A story titled “Marijuana Prescribed to Kids with ADHD,” posted on AOL on November 24, 2009 [brought to my attention just recently by Eileen via Facebook], starts with the report that doctors in California are recommending cannabis for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It then progresses to its conclusion without identifying any specific doctor who has so recommended cannabis and reports on one anonymous kid who may have gotten such a recommendation. Hmm.
Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that the article focuses on the position of a psychology professor who says essentially that cannabis is not a treatment for a psychiatric disorder because it produces the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, i.e. cognitive disorganization i.e. ADHD.
This story exposes the inner structure of cannabis prohibition and, by extension, psychedelic prohibition generally.
The reason why this article is so important is that instead of focusing on the usual debate whether cannabis can be a legitimate treatment for a condition like nausea or pain, it poses the question of whether cannabis can be a legitimate treatment for a condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM), i.e. whether it can be a “psychiatric medication” or part of “mental health” care generally.
In light of the size of the market of the psychiatric medication market – think depression, ADHD, OCD, anxiety – this issue is important. I think it’s the real elephant in the room, the lurking presence which no one can acknowledge: can psychedelics ever go back to being psychiatric medications, health care products that could compete with the blockbuster psych meds from big pharma?
The model which the psychologist describes is one in which cannabis cannot be part of mental health care – at least for ADHD – because the effects of cannabis use correspond to what he considers the effects of the condition itself, i.e. symptoms of the disease. In his worldview, cannabis is effectively toxic (a disease-inducing input) to mental function, not therapeutic. It can only make every situation worse.
This is the same control paradigm that applies to all of the psychedelics, which have been incarcerated in Schedule I for thirty+ years. If LSD creates the symptoms of mental illness, how can it be therapeutic? Everyone knows that psychiatric therapy reduces the symptoms of mental illness, that which is visible from the outside.
Now we come into the innermost chamber.
The nature of drug control depends on which part of the government regulates the drugs.
Genealogically, the disciplines of “substance abuse prevention” and “substance abuse treatment” are descendants of – or perhaps mutations from – the much much broader field of “mental health” (once known as “mental hygiene”[!].) In the early 1970s they splintered away into a separate part of social control, as indicated by the fact that the substance abuse and alcohol abuse components of the National Institute of Mental Health were extracted and turned into free-standing bureaucracies – the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) – on a par with their parent.
The story of “medical marijuana” as a matter of political science/social organization is the story of the end of law enforcement’s monopolization of cannabis regulation (i.e. via enforcement of criminal law). Authority over the use of cannabis, at least in some small part, moved to doctors and patients when the states provided an affirmative defense to criminal prosecution for cannabis possession. The states of Washington and Colorado have now moved control of the supply side beyond the state health departments to the regulators of commerce in consumer products generally, in one case to the alcohol control board.
The question as to the other psychedelics then is whether and, if so, when they too will move from a bureaucratic environment (the DEA/NIDA continuum) that treats them exclusively as toxins to a part of the bureaucracy that can regulate them as therapies.