Prohibition in a market economy

The funding dogma of capitalism and the basic principle of market economy, the law of supply and demand, is inescapable. It must be obeyed one way or another and there is absolutely no way to tamper with it. If it cannot be obeyed within the framework of legality, it will find other means and if supply creates its own demand, its corollary is also true that demand will create its own supply, which is why the supply reduction strategy of the war on drugs is condemned to fail and the demand reduction strategy is just as doomed.

The drive for mind-alteration, either through psychoactive substances or otherwise is deeply ingrained in human nature as the study of the brain reward/pleasure system clearly indicates. Whether we like it or not, this basic drive creates a demand for psychoactive substances. As a result of globalization and prohibitionist policies, this demand increasingly is not being adequately met by legal psychoactive substances as consumers want to diversify from alcohol and tobacco. The thrill of forbidden fruit adds to the appeal of illegal substances while the shadow economy in which black market thrives give rise to sub-cultures revolving around the commerce and use of such substances. Such sub-cultures are increasingly the dominant culture in many parts of the world from the US-Mexican border zone to West Africa or Central Asia and even in Northern California.

Drug trafficking arose as an unavoidable consequence of prohibition’s attempt at violating the inescapable law of supply and demand. Prohibition and drug trafficking grew in symbiosis, mirroring each other like the yin and the yang of the same entity, and as the war-on-drugs became harsher and harsher, the law of supply and demand mandated a reciprocal market response as drug traffickers became tougher and tougher and ever more powerful. Harsher enforcement also creates scarcity, which increases profit to the illegal trade.

Prohibitionism not only attempts to violate the basic principle of capitalism, it created a capitalist aberration by promoting the emergence of a class of super-capitalist, the drug traffickers, operating unencumbered by the rule of law and who became criminals first and foremost as a direct consequence of the illegal status of their activity. Far from me to try to exonerate drug traffickers; lots of them are clearly ruthless criminals in their methods and their means. But Al Capone was right when he said that he was just a businessman filling up a market need. In a sense, black markets are the rawest and purest form of capitalism, unregulated, unbridled capitalism, without check and balances, without the rule of law, unburdened by taxes and drug traffickers are the purest types of capitalist.

Because their activity, the commerce of illegal substances, is illegal, conflicts arising from their activity cannot be resolved in a legal manner as drug traffickers are denied the rule of law to regulate their activity. Thus an activity that had been artificially and somewhat arbitrarily declared illegal and therefore criminal led to an explosion of real crime as violence became the only mean for resolution of conflict arising from the commerce of the illegal substances. If a dealer doesn’t get paid, his gun is his collection agency. Violence is the only way to resolve disputes. Territories are protected by guns, not by contracts and lawyers, and conquered at gun point. Agreements are enforced by guns, not by judges. Violence is the rule of law.

The use of violence in conflict resolution has a dual purpose, a punitive role and a dissuasive role, which logically leads to ever-escalating violence. The level, the intensity, the savagery even of drug violence has been spiraling out of control as a logical consequence of its dissuasive function. Rothstein was a gentleman compared to his trainees and disciples Lucky Luciano and his peers; Al Capone and Luciano were altar boys compared to Pablo Escobar; Escobar is a saint compared to Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel or La Familia Michoacana. It is hard to imagine how the current wave of gory and gruesome atrocities can be surpassed but I am afraid we will find out soon enough.

Drug trafficking organization try to reduce the negative effects of violence on their activity and set up hierarchies, rules and alliances, but when hierarchies are shattered, rules are broken or alliances fall apart, violence takes over. Violence tends to grow with instability in a shadow economy and as law enforcement efforts become more successful at disrupting drug trafficking networks, narco-violence increases exponentially. As newcomers rush to fill the void created by arrested or killed drug kingpins, turf battles rage.

As for corruption, it arises inevitably at the unavoidable interface between the black-market and the open economy. Borders need to be crossed, merchandise needs to be transported, raw material and equipment need to be purchased, crops need to be protected, money need to be laundered, profits need to be turned into legitimate businesses, real estate, mansions and yachts. For all of these and myriad other operations, the beautifully simple formula, the magic bullet is “plomo o plata”; greed and fear are the motivators; they are the cement that seal loyalties, the universal facilitator and lubricant. For the black market, corruption is like a tax, part of the cost of doing business.

Black market naturally thrives in chaos. Whenever it needs to interface with the open economy, it logically seeks the path of least resistance. In a global world, it seeks the weakest states, the failing states, further destabilizing them and them taking advantage of the power vacuum to take further control. Central America, East and West Africa are particularly vulnerable.

Market economy naturally favors profit-maximizing strategies, which in the case of illegal substances, will favor substances with the highest bang for the bulk as substances need to be concealed at all time and bulk comes with a severe handicap. Unsurprisingly, drug dealers much prefer heroin or cocaine to marijuana. There is virtually no market for coca leaf outside its traditional area and the market for raw opium for direct consumption has evaporated in most of the world and receding rapidly in India, Pakistan and Iran, sadly replaced by heroin.

After over 100 years of prohibition, more than 20% of the US adult population use illegal drugs on a regular basis and close to 50%, including the current and last two former US presidents have used at least once in their lifetime. So, it is quite obvious by now that drug prohibition is not practically and efficiently enforceable; the prohibitionist model for controlling the use of psychoactive substances is clearly flawed and a paradigm shift is urgently needed. It is time to ask the simple but fundamental question: “Can organized societies do a better job than organized crime at managing and controlling psychoactive substances?” If we cannot respond with a resounding Yes! To this fundamental question, then we must despair of our societies and their governments. Besides, the vast majority of psychoactive substances, including the two deadliest, tobacco and alcohol, are already legal.

The use of psychoactive substances is an issue of personal choice, while substance abuse is a health issue, which has been turned into a criminal issue with catastrophic consequences. The real crime is to give control of the illegal drug marketplace to organized crime.

Jeffrey Dhywood
Investigative writer,
Author of “World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization”

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“World War-D” on Amazon:
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  • The reference book on the War on Drugs and prohibitionism
  • A guide to psychoactive substances and substance abuse
  • A blueprint for global drug policy reform and controlled legalization

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Drug legalization debate intensifies in Latin America

The state of drug policy Reform in Latin America

Latin America has been (and still is) the hardest-hit region by the War on Drugs. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is the part of the world with the most vigorous debate about drug policy reform as governments look for alternatives to the failed policies of the War on Drugs. The debate is hampered by the long-entrenched prohibitionist credo and extreme pressure from the big Northern neighbor. According to Mexican president Felipe Calderon though, there was only one consensus at the April 15th Summit of the Americas: that the drug policy debate needs to be open to all alternatives.

Long confined to somewhat rarefied academic circles and the ultra-select ex-presidents club, the debate has now moved into the mainstream and is regularly capturing headlines; the taboo has been broken. Presidents don’t wait anymore for retirement before speaking out and discussion is finally leading to action. Even church leaders and Archbishops are joining the drug-reformist camp.

Last January, Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina famously threw a stone in the war on drug murky pound and has stuck to his guns ever since. He boldly threw the debate into the April OAS meeting and is now ready to present his controlled regulation proposal to the 76th UN assembly in New York on September 26. He plans to use the platform to further advance the idea with other heads of state.

Meanwhile, the OAS (Organization of American States) will invest $2.4 million to investigate alternatives to the current fight against drug-trafficking and study the feasibility and the potential social and economic impact of legalization. A commission of experts will present its finding at the OAS General Assembly, in Antigua, close to Guatemala City, where the Perez Molina’s proposal will be discussed in details. It is of course anybody’s guess of what will be left of the committee’s recommendations after its report has been revised by the US and Canadian censors.

Tiny Uruguay, often dubbed the Switzerland of Latin America, threw itself on the map last June when President Jose Mujica and his government announced their intention to legalize marijuana under state control. The marijuana legalization project is now in the parliamentary pipeline and is being debated as we speak. What is remarkable here is that both the governing party (Frente Amplio) and its opposition (Partido Nacional) both agree on the failure of prohibitionism around the world. Of course, for people living in the US, it is unthinkable that democrats and republicans may agree on anything beyond blind allegiance to the failed War-on-Drugs policies. But if they agree on the diagnostic, the two parties diverge on the cure.  It should be noted that marijuana regulation has been on the Uruguayan parliamentary agenda in one form or another for almost two years, with various schemes being debated, including legalizing the cultivation for personal use and the current proposal for state regulation.

With a population of barely 3.5 million, Uruguay has the highest per capita income, highest literacy rate and lowest crime rate in Latin America, but it had the recent misfortune to be located on one of the new transit routes to Europe via West Africa and has been somewhat plagued by an invasion of pasta (cocaine-base). No need to say, Mujica’s proposal is generating a vigorous debate within the country and raising eyebrows and getting close attention in the surrounding countries, especially Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

Argentina and Brazil are debating decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. The Supreme Court of Argentina already ruled unconstitutional the criminalization of drug use in 2009. In Colombia, the capital city of Bogota is debating an ambitious harm reduction program based on substitution and maintenance.  Most Latin American countries have decriminalized drug use and possession for personal use, or are in the process of doing it.

It seems that no regional meeting or summit can take place nowadays in this part of the world without drug policy debate on the agenda. The 22nd Ibero-America Summit, November 16 – 17 2012 in Cadiz, Spain, bringing together the heads of state from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, is no exception. Drug policy and the fight narco-trafficking will be front and center at the meeting of interior ministers.

Drug policy reform is clearly on the move, and as I predicted in my book “world War-D”, Latin America is taking the lead. The battle is far from over though and there is a long and arduous road ahead of us. Although they have been toying with it for a while, the heavyweights, Colombia and Mexico, are still on the sideline. Mexico for one, is caught in a time warp since the July 1st presidential elections and up to the December official transfer of power. Caught in his own controversies, President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto has mostly kept silent, trying to stay out of the limelight and sticking to non-controversial issues.

As always, your support can make a difference. As a reminder, we have 2 ongoing actions:

Petitions of support of Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina

Petition in support of marijuana legalization in Uruguay:

If you haven’t done so yet, please sign these petitions. Help spread them through social networks and emails.

Thank you for your support.

Jeffrey Dhywood
Investigative writer,
Author of “World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization”

Download a free 50 pages excerpt of  “World war-D”

Facebook page:

Follow me on Twitter: @JDhywood

Become a better informed activist and support global drug policy reform! Order your own copy of “Word War-D”

  • The reference book on the War on Drugs and prohibitionism
  • A guide to psychoactive substances and substance abuse
  • A blueprint for global drug policy reform and controlled legalization

(Click here to order “World War-D” from Amazon)

If you agree with our views, please share this post to support our cause. Send it to at least 5 of your friends, post it on social networks, on your blogs, etc.

Further readings: .

Blueprint for legalization and control

One of pillars of the prohibitionist propaganda is the claim that legalization of the currently illicit drugs would create an addiction epidemic of biblical proportion, but this stickiest of prohibitionist fallacies doesn’t withstand closer examination. On the contrary, as I demonstrate in great lengths in my recently released “World War-D”, the current prohibitionist regime increases the harmful consequences of drug use and generates a whole set of harms of its own, chief among them, the narco-violence that is spreading like cancer all over the world. In fact, a properly regulated marketplace would not only wipe out narco-violence, it could contain and reduce substance abuse and dramatically reduce its societal harm. Focus should be placed on the real issue, which is problem use: abuse and addiction. Moderate use should only be addressed insofar as it may lead to problem use.

(Excerpts and comments from “World War D – The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization” – get

By Jeffrey Dhywood –

Pragmatic strategies for containment of abuse and control of psychoactive substances in a properly regulated marketplace

At the root of all the evils unleashed by drug prohibition and the War on Drugs are the illegal trade and the illegal marketplace it created and nurtured, out of which most other harms derive. Moreover, prohibition-induced harm far outweighs usage-induced harm. Consequently, the primary goal of any substance abuse reform should be black market reduction. With proper international coordination, the black market can be marginalized to the point of not being a significant threat.

Formulating clear and realistic objectives

In order to design effective strategies, it is critical to have clear and realistic objectives. Therefore, I propose the following hierarchy of goals:

  1. To greatly reduce, dismantle and, if possible, eliminate the illegal drug market. To reduce the presence and influence of organized crime. To reduce drug-related crime. The dismantling and elimination of the illegal drug market requires the dismantling of the prohibition system that created it in the first place. Elimination of the illegal drug marketplace will not eliminate organized crime, but it will weaken it substantially.
  2. To reduce harm to existing users through safe and controlled legal access. To reduce the number of abusers/addicts; to reduce drug related deaths; to improve the health of remaining users/addicts; to improve their social integration.
  3. To reduce or eliminate the financial burden placed on taxpayers by the consequences of drug use and drug prohibition. To achieve taxpayer neutrality.
  4. To control and greatly minimize access to minors; eliminating access to minors altogether might be a laudable goal, but it is about as realistic as absolute sexual abstinence to reduce teen pregnancy.
  5. To reduce initiation, especially among minors. Long-term improvements are predicated on substantially curbing initiation.
  6. To reduce harm caused by problematic users to their proximate environment and to society at large.
  7. To prevent as much as possible moderate, responsible users from becoming problem users. To place reasonable access restrictions to the most damaging substances for new users and casual users.
  8. To acknowledge the legitimacy of the non-medical use of psychoactive substances and the potential danger of their abuse.
  9. To respect the civil liberties and lifestyle choices of informed, consenting adults as long as these choices do not intentionally endanger others. To end discrimination against users of psychoactive substances.

I believe these are realistic and attainable goals provided that the right policies are put in place. Unlike the fairly rigid prohibitionist model, there should be a lot of flexibility in the application of drug reform to allow for experimentation and adaptation to local realities. It should be obvious by now that those who wish to use psychoactive substances will go to great lengths to satisfy their desire and it is far more advantageous for society to satisfy their need than to let the black market take care of it. The guiding concern shouldn’t be whether it is moral or immoral to provide psychoactive substances to those consenting adults who which to use them, but what is the least harmful way to do it.

Policies shouldn’t be set in stone, but should rather be a work in progress, especially in the initial stage. Containment of abuse and reduction of the spread of use of the most dangerous substances should be the top priorities in the initial phase. Last but not least, regulations and policies should be practically and efficiently enforceable. Unrealistic goals based on faulty premises typically have disastrous unintended consequences for which society bears a heavy cost. Drug policies should strive to minimize the potentially harmful consequences of drug use and not create a whole set of far worse harms of its own.

A properly designed controlled legalization should be based on some basic facts and observations:

  • People have used psychoactive substances for medicinal, ritual and recreational purpose since the dawn of humanity and are not likely to give it up anytime soon.
  • The vast majority of psychoactive substances are already legal and more or less efficiently controlled. Such is the case for caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and prescription drugs. The legal status of particular substances does not appear to be related to their harmful potential. The regulatory framework for legalization is already in place and would just require adjustments.
  • The younger the age of onset of use of any psychoactive substance, the higher the potential for abuse in later life. People who haven’t used any substance by the time they reach their early 20s are very unlikely to ever abuse. Postponing the age of substance initiation is therefore the most efficient way to contain and reduce abuse. Paradoxically, under the prohibitionist regime, minors often have easier access to illicit drugs than adults. They are primary targets of drug dealers and foot soldiers and cannon fodder of narco-trafficking, especially in developing countries.
  • The prohibitionist regime pushes users towards the most dangerous substances and the most dangerous modes of administration. A properly regulated marketplace would nudge users towards the least dangerous substances by placing barrier of access commensurate to the potential harm of each substance and each mode of administration.
  • The accelerated industrialization of emerging countries brought about rapid and largely chaotic urbanization, causing social dislocation and breakdown of traditional norms. This in turn lowers barriers to deviance, providing a fertile ground for criminal elements to flourish and for the spread of substance abuse. As a result, illicit drug use is on the rise in most of the world, fueled in part by the global youth culture, permeated by drug culture from its pop stars to its sports stars.
  • The problem is exacerbated in transiting countries, as many drug transactions are paid in kind, feeding the local drug market, creating one where it previously didn’t exist. Thus, narco-violence in transiting countries is increasingly related to control of local markets rather than control of transiting routes. Latin America has been hit particularly hard, with casualties exceeding 50,000 in Mexico alone over the past 6 years, while all of Central America, especially Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador, is engulfed in narco-violence.
  • Emerging countries cannot afford to spare their already stretched resources on implementing efficient prohibitionist policies when even developed countries, despite all theirs resources, have been unable to do so.
  • Bottom line: Organized societies should be capable to do a far better job than organized crime at managing and controlling the currently illicit substances.

Understanding the illegal drugs market place

For all practical purposes, the illegal drug market place operates like a network marketing system. It is all based on contacts with each link usually knowing only those immediately before and after him; protection and secrecy increase as you move up the supply-chain. The substances reach the end-consumer through convoluted circuits with myriads of interconnected intermediaries where the last link in the supply chain are typically heavy users and addicts, who often resell to casual users in order to subsidize their habit. Just like with alcohol or tobacco, heavy users and addicts represent 80 to 90% of the market, depending on the substance. In the case of illegal drugs, heavy users and addicts supply 80 to 90% of the casual users, and do most of the recruiting and initiation. They are also, by far, the weakest link in the supply-chain. Removing heavy users and addicts from the supply-chain can shrink the market by over 90%. In order to fill the void, mid to low-level wholesalers, the typical suppliers to heavy users and addicts, and used to operating in relative shadow, would need to reach out to casual users or try to recruit initiates, an unreliable marketplace, and one filled with the most perils.

Trying to put all heavy users and addicts behind bars is not the solution though. It would be (and has been) an extremely costly exercise in futility. One key part of my proposed strategy consists in effectively and inexpensively removing heavy users and addicts from the supply-chain.

In order to remove abusers and addicts from the supply-chain and in order to reduce recruiting and initiation, abusers and addicts should have subsidized access, preferably conditioned to administration on premises in specialized establishments. This is, by far, the most efficient way to drastically reduce initiation, especially if high barrier of access are placed on casual use of the most damaging substances.

Such a strategy has the added benefit of reaching out to a frequently marginalized population. Once contact is established, it becomes possible to nudge the problem user towards treatment and bring him back to less harmful behavior and patterns of use or even abstinence altogether.

Strategic choices

Based on the acceptance that people will use mind-altering modalities, policies should nudge users towards the least harmful substances and the least harmful modes of administration, according to local conditions and cultures. Chewing coca leaves or drinking coca teas is vastly preferable to snorting or injecting cocaine. Ingesting or smoking opium is vastly preferable to injecting heroin. Marijuana is a relatively harmless substance that should have never been bundled with heroin, cocaine or metamphetamines. Regulation should reflect the differences between substances and modes of administration.

Therefore, regulations should differentiate between hard drugs (heroin, cocaine, metamphetamines) and soft drugs (cannabis/marijuana, coca leaves and preparations, opium in Asia).

Soft drugs should be regulated similarly to alcohol and tobacco, with added restrictions on advertising and packaging and adequate taxation to cover societal cost of abuse, but not to the point of reigniting the illegal marketplace. Taxation should follow international norms to avoid inter-countries smuggling.

Within hard drugs, differentiation should be made between injection, inhalation and other modes of administration. Hard-drugs should generally be dispenses through a prescription model.

Legalization and regulation is only the first step towards reducing the harms linked to substance abuse and addiction. It must be accompanied by efficient prevention and treatment policies.

Global legalization under a multi-tier “legalize, tax, control, prevent, treat and educate” regime is not only possible, it is the only long-term solution to this seemingly intractable problem. Far from giving up, and far from an endorsement, controlled legalization would be finally growing up, being realistic instead of being in denial, being in control instead of leaving control to the underworld. It would abolish the current regime of socialization of costs and privatization of profits to criminal enterprises, depriving them of their main source of income and making our world a safer place.

Weakening the global narco-traffic through global legalization will not solve all crime and violence problems, but it will relieve some pressure and remove a major source of corruption and lawlessness, allowing reallocation of resources to the most harmful criminal activities.

For a more detailed expose of the proposed roadmap to legalization and control, I refer my readers to the closing chapter of “World War-D”.

Modes of administration – evolutionary adaptive gaps

Modes of administration – evolutionary adaptive gaps

Humans are (so far) the most evolved species within the ecosystem of planet Earth, and the end result of a long evolutionary process going back to the primordial soup, out of which, as the dominant theory goes, all forms of life differentiated and evolved. It is increasingly apparent that the competition-driven Darwinian model is incomplete and that evolution is driven just as much by cooperative interaction as by competition, the yin and yang of evolution. Cooperation as a major force of evolution may have escaped evolutionists because of its ubiquity: for billions of years, life on our planet consisted of unicellular organisms that eventually congregated to form unicellular systems and then multicellular organisms. Interactive cooperation allowed the division of labor and the creation of specialized cells that eventually congregated in organs, allowing further specialization and differentiation, thus speeding up the evolutionary process. Just imagine survival of the fittest ruling the cells of your brain or your liver! Likewise, the major driving force of social systems, whether in the animal or human kingdom, is not competition, but interactive cooperation.

All life forms co-evolved interdependently in competitive symbiosis in which the vegetal kingdom plays a critical and distinctive role in the evolution of the animal kingdom. The vegetal kingdom provides directly or indirectly to the animal kingdom not only its food, but also its medicine, as well as substances that affect its mind, and may have been key to some critical evolutionary steps. This is indeed one of the great wonders and mysteries of life, and a powerful testimony to the prevalence of cooperation in the evolutionary process. The affinity between plants like poppy and cannabis and some of the most fundamental systems of brain activity, the dopaminergic and the cannabinoid system, both found in even the most primitive animal species, is nothing short of remarkable. Likewise, alcohol, as we will see in the chapter dedicated to that substance, is not only present in interstellar space, it was most likely one of the ingredients of the primordial soup theorized to be at the origin of life.

Humans co-evolved with psychoactive substances of natural origin in symbiosis with the vegetal kingdom. However, concentrates and extracts, such as distilled alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or amphetamines, or purely synthetic drugs, as well as direct routes of administration such as injection or inhalation, are novel features of our environment. As such, they create an evolutionary adaptive gap and are inherently pathogenic, although their use may be safe and warranted in some circumstances.[1]

Psychoactive substances can cross the blood-brain barriers and can be absorbed via various pathways. The digestive system, via the oral route, is the overly prevalent channel of administration of food and other substances in the animal kingdom, and is set up to withstand a wide variety of ingests. Furthermore, substances absorbed through the digestive system take a relatively long time to reach the brain as they are partly metabolized within the digestive system and the liver before they can reach the brain, which they do gradually. Therefore, ingestion is always the least dangerous and least addictive form of administration for a given substance.[2] The digestive administration process can be modulated to a certain extent. Thus, substances taken on an empty stomach reach the brain much faster than when they are taken with a meal.

The lungs, on the other hand, were designed to absorb air, and not much else. Even the smell of roses and other olfactory environmental signals are meant for the olfactory system located within the nose cavity, and not for the lungs. The lungs having a fractal structure, their total surface area is about the size of a tennis court, allowing fast and efficient oxygenation of the blood. Absorption through the lungs is extremely fast and powerful. Substances than can be absorbed through the lung tissue promptly reach the brain. Smoked heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine reach the brain within seconds of inhalation and peak within minutes. However, as we will see in a further chapter, cannabinoids and THC are different as they are strongly lipophilic. Their access to the brain is delayed upon inhalation, and the maximum “high” of cannabis is reached within 15 to 30 minutes.

As for veins, they were never designed to be punctured. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that intravenous injection is the fastest, most powerful and most damaging form of administration. Nasal absorption is notably slower than inhalation but still quite powerful and fast acting. Still, the nasal tissue is not meant to absorb anything more than infinitesimal doses of subtle and not so subtle aromatic substances ranging from utterly repulsive to sublime, from skunks to roses. Sublingual absorption is another fast track to the brain that is about on a par with nasal absorption. Chewing, such as chewing coca leaves or tobacco, involves a substantial amount of absorption through sublingual and other buccal mucosae.

Recreational drug users are motivated by the hedonistic reward provided by the substance. For most psychoactives except psychedelics, the intensity of the hedonistic reward depends in large part on the acuity of the peak intensity and the speed to reach this peak. A gradual rise of psychoactive concentration in the brain allows it to somewhat adapt to the substance and to modulate its effects to a certain extent, smoothing out its most damaging effects. A steep peak, on the other hand, doesn’t allow any adaptation; the more intense the peak, the more acute its effect. The most acute peaks create a surge of pleasurable sensation, the “rush” described by many injecting addicts, that they crave intensely. The steeper the peak, the more intense the rush, the more acute and disruptive will be the effects on the brain, causing a homeostatic imbalance which results in chronic dysregulation of the brain reward mechanisms and the brain’s neurotransmission in general.

Routes of administration that result in the rapid entry of a substance into the brain and/or faster rates of delivery have a greater effect on the neurotransmission systems in the brain, especially the reward systems, producing sensitization. Hard liquors are more damaging than beer or wine, especially on an empty stomach. Smoked opium reaches the brain faster and is more addictive than ingested opium. Injection and inhalation of active ingredients such as amphetamine, heroin or cocaine have the quickest entry and fastest rates of delivery. Therefore, they represent the most drastic evolutionary gap and have the most damaging effects.

Set and setting, expectation and intentionality affect the neuronal epigenetic environment. As such, they may influence the effects of particular substances. Thus, ritualistic use of tobacco where the plant is used with veneration and respect is vastly different from chain smoking of industrial cigarettes. Likewise, chronic pain sufferers under long-term opiate medication can usually discontinue without much problem once their medication is not needed anymore.[3] The absence of secondary reinforcers in the case of pain medication probably plays a critical role in preventing addiction. Nowhere is the set and setting more important than in the use of psychedelics.

[1] Randolph M. Nesse* and Kent C. Berridge, “Psychoactive Drug Use in Evolutionary Perspective,” Science 278, 63, 1997.

[2] Cannabis is somewhat an exception as ingested cannabis has stronger psychoactive effects than smoked cannabis (see Chapter 10).

Endocannabinoid news

The endocannabinoid system of the skin in health and disease: novel perspectives and therapeutic opportunities

An interesting research paper from the NIH on the newly discovered cutaneous endocannabinoid system. The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids to control cell proliferation should warrant further studies. Too bad our lawmakers most likely never bother to read such studies. It probably flies well over their heads.

Here is the conclusion of the paper: “Collectively, it seems that the main physiological function of the cutaneous ECS is to constitutively control the proper and well-balanced proliferation, differentiation and survival, as well as immune competence and/or tolerance, of skin cells. Pathological alterations in the activity of the fine-tuned cutaneous ECS might promote or lead to the development of certain skin diseases. Therefore, it is envisaged (this is also strongly supported by pilot studies) that the targeted manipulation of the ECS (aiming to normalize the unwanted skin cell growth, sebum production and skin inflammation) might be beneficial in a multitude of human skin diseases. However, to predict the real therapeutic potential and translate the exciting preclinical observations discussed earlier into clinical practice, numerous important questions should carefully be addressed (Box 2). Nevertheless, targeting the cutaneous ECS for therapeutic gain remains an intriguing and provocative possibility warranting future studies.”

Further recommended readings:

“The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy”

“Endocannabinoids Modulate Human Epidermal Keratinocyte Proliferation and Survival via the Sequential Engagement of Cannabinoid Receptor-1 and Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid-1”