This post was actually planned for a later date after the groundwork was laid by exploring basic topics regarding drug abuse and addiction on the ASNet Discussion Forum. However, the recent post on Salvia Divinorum (and to a lesser extent the medical marijuana post) propels this topic to the forefront a bit ahead of schedule. When discussing this topic it is essential to keep in mind the differences between drug abuse and drug addiction and their underlying causes (i.e, the biological basis of addiction vs. the psychosocial factors that often govern drug abuse). A lot of confusion arises from simple problems in semantics when discussing psychoactive drug use, the effects of such drugs, and the rights of individuals. Some of the essential concepts have been presented already on the ASNet Discussion Forum or the Addiction Science Network website (see Related Topics on the ASNet below), but others have not yet been explored adequately. Thus, this topic is a somewhat premature.
The question open for comment is: “does the individual living in a free society have the right to use psychotropic substances?” There are a number of secondary questions that arise from this topic.
The ASNet drug-regulation policy stands firmly behind the strict control of highly addictive drugs. These substances (e.g., 'hard drugs' such as cocaine and heroin) compromise the individual's ability to 'choose' whether to use the substance or not by altering the individual's motivational hierarchy in such a way as to thrust the addictive drug near the top of the person's motivational priorities (see A Primer on Addiction). On the other hand, some psychoactive substances (e.g., caffeine) clearly do not compromise the individual's self-control in a significant way and therefore can be considered part of 'life's little pleasures.' Between these two extremes lie substances that cause considerable alteration in perception, cognition, and/or affect (e.g., 'soft drugs' such as marijuana and LSD) that potentially pose a risk for the individual and for society by impairing judgment and impulse inhibition of the individual while they are experiencing the psychotropic effects of the substance (e.g., intoxication, hallucinations). This is in contradistinction to truly addictive drugs where the risk to the individual and to society is primarily when the individual is not experiencing the psychoactive effect of the drug.
Addiction science can contribute to the development of rational drug-control policy by differentiating drugs that a large proportion of individuals might be expected to ‘lose control’ of their ability to regulate their own drug-using behavior from substances that most individuals experience little difficulty in regulating their own substance use. Other issues that determine society’s acceptance of its citizens’ use of psychotropic substances involve safety (a rational consideration) and moral control (usually a non-rational consideration). Addiction science and the reporting of experimental findings should not present biased information to conform to moral control issues dictated by society or by its government agencies—it should clearly present the facts as the facts, letting individuals make rational decisions regarding personal use on the individual scale and regarding the development of rational drug-control policies on the societal scale.
Related Topics on the ASNet
A Primer on Drug Addiction
The Nature of Addiction
Distinguishing Drug Abuse from Drug Addiction
Distinguishing Drug Dependence from Drug Addiction
Biological Basis of Addiction
Hard and Soft Drugs
Salvia Divinorum and its concentrated extracts are enjoying unrestricted trade on the Internet and in most states throughout the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is currently considering whether this substance (including its concentrated extracts and synthetic analogues) should be “scheduled” and placed on the controlled substance list. Because there are no medicinal uses of Salvia Divinorum recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Salvia Divinorum and related compounds would most likely become Schedule I substances with access restricted to investigational use by DEA licensed researchers. (Click here for more information on the CSA/DEA Drug Classification System.)
The question open for comment is: Should Salvia Divinorum and its extracts become controlled substances? Secondary questions involve: How strong are the effects of this substance and its related analogues?
(Thanks to John Panos for suggesting a posting on this topic now open for commentary. Also thanks to my Advanced Topics in Addiction class for encouraging an interest in this substance.)
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