A Little Knowledge

Some years ago, I used to drink beer with a chemist, who told me that in the 1960s he was employed by a large pharmaceutical concern in the UK to make synthetic THC. The idea was, that this stuff being so wonderfully non-narcotic you might use it to make all kinds of nifty drugs — analgesics, anti-nausea pills, pretty much a you-name-it and sky’s-the-limit proposition. Of course the major problem they had with this plan wasn’t the successful synthesizing of THC, but governmental reluctance to make a brand new kind of way for hippies to, as my Dad used to say, “stoke up”…and so the chemists were charged with a task quite a bit more difficult than simply “making super-potent THC in the lab”. That part, apparently, was easy.

But it was making it so the THC molecule wouldn’t get anyone high, that was the problem…and, in the end, it killed the project. Because the drugginess of drugs isn’t incidental to their medical efficacy, you see: not many drugs don’t get you high, and not many drugs whose high-making properties you break out of them, can stay drugs for long afterwards. And so it was, claimed my old drinking buddy, with the THC molecule; try as they all might, they could not make their synthetic THC unattractive to recreational users, without also making it useless to patients. Much like morphine, one expects…or codeine…or alcohol or caffeine, for that matter, but in those days it was just not politically feasible to let this particular drug stay a drug even though a drug is all it was, it could not be allowed such a hall pass as morphine has, and so the project just sort of…

Went away, according to my old friend the chemist, and to this day it has never returned.


I used to care a lot about this, Bloggers, in a very particular way: because I felt it spoke with particular eloquence about what I take to be the major error of conservative thinking. “If you don’t like something that’s happening, make it illegal.” Because then it’s not your problem anymore, you see? Being only something that “the criminal element” does, its remedy than becomes simple imprisonment, and no further thought required. Punishment.

But punishment doesn’t solve problems. By its nature, punishment comes after the problems, and all it really does is make some sort of accounting of them. Not that this is just a dumb thing, or an unnecessary thing…punishment may not solve problems, but it does have its place. “Vengeance restores the cosmic balance”, to paraphrase Jung…or, hmm, perhaps “vengeance is the proper name of cosmic-balance-restoration”? Same same? So I don’t disparage “punishment” entirely, not at all, but merely note that for some people, punishment is the only measure they’re ever willing to contemplate. Some would prosecute the rain if they could, and fill all the prisons with buckets full of it, all stacked up in bunkbeds and let out in the yard for exercise…and I’m a big believer not just in the law, but in its intimate relationship with the public morality, however even I can see that only a little way further down this road lies Stalinism, where there may be a law that forbids the sky to be blue, or for winter to not be summer. That we must have a rule of law, and therefore laws against things, is not really open to disputation (not in a practical sense, anyway)…but there can be such a thing as a bad law, and there can be such a thing as an engine of bad law, and if we were to name the engines of bad law I would propose that the very first one be named “wilful denial of the facts”.


That’s still how I feel, but it’s not why I care about this story anymore. Because I caught something on TV the other night, a Nature Of Things documentary with David Suzuki, all about youth at risk of developing schizophrenia experiencing psychotic reactions to smoking pot. Understand, I’m pro-legalization, pro-recreational use of marijuana for that matter (though I don’t use it myself), but I’ve known a few people like this…and there’s no such thing as a drug that’s absolutely safe, anymore than there’s a such a thing as a drug you can’t like too much.

And it occurs to me that, now, that’s the very reason why we must move to legalize and regulate marijuana. Because it isn’t about the public morality anymore, but about the public safety — if David Suzuki’s show is right, then it’s more dangerous to young people to keep this stuff illegal, even illegal-but-decriminalized, than it is to make it fully legal.

Understand: I say “now it’s important”, because “now” is when I heard about it. None of this is really new information, it’s just that I never cared to know about it, in part because I never suspected there was anything to know. It was just, sort of…well, it was never on TV before, you know? But now I do know about it, so now I have no excuse for not being committed to legalization…because when people are getting sick, you don’t deal with it by making it illegal to get sick, do you? And you don’t say “well, they’re not really getting ‘sick’, because ‘sick’ is a thing that happens to the non-criminal element, the Good People…they’re not getting sick, they’re merely receiving the Lord’s just punishment”, because, hey…it may make you feel better to have all these neat little watertight compartments, but you still ought to know that they’re not gonna keep you from sinking when you hit an iceberg. And no one will tell you later that it was okay not to turn away because, after all, there was a law against icebergs hitting ships…

And it’s all about the business of THC vs. CBD, as many of you reading already know and have doubtless guessed, but it’s about more than that too. It’s about how do we manage this, how do we do it correctly from the beginning, what kind of steps can we take to make sure we minimize this problem, and how do we VOTE on it. Kids are gonna smoke pot. Kids are not going to be able to make good decisions about supply chains related to smoking pot. We can decrease the number of kids who get run over by the juggernaut of psychosis when they smoke pot. In other words, we can fix this, and it doesn’t have to mean that suddenly everyone’s a reefer addict or that they cease respecting their parents and God and the army, as they feared way back in the days when THC-based pain pills were spiked by the large British pharmaceutical concern my old drinking buddy worked for…

…Although there’s a funny thing about that, isn’t there? Because they were just going to use the super-potent THC, and they were going to use it for everything, so possibly — just possibly — the typical conservative error that so distresses and infuriates me was something that actually worked in our favour this one time? Like a stopped clock, we looked up and it just happened to be right, and we did not get a kind of…of…

…Of thalidomide for schizophrenics, or something, in the 1970s?

So maybe it never returned, but its fate hasn’t remained still unlearned, and to be completely honest it is something I never expected to have my head turned around about, so I am still a little bit shocked by it all, and most shocked of all by how conservative attitudes of the late 60s turned out to be something other than 100% full of shit. Mind you, it’s also true that the stopped clock is only right twice a day; I would expect a whacked-out right-wing person to spout something now about how “individuals are foolish but the culture is wise”, and go on to say maybe we had better keep pot illegal, you know just in case…except (I would say to that person) it isn’t noon or midnight anymore, the “in case” has already come, and this time the culture seems to be against the conservative position because eveybody pretty much smokes it now, Presidents and Prime Ministers have smoked it, high-school principals (I happen to know for a fact) do smoke it, of course kids smoke it, and our knowledge about it has grown to the point where the only real question isn’t “is it dangerous” but “is it getting more dangerous”, and if the answer to that question is “yes” then it seems like making a law against it being more dangerous, or just making the old illegality twice as illegal, is not going to confine the damage to the Bad People while leaving the Good People all untouched…

…Which, obviously, would be the only point of making a law like that.

But, denial being the stock-in-trade of conservative governments, and denial of fact being the engine of their Bad Law, I think we can expect to see some moves in that direction regardless. Will it matter? That sort of depends on us, in the following funny way: because conservative governments are notoriously anti-science, and in my country at least they have done whatever they can (it seems) to take scientific knowledge out of public hands, so they obviously think that if we see it we will act on it…

And if that’s true, then they may suppress and suppress and de-fund and de-fund, but they can’t suppress and de-fund all of it, and science doesn’t respect the line between Good People’s Issues and Bad People’s Issues, so eventually — eventually! — the sky will be revealed as blue, and winter and summer will peel apart into different seasons, and we will deal with this problem…!

Or, alternatively, their fears will prove groundless, and we will all be as placid moo-cows about it…but either way it’s all up to us, and whether or not we choose to believe in the science we’ve got: choose to seek it out, report on it, listen to it, and think about what’s the most responsible way to act on it. Right now, somewhere out there is a kid who’s about to get a very big and very nasty surprise from his black-market bathtub-gin pot. In five years, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Washington State did it.

We should do it too.

Because if a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then obviously a little knowledge is what we need to have less of. I asked my Dad not long ago if he can feel the feedback loops getting tighter all around him…he said that back in the 50s if you threw a can of oil into the sea, you knew that it would be decades and decades before you had to worry about the potential consequences…but now if you throw a paper cup into the garbage instead of the recycling, you know somewhere a panda gets cancer five minutes later. We are not quite off the highway yet, we lucky people, but from the top of the occasional rise we can see the outskirts of the city of Scarcityville within the circle of our horizon, and it’s getting harder and harder to ask “are we there yet” and get any answer but “it’s all around us; we’re already here”. But it isn’t all disaster plain-and-simple; knowing that the thrown-away coffee cup gives the panda cancer is also to know beyond a doubt that we can affect the way things are, and so long as we don’t succumb to thoughtless assumptions left over from the less-aggressively connected days of the 20th century we can even affect them for the better. What should we expect, from a legalization of marijuana? We should expect that the knowledge accumulated by edge-of-society researchers is now given value by the government in charge of regulating the stuff, and is actively sought-out and catalogued, and dignified at the very least with a vote of thanks. We should expect that government is willing to do more than just collect taxes on it, or soak Parkinson’s patients with inferior non-custom-bred weed developed by guys with marketing degrees from community colleges. What we should expect from a government willing to legalize marijuana is that it should also be willing to work hard on it, that it should be willing to enlist and to educate members of the general public, and that it should be willing to put that public’s interest first from the very beginning. It’s time for a new kind of Drug Czar, you know?

David Suzuki would be fine with me, for that. I trust David Suzuki. Because he’s a biologist.

Maybe we need that more for this, right now, than we need a chemist.

But anyway I am sure we need something.

At least: more information.

Thanks for listening, Bloggers! And let’s get out the vote, if we can.

Uh…not exactly sure for what, yet…


5 responses to “A Little Knowledge

  1. The idea being that black-market pot is often bred up to have very high levels of THC, thus corresponsingly lower levels of CBD — the former being the cannabinoid responsible for the psychotic episodes, and the latter being the cannabinoid that buffers against the psychotic episode.

    And if it were legalized, we could ensure that the pot which is easiest to get is not the high-octane THC stuff. Which no doubt you would still be able to get. But then you can also get heroin, you know? And coupled with some decent pot education, legalization might help to insulate at-risk kids from exposure to the pot they most of all shouldn’t smoke.

    Doesn’t seem very complicated to me, anymore! Not that it seemed particularly complicated before, but it seems really uncomplicated now. I don’t want that kid having that freakout.

  2. Obviously, I shouldn’t post while sleepy…today just staring at the title thinking:

    “Why isn’t this ‘Nip It In The Bud’, what was I thinking?

    Reminds me of a few Christmases ago, mebbe around the 23rd, possibly the actual 24th…a neighbour of mine gets into the elevator with boxing gloves over her shoulder, and I say:


    And I guess she probably kind of looks at me funny, then, because on some level must she not have been expecting:

    “Oh no, it isn’t Boxing Day already! I’ve missed Christmas?!”

    Or something like it, and should I not have been able to deliver this?

    Oh well.

  3. The thing with modern conservatism (and maybe I am stealing this from somebody or somewhere?) is that it doesn’t seem to be able to distinguish “I feel” from “I think” — that you can be against something personally but also permit it to exist. It’s like how “Kirby signed a contract!” dudes seem to believe that because something is legal it is therefore also be acceptable and right.

  4. The classic response to me saying “I don’t want that kid out there tonight to have a psychotic episode”, for an authoritarianism-inclined person, would I guess be to say:

    Well, the kid shouldn’t be smoking the stuff!

    Which, okay, maybe you’re right, but that “shouldn’t” isn’t doing anything to prevent or mitigate the psychotic reaction, so…that isn’t a solution at all, unless you plan on just doubling the shouldn’t’veness or something…

    “That kid REALLY shouldn’t be smoking the stuff!”

    Which, I guess we could try it, but as a public health initiative it seems a little on the unimaginative side. Ha, I’ve asked a bunch of people what they’d do if they were made temporary Dictator of B.C., and more than a few times I’ve gotten back some fairly alarming answers.

    “Sorry, Plok, I know you’re a smoker, but…I’d cut off all smokers from the health care system. You brought this on yourself, so the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

    But what if I break my leg?


    Or what if I get hit by a car? Or break my leg from being hit by a car? Or, no, wait, what if I get hit by a car that’s being driven by a drunk driver, and I break my leg?

    “Well, I don’t…”

    And do I still have to pay the same taxes as you do, if I’m not getting the medical coverage you are? Because that seems a bit unfair…here I am, bleeding to death in the street…are you at least going to arrest the drunk driver? Will you at least make him pay my funeral costs?

    “Hey, I didn’t mean…”

    Of course you didn’t.

    That’s the problem.

    I always think the anti-Kirby people are in some way simply trying to avoid blame, you know? Not even in the sense of “I don’t want to be accused of being an asshole for buying these comics so I’ll say that I’m not an asshole because fuck Kirby, he signed a contract”, but more basically “I’ve totally done shady shit to people, and I cover it up by saying they brought it on themselves…so if I say the shady shit done to Kirby is something he didn’t bring on himself then maybe the people I’ve jerked around didn’t bring it on themselves either, so fuck Kirby, he signed a contract.” Huh, and it’s a pretty low opinion I seem to have of the anti-Kirby crowd, isn’t it? But human ugliness is everywhere, even in perfectly nice people who are friends of mine but who would totally take away my medical coverage if they were given the power to do so…

    Sorry, bit of an unfocussed reply! Just got back from the beach…

  5. Oh, and now Peter McKay, the Boy Who Never Grew Up of our Parliamentary process, has said Justin Trudeau showed “poor judgement” by smoking pot…like, EVER.

    These guys live in SUCH a dream world. If Paul Martin, a sitting PM and fuddy-duddy of the first water, can admit to having smoked pot, surely Justin Trudeau can do no harm by admitting the same?

    Though I must say I don’t trust Justin much on policy…

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