Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Junk Science

It's a shame when politics corrupts science, because the public continues to distrust the scientists for politicizing their findings long after their transient policy goals are a distant memory. That's what's happening, in my view, to the National Institutes on Health's Institute on Drug Abuse.

This study purports to show us that marijuana use is especially dangerous, but I think it shows the opposite. The study found that pot smoking may cause slight narrowing of blood vessels hindering blood flow to the brain, which the researchers hypothesized may explain examples of memory loss. But the study also found higher blood flow levels to the brain overall among pot smokers, which seems contradictory. Whatever the case, here's the kicker:
After a month without cannabis - during which the volunteers agreed to remain in a clinic, with no access to marijuana - Cadet repeated the sonography. The resistance to blood flow of light and moderate users - who usually smoked an average of 11 and 44 joints per week, respectively - was starting to return to normal.
So for those smoking an average of 44 joints per week (!), the discovered ill effects wear off in a month once you quit. They wear off over a longer period for heavier smokers who quit. Either way, the vast majority of marijuana smokers are consuming a lot less than 44 joints per week, if only restricting their intake from pure economic motivations. A "joint" is a pretty imprecise measuring stick, but it sounds like folks who smoked up to a couple of ounces per week get over the described ill effects through abstinence in the short term. That says to me most people aren't at serious risk -- that's a helluva lot of pot smoking!

This junk science reminds me a lot of the problems with Texas' forensic labs -- part of the reason the work of forensic scientists helped convince convict innocent people in Texas is that scientists only answer questions prosecutors ask them, and prosecutors only ask questions where they think the answer will prove their case. That's a problem, because which questions scientists ask dictates, to a large extent, what answers they'll find.

So sure, when they study the fellow who smokes 50 JOINTS PER DAY, they find significant health concerns, but I wonder how bad they are compared to someone who, say, drinks a fifth of whiskey every day, which might be an equivalent level of substance abuse. In fact, I'll bet the 50-joint-per-day smoker has a lot of other problems, too -- where did they even find sombody who smokes that much pot, and how is it even remotely possible? I'll bet even Tommy Chong in his heyday never strung together too many 50 joint days in a row -- how in the world can this be considered indicative of what happens with "heavy use"? I'd have considered 44 joints per week pretty heavy use, but I'm no expert. Then, it would appear that at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the experts aren't so very expert, either, just well-credentialed shills for the drug war.

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