An outline for drug law reform

The essence of the my drug law reform policy is a kind of licensing system, similar to a driver’s license, whereby users are allowed to purchase and consume drugs once they’ve passed a test.

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Outlaw alcohol advertising

Alcohol clearly causes a lot of harm in New Zealand, from violence, to sexual assault, to addiction.

I think it would be heavy handed to try outright stop people from drinking.

However, a low hanging fruit for improving New Zealand’s drinking culture, would be to outlaw alcohol advertising – which serves to normalise our drinking culture.

A drugs license

A new form of ID, like a driver’s license would be created.

Purchasing drugs, including tobacco and alcohol and cannabis, would each require a separate endorsement on the license. The license would be required to be presented when purchasing the drug.

Acquiring endorsements

Acquiring an endorsement would require sitting a test that demonstrates that the user is aware of the risks and potential harms of the drug they are seeking endorsement for.

The risks that awareness is being tested for would be fact based.

The test might be administered by a doctor.

For example, the tobacco endorsement test might involve test that the user is aware that:

  • Tobacco has a high addiction potential
  • The yearly cost of a regular cigarette habit
  • The causal relationship between cigarette smoking and illness

The test for for alcohol endorsement might involve testing that the user is aware that:

Tests for cannabis are in my impression a little hard to find risks to tests for. Unlike alcohol and tobacco and alcohol, the risks of cannabis aren’t as pronounced as the relationship between cigarettes and cancer, or alcohol and car crashes.

As mentioned before – the risks awareness is being tested for, would need to be science and fact based. The New Zealand Drug Foundation provides a helpful, though not comprehensive summary of some health effects. 

You could test for awareness of things like:

  • Cannabis can cause anxiety
  • There’s the potential that cannabis exasperate symptoms for people already susceptible to mental illness.
  • The risk of psychological addiction.

Three categories of drugs

I would put drugs in three categories:

  • Recreational consumer drugs. eg. tobacco, alcohol, cannabis

    These drugs would be free for commercial sale to anyone who has the endorsement.

    The cannabis industry would like resemble the beer industry. You would have some large commercial operations, as well as craft operations.

  • Higher risk psychedelic drugs eg. MDMA (ecstacy), LSD

    These drugs would, as well as require the user to pass a test, would be prescription only. ie. everytime a user wanted to consume these drugs, they would need to ask their doctor for a prescription. This would prevent people from taking these drugs recklessly.

    An option to consider here is that psychedelics could only be administered by an authorised medical professional. What could happen is that drugs could be administered in a controlled, research manner, even if the situation was at a festival.

  • Addictive hard drugs. eg. methamphetamine, heroin

    These drugs should be treated as too dangerous to be administered freely.

    However, for people who are already addicted, their addiction should be treated as a health condition.

    Government run distribution centers that give administer the drugs, and track how much a user is using. At least that way addicts aren’t beholden to drug dealers, and the health system has a good deal of monitoring of peoples habits.

 

Pre-kiwiburn anxiety

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Friday 27th January, 1:30pm: I’m still in the office though I’m now off the clock. Going to write this as quickly as possible because if I’m going to make it to Kiwiburn before it gets dark, I really need to get moving. As an experiment I want to write and publish this post now, before I leave, and then compare it to how I feel when I get back.

I haven’t been to a festival in years. Like six years. I haven’t taken any psychedelics in the that time either. What’s commonly happened when I’ve been on psychedelics is that I’ve been all ‘This is really beautiful, but I’d be enjoying this so much more if I had my life sorted out’.

Since six years ago – its fair to say that I’ve gone through something of a positive transformation – albeit not without some major bumps on the road.

Where I was six years ago, was that I had just finished a year’s intensive supervision through the justice system, for my apparently incorrigible graffiti habits (I also received a second jail warning), and I was committed to not getting in trouble with the law again. New Zealand has clean slate legislation which means that your convictions will be wiped if you don’t offend for 7 years (providing you haven’t committed some serious offences, haven’t been to prison, and the clean slate applies in New Zealand only).

My convictions have been clean slated. I’m now employed in IT and am on a positive career trajectory. I have other projects I’m working on. My spending habits are for the most part under control. I have fairly healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ve since been diagnosed with ADHD and am generally better at impulse control.

I quit drinking six months ago – and the effects are mostly positive. I’m more energetic, my mood is better,  I save money (though I spend more on pinball now) and I’m losing weight. The downside, is that I’m easily agitated and quite impatient.

I’m starting to feel bored. 

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So, taking psychedelics kind of sounds like a good idea. I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve got my shit sorted (though of course I can always trim away my internet addiction, be a more pleasant person, and generally be more productive), so let’s have an inspiring psychedelic experience?

The context I like to take psychedelics in is at good music festivals. There’s good trippy music, other trippy people, and if that’s too much you can go hang out in nature.

I want to be clear – you don’t need to have drugs to enjoy a festival – but if you want to take drugs – I think a festival is a good place to take them.

Here’s the rub. I live in New Zealand and the police and customs are way too effective at their jobs. New Zealand, being a small country on the corner of the globe makes it easy to police contraband. In recent years there’s been growing discontent about the lack of cannabis at this time of year. Time magazine even wrote an article about it. 

Kiwiburn, the New Zealand equivalent of Burning Man had been on my radar since around November last year. But a combination of misreading the dates, not wanting to go if I didn’t have a big sack of weed to go with, and not having much leave accrued at work meant that I ultimately decided to pass this year.

Until last weekend – when I went to a small outdoor music gathering, enjoyed the music, and really wanting to have a holiday decided to go.

So my decision to go to Kiwiburn is decidedly last minute. I found a ticket, booked and my leave, and now (actually right now as I’m writing this, I feel ok) last night, I’m feeling quite anxious about going. Primarily, I’m concerned that I’m going to go to this festival, and be stuck there, not enjoying myself.

Specifically the concerns I have are:

  • I don’t have a tent. I thought I did, but apparently I’ve lost it. If it rains I’ll be screwed. I can hope/ask for shelter when I get there – but generally I don’t think it’s a good philosophy to rely on the kindness of strangers. I’m a capitalist like that.
  • No drugs. Am I going to be bored/uncomfortable being completely sober in a paddock somewhere?
  • FOMO – Relating to the drugs thing. Feeling like everyone around me is having a good time, and I’m not.
  • Fear of rejection – Because I’m in a situation where I need the help of strangers – I feel like if I’m refused that help that will be confirmation of my unlikableness.
  • I have to hitchhike. Fear of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

A lot of this comes down to my unpreparedness. Given that I only made the decision to go this week, a lot of these concerns would have been alleviated if I’d made the decision to go months ago – I would have had time to find a crew to go with etc.

And this comes back to impulsiveness – I feel like I may be making myself a victim of my own impulsiveness/second guessing myself. There’s comforting and respectable about being deliberate in your actions.

So that’s where I’m at now. Writing this has served to make me feel a bit more anxious, and I’m otherwise trying every mental trick I can to feel a bit better. At the moment I feel a mix of reasonable concern (‘is it going to rain?, where am I going to sleep?’), and nervous excitement. I guess that’s a good way to be.

See you in three days! 🙂

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Letter: Legalise ecstasy to improve safety

Date published: October 1, 2015

Relates to: ‘Dr Death’ chemical found in illegal drugs sold in Wellington

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Text: 

The recent case of contaminated ecstasy pills highlights the flaws of drug prohibition and makes a case for their legalisation (Deadly chemicals found in drugs, September 28).

Consumers of legal and regulated drugs can be assured that the drug they are consuming is what is said on the packet in the dosage stated.

While drugs like ecstasy do have their dangers such as addiction, so do all drugs, including alcohol and prescription medication. Research shows MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy pills) to be a much safer drug than the likes of alcohol.

Alcohol routinely kills people through overdose, causes people to cause bodily harm to themselves and others, and has a high addiction potential. Even given these dangers, many of us consider alcohol to be useful drug to assist relaxing and socialising.

Similarly MDMA is considered useful to assist therapy for PTSD, relationship therapy and other mood related functions.

The main danger that ecstasy users face, is not the danger from the MDMA, but from any potential other chemicals introduced by unscrupulous dealers cutting their product with other drugs. This danger would be resolved by allowing MDMA to be sold subject to regulation like other drugs.

Initial thoughts about an ADHD diagnosis.

Recently a psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADHD and prescribed me Ritalin, following talking to myself and my mother (whom she was asking questions about me as a child).

The purpose of this post is discuss my thoughts about the initial relevance and impact of this diagnosis.

It is also to document what my current understanding of ADHD is, before I do any serious research.

There are two common reactions I would like to discuss, when I’ve mentioned it to people.

  • “Are you relieved?”
  • “Is ADHD even a thing?”.

I think both of these are interesting and relevant discussion angles. I’d like to make it clear I don’t have a negative emotional response to either point.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we should discuss:

What is ADHD? 

ADHD, in my understanding, and it’s important this is only my current understanding, having not don’t much research, is mental condition characterised by three behavioural symptoms:

  • Impulsivity
  • Inattentiveness
  • Hyperactivity.

I think what’s important, is highlight that ADHD is defined by these symptoms, unlike a more tangible disease, like cancer, AIDS or the common cold, where you can physically see the cancer cells, or test for the virus.(Now arguably something like the common cold is more likely to be diagnosed by its symptoms, not by looking for the physical cause. However, if we wanted to prove it, we could still find the original virus).

ADHD on the hand, it’s unknown what ‘causes it’ – all the diagnosis is, is identifying the patient has this collection of distinct behavioral symptoms.

This does then, lend itself to the question ‘Is ADHD even a thing?’ – after all there is no virus or physically different brain structure to identify. (Actually the ADHD brain structure totally is different). 

My understanding is that ADHD is caused by naturally lower levels on dopamine in the brain – meaning that the ADHD brain is constantly looking for more stimulation in order to trigger a dopamine release. This is what causes the ADHD symptoms.

(NB. I’m aware that there’s a major contradiction here! On one hand I’m saying that ADHD is defined by its symptoms, and on the other I’m saying ADHD is caused by something. Edit coming soon).

The medication – stimulants, stimulate the brains as to satisfy this ‘itch’, and allow the person with ADHD to focus on what they were otherwise doing.

“Are you relieved?” 

The short answer is – yes, there was an immediate feeling of relief.

The rationale for this is pretty straight forward – if there is something that has been bothering you (and certainly there was, otherwise would not have been consulting a psychiatrist in the first place) then a diagnosis provides and answer and gives you direction to start tackling the problem – resources to read, people to talk to etc.

And certainly, looking at the symptoms of ADHD, the diagnosis does resound with me.

  • Impulsivity? Certainly when I was a teenager and my early 20s. These days I’d argue that I’m actually perhaps less impulsive than a lot people (I like knowing what I’m going to do).
  • Hyperactivity? Apparently as a kid, and at times yes, I like to dance about the office at times.
  • Inattentiveness? Frequently – and I think this sometimes annoys people when it seems that I’m not paying attention.

However, I’m quite aware of a psychological quirk called the Barnum effect.

Essentially the Barnum effect is the observation that certainly personality traits, though seeming specific, resonate with everyone.

These are traits like (straight from Wikipedia):

  1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
  3. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
  4. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
  5. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
  6. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
  7. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
  8. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
  9. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.
  10. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
  11. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
  12. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.
  13. Security is one of your major goals in life.

The Barnum effect is precisely the reason that horoscopes resonate with people. People read the characteristics of their star sign, and think ‘That’s so me!’.  But these characteristics, though seeming specific and individualistic, will actually resonate with anyone reading them.

So I’m aware that when I’m told that I exhibit these three particular behavioural symptoms, and I identify with them, that it’s possible that these are just simply particularly normal behavioural patterns, and not something specific to me.

A second consideration here is: “Ok, I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD – so what?”

Unlike something like cancer, or a brain tumour, where once the disease has been identified, it can be treated – the tumour can be removed – the diagnosis doesn’t actually change anything, I still need to deal with my life and behavioural patterns.

On this point, it’s not as entirely [helpless] as that. The diagnosis gives specific resources to consider using, or support groups to look at.

And the medication is something specific and will possibly help.

Is ADHD even a thing? 

This kind of question can be offensive to some. The same kind of thing can be applied to other conditions:

  • Is depression even a thing? Or are they just lazy?
  • Is gender disphoria even a thing? Or have they just sexually confused?
  • Is homosexuality even a thing? Or are they just a deviant?
  • Is otherkin even a thing? Or are the just a teenager looking for a unique identity?

(I’m trying to find examples where it’s you could at least have a debate whether it’s a ‘thing’ or not, I’m struggling a little).

I think certainly – it’s reasonable to see these things as a bit greyer than physical conditions like cancer or serious mental conditions like schizophrenia (unless all schizophrenic patients are faking or exaggerating the voices they hear, schizophrenics’ brains clearly operate dramatically differently to rest of us).

Make no mistake – there is controversy about whether ADHD is a thing.

When I went to the library to find books on ADHD entire books are dedicated to the controversy of ADHD.

It is a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), however it’s worth mentioning that the DSM isn’t infallible. A good example is how homosexuality used to be in the DSM – which I guess is subject to criticism because today homosexuality isn’t seen as something that needs to be managed or cured.

In my mind there are two controversies.

– Is ADHD even a thing?

In this day of internet, information and social media addiction, one could argue that short attention spans are simply a product of this world of instant data and a lot of it. I myself do have something of a social media habit. However, this arguments neglects that ADHD was recognised before the age of the internet.

Or in a different vein – ADHD is simply a different personality type, and not something that needs fixing or treating with stimulants.

I think that it’s reasonable to suggest that ADHD is a personality trait, just like people angering easily might be a personality trait, or people being shy might be a personality trait. But that doesn’t mean ‘therefore we shouldn’t do anything about it’. A shy person might find that they’re looked over for promotions for example, and so they’d do well to learn how to manage their personality such that they’re still able to have a progressive career.

– The treatment of ADHD with stimulants.

I think this is probably the more  solid controversy, where it’s a concern that especially we’re giving children reasonably powerful stimulants to manage the condition. The medical profession is criticised for not being creative in managing ADHD, and simply jumping straight to giving children stimulants.

My understanding is that overtime the use of stimulants and the diagnosis for ADHD has become more accepted.

Before my diagnosis a new age friend of my shared this video on her Facebook. This quite clearly shows the anti ADHD-diagnosis/anti-treatment viewpoint.

(When I googled I found another one which is a much stronger anti-drug message)

Bonus Round: Do you feel ripped off that you weren’t diagnosed earlier? 

This question came up from my psychiatrist, when I mentioned my blog Things David Has Lost.  She interpreted the blog title as an expression of regret, rather than its quite literal meaning.

The question here is reasonable – one could argue that had you been diagnosed and treated earlier then you might have been more focused at school, have a more advanced career by now etc.

But firstly that assumes that the ADHD diagnosis is useful in the first place, which we’ve already talked about.

And secondly, this is classic paradox of choice like thinking. When imagining what ‘could have been’ it’s easy to assume that that path would have been all smooth sailing, which isn’t necessarily the case.

Conclusion

Mainly – I want to read more to understand actually what ADHD is, and what it’s causes are.

I want to read about how medication is used to treat it.

Also – need to come in and tidy up some of the overt hanging threads in this post.