David A. Dawson
Chief Science Officer for Fair Trade Cannabis LLC
My Bureaucratically Mandated Opiate Addiction
The history of scientific discovery is abundant with what are sometimes considered to be serendipitous coincidences, and it might be claimed that I stumbled into my niche in the Cannabis industry somewhat serendipitously. However, to paraphrase an idea first espoused by Louis Pasteur, even when some scientists attempt to claim that they just got lucky, it is apparent that serendipity only favors the prepared mind.
Even with this premise, I believe I am still able to advance the claim that I got lucky through serendipitous circumstances related to my not-so-fortuitous genetics, coupled with a lifetime of quality educational and developmental events. These genetic and environmental circumstances fortuitously combined to provide me the good fortune of being able to integrate decades of scientific and technological knowledge to the field of biomolecular psychology. Allow me to explain.
I am a 58-year-old male with a form of muscular dystrophy. This is an extremely painful condition, and a treatment protocol for this ailment was established in the late 1930s and early 1940s which physicians still are bureaucratically mandated to follow today. That treatment protocol for what is termed “chronic pain” consists of prescribing the patient an increasingly strong series of powerful opiates. My father was an anesthesiologist, so I was conditioned as a child to adhere to medical protocols, and as a result throughout my adult life I was prescribed and ingested increasing amounts of Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Codeine, and Fentanyl, finally ending up being prescribed 500 mg of Morphine three times a day. This is an obscenely nasty amount, and opiates do very, very nasty things to your body. They weaken the immune system, are addictive, individuals develop a tolerance to them, and they damage the liver and kidneys. Opiates are also extremely easy to overdose on and make it difficult to concentrate, and for nearly eight decades physicians have been bureaucratically mandated give them out to patients like candy at Halloween. Addiction is a major aspect of health psychology, and according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 4.7 million Americans have bureaucratically sanctioned addictions to these prescription painkillers (Torres, 2013).
In August of 2004, my bureaucratically sanctioned opiate addiction caused me to suffer a stroke which resulted in the loss of the use of my left arm. That was also the last day I walked, and I was placed into a Hospice facility where my doctors hovered around my deathbed essentially saying, “We’ve done everything we can for him, we followed our protocol of treating his pain by addicting him to opiates for his entire adult life.”
At that time, I wasn’t particularly interested in dying, so I started researching alternatives. One of the alternatives I researched was medicinal Cannabis. I hadn’t consumed any Cannabis since college, and unlike Bill Clinton, in college I inhaled deeply and frequently. At that time, I became aware that there was, in addition to the usual effects of smoking Cannabis, a reduction in my pain. I was eventually able to obtain a supply of medicinal grade Cannabis from a friend from Colorado. It worked. It took me a couple of weeks to wean myself off the morphine, and the Cannabis took care of any pain issues I was experiencing, and I haven’t touched a pharmaceutical medication since the year 2010.
Serendipitously, my bachelor’s degree, obtained in 1981, happened to be heavily focused on the study of molecular biology. Also, fortuitously, during my bachelor’s studies, I was trained in what was in the early 1980’s cutting-edge medical technology known as microdialysis. Microdialysis is a minimally-invasive sampling technique used for continuous measurement of free, unbound endogenous molecule concentrations in the extracellular fluid of virtually any vertebrate tissue. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I continued my academic pursuits, obtaining a Master’s degree in Science Education from the University of Iowa and secured a position teaching organic chemistry and biochemistry at a small private college in Duluth, Minnesota. As a lark, during a summer hiatus, I accepted a position in the casino industry. My job responsibilities included training casino employees in the skills necessary to be effective managers. Sometimes life decisions are based on economics, and this position paid me three times more than I made teaching at the college level, and I never went back.
I worked in the casino industry for 18 years; the entire time addicted to administratively sanctioned opiates. The opiate crisis has been in the news a lot lately, and it has been quite common to place blame for it on the prescribing doctors and to condemn them for their ignorance (Harrison, 2016). While it is beneficial to a person’s self-esteem to claim the prescribing physicians were not smart enough to understand they were poisoning their patients slowly, it turns out these physicians have been bureaucratically mandated to addict chronic pain patients to opiates since the late 1930’s. As gratifying as it might have been to my self-esteem for me to place blame on physicians for synergizing the opiate crisis in this country, attributing it to physicians is wrong because they had been conditioned to believe the benefits of opiates outweigh the risks. The underlying point is doctors have been mandated by bureaucracies which make their medical decisions for them to follow a protocol that was established before Adolf Hitler overran Europe. There is a fundamental error in attributing to physicians the ability to research alternatives to addicting patients to opiates in that the bureaucratic system which oversees their behavior essentially demands they do so and punishes them economically if they refuse.
Serendipity and good fortune are often cited as key factors in making scientific innovations. However, to quote Louis Pasteur directly; “In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind” (Lecture 1854). My little “death experience” coupled with my understanding of molecular biology and microdialysis sampling techniques allowed me to collaborate with a CORE laboratory in Indiana and begin research based on utilizing microdialysis sampling techniques to numerically measure the basal levels of a healthy vertebrate’s endocannabinoid system. By extracting and determining basal levels of the endocannabinoids Anandamide, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), Oleamide, Virodhamine (O-arachidonoyl ethanolamine), N-arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA) and Lysophosphatidylinositol from the extracellular spaces of the brain, a measure of receptor function as well as the overall health and balance of a vertebrate’s physiology and psychology can be determined. With the development of microdialysis sampling techniques, basal levels of the endocannabinoids can be measured from a simple extraction of the Cerebral Spinal Fluid collected from the Cisterna Magna (Buczynski & Parsons, 2010). By extracting and establishing the appropriate balance of these molecules in healthy test subjects, comparisons can be made with the ratios in ailing individuals and a therapeutic strategy of phytocannabinoid supplementation should be able to be devised (Fraga et al. 2016). This is the paradigm the science the supplementation of endocannabinoids with memetic phytocannabinoid equivalents is based on. Basal endocannabinoid comparisons that have been made between healthy individuals and individuals suffering from a variety of psychological afflictions are numerous. These include addiction disorders, chronic pain, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia nervosa, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, bulimia, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), depression, Down’s syndrome, epilepsy, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorders and sexual dysfunction.
The potential studies in endocannabinoid research are diverse, amazing, falsifiable, and easy to design. Given the likelihood the Donald Trump administration will continue to reinforce the ban on research of phytocannabinoids and given the fact that the endocannabinoids act on various brain receptors in the same way, an argument could be made that research of the endocannabinoids could be considered the most compelling area of study for a biomolecular psychologist to pursue.