By Daniel G. Amen, MD, July/August, 2003
Critique by Punkerslut
I discovered this article by Daniel G. Amen at a friend's apartment, when an article on methamphetamine caught my eye. Upon investigation, I discovered that every article in the newspaper was full solely of anti-drug articles. Based on my interest, I decided to read the article. And, if I were to believe the words of Dr. Amen, then I would have to come to the conclusion that all illicit drug use is harmful. It was full of such blatant and obvious logic errors, that I couldn't just let this piece escape. He begins his article with the following setting...
Brain Activity and Drug Use
In all science, the value of testing comes with consistency. If, for example, an previously untested chemical will cause humans to die at a certain dose, but only a tenth of the time, and it doesn't kill other humans at all, even with a dose ten times what kills others -- if we have these results in our hands, then we have to understand that there is another factor in this matter. Whether the untested chemical is capable of killing someone is not solely dependent upon whether that chemical is in a person's system. It might rely upon other chemicals already present in the body, or it might be that the untested chemical effects people differently depending on the individual setup of their nervous system, or it might be how a person's liver individually breaks down the chemical. Especially when you're experimenting with an untested chemical and the physiological affects it has, you will find that there are a great deal of factors involved in the result. Even with the medications that have been approved by scrupulous testing of the FDA can have unforeseen effects: some has the potential of diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, drymouth, among so many others. And whether you get one of these does not mean you will get any of the others. There are many unchangeable factors that determine whether your body responds one way or another. That is, in essence, the value of experimentation that we find in science. It must be consistent to validly demonstrate anything.
However, as our Dr. openly confesses, there is a great deal of of variation. "Some people who have used drugs for a short time had horrible looking brains, while others, who used drugs for longer periods of time, had brains that did not look that bad." Of course, he does offer an explanation: "There must be genetic factors involved as well." The problem with the explanation he offers is: (1) in no way did he attempt to prove it, and (2) it was such a vague and bland explanation, that it could fit any scenario "where variation persists."
Why would there be variation? Why would someone who has used heroin for ten years have the brain of a person who never used any drug, and someone who used heroin only once have the brain of a cabbage? Why would smoking DMT daily give you the same SPECT readout as someone who only used LSD once in college? Why would constant psychedelic ingestion of one person produce a slightly worse brain than someone who only drinks irregularly? It does seem that there is a connection between drug use and the damage that the brain sustains. This connection has been asserted constantly by authorities and government officials for years. But, does it exist? And, if it does, how strong is this connection?
At this point, I'd like to bring up another valuable lesson that science has taught us over and over through the years. When we commit action A and we get result B, we cannot conclusively say that action A is responsible for result B. There are a thousand examples to demonstrate this point: A man does a rain dance (action A) and it rains (result B); a person casts a spell on another person (action A) and that person dies (result B); a person says "I wish I was a millionaire" (action A) and that person becomes a millionaire (result B). The reason why people fall into these inaccurate conclusions from valid observations is because of the patterns we see evidence occur in. A tree will fall because a man has cut it down or the river will flood because of the rains -- these are just statements that rely on an action A and result B pattern. People have learned habits that give them poor skills on understanding what actions cause what results.
So, when we are looking at the brains of drug users, and we see patterns of damage, our first response might be to apply the action (drug use) as the cause of the result (brain damage). However, with a more critical eye, we might first understand what else causes brain damage. There is a great deal of things that can cause so many types of brain damage. Malnutrition as a child, or abusive parents, or unhealthy development conditions. These are all things that could give someone brain damage. When we are looking at the people who fit in to the category of drug users, we are generally looking at the lower classes of society. And, it's quite clear, that someone born in a crack-infested ghetto will be exposed to more unhealthy conditions while growing up, than say, someone born in a clean part of the city with healthy conditions. At this point, we have a reason to believe that much of the brain injury present in these drug user's SPECT scans are from previous incident. That is, in fact, one of the explanations for the variation of brain damage. However, Dr. Amen never considered it at all, because if that could be accepted as one of the explanations for this evidence not linking up, then his final conclusion (drug use causes brain damage) would be invalid. After all, the prisons of the United States are full of African Americans. Would that make us believe that the black race has an instinct for crime? Or, more reasonably, would we believe then that all African Americans were once slaves, and it takes time to work up from having nothing? Like so, we see similar discrepancy in the arguments of Dr. Amen.
But, you might inquire, why is it that certain trends definitely show in particular drug abuse? For instance, the brains of heroin users show a trend towards deficiency in one part of the brain, while the users of cocaine and crystal meth had similar symptoms, and the users of Marijuana all suffered the same brain damage. We might infer from this evidence, that while some of the brain damage is definitely a pre-existing condition, that there is a strong and valid trend of drug use being capable to inflict some brain damage. Again, here we can see the problem of judging your argument on present evidence instead of tests and trials. Dr. Amen is not giving drugs to patients and then looking at the result, to see whether LSD or heroin or cocaine are destructive towards the brain. He is looking at people in society who were only available to his study because drug use has effected their way of life so greatly. It's almost like having a study of what contemporary Jewish people believe, and then only allowing Jewish men and women who have committed felonies to come. After all, those people who have used drugs (all types) for years and years and years, managing not to get caught and to evade all attempts at capture, these people who had a very safe and sane method of using drugs -- they were not included in this study, because they were smart enough to stay out of the grasp of authorities. (After all, someone who is brain damaged probably wouldn't be as good as an intelligent person when it comes to evading the laws.)
So, first, the people who are being examined in this study already have another conditioning factor against them: the fact that they were caught demonstrates that they might very well be brain damaged. Furthermore, we have to understand again that these were not clinical trials. The people who were studied, their dosages, frequencies, etc., were never monitored, were never even given any attention. So, this leads us to believe another fact: drugs can deactivate or activate certain parts of the brain, and this activation or deactivation of brain lobes can last longer than initially perceived. The THC high, for example, can last over 16 hours. 5-MeO-AMT, 5-MeO-DMT, and other psychedelics can have noticeable effects lasting up to 48 hours. Perhaps there are slight alterations that these drugs have on the brain for days to weeks, completely unnoticeable to the user. This wouldn't be brain damage, necessarily; it would be simply mental fatigue. It wouldn't be damage any more than being sore the next morning after exercise would be considered damage.
The way Dr. Amen described the damaged parts of the brain seemed to mimic, very closely, the way that particular drug effects the user temporarily. For example, he quoted lacking motivation as brain damage in Marijuana users. Heroin and alcohol, powerful sedatives that find like users, caused a "general decreased activity." The kind of brain damage that the Dr. Amen might be referring to is actually just the basic effect of the drug. And, there is a good chance, that it is only a temporary side effect from recently using the drug. As it goes with almost any drug, given enough time, the large majority of the negative effects will wear off, the way your body does from any experience.
One's next question will naturally be: is there any noticeable trend in how long a drug's negative effects can last? Why is it that one drug user sustained long term damage while another did not? There are several factors determining in how long a drug's damage lasts. First, it is the matter of frequency. If someone uses a drug twice a day, for two weeks, they will more likely have sustained damage than someone who uses that same drug the same amount of times in one year. Also, it is a matter of how clean the substance being used is. If it's mixed with toxins, or bunk, or solvents, then it's more likely to be pushing your body further over the edge and making brain damage much more likely. Another matter is the dose: whether it is extremely high amounts, causing your liver to do overhaul and overproduce poisonous enzymes, or whether it's moderate amounts, allowing your body to catch up and keep a clean blood flow -- these are all things that will matter when it comes to how long-term damage will be. In general, it's really a matter of how smart the drug user is with his habit. Just as misinformation about sex has caused a great deal of misery, so has misinformation about drug use. And, just like our government of 100 years ago when it came to sexual education, our current drug education is nothing more than propaganda created by puritanical tyrants.
The whole argument that Dr. Amen presents is in the backdrop of a society that has already made it a staunch principle to seek out and eliminate drug use. And they do this with a perseverance matching that of the inquisition. Imagine a study that linked slight brain damage with people who listened to rap music, or who enjoyed sweet tasting fruit, or who preferred the outdoors to the indoors. True or not, these would be "the real reasons not to do these things," according to our fair doctor. Okay, so, perhaps there is a study that does link brain damage with a particular preference: maybe people who dye their hair blonde, or maybe people who watch more than two hours of television. Imagine if we were to take any of these studies and respond by outlawing all activities that could cause brain damage. Think of laws that restricted the type of music we all listen to, the type of food we all eat, or any personal preference of ours. Our literature would be subject to investigative committees and the words we said would be monitored by so-called safety councils. Brain damage or not in drug use, it is a right, just as we have a right to any other activity that does not harm our fellow creatures and men on this planet. And, it is for that right that we must, as revolutionaries, continue to fight for.