The Washington City Paper’s cover article on addiction (“Magic Pill,” 10/26) referred to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Intramural Research Program as “cutting-edge science.” As a social scientist trained in research methods, I’m skeptical of the alleged science NIDA cranks out with our tax dollars, especially as it pertains to marijuana. According to the NIDA Web site, “[m]arijuana is a green or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant.” NIDA can’t even get the color of marijuana right. What does that say about the validity of its research?
The article noted that a NIDA researcher “recently won accolades from his peers for finally training monkeys to smoke marijuana voluntarily.” Apparently, most animals don’t enjoy marijuana but “take to cocaine and heroin like fish to water.” NIDA’s determination to train monkeys to use marijuana despite repeated failures says a lot about the organization’s integrity. Science and predetermined outcomes are mutually exclusive.
NIDA has a long history of funding methodologically suspect research. The reefer-madness myths that led to marijuana prohibition have long been discredited, forcing the drug-war gravy train to spend millions on politicized research, trying to find harm in a relatively harmless plant. Last year’s highly publicized NIDA study involving squirrel monkeys and cocaine is a prime example. Frustrated with animal research subjects’ unwillingness to self-administer THC (one of the many psychoactive ingredients in marijuana), NIDA researchers devised a flawed but headline-grabbing means of supporting their dubious contention that marijuana is addictive: The problem was overcome by first teaching the monkeys to self-administer cocaine. After strapping squirrel monkeys into chairs and turning them into cocaine addicts, NIDA found that monkeys would willingly self-administer THC when forced into cocaine withdrawal. The NIDA press release quoted Steven Goldberg, one of the study’s authors, as concluding that “marijuana has as much potential for abuse as other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroin.” Despite questionable methodology and a statistically insignificant control group of four monkeys, the study made headlines around the nation.
NIDA produces propaganda, not science.