U.S.-Funded "Expert" Brings

Reefer Madness to Brazil

São Paulo Newspaper Claims that Marijuana Causes "Insomnia, Nausea, Muscular Pain," and "Loss of Appetite"

by Al Giordano

Dissident Voice

May 29, 2003


RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: As the country of Brazil moves closer to more humane and democratic drug policy, the vested interests - led by the "drug treatment" lobby - are trying desperately to pull it back to the Stone Age. The spear used by these Neanderthals of drug policy comes in the form of knowingly false statements about marijuana users and efforts to corral them into "treatment."


Even as hundreds of drug war critics met in Rio de Janeiro at the event co-sponsored by Narco News on May 16, a U.S. government-funded advocate of "marijuana treatment" had arrived in São Paulo to promote his fledgling industry: "Treatment" for marijuana smokers.


Among the demonstrably false claims made the sponsors of the forum titled "Advances in the Treatment of Marijuana Users" at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) were, according to the daily O Estado of São Paulo, that the use of marijuana causes "insomnia, nausea, muscular pain, anxiety, nervousness, sweat, diarrhea, loss of appetite and intense desire to use the drug."


These bizarre claims about marijuana already don't fly in the United States, where they were made for years by the snake-oil salesmen of prohibition and later discarded after being thoroughly disproved by medical journals and professionals. In fact, the claims made in Brazil this week of insomnia, loss of appetite, and muscular pain, supposedly caused by marijuana use, are directly opposite to the consensus of doctors, investigators, and public health professionals in the U.S. and elsewhere who prescribe marijuana as an effective medicine to provide relief for those ailments.


The true facts - and the brazenness with which the Drug Treatment Lobby is lying about them in Brazil - makes the presence of professor Robert Stephens of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute as the special invitee of the São Paulo forum (he's with a group that calls itself the "Marijuana Treatment Project") a matter that should be scrutinized by U.S. taxpayers and Brazilian Civil Society alike.


The article in Friday's [May 16] daily O Estado, authored by someone named Renato Lombardi, also promoted "the effectiveness of brief treatment for users" of marijuana, and "the first out-patient clinic aimed at dependents of marijuana," a clinic that is apparently - says the newspaper - looking for potheads to give them "treatment."


Where There's Smoke There Are Facts


The claims made this week by the marijuana treatment lobby in Brazil have been thoroughly refuted by serious medical journals and health professionals in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and the rest of the world, who have consistently stated:


* Marijuana is recognized, in serious medical practice, as a sedative, not a stimulant, which means that it induces, not impedes, sleep among its users.


* Marijuana is an effective medicine against nausea, particularly for cancer patients who suffer the nausea of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and for AIDS patients who take nausea-inducing legal pharmaceuticals.


* Marijuana is an effective medicine to combat muscle spasms, relaxing the pained muscles of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and serious physical injuries.


* Marijuana is a calming medicine, not an anxiety or nerve-wracking drug.


* Marijuana stimulates appetite (what pot users call "the munchies," in which smoking the plant provokes a craving for food), and that's related to its efficacy as a cure for nausea.


The "Reefer Madness" craze of the 1930s - the dishonest publicity campaign of films and yellow journalism to frighten the U.S. populace that marijuana use would cause Mexicans and blacks to rape their daughters and become homicidal fiends, as prelude to the marijuana prohibition passed in 1937 - is being resurrected in Brazil as a last-ditch desperate US-sponsored effort to scare concerned parents south of the Equator into opposing the drug policy reforms underway.


Worse, these surreal scare tactics are also being used to promote an industry - the Drug Treatment Lobby - and, in particular, its fledgling promotion of "marijuana treatment" services.


What motive, kind reader, could anyone have to state the exact opposite of these indisputable facts, at this moment in history in Brazil?


As Homer Simpson might say: "Doh!"


The Simpsonization of the Drug War


It has not been a good early 21st century for our visiting "expert," Robert Stephens, and his campaign to push "marijuana treatment" in the United States. No wonder he's now importing it to Brazil. Perhaps he miscalculated that he would get less scrutiny here.


Stephens was a co-author of the 2002 report "Cognitive functioning of long-term heavy cannabis users seeking treatment" in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). So far, so good, for professor Stephens: a byline published by the prestigious JAMA ought to be a gold star on anyone's career… but wait…


As noted at the time by Alcohol and Drug Abuse Weekly, the Journal of the American Medical Association refuted Stephens' report in the very same issue of JAMA: "In an accompanying editorial to the study, Harrison G. Pope, Jr., M.D., of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at Harvard University affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., wrote that the study findings must be viewed in conjunction with results from other studies. Pope said that a prior study found no significant cognitive deficits in seven of eight neuropsychological ability areas for long-term marijuana users."


Harvard's Doctor Pope further pointed out - in the accompanying JAMA editorial - that Stephens and Company "did not take into account the notion that some of these people might possess anxiety or depressive disorders, or used prescription drugs that might have caused the impairment. Forty-seven percent of the heavy marijuana users in the study possessed a history of regular use or dependence on other drugs, a fact that was not factored into the study analysis, said Pope," according to Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly. "Pope also said that the researchers did not adjust for the gender of study participants, and only partially adjusted their analysis to reflect the age of participants."


Stephens and Company wrote nasty letters back to JAMA refuting Pope's refutations, but the "harm reduction" of truth against lies had already inoculated American medicine against Stephens' snake oil. (Whether Stephens' Marijuana Treatment Project's titanic crash in the waters of JAMA will impact future funding by the US government's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment - this U.S. Health and Human Services Department agency doles out, according to the department's own 1999 report, $1.4 billion dollars a year in block grants - remains to be seen. Not that the U.S. government has ever let the facts get in the way of a good drug war promotional campaign.)


Now, the promoter of the Marijuana Treatment Project has come to Brazil with his bizarre campaign to "treat" marijuana users.


In a May 17, 2002, Seattle Times column co-authored by Roger A. Roffman, Stephens relied on a world renowned authority to forward his campaign to lasso marijuana users into "treatment": Homer Simpson. (No, kind reader, Jayson Blair and Howell Raines have not joined the Narco News staff; we are not making this up.) The Stephens and Roffman column was titled "Did Homer Go to Pot?"


Stephens and Roffman wrote:


"A recent episode of the popular TV show 'The Simpsons' highlighted the pros and cons of marijuana use, and Homer Simpson's experiences with marijuana provide an example of what we mean."


Warning: Continued reading of Stephens' prose may cause, for some kind readers, a hallucinogenic experience, provoking uncontrollable laughter. Do not drink water or other liquids while reading the following paragraphs because the beverage is likely to go up and out your nose, splashing your laptop's keypad, and causing an electrical short circuit that could damage your computer's hard drive.


Here are some excerpts from Stephens' scholarly discourse that extrapolates the experience of a non-existent cartoon character, Homer Simpson, to make broad assumptions about real-life pot smokers:


"After a run-in with some angry crows, Homer was prescribed medicinal marijuana for the pain from eye injuries. In addition to the pain relief, Homer found himself having an enhanced appreciation for music, food and a variety of sensory experiences as a result of his marijuana use. He became more relaxed and enjoyed life in ways he hadn't before….


"Homer became preoccupied with smoking marijuana and some not-so-positive effects showed up. He spent more time with other users and less with his family. His friends thought that he was too "spacey" and noticed a change in his personality. Yet, Homer continued to function reasonably well at work and was actually liked better by some people.


"Eventually, problems with memory and attention became evident when Homer and other marijuana users lost track of the date and scheduled a pro-marijuana rally the day after an important vote was taken on whether medicinal marijuana should be legal. Perhaps a bit exaggerated, but clearly there are costs of marijuana use similar to these that are experienced by real-life users."



Stephens and Roffman then give us a glimpse of their attitudes and strategies about how to discuss marijuana use:


"It shouldn't surprise us that there is a positive side to marijuana use. After all, why else would people smoke it? It's also not surprising that drug education usually emphasizes the negative effects. Some believe that talking too much about the positive effects might encourage more people to start using and lead to more negative effects in the long run."


Then they invite the reader to consume their product, something called "The Marijuana Check-Up," which, we learn, is funded by the United States government:


"We see many adult marijuana users who are conflicted about the costs and benefits of marijuana use and the pros and cons of quitting or reducing use. We see them as participants in a research project at the University of Washington financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. To date, 129 people have joined the project, called The Marijuana Check-Up."


That's 129 marijuana smokers… plus Homer Simpson… that Stephens' cites to document his claims and give birth to the Marijuana Treatment Industry.


Meanwhile, in a country called Brazil…


On the Prowl for Potheads


Commercial Media attempts to induce public hysteria over drug use at this historic moment in Brazil paint a scene out of film noir, as Authentic Journalist Karine Muller noted on these pages last March, are reaching a fevered pitch. Now, Renato Lombardi of O Estado has added his pen to the service of the disinformation.


"Brazil Is One of Two Major Marijuana Consumers," is the headline. The subhead invites you to the show: "Meeting Unites Specialists to Discuss Advances in Drug Treatment."


Brazil is, in fact, one of the two big pot-smoking countries, although still dwarfed by consumption inside the United States, in spite of professor Stephens' "marijuana treatment" industry. But unlike the U.S., Brazil does not export maconha to other countries. "The marijuana grown in Brazil is consumed in Brazil," noted union leader Eraldo José de Souza at Friday's Civil Society forum in Rio de Janeiro. (The fact that Brazil does not export marijuana, or any drug, to the United States also raises the question: What the hell is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) doing in Brazil? That question will be addressed in a future Narco News report.)


The O Estado article by Renato Lombardi begins with a single true statement - that Brazil is number-two in the World Cup of pot smoking - but immediately deteriorates into mythology. We are told that, according to a United Nations study, "street children are those who experiment most" with marijuana. We are told that another study (the names of and details of these studies are not cited) "reveals that 26 percent" of university students in São Paulo, use marijuana, and that among "first and second grade students, four percent admit that they have experimented with marijuana at least once."


O Estado continues:


"In a work prepared about marijuana, the psychiatrist Ronaldo Laranjeira, of the Federal University of São Paulo, reveals that the drug provokes dependency and causes damages to health. 'The person feels insomnia, nausea, muscular pain, anxiety, nervousness, sweat, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and intense desire to use the drug,' says Laranjeira."


And the newspaper informs us that Laranjeira will be the host of last Friday's forum, with the Alcohol and Drugs Studies Unit (UNIAD, in its Portuguese acronym) at the Federal University, featuring the same Laranjeira and "six other major Brazilian specialists in the issue."


The Guest of Honor for this homage to alleged "advances" in "marijuana treatment," is the expert from out of town: Professor Robert Stephens, who "wrote articles about marijuana treatment and will speak about the Marijuana Treatment Project (MTP), an American multidisciplinary study to test the effectiveness of brief treatments for users of the drug. Stephens is the creator of a school for problems with marijuana."


Get it, kind readers: Stephens has a "project" and a "school" but is also presented as someone who "tests the effectiveness" of his own projects!


O Estado's Renato Lombardi then informs us that the UNAID program at the university "created, in 2000, the first out-patient clinic aimed at those dependent on marijuana, separate from those that serve dependents of cocaine and alcohol."


In explaining the differences between marijuana "dependents" and other drug users, Flávia Jungerman, coordinator of the out-patient clinic, is quoted as saying, "It would be difficult for a marijuana dependent to rob a car to buy the drug, as is common among those dependent on cocaine." And, according to her, "the marijuana consumer does poorly in school, doesn't find work, and has difficulty concentrating." (This, from the same report that tells us the 26 percent of local university students - that is, people who did well enough in school to get into college - smoke grass!)


Apparently, according to Lombardi of O Estado, the Brazil program is only somewhat more popular than Stephens' U.S. program and its 129 patients: Since its inauguration in 2000, the Brazil clinic has attracted "more than 300 patients." That would be around ten a month.


But the most dangerous harm that we can find to these marijuana smokers is also cited in this article: That 44 percent of the patients "treated" for marijuana use "had some contact with the police."


So, as a U.S. expert and his dishonest allies in São Paulo promote their "Marijuana Treatment" Industry, we are back to square one: The real problem with marijuana is that it is illegal, and bringing, according to its own self-appointed purveyors of "treatment," four out of nine users "in contact with the police."


As Judge Maria Lúcia Karam, presiding at the standing-room only forum in Rio de Janeiro last Friday, declared in her verdict, there is a crime being committed and guilt to be found. "The State," she declared, "is guilty."


And one of the guilty party's main accomplices is the Drug Treatment Lobby, addicted to government funds to carry out its terrorism called "therapeutic justice," a terror Made in the USA, now with its start-up division of "marijuana treatment," being exported, like other defective products that no longer enjoy consumer confidence in the United States, to Brazil.


Al Giordano is the editor of The Narco News Bulletin, an on-line news journal that focuses on the drug war and Latin America, where this article first appeared (www.narconews.com). Email: narconews@hotmail.com




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