Professor Nahas's Crusade.. or the Art of Disinformation
What is the origin of the "cannabis toxicity" campaigns? We thought it would be a good idea to find out. We were not disappointed...
Professor Nahas is not your average scientist: even before he began his research, he knew what the outcome would be. His first research project, during the Fifties at Columbia University in the United States, was set up to, in his own words, "prove the very great danger of marijuana in all fields of biology." The key word here is "prove". Not study, but prove.
Moreover, Professor Nahas declares openly: "I am an enemy of cannabis and I will use all means possible to fight against cannabis". And indeed, in this fight, all means are acceptable. The war against cannabis, presented as a war for public health, is in fact something entirely different: it is a war for values which dare not rear their heads in the light of day. So much so that, the debate, if there ever is a debate, is skewed: the crux of the matter is never touched upon.
Those who fight for this system of values that dare not be stated are nonetheless so sure of their moral superiority that the end seems to justify the means. At least the goal is clearly defined: eliminating cannabis, perceived as a threat, from Western society and if possible, from the entire planet. All of this must be kept in mind when measuring the scope of the little phrases that are sprinkled throughout Professor Gabriel Nahas's publications: according to him, people who smoke joints "lose all interest in worthwhile objectives" . Worthwhile relates to certain values. But there is no explicit mention of exactly which values because it is quite possible that these values would not unanimously accepted.
It is safer to do battle on another field, which also has the advantage of an apparent neutrality: the field of science. Each person forms his/her own system of values, but science is supposedly based on facts. It is therefore, in principle, acceptable to everyone. Science also has an additional advantage: it is hermetic. So much so that the public at large is forced to accept as Gospel the summaries of scientific studies that are put before.
How could the public at large know that as early as 1975, Columbia University called a press conference to disassociate itself publicly from Gabriel Nahas's research on marijuana? Without carrying out an enquiry, how is one to know that many of the studies on which Professor Nahas bases his theories have been discredited in the United States and elsewhere for methodological errors so serious that they smack of fraud?
There are plenty of examples. We shall limit ourselves to a single case to illustrate how seemingly scientific studies are used to popularize notions that are not in the least rational. It should be noted that the experiment in question and others like it are still mentioned by Nahas and his followers as proof that cannabis causes irreversible brain damage.
For this experiment, gas masks were placed on the faces of some unfortunate laboratory monkeys so that they would be forced to breathe in cannabis smoke. After exposure, the animals were put down and it was discovered that they had suffered brain damage. This could have been the end of the story. But what happened next is quite edifying:
independent researchers, intrigued by these results which did not coincide with the bulk of research in the field, endeavored for many years to know just which procedure was used for the experiment. Thus, they learned that for five minutes, the monkeys were only permitted to breathe in the cannabis smoke equivalent given off by lighting sixty three joints! Under such conditions, the animals had in fact died from asphyxiation. Smoke from burning wood would have caused the same brain damage.
In another study, also mentioned to demonstrate that cannabis causes brain damage, laboratory rats were injected with pure THC, at doses corresponding to twelve hundred times the doses ingested by a cannabis smoker! If these experiments demonstrate anything at all, it is the remarkable absence of cannabis toxicity: the same dose of any of our legal drugs, nicotine, alcohol, or even caffeine, is immediately lethal to any animal on the receiving end of such an injection.
"An expert is an authority only when he is useful to the powers that be", accurately observe Stengers and Ralet. And Professor Nahas suits the prohibitionist policies of the industrialized countries so well that he has been awarded a golden position: for a long time he has been a special consultant to the WHO drug commission.
Of course, being appointed to this position can in no way be taken as recognition of the apointee '5 scientific merit. Rather, it satisfies a political necessity: the Western countries need a "scientific" counterweight to the Arab countries, which by tradition are tolerant of cannabis but hostile to alcohol.
This position at the UN (which has also placed him in charge of writing annual reports) has conferred an undeniable prestige upon Professor Nahas - not to mention the power to distribute funds for research that goes in the appropriate direction.
In the Eighties, discredited in the United States, Gabriel Nahas retreated back to France. In his position as a consultant to Jacques Chirac on drugs, he has pulled off some notable victories. And he is getting ready to pull of some others.
A HIJACKED SEMINAR
In April 1 992, guided by the expertise of Gabriel Nahas, the Town Hall of Paris organized, at the National Academy of Medicine, a seminar on illegal drugs. After the standard speeches, the working session started (let every lord have his due) with a presentation by Gabriel Nahas on the toxicity of cannabis. A presentation which rehashes the usual topics with the usual evidence.
Any interested reader may obtain the text of these presentations1 under the title Textes et Documents, from the Town Hall of Paris. Along with the prose of Nahas (amusing detail, most of his bibliography refers to...his own publications), this book contains various contributions, some of which, such as that of F. R. Ingold and M. Toussirt, are quite interesting.
But how important are the other contributions? For Nahas, what counts is that the seminar took place, once again giving him an opportunity to play the role of expert in front of unenlightened observers. What counts is the so-called scientific backing that the anti-cannabis crusaders derive from such a seminar.
Must reading, on the next to last page, is the general conclusions of the seminar by Professor Henri Baylon, president of the Academy of Medicine - conclusions which only serve to reiterate the stereotypes of the official doctrine and which go so far as to forget the seminar was supposed to cover all illegal drugs, not only cannabis. For example:
( "The toxicity of cannabis is by now well established, especially for the central nervous system."
False! Read the interview by Jean-Pol Tassin on this topic, page 8.
( "A large proportion of cannabis users become cocaine or heroin users". False! Specialists across the board, including the ineffable Doctor Curtet, set this figure at around 4%.
( "In those places were cannabis use has been liberalized, there has been a considerable increase in cannabis use and subsequent accidents."
False! In Holland, looking back over the last twenty five years, there has been no increase in use or in any type of accident.. And in those American states that decriminalized cannabis, there was in fact a decrease in consumption.
Once again, the purpose of such a seminar is not to make progress in science, but rather to issue effective weapons to the anti-cannabis crusaders.
Once the proceedings of the seminar were published, out of the shadows came a National Alliance against Drug Addiction, which organized a press conference. This was in the month of April. A press release was circulated. First remark, the very name of the seminar had been changed from "International Seminar on Illegal Drugs" to "Seminar on the Physiopathology of Cannabis". A strange sleight of hand that once again points the finger at falsification. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the National Alliance against Drug Addiction is chaired by.. Gabriel Nahas.
Among the list of guests present, not surprisingly, was Jean-Paul Se gue Ia, drug addiction consultant to the Ministry of the Interior (who distinguished himself by evoking the famous "left lateralization frontal syndrome" which attacks cannabis smokers).
EVEN THE MINISTER OF HEALTH
The press release circulated for the occasion mentioned an experiment that indicates "a psychomotor deficiency among airplane pilots on a flight simulator, measurable twenty four hours after smoking only one cannabis cigarette". Remarkable result, given that all studies carried out up to now indicate just the opposite, i.e., the effects of a joint take one hour, perhaps two, to wear off, but in any case they always disappear within four hours.
This strange result has been quoted and will continue to be quoted, for isn't our very safety at stake? Philippe Douste-Blazy, our Minister of Health, thought it was a good idea to make reference to the study. Here is his version: "After four hours, the pilot lands five meters away from the median strip, after twelve hours, twenty meters away and after sixteen hours forty meters away ". (Le Quo tidien du medecin, September 3, 1993). This can only be called a caricature.
Once again, it behooved us to discuss, with a critically minded scientist, the experiment that has generated all of this controversy. We then learned some really interesting facts. ..The experiment in question (it was part of the seminar proceedings) took place in three phases. Firstly, carried out on a flight simulator not deemed very realistic by the pilots, the experiment did in fact show a slight difference, twenty four hours later, between pilots that had smoked cannabis and the others. But when the experiment was renewed with a perfected flight simulator, this difference disappeared. This led the experimenters to try and find a way to make the difference reappear. They decided to make the pilots' task extremely complicated by increasing the number of simultaneous actions. Along with a landing maneuver, they added radio communication with the control tower, another aircraft to be localized and a collision to be avoided, motor failure and finally poor weather conditions. Just to be safe, they also reduced the learning time. And sure enough, to the satisfaction of the experimenters and without having to ask the pilots to do a headstand while performing the maneuver, the famous difference between those who had smoked a joint and those that had not reappeared twenty four hours later. But this leaves out an essential fact: in spite of all the effort made, in scientific jargon, the magnitude of this difference is extremely low:
similar to the difference recorded between the group of pilots with an average age of twenty five years and the group with an average age of thirty seven. In other words, as Marie-Ange d'Adler rightfully points out in the magazine l'Evenement du jeudi dated September 23, 1 993:
"The same differences would probably exist between pilots that have slept two more or two less hours, between those that have smoked tobacco and those that have not, between those that had a glass of whisky the night before and those that did not, etc.
So this is how Gabriel Nahas and his National Alliance against Drug Addiction manipulate science. And this is how the public at large is duped. And this is how our politicians spread the good word. At this rate, the information campaigns promised by Balladur will probably be as woefully inadequate as usual.
Unless these successive blunders inspire our politicians to be more circumspect and take more care in choosing their consultants. Gabriel Nahas and his cohorts have been poisoning the debate for forty years; the time has come to acknowledge this and treat the French people as adults.
"Maintenant", October 1993
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