Author Archives: tenchinage

Government regulates, councils panic.

I am starting to see a link between the Psychoactive Substances Act here in New Zealand and the moral panic created in our media about legal highs. For a while, I couldn’t work out why the panic was being stirred up when regulation was being passed already – what purpose would it serve to make the populace react like this?

Now the law has been passed, local councils have been given the power to decide whether, and how, legal highs will be sold in their areas. So we are getting situations like this, where councils are moving to ban the substances locally based on anecdata and hype about the so-called dangers of legal highs. Many of which have been given an initial interim tick by the Ministry of Health to be sold, but perhaps will not pass the more stringent safety testing planned for later this year.

So the government gets to look progressive internationally, meanwhile creating a moral panic locally and passing the banhammer to councils. It seems quite a few councils are looking at preventing the substances being sold by placing onerous restrictions on retailers through zoning, restrictions on opening hours and the like, in response to public petitions that have come about because of the moral panic around the issue – which was created in the media. *sigh*

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of synthetic cannabis. I have tried it three times and on the third occasion I had an anxiety attack and threw out all the rest of the stuff I had because it just.felt.wrong. I know of another person who’s had a similar reaction. I know still another person who had found themselves becoming dependent on one of them – but that was the one that was later found to contain benzodiazepines, which are highly dependence-inducing. And the whole point of regulating sales and putting in place a testing regime is to ensure that benzo-containing synthetic pot can’t slip through in imports, and that if a substance causes anxiety attacks in people, it won’t be sold.

And I also fully recognise the much larger number of people I know who have used synthetic pot and had no problems, in fact have found it to be easier on them than cannabis. These people’s anecdata should count too, right? Oh wait..

Councils are starting to ban things before they’ve even been tested – on the basis of media hype and second and third hand anecdotal evidence by people who’ve been trained to see only the bad side of drug use. This seems .. actually it seems like exactly what the government intended when it gave them this power while simultaneously stirring up a moral panic in the media, eh?

Further to the Rudy Eugene moral panic

Remember the Florida Zombie? How he attacked another man and chewed his face off and everyone said it was because he was off his nut on bath salts? And how there’s now a federal bill to ban bath salts going through congress in the USA?.

They released the toxicology report on Eugene this morning. Only marijuana was found in the guy’s system.

Fuck you, police. Fuck you, media. Fuck you, everyone who contributed to this moral panic that has effectively deflected attention away from the real problem which is the USA’s crumbling support infrastructure and how events like this are on the increase not because of some demonic new drug but because people are falling faster and faster through the cracks. The safety net is disintegrating and desperate people are not getting help, and bath salts are not to blame for this. Drug misuse is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. Kapisch?

Jeez. Damn right I’m angry.

A rant about Rudy Eugene

A lot is being made of the face-chewing incident from Florida and an alleged link to a legal (ish) high known as ‘bath salts’. Bath salts, like many street names, doesn’t really mean anything, but in general it describes a combination of cathinone analogue type substances, most commonly mephedrone and/or MDPV. These are stimulant substances in the same sort of league as khat. You might remember the moral panic and banning of mephedrone in the UK recently.

In this case, I’ve seen everything from ‘he was out of his mind on bath salts’ to ‘he had an addiction’ to ‘bath salts are to blame for this tragedy”. This is, oddly enough, coming from people who had never heard of bath salts prior to it coming out in the news. I wanted to know what was being said. So I googled ‘was eugene on drugs’ and clicked the first four links from that page.

Bath salts, drug alleged “face-chewer” Rudy Eugene may have been on, plague police and doctors. The police are speculating that the man may have been using bath salts. Note the words ‘speculating’ and ‘may have’. LSD is not a stimulant, it’s a hallucinogen. The article cites only 2 actual cases of tragic death where a person had ingested bath salts – and also over 6000 where people had called the poisons centre about reactions to the drug. I don’t know about you but to me, that suggests that a hell of a lot of people are using this stuff and that the paper has had to scratch around to find links between it and violence. And oddly enough, the guy who has never seen someone on bath salts happy is either a cop or a doctor – not the sort of people that folks having a good time on drugs would be seeing, right?

Did Drugs Make Rudy Eugene Chew on a Naked Miami Man’s Face? Again, doctors say the attack ‘may have been fuelled by drugs’. This one suggests ‘cocaine psychosis’ where a person’s body temperature goes up enough to frazzle their brain. The article also equates bath salts to LSD (which incidentally, is a complete falsehood and probably only in there to generate some pearl clutching). It acknowledges that the attacker had some historic problems with the law and with violence, and also that we won’t know for sure until there’s an autopsy.

Will Street Drugs Cause the Zombie Apocalypse? I apologise for this article, it’s an awful travesty that makes light of a horrible tragedy, and even this one says that police are merely speculating that he may have taken bath salts. Again with the LSD reference. It even goes so far as to say “An overdose on any LSD drug usually results in fits of rage and increased body heat, resulting in the person removing all of their clothing and behaving erratically.” Seriously, that is utter bullshit. You can’t overdose on LSD and there’s no evidence that it leads to fits of rage or increased body heat. That line is entirely made up.

Miami cannibal zombie-like attack linked to powerful ‘bath salts’ drug Oh for fuck’s sake, this one has LSD in it too! Even though it’s probably the most factual in that it does actually mention mephedrone and some of the effects it can have in high enough doses. And it does mention the attacker’s history of trouble with the police. Note that all the headlines emphasise the drug connection.

So let’s clarify. A man attacks another man in a bizarre way and is shot dead by police. He has a history of violent offences and ‘drug charges’. He has yet to be autopsied but police have speculated that he was on a new designer drug known as ‘bath salts’, that according to all four articles has some relationship to LSD.

And this is where I go “Stop reading these bloody articles and wait for the autopsy.” Because the articles, essentially, are speculative in the worst way, which is speculative without fact-checking the things they are speculating about. LSD and bath salts are not the same thing, either chemically or in effects. The media is stirring up the drug angle the same way they did with LSD when the government was trying to create a moral panic over that in the 1960s. Mephedrone (and the others) are more risky than LSD in that there have actually been deaths associated with them (unlike LSD), it is possible to overdose on them (unlike LSD) and they do have a high re-dose impulse (unlike LSD). Injecting mephedrone users describe their experiences as hellish, and have been known to be violent. But violence and psychosis are two different things. Thousands upon thousands of people have used mephedrone and had no ill effects whatsoever – and every single one of the deaths recorded in the UK have had other circumstances attached to them that bring any conclusion that the drug was to blame under suspicion.

Other media-generated fallacies attached to drugs over the years: LSD makes you think you can fly, cocaine makes black men rape white women and immune to bullets, cannabis makes you sexually deviant. Nuff said.

Quick drug lesson: there are three things involved in a reaction to a drug – the drug itself and its pharmacological effects, the psychology of the individual ingesting it, and the social setting in which the drug is taken. So a well-adjusted person with a large support network, a good job and no worries could take X drug and have a completely different response to it from a marginalised person with, say, a history of violent offending. Just a thought.

Notice how the papers are trying to blame bath salts before it’s even been shown that the man had taken them. Notice how lots of people are buying it. Notice how almost all of the articles fail to mention that this guy may have already had undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. Notice how they won’t even speculate about the man’s place in a society that has repeatedly rejected him and how that might have affected his behaviour. Nope. All the speculation is about what drug he’d taken. Because it’s much easier to blame a drug than it is to blame the set and setting that this incident took place in.

The autopsy may well show that Rudy Eugene had taken high doses of a drug, and that tipped him over into psychosis. The drug may well turn out to be one (or a combination of) the bath salts ones. But can we please wait to see if that’s actually the case before we start our moral panic? And even if he was out of his gourd on mephedrone when this happened, can we not forget the thousands of other people who use it quite successfully and start to think about what unaddressed issues made this particular man so at risk when using it? Because that will have a far more positive outcome for everybody than to just blame the drug and go merrily on our way.

Realistic drug policy needs to acknowledge the Rudy Eugenes of this world as humans, not as mindless automatons helplessly at the mercy of The Evil Drugs. Because that kind of thinking makes it easy to let mental health issues go untreated while we jail people for self-medicating. And it’s the kind of thinking that led to this kind of thinking. I don’t think the world is a better place because of it.

Drugs – Not a human rights issue? Not a big issue?

Have some quotes from the zeitgeist about drugs. This is in response to an offhand comment from someone I know, who indicated they thought my dedication to ending prohibition was a small issue, that there are bigger issues of equality and human rights in the world that I could be focusing on. I think many people aren’t aware of the cost of prohibition in terms of human rights, and how easily we accept the idea that discrimination against drug users is ok.

“We don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children.” – Barbara Harris, Project Prevention, on crack-addicted mothers.

I would cheer if every junkie died.” – Ian O’Doherty, Irish Independent, on heroin addicts. This article was withdrawn after a press ombudsman determined that it was hate speech.

She was a drug addict whore and she deserved to die. Lowering the flag for her is the same as burning it.” – By Obama, Mommyish (internet forum where upstanding parents display their moral superiority to each other), on Whitney Houston’s death and whether she should be mourned the same way as soldiers killed in battle.

Mr. Jackson says that he is as committed to it as he is to his belief that drug users are people, too.” – New York Times on a drug users’ union. Apparently drug users being people is something you believe in without knowing it to be true, like faith.

Forty thousand drug users are detained at any one time in Vietnam, and forced labor is their main “treatment.” – Human Rights Watch, on the forced slavery of drug users to facilitate Vietnam’s cashew export market. Drug use is not a criminal offence in Vietnam, these people are ‘patients’.

“Casual drug users ought to be taken out and shot.” – Daryl Gates, LA Police Chief

“At least 676 people were executed there last year. Of those, 480, or 71%, were executed for drug offenses.” – Iran Human Rights, on executions in Iran in 2011.

“In the 2003-04 academic year, about 41,000 applicants for federal student aid were disqualified because of drug convictions.” – USA today on the exclusion of former drug users from financial help for college fees. It should be noted that other criminals are not disqualified, only drug users.

“The most serious offense for 65% of women in federal prisons and 29.1% of women in state prisons is violation of drug laws. – Women and the Drug War. Plenty more facts here about the intersection of race, gender and the war on drugs.

“Most people, including most cops, believe women have only themselves to blame when they’re raped while trying to score drugs.” – SashaSaid, When Rape Victims Lie.

“Pregnant women who use drugs should be prosecuted because they harm the life of their unborn children.”Paul A. Logli, Illinois prosecuting attorney. Did you know that smoking crack cocaine while pregnant harms the foetus no more than tobacco use?

“”At least 12,000 children have lost one or both of their parents.”Jennifer Gonzalez, AFP, on the children orphaned by the drug wars in Mexico.

““While there certainly are legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida’s taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction.”Republican commentor, Florida on why he thinks it’s ok to force welfare applicants to submit to a drug test and deny them help for a year if they test positive. Alcohol is ok, naturally. 10 states have introduced this legislation in the USA, and in NZ the Welfare Working Group recommended the same thing.

“Employers may discharge or deny employment to those who currently engage in the illegal use of drugs.”Americans with Disabilities Act, in which drug use is the only health issue for which an employer in the US may legally dismiss someone. Again, alcohol is just fine. By the way, the NZ employment court has also ruled that recreational drug use is not a disability, leaving employers here also free to sack people for drug use. And people think it’s reasonable to expect someone to undergo pre-employment drug testing, and to refuse them employment if they test positive for cannabis.

“A good playground will attract good members of the community, not the dope smokers.”Fine Upstanding Citizen.
“Druggies are not known for their honesty. Trust me on this one.”House.

Drug users are losers.” Drug addicts should go to jail.” “Drug users are morally degenerate.” Drug users shouldn’t get healthcare.”

“The War on Drugs is justified.”

I don’t know, do you think it’s a big enough human rights issue?

Oh look, an unregulated industry!

So there’s this stuff called Dime. It’s been sold as a legal high in NZ for a grand total of about three weeks. Now someone’s ‘discovered’ that it may contain one of the 2C analogues, which are classified here as Class C, the same level as cannabis. Naturally, the sale has now been stopped.

The importer apparently never bothered to test the stuff to see if it had anything illegal in it, because it was taken on trust that it would be fine.

Colour me completely unsurprised that someone is being irresponsible in the legal high market. This industry is almost completely unregulated, the government having instead elected to go for a prohibition and criminalisation approach to new substances. There was a small glimmer of hope when a Class D was added to the Misuse of Drugs Act. It was thought that this would become a ‘holding class’ for untested new substances while it was decided how to regulate them and their safety was tested. Instead, the only things in Class D are precursor substances, and the legal high market remains unregulated.

What this means is that people can import stuff without testing it, and then sell it to the public. Remember when it was found that Kronic contained benzos?. Same thing. There is no requirement for these things to be tested at all, never mind proven safe before sale. And then people are surprised when folks import things that may be dodgy.

Personally, I don’t think the 2C analogues are particularly dodgy – at least, not the ones that have achieved status as substances in this country. They were synthesised by Alexander Shulgin, who is perhaps most well known for the resynthesis and popularisation of MDMA. Man has an interesting history – but one of the important things about him and his 2C analogues is that his process and testing were all meticulously recorded in a set of books that are available for anyone to read. In terms of information of both the scientific and subjective experience nature, these substances are much more transparent than many other substances available today. They are certainly more transparent than the ‘other piperazines’ that were in some of the party pills you could buy in 2007. So in terms of safety and education and prior knowledge, a pill containing a 2C is probably safer than one containing a benzo, or one that you don’t know what’s in it.

And that’s the problem. This dime stuff was being sold without people knowing what was in it and I place the blame for that squarely at the feet of this government that refuses to seriously address the issue of legal high regulation. In this case, dime will be taken off the market if it’s found to contain a prohibited substance – the 2Cs are already illegal so it’s a simple matter. But if they really gave a crap about people’s safety, why is there no requirement for new legal highs to be tested to ascertain their contents before they hit the market? Why is there no labelling requirement so that people know what they are ingesting, the way alcohol is required to be labelled? How does someone get to import something from Poland that’s made in China and sell it to kiwis and not bloody well know what’s in it? And how do people who are that irresponsible get to be in a position to sell things?

It happens because of the head in the sand attitude of our government which continues to believe that trying to prevent people from using anything other than alcohol is the best way to approach ‘the drug problem’.

Hint: approximately 17% of NZers have used an illegal substance in the last year. Of those, only about 3% experience difficulties due to their substance use. Is there really ‘a drug problem’ in this country?

Frankly, I think the 2Cs would be a good opportunity to test out a regulatory framework for legal highs in this country. What do you reckon the odds are of that happening when this is the sort of data we are using to judge a substance in the public sphere:

““Because it’s such a tiny amount of powder which does something for so long, there must be some pretty hard-out chemicals in it.”” ~ Random 19 year old.

*cough*

On why I’ll never attribute my insights to the machine elves

This is an interesting article that argues against the existence of a spirit world that can be accessed through the use of psychedelics. The writer argues from several perspectives: rationality, physicality, psychosis, validation, and danger, and challenges some dearly held beliefs about psychedelics and spirits.

My comment to all this? No shit, Sherlock.

These arguments would stand up just as well as arguments against the existence of a spirit world even if psychedelics hadn’t managed to convince a certain segment of the population that machine elves and tree spirits are real. One of the arguments that can be used to refute the belief that deliberately altering one’s mindstate using a chemical is immoral, is to demonstrate how many other ways one can achieve this, and how many of these ways are associated with trying to find god. So if the attempted outcome is the same (see god), and the route is the same (alter one’s perceptions), then what is wrong with psychedelics? Or so the argument goes. However if there are no spirits, as the writer of the article suggests, then what?

To which I reply, does it matter? Dervishes spin, gurus meditate, some people handle snakes, some chant, some listen to repetitive electronic music and dance till they see god, some take psychedelics. And all claim to be having a spiritual experience through their various techniques. If there are no spirits then which of these techniques for seeking Spirit is morally wrong again? Any of them? All of them? And if the Spirit Without is not there, then which of these techniques is legitimate for seeking the Spirit Within?

In my experience of experimenting with various psychedelic substances and techniques, I have come to the same conclusion as Mr Kent. There is no god, there are no spirits, the things I am seeing and experiencing are not coming from another world. I have had experiences which felt as if I were in another world, through the use of strong dissociatives or hallucinogens (as well as some drug-free trance techniques). I have had conversations with Mother Nature and with the Spirit of the Land, with ancestors and with inanimate objects. I have come out of ‘entheogenic’ experiences with insights which have enlightened me to aspects of my life and personality in ways which have improved them. And yes, I have also scared the crap out of myself on occasion. But you know what? It was all in my head. Is there any reason that a spiritual experience has to be external in order to be valid? Do we really still have to appeal to a higher authority for legitimacy in our own insights?

I would suggest that a more interesting question in the field of psychedelics, rather than “Do spirits exist?” is to look into why so many people are describing similar experiences when using different substances, on different continents. In his book Breaking Open The Head, Daniel Pinchbeck describes the similarities between experiences described by people in South America using Ayahuasca (the oral form of DMT) and those described by people in Africa using Iboga. Both sets of people describe conversing with the spirit of the plant and coming away with insights. So if the plant spirit does not exist, what is happening here? Are these people tapping into a similarity we all have in our humanity in order to gain revelations into themselves? Rather than accessing the spirit world, are they accessing some form of collective consciousness or internal wisdom that we can’t access in our normal mindstate?

And why is this internal wisdom considered ‘less than’ external wisdom, that we feel the need to back ourselves and our methods of accessing this wisdom by trying to prove the existence of god? I would have thought it was greater than – because it shows what the mind is capable of.

Panic over Kronic

Some of you have probably heard about the recall of Pineapple Express, a brand of Kronic (synthetic pot) that’s been found to contain traces of the benzo phenazepam. From what I gather the manufacturers claim they were not aware that this had gone into the product, and sold it to the importer in good faith. Who knows what the truth is? However, Peter Dunne seems to be using this as an opportunity to grandstand his views about how all new products should be regulated and proven to be safe before being offered for sale. And something about cowboys.

So what’s not being said?

For a start Stargate, the importer of Pineapple Express, is run by Matt Bowden. Matt Bowden was at the forefront of the introduction of BZP to New Zealand and has made a lot of money from it. Now I’m not naive enough to think that the continued ability to make money from recreational substances isn’t at least in part a driver for Mr Bowden’s actions – however, regardless of motivation he has also been at the forefront of harm minimisation lobbying since ~2000. He is the driving force behind STANZ (the Social Tonics Association of New Zealand), a body which amongst other things created a voluntary Code of Practice for manufacturers and distributors of BZP based products. Bowden wanted these substances to be regulated rather than banned.

The creation of Class D in 2005 seemed like a step in the right direction – here was a category where substances that were a little bit risky but not proven to be harmful could be placed under regulation. BZP immediately went in there, and what happened? The government placed minimum regulation on it, pills continued to be sold in over the recommended amounts, with no guarantees as to what else was in them, no testing, and no health warnings. Here’s a press statement made by STANZ in 2007 in which they lay out a potential regulatory structure for BZP products, which goes much further than the minimal regulation imposed by the government. It was ignored, the market spun out of control, and eventually BZP was banned.

Now, we’re facing the same situation with Kronic. This is slightly different in that we have a potentially dangerous substance that has found its way into a product, gone through importation and been sold to customers, all without anyone picking it up. Now, this sometimes happens with kids’ toys too, but of course since this is a recreational drug we have a potential moral panic on our hands. And who better than Peter Dunne to stir it up with talk of unregulated markets and cowboys. However, do we think this will get Kronic regulated in a way that it can be tested to ensure quality and safety for customers, that it will be labelled to show what’s in it and regularly checked to make sure nobody’s sneaking anything dodgy in there? I doubt it, and here’s why.

tl;dr on that article – our drug laws are a dog’s breakfast consisting of the Medicines Act, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and the Misuse of Drugs Act. They contradict each other and pretty much make it impossible for governments to regulate something sensibly and within a realistic timeframe. It’s much simpler to ban it.

This year, the Law Commission released its report Controlling and Regulating Drugs, in which it recommended a full review of the classification system, a focus on harm, and specifically addressing how to deal with new recreational substances. It’s widely seen as a progressive view which could genuinely reduce harm from substances already illegal, and risk from new substances.

Matt Bowden’s response: “The current regime means that the market is flooded with untested and potentially unsafe products. Consumers often have no way to find out what they are taking. Requiring the manufacturers of psychoactives to show that their products can be safely used is a vital step in minimising the harm caused by drug abuse. Stargate recommended that the same toxicity testing used for testing new pharmaceutical medicines be used and the Law Commission have adopted this suggestion as the best way forward.” So essentially, “Yay! Now let’s get on with it.”

Minister of Justice Simon Power’s response: “There’s not a single, solitary chance that as long as I’m the Minister of Justice we’ll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand.” Essentially *fingers in ears* “LALALALALALA”

So when Peter Dunne starts talking about cowboys, and about how this wonderful idea he’s had about regulating substances and testing them is so revolutionary and great, and how the likes of Matt Bowden are putting people at risk for their own profits, please take it with a grain of salt.

I have some idea who created this situation and who’s tried to change it and who’s resisted it in favour of more harmful approaches. And yes, Matt Bowden wants to make money, but it’s pretty clear he wants to do it without killing people. Can our government say the same thing?

Demon Digital Drugs Destroy Young Minds! (and other fallacies)

Apologies for the long hiatus, Tenchinage has been focused elsewhere for the last little while. However, now I’m back and absolutely stunned at the latest craziness from the Won’t Anybody Think Of The Children brigade.

Oh noes! Digital drugs!

Have a look at the use of language in that article. ‘Spaced out’ adolescents have ‘fallen victim’ to an ‘insidious new culture’ that ‘preys on their vulnerable young minds’, apparently. Some of you may even have seen the videos abounding on YouTube of people wearing headphones, apparently experiencing.. something.. while listening to these binaural sounds. And it’s enough to stir the imaginations of the overly-concerned and reach the media in more countries than just New Zealand. Apparently it’s a New!Global!Phenomenon!

So what are binaural sounds? There’s a seriously technical explanation here, but the simple one is that two different, low frequency tones are played through headphones, one into each ear. The two tones create standing waveforms that mesh in and out of phase, and our brain supposedly responds to this meshing, theoretically making it possible to alter consciousness. This technique has been used in meditation for quite a long time.
Continue reading →

Free personality test with your drugs debate!

The NZ Law Commission has set up a forum for the discussion of the issues around the review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Tenchinage drops in there about once a week to see if anyone’s said anything new..

It seems the Scientologists have found it.

Moreover, it seems the Scientologists have an agenda of attempting to get the Narconon progamme instigated in New Zealand prisons. It started with one chap by the name of Kevin Owen spamming comments all over the show about the current drug treatment programmes and their failure to deliver, strangely interspersed with links and quotes from various Dianetics sites. Then another showed up, calling him/herself Iatrogenic Doctor. This one claims to have been the main person behind the implementation of Narconon in Russia. People started going “Um, Dianetics? L Ron Hubbard? Scientology? Quack organisation!” To which the good Doctor took offence, stating that Narconon is the biggest rehab organisation in the world, achieving success rates far in excess of any other programme available today.

I’ve heard of Narconon and assumed that it was somehow related to Alcoholics Anonymous, and thus a similar programme. By the time I went searching I’d realised that this might not be correct, since every link posted by Kevin Owen and Iatrogenic Doctor led to Scientology.

Anyway, I googled “Narconon success rate”. What I got was a page containing 10 google hits – there are five links to sites claiming that Narconon has a success rate of around 70%, and five links to sites that question this claim.

Note here: Non-Narconon drug treatment programmes have a success rate of between 2 and 20%. Whether this is because the treatment is not effective or because the people in these programmes are often coerced into them by the criminal justice system, do not actually have a drug problem and have no intention of stopping use, is a debate for another day. The point here is that Narconon is claiming a success rate in excess of three times that of the most successful of other programmes, as is Iatrogenic Doctor, who is also suggesting that certain people in New Zealand government are greedy and wanting to keep funding for themselves, and that this is why Narconon hasn’t been introduced here.

So anyway, I first followed the links supporting Narconon. As it turns out, every single one of them leads to a Narconon-owned website. On these websites, it claims ‘proven results’. Here’s a link to their proof as presented. Question here: could I submit this page as an essay reference for a university course? If not, why not?

If you answered “HELL NO TENCHI, DON’T DO IT!” You got the right answer. And the reason this wouldn’t be accepted as a reference is that nothing is supplied that a marker could use to verify the claims. No links to studies, no research, not even names and publication dates (An independent sociology group? Who?). No peer review, no EVIDENCE, no proof. And what does this even mean?:

“During the Narconon Drug Rehab Program study, 38% of guilty findings decreased. 40% decreased after the study. As a comparison, a random selection of 10% of the prison population was tabulated. The Narconon program had reversed the trend of guilty findings having increased by 77%.”

*cough* Anyway, I could see that I wasn’t going to find anything useful on those sites, so off I went to the other ones. The first link goes to an assessment studies, and includes the Spanish study and the Russian study mentioned on the page quoted above.

Turns out the Spanish study was conducted by an organisation that no longer exists, using creative manipulation of statistics, and the subjects were, for the most part, employees of Narconon. Additionally, when the intake from the year of the study was surveyed as a whole by investigators, even with the Narconon employees included the actual number of people who claimed to be drug-free totalled 33%, less than half that of the claims by Narconon.

The site says about the Russian study:

“As usual, it is not reproduced in full – all we have are the “headline figures” which, as we have already seen, Narconon misrepresents for other studies. (In fact, it appears to be mentioned only once on just one of Narconon’s many websites.)

Because of this, we have no information about the methodology used. Without knowing something about the methodology, it is impossible to assess the reliability of the survey methods used.

The sample size is very small (only 32 people); this makes it impossible to reliably extrapolate the results to other Narconon organisations.

The only actual statistic quoted is so vague as to be meaningless; what is a “ratio of efficiency”? If the figure of 72% of 32 people is supposed to represent a cure rate, it is mathematically impossible; it works out at 23.04 persons.

The qualifications and independence of its authors are questionable; one of the authors was the man who ran Narconon Russia (hardly an independent assessor!), one was a lecturer and one was a journalist, leaving only one medical doctor whose relationship with Narconon is undisclosed.”

*ahem*

And the much-touted Swedish study, which claimed a 78% success rate, was followed up by contacting enrolees and asking them about their current drug use. The bottom line figure from responses is that only 6.6% of people who began the Narconon programme had remained drug free.

In addition, Narconon seems reluctant to release their studies for peer review, verification and evidence-testing.

The Wikipedia page also says this:

Investigated in Russia

In April 2007, it was revealed that Moscow’s South District office of public procurator had begun an investigation into Narconon’s activities in Russia.The Moskovsky Komsomolets daily paper reported that legal proceedings were begun against the head of the clinic “Narconon-Standard”, for violating practices forbidden in Russian medical practices. Russian law enforcement became interested after receiving many complaints from citizens about the high fees charged by Narconon. The Narconon office in Bolshaya Tulskaya St., Moscow was searched, and documents and unidentified medications were seized.
In April 2008, as part of an investigation in Ulyanovsk into the Church of Scientology, police searched a Narconon office in the town of Dimitrovgra.

So what we have here is an organisation that will not conform to accepted standards of academic integrity in its research and thus cannot be believed when it claims such a high success rate. The programmes are considered to be expensive enough to warrant investigation in some countries, and their efficacy in treating people with drug problems is questionable at best. Never mind the link to Scientology..

And the person who claims to have been heading the Russian Narconon at the time of the investigation is now in New Zealand, pushing an agenda of implementation nationwide here as part of coercive treatment in prisons. They’re backed by someone with a vested interest in the success of Dianetics in this country – I believe Kevin Owen is the head of RehabilitateNZ, a Dianetics promotion organisation. These people are attempting to frame the drugs debate on the Law Commission website into discussion of which drug treatment method is best, with a view to implementing government-endorsed Scientology in prisons. And they wonder why Unzud isn’t interested?

I smell a Thetan that could stand some rehabilitation of its own.

Public Service Announcement

ALCOHOL IS A DRUG.

If you are ingesting a substance with the purpose of causing a chemical reaction in your brain that somehow alters your mindstate, you are taking a drug.

The legality, the means of ingestion, whether it’s a longstanding social tradition or something that was synthesised yesterday, is irrelevant to this.

Alcohol is a drug, and if you drink alcohol you are a drug user.

Thank you.

Ecstasy may not contain MDMA – nah, really?

This is not news. The fact that ecstasy is part of an illegal and therefore unregulated market has left users exposed to this problem for years. What has suddenly made it news in New Zealand is the fact that since the banning of BZP a year ago, the problem has become much more marked. Previously, users had a legal, semi-regulated alternative. Adulterated pills certainly existed, but the ability to walk away from them put users in a much stronger position, in that producers who wanted return custom would have to have a reasonable quality product.

Now, it’s much easier to put a variety of different substances into a pill than it is to illegally import MDMA, and the vast majority of pills available on the market today are adulterated with other things. The problem here is that there is no longer an alternative, and people are now dealing solely with this unregulated market. Anyone who thinks the banning of BZP has stopped people seeking substances is delusional. As predicted, it’s simply created a situation where there’s a demand for a scarce substance, all of the advantages are in favour of the supplier, and people are taking what they can get from people for whom there is absolutely no comeback for supplying goods that are ‘not as advertised.’

So what can be done about this situation?

Well, if this were a legal market, the government would step in under the Consumer Guarantees Act, or would regulate the market in the interest of safety. But this is not a legal market, the majority of people think that drugs are bad and therefore anyone who gets hurt obviously deserves it, and the government is afraid of taking steps to make people safer when breaking the law, because it will mean they are seen as ‘encouraging’ drug use. So the government will do squat to ensure the safety of users.

That leaves it up to the users to ensure their own safety as much as they can. This is no mean task. How does one know, when purchasing a substance, that its contents are the relatively safe MDMA, and not Ajax (as stated in the article), some other chemical such as BZP or 2CB, or even Panadol?

Well, according to this report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, there are three useful ways of checking the contents, and therefore the safety, of pills sold as ecstasy: pill reports, colour reagent testing, and chromatography. All of these are available in New Zealand, although chromatography is not as available as it seems to be in Europe (see the section of the report relating to ’15 minute’ chromatography tests at dance parties). Chromatography is still a lab-based test, which takes time and is therefore not particularly useful to a user who wants to know what’s in their pill before they take it.

So that leaves us with pill reports and reagent testing. Pill reports are definitely useful in terms of informing people of ‘bad’ pills, but an inherent problem with pill reports has arisen in the last year – duplicate batches. A type of pill can be reported as ‘good’, and sometimes these pills have even been chromatography tested to contain MDMA – and immediately the colour and stamp of the pill is copied as someone cashes in on the reputation of the ‘good’ pills. The user has no way of knowing from the reports which type they have, and therefore can’t use reports as a definitive guide as to the safety of their substance.

Enter the testing kits. Erowid has a comprehensive FAQ regarding Marquis, one of the more common kits available (yes, these are available in New Zealand). A word of warning is included here. It’s true, Marquis will not identify MDMA in a pill, only the possible presence of MDMA-like substances. Nor will it indicate the amount of the substance contained in the pill. Therefore, it would be very unwise to use Marquis to ‘guarantee’ that a pill contains MDMA. However, what it can do effectively, is identify pills that do not contain MDMA, and also the presence of adulterants. Apparently BZP is very easy to identify using Marquis.

So hypothetically, a user could test a pill with a reagent kit, and find out that their pill doesn’t contain MDMA, or may contain MDMA but also has something suspect in it. What now? Well, the user then has to make a decision about their own safety. If they have bought the pill there is the option not to take it. The sensible option would be to send the pill to the testing lab (yes, New Zealand has one) so that it may be analysed using chromatography and others warned of the contents. If the user has not bought the pill but is testing for the purpose of buying, they have the option to not buy the pill.

This is an unregulated market. Yes that’s right, the wet dream of neoliberals everywhere. In basic economic terms it’s a supplier’s market because of the scarcity/demand thing, and this is leading to charlatans making profits from those desperate to purchase, while disregarding the safety of their customers. Sooner or later there will be a death, and those who think drugs are bad will be quick to blame the users and use it as justification to continue with the draconian system that has created the unsafe market in the first place. The only way to change this situation is to be willing to not make the purchase if the product is not of the quality the purchaser expects.

I recommend that anyone with an interest in the quality of pills sold as ecstasy, and therefore the safety of those using these pills, buy a testing kit and use it to identify adulterated pills and those not containing MDMA, and refuse to purchase anything that is not as advertised. Furthermore, refusing to purchase any further releases from the people who supplied those dangerous pills will send a message that users do care about their own safety, and will not allow a situation where they are being fleeced and their lives put at risk. I repeat, the government is not going to help in this situation, it is up to those who suffer the consequences of their decisions to keep themselves safe.

And if a pill does appear to contain an MDMA-like substance? That is still no guarantee that it’s safe to take it. Chromatography is the only effective way of identifying the contents of a pill. Therefore, the more pills that get donated to labs for testing, the better, the more information makes it back to the users.

Of course, to not take the pill or to walk away from a purchase takes willpower. To donate a pill for lab testing takes willpower too. I’d like to suggest that anyone who finds themselves unable to do these things after discovering that their pill contains unidentified substances that are not MDMA, might want to consider their drug use as a whole in the context of the risks they are prepared to take, and consider the potential consequences of a bad decision made for the sake of a fun night out.

What does irresponsible mean anyway?

I’m a parent. As a parent, I’m responsible for the welfare and upbringing of a child. I have been told that advocacy for responsible use of recreational drugs, for decriminalisation of many currently illegal substances, and for education of my child about substances that are currently illegal, is irresponsible. Apparently, I should not be encouraging my child to break the law and take risks with health, and by educating children about substances other than the legally sanctioned ones, I am doing this and thus being an irresponsible parent.

So lets compare a legal drug with an illegal one shall we?

Alcohol risks harm not only to the user but to those around them, is addictive with withdrawal symptoms that can kill you, you have to keep dosing with it in order to feel the effects throughout a normal evening socialising, it’s hard to judge the dosage of, it can kill you by overdose, it kills around 1,000 people a year in this country, and it has a misuse risk rate among users of approximately 25%.

Compare this with, say, LSD, a Class A drug. It’s not associated with violence, it’s not addictive and therefore has no withdrawal symptoms, one dose lasts 8 or so hours, it has well tested measured effective dose rates, it’s virtually impossible to overdose on, and it has been associated with a total of two deaths in New Zealand, which were both found to be in association with other drugs.

Here’s a graph you’ve probably seen before – the drugs harm graph. It shows there are only four drugs available that are considered by experts to be more dangerous than alcohol. Yet those who say they have my welfare and that of my child at heart, find it necessary to reduce our choice of intoxicant to this – we may use alcohol, or nothing.

But, I am the irresponsible one for wanting my child to have a wider choice of safer substances and a better education in their use.

I am happy to be an irresponsible parent if it means my child has a better chance of surviving.

King Charles II vs US government in the honesty stakes

I found out this morning that just before Christmas in 1675, King Charles II of England banned coffee. It’s possibly the first banning of a mind-altering substance in western history. He did it in response to this:

The Women’s Petition Against Coffee. If I may paraphrase, the women’s argument makes three points:

1) that drinking coffee makes men less interested in sex
2) that men under the influence of coffee talk grandly and at length about pointless things
3) that gathering in coffee houses and talking about politics may be harmful to the government.

Of course, the men defended themselves with some points of their own:

1) that coffee makes them more vigorous, like the Turks, and that they are merely expending their sexual energy with other women
2) that they talk grandly and at length in coffee houses because they can’t get a word in edgewise at home.
3) coffee stops them farting during sex.*

* I kid you not.“by drying up those Crude Flatulent Humours”, no less.

King Charles, perhaps sensibly, ignored the stuff about the Battle of the Sexes and focused on what mattered to him most:

“”A PROCLAMATION FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF COFFEE HOUSES: Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of Coffee Houses of late years set up and kept within this Kingdom…and the great resort of idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many tradesmen and others, do herein misspend much of their time, which might and probably would be employed in and about their Lawful Calling and Affairs; but also for that in such houses…divers, false, malitious, and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad to the Defamation of His Majesty’s Government, and to the disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; his Majesty hath though it fit and necessary, that the said Coffee Houses be (for the Future) put down and suppressed…” King Charles II of England, December 23, 1675″

He also lifted the ban less than a month later after a huge public outcry.

So what does that have to do with LSD?

There is no doubt that LSD was tied in with the 1960s counterculture. This timeline is interesting reading, as it ties in political events, the music scene, social movements, alternative lifestyles, the Vietnam War and events in the history of LSD over a period of several years.

Given that scientific research was inconclusive as to the benefits and dangers of LSD (that essay is unpublished but historically accurate, and includes discussion of the public effect of Timothy Leary’s evangelism for societal change through chemistry), the United States government also largely ignored the Battle of the Science and focused on what mattered to them most – maintaining the societal status quo.

The official line from the US Department of Justice about the relationship between LSD and the counterculture is this:

During the early 1960’s, this first group of casual LSD users evolved and expanded into a subculture that extolled the mystical and pseudo-religious symbolism often engendered by the drug’s powerful effects. The personalities associated with the subculture, usually connected to academia, and the propaganda they circulated soon attracted a great deal of publicity, generating further interest in LSD … As a casual drug of abuse, LSD has remained popular among certain segments of society. Traditionally, it has been popular with high school and college students and other young adults. LSD also has been integral to the lifestyle of many individuals who follow certain rock music bands, most notably the Grateful Dead. Older individuals, introduced to the hallucinogen in the 1960’s, also still use LSD.

Some people were less diplomatic. Vice President to the Nixon Administration Spiro Agnew, for example, on protestors against the Vietnam War:

“The leaders of the Vietnam Mobilization were described as “hard-core dissidents and professional anarchists;” others were called “ideological eunuchs” and “vultures” who “prey upon the good intensions of gullible men.” Agnew insinuated that the youth who protested “overwhelm themselves with drugs and artificial stimulants” and, as a result, “subtlety is lost and fine distinctions based on acute reasoning are carelessly ignored.”

But the real attitude towards LSD amongst those charged with conserving societal values in the 1960s, I believe, is best described by Jay Stevens in this excerpt from Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (which, incidentally, is well worth reading):

“The real reason LSD needed to be eliminated wasn’t because it was making a tiny percentage of its users crazy, but because of what it was doing to the vast majority. Contrary to what Captain Tremblay believed, LSD wasn’t attracting nonconformists so much as it was creating them.”

“LSD was eroding the work ethic, it was seducing the young into religious fantasies, it was destroying their values. “We have seen something which in a way is most alarming, more alarming than death in a way,” testified Sidney Cohen. “And that is the loss of all cultural values, the loss of feeling of right and wrong, of good and bad. These people lead a valueless life, without motivation, without any ambition… they are deculturated, lost to society, lost to themselves.”

OK, now you’ve read this, go back and read what King Charles had to say back in 1675, about why he banned coffee. Swap ‘tradesmen’ for ‘white middle class’, ‘coffee house’ for ‘LSD’ and ‘kingdom’ for ‘country’. See how it reads.

Personally, I think he was more honest.

“Prohibition won’t work” – What’s wrong with this statement?

An Australian ex-minister is backing drug reform. He mentions the prohibition of alcohol and its complete failure as a comparison. This is pretty common, and I agree – but I take issue with one of his statements:

“Why do they think prohibition of illicit drugs will work any better?”

So what’s the problem with that statement? Well, it implies that prohibition is a new thing by putting it in a future tense – ‘will work’? How about being realistic and saying ‘didn’t work’ or ‘hasn’t worked’? I know, semantics. But let’s have a look at some dates* around prohibition of some substances:

Opiates and cocaine – Harrison Narcotics Act 1914 – still prohibited.

LSD 1965 through to 1970 – still prohibited.

Cannabis 1911 (South Africa) through to 1935 (USA) – still prohibited.

Psilocybin 1921 (Belgium) through to 2008 (Finland) – it should be noted that psilocybin mushrooms are not prohibited under international law, but they are listed as Schedule I under the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances -still prohibited in most countries.

MDMA 1985 (USA followed by UN) – still prohibited.

Amphetamine 1971 (Controlled Substances Act USA, followed by UN) – still prohibited.

Alcohol – 1919 – repeal of prohibition in 1933 when it was realised that prohibition of alcohol increased criminal activity and public harm.

I think that’s a pretty long and comprehensive history of prohibition of drugs. Some of them have been prohibited since before alcohol was. It only took 14 years for the harms associated with alcohol prohibition to become apparent enough to change the law. Yet with other drugs, it’s been allowed to go on, and on, and on.

Why does anyone think prohibition of other drugs has been any different from prohibition of alcohol? This report details some of the issues around prohibited drugs, and points out that they are the same issues that were encountered with the prohibition of alcohol. For those who don’t want to read the whole report, please at least read this page, which makes policy recommendations for dealing with illegal drugs, the first of which is recognition that prohibition doesn’t work.

Then have a look at the date at the top. Yes, that’s right – this report was made in 1972. Even back then it was recognised that prohibition was a failure – and why not? There’s a long and rich history of crime, death and addiction to draw on for evidence. Yet these recommendations have been resoundingly ignored by governments and the UN for nearly 40 years.

To me, this makes no sense. It makes no sense to go on considering prohibition in any kind of future tense, because in order to be realistic about drugs, it shouldn’t even be considered as an option any more – and there’s ample history to back that statement up. There is no place in the present world for dithering about whether or not prohibition ‘will work’ or ‘is working’ – it didn’t. It hasn’t. Time for a new approach that actually has a future.

* There are no references attached to these dates as the information is in the public domain and simple enough to find for anyone interested.

After the War On Drugs: Blueprint For Regulation

Sometime today, Transform UK (for those who don’t know, these guys are in my opinion one of the most switched-on groups of drug reform lobbyists – check out their website!) are launching a book that proposes specific models of regulation for all types of currently illegal drugs.

One of the problems in drug reform debates is the ‘unknown quantity’ factor – it’s never been tried, and predictions range from “OMG total chaos!” to “Less health problems, more money for government = WIN!” and everything in between. This book offers some answers to the question “What could a post-prohibition regime look like?” – and explores regulation models along with the principles and rationale for them.

I strongly suggest downloading and reading this book, along with their other two major publications, Tools For The Debate and After the War On Drugs: Options For Control.

Transform UK successfully move beyond emotive ideology and reframe the argument in a rational way. Recommended reading.

Won’t anybody think of the children?

Drug testing in schools, a controversial topic at the best of times.

The gist of the article is that more kids have been caught with drugs in schools in New Zealand (particularly cannabis) than ever before, police having brought in sniffer dogs and drug testing.

Logic says that bringing in sniffer dogs and drug testing is likely to catch more people with drugs than just guessing, which is what they were doing before. Yet, for some reason the fact that more people have been caught seems to be evidence of some kind of drug epidemic. I’m not sure I agree with the reasoning here.

I suggest that the number of kids with drugs in school has probably increased along with the number of people using drugs in wider society,* and that catching more people is a sign of nothing other than they’ve got better at catching them.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the use of drugs in children. I think anyone using drugs (including the legal ones such as caffeine and alcohol) before their brain, personality and identity has finished developing is taking a gamble with their future mental health, never mind the obvious difficulties associated with being stoned while trying to learn. All drug taking is risky, but kids aren’t equipped to assess those risks accurately.

However, prohibition is obviously not stopping them. It’s good to see some schools using ‘alternative action contracts’ – which involve some drug testing, some community work, some study into the use and abuse of their drug of choice, and at least some counselling. But most schools seem to be taking a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach, which kicks kids out (read: marginalises them) for using drugs, and places drugs squarely on the ‘crime’ side of the fence.

“Fair enough,” you say, “Drug use is a crime.” And you’re right. But sadly, giving the kid a bad school record so that the only schools that will take them are those that desperately need students, labelling them ‘druggie’ at an early age and then walking away going “Hey, we got rid of the deviant element, we’ve done our job, the kiddies are safe from these criminals” does not actually address any of the reasons these kids are using drugs in the first place.

Drugs are a health issue. They affect mental, physical and social health if abused. Those kids smoking drugs in the playground are not invading anyone else’s human rights, hurting others or stealing – where is the victim of this crime?. The only reason what they are doing is a crime is because legislation has made it so – but the effects on their health and learning are measurable and tangible. The victim of this crime is the same person as the perpetrator – yet the system continues to punish them as criminals instead of offering them help as victims.

To the schools, I suggest that continuing to condone punitive approaches to dealing with drug users is going to continue to achieve the same result – which is to discourage nobody, marginalise those who get caught, and set young people against those who would be educating them at an early age. Even the alternative contracts are seen by youth aid workers as ‘fair punishment’ – not ‘offering help’ or ‘addressing the issue’. It’s all about punishing people for wrongdoing.

Because if people do wrong, they’re bad people, right? And if they’re bad people, we don’t have to care about helping them because they don’t deserve it, right? It’s so much easier that way.

Schools are (in part) the places where people’s attitudes are formed. I wonder how many people caught up in this sniffer-dog, drug-test, expulsion/punishment situation will go on to have a friendly and cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with society?

* Drug uptake has consistently increased under prohibition.

The Nutt Sack Affair

Much has been written all over the internet about the sacking of David Nutt, the chair of the UK Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, for his stance that cannabis, ecstasy and LSD are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Two of his fellow committee members also quit in protest, and more may follow.

I don’t think I need to say much here at all, but I’d like to point interested people to places where information is available. I’ve been watching the story unfold and have found it interesting to watch the government and popular press go into damage control mode. There have been some blatant attempts to cast doubt* on the science behind the paper that got him sacked.

I think probably the funniest bit was from the Home Office: “The home secretary expressed surprise and disappointment over Professor Nutt’s comments which damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs.”

So, by presenting the scientific evidence to the public directly, Prof Nutt was damaging the clear message the government gives the public? Which clear message is that then? This one? (FRANK – which is, frankly, laughable). Or do they mean Gordon Brown saying that skunk is lethal? Because that’s such a clear message to all the people who’ve smoked it and not died. Obviously giving people facts is sullying this clear message. Oh and by the way, England – ‘new’ skunk has been around in Unzud since the mid-90s. Just saying.

I think these two articles are worth reading even if you don’t read anything else:

Bad Science on the Nutt Sack Affair.

BBC article on the politics around the sacking.

Anyway, if you think the whole Nutt thing is crazy like a crazy thing, there are a couple of things you can do: Join the Facebook group (25,000 as at today – that’s 20,000 since I joined it). Facebook doesn’t change anything but it does bring together a large group of similar-minded people, create networks and provide information as it comes to hand. And Sign the petition. You can do this if you’re an expatriate so you don’t have to be living in England. There are 5,000 signatures on it currently. Even if it doesn’t get Nutt reinstated, the response to this sacking will make governments worldwide aware that people are not just sitting there letting the wool be pulled over their eyes by politicians who would feed us misinformation about things that affect our health.

Because for once, it’s not just the folks with an interest in drug policy who are taking notice.

* Daily Mail. Nuff said.

Reason #345

For why drug addiction should be framed as a health issue, not a criminal one.

Cost of controversial new treatment for long term heroin addicts in the UK, that seems to be achieving results not only in reduction of crime (66%) but in changing addicts’ attitude towards their addiction? $22,000 per year US (that’s $29, 089 NZ).

Average cost of imprisonment in New Zealand? $90,977 per year.

These heroin studies are being undertaken in other countries, with similar results.

Compare and contrast.