At the end of 2011 I had a short correspondence with Simon about the connection between gun rights and the war on drugs. He wrote ” Liberty is indivisible”. He also pointed out that most of the second amendment advocates rarely make the connection between the war on drugs to the war on guns, or at least fail to do so on public. His argument peaked my interest, as I am sure it will yours too:
GVB: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Simon: I’m a semi-retired aerospace engineer. The semi is because I write a column for ECN Magazine. I’m a former (is there such a thing?) Naval Nuke. Besides electronics, I’m a big fan of Polywell Fusion. I also co-blog with my friend Eric at Classical Values. My politics is quite libertarian except when it comes to foreign policy. In that arena, I’m one of those “a strong offence is better than a good defense” kind of guys.
GVB: You are among other things a fierce advocate of the second amendment. What is your personal interpretation to the second amendment? Do you interpret it literary, or do you think there are other rights that can be assumed from it other than the right to keep and bear arms?
Simon: The Second is quite simple. You have an individual right to keep and bear arms and the right to join a militia. If you join a militia, you will have to provide your own weapons, which should be common to other members of the militia for efficient militia operation (logistics).
It also implies the right to self defense and the right to join with others to oppose the government, by force if necessary.
GVB: It is no secret that you see a close connection between the war on drugs and the war on guns. Can you expand on this?
Simon: Let me go back in history some. The last time gun hysteria peaked was in 1934 in response to the violence created by alcohol prohibition. The Congress passed the National Firearms act in order to “do something” about a problem that was, in fact, passing. We are seeing the very same thing today because of Drug Prohibition induced violence. So there is a historical precedent that for the most part has gone unnoted in the 2nd Amendment community.
GVB: It is also no secret that you think gun rights and drug rights should go hand in hand since they are different sides of the same coin. How do you make the connection?
Simon: Do you have the right to protect your self with weapons of your own choice? How about drugs of your own choice? Either you own your body (as the right to self-defense implies), or you don’t.
Liberty is indivisible.
GVB: Why do you think it is that people who advocate gun rights and the second amendment, which are closely associated with liberty very rarely talk about free choice when it comes to drugs?
Simon: A lot of it has to do with Government Propaganda. Drug users are a disreputable minority socially, and that is due to government propaganda, which is why I like to look at the science. What we know is that what we call “addiction” is 50% genetic in origin. The other 50% is environmental. And that “environmental” factor is pretty well known. Trauma. In other words, most of the folks we call “addicts” are self medicating for PTSD. Take female heroin users. About 70% were sexually abused in childhood.
When you put it like that - “making war on the traumatized” - it doesn’t sound near so appealing. But you only hear that - and in whispered tones - from government departments like the NIDA. The DEA will tell you that the drugs are dangerous to every man woman and child in America, that the power of “addiction” is irresistible. Which is almost true if you say, “for the genetically susceptible traumatized, the attraction of pain relief is nearly irresistible.” But it would be hard to sell making war on people because of genetic differences, or warring on abused children.
GVB: I am sure lots of people would say that drugs are not mentioned in the second amendment nor are they mentioned in the constitution at all. Not only that, but drug abuse cause’s personal harm and drug induced behaviors cause harm to society. Are you suggesting that drugs be totally legalized, as a whole and with no exception, or do you think there are conditions under which they should be legalized?
Simon: It depends on how big a black market you want. How many criminals does the country need to keep the prison industry healthy?
Drug abuse is a symptom of the original trauma. For veterans and those who come by their trauma “legitimately” we are even starting to look at opiates as PTSD treatment. But if you are an abused child we have only the black market to offer you.
And you have to consider another thing most people don’t know. Opiates are very unpleasant drugs for most people. The same is true of amphetamines. Only about half the people who try pot like it. And use rates decline drastically in the 20 to 30 age range. It actually peaks somewhere from age 15 to 25 - the high anxiety years, which is what you would expect from an anti-depressant. You see a similar decline in the use of another popular anti-depressant with age - tobacco.
GVB: You speak a lot about addictions and PTSD, both of which are exceptionally hard to deal with, for the individual sufferers and the people around them. You also speak about the fact that a lot of the addicts are, in fact, self medicating to help control their pain. Something in the medical system is wrong since it does not perceive emotional or mental pain as real or tangible. How do you think legalizing drugs would help sufferers of these mental conditions?
Simon: Actually, the medical system does consider emotional pain and is very willing to treat it with drugs that are, or once were on patent. Where it fails (and intentionally so if you consider the roster of drug companies that support the “Drug Free America Campaign”) is with drugs that are beyond the control of big pharma. Plants, plant extracts, and kitchen table chemistry drugs.
And it is not just Big Pharma here. Pot is a direct competitor for alcohol and tobacco. Take one recent study that found that in states that legalized pot for medical use traffic fatalities were down 9%. That was directly attributed by the study to a decline in alcohol use with pot as a substitute.
GVB: What prompted your interest in addiction and PTSD and how did you come about to be doing the research you are doing on them?
Simon: I was an alcoholic at age 16. Now I’m a moderate drinker, but I wanted to find out why. So I started studying the issue. I got my first big AHA from reading a review of Dr. Lonnie Shavelson’s book “Heroin”. That is where I found that 70% of female heroin users were sexually abused in childhood.
BTW, I did reconcile with my father/abuser (who was an alcoholic until late in life), and he apologized profusely. I don’t entirely blame him. He got worse abuse from his mother. Since I know that long term PTSD (almost everyone has short term bouts from extreme trauma) runs in my family, I worked hard (instinctively at the time since I lacked hard knowledge) to do better by my kids.
GVB: Once legalized, do you think drugs should be prescribed or available for purchase similar to alcohol?
Simon: I don’t believe that is politically feasible for all drugs considering the current state of public knowledge. I think we will wind up there, but it may take another century. In the mean time, making it a medical issue instead of a criminal one would at least put the problem in the hands of people who have a chance of solving it. Or, we could just focus on child abuse and see if we couldn’t change attitudes about that.
GVB: This issue of PTSD is an important issue for everyone, but especially for veterans. So many suffer or have suffered from it. Do you know if there is any research being done on the causes, prevention and treatment of PTSD by the veteran organizations in the states?
Simon: I’m not aware of any state initiatives on PTSD. But I don’t think it matters much at this point. We don’t have all the details down, but the broad outlines are there. Long term PTSD (everybody gets it short term if the trauma is severe enough) is a genetic problem, and roughly 20% of the nation is susceptible. Of that 20%, roughly half have problems well into adulthood. That would be the 10% of the population that are “addicted” to illegal drugs and alcohol.
The core organ involved seems to be the amygdala although the hippocampus is thought to play a role as well. The interesting thing about these organs is that they don’t “communicate” with the brain much except as chemical factories. Neural pathways are sparse into and out of the amygdala. So you can’t “think” your way out of the reactions those organs produce. You can’t will away the fear messages that the amygdala broadcasts.
This was shown best in an experiment done by B.Lutz and others at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. They took mice and by shocking them induced fear into them. For normal mice, the fear decayed rapidly. For mice without a certain cannabinoid receptor the fear decayed much more slowly. What that tells us is that the body’s method of dealing with fear is mediated by cannabinoids the body produces. And PTSD at its core is fear unwarranted by current circumstances. And no surprise - we are finding that cannabis ingestion is an excellent way to reduce the level of fear the amygdala is broadcasting.
GVB: From your understanding of the situation is the DEA actually hindering this kind of work?
Simon: Absolutely the DEA is hindering the work. They recently stopped the FDA from doing a study on the response of veterans with PTSD to cannabis. But in the end it really doesn’t matter. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been doing outstanding work in the area for 30 or 40 years. He started (or is in consultation with) a program for treating Israeli war veterans with PTSD problems with cannabis. The word is getting out, and American veterans are demanding effective treatment. It is slow going, but I believe the veterans will eventually prevail.
Another point is that as this information reaches a wider audience - I don’t believe that can be stopped - support for drug prohibition will decline. I don’t think a war on the traumatized is a very good seller.
GVB: It’s quite clear who would benefit from drugs being legalized, even if its just for medicinal purposes. Who stands to lose from a move like this? (Pharmaceutical companies? Drug dealers?)
Simon: You can tell who the big losers will be by looking at a list of supporters of the “Drug Free America Campaign”. I haven’t checked lately and some of them may have dropped out for political reasons, but at one time pharmaceutical companies, alcohol companies, and tobacco companies were big supporters of that organization.
We already see the results in medical marijuana states. Traffic fatalities are down 9%, and that is directly attributable to the fact that a significant number of people switched from alcohol to cannabis. Of course, alcohol sales have to be hurt when heavy users switch to a milder drug. In fact - before it was made illegal - cannabis was a valid treatment for alcoholism. Harm reduction if you will. Substituting a less harmful drug - cannabis - for alcohol. We are relearning what we already knew - the hard way.