It was not so long ago that doctors prescribed cigarettes.
And I guess that really defines the underlying message of the whole post series.
It is the nature of science -indeed, its inherent strongpoint- that its understanding at any given time is extremely limited. However, it is the nature of most scientists to have total amnesia about this reality.
In the meantime, we have to get on with the daily business of meatsuit maintenance.
But it’s not ‘just’ medical science, the politics of what is ‘good’ for us has always been a nightmarish quagmire of despicable motives… ones that imprison us if left unpacked.
You know how Coca-Cola used to have cocaine in it? You probably suspect it was removed when cocaine became illegal.
Anyone with a nickel, black or white, could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage. Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans.
Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, [then-manager of Coca-Cola Asa Griggs] Candler had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.
The company actually removed the cocaine from its product 11 years before it became illegal.
And anyway, aren’t we supposed to know these things or is it really all about the smoothies? Are we not poisoners? Are we not the proud inheritors of centuries of delving into the forbidden, the concealed, the occulted? If you think that is limited to being as literally accurate as possible with regards to a few demonic books then I would suggest your appreciation of historic context needs expanding.
Certainly, spirits suffer from the machinations of Power: whomever is running the show determines who is in, who is out, who is bad. But the same thing happens to our bodies… for precisely the same reasons.
In apocalypse pharmaka, there are things that work, things that don’t work and things that aren’t allowed to work.
Lest you think this series is a repudiation of modern medicine let me assure you it is not. Smallpox and malaria prevention, keyhole surgery, MRIs, blood transfusions, dialysis, antivirals, birth control… a century of miracles!
If you are ever in the water with a shark, don’t flee from it. Like dogs, they are naturally curious and will pursue.
It’s in their nature.
It’s probably in our wizardly nature, too. Power tells me I can’t have something?
Why? Cui bono?
In this sense, all magic is Luciferian, all magic is Promethean.
Apocryphally, the Titanic took almost an hour to perform a complete turn.
The weight of received opinion will always be just as unwieldy because, even leaving aside vested commercial interests, science advances one funeral at a time.
Not that you should ever leave aside those commercial interests, of course:
Sometimes drug companies conduct lots of trials, and when they see that the results are unflattering, they simply fail to publish them. This is not a new problem, and it’s not limited to medicine. In fact, this issue of negative results that go missing in action cuts into almost every corner of science. It distorts findings in fields as diverse as brain imaging and economics, it makes a mockery of all our efforts to exclude bias from our studies, and despite everything that regulators, drug companies and even some academics will tell you, it is a problem that has been left unfixed for decades.
In fact, it is so deep-rooted that even if we were to fix it today — right now, for good, forever, without any flaws or loopholes in our legislation — that still wouldn’t help because we would still be practicing medicine, cheerfully making decisions about which treatment is best, on the basis of decades of medical evidence which is — as you’ve now seen — fundamentally distorted.
Let’s take a stroll through the decks of this particular Titanic.
When I was in Sweden to MC my friend’s PhD graduation party, I had the good fortune to watch her defend her thesis. During the course of her research, she effectively found a vaccination for chlamydia. Whilst it may not set the world on fire as chlamydia is treatable, it’s a very common STI, carried by both genders, and can cause female infertility if left untreated. This is no small concern in areas of the world -such as Europe- that have declining birth rates.
Like most academic fields, the apogee of advanced sexual health research is very small. They had to fly in a particular professor -a world authority- from the US. One of his questions to my friend was “who would you give this vaccination to?” The implication being that -just as is currently the case in the US- neither the funds nor the medical infrastructure would be in place to vaccinate an entire populace.
She smiled and said “this is Sweden. Everyone gets the vaccination.” (Damn you, Sweden! Sexy and healthy?? I call unfair.)
The auditorium may have chuckled but it highlights an area of extreme concern with regards to apocalypse pharmaka. And that is the difference between commercial and public research.
In 2010, three researchers from Harvard and Toronto found all the trials looking at five major classes of drug — antidepressants, ulcer drugs and so on — and then measured two key features: were they positive, and were they funded by industry? They found over 500 trials in total: 85 percent of the industry-funded studies were positive, but only 50 percent of the government-funded trials were. That’s a very significant difference.
Cui bono indeed.
Let’s have a look at a number of specific pills. Starting with beta blockers, prescribed for 40 years. A medicine which has never worked.
The premise of beta-blocker therapy has been that giving the heart a rest will diminish the frequency of heart attacks. In the light of the two new studies, it is clearly time to question this.
Which raises the question: why has it taken so long to find out?
The first beta blocker, Inderal, was launched in 1964 by Imperial Chemical Industries for treatment of angina. This drug has been hailed as one of great medical advances of the 20th century. Its inventor, James Black, was awarded the Nobel prize in medicine in 1988. The 20 or so beta blockers now on the market are very widely used – almost 200 million prescriptions were written for them in the US in 2010. They are standard issue for most people with heart disease or high blood pressure. This may now change.
Scroll back up. 85% positive results for privately funded studies. Beta blockers were created by Imperial Chemical Industries.
Let’s move on to anti-depressants. It’s worth unpacking these at length because of their wider implications beyond the meatsuit and into consciousness itself. Prozac flat out doesn’t work. Fine. But Big Pharma lied about it:
In fact, the very theory for how these drugs work has been called into question. Nerve cells — neurons — talk to one another through chemical signals called neurotransmitters, which come in a variety of forms, like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. For decades, a central theory in psychiatry has been that antidepressants worked by raising serotonin levels in the brain. In depressed brains, the serotonin signal had somehow been “weakened” because of a chemical imbalance in neurotransmitters. Prozac and Paxil were thought to increase serotonin levels, thereby strengthening the signals between nerve cells — as if a megaphone had been inserted in the middle.
But this theory has been widely criticized. In The New York Review of Books, Marcia Angell, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, wrote: “After decades of trying to prove [the chemical-imbalance theory], researchers have still come up empty-handed.” Jonathan Rottenberg, writing in Psychology Today, skewered the idea thus: “As a scientific venture, the theory that low serotonin causes depression appears to be on the verge of collapse. This is as it should be; the nature of science is ultimately to be self-correcting. Ideas must yield before evidence.”
In 1997, a psychologist, Irving Kirsch, currently at the Harvard Medical School, set out to look at the placebo effect in relation to depression. In part, the placebo effect works because the psyche acutely modifies the perception of illness or wellness. Kirsch wondered how powerful this effect might be for drugs that treat depression — where the medical condition itself happens to involve an alteration of the psyche.
To measure this effect, Kirsch combined 38 trials that included patients who had been given antidepressants, placebos or no treatment and then applied mathematical reasoning to estimate how much the placebos contributed to the improvements in mood. The analysis revealed two surprises. First, when Kirsch computed the strength of the placebo effect by combining the trials, he found that 75 percent of an antidepressant’s effect could have been obtained merely by taking the placebo.
When Kirsch and his collaborators combined the published and unpublished studies of antidepressants (they obtained the unpublished data from the F.D.A. via the Freedom of Information Act), the effects of the antidepressants were even more diluted — in some cases, vanishingly so. Now, the placebo effect swelled to 82 percent (i.e., four-fifths of the benefit might have been obtained by swallowing an inert pill alone). Kirsch came to believe that pharmaceutical companies were exaggerating the benefits of antidepressants by selectively publishing positive studies while suppressing negative ones.
Recall what Ben Goldacre said in the quote in the introduction to this post. What was that about concealing negative results? Results that take an FOIA request to prise from the lizard claws of Big Pharma?
How might one widen the market for anti-depressants? Oh, I know. Why not remove the ‘grief exclusion’ from the
malleus maleficarum DSM V?
A key adviser to the committee — he wrote the scientific justification for the change — was the lead author of the 2001 study on Wellbutrin, sponsored by GlaxoWellcome, showing that its antidepressant Wellbutrin could be used to treat bereavement…
The association also appointed an oversight panel that declared that the recommendations had been free of bias, but most of the members of the “independent review panel” had previous financial ties to the industry.
A grief pill? What an amazing way to be able to prescribe antidepressants to literally everyone! This is clearly the commercial end-goal. Google ‘polypill’. One last thought before we move to another deck.
A Washington Post review of the 73 [New England Medical Journal] articles on new drugs published over one year (August 2011 to August 2012) found that “60 were funded by a pharmaceutical company, 50 were co-written by drug company employees and 37 had a lead author, typically an academic, who had previously accepted outside compensation from the sponsoring drug company in the form of consultant pay, grants or speaker fees.”
Do you envision this situation getting better or worse?
The two demons of sweetness… and their earthly servants
Oh, sugar. Bless you for being one of the few addictions I don’t actually suffer from. But fuck you for being at the root of practically every major disease of the First World. If you read one article from this giant post, please let it be this Mother Jones one.
[Sugar] would be transformed from what the New York Times in 1977 had deemed “a villain in disguise” into a nutrient so seemingly innocuous that even the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association approved it as part of a healthy diet…
So effective were the Sugar Association’s efforts that, to this day, no consensus exists about sugar’s potential dangers. The industry’s PR campaign corresponded roughly with a significant rise in Americans’ consumption of “caloric sweeteners,” including table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This increase was accompanied, in turn, by a surge in the chronic diseases increasingly linked to sugar. Since 1970, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled….
This decades-long effort to stack the scientific deck is why, today, the USDA’s dietary guidelines only speak of sugar in vague generalities. (“Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.”) It’s why the FDA insists that sugar is “generally recognized as safe” despite considerable evidence suggesting otherwise. It’s why some scientists’ urgent calls for regulation of sugary products have been dead on arrival, and it’s why—absent any federal leadership—New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt compelled to propose a ban on oversized sugary drinks that passed in September.
In fact, a growing body of research suggests that sugar and its nearly chemically identical cousin, HFCS, may very well cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, and that these chronic conditions would be far less prevalent if we significantly dialed back our consumption of added sugars.
Now watch this Mother Jones video with Gary Taubes.
The story of sugar is just as archonic as the story of Big Pharma. Don’t ever believe otherwise. Ever. Any defence of sugar is pure confection. It is a pack of cigarettes that you can eat. A lot of us may find this position extremely unpopular -and no doubt, cognitive dissonance will take hold- but it cannot fail to cause outrage that the cost of Big Sugar’s bottom line is endemic political corruption and the deaths of millions of people.
Don’t think you can easily replace sugar, either.
Aspartame, after killing thousands of lab animals and failing to gain FDA approval, had this failure overturned by Reagan on his first full day in office. Guess who ran the company that had the aspartame patent, contributed to Reagan’s election and was part of his transition committee?
Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president January 21, 1981. Rumsfeld, while still CEO at Searle, was part of Reagan’s transition team. This team hand-picked Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., to be the new FDA commissioner. Dr. Hayes, a pharmacologist, had no previous experience with food additives before being appointed director of the FDA. On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, Reagan issued an executive order eliminating the FDA commissioners’ authority to take action and Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame in food sweetener. Hayes, Reagan’s new FDA commissioner, appointed a 5-person Scientific Commission to review the board of inquiry’s decision. It soon became clear that the panel would uphold the ban by a 3-2 decision. So Hayes installed a sixth member on the commission, and the vote became deadlocked. He then personally broke the tie in aspartame’s favor.
The end result of this truly bold act of corporate hijacking?
Aspartame is the most utilized artificial sweetener in the United States, with aspartame controlling over 50 percent of the market and sales of alternative sweeteners at $1.1 billion in 2010, according to a May report from market research firm Freedonia Group.
And, shockingly, demand for artificial sweeteners is projected to grow 3.4 percent annually through 2013, according to the report.
Americans consume close to 50 billion liters of soda per year, which equates to roughly 216 liters, or about 57 gallons per person, much of this in the form of diet soda loaded with aspartame. People are no doubt still opting for this toxic synthetic chemical because of the mistaken belief that drinking diet soda will help fight weight gain.
The truth is that it doesn’t.
It never has and never will, despite the billions of dollars spent annually by the soda industry on public relations and advertising. [More.]
What exactly does aspartame do when your body breaks it down into wood alcohol and formaldehyde? I’m glad you asked.
One reason for aspartame’s potential to cause weight gain is because phenylalanine and aspartic acid – the two amino acids that make up 90 percent of aspartame — are known to rapidly stimulate the release of insulin and leptin; two hormones that are intricately involved with satiety and fat storage. Insulin and leptin are also the primary hormones that regulate your metabolism.
So although you’re not ingesting calories in the form of sugar, aspartame can still raise your insulin and leptin levels.
Elevated insulin and leptin levels, in turn, are two of the driving forces behind obesity, diabetes, and a number of our current chronic disease epidemics.
Getting it yet? On to the next deck.
Full disclosure: I don’t much care for weed. Recreationally speaking, it’s just not a buzz that appeals to me.
However true that may be, it’s unfortunate I have to open a section on the medicinal benefits of cannabis by saying that lest you think it’s a tedious example of a stoner extolling the virtues of his or her chosen intoxicant. And really, I’m just using it here as an example because cannabis is very possibly the most medicinal plant on the planet. It has not been treated as such.
Here’s a cardiologist explaining that it reduces strokes by 50% when no other medication reduces them by even 2%. He refers to cannabis as “an essential part of the human diet.”
But again, we get to the vested interests, such as the ones that kill 15,000 Americans a year:
The same escalating use and abuse of powerful painkillers can be found in rich societies from the UK, across Europe to the antipodes. But the country that really knows all about prescription pill excess, and the human toll it claims, is the US. Americans make up less than 5% of the global population but consume 80% of the world’s supply of opioid prescription pills. Sales of the drugs have increased more than fourfold in the past 10 years, grossing $11bn (£7bn) annually. To express that figure more personally, in 2010 enough of Geni’s pills, or their brand-name equivalents, were handed out by doctors to medicate every American adult with a typical dose of hydro– codone, a pure opioid as powerful as morphine, every four hours for a month.
Everyone knows about its use as a nausea treatment for cancer patients, but it turns out it is amazingly efficacious for almost any kind of chronic pain. (You know… the kind that you would otherwise receive prescription medication for.) Fibro, migraines… you name it. Also possibly PTSD, bone disorders, kidney disorders and brain ageing.
Oh, and one other one. A big one. You can probably guess which. We’ll come back to it. First, why it has its current legal status. Turns out that sugar wasn’t even close to the first substance to be pushed around by money’s influence on politics.
In the 1930’s a man by the name of William Randolph Hearst, invested heavily in thousands of acres in timberland to make wood pulp for most of the newspaper industry. He was the owner of a large newspaper company that was read by more than 20 million U.S. citizens in 18 key cities, and arguably one of the most powerful men in American history. Since Hearst didn’t want any competition from the high-quality hemp paper, he had to do something. He soon teamed up with DuPont, who was providing Hearst with the chemicals he used to preserve his papers at the time. Together they would take hemp completely off the market.
The DuPont Corporation was persistently lobbying in Washington DC, while Hearst began a racist smear campaign in his newspapers. A quote from one of Hearst’s papers, “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows, and look at a white woman twice.” Hearst’s newspaper was the fuel to the fire for the prohibition of marijuana. He painted cannabis as an extremely dangerous drug in his “Yellow Journalism”, and convinced millions of Americans (and even congressmen) that the harmless plant is in fact, evil. Films like ‘Reefer Madness’ had the public believing that cannabis was responsible for everything from car accidents to death.
‘Step on a white man’s shadow’? Outrageous! Welcome to the other side of the looking glass, kids. (Sidebar: Hearst was also instrumental in providing the widest possible audience for the Evangel-CIA-l movement that was in large part created by the head of Union Oil as a means of combatting the rise of unionism in his workforce. But that’s a rant for another time. I’d like to say they don’t make media barons like they used to except… Murdoch. End of.)
But now cancer.
I went backwards and forwards on including this because of the completely understandable politics of suggesting things cure cancer to people who have been affected by it. But surely the fact that we have all been affected by it makes it more relevant, less of a subject to tiptoe around? So instead I settled on putting this information out here so that it can be absorbed by people when (hopefully if) it becomes relevant. Because there are few things more odious than saying “hey, you have cancer? I don’t. But here’s exactly what you should do.” So please consider this to be nothing more than the earnest promotion of the current medical implications of cannabis rather than some total stranger running his mouth off about a very personal business. It’s affected my family multiple times. I would never do that.
And this isn’t ‘just’ fringe stuff. Harvard studies indicate that THC cures cancer. Now before you say “that was just in mice”, let me remind you that that is the entire point of apocalypse pharmaka. Something or a combination of somethings in cannabis very probably destroys paediatric brain cancer. Just imagine how much further towards genuine treatment we’d be if we’d had seventy years of research rather than dismissing the entire plant because all those negroes were stepping on white men’s shadows. (Seriously, twentieth century, what the fuck?)
So how does it ‘cure’ cancer? Isn’t ‘cure’ a bit of a loaded word to use? Not really… not when cannabinoids cause apoptosis in abnormal cells. That is… they seek out cancer cells and cause them to commit suicide. Let’s have another sciencey man (technical term) explain this. You’ll see it’s a playlist of three videos, all of which are recommended. So if you have the time, definitely watch all three. But at least watch the first five minute one.
There’s also a complete PBS documentary here if you wish to pursue the topic even further.
Is it truly possible that mankind has left a cure for cancer on the shelf for almost a century? Well, if you’ve read through the parts about Big Pharma and Big Sugar then it’s safe to assume that yes… it is possible.
And while this state of affairs is indeed changing, we return to the metaphor of the Titanic and how long it takes to turn. A few seconds of Googling Rick Simpson will show you thousands of people who chose not to wait. That’s apocalypse pharmaka.
Let’s move up to the bridge.
A visit to the bridge
How might the people in the supposed wheelhouse be affecting this particular Titanic?
Imagine the Afghan war had run for the past 40 years. Imagine 2,000 deaths a year. The enemy remains 400,000-strong, despite 40,000 being taken prisoner annually. The war costs £1bn a month. Casualties vary from time to time, but there is no hope of victory. Were that the case, I suggest public opinion might be exasperated. Parliament might debate the matter. Ministers might review policy. Yet such is Britain’s fatuously entitled “war on drugs”. Each year governments re-legislate their “war on terror”, despite the minimal threat, but reject any need to revise the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. They refuse to see if it is working, and do nothing but waste public money. [More.]
Does it get worse than refusing to change a failed policy out of fear, corporate bribery and a near-total disregard for the physical health of a country’s citizens? Yes. Yes, it does.
On Sunday it was reported that Israel has finally admitted to systematically depressing the fertility of the Ethiopian immigrant community (information first reported five years ago) by injecting Ethiopian-Israeli women with the long-acting birth control drug Depo-Provera without informed consent.
In some cases, women were first given the drug while still in transit camps; in other cases, it seems women were regularly injected after arriving in Israel. Some women apparently knew they were being given birth control but were told they wouldn’t be let into Israel if they didn’t agree; others report being told the shots were “inoculations.” [More.]
Just in case you think you have read that incorrectly, that is a government policy designed to prevent a specific genetic population from breeding. And who holds the health portfolio in Israel? I bet you can guess. Yep… none other than Bibi himself. The author of the article makes an excellent point at the end:
Or perhaps a simpler question: If birth control were being forced on Jewish women in any other country—what would we say?
Those sailing in first class have made billions off the First World by flooding its food supply with dangerous chemicals and carcinogens and saved billions by denying essential medicines to the Developing World. Either way… you and I die.
There is a relatively simple formula I have used numerous times for assessing when a newspaper business will commit to digital in any meaningful way. It is when the cost of maintaining the status quo exceeds the costs associated with the risk of change. Then things move fast.
Bringing it back to the Titanic, it is untrue that it took an hour to turn. The British Inquiry into the loss of the Titanic has it at about seven minutes. It’s worth bearing this in mind when forming opinions about -for instance- any change to the federal laws surrounding marijuana’s legal status. That’s a lot of tax money. Given the state of the books, I’d err on the side of seven minutes rather than an hour.
As ever, such a pace of change assumes the interests of the captain and the vessel are aligned.
Until they are, you will find me standing by the lifeboats, frantically trying to have that one revolution.
[Disclaimer: This blog mentions ghosts, wizards, aliens, Atlantis, spells and fortune telling. If you consider any of that to constitute medical advice then you need to have a good, long look at how you are living your life.]