You can’t trust illicit-drug research

By Alfa · Apr 17, 2004 · ·
  1. Alfa

    One night's ecstasy use can cause brain damage, shouted a headline
    after the journal Science published a study that found a single dose
    of the drug injected into monkeys and baboons caused severe brain damage.

    The media trumpeted the news and drug enforcement officials held it up
    as definitive proof of the vileness of ecstasy.

    A year later, the author admitted his team had mistakenly injected the
    primates with massive doses of methamphetamine, not ecstasy. Science
    retracted the story.

    Obscure as this incident may sound, it demonstrates something vitally
    important about illicit drug research. It's a politicized field, says
    Peter Cohen, professor at the University of Amsterdam's Centre for
    Drug Research.

    "There is no neutral science."

    Scientific research and scientific careers are built on funding and
    drug research is expensive.

    "Researchers need to get their money from somewhere," he said, but
    funding options are limited. Pharmaceutical companies aren't
    interested. And most governments won't fund research on drugs they've
    banned. The one exception is the U.S. which lavishes money on drug
    research, enabling the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse to boast
    it "supports over 85 per cent of the world's research on the health
    aspects of drug abuse and addiction."

    But there are ideological strings attached. The U.S. government is
    dominated by a drug-war ideology in which drugs are not simply another
    health risk. Drugs are criminal, immoral, even evil. When most people
    think of alcohol, we draw a line between "use" and "abuse."

    Because the drug-war ideology sees drugs as inherently wicked, it
    erases the line between use and abuse of illicit drugs. Any use is
    abuse. Any use is destructive. And the job of science is to prove it.

    In the now-retracted ecstasy study, the scientist was trying to prove
    that even one dose of ecstasy causes brain damage -- which neatly fits
    drug-war ideology. Not surprisingly, NIDA paid the $1.3 million US
    cost of the research. In fact, the author of the research has received
    $10 million US by NIDA over his career. And NIDA got what it wanted:
    Research that hyped the dangers of ecstasy.

    But funding research is just one way U.S. drug-war ideologues control
    the scientific research on illicit drugs. Not funding can be just as
    effective: "If I would approach NIDA and say I want to sh
    ow that
    marijuana use is far less problematic than the use of alcohol, I
    wouldn't be funded," Cohen said.

    This control can skew research in subtle but powerful ways. Cohen
    cites his own research, funded by the Dutch government, into people
    whose moderate use of cocaine causes little or no physical or social

    "But in many other countries, colleagues . . . could find money to do
    research on cocaine use, but only in people who are in [rehab] clinics
    or living on the streets."

    A final method of control is crude suppression. "It goes on all the
    time," he said.

    Journalists are starting to catch on to the fact they can't always
    trust what officials say about drugs, says Cohen, but few know how
    "poisoned the production of knowledge about drugs is." As a result,
    misinformation abounds and "drug policy is not yet a topic that
    society can deal with in a rational manner."

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  1. RunRedFox
    excellent article. This article illustrates why, at least in the united states, its hard to trust our goverment. when a goverment blatantly lies and favors a illogical faction over the better good of the people its hard to want to participate. the majority of people dont vote because they dont trust either side with their political lies and false smiles.

    pharmaceutical industrys cover up the potential harm of their products while maximizing or farbicating altogether risks of chemicals and plants they cant patent. The line of truth has been seriously blurred in the gluttony for money and the self righteous declaration of morals. Many politicians seem to manipulate the public and capitalize on the fact people dont like to think... in the words of Hitler... "How fortunate for leaders that men do not think."

    The world today is interest based, morality is only to manipulate the people that can not see this. The fact misinformation is so rampant causes confusion and animosity. In our case falacy of our modern world can lead to imprisionment, miscommunication and unfounded shame.

    The only way to change this is to teach people independence; not to trust everything they are told, not to judge things in black and white, show them that this rat race of life is a ridiculous notion... information is the only antidote for ignorance.
  2. grandbaby
    Great article, Alfa, and a very important set of points to keep in mind.
  3. rupert
    I heard about this here:
    (A 50 minute documentary on the rise of ecstacy.) "Funnily" once this was admitted to be false, it didn't get the equal ammount of attention. It's irritating how "they" expect us to play by the rules when "they" obviously couldn't care less. There always seems to be a hidden agenda.:mad:
  4. Paracelsus
    IMO all this drug research funding is nothing less than a huge bribe to druglabs and scientists to support the US anti-drug policy with "proven facts".

    Who else would get 1.3 million bucks to shoot xtc/meth into some monkeys? I know drug research isnt that simple, but still......

    Science has been used all the time to support or discredit companies/goverments and today doesnt make an exception. I read about this monkey "study" too, its a good example on how the government controls science, just to be able to support its propaganda.
  5. anj0vis
    Luckily we do have some places that do possibly less biased research on psychoactive drugs. In netherlands the CEDRO does good work, MAPS in US and around the world in fact, Switzerland has some good projects and a few miscellaneous places here and there. Lets support and spread the results these projects provide, so that the facts become more widely known to the big public.
  6. Forthesevenlakes
    SWIM for one would like to know about other countries like Switzerland which help fund less biased research on drugs and their effects, as well as possible therapeutic usage (as MAPS is doing). This may one day have a bearing on where he settles down. Certainly the United States funding from NIDA and NIH is in expectation of certain results. They definitely want to see conclusions that drugs are bad, and lead to a variety of health problems. Increasingly, alcohol and tobacco are under fire as well, regardless of their legality.

    I wonder sometimes about the mentality of the people behind these studies. Are they all opposed to drugs because they are illegal? Are they opposed to ANY change of consciousness that is drug/alcohol related, even if it is occasionally and socially used? Sadly, I do not think I would be able to get a straight answer from anyone in the government, nor many researchers for that matter.
  7. Alfa
    In the scientific community one quickly discovers that being pro drugs is often simply not done. If one is pro drugs one will often be looked down upon and frowned upon. Not the best of carreer moves many will agree. Many in those circles may have enjoyed psychoactives in the past and have adapted to less liberal points of view then once was. There are many risks in science and science is a community, which may proclame one the laughing stock of the community at best. This is what SWIM has seen.

    So this is the breeding grounds where SWIM imagines NIDA and many others have influence by powerfull grants, for dependant scientists. And then there is the ambivalent pharmaceutical industry. This industry provides a lot of research on new psychoactive drugs, it hopes to put to use and turn into money. This industry is behind the illegalisation of much. Many herbs, alkaloids and other substances are scheduled as medicines as the industry hopes to get rid of threads to their money makers or to make another money maker from it. This industry is very anti 'drugs' and very pro 'pharmaceuticals'.
  8. Jatelka
    ^^^ True. But it's not all doom and gloom. MAPS and the Heffter Institute are doing much work on psychedelics/MDMA as treatments in various disorders and as adjuncts in psychotherapy. The British Journal of Psychiatry recently published an editorial that was broadly in favour of furthering research in psychedelics. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry has recently (within the last couple of years) published articles reviewing the history of psychedelic research and an editorial calling for more open-mindedness regarding psychedelic research.

    Granted, "pro-drugs" simply isn't done. But there ARE people working hard, going against all the NIDA bollocks and producing serious, well designed studies looking at psychedelics and their potential role.

    It's not happening quickly enough, but SWIJ honestly believes that there are real in roads being made.

    Sadly the badly designed/methodologically flawed studies are the the ones that make the headlines. This is where sites like this one come in: Spreading the broader message.
  9. Sklander
    Interesting article. If only this article could make it on headlines...
  10. Benga
    One of the common problems of "research on drugs" is this inablity to seperate concrete medical aspects from socio-political contexts, and their consequences. In a way, this situation might remind us of the ideological interractions between religion and science ( of the past especially, though this is surfacing again, heavily)

    The question of substance use is in most countries approached from a socio-political angle rather than a medical one, favoured answers are of legal nature, repression and a desire to eradicate "drugs". This desire often contaminates scientific research, or the interpretation of its results ( the same is often true of an overly pro-substance opinion, yet such opinions are so frequently marginalised that they do not weigh heavily in the scale of bias)

    Most countries are not trying to understand "drugs". Think of it, "drugs" in itself this is a terribly complicated concept to define, mixing notions such as a physio-psychologically active sustance, used deliberately with the idea of obtain an effect ( most of the time pleasure, well-being, performance or evasion ) a specific social-historical-legal status, a social role and function of the substance, social status of users, sociological and medical consequences of the use of this substance and their perception, and more...all these take part in defining what the "drug" part of the "war on drugs" means...
    Most governements are not trying to understand why cultures around the world use various substances, how certain substances and use are accepted, integrated or even celebrated par society whereas others are banned, rejected, or why and how this rejection came to be.
    Most governements are not trying to understand and honestly deal with substances, to treat eventual substance use related problems as medical and social ones ( in this order) even integrating their use into society ( which is in my opinion the most mature and responsible thing to do, as most of the problems associated with substance use are really linked to prohibition. regulation of drug use implies destroying the criminal black market, making safe controled drugs available at fixed prices, dealing with addiction and psycho-physiological problems- all of these elements make most of the social problems linked to "drugs", vanish.)

    Alas, in most places the political edge ( the socio-medical one is already often more advanced, maybe due to actual connections with reality on which build opinions ) is still fighting a lost "war on drugs" rather than "making peace with our drug-uses"...

    The bias evoqued in this article is for me typical of this confusion between socio-political contexts and actual concrete scientific data. It is hard to maintain factually scientific research based on concrete aspects. It is hard to face the complexity behind use of a substance, questions such as :
    nature and effect of a compound, physical and mental effects, short term and long term consequences, lethal risks, physical and psychological addiction potentials...
    why and how a compound is used, in what social contexts, by which population groups, for which reasons, what role does the compound play in the society, what is the compound associated with , which users with which in the society, how is use of this compound perceived, what is the cultural history behind this compound etc etc...

    Dealing with such questions means taking distance from one's socio-political context. But most people would rather take ideologically marked shortcuts, even this means betraying scientific principles...

  11. Paracelsus
    cant agree more with swibenga... most governments have no idea what "drugs" really are and what their background is.

    and so, the anti-drug indoctrination is lead by the media, by selecting what to feed to the public and what stays underground. most governments make abuse of the media to feed fake "drug information" to the masses. And for intellectuals, they make fake studies like that one with the E. They use science to spread horrible rumors about all kinds of drugs...

    A good thing is that pro-drug oriented science organizations exist, even if they are quite few. One day, we will hopefully find a way to spread genuine information about drugs, both positive and negative sides of them. The background of drug-prohibition will be disclosed to the public. No more prejudices about drug-users. The public will have to understand and tolerate drug-users, not stigmatize them by sending them to jail because of selling pot or prevent them from getting jobs, using drug-tests....I think that was enough..sorry for getting visionary......;)
  12. bostonnew
    Four years later, as this is as relevant as ever,

    Can I just play the devil's advocate against the consensus on this thread?

    NIDA has more money than other funding sources and their recipients will accordingly have more resources at hand to do the research. Drug research is complicated and time-consuming and finding adverse effects may be challenging (let's say just like finding exoplanets is easier for the Kepler Mission than it is for me with my backyard telescope). As another analogy, wouldn't you rather have your medicine produced by a well-financed group of scientists than a small cash-constrained lab?

    Indeed, there is no neutral science. But that doesn't by itself mean that the NIDA backed science is more flawed than the non-NIDA backed science.

    "If I would approach NIDA and say I want to show that marijuana use is far less problematic than the use of alcohol, I wouldn't be funded," Cohen said.

    Of course, he wouldn't be funded! A good scientist wouldn't write his conclusion before even starting the experiment.

    All scientific results must be interpreted critically. The blanket statement of not trusting illicit drug research at all is only appropriate if we add "but you should still read it and make informed decisions yourself". Education is part of responsible drug use.
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