Marijuana Monkey Off Your Back

Marijuana Monkey Off Your Back
Posted by FoM on October 19, 2000 at 07:41:18 PT
Random Fire By Joel Miller
Source: WorldNetDaily
When National Institute on Drug Abuse scientists recently announced that test monkeys would self-administer marijuana's key ingredient, THC, the BBC reported Monday that "Cannabis may be as addictive as hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine." But that's not what the report said. The study findings, published in the November 2000 issue of Nature Neuroscience, "suggest that marijuana has as much potential for abuse as other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroine." 
The BBC reporter played a little loose with his vocabulary. "Abuse" and "addiction," despite the common connection in the minds of many readers, are not the same thing. The reporter's error is not uncommon. One of the biggest obstacles in talking about drugs is having to talk about drugs. The meanings of the words we use are often slippery, painted with a heavy coat of definitional grease. Addiction and addict are powerful, attention-grabbing words, perfect for headlines and slogans -- but what do they really mean? Everyone throws around the word addiction; colloquially, it gets tagged to just about any compulsion, habit or intense desire someone might have. Today we've got addicts galore: sex addicts, gambling addicts, Internet addicts, food addicts, sports addicts -- you name it, we've got an addiction to it. Or do we? Is every habit or compulsion an addiction? Medically, addiction specialists are typically concerned with three ideas: reinforcement, tolerance and dependence. That triangle helps to form an operational definition that describes what researchers are looking for in particular, rather than leaving definition up to varying man-on-the-street notions of what the word means. In terms of animal research especially, like the NIDA monkey-marijuana test, reinforcement has to do with the rewards; "it is a measure of whether, and how hard and long, an experimental animal will 'work' for administration of a drug," explains Yale Psychiatry and Pharmacology Professor Robert Byck. According to the NIDA, the monkeys worked hard enough. To start, the animals were first given cocaine through a catheter, which could be self-administered with a lever. When the cocaine was swapped with saline, the monkeys quit doping, but when researchers switched the salt water with THC, they commenced hitting the lever, giving themselves a dose researchers claim to be comparable to typical human use. For NIDA, this established one of the characteristics of addiction -- the monkeys liked it and actively worked to dose themselves. Regardless of any immediate criticisms of the test itself, the trouble with studies like NIDA's is that they rarely stay in the laboratory; studies that reconfirm our fears about drugs or incite worry are guaranteed to be hyped by the press in the pubic square seconds after the results are made known. NIDA's study is no different. You can easily spot the political undercurrent carrying the results of the study beyond the medical community and straight to the media desks and beyond. "This study is simple and its findings are clear," said NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner in an Oct. 15 press release. "Animals will work to get THC. This emphasizes further the similarity between marijuana and other abusable, addicting substances. Both animals and humans will work to acquire access to marijuana in the same way that both animals and humans change their behavior to get other drugs of abuse, like cocaine and heroin." While Leshner never says that marijuana itself is "addictive" in the medical sense, he makes the link, allowing people to mistakenly conclude that marijuana is little different than heroin and cocaine, which is spurious to say the least. First of all, cocaine, marijuana and heroin are different chemically and affect users differently, depending on the dose, form of the drug, plus method and frequency of use. Next, opiates like heroin are highly addictive not just in terms of reinforcement, but also tolerance and dependence. Tolerance, for addiction specialists, generally implies decreased sensitivity to a drug the longer it is used, requiring users to boost their dose to get the desired effect, while dependence refers to a user's reluctance to quit a drug due to psychological and physical difficulties caused by withdrawal. "Kicking dope sucks," writes an anonymous heroin user in the Oct. 11 San Francisco Bay Guardian, describing the pain of withdrawals. "Kicking makes you not sleep, makes you lose your appetite, makes you s--- uncontrollably, makes your bones and joints hurt from the inside out, and makes your muscles scream. You may have insane crying fits, muscle spasms, and hallucinations. "This is normal. It's just the drugs leaving your body." As "normal" as that may be for heroin users, this does not describe the average cocaine or marijuana user. "Although they share some characteristics with the opioid drugs," writes Byck, "neither cocaine nor marijuana has a pharmacologically significant withdrawal syndrome that would, by its presence, enforce the continued taking of the drug," explaining, "For both drugs the tolerance and physical dependence are not the driving forces behind the self-administration." While tolerance is not a requirement for the addiction label, it is a helpful benchmark because, as a standard, reinforcement alone is close to meaningless. Ditto for dependence because it indicates some level of physiological effect by the drug, as evidenced by a physical reaction to withdrawal. If avoiding the pains of quitting drives you to continue taking the drug, goes the thinking, you're hooked. Thus, if you don't have to get more and more to keep the high going and don't have a problem quitting, it'd be hard to suggest you were genuinely addicted. A monkey repeatedly pressing a lever for THC does not proves addiction. Stuck in a cage with little else to do, dope is about the best thing going. "What this study proves," said Steve Kubby, 1998 Libertarian California gubernatorial candidate and national director the American Medical Marijuana Association, "is that a restrained, stressed-out monkey will choose cannabis for relief if it's available." The real question for addiction is what the monkey does if the drug isn't available. All sorts of things are fun to do, and doing them, even a lot, doesn't necessarily imply addiction. The pleasures of sex, good food, sports and physical activity, leisure, and more may all reinforce desire to participate in the activities, but this doesn't equal "addiction" in any real sense. I love every item in that list -- get 'em when I can -- but if my wife is tired, the refrigerator is low, or I'm trapped at the office instead of hiking or lounging, I don't get the shakes. Neither do I have to go in vain searches for greater thrills. For me, hiking five miles is just as good as hiking 10 (maybe better if my feet are sore), and eating two bowls of Breyers instead of one will just upset my stomach. The same is surprisingly true for marijuana and even cocaine. Says Byck, "It is important to note that drug seeking and drug taking behavior can be maintained at doses that do not cause noticeable tolerance or physical dependence" for either marijuana or cocaine. In other words, medically speaking marijuana and cocaine fall short of traditional benchmarks establishing addiction. While a person may binge on cocaine, it certainly isn't a regular drug for most of its users. In other words, folks use it when they want to and, despite it's potency, it's not typically habit-forming. The same is true even more so for marijuana, as the Institute of Medicine makes clear in its March 1999 report on pot for medical use. Even though many, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Harvard Medical School professor Lester Grinspoon, called the report "tepid" and "political," the IOM basically confirmed what people have been saying for decades: Marijuana does not foster addiction, exhibiting only, if any, mild symptoms of dependence and withdrawal. "A distinctive marijuana and THC withdrawal syndrome has been identified," notes the IOM report, "but it is mild and subtle compared with the profound physical syndrome of alcohol or heroin withdrawal." In fact, the IOM's chief concern seems to be that pot is usually smoked, not that it might be addictive. Of course, as the NIDA study actually found, marijuana is "abusable." What isn't? Anything can be used to the point of harm. Are we going to start regulating how many times people have sex in a day, week, month? What about a federal bureau to establish proper serving sizes for family meals? Can't let people do too much exercise either -- endorphin abuse; better get a Federal Gym Commission established pronto. This is obviously nonsense. What people need to ask themselves is that if it's nonsense for sex, food and exercise, why isn't it nonsense for marijuana? The only abuse the government should concern itself with is people abuse. Are folks being harmed? That's the question for government. If not, butt out. Unfortunately, that makes government irrelevant in this area, and if there's one thing the government can't stand it's being irrelevant. So to continue looking like it has an important role to play, the government needs people to feel as if they are at personal risk from marijuana users. Ergo, the addiction card. As soon as you play that, you create everyone's worst enemy: the junkie. Now -- especially when you link it to heroin, as the NIDA allowed the media to do without any clarification -- you've got all the crime fears aggravated by the idea of needle-to-arm druggies. It's the perfect hobgoblin, the creation of which H.L. Mencken pointed out is the primary goal of government. Manufacturing problems is the surest way for the feds to guarantee their job security -- somebody's got to solve them. Given that, it's increasingly clear that marijuana isn't the monkey on our backs; it's the federal drug warriors. Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Author: Joel MillerPublished: Thursday, October 19, 2000Copyright: 2000,, Inc.Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comAddress: PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409Fax: (541) 597-1700Website: Articles & Web Sites:Nature Neuroscience The Forbidden Medicine as Addictive as Cocaine Seek Repeated Doses of Marijuana NIDA Researchers Find Animals Will Adminster Marijuana CannabisNews Articles - Joel Miller
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Comment #14 posted by i_rule_ on October 22, 2000 at 17:58:37 PT
Mungojelly, I just love your suggestion for substituting the researchers for the test monkeys. 
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Comment #13 posted by mungojelly on October 22, 2000 at 04:37:24 PT:
There's nothing unscientific about this study;
There's nothing unscientific about this study; it's the interpretation that's suspect. I can't even fault them for using monkeys who had already been addicted to cocaine -- you can't always do every experiment with untainted subjects, and they have said that they intend to reproduce the experiment without the cocaine element. The nature and value of science is that it is beyond question: these monkeys did indeed press levers repeatedly in order to get injections of ethanol/THC. What can be called into question is the implications of that fact. Were they pressing the lever because they were "addicted" to ethanol/THC? The scientific method provides tools which can be used to clarify the meaning of a particular set of data. The presence of THC can be "controlled" for by giving one set of subjects the option to inject ethanol/THC, and another set only ethanol. Controlling for variables is one of the most basic tools of scientific enquiry -- this study controlled for nothing at all, and therefore very little in the way of concrete conclusions can be drawn from the data provided. It seems likely that when the pre-existing cocaine addiction and the presence of THC are controlled for, that it will be found that squirrel monkeys do not actually enjoy injecting THC as such -- certainly it will not be shown that they can become "addicted" to it by any meaningful standard of addiction -- but as we all know, studies translate only very roughly and haphazardly from one species to another. Monkeys don't generally seem to enjoy marijuana -- but this certainly does not imply that human beings do not enjoy smoking marijuana. If one wishes to prove that human beings enjoy smoking marijuana, a study on monkeys is both grossly inaccurate and completely unnecessary: that human beings enjoy smoking marijuana is not a fact that is in any way in question. If a martian were to read only this study and be expected to hazard a guess as to the reaction of human beings to marijuana, they would have to reach the conclusion that in order to get a human to take marijuana one must first addict them to cocaine. In practice we know that this is not the case: you can easily get a human being to smoke marijuana simply by offering them a joint and some basic inhalation instructions. Being the curious and trusting creatures we are, we'll often give it a try. I suggest a more targeted study: put NIDA researchers in cages with nothing to entertain them except a lever which gives them an injection of ethanol/THC. This would be more relevant and certainly much more fun to watch. Besides, it's more humane: one shouldn't use squirrel monkeys for research that could just as easily be done on lower animals. 
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Comment #12 posted by freedom fighter on October 21, 2000 at 23:13:05 PT
we can't get ANY animal to self-administer THC 
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhmy goodnessnot one animal...
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Comment #11 posted by observer on October 20, 2000 at 11:10:33 PT
re: IV THC vehicle
I did find out what they used: "THC was dissolved in a vehicle containing 0.4–1.0% Tween-80 and 0.4–1.0% ethanol in saline" You can get the report from Nature Neuroscience (you have to buy it or already have a subscription to Nature).Probing reporters would ask, and report asking, whether or not alcohol in that concentration would have any effect in especially in (synergistic?) combination with the THC. They need to make Goldberg answer this publically, even if the answer is an unequivocal, direct "No" (more likely the answer will be more interesting than that, though admittedly probably not in the affirmative).The report isn't clear for trials when the THC was removed, that if (these non-THC control) injections contained saline alone, or the ethanol-containing vehicle. Goldberg needs to answer this too, if possible.  After all, if Goldberg is going to (politically, propagandistically) explicitly connect this study to "abuse" and further, allow readers to jump to conclusions about "addiction", as he did, then he should be made, by the same token, to explain (often and publically) why the ethanol had no effect, why the THC didn't act synergistically with the ethyl alcohol (as do opiates, certain depressants), why he couldn't get results with THC alone, and was forced to use cocaine, and so on. 
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Comment #10 posted by observer on October 20, 2000 at 09:17:58 PT
thanks bcg!
That is useful information! Somehow, the fact that "THC itself is not inherently reinforcing enough to these animals to maintain this behavior" was never stated in the media hype of this study. I think if we stress that fact, it will help put this study in perspective. That the researchers couldn't (or didn't) use anything execpt for cocaine to elicit THC self-administration is important.
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Comment #9 posted by bcg on October 20, 2000 at 08:06:20 PT:
I'll have more info in a couple of weeks
I am going to attend the Society for Neuroscience convention in New Orleans the 1st week in Nov. The Goldberg group will present this data, so I will find out what the vehicle for THC was. Observer:The reason this study is getting so much hype is that we can't get ANY animal to self-administer THC (except humans). By teaching them the task with cocaine or food, the scientists could then substitute THC. But THC itself is not inherently reinforcing enough to these animals to maintain this behavior.My mentor had similar problems getting animals to self-administer caffiene, because it was in a drink solution, and caffiene is bitter. So he had to ramp up caffiene content of a Kool-Aid solution, which the animals would self-administer. So, Kool-Aid is more reinforcing than caffiene (without masking its taste) or THC. The researchers could have trained the animals to work for food, then switched to THC, but used cocaine because it is the most powerful reinforcer we know of and animals learn to self-administer it in a matter weeks vs. months.
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Comment #8 posted by DCP on October 19, 2000 at 19:13:07 PT:
What this study demonstrates is:Monkeys will pull levers for cocaine.Monkeys do not care for saline solution.Monkeys will pull levers for synthetic THC.It has also been demonstrated that monkeys will pull levers for peanuts. Does this make peanuts addictive?Pity the “scientists” who prostituted their professional reputation to satisfy the government's zeal to demonize marijuana. 
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Comment #7 posted by observer on October 19, 2000 at 18:12:10 PT
re: animal models
bcg writes:In fact, my mentor did the same studies with caffeine andgot the same results. So perhaps Leshner should focus on the scourge of caffiene. This is very interesting and useful. Are you saying that he started them on cocaine and switched to caffeine, or, (I'm hoping) that caffeine can be used in place of cocaine and that otherwise drug-naive squirrel monkeys will self-administer caffeine alone? Either way, that would be interesting. I'd like to know some other things, too. Has anyone tried to get monkeys to self-administer THC without using cocaine beforehand? It would seem logical that was tried, but failed. Yes: cocaine is a powerful reward, true: but had anyone tried (to get monkeys to self-administer THC) without it? If not, why not? The answer "cocaine is a powerful reward" etc. doesn't tell me why THC alone wasn't tried. If so, were the THC-only trials written up somewhere? Either answer leads to more questions... Also, what is the THC mixed with in this solution? THC isn't water soluble. What, exactly, was it mixed with? Do you know?I wish I could convince you that there are relevant issues that my and others' research along these lines can addressI'm convinced! If you are able, please tell us more about your mentor's caffeine research, and if similar THC-only triels were attempted, and what was mixed with the THC to enable it to be injected.  Your info on the caffeine self-administration seems especially relevant and any such info is greatly appreciated!
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on October 19, 2000 at 18:08:11 PT:
An Omission
Hi Everyone,I want to jump in here and post Steve Kubby's information. I just noticed that I missed putting it in the article and I don't know how to do that yet so I am posting it here for those who might not know about the Kubbys.The Kubby Files Medical Marijuana Association of Rights is the Cure for Government Disease, Joel Miller sends his articles to CannabisNews for me to post them and to MapInc. too. Please try to contact him.NewsHawk: Joel MillerManaging Editormailto:jmiller worldnetdaily.comWorldNetDaily Publishinghttp://www.WND.comSource: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Copyright: 2000,, Inc.Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comAddress: PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409Fax: (541) 597-1700Website:
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Comment #5 posted by freedom fighter on October 19, 2000 at 16:44:47 PT
You can contact Joel Miller to give him more information about this issue. He probably will write up another one!!Peace be with you!\/
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Comment #4 posted by freedom fighter on October 19, 2000 at 16:43:01 PT
Joel Miller did it again
He writes in a way that fires me up! Jah be with this man!
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Comment #3 posted by bcg on October 19, 2000 at 10:23:40 PT:
Addiction can't be quantified in animal models
Very good article. I wish he had made the point that addiction is a psychiatric term of relevance to humans, including a variety of characteristics which cannot be quantified in animal models. Another issue is that the animals were never even dependant on either cocaine or THC. We use the same doses of cocaine in my research, and my squirrel monkeys have no obvious withdrawl. The dose is VERY low, and is comparable to a few cups of coffee each day. In fact, my mentor did the same studies with caffeine and got the same results. So perhaps Leshner should focus on the scourge of caffiene. Peace, I wish I could convince you that there are relevant issues that my and others' research along these lines can address, but unfortunately, press releases like these undermine my arguments. Very frustrating for those of us in the field that really want to understand psychic effects of drugs.
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Comment #2 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on October 19, 2000 at 09:11:56 PT:
Dynamite, Again
I am developing into a huge fan of this guy. A few more like him would shut down Prohibition in short order.
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Comment #1 posted by Peace on October 19, 2000 at 08:58:07 PT:
Except for the fate of those poor monkeys, I'm glad they did the study. It's so ridiculous that in the coming weeks we can expect editorials and letters to the editor tearing it apart. In the long run, it's going to work in our favor.I'm disgusted by these so-called scientists.  
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