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Stupid Things -- The Fostering of Ignorance

I. Two states have legalized recreational marijuana and several others are considering it. Twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana. It is, however, surprisingly difficult to do scientific research on pot.

Conducting large-scale clinical trials (the gold standard for investigating all drugs) is under the control of the FDA and the regulations currently in place are so onerous that virtually no scholarly work is being done. The application process can take up to two years and even if a proposal is approved, FDA guidelines restrict the THC levels that can be used in the research. Currently the only studies approved use 3.5% to 7% THC. To put that in context, Colorado’s recreational product averages over 18% and levels as high as 35% are being sold. Levels in use in states with medical marijuana have even higher concentrations.

So we find ourselves in a situation that no one, not the consumers, not the sellers, not the researchers and, if they knew about it, not the general public is happy with. A drug with known medical effects and well-documented psychotropic effects is being sold and used with and without both local and Federal approval and without a full understanding of its bio-psychological impact because the agency that is, in principle in charge of overseeing research won’t allow anyone to do the research.

Imagine the anger if the FDA were to put similar thresholds on the study of other drugs like antibiotics or cholesterol lowering compounds.


II. Some 33,000 people are killed by gun violence in the US every year. Approximately 150 mass murders have occurred in recent years with an average of two per month. Nearly half of all mass murderers were suspected of having serious mental health issues. Note the fudge words “estimated,” “approximately.” They’re there because, astonishingly, we don’t really know with certainty what the real numbers are. In fact, we know precious little about gun violence, its links with various personality types, with mental illness or any of the scores of demographic factors that likely play a role.

When you have an epidemic where half a million Americans have died since the turn of the century you’d think there would be well-funded research into it. When something kills people, causes suffering, diminishes the quality of life, we collect data, pour over the numbers, look for patterns, find ways to mitigate the damage. It’s what we’ve done with tools, cars, planes, mining, drugs and disease. It’s what we’ve done with children’s toys, toasters, farm machines and bed sheets. It’s what we’ve done with our water, air and food supplies.

But not guns — because there is actually a Federal statute that prohibits funding research on gun violence and, remarkably cynically, it was renewed just after the Charleston mass shooting in 2015.

And if that little tidbit (which I suspect few know about) doesn’t get your dander up there’s the even more pernicious Tiahrt Amendment. Named for former Congressman Todd Tiahrt it prevents the release of information about the registry of or records about firearms to anyone other than a law enforcement officer or a court. It also blocks the use of these data in any civil law suit against a gun manufacturer.

But to me, a retired academic who’s spent well over a half-century as a scientist pursuing knowledge and understanding, the truly bizarre feature of this piece of legislated insanity is that it also forbids the use of these data in academic research of gun use in crimes.

Imagine the howls of outrage if the CDC were to put in place similar restrictions on the study of heart disease.

Reader Comments (1)

Gun deaths database: this might be a good issue to pursue with Hillary since she is championing gun control.

July 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Rosser

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