Pubdate: Thu, 19 Oct 2000
Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)
Copyright: 2000,, Inc.
Contact:  PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409
Fax: (541) 597-1700


When National Institute on Drug Abuse scientists recently announced that 
test monkeys would self-administer marijuana's key ingredient, THC, the BBC 
reported Monday that "Cannabis may be as addictive as hard drugs such as 
heroin and cocaine."

But that's not what the report said.

The study findings, published in the November 2000 issue of Nature 
Neuroscience, "suggest that marijuana has as much potential for abuse as 
other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroine."

The BBC reporter played a little loose with his vocabulary. "Abuse" and 
"addiction," despite the common connection in the minds of many readers, 
are not the same thing.

The reporter's error is not uncommon. One of the biggest obstacles in 
talking about drugs is having to talk about drugs. The meanings of the 
words we use are often slippery, painted with a heavy coat of definitional 
grease. Addiction and addict are powerful, attention-grabbing words, 
perfect for headlines and slogans -- but what do they really mean?

Everyone throws around the word addiction; colloquially, it gets tagged to 
just about any compulsion, habit or intense desire someone might have. 
Today we've got addicts galore: sex addicts, gambling addicts, Internet 
addicts, food addicts, sports addicts -- you name it, we've got an 
addiction to it. Or do we? Is every habit or compulsion an addiction?

Medically, addiction specialists are typically concerned with three ideas: 
reinforcement, tolerance and dependence. That triangle helps to form an 
operational definition that describes what researchers are looking for in 
particular, rather than leaving definition up to varying man-on-the-street 
notions of what the word means.

In terms of animal research especially, like the NIDA monkey-marijuana 
test, reinforcement has to do with the rewards; "it is a measure of 
whether, and how hard and long, an experimental animal will 'work' for 
administration of a drug," explains Yale Psychiatry and Pharmacology 
Professor Robert Byck.

According to the NIDA, the monkeys worked hard enough. To start, the 
animals were first given cocaine through a catheter, which could be 
self-administered with a lever. When the cocaine was swapped with saline, 
the monkeys quit doping, but when researchers switched the salt water with 
THC, they commenced hitting the lever, giving themselves a dose researchers 
claim to be comparable to typical human use. For NIDA, this established one 
of the characteristics of addiction -- the monkeys liked it and actively 
worked to dose themselves.

Regardless of any immediate criticisms of the test itself, the trouble with 
studies like NIDA's is that they rarely stay in the laboratory; studies 
that reconfirm our fears about drugs or incite worry are guaranteed to be 
hyped by the press in the pubic square seconds after the results are made 
known. NIDA's study is no different. You can easily spot the political 
undercurrent carrying the results of the study beyond the medical community 
and straight to the media desks and beyond.

"This study is simple and its findings are clear," said NIDA Director Dr. 
Alan I. Leshner in an Oct. 15 press release. "Animals will work to get THC. 
This emphasizes further the similarity between marijuana and other 
abusable, addicting substances. Both animals and humans will work to 
acquire access to marijuana in the same way that both animals and humans 
change their behavior to get other drugs of abuse, like cocaine and heroin."

While Leshner never says that marijuana itself is "addictive" in the 
medical sense, he makes the link, allowing people to mistakenly conclude 
that marijuana is little different than heroin and cocaine, which is 
spurious to say the least.

First of all, cocaine, marijuana and heroin are different chemically and 
affect users differently, depending on the dose, form of the drug, plus 
method and frequency of use. Next, opiates like heroin are highly addictive 
not just in terms of reinforcement, but also tolerance and dependence. 
Tolerance, for addiction specialists, generally implies decreased 
sensitivity to a drug the longer it is used, requiring users to boost their 
dose to get the desired effect, while dependence refers to a user's 
reluctance to quit a drug due to psychological and physical difficulties 
caused by withdrawal.

"Kicking dope sucks," writes an anonymous heroin user in the Oct. 11 San 
Francisco Bay Guardian, describing the pain of withdrawals. "Kicking makes 
you not sleep, makes you lose your appetite, makes you s--- uncontrollably, 
makes your bones and joints hurt from the inside out, and makes your 
muscles scream. You may have insane crying fits, muscle spasms, and 

"This is normal. It's just the drugs leaving your body."

As "normal" as that may be for heroin users, this does not describe the 
average cocaine or marijuana user. "Although they share some 
characteristics with the opioid drugs," writes Byck, "neither cocaine nor 
marijuana has a pharmacologically significant withdrawal syndrome that 
would, by its presence, enforce the continued taking of the drug," 
explaining, "For both drugs the tolerance and physical dependence are not 
the driving forces behind the self-administration."

While tolerance is not a requirement for the addiction label, it is a 
helpful benchmark because, as a standard, reinforcement alone is close to 
meaningless. Ditto for dependence because it indicates some level of 
physiological effect by the drug, as evidenced by a physical reaction to 
withdrawal. If avoiding the pains of quitting drives you to continue taking 
the drug, goes the thinking, you're hooked. Thus, if you don't have to get 
more and more to keep the high going and don't have a problem quitting, 
it'd be hard to suggest you were genuinely addicted.

A monkey repeatedly pressing a lever for THC does not proves addiction. 
Stuck in a cage with little else to do, dope is about the best thing going.

"What this study proves," said Steve Kubby, 1998 Libertarian California 
gubernatorial candidate and national director the American Medical 
Marijuana Association, "is that a restrained, stressed-out monkey will 
choose cannabis for relief if it's available."

The real question for addiction is what the monkey does if the drug isn't 
available. All sorts of things are fun to do, and doing them, even a lot, 
doesn't necessarily imply addiction.

The pleasures of sex, good food, sports and physical activity, leisure, and 
more may all reinforce desire to participate in the activities, but this 
doesn't equal "addiction" in any real sense. I love every item in that list 
- -- get 'em when I can -- but if my wife is tired, the refrigerator is low, 
or I'm trapped at the office instead of hiking or lounging, I don't get the 
shakes. Neither do I have to go in vain searches for greater thrills. For 
me, hiking five miles is just as good as hiking 10 (maybe better if my feet 
are sore), and eating two bowls of Breyers instead of one will just upset 
my stomach.

The same is surprisingly true for marijuana and even cocaine. Says Byck, 
"It is important to note that drug seeking and drug taking behavior can be 
maintained at doses that do not cause noticeable tolerance or physical 
dependence" for either marijuana or cocaine. In other words, medically 
speaking marijuana and cocaine fall short of traditional benchmarks 
establishing addiction.

While a person may binge on cocaine, it certainly isn't a regular drug for 
most of its users. In other words, folks use it when they want to and, 
despite it's potency, it's not typically habit-forming.

The same is true even more so for marijuana, as the Institute of Medicine 
makes clear in its March 1999 report on pot for medical use.

Even though many, including the National Organization for the Reform of 
Mari juana Laws and Harvard Medical School professor Lester Grinspoon, 
called the report "tepid" and "political," the IOM basically confirmed what 
people have been saying for decades: Marijuana does not foster addiction, 
exhibiting only, if any, mild symptoms of dependence and withdrawal. "A 
distinctive marijuana and THC withdrawal syndrome has been identified," 
notes the IOM report, "but it is mild and subtle compared with the profound 
physical syndrome of alcohol or heroin withdrawal." In fact, the IOM's 
chief concern seems to be that pot is usually smoked, not that it might be 

Of course, as the NIDA study actually found, marijuana is "abusable." What 
isn't? Anything can be used to the point of harm. Are we going to start 
regulating how many times people have sex in a day, week, month? What about 
a federal bureau to establish proper serving sizes for family meals? Can't 
let people do too much exercise either -- endorphin abuse; better get a 
Federal Gym Commission established pronto. This is obviously nonsense.

What people need to ask themselves is that if it's nonsense for sex, food 
and exercise, why isn't it nonsense for marijuana?

The only abuse the government should concern itself with is people abuse. 
Are folks being harmed? That's the question for government. If not, butt out.

Unfortunately, that makes government irrelevant in this area, and if 
there's one thing the government can't stand it's being irrelevant. So to 
continue looking like it has an important role to play, the government 
needs people to feel as if they are at personal risk from marijuana users.

Ergo, the addiction card.

As soon as you play that, you create everyone's worst enemy: the junkie. 
Now -- especially when you link it to heroin, as the NIDA allowed the media 
to do without any clarification -- you've got all the crime fears 
aggravated by the idea of needle-to-arm druggies. It's the perfect 
hobgoblin, the creation of which H.L. Mencken pointed out is the primary 
goal of government. Manufacturing problems is the surest way for the feds 
to guarantee their job security -- somebody's got to solve them.

Given that, it's increasingly clear that marijuana isn't the monkey on our 
backs; it's the federal drug warriors.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens