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Are drugs always wrong and should logic be ditched?

Broken Heart Syndrome

          You really can die of a broken heart or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which occurs when one of the heart’s chambers, the left ventricle, suddenly expands and weakens, writes Martha Vaughan in the Herald (‘Scots scientists aiming to solve the riddle of Broken Heart Syndrome’, June 30th, 2022).  It is a response to emotionally traumatic events, causing the heart to be no longer able to pump blood round the body is impaired.  The condition affects 5000 people per year in the UK, mostly women, and most recover from the condition, which causes at least 7% of heart attacks. 

          The British Heart Foundation is funding a research programme to establish a baseline programme for a little-known condition.  Men and women are affected differently by cardiovascular disease, a fact only now being recognised by the medical profession.

Should Drug Addiction be a Crime?

          Comparisons are being made between Scotland and other similar-sized European countries in an attempt to cut Scotland’s unenviable drugs death total (‘Can Scotland learn from liberal Lisbon’s approach to addiction?’, Caroline Wilson, Herald, 19/06/22).  Drug consumption facilities have turned things around there, with a third such facility due to be set up.  Scotland currently lags behind due to being hamstrung by UK drugs laws, says the Scottish government.

          The UK is reluctant to change what is punishable under the Misuse of Drugs Act.  But drug abuse brings a host of other problems, public places littered with drug paraphernalia, crime and the misery of seeing desperate addicts on the streets.  For the addicts and their families it is a lifetime of lost possibilities and cities turned into no-go zones.         

          Labour MSP Paul Sweeney has launched a consultation aiming to overturn legal barriers to drug consumption centres, which also link users to the health and social care systems.  Portugal decriminalised the possession of drugs including heroin in 2001 with a reduction of one quarter of the number of drug deaths over five years. They also introduced other programmes like needle exchanges and substance analysis, which screened out many harmful substances, and they treat drug addiction as a health problem rather than a crime.

          In 2019, Portugal had only 72 drugs deaths compared with 1264 in Scotland. In the past year Scotland saw a 20% fall to 1187, but this is still way over comparable countries.

          Dorothy Bain QC, the Lord Advocate, is looking for ways round the UK laws which forbid drugs consumption rooms.  Scotland has missed its target of implementing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) standards, which should have been rolled out across all of Scotland’s 29 alcohol and drug partnerships by April 2022. The deadline is now April 2023 for half the total standards. 

          Ricardo Fuertes, who set up Lisbon’s first mobile drug facility, warns Scotland against just adopting other countries’ laws, but urges listening to users, families and communities, as well as those who work with them as the key to finding solutions.  He also says that it is not a static decision.  Laws need updated as circumstances change. 

But…. California

          Recreational use of cannabis has been legal in California since 2016, and today about 20% of Californians use it regularly. It is marketed stylishly and expensively in so-called ‘wellness’ shops, as an alternative healing, writes Eve Simmons in the Mail on Sunday, 3/07/22 ‘How California’s legal cannabis dream became a public health nightmare’.  It is claimed to ease aching muscles, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, arthritis and much else. The shops can be in trendy art galleries, and industry turnover is about £8bn, £2.5bn of which is tax.

          But the dark side of this is increasing addiction and mental illness, particularly among teens, with families torn apart. Emergency medics describe the depressive breakdowns, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts linked to cannabis use.  Hospital admissions have risen from 1,400 in 2005 to 16,000 in 2019 related to cannabis use alone.  Rates of addiction in California and 18 other states which have legalised use are almost 40% higher than in states who have not legalised it.  It increases the risk of accidents.  Ironically it has even exacerbated the black market, with new providers undercutting the legal outlets. The illegal market in California is worth £6 bn.  Drug dealers and gangs set up shop as dispensaries when it was legalised in California.

          Initially marketed as a health product for those who needed it medicinally, it has spiralled out of control. Even the licensing which was first required for medical use was not enforced, and the downsides were never publicised.  It was never explained that the cannabis now being marketed and sold can be much stronger than people think. Twenty-five studies have not found sufficient evidence that it is even a long-term pain reliever, or that it alleviates mental health problems.

          Cannabis has two main components, cannabidiol (CBD), which goes into body oils, candles and other wellness products which are available in the UK. The second component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THV) affects brain chemicals, giving a person a ‘high’ by altering mood, attention and memory and releasing the hormone dopamine which gives feelings of pleasure.

          Frequent use increases the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, insomnia, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.  The cannabis produced now is treated to contain more and more THC, producing cannabis with 10% to 98% THC compared with organic plants with 4% THC. In the UK illegal production has THC levels of 14%.

          This increases the violent behaviour and has given rise to a new term ‘scromiting’, or screaming and violent vomiting.  There is no effective treatment, and some have died of this cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.  Colorado’s decriminalisation has resulted in double the emergency admissions for the condition.

          So amid the calls for full decriminalisation of all drugs, we need to look also at countries and states where this has already happened.  They don’t seem to be faring particularly well.

Cancer Cuts

          The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre has considered cutting back treatment due to pressure on the service.  They have stopped offering a ‘cold cap’ which sufferers wear during chemotherapy to help protect the scalp and reduce hair loss.  They also discussed changes to maintenance and palliative regimes, stopping maintenance early, or even limiting access to treatment.  The NHS is facing shortages of 30% of radiologists by 2026, and 21% of oncologists. 

Scots neuroscientist

          Professor Angus Fletcher claims we are ruining children’s minds through the way we teach them (‘Maths lessons don’t add up’, Neil Mackay, Herald, 19/06/22).

He thinks we need far fewer maths lessons and IQ tests and more ‘chaos’ in the classroom, free thinking, arts and play.  He sees the brain as a story-telling machine rather than a computer, working on narrative rather than logic, so teaching children logical thinking does not work, stifling children intellectually and killing creativity.

          Historically, people like Galileo first imagined the world.  Newton’s creativity led to him inventing calculus.  So rather than logic leading to inventions, it is creativity that leads to them.

          He found that different types of story have profound psychological effects on the human mind, for example, Disney stories may at first blush produce happy feelings, their portrayal of unattainable stereotypes of perfection can be depressive long-term.  He says the promotion of logic over creativity has led to children being less emotionally resilient (as this is learned through creativity) and suffering increasing anxiety.  Creativity also increases social awareness, showing that there can be shades of right and wrong.

          He advocates more creativity for children, and fewer tests demanding a right answer, and says Artificial Intelligence (AI) will never replicate the human ability to imagine.  It will only ever mimic conveyer-belt type activities.  He decries our society which demands conformity, and he pours scorn on activities like computer game Minecraft as not developing children’s minds, saying that creativity declines as people learn more and more logical things like engineering.  We can tweak the engine through logic, but it takes a creative mind to invent it in the first place.

          An education system and society which forces people to specialise stifles our creativity and stunts our society.  Ironically for us, he says politics is very bad for the brain, involving as it often does two widely differing viewpoints and no others (unionist/nationalist; left/right).  In an often-accurate depiction, he says politics is like a ‘library where there are only two books and you dislike them both’.

Julia Pannell                   07/07/22

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