shoplifting, assaults, fighting, burglaries, rip-offs, prostitution, and other low-level crimes).

  12. Carl Hart showed that 10-20% of meth users suffer from double posting syndrome.

  13. I feel like anti-drug education during school was incredibly transparent, yet I look back and almost all of my knowledge and bias regarding drugs was a result of these lessons. Combined with depictions in popular television shows, anti-crack legislation was enacted.

    I make this vow somewhat to make up for years of ignorance. If I am offered crack I will smoke it. Now I just have to wait for opportunity to strike?

  14. I would like to hear what Walter White has to say on the matter….

    1. Uhh, “thanks for you purchase”?

  15. His studies found that cocaine and methamphetamine do increase heart rate and blood pressure, but the effect of typical doses is not dangerous in otherwise healthy people.

    My “typical dose” of meth — I’ve tried it twice — resulted in a heart rate of 130 and a BP of 210/130.
    I was so fucked up and freaked out that I went to a Walgreen’s to find that out.

  16. Individual as in some have propensity for alcohol addiction? Genetics etc?

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  18. The issue here is simple; when some fool uses drugs to excess and ruins his life, that is his responsibility. When society declares a War On Drugs and encourages its agents to act like Eliot Ness, resulting in mis-aimed raids, harassment of the innocent, and so forth, that becomes (in part) MY responsibility, because it is done in my name. Since decades worth of this idiotic War have failed to prevent the sale and consumption of drugs, I no longer care if Crack and Meth are as bad as they are painted. I want the Crusade stopped. Find some way to help addicts other than pounding sand down this particular rathole.

    If the War On Drugs worked, there might be an argument for it. It doesn’t.

  19. In the show “Inside: Secret America – Bath Salts” there is presented a segment where the author/interviewer Mariana van Zeller goes along on a bust of a bath salts production facility.

    After the bust a burly black cop is shown on camera and he says this:

    “For every one of these we take down, there are just that many more out there that we’re gonna have to find until we can get a grip on this.”

    The statement is absolutely simpleminded! He is essentially saying that it doesn’t matter how many of the places are busted because there are many more out there. He seems to indicate that continuing to bust the makers, sellers and users will eventually achieve the goal of total control. Total control has to be the goal as anything less is really failure.

    Barry McCaffrey (Clinton’s “drug czar”) admitted that the interdiction efforts of the US government only stopped about 13 to 15 percent meaning the other 87 to 85 percent gets through. FAIL!

    Insanity epitomized. Prohibition of intoxicants is just one more attempt to control the behavior of the citizens. Starting more than 100 years ago it suffered a huge FAIL with alcohol. The failed model has been used ever since with the government morons and the cops evidently thinking that the next bust will be the turning point.

    Daily, 40,000 cars cross the border through California. For every mule car stopped 10 get through. The government can’t be seen as doing nothing. Too bad it isn’t seen as “doing nothing”!

    PATHETIC!

  20. As a Medical Doctor in Florida, I have had to care for these Meth train wrecks and it ain’t pretty. Google ‘meth mouth’ and look at the pictures. Who to believe? the author or your own lying eyes?

    1. Yes, and tennis elbow is only caused by tennis…

      I’ll ask the same question I did above, did the meth cause the meth mouth or was it other related behavior?

    2. Right. Because only meth users who are having major health problems go to see a doctor. Meth users who don’t have health problems probably *don’t* go to see a doctor, now do they?

      So your sampling of meth users is a biased sampling.

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  24. I worked in law enforcement for 30 years and arrested plenty of crack and meth addicts. I saw plenty of them that had physical changes in their health and appearances. Most of them had rotted teeth. Especially the meth users. Meth rotted their teeth out and it also made their bones brittle. We had several meth addicts that had their bones break when they resisted arrest, especially when we tried to handcuff them, they would have their wrists break. I was told at the hospital that meth depletes calcium directly from a users system and that is why the teeth rot and their bones get brittle. It makes you wonder what other problems drugs like that cause if they can deplete minerals from your body that are necessary for you to live and function. This writer has some agenda. He failed to really check with the people in emergency rooms, police stations, and at rehab centers on what these drugs do to people.

    1. One, do you believe that you are helping them by throwing them in jail and confiscating their property?

      And two, as a law enforcement official, you undoubtedly saw a biased sample of crack and meth users, and not a general random sampling of drug users. Those users who were not addicts and did not have these problems most likely did not come into contact with police and the jails, as they were not the ones causing disturbances.

      So, your anecdotal evidence is biased. What agenda do you have, that you seem to prefer beating up drug addicts instead of helping them?

    2. There are thousands being treated right now for ADHD with methamphetamine. Are their teeth rotting, their bones becoming brittle? If not, we have to ask, “Why, what is the difference?”
      It’s also worth pointing out that, working in law enforcement, only the problem users are likely to come to your attention, just as only the problem drinkers come to your attention.

  25. I have been wondering lately if there had been any reports of “meth mouth” during the time that pharmaceutical amphetamines were commonly prescribed, or even available over-the-counter. What about those now being treated with pharmaceutical meth for ADHD?

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