Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year


The dawn of a new year has long been surrounded by customs.  One I grew up with is eating black-eyed peas to insure good luck in the coming year.  One widespread custom is to make (and quickly break) resolutions to improve one’s life in the coming year.  In place of the usual, boring resolutions to diet and lose weight, to exercise more, and to climb Mt. Everest, I would like to suggest some alternatives that, if enough of us could meet them even partway, would improve our world.

1.    Vacation in Colorado or Washington this year.

2.    Write or email at least three of your elected representatives about drug law reform this year (local, state or federal).

3.    Send a Letter to the Editor of your local paper – even if it’s not published at least one editor will be educated by reading it.

4.    ‘Fess up! The world needs to know that engineers and lawyers and insurance salesmen smoke pot – not just stoners and gangbangers (you may have to wait until you retire or even die – like Prof. X before you do this one).

5.    Talk about drug tests, locker searches, and drug dogs prowling the hallways at a PTA or school board meeting.


7.    OK, you can include this one too: climb Everest.

If just a few of us keep some of these resolutions, 2014 can be a great year.

(Feel free to add your own resolutions to the list as a comment.)

May everyone have a happy, prosperous, and green New Year!


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Oh, My Achin' Back!

Oh, My Achin’ Back!


As medical marijuana programs have come into effect in various states, they have exhibited one surprising common factor: overwhelmingly the greatest number of users take it to alleviate pain, many of them young otherwise healthy males.

This appearance of healthy-looking young men has stirred the passions of the Drug Prohibitionists: “These are just stoners using the medical law to avoid arrests and just get high.”  They view the medical use laws as simply a conspiracy to get around the drug control laws.  Unfortunately, their argument shows almost total ignorance of medical treatment of pain and of the health problems of young men.

Pain is both one of the most widespread and hardest to diagnose and treat of medical conditions.  Pain – from a thorn prick on a finger to the chronic intractable neuropathic aftermath of trauma – is a human universal; everyone has some experience with it.  And the search for relief is also universal.  Walk through any drugstore and see rack after rack filled with painkillers.  Morphine is a staple in every operating suite.  Vicodin (an opiate mixed with acetaminophen) is the most prescribed drug in the U. S.  Pain presents doctors with two problems.  First, it is hard to diagnose; medicine has not developed a painometer.  Most tests are useless in detecting pain and doctors must rely on the patient’s own subjective reports.  Second, while some pain (like that finger prick) is self-limiting and some may be relieved by surgery, a lot of it is incurable and chronic; it can only be alleviated by (often life-long) palliation.  Many of the drugs used for that treatment are opioids with their attendant risks of overdose, dependency, and sedative interference with routine activities.  When compared to the risks of the opioids and to the side effects of the OTC pain relievers (gastric bleeding and severe liver damage among others), the more benign marijuana seems the better choice.  In its earlier life as elixir of cannabis its main uses included treatment of migraines and PMS and menstrual disorders.

Just as the Prohibitionists do not understand the problem of pain, they also do not understand the lives of many young men.  While society is more egalitarian than ever before, careers based on physical strength are still predominantly male and young: construction, mining, oil and gas production, mining, transportation, to name a few; and young men are disproportionately active in athletics[1].  These activities share an increased exposure to pain, both recurrent (and often daily) pain from muscular exertion and strain and more serious pain from trauma incurred during that activity.  Sitting for a while in an emergency room or reading a civil court document will shock anyone by the numbers of injured young males.

Both parts of the Prohibitionists’ arguments are wrong: healthy-appearing young males do suffer di9sproportionately from pain.  And the only way a doctor can diagnose pain is by talking to the patient.  No lab test or high-tech scan objectively reveals pain (although they sometimes may show a possible cause for the reported discomfort).  Their smoking gun is merely an illusion shaped by a cloud of ignorance.

I have focused on young men only because the Prohibitionists have focused on them.  I have not intended to ignore the very real pains suffered by the rest of us.  Young women have their special pains as well (and many of them engage in those occupations I listed as the domain of young men).  They suffer from PMS and menstrual cramps.  They strain muscles from lifting and carrying heavy toddlers, wet laundry, and loaded grocery bags (Yes, Dear, we men sometimes help with these chores a little bit).  Just imagine the pains and traumas of an exotic dancer spending all day in those ridiculous but sexy high heels and doing stunts on the dance pole that would challenge an Olympian.  Workers of both sexes spend all day hunched over a keyboard or on their feet as sales clerks.  And as for my body that has withstood three-quarters of a century of wear and tear….

Yes, young men (and the rest of us) do have pain and marijuana can help them; and yes, doctors recommend they use marijuana without conducting full physical examinations, just as they recommend Tylenol or Vicodin.  Pain and its treatment are part of everyday reality.  Marijuana should not be forbidden and locked away; it should be on the open shelves between the aspirin and the acetomenaphen.    

[1] Look for a posting here on “Athletes and Marijuana” in the near future.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Green Christmas

Green Christmas


Here’s wishing you a green Christmas.

May all the greens in your house be strong and dank.

May you vacation this next year in Colorado or Washington – or both.

May your own state be as sensible as they are in 2014.

May your regular family doctor prescribe the medicine you actually need…

and may you purchase it safely from a licensed pharmacist.

May you never be stopped and frisked by a street cop,

Or undergo a “routine stop” by a traffic patrolman.

May the Greatful Dead carol on your lawn.

May you find a hand-blown bong in your stocking.

May all your holiday cookies contain the magical ingredient.

May the smoke from your pipe encircle your head like a wreath.

May Sativa Claus grant all your wishes.

Merry Green Christmas to all and a happy legal new year!

Friday, December 6, 2013


[In my other life I sometimes comment poetry.  Here's a sample that fits this subject matter.  More may follow sometime -- who knows?]


In memory of Aldous Huxley, the trailblazer and guide who has led the way, opening the

Doors of Perception for many to take the trip to



1939 International Harvester

1960s sound and film

Day-Glo paints,

Mandalas smeared and loppy.

Destination sign reads “Furthur”.

Are you on the bus –

-- or off the bus?

Neal Cassady’s driving:

            Dean Moriarity On The Road again.

Foot down hard, going fast;

Hands in air – he steers by mental force.

Non-stop monolog – Beat rap now decades long enchanting all around but the traffic cop who gets confused and slinks away silently
      – not on the bus.


Merry Pranksters career thru deserts and down to Houston;

Stop at McMurtry’s door:

Larry dazed and enraged

At Blanket Girl naked on his lawn.

You’re either on the bus –

            -- or off the bus.

On to Gotham: McMurphy’s on the stage

            And foiling Rached – who missed the bus long ago.


Sometimes a Great Notion: on to Millbrook

And enlightened Guru Tim.

But Tibet chants and Book of Dead are just a killing bore.

Tim’s dropped out --

 – and off the bus.


Back on the bus – and furthur west:

The Fillmore waits; Garcia has the band.

Light show flicker/flows and Owsley spikes the brew:

Orange Sunshine for the trip.


If you pass the Acid Test, no need to use the bus.

Your mind’s enough:

The trip is always FURTHUR.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dear Abby

Dear Abby


This letter and reply appeared in a recent “Dear Abby” column[1]:

Teen’s pot use puts friend in tough spot

     Dear Abby:

   I’m a senior in high school. Every day during lunch, one of my friends goes outside and smokes weed with a couple of his friends. He comes back from lunch with red eyes and smelling of smoke, and his behavior indicates he’s high. I’m not sure if they smoke on or off campus, but I know it isn’t legal at their age (17) and especially not at school. I saw a joint in his pocket a couple of times, and he told me to keep it a secret.

   Abby, this has me very uncomfortable. If he wants me to keep it a secret, he must know it’s wrong. I don’t know how to tell someone or even who I should tell. I know he has depression and weed can “take the edge off,” but that doesn’t make it OK.

   What should I do? Should I tell anyone? And if so, who and how?

   Fretting in Washington State

   Dear Fretting:

   It’s surprising to me that your friend returns from lunch showing all of the signs of being stoned, and none of his teachers have picked up on it. Haven’t his grades suffered?

   While it is not uncommon for people who are depressed to try to self-medicate with illegal substances, it’s not nearly as successful as dealing with their emotions by talking about them with a medical professional and can sometimes make the problem worse. The person to confide in about this would be a trusted teacher or school counselor. Please don’t wait.


Abby seems to need some advice herself on marijuana and the marijuana laws.  I’m going to respond to her response and hope she will avail herself of an opportunity to learn more and be a better counselor to her readers:

Dear Abby,

Thank you for paying attention to teenagers caught in the current social conflict over marijuana and its use.  But you ignored the bigger half of the problem.  Yes, a few –very few – teens face problems arising from their use of marijuana, but vast numbers of them face much more serious problems from their encounters with marijuana laws.

First, her friend’s use of marijuana is extremely unlikely to do him harm.  It presents virtually no health risks.  No one has ever been shown to have died from a marijuana overdose or from any medical side effects or from marijuana complications or contributions to long term diseases.  Several long-term studies tracking thousands of patients for longer than twenty years have found no health differences between marijuana users and abstainers.  While a few argue than marijuana is addictive, the weight of evidence rebuts that contention.  A few may develop a weak compulsive use, but those are easily able to break their habits, often without help.

Apparently his teachers have not noticed any bad effect on his academic performance, and there have probably been none.  Studies show that marijuana use is more common in high performing students – both academically and in extra-curricular activities – than in those in the middle of the class.  Just ask Prof. Carl Sagan, astronomer, NASA consultant, and creator of the PBS “Cosmos” series, or Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School – or thousands of Silicon Valley computer scientists and engineers.  If, as your correspondent reports, he suffers from depression or anxiety, the marijuana may actually improve both his school work and his behavior.  Marijuana has been shown to be helpful for both of these disorders.  And with mental health services now unavailable or unaffordable for most people, his self-medication with marijuana may be his best option.

His marijuana use does put him at risk, but not because of its effects on his mind or body.  The risk comes from the dangers imposed by the laws prohibiting marijuana.  If the school learns of his marijuana use, he will probably be placed in alternative schooling or expelled.  Either of these actions would make his high school graduation unlikely and probably preclude college.

Even worse, the school administrators would be required to report his activity to the police; and a conviction for marijuana possession, even one resulting in probation rather than a jail sentence could destroy his future.  In most states he would lose his driver’s license for a least two years.  He would become ineligible for student financial aid, necessary for many college students.  In many places he could not rent an apartment and would be barred from many jobs.

In short, telling teachers or school counselors about his marijuana use would do much more harm to his future than his continuing marijuana would.  While your correspondent may want to discuss her own use of marijuana, current or contemplated, with her parents, she should never tell any adult about another’s use unless compelled by subpoena.  The effects on that person’s future could be much, much worse than marijuana will be.

If she feels like she must talk to someone, she should ask her teachers and counselors why they endanger students by not speaking up for and working for reform of the marijuana laws.

And that’s also a good question for Dear Abby.


A concerned Reader









[1] I read it in the Houston Chronicle, 11/16/2013.