Posts Tagged 'Big Pharma'

Perverse Incentives II: Prozac™ Nation

[ US & Them IUs & Them IIUs & Them IIIUs & Them IV ]

cannabis-caduceusThe modern pharmaceutical industry has evolved entirely during the era of marijuana prohibition. When Anslinger declared war on weed, pharmaceutical chemistry and, most particularly, psychiatric chemistry were barely in gear. Prior to 1937, a significant percentage of remedies in the AMA register made medicinal use of cannabis, and yet by the 1970s the medical establishment had declared marijuana to have no medical uses, in order to classify it as a Schedule I narcotic. How did the majority of the US medical establishment reverse their view on a drug in just two generations? Here, again, we see the power of Hearst propaganda, but we also see another perverse incentive at work; there’s money to be made in banning cannabis.

The pharmaceutical lobby, which I shall follow Ben Goldacre and refer to as Big Pharma, came into existence during the era of designer drugs which emerged after the Second World War. Chemists were, with remarkable speed, finding new and interesting ways to mess about with biochemistry, and many of these inventions were quite genuine medical miracles. But along the way, a bizarre incentive arose; important US institutions make more money if people have to go to a doctor and buy a pill than if people don’t. Health being too good is a problem for Big Pharma.

A parallel problem is people having access to effective remedies no-one owns a patent on. And that’s the problem Big Pharma have with cannabis. We’re all accustomed to scientists debunking natural remedies; this is because a great many such ‘remedies’ are pure hokum, like homeopathy. Others, however, work; willow bark does treat headaches, and quinine did cure malaria. But for the accident of Anslinger, the things we now know and can prove about cannabis as a valuable self-medication for pain, depression, insomnia, and muscular spasmodic conditions would have become common knowledge in the 1950s. Cannabis is a natural remedy for a number of basic ailments which you can make at home, and if it were accepted as such a great many less people would be taking depression medication or popping paracetomol. And that means big money wants cannabis to remain prohibited.

Continue reading ‘Perverse Incentives II: Prozac™ Nation’

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Rawhide!

“This … is an economic land grab. It is the process of taking a criminal industry away from criminals.”        – Hugo Riffkind

In between the investigatory series on the War on Drugs it’s time for another Ball, Rolling round-up of interesting things that have happened in the last few days. So in no particular order:

When the levee breaks…
"We can't stop here..."I commented before that one of the really noticeable effects on journalists of the ballot legalisations in Colorado and Washington is that lots and lots of people are suddenly writing articles they’d never have dared write before, and getting them published in places that would never have offered them a platform prior to 2011. Apparently this kind of combination of a trail-blazer with a tipping-point in popular politlal cover applies to states and nations:

But Mujica reminded that Yans did not say a word about the US states of Colorado and Washington, which also legalized marijuana.

“Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world’s strong countries?”

The Torygraph continues to take an interest, doing a brief survey of the state of play in the US of A. And it’s not all bad news in the UK press, either: there’s an attempt at a cannabis cafe in Manchester. We’ve got an interesting review of changing attitudes around the world, and an update on the polling numbers in the US. Big Pharma is interested in Uruguay, and China wants to play. The celebrity chefs have joined the brave new world: even the Swiss are catching up.

And from the world of Science…
cannabis-caduceusIt’s been a good week for real data. We have a better idea of why cannabis does not in fact cause insanity, criminality and death. We already knew that cannabis helps kill cancer but this is useful confirmation. Mainly, though, I wanted to draw people’s attention to one aspect of the medical science on cannabis, which also interacts with the social science and with the enormous, lucrative and vigorous corporate opposition to ending the War on Drugs. You see, cannabis may repair the brain damage already done by alcohol. This is one of many reasons that scientific authors since the 70s have been arguing, successfully, that legalising pot would reduce alcohol use by up to 25%, and problem alcohol use by potentially a great deal more than that. I’ll address why this causes big alcohol conglomerates to fund prohibition later on in my ongoing Prohibition series.

In more detail…
A couple of particular entrants into the debate in the UK press have caught my eye for closer investigation. I did wonder about writing a rebuttal to John Rentoul’s rather bumbling Indy piece, but I didn’t feel I needed to. This will be read by a lot more people than my hypothetical piece anyway, and is quite good. But it does perpetuate one mistake made Rentoul and many others:

I think there is quite a lot of evidence suggesting a link between heavy cannabis use among teenagers and mental health problems, particularly schizophrenia. I remember being convinced of this even before much of the recent evidence emerged – one of my best friends from school, a heavy cannabis user, was Sectioned at 17 and has been in and out of ‘sheltered’ accommodation ever since.

For one thing, and I quote Jason Schiffman [1]:”The onset of schizotypal symptoms generally precedes the onset of cannabis use. The findings do not support a causal link between cannabis use and schizotypal traits.” To go on with, findings of schizotypal symptoms associated with heavy cannabis use in non-schizophrenic teenagers are temporary, not permanent, and cannabis does not erode your brain: “They concluded that the heaviest users may have a decrease in their ability to learn and remember information, but that this effect was so small as to be ‘acceptable’.”

By contrast, Hugo Riffkind’s piece in the Spectator is pretty good throughout. My niggles are small (why do several journalists seem to think Uruguay started this ball rolling, when the whole point is that Mujica needed the political cover provided by Colorado and Washington to act?) I mostly wanted to highlight a couple of priceless quotes:

Our media, for obvious reasons, often seems to give the impression that the great evil of the criminal drugs trade is the way that it makes some middle-class kids do unexpectedly poorly in their A-levels. […] a worse evil is the way it makes into criminals people who would otherwise not be.

Well, indeed. And I’ll finish with this one:

If you want to end the war on drugs, the only real solution is to find a way to stop fighting it without surrendering to the bad guys. The triumph here is that people have finally made a more sensible assessment of just who the bad guys are.

[1] In “Symptoms of Schizotypy Precede Cannabis Use,” published Mar. 30, 2005 in Psychiatric Research.

Weekly Trawl

Meanwhile, up in the tokey mountains...

In a Denver hotel.

I spent most of last week away from the keyboard, between band rehearsals and the gig last night, visiting my parents and niece, jobhunting and various other shenanigans. There’s been a lot happening in the world, and a chunk of it is relevant to my long-form series that’s still on-going (hence today’s illustration). I read a lot of things but haven’t had time to do any writing, so I need to get back on track. To that end I’m going to dump a brief cull of the most interesting stuff I saw go past while I was away from the keyboard.

1. Popery
Andrew Sullivan is still keeping a very close eye on Pope Francis. I have relatively little to add to Sully’s analysis so far; certainly, what I expected from the early reports doesn’t seem to be the way this Pope is going to swing. I doubt the Vatican Rag is going to be adopted into the liturgy any time soon, but in an institution so weighed down with symbols and subtext, Pope Francis is certainly sending signals that he’s going to be interesting to watch.

2. Austerians and other plagues.
Quite a bit of interesting economic stuff, with several entries from Prof. Krugman. From column a, we start with the news that the EU is actually managing this economic crisis worse than its interwar counter-parts did. The Prof catches John Boehner lying about Lincoln. He remarks once again that trickle-down isn’t, and there’s this excellent NYT Op-ed on California. Krugman is, particularly for him, quite subtle in this one, but if you were paying attention to the 112th Congress you cannot miss implications for Washington.

In other news, the Angry Bear is speaking of inequality and Mike Konczal at WaPo is thinking about the problems with rentiers. And Vinay Gupta is back in the saddle, with this rather interesting look at how to think outside the capitalist / communist dichotomy.

3. Freedom & Liberty: one of these things is not like the other.
Matt Yglesias notes, via the Mercatus Foundation’s interesting worldview, that US libertarianism has some joined-up thinking problems. Examining the prejudices embedded in their system for analysing the comparative ‘free’-ness of various US states, Yglesias notes several points of friction:

Some of the problem here arise from arbitrary weighting of different categories in order to simultaneously preserve libertarianism as a distinct brand and also preserve libertarianism’s strong alliance with social conservatism. Consequently, a gay man’s freedom to marry the love of his life is given some weight in the rankings but less than his right to purchase a gun with minimal hassle. A woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy or a doctor’s right to offer a pregnant woman treatment she considers appropriate are given zero weight. You might think at first that abortion rights are given zero weight for metaphysical reasons rather than reasons of cultural politics, but it turns out that permissive homeschooling laws are given weight as a factor in freedom. Children, in other words, are considered fully autonomous agents whose rights the state must safeguard vis-a-vis their own parents from birth until conception at which point they lose autonomy until graduation from high school.

Texas is deemed very economically free in most respects but it’s dinged for the fact that its local governments have relatively high levels of debt. What on earth does that have to do with freedom? This is simply a policy choice. Arguably, a correct policy choice. […] no normal person’s experience of freedom tracks the conclusion that New York is less free than South Dakota. You can, obviously, do a much wider range of things in New York than in South Dakota.

4. Grand Ornery Party
Andrew Kohut of Pew has an excellent (longish!) WaPo opinion piece on epistemic closure and the numbers which suggest that the culture warriors of the TEA-Party are losing. Now, I’m not one of those who thinks the GOP is about to go away, or that the bigots and billionaires they work for are not going to find representation somehow. Ezra Klein has a succinct rebuttal of the more hysterical viewpoints. But it does look, and increasingly so, like the mortal lock the religious right has had on the GOP primary process since the Gingrich revolution may be doing the party some structural, as well cyclic, damage.

5. And Finally…
That ball does just keep on rolling. In just the last few weeks…

On the medical front, we’ve got news that’s particularly interesting to me about the cannabinol which is good for your guts, and more evidence that Big Pharma and their governmental prohibitionist allies are starting to scramble a bit.

We’ve got a law blog armed with infographics. The progressive lobby now have their own SuperPAC. Maine wants to legalize, following Washington and Colorado last year. Rhode Island’s decriminalisation takes effect today (and the choice of date indicates someone over there has a sense of humour); and Vermont are talking about following suit. And all of this is just the recent developments inside the USA.

While mindful of Jonathan Bernstein’s second-favourite caveat, this looks suspiciously like momentum. And as the activists who’ve been hammering on the Bible Belt’s brick intellects for twenty years over SSM can tell you, when momentum turns into progress it can take you by surprise.

Perverse Incentives II: Prozac™ Nation

[ US & Them IUs & Them IIUs & Them IIIUs & Them IV ]

cannabis-caduceusThe modern pharmaceutical industry has evolved entirely during the era of marijuana prohibition. When Anslinger declared war on weed, pharmaceutical chemistry and, most particularly, psychiatric chemistry were barely in gear. Prior to 1937, a significant percentage of remedies in the AMA register made medicinal use of cannabis, and yet by the 1970s the medical establishment had declared marijuana to have no medical uses, in order to classify it as a Schedule I narcotic. How did the majority of the US medical establishment reverse their view on a drug in just two generations? Here, again, we see the power of Hearst propaganda, but we also see another perverse incentive at work; there’s money to be made in banning cannabis.

The pharmaceutical lobby, which I shall follow Ben Goldacre and refer to as Big Pharma, came into existence during the era of designer drugs which emerged after the Second World War. Chemists were, with remarkable speed, finding new and interesting ways to mess about with biochemistry, and many of these inventions were quite genuine medical miracles. But along the way, a bizarre incentive arose; important US institutions make more money if people have to go to a doctor and buy a pill than if people don’t. Health being too good is a problem for Big Pharma.

A parallel problem is people having access to effective remedies no-one owns a patent on. And that’s the problem Big Pharma have with cannabis. We’re all accustomed to scientists debunking natural remedies; this is because a great many such ‘remedies’ are pure hokum, like homeopathy. Others, however, work; willow bark does treat headaches, and quinine did cure malaria. But for the accident of Anslinger, the things we now know and can prove about cannabis as a valuable self-medication for pain, depression, insomnia, and muscular spasmodic conditions would have become common knowledge in the 1950s. Cannabis is a natural remedy for a number of basic ailments which you can make at home, and if it were accepted as such a great many less people would be taking depression medication or popping paracetomol. And that means big money wants cannabis to remain prohibited.

Follow the Money

Expensive medicineThe Partnership for a Drug-Free America is a typical pressure group. They were the vehicle for much of Nancy Reagan’s moralizing: it was the PDFA which produced the infamous, risible fried-egg videos. They have a long and fact-free history of saying anything they can think of which will shut down dissent from the manufactured consensus that drugs are bad, mmkay? And right from the start, they’ve been funded by Big Pharma, receiving generous grants from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation: that is, from the personal philanthropic organ of chemical giant Johnson and Johnson.

This connection between the drug warriors and the industrial lobbies threads together each installment in this series. Every special interest which benefits from marijuana prohibition donates to the PDFA. Alongside any Big Pharma conglomerate which sells pain medication or anti-depression pills are a laundry list of the major alcohol producers, the Big Tobacco roster of habitual villains, and most recently the private prison operators. Prohibition remains federal law in the US because large and well-funded interest groups make very considerable amounts of money from it staying that way.

…the Partnership is not a genuine anti-drug effort, but a corporate/media back-patting consortium designed to scapegoat unpopular groups for illegal drug use while protecting the interests of legal-drug industries (who also purchase billions of dollars in media promotions)

For a group fighting drug abuse, the Partnership has taken cash from some odd parties—including American Brands (Jim Beam whiskey), Philip Morris (Marlboro and Virginia Slims cigarettes, Miller beer), Anheuser Busch (Budweiser, Michelob, Busch beer), R.J. Reynolds (Camel, Salem, Winston cigarettes), as well as pharmaceutical firms Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Merck & Company and Proctor & Gamble (Marin Institute Backgrounder, 2/97).

The Partnership recently announced it will quit its alcohol and tobacco habit but will continue to mainline pharmaceutical checks (Village Voice, 3/12/97). And its silence continues on America’s deadliest drug problems: tobacco (400,000 annual deaths), alcohol (100,000, including 20,000 from drunken driving), and pharmaceuticals (6,000 to 9,000).
                – FAIR.org

I’m going to talk about the medical uses of cannabis more extensively later in the series, at which point the financial interests of Big Pharma will rear their heads again. But some of the basics of this discussion are now very obvious. The evidence on cannabis as a cancer inhibitor, and as a treatment for MS sufferers and any other chronic pain condition, is not disputed. These are conditions in which patients must buy and take multiple, patented pills every day. If a significant percentage of those customers could grow their own or pick it up at cigarette prices from the local dispensary, Big Pharma loses an enormous amount of money. Even at the most basic level, cannabis is legendary for relieving stress and thus preventing the symptoms of stress; a heavily medicated, and thus very lucrative, public health problem which has arisen over the last thirty years. Cannabis stays banned in part because the pharmaceutical lobby don’t want the competition.

Legal cannabis is a threat to entrenched financial interests. It is a threat because it cannot be effectively controlled: seventy years and trillions of dollars have been wasted proving that. If Big Pharma can’t patent it, then they don’t want it around. But they like chemical abstractions such as Sativex, and by creating and promoting such patented products, Big Pharma drives a stake through the heart of the primary argument for maintaining cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance: that it has no recognised medicinal value.

The taboo on discussing cannabis prohibition has begun to crack because too much data is in the hands of too many people, and because for a long time now cannabis has violated the Iron Law of Prohibitions. The law lags behind society, and in so doing condemns thousands to unpleasant lives of violence and crime, because powerful men get rich from keeping it that way.

[ Perverse Incentives I – Perverse Incentives II – Perverse Incentives IIIPerverse Incentives IV ]


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Per Argument Ad Astra

Politics, history, economics and rampant speculation from a victim of the Great Recession, currently at large in the West Midlands.

"When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters."
                -- Adam Smith