05/31/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

This week we talk with Dr. Denis Petro about medical cannabis, and with Professor Alfred McCoy about the CIA's history of involvement in drug trafficking.

Audio file


MAY 31, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. The end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

Recently I attended the Patients Out of Time clinical cannabis conference. They're now holding these events annually. Patients Out of Time is providing legal training at these conferences in addition to medical and scientific education. Listeners should recall that last week, we heard from some of the attorneys who were there. This week, let's turn to the science.

Denis Petro, MD is a Founding Director of Patients Out of Time. Dr. Petro is a neurologist, he has researched cannabis use for Multiple Sclerosis patients, and has served as an expert witness for many cases concerning medical cannabis. Dr. Petro has over 30 years' experience in pharmaceutical research and development and medical practice. He began his post-residency career at the FDA and conducted the FDA Advisory meeting which defined the use of aspirin as primary prevention of stroke. Dr. Petro conducted the first study of THC in the treatment of muscle spasms in spasticity. He's been recognized as an expert in neurology and pharmacology by state as well as federal courts in the United States, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Now, I had the privilege of talking with Dr. Petro about a variety of things that weekend, and we recorded this short interview. Enjoy.

DENIS PETRO, MD: My throat is getting ..

DOUG MCVAY: Ah. In that case, let's do this. At the Patients Out of Time conference, and I have the honor of speaking with Dr. Denis Petro. You, it is not an exaggeration to say that you are pretty much a legend. You have extensive publication history, you have a very distinguished academic record, and among -- I do this thing called Drug War Facts, and I have a -- you know, it's a large database with a lot of information, it's -- and we're concerned about facts, not just, you know, rumor and innuendo and hearsay, and you're a, I have lifted quotes and stuff from your work for years, and I'm, you know, I cannot thank you enough, because it's you and people like you who make our work credible, because you're, you provide the intellectual underpinnings for a lot of the progress that we have managed to achieve over the years. I wanted to say that on the record, just to say thank you.

This is of course Patients Out of Time. At the moment, it's a much different world -- oh heck, it's a much different world than it was years ago when I started this stuff. You've been working on marijuana related research and the marijuana issue for quite a while, you've seen a lot of change. Could you just tell -- I guess first, could you just tell listeners something about some of the -- well, what do you regard as some of your seminal work in the, when it comes to medical cannabis.

DENIS PETRO: Sure. Yeah, has to go back to before you were born, in the 1970s, when I observed some patients that had, first, issues regarding cancer chemotherapy where they had nausea associated with chemotherapy, and back in that era, which was an era where you could smoke in a hospital, you could actually also smoke cannabis, in patients who were getting chemo. So I would see patients who, in the cancer ward, would be smoking and in other words, that's an era where you could smoke in hospitals. I know you can't do it now, but that's a different time. The second thing was, I saw people in the VA system who had spinal and brain injuries associated with spasticity, and again, by evening, the ward would be filled with cannabis smell because it would be the only thing that could treat not only their muscle spasms, spasticity, and pain, but also allow them to relax and get to sleep at night.

No one really had published much of this, in fact if anything, there was one small report from 1973, by an orthopedic surgeon suggesting that cannabis was good, but until 1980, I published a two-patient N of 1, what we call "N of 1" trials, where cannabis was effective in one patient with MS and spasticity, and then a second patient with a spinal cord injury with severe pain requiring opiates. As a result of that, I did a double-blind placebo-controlled trial of the cannabinoid which we call Marinol, which is not a particularly good cannabinoid, but the deal was, it was effective in treating spinal cord injuries associated with MS, it was published in 1981, and it's now a time where a cannabis preparation, namely the GW Pharmaceutical preparation, is available in 26 countries for that therapeutic use. So that was my initial contribution.

But then I went on, because I had attempted to do further research and recognized that the problem was not me and my protocols, it was the government was blocking essentially all research with cannabis oriented toward therapeutic use. So that resulted in me testifying in front of Francis Young, in terms of, in support of the petition to reschedule. Francis Young in 1988 presented his opinion, which said that cannabis was one of the safest therapeutic entities, which had been available for over 3,000 years, and in fact there is absolutely no scientific reason for it to be in Schedule One. Obviously, even as the judge for the Drug Enforcement Agency, the agency even ignored the results of his two years of investigation into cannabis.

DOUG MCVAY: I was working at NORML in 1988 when that decision was delivered to our office, and I, I practically wept. That was, you know -- unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious, that was his formulation, his, you know, what, his description of the prohibition against cannabis medicine. Wow. Wow. What do you think about the, what do you think about the future of this, of this movement and of this plant, where do you think we're going, and how are we going to get there?

DENIS PETRO: Cannabis research is an inter-generational issue, that is, because of the fact that there's so many impairments, it takes time for the science to develop in this area. The great thing is, outside the United States there aren't the kind of blocks we have here. So there is exciting new research, much of it from Europe, which strongly supports the therapeutic use. So the future is bright. The issue is, when, what will the bureacrats, the American organizations like the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Justice Department, etc. What will they do in response to an overwhelming body of science, which provides irrefutable evidence of the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis?

DOUG MCVAY: Trying to think of a good question, and frankly I just want to try and get you to sit here and tell anecdotes until my battery runs out, but that would be rude --

DENIS PETRO: Well, I could tell a couple.


DENIS PETRO: Yeah. When we talk about what is exciting at this present moment, now, there may be three different areas of extreme excitement. Now obviously, in terms of spasticity and MS, that's -- the science is given, there's been at least a dozen studies all supporting cannabis use for symptom management. Okeh? In the last five years, there has been an incredible explosion of interest in the use of cannabis in an anorexia, and we now know the relationship between the disorder, which is a disorder of the endocannabinoid system, which explains why the cannabinoids work. Now, that may sound almost funny, that patients who are anorexic get the munchies when they use cannabis. People will joke at that, but the answer is, we now know why they get the munchies, because of a specific area of the brain that modulates appetite, anxiety, sexual function, and body image.

Sure enough, anorexics have sexual function disorders, they have body image disorders, and they have appetite and satiety issues, so another area which came to my attention a month ago was a study done in the medical school in Milan, Italy. Now, Milan, Italy, is in -- obviously in Italy, but the deal is the researchers there have done animal research in MS that looked at the immunology of the cannabinoids effecting the immune system in animals that have the animal model of MS. And their research found, incredibly, that the immune system was favorably affected in the animals given cannabis. Now I met the prime researcher in this at a meeting in Washington a few weeks ago, and they now want to do a clinical trial looking at a specific immune response issue in MS, and whether cannabis will effect it in a beneficial way.

Now, this is important because it's not really a symptom management treatment. Now we're talking about a potential curative kind of treatment, that is it will undo a immunological abnormality seen in patients that have MS. So this -- you can't be more excited about something that will not only deal with a symptom like in spasticity, but will actually alter the course of the disorder, which is what we've been looking at for the last 50 years.

DOUG MCVAY: Wow. That's -- I mean -- a friend of mine back a long time ago was suffering from MS, as she started to go downhill, I'd -- back in Iowa where it was illegal I would occasionally get together with her and we'd smoke some marijuana, and she felt so much better after that, I never thought about it because, that was back before I knew anything about this stuff. And, uh -- wow. That's -- wow. Well, anyway. Any thoughts you want to leave the listeners with? Just some words about what they can be doing out there. A lot of times -- I have people all over the country who will be listening to this, some of them are in medical marijuana states, some of them are in places like my home state, Iowa that is, where they just haven't gotten there yet. It can be a little depressing, but I like to think there's hope. Any words for people like that?

DENIS PETRO: Sure. Yeah, I've been involved in either producing affidavits or actually testifying in states, most recently New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, in maybe the past two years, and there's -- the problem is, for example, in New Jersey, they passed a reasonably good law, but the problem is that then goes to the regulators, in the state of New Jersey it goes to the Department of Health and Senior Services, and the lady who is running that department is a, an appointee by the governor, namely Governor Christie. So the regs that were created out of a bill that made sense, make absolutely no sense, and it's total, it's sad to say it is impossible to deal with the situation in a state like New Jersey, even though they did have the bill pass.

In other states, there are actually some movement, like in Texas, because of their approach now to consider the patients with seizures, it's based on their law with regard to what we call imminent hazard, and in epilepsy, you certainly have the imminent hazard of of status epilepticus and death. So, that -- and we know that cannabinoids work in that condition, so the legislators in the state of Texas recognize now that, here is a good opportunity, along with advocates who have risen, mostly related to childhood seizure disorders in patients that do not want to move to Colorado, and so there is a very active program in that state with regard to at least seizure indications, which I think is fabulous news because of the nature of their state legislature.

In other states, again, what people can do is to lobby, to -- I found that when I go to say New Jersey or Pennsylvania to testify, it's nice to have a full house audience, and in most cases we do have that, of people who do not need to cheer, or do anything publicly, but the actual presence of not only people to testify, but also supporters and, to be honest, also patients. Patients who have multiple sclerosis, or ALS, or cancer, etc., are -- it's very good when you're in a state legislature to testify to see what will happen in terms of the impact of allowing cannabis in a given state.

DOUG MCVAY: Make them actually look the patient in the eye. If they're going to turn it down and vote now, that's who you're hurting.

DENIS PETRO: Yeah. Well, for example, in Texas, we have some, not only patients and caregivers, but also some legal cases where the patients who have the disease have triumphed in the court system, which has changed the politicians because they now see that there is a body of significant evidence supporting cannabis as a, not only a reasonable alternative, but a novel and unique alternative because you see, in epilepsy, many if not most of the drugs work by a relatively similar mechanism. Cannabis works differently, so it offers the opportunity either as an add-on, meaning adding onto a drug which has partial efficacy, because it has a different mechanism which would impact the efficacy in total. Okeh?

DOUG MCVAY: Wow. Yes. Dr. Petro, again, thank you so much, I appreciate all your time, and all that you've been doing, this is, it is the honor of my life to have had this opportunity to speak with you, sir.

DENIS PETRO: Great. Nice to talk with you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was an interview with Denis Petro, MD, he's a neurologist and world-renowned researcher with a number of publications to his credit. He's also a fascinating, multi-faceted individual. You know, you can learn a lot about the war on drugs, and the fight to end it, by listening to the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. The Drug Truth Network's flagship show is Cultural Baggage, that's hosted by my friend Dean Becker. This, well this is Century Of Lies, and I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

You could probably tell from that last interview that I'm a fan of Dr. Petro's work. That's really the beauty of doing a show like this, of working as a journalist, that sometimes you get to meet and interview people whose work you know and admire. Well, that happened to me again recently. I've been volunteering for the past few months in the news department of my local public radio station, K-B-O-O fm in Portland, Oregon. We did a story on the US Senate's report on CIA involvement in torture and other abuses post-9-11, and to get more information about that aspect of the CIA's history, I had the honor of interviewing Professor Alfred McCoy.

Alfred McCoy is a writer and professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His book The Politics of Heroin was greatly influential in my decision to make drug policy reform my life's work. Here's my interview with Professor McCoy.

I'm speaking with Professor Alfred McCoy. The CIA torture report by the US Senate can be kept secret, according to a federal judge. Professor McCoy, am I correct in thinking that you did not find this would be any kind of a surprise?

PROFESSOR ALFRED MCCOY: No, the CIA fought the release of even the executive summary, it got into an extraordinary, bitter, intramural fight with a long-time friend, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, over the release of even the 520-plus page executive summary. And, with good reason, the CIA is fighting the release of the full report.

Basically, and this is something I don't think most people appreciate, but there's a kind of politics to investigation in Washington, DC. And, what it is, is you're generally having the one branch of the federal government, the legislature in this case, investigating another branch, in this case an executive agency, the CIA. And, the executive agency is concerned about maintaining budget, reputation, and the place at the table, as the phrase goes. And so they fight bitterly and determinedly against any negative findings. The result then is that all of this politics get concentrated on the executive summary, so that all the compromises are made in that document. And then the truth, such as it is, is usually found in the full report.

Let me give you a couple of examples which I don't think most people appreciate. You may remember 1996, the single most controversial news report was by a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News named Gary Webb. And in a three-part series called Dark Alliance, he alleged that the CIA had colluded with Nicaraguan exiles to import bulk quantities of cocaine, from Central America and then delivered to the Crips and Bloods street gangs, when it was cut, and at low-cost, cut cocaine could be transformed into crack, it created the crack epidemic, the gang wars, the mass incarceration, the mess that was the late 1980s in America.

And it was an enormously controversial report. It was so controversial that, when it came out, the White House sent then-CIA director John Deutsch to South Central Los Angeles, otherwise known as the 'hood, and he stood up in front of a community meeting of 800 angry African-Americans who were outraged at the idea of CIA complicity in the hell that had been visited upon their communities. Deutsch denied any complicity but promised the community that he would investigate. And so a couple of years later, the CIA director general came out with two reports. The first one said no case to answer, Gary Webb was discredited, he had to apologize, was demoted, ultimately fired, later died by his own hand. And the case went away.

Then, something happened. The CIA released part two. Now, part one of the report was called California Connection, it was on the domestic connections. Part two was on what happened in Central America, and again the executive summary said basically no case to answer. And all the major newspapers and the wire services across America said hey, you know, little item here, part two of the inspector general's report just came out and there's no case to answer, and just as we knew, Gary Webb has been discredited.

Well, actually, if you'd started, actually read the actual report, as I did, I think I wrote the only published information based on that report in my book The Politics of Heroin. I read the report, and paragraph 913, it took a while to get there, but I'm a historian, and we're pedants, we just read documents, that's what we do, we sit around all day long and we read documents. I read all the way to the end and I got to paragraph 913, of volume two of the CIA inspector general's report, and I discovered some of the most amazing revelations about the CIA's relationship with drug cartels. In interviews and documents all the way -- from field agents all the way up to acting directors of the CIA, the agency on the record in quotations discussed in detail its complicitous relationship with a man named Allen Hyde, who had 35 ships on the high seas in the Caribbean, sailing between Colombia through Central America to the United States, importing cocaine into the United States.

For a period of approximately five years, according to the 40 paragraphs that followed paragraph 913, the CIA prevented any investigation or prosecution of Allen Hyde, for a period of five years, during the peak of the crack cocaine epidemic, about 1986-87 up to 1991, the absolute peak of the crack cocaine epidemic. So the biggest trafficker in the Caribbean was given a get out of jail free card, was given an immunity to investigation prosecution by the CIA, and I didn't make that up, I didn't say that, they said that on the page. And I reported that in my revised 2002 edition of Politics of Heroin. As far as I know, no other national media organization, no other commentator, has ever read paragraph 913 through paragraph 942. It's amazing.

So, that's when you finally get the full report. The gems, the amazing revelations, there in the weeds. Deep in the underbrush of the full report, and that's why we're never going to see those 6,000 pages, at least not for the foreseeable future. There's, there are other cases as well. Take the famous Church Committee report. Now, back in, when I was a graduate student back in the 1970s, I did a book that the CIA tried to suppress, called The Politics of Heroin, and the head of CIA covert operations spent the better part of a week trying to suppress my book. Visited my publisher in New York, tried to get them to suppress it, etc. etc. It became a kind of, it was reported by Seymour Hersh on the front page of the New York Times: CIA trying to suppress book by 26-year-old graduate student.

And so, the Church Committee, two years after my book came out, investigated this, and in the executive summary they reported that there is no evidence to indicate the CIA in any was was complicitous or colluded with drug lords in southeast Asia. But, if you read the full 5 volumes of the Church Committee report, way back in the, after thousands of pages, you'll find documents and quotes from CIA documents saying that basically we were complicitous with the Laotian drug lords, we had other priorities, other fish to fry, so we weren't going to mess or bother with enforcing narcotics, interdiction of narcotics. Okeh?

So, time and again, when it comes to the CIA, you've got to get the full report to get something approximating the truth. And that's why the agency's now very wise in these matters, and they do their best to make sure we don't get the full reports.

DOUG MCVAY: That was an interview with Professor Alfred McCoy. He's a writer and history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he is one of the nation's leading experts on the CIA and its involvement in all sorts of questionable activities including drug trafficking.

This is Doug McVay, I'm the editor of DrugWarFacts.org, and your host. You are listening to Century Of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, and we come to you once a week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and the fight to end it.

And well, that is about all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for listening. Century Of Lies is heard on 420Radio.org on Mondays at 11am and 11pm, Saturdays at 4am, all times are pacific. We're heard on time4hemp.com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm.

A few of the stations out there carrying Century Of Lies include: WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 fm in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, Wisconsin; WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, Florida; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; Valley Free Radio WXOJ-LP 103.3 FM in Northampton, Massachusetts, KOWA-LP 106.5 FM in Olympia, Washington, and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California. To all our listeners and supporters: Thank you.

Recordings of this show and past shows are available as a free download from the website DrugTruth.net. While you're there, listen to our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DrugPolicyFacts and also @DougMcVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like. Drug War Facts is on facebook too, please give it a like and share it with friends.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.