April 3rd, 2013

etard

More long-winded pedantry about drugs

You might remember that last week the lecturer for the course I was so critical of sent me some references so I could check for myself. Last week I looked at the statement that 500,000 users of heroin in the US in the early 1970s was reduced to 200,000 by 1974, and that this was due to the influence of this dude. While I couldn't find evidence to support that exact figure and discovered that exact figures on this are pretty much impossible to produce, I did find support for the idea that the number of heroin users dropped significantly in the early 1970s. I also found a number of reasons for that drop, the most likely being the cessation of the Vietnam War meaning that addicted soldiers were no longer being introduced to the population at a high rate, a swing to a preference for other drugs in the population (mostly cocaine from what I gathered), a shortage of heroin due to policies implemented in the Middle East and Asia, and targeted interventions such as the methadone program. I am less sure about the Maharishi, as I couldn't find anything at all about that.

However, the reference supplied by the lecturer on a reduction in the number of heroin users was supported in principle, if not in direct evidence. That's good enough for me to accept the first part of that argument.

The other set of refs he sent me were related to research into the effects of long term heroin use on the brain. The lecture slide claimed that long term drug use damages the brain, and I had asked for references, mostly because of the generalisation of 'drug use', because I know this is not the case for all drugs. However, I was personally unclear on whether heroin was a culprit or not, so I read the references. Now my brain hurts. I should write an article on how reading about the neuroscience of addiction damages the brain. *snerk*

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So what should that slide have said? Well, I reckon something like "Long term chronic use of certain drugs can cause cognitive impairment." Underneath this in brackets (eg alcohol, amphetamines, heroin). Spoken: Long term heavy use of these drugs has been shown to produce cognitive impairment consistent with changes to the brain, such as.. etc etc etc.. And at the bottom of the page, footnotes linking to the studies.

That's how I'd do it anyway. The lecturer has told me he's changed the slide in question so it no longer makes that broad statement, so credit to him for that. I realise the statement above does not have the same impact, and that the next step of the argument was drawing a relationship between the effects of transcendental meditation on the brain and its potential for use in rehabilitation therapy. But if that's the case, then showing the specifics and producing evidence for how this therapy works to target the specific impairments, all backed up by research and evidence that pedants like me can look up, will make the argument stronger. And if the evidence isn't there, then not making the argument will make the lecture stronger. In my opinion, obviously.

So there you have it. The lecturer produced the refs I asked for, I read them, and learned something about heroin, while he has made an improvement to his lecture series by removing a generalisation. Win/win again. Sweet!