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How USA Drug Policy Harms Americans, March 8, 2015

Revised March 29

Introduction

Dear Reader, I have written this essay because I am tormented by the knowledge that our drug policy in the US is doing so much to hurt sick people. I know other people who share my views, but I wanted to put this out on the public internet in the hopes that someone who disagrees may take notice. Therefore, if you know someone who supports our government's drug policy, please steer them to this essay. I hope that this will help change minds.

I dedicate this essay to all people who have been harmed as a result of US drug policy. If you're one of them, please know that many Americans oppose these policies.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you've heard about the fierce public debate about cannabis (marijuana) and the USA's drug policy, popularly called the "War on Drugs", or by some critics and cynics as the "War on Some Drugs". I argue that this policy has done untold damage to our country and to the world, up to and including killing some of America's most vulnerable citizens. I will explain.

Critics of the War On Drugs contend that the prohibition of cannabis was never about public health; that it was about protecting the textile industry from competition from industrial hemp. In this essay, I will not argue this; I will not argue about the motives for the War On Drugs. I will only explain some little-known aspects of what it is doing to Americans. I will also not argue about whether or not the public supports the war on drugs.

I love science. As we say, "Science will fly you to the moon!" I have recently taken an interest in medical science. The human body is such a fascinatingly complex work of machinery; so complex, it's amazing that it works at all! I also find it fascinating that the administration of miniscule amounts of some chemicals have such a profound effect on how it works. As a lover of science, I think that one of the worst consequences of the War On Drugs is the knowledge we don't have because medical research regarding "drugs" is so restricted.

As the old proverb goes, "Truth is the first casualty of war." The War On Drugs is no exception.

In this essay, I will take a deep dive into what I've learned about several drugs that are prohibited or highly restricted in the United States. These are likely drugs that you've heard of and likely are fearful of. You'll likely look at the names of these drugs and think that I've lost my mind when I suggest that Americans be allowed to use them. I do not deny that you can destroy your life with drugs. They are powerful tools, like a woodchipper or a tablesaw, and must be treated with respect, lest they kill you. When you finish reading this, I want you to have your eyes opened at least a little bit to our ignorance about these drugs and what we might be able to do with them with sane public policy.

Lysergic Acid (LSD)

There is a relatively rare, but notorious illness known as "cluster headache" (CH) that is believed to affect about one person per thousand. That means that in the USA alone, there are enough people with CH to populate a medium-sized city. The illness causes unbearably painful headaches that are so severe that they frequently drive sufferers to suicide to stop the pain. Researchers believe that cluster headache is the most painful illness known to humankind.

Several years ago, one patient with this illness serendipitously discovered that using LSD recreationally stopped the pain. Like any treatment, it isn't 100% effective for everyone, but many patients swear by it, if they will admit to using it. As you can imagine, word spread quickly thru the community of CH patients. I can't say for sure, but it seems only logical to assume that many CH patients are secretly using LSD of questionable quality bought off the street to treat their pain. One patient wrote anonymously on a news comment section:

All I know is that I suffer from cluster headaches every year for about 2-3 weeks. Even 2-3 weeks of cluster headaches is debillitating and unbearably painful. In desperation, based of anecdotal evidence from the web, I tried a very small dose of LSD, half of a tab of paper acid, 3 days into my cycle last year, and it was over. No cluster headaches since. A small sample size I know, but there does seem to be something to this...

The good news is that researchers have discovered that there is a non-psychoactive compound similar to LSD called "2-Bromo-LSD" which has none of the psychoactive effects of LSD, but provides pain relief to CH patients similar to LSD. It sounds perfect: an effective treatment free of troublesome side effects, but my understanding is that federal law prohibits the distribution and even most research on even this chemical.

Are there risks? Sure! But I believe that the benefits outweight the risk. I would guess that many of these unfortunate souls would be willing to take medicine that can only be synthesized by collecting the tears of baby seals being clubbed to death by Darth Vader.

Furthermore, even if you were a CH patient and wanted to try this treatment, wouldn't you rather receive the treatment in a clinic or hospital under the supervision of a doctor, rather than buying drugs of dubious quality off the street?

Therefore, I can only conclude that by not allowing medical use of these LSD compounds, US drug policy is literally killing Americans by keeping CH sufferers from accessing a safe treatment, allowing them to be driven to suicide by unbearable pain. Not only that, but US drug policy impedes research into how the drug alleviates the pain. Those of you who know me know that I think that the federal government should generally leave us alone and let us do as we will, but I think it's downright shameful that there is a potential treatment for people with such a horrible illness and the federal government prohibits patients from accessing it in their very own name!

Before I move on, let me ask if you disagree with me. Perhaps, as you read my words, you think to yourself, "Well, this illness sounds horrible, but LSD is a bad drug and we can't allow people to have it and if that means that a few people must suffer, that's just too bad for them. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." If you think this, I ask one thing of you. I know that pictures are more powerful than words for many, so please view one of the many YouTube videos of people enduring these headaches. Here's one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRXnzhbhpHU. As you watch, be aware that these headaches can occur multiple times a day, and can last for up to three hours. If you can watch this and bear these facts in mind and still remain steadfastly committed to our country's drug policies, then I suggest you read something else. I will admit defeat; I have failed to reach you.

Ayahuasca

No doubt you've heard of depression. Perhaps you're skeptical that it's a "real" illness. Perhaps there is no explanation in the world that would convince you that it's anything more than a character weakness or moral failing, but I know for a fact that it is real because I suffered from an debilitating episode of depression in my late teens and early twenties and I can assure you that it's real; I tried many conventional treatments to no avail. Like cluster headache, depression is an illness that frequently drives sufferers to suicide to end their anguish. How did I get better? The illness simply vanished on it's own. I hope it never comes back. It's a shame that medical science does not yet understand what causes it. Sure, a person may become "depressed" by virtue of suffering from low self-esteem or unfortunate circumstances in life, but depression can strike at people who live a picture-perfect life.

There is a drug called Ayahuasca which is long-known in the native herbal medicines of Central America and South America. It is associated with traditional beliefs that the drug can allow people to communicate with friendly spirits. Unlike LSD, Ayahuasca can be legally obtained in many of these countries. It remains popular today within some subcultures. Like LSD, it is known as a psychadellic compound, and so it is strictly illegal in the USA like LSD. (It seems that we have an unwritten policy that any drug known to cause hallucinations must be criminalized.)

A quick consultation with Doctor Google indicates that numerous people have reported relief from depression from using Ayahuasca when all other treatments have been useless. Some patients report relief with the very first dose, compared to how conventional antidepressants can take weeks to become effective. This is truly wonderful news, and even better, the treatment seems to be permanent with just a few doses. That way, a depression sufferer can travel to a place where it is legally available, receive treatment, and then return home. To me, it's silly that a person would have to spend so much money and travel to a far away place to get treated. Doctor Google indicates that there are agencies that were created specifically to assist depression patients travel to these places to receive Ayahuasca.

As I was saying before, "Truth is the first casualty of war", and the War On Drugs is no exception. Once again, we lack clinical knowledge about how this drug works because of US drug policy. Were proper clinical research carried out, we would have knowledge about how to safely and effectively treat depression with Ayahuasca; or, maybe we would know that it is inappropriate and dangerous for some reason. We don't know because our government prohibits this research.

Furthermore, "Ayahuasca tourism" has a dark side. Many of these places that patients travel to to receive Ayahuasca don't provide the same regulatory oversight for safety that we have here in the US. Some patients have ended up in the care of unscrupulous individuals who have committed crimes against them, including rape! At least one patient died after receiving Ayahuasca. This is tragic in two ways. First, it is tragic that the patient died. Second, it is tragic that the death didn't take place in a proper clinical setting where a proper medical examination could determine the cause of death. Some physicians speculate that Ayahuasca may be dangerous to patients with heart disease; did this patient have heart disease? Is that why the patient died? Maybe the patient could have been saved from death had the treatment been given in a clinical setting. Who knows?

Once again, US drug policy has held back medical understanding of an important illness and a potential treatment. Like with cluster headache, many patients turn to suicide to end their anguish and some have died while receiving needed treatment in an inappropriate setting. Once again, I conclude that US drug policy is killing Americans. Shameful!

Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid (GHB)

I mentioned GHB in my previous essay about how our "healthcare reform" is doomed to fail because it doesn't address the root causes of the high cost of healthcare in the US, so if you've read that essay, this will be mostly review. I am 31 years old and the legal status of GHB is, in my opinion, one of the worst legal outrages in this country I've ever heard of in my entire life. Those who know me know how passionate I am about this; I drive people crazy telling the story. I regard it as nothing short of a crime against humanity.

I became familiar with GHB because it is typically used by people who don't sleep well. Unfortunately, yours truly suffers from poor sleep and became familiar with GHB and its legal status thru a sleep disorder support group on Facebook. Although the evidence seems to suggest that I may benefit from using GHB, I do not fit the strict criterea for receiving a prescription.

In short, GHB was invented over one hundred years ago, yet the US government treats it as if it is an exotic, patented drug, painstakingly researched for efficacy. The patent is currently owned by a company called Jazz Pharmaceuticals, which charges up to $12,000 (twelve thousand dollars) per month for the drug, depending on the dosage.

GHB has a long history as a sleep aid. It is known to cause dangerous side effects in some users, just like other sleep aids. However, there is one wonderful thing about GHB: most sleep aids damage sleep architecture; they may help the patient fall asleep, but may cause that sleep to be unrestful. GHB, on the other hand, is documented to increase "slow-wave" sleep, which helps the patient wake up refreshed. This is unlike any other sleep aid that I know of and the reason why Jazz is able to charge such exhorbitant prices. (that and insurance companies making the payments)

GHB has been used as a sleep aid for many years, but in the 1990s a terrible calamity befell GHB users. There was a moral panic (allegedly incited by a Dateline segment, the same show that popularized the fear of vaccines) that GHB was being used as a date rape drug, or even "the" date rape drug. I want to make clear to my readers that I regard rape as a serious crime, deserving of years in prison as punishment. However, it doesn't make sense to single out GHB as a date rape drug because there are many drugs that can be used for this purpose, some of them very widely prescribed, such as Xanax. Then, there's the most popular date rape drug of all: alcohol.

On January 17, 1999, a young lady named Samantha Reid and her friend Hillory J Farias were drugged with GHB while visiting friends. Samantha stopped breathing and soon died in the hospital. What happened is tragic, but what is even worse is how the US government responded: GHB was criminalized as a "Schedule I" drug, which means that it became strictly illegal. The legislation enacted is titled the Hillory J Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act of 2000, which made it impossible for patients who need this drug to obtain it safely. Thank you, Congressman Ron Paul, for being the sole vote against this legislation.

I don't understand exactly how this happened, but several years later, the FDA granted a patent to a company called "Orphan Medical" to sell GHB as medicine, and this patent was eventually sold to "Jazz Pharmaceuticals", which now markets GHB under the trade name Xyrem. Jazz nearly went out of business and brought in a new CEO to try to make the company profitable again. Seeing that GHB was their most profitable product, they decided to raise the price, and raise the price, again and again and again, until the price was raised to $12,000. It is predictable that the price will go even higher. Even more perverse, Jazz holds a patent on "safely distributing" GHB which they intend to use to keep generic competition off the market longer. Today, Roxane is trying to market generic Xyrem, but is being sued by Jazz. I won't hold my breath; even if Roxane prevails and sells generic Xyrem, they could charge $11,900.

The FDA also plays a role in this calamity; the same FDA that thinks it knows so well what you should be eating that it once employed sting operations and a SWAT raid on a Lancaster, Pennsylvania Amish farmer for selling unpasteurized milk. (This actually happened.) The FDA only approved GHB for the treatment of narcolepsy. A diagnosis of narcolepsy is very rare because the diagnostic criterea are very strict; even the sickest patients often take years to receive a diagnosis. People know that narcoleptics have trouble staying awake, but many people don't know that narcoleptics don't sleep well. GHB can be a God-send to them. To give the devil his due, Jazz approached the FDA and sought to have GHB approved for the treatment of fibromyalgia, a much more common illness also associated with poor sleep. My understanding is that the FDA refused this approval not because they weren't convinced the drug was effective; no, they refused approval citing fear that patients would abuse it. That's right, your government, that supposedly represents you, decided that if you have fibromyalgia, you have no right to a potentially effective treatment because you might abuse it. And if you disobey, they have shown that they have no qualms about sending their SWAT goons to punish you. (Too outrageous to be true? See the report by the New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/the-orphan-jackpot/?_r=0)

The FDA: American's Death Panel?

I recently received an e-mail solicitation to sign a petition on change.org for a man named Nicholas Grillo. He has an interesting story to tell. He was diagnosed several years ago with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that is almost invariably fatal. This is the same disease that killed baseball legend Lou Gehrig and crippled science legend Stephen Hawking. Current treatments for ALS extend the life of typical patients by only a few months. Nicholas Grillo wishes to participate in clinical research for a new experimental drug designed to treat ALS. He only has one problem: the drug is not approved by the FDA. It is estimated that FDA approval will take several more years and Grillo will almost certainly be dead by then.

Therefore, Nicholas Grillow and other ALS patients are circulating a petition on change.org to ask the FDA to grant "accellerated approval" for the drug. They also held a rally in Washington, DC to petition the FDA for this approval.

We can only speculate about whether or not this drug will prolong Grillo's life, but does the above scenario sound even remotely American? Is it the American way that even in the absence of evidence of harm, American citizens with horrible diseases are literally begging government agents for permission to take drugs that they will certainly die without? Is this the way we want our government to operate? Does this government operate justly "with the consent of the governed"?

Imagine if Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or George Washington knew that the government they founded would enact such policy. Maybe they would have decided that the American revolution wasn't worthwhile.

Here is a link to the petition if you wish to sign: https://www.change.org/p/lisa-murkowski-fda-accelerated-approval-of-genervon-s-gm604-for-use-in-als

Conclusion

Above, I have followed a pattern: I have introduced an illness and a prohibited or highly restricted drug for treating it. I have argued, passionately, that not only has our policy harmed patients by prohibiting/restricting access to these drugs, but it has also inflicted untold harm upon society worldwide by preventing medical research that could save lives. Just remember that these are only examples that are known to me personally.

I'm sorry to have written such a sad and depressing essay. I only wrote this because I hope that I might change a few minds. Maybe if you can change a few more minds, we can put an end to this insanity. It gives me hope to see that brave people have pushed so hard to help sick people who need it gain access to cannabis, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Much work remains to be done, and I'll point out that some cannabis activists have said that they've been pushing their cause for many years, and it wasn't so long ago that they couldn't even talk about cannabis in polite company; so I don't believe that true drug policy reform is impossible.

Perhaps having read this, you think that I'm wearing a bit too much tin-foil; that what I'm telling you is too outrageous to be true. In that case, please be skeptical and do your own research. Have an opinion, but please have an informed opinion. Google can find you information about all the of the facts I've reported here. (Yes, there are a few places that I speculate, but I try to be clear about it.)