October 29, 2006
Cocaine Addicts Have Distorted Values For Money

Periodically I like to harp on the damage that addictive drugs do to brains because some libertarians (and not a few economists) imagine that we all have enough free will to make rational decisions about addictive drug use. I take a more evolutionary approach to humans and free will. Our capacity to think rationally is spotty at best and there are elements of our modern technological societies that we are so maladapted to handle that we are like dogs that want to chase cars. When dogs do it they get injured or killed and we are no different. We aren't wired up to handle some products of our societies and it is naive to pretend otherwise.

Here is yet another study showing impaired ability of addicts to make judgements that would seem like common sense to, say, a free market libertarian. Coke heads have impared abilties to perceive awards and control how they respond to rewards.

ATLANTA, GA -- People addicted to cocaine have an impaired ability to perceive rewards and exercise control due to disruptions in the brain's reward and control circuits, according to a series of brain-mapping studies and neuropsychological tests conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"Our findings provide the first evidence that the brain's threshold for responding to monetary rewards is modified in drug-addicted people, and is directly linked to changes in the responsiveness of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain essential for monitoring and controlling behavior," said Rita Goldstein, a psychologist at Brookhaven Lab. "These results also attest to the benefit of using sophisticated brain-imaging tools combined with sensitive behavioral, cognitive, and emotional probes to optimize the study of drug addiction, a psychopathology that these tools have helped to identify as a disorder of the brain."

Some day drug addicts might be treated by stem cell therapies that go in and restore some missing neurons. Imagine the power of such a therapy. If it can fix damaged brains it will also likely be able to alter the way people with undamaged brains form judgements. Development of repair therapies inevitably leads to development of enhancement therapies and also therapies that are not so much enhancement as simply alteration. For good or bad? I guess we'll find out. Probably some of each, hopefully more good than bad.

The addicts and non-addicts had their brains scanned while they were offered rewards and asked to perform tests.

Goldstein's experiments were designed to test a theoretical model, called the Impaired Response Inhibition and Salience Attribution (I-RISA) model, which postulates that drug-addicted individuals disproportionately attribute salience, or value, to their drug of choice at the expense of other potentially but no-longer-rewarding stimuli -- with a concomitant decrease in the ability to inhibit maladaptive drug use. In the experiments, the scientists subjected cocaine-addicted and non-drug-addicted individuals to a range of tests of behavior, cognition/thought, and emotion, while simultaneously monitoring their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and/or recordings of event-related potentials (ERP).

Coke addicts couldn't react differently to different levels of reward. They lacked a sense of context for their decision making.

In one study, subjects were given a monetary reward for their performance on an attention task. Subjects were given one of three amounts (no money, one cent, or 45 cents) for each correct response, up to a total reward of $50 for their performance. The researchers also asked the subjects how much they valued different amounts of monetary reward, ranging from $10 to $1000.

More than half of the cocaine abusers rated $10 as equally valuable as $1000, "demonstrating a reduced subjective sensitivity to relative monetary reward," Goldstein said.

"Such a 'flattened' sensitivity to gradients in reward may play a role in the inability of drug-addicted individuals to use internal cues and feedback from the environment to inhibit inappropriate behavior, and may also predispose these individuals to disadvantageous decisions -- for example, trading a car for a couple of cocaine hits. Without a relative context, drug use and its intense effects -- craving, anticipation, and high -- could become all the more overpowering," she said.

So glad my brain hasn't been damaged by extensive coke use.

Coke addicts didn't have their prefrontal cortexes light up in a graded fashion to different sized rewards the way non-addicts did.

The behavioral data collected during fMRI further suggested that, in the cocaine abusers, there was a "disconnect" between subjective measures of motivation (how much they said they were engaged in the task) and the objective measures of motivation (how fast and accurately they performed on the task). "These behavioral data implicate a disruption in the ability to perceive inner motivational drives in cocaine addiction," Goldstein said.

The fMRI results also revealed that non-addicted subjects responded to the different monetary amounts in a graded fashion: the higher the potential reward, the greater the response in the prefrontal cortex. In cocaine-addicted subjects, however, this region did not demonstrate a graded pattern of response to the monetary reward offered. Furthermore, within the cocaine-addicted group, the higher the sensitivity to money in the prefrontal cortex, the higher was the motivation and the self-reported ability to control behavior.

The ERP results showed a similarly graded brain response to monetary reward in healthy control subjects, but not in cocaine-addicted individuals.

Why do addicts relapse? They can't accurately judge the relative rewards of drug use and non-drug use. They simply lack the capacity to arrive at judgements that come easy to most of us.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 October 29 09:21 PM  Brain Addiction


Comments
ian said at October 30, 2006 12:35 AM:

i agree with your assessment that our ability to choose rationally is inherently impaired. but, criminalization of such substances does not follow and is, as has been demonstrated for years, eminently more socially harmful. the mechanisms for controlling addictive drugs needs to look well beyond the pernicious enforcement and criminalization techniques currently adopted. The current regime is an egregious failure, a giant waste, and the results in criminalizing minority groups rather than the activities they are intended to curb.

if you look to stem-cells to repair cocaine damaged brains, look to a future where cocaine will look like a teaspoon of sugar. drugs are being synthesized and abused at a much faster rate than law enforcement or regulatory agencies can possibly hope to keep up.

before demonizing addicts and gloating at your own physiological superiority, and making judgments on their reasons for relapse, you ought to get some experience with addictive drugs or victims thereof.

Christopher Rasch said at October 30, 2006 7:15 AM:

Our capacity to think rationally is spotty,

And libertarians like to remind authoritarians, that if irrational individuals make bad decisions, they suffer most of the ill-effects themselves. When irrational politicians make bad decisions, a) the ill-effects are imposed on everyone in the country b) the politicians are often well-insulated themselves from the costs they impose on everyone else so they have minimal incentive to change. There is abundant evidence that when you try to transfer decision-making power from the former to the latter, you end up with worse results than if you had left people alone to make decisions for themselves.

Bob Badour said at October 30, 2006 7:48 AM:
before demonizing addicts and gloating at your own physiological superiority, and making judgments on their reasons for relapse, you ought to get some experience with addictive drugs or victims thereof.

That's an interesting combination of non sequitur and ad hominem.

Jake said at October 30, 2006 9:02 AM:

It would be interesting to see if 1970s cokeheads have a greater incidence of Parkinsons', MS, MLS or other brain related diseases now that they are in their 50s and 60s. I would be surprised if they don't.

rsilvetz said at October 30, 2006 1:03 PM:

Randall is right in that drug-addiction is a net destroyer of the brain and of values.

Nonetheless it does not logically follow (and I don't think Randall is advocating) that we should curb drugs and deploy vast amounts of force to stamp out drug-use. Prohibition, after demand has been established, has failed everywhere it has been tried. Once demand is present, the financial arbitrage presented to suppliers will always be a more powerful driver than government tools for interdiction and enforcement. Even Arab countries can't stem alcohol use regardless of how many hands and heads get severed from bodies. (Paradoxically, the arab .gov intolerance of alcohol is empowering of using other so-called illegal drugs by the polity.) One might get away with prohibition at a significant enforcement cost if one started early enough... e.g. Japan, 1950's, amphetamines. But total control fails even in total dictatorships, so eventually the genie gets out of the bottle every time. Japan succeeded with amphetamines and has failed with almost every other drug...

It was intellectual error by both libertarianism and laissez-faire economics to hang so much on "the rational actor" thesis. The "independent decision-maker" thesis with a distribution function for the number of humans making optimal to sub-optimal decisions would have been better.

The central problem of human existence (other than death!) remains (as it has for the last 10K years) the distribution of force in society. Stable society/civilization emerges when the distribution of force is matched to the distribution of decision-makers in society. If "the greatest good for the greatest number" is our driving principle, then libertariansim remains the key to the future. It has not been an accident that widespread development of the casual firearm economically available to every comer [notabene: failure of gun-control prohibition in Washington D.C.] was accompanied by a widespread adoption of liberal policies. The counter-trend of increasing central authority from the New Deal onward is now being undercut by the expensive nature of specialist weapons, with the balance again tilting towards individuals with cheap firearms.

This latter trend has interesting implications for terrorism... asymmetric warfare can be also deployed against Islam as it reshapes into states, thus unless Islam adops the same liberal policies that West has, in the long-term it is doomed to destruction by the very methods it using for its attempt at ascendancy.

Sean Lynch said at October 30, 2006 3:09 PM:

Any libertarian argument that is not made out of straw like the one you appear to have built does not rely on any claim that human beings think rationally. Quite the contrary, in fact; libertarianism is about the only approach to governance that works even when everyone *isn't* rational. On the other hand, "third way" systems *do* rely on actors in government (not to mention voters) being rational. Only in reality we wind up with coke-head alcoholics like Bush. So, far from being an argument against libertarianism, this is an argument *for* it.

I suggest you go read Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" and David D. Friedman's "Machinery of Freedom" before burning any more straw men.

Randall Parker said at October 30, 2006 4:55 PM:

Sean Lynch,

I read Reason for years. I read Free To Choose back when it was first released. I've read the Objectivists and the Libertarians.

Libertarianism isn't a internally coherent philosophy. So you can certainly point to some strains that rely less on reasoning ability. But the problem with that approach is that you end up with no basis for defending a free society other than your assertion that you prefer it.

Ayn Rand argued that our rights flow from our capacity for reason. I think her explanation is incomplete. Some psycopaths are highly rational. Other mental attributes are needed including empathy and a desire for justice. The research into altruistic punishment (search my site on that term) points at one cognitive feature of most humans which is needed for a system of justice to work to protect rights.

As for burning strawmen: Libertarianism is made out of straw. There's less there than meets the idea. I appreciate the sentiments of libertarians. They counterbalance some others who lean in other directions. But libertarianism is just another ideology built upon false assumptions about human nature.

Christopher Rasch,

Geez, when I was a kid my parents used to take in wards of the state. We got one 7 year old girl whose mother was a junky. The girl's brother, born to mom while she was a junky, had birth defects and had mental problems. What were the costs to these two kids? The costs did not just fall on Mom. They fell on the kids and the state.

ian,

Yes, there are costs to the criminalization regime. But there's be costs to legalization. Abuse and addiction would rise.

Robert Silvetz,

I do not know how much force we should deploy to stop the distribution of addictive drugs. I've yet to find a plausible accounting of just how much damage addiction causes. Most of the models do not account for the brain damage that is caused by substances like cocaine. Known any ex-meth or ex-cocaine users? They are broken. Most of the damage does not repair naturally.

Dave said at October 30, 2006 6:45 PM:

Great post.

Are you against all recreational drugs Randall, assuming they haven't been tested fully to know they will not do you harm, or is it just certain types you wouldn't touch? I have known people who claim to be anti drugs one minute but then go taking something claiming its not a drug and no worse than alcohol.


Randall Parker said at October 30, 2006 6:52 PM:

Dave,

Can recreational drugs not cause harm? Is it even theoretically possible? I guess it might depend on the type of the drug. But a drug that causes intense pleasure is probably going to cause rewirings. That's the problem with the brain. In response to stimuli it rewires itself.

I suspect we can come up with far far better drugs for pleasure and weird experiences. But the ones on offer today all look like bad deals.

carl said at October 30, 2006 7:58 PM:

"So glad my brain hasn't been damaged by extensive coke use."

Heh. So what do you think spared you. :)

rsilvetz said at October 31, 2006 12:01 AM:

The essential point that needs to be understood is that there is NO system of interdiction and enforcement that will work once demand is established. The impact on price will make it profitable to move the drugs. And perversely, the more you crack down, the higher the price, thus the profit, and the deployment of wider drug availability and the search for substitutes. Meth didn't appear out of a vacuum. It was the predictable side-effect of the need to provide an existing market with a low-risk (for the supplier) substitute. All this rises to the level of natural law. The solution is not on the force side. That much is empirically and theoretically showable. How many times has this force nonsense been repeated in just the last 500 years? When do we learn the lesson?

Libertarianism, rights, etc, for another day...

Vincent said at October 31, 2006 11:02 AM:

I think a reasonable argument can be made that the criminalization of recreational drugs actually increases the demand for them. There is something to be said for the human tendancy to flout the law for no other reason than for the high it brings them. Many teenagers' alcohol consumption reduces drastically after they turn twenty-one.

I think the entire "junkie" culture will become far, far less of an issue should certain drugs be decriminalized, and significant public efforts made to teach people the proper use and dosage for recreational drugs, avenues for purchasing pure and unadulterated drugs, giving them safe and accomodating venues for sating their need for consciousness altering. It is my belief that general mental and physical health will rise after a vast decriminalization of drugs, as problems exacerbated by the illegal drug trade (spread of blood-borne illnesses, gang-related violence, alienation from friends and family) are relieved.

I agree with Randall that Libertarianism for the pure sake of the ideal is foolish. Yet there are good reasons to incorporate drug use into society, instead of spending vast sums of time and money for an ultimately futile goal.

Vincent said at October 31, 2006 11:24 AM:

Randall, LSD, mushrooms, and marijuana, used modestly, all provide excellent methods for consciousness exploration and mood brightening. None of these drugs cause irrepairable harm to the system, and it is impossible to OD on any of them. Marijuana has a neuro-toxicity level below both alcohol and tobacco, and smoking it causes less harm, and tests have found regular marijuana smokers at no increased risks for cancer. LSD is far less harmful than the propaganda surrounding it would have you believe. And if you don't want the potency of LSD, mushrooms are a much friendlier trip.

Rob said at October 31, 2006 10:35 PM:

I am a recovering addict, and the article makes intuitive sense to me. Which I'm not sure one should take as an endorsement.

People in NA have got this through hit or miss. One of the focuses of the program is that we can't make very good decisions, or wiegh different futures, predict how what we do will make us feel tommorow, discount the future more than normal people could believe. It is nice to see that the some of it is verified by neurological studies.

The only question I have: Maybe people who are predisposed, either by genes, environment, combo, whatever, have trouble discounting the future and recognizing payoffs before they start doing drugs?

I think the only real hope for reducing drug abuse are the vaccines. But some things,like speed, would be extremely hard to use a hapten, and antibodies would likely bind other biomolecules. Maybe engineer extremely specific antibodies and make transgenic immune cells from each person, or immune cells that produce some false messenger non-antibody or small molecule that binds or degrades it? Receptors that are a bit unspecific won't cause too much damage if only that false second messenger is relesad.

Delysid said at October 31, 2006 11:25 PM:

Randall wrote: "I've yet to find a plausible accounting of just how much damage addiction causes. Most of the models do not account for the brain damage that is caused by substances like cocaine. Known any ex-meth or ex-cocaine users? They are broken. Most of the damage does not repair naturally."

I am sure you know lots of ex-meth and ex-coke users. I don't think it's an expected part of routine social interaction to share the details of one's illegal drug use history with anybody but a small number of family and close friends. Also, the majority of people who use any drug don't end up addicts. And even for meth & coke users whose consumption could be called addiction, kicking a stimulant habit is far less momentous and arduous than is the case with the two drugs most notorious for gruelling withdrawal syndrome: alcohol and opiates. Apparently the most agonizing and dangerous withdrawal is from barbituates, the old-school sedatives commonly prescribed for insomnia and anxiety until benzodiazepines of the Valium type replaced them in the late 50's.

It seems that depressive drugs, including alcohol and opiates, have the worst physical withdrawal symptoms. These would compound with the psychological symptoms of addiction and withdrawal, which makes treating addiction to sedating drugs inherently more complex and difficult than addiction to stimulants like amphetamine (incl. meth) & cocaine.

With stimulants, the physical withdrawal symptoms are mainly prolonged sleep, fatigue, flattened emotions, and low energy -- not a lot of fun, but not an excruciating hell ride of pain and terror either, which it seems withdrawal from a downer drug often is. People can and do quit stimulants cold turkey after years of daily use just like with tobacco and coffee, addictions much closer in nature to coke and speed.

Quitting alcohol or opiates cold turkey after years of daily overuse would be a whole different story, possibly even life-threatening. Though it does work for some.

Bottom line: generalizations about drugs are rarely accurate or very useful. The particular nature of each drug and its interaction with human lives needs to be understood on its own terms. Wide variation in individuals' metabolism and response to a particular drug further restricts the usefulness of generalization.

Joseph Hertzlinger said at November 1, 2006 2:15 PM:

There appears to be a correlation between drug addiction and brain damage.

Which is cause and which is effect?

Randall Parker said at November 1, 2006 4:25 PM:

Robert Silvetz, Vincent,

If technological advances are going to make neurotoxic addictive drug more available and cheaper and if criminalization isn't going to help prevent that then the rate of brain damage from addictive drug use is going to grow.

I doubt legalization and education will help.

We have a fundamental problem and it goes beyond drug abuse: many humans are genetically maladapted to products of modern technological society. Our society is going to become more technological and the number of types of technologies that people can't handle is going to grow.

Randall Parker said at November 1, 2006 5:03 PM:

Delysid,

I know ex-addicts whose past use is not a secret to me.

Look, the brain damage caused by addictive drugs is not speculative. Plenty of brain scan studies have been done and I've read studies that outlined for various drugs which parts of the brain get damaged. I've done posts on some of those results.

But, again, I've yet to see really good research on how much the resulting impairment reduces earnings potential or wisdom in making investments or stamina and so on. How do the various mental abilities of people compare before and after addiction? How many IQ points did they lose? How much is short term memory a problem? How badly is their judgement on economic matters impaired? How much more anxiety prone or depression prone to they become? Or short-tempered or easily confused?

Some of my old posts on drug addiction have attracted a lot of ex and current addicts. They say they are impaired. Their stories are tragic.

Christopher Rasch said at November 3, 2006 1:07 AM:

Geez, when I was a kid my parents used to take in wards of the state. We got one 7 year old girl whose mother was a junky. The girl's brother, born to mom while she was a junky, had birth defects and had mental problems. What were the costs to these two kids? The costs did not just fall on Mom. They fell on the kids and the state.

Yes, and you'll note that I wrote "...if irrational individuals make bad decisions, they suffer most of the ill-effects themselves."

And it's true. To be sure, drug abuse affects the community at large to some extent, due to absenteeism, crime, welfare claims, and accidents. But most of the ill-effects (lost job, poor health, birth defects in her children, lost custody) are suffered by the junkie herself. Those that are not, are suffered primarily by her children. Those are powerful motivators to change behavior. If a government policy fails, what pain does the politician feel?

Remember that drug prohibition has tremendous externalities too. In 2003, the U.S. spent $19 billion dollars on drug prohibition (just think of how big a fence you could build on the border for that much money!) (1) How much labor productivity was lost by the prisoners incarcerated on drug charges (86,000 in the Federal prison, 265,000 in the state prisons)? (4) Much of the Taliban government was financed by the sale of heroin. (2) And much of the crime associated with drug use is not due to the drugs per se, but to the prohibition of drugs. (3)

To make the case that drug prohibition is worthwhile, even on a strictly economic basis (leaving aside, for the moment, the costs to personal liberty), you would have to show that the costs that would've been imposed by those who would otherwise take drugs, absent prohibition laws, outweigh the costs of prohibition itself. I don't think that you, nor anyone else, can do this.

1. http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/19493.pdf
2. http://www.washtimes.com/national/20030811-100220-8928r.htm
3. http://www.csdp.org/edcs/page24.htm
4. http://www.drugwarfacts.org/prison.htm

Bob Badour said at November 3, 2006 6:01 AM:

Christopher,

You have an odd definition of 'most'. Clearly, the child born with physical deformity suffers many orders of magnitude greater cost than the junkie mother who evades that cost entirely by foisting parenting of her children onto others.

Christopher Rasch said at November 3, 2006 6:56 AM:

Bob,

By "most", I'm referring to the population of drug abusers as a whole. I'll concede that the deformed child suffers more than her junkie mother. But how many babies are born defective due to illegal drugs? How much does that cost? How does that cost compare to the costs born by the junkie population overall? (Many of whom have no children.) I think that any analysis of the issue would show that the costs to the children of drug abusers are much lower than the costs to the junkie population themselves.

Bob Badour said at November 3, 2006 10:13 AM:
But how many babies are born defective due to illegal drugs? How much does that cost?

One is too many, and it costs an entire lifetime of productivity plus the costs of higher birth complications.

How does that cost compare to the costs born by the junkie population overall?

In my experience, junkies bear very few costs. They deprive society even the barest production one might expect from the very poor, and they impose costs on society through criminal activity. Most of the junkies I know would die of malnutrition except the crimes they commit--either while intoxicated or to feed their habits--occasionally land them in jail where society spends enough to make feeding themselves convenient enough they actually do it.

Many of whom have no children.

Again, you have an odd definition of 'many'. Every junkie I have ever met (with the exception of one sterile man) has conceived several children; although, they almost never bear any of the cost of raising these children.

I think that any analysis of the issue would show that the costs to the children of drug abusers are much lower than the costs to the junkie population themselves.

I strongly doubt you formed that thought based on any empirical measure.

Christopher Rasch said at November 3, 2006 4:53 PM:

Bob,

The burden of proof is on the advocates of drug prohibition to show that their policies work, and are worth the costs that they impose. So far, you have provided little empirical evidence that they do--mostly just anecdotes from your personal experience. If drug prohibition works as well as you and Randall appear to think it does, it should be easy for you to cite economic studies which support your beliefs.

Randall Parker said at November 3, 2006 5:20 PM:

Christopher,

Most libertarians arguming for legalization assert that legalization would cost less than criminalization. I'm objecting to the assertion. It is both unproven and, on the surface, not obvious. I do not think the people who have made that assertion even know how to scope the economic and liberty costs of drug abuse. Nor do I think they've made a good faith effort to do so.

As for the costs to personal liberty: My view of liberty is that it comes from our capacity to respect the rights of others and to not cause the rights of others to be violated. But if one damages one's brain one damages one's capacity to respect the rights of others. That reduction of one's capacity to respect the rights of others has to come with a reduction of one's own rights or the system is simply not fair and not sustainable.

Respecting the rights of others is not a trivial task. The capacity to do that relies on many facets of cognitive function. A rights-based society probably requires a large instinctive urge to carry out altruistic punishment for example. A rights-based society requires considerable capacity for rational thought and some moral instincts.

Consider your question:

But how many babies are born defective due to illegal drugs?

That's a research question that is hard to answer. For years I knew people who argued that the danger to fetuses from cocaine are greatly exaggerated and what science there was seemed to support their assertions. I doubted this due to cocaine's harmful effects on adult brains and the fact that cells undergoing differentiation are much more sensitive to toxins. Well, then some studies started getting published that show more toxic effects.

For example from 2005, Lasting harm from cocaine to the heart found in male rats.

Cocaine abuse is becoming increasingly prevalent among women of childbearing age, and is associated with numerous adverse perinatal outcomes. New research, published in The Journal of Physiology, by Professor Lubo Zhang and his research team from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California presents the exciting novel finding that cocaine exposure in utero has lasting and lifelong adverse effects on the heart in adulthood, particularly if you are male!

Professor Zhang’s research group has been studying the effect of adverse intrauterine environment on fetal heart development and its lifelong pathophysiological consequences in the adult heart. Using an animal model of the pregnant rat, they found that fetal exposure to cocaine during gestation resulted in an increase in heart susceptibility to ischaemia and reperfusion injury in late adult life. Interestingly, the effect of prenatal cocaine exposure on cardiac vulnerability in adult offspring is gender-dependent, with the male heart being more susceptible to increased ischaemia/reperfusion injury induced by prenatal cocaine exposure.

Earlier work by professor Zhang’s group showed that fetal chronic hypoxia also increased cardiac vulnerability to ischaemia and reperfusion injury in late adult life.

Epidemiological studies in humans have shown an association of fetal undernutrition in the womb and an increased risk of hypertension and ischaemic heart disease in adulthood. In addition to undernutrition as originally proposed, professor Zhang’s studies suggest that other adverse factors such as cocaine abuse and hypoxia during gestation also cause fetal programming in utero, which has lasting and lifelong effects on the cardiovascular system in later adult life.

Also from 2005, cocaine is known to constrict blood vessels in the placenta and concentrates in the striatum (which is developing - or at least trying to - btw).

The combined images show that cocaine and/or its labeled metabolites readily cross the placenta. But the cocaine uptake distribution pattern observed in the fetus was very different from that of the mother. For example, mothers showed rapid uptake and clearance of the drug in the heart, kidneys and lungs, with slower uptake in the liver and brain. In the fetus, cocaine accumulated at the highest levels in the liver (due to the unique anatomy of fetal circulation) and to a lesser extent in the brain.

"While the uptake of the tracer into the fetal brain is lower and slower than in the mother’s brain, a measurable quantity of cocaine and/or its labeled metabolites does accumulate in the fetal brain, particularly in the striatum, where cocaine is known to bind to cell-surface receptors that result in a euphoric response," Benveniste said.

The high uptake of radiolabeled cocaine in the placenta is also particularly relevant, the researchers said, because cocaine is known to constrict blood vessels in the placenta. It may be that this constriction of placental blood flow is one of the mechanisms underlying the harmful effects of cocaine exposure during pregnancy.

From Yale in 2002, rats exposed at fetal stage to cocaine get something like ADHD.

Taking cocaine during pregnancy causes possibly permanent changes in an area of the brain that governs short-term memory, leading to symptoms that are very much like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Yale researchers have found in two recent studies.

The research team in the Neuropsychopharmacology Laboratory at the School of Medicine found that prenatal exposure to cocaine leads to over-stimulation of the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain in the offspring, and a dramatic impairment in learning.

"Children exposed to cocaine in the womb may have a problem with excitable neurons in the part of the brain that helps control attention and memory," says Bret Morrow, associate research scientist, associate clinical professor and lead author of both studies.

"The use of cocaine among women of childbearing age is alarmingly high," he adds. "When a pregnant woman uses cocaine, she also exposes her fetus to the drug. Studies have shown that these cocaine-exposed children have increased occurrence of symptoms similar to those seen with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- increased distractibility, impulsivity and select learning deficits. Based on our animal studies, we are concerned the effects could very well be lifelong in humans."

The first study, published in the February issue of Behavioral Brain Research, involved administering cocaine to pregnant rats and then assessing short-term memory in the offspring when they were adolescents and adults.

The test animals were placed in a cage with two identical objects. They were then removed from the cage for a brief interval, and later put back in with one of the former objects and a second, new object. If the animal explored the new object preferentially, that was taken as evidence that the animal remembered the first object. The test is similar to one used with human subjects.

"Those animals exposed to cocaine prenatally did very poorly on these tests," Morrow says.

The second paper published in the February issue of Neuropsychopharmacology focuses on the theory that the frontal and prefrontal cortex, which are involved in short-term memory, are in some way altered when fetuses are exposed to cocaine.

The researchers examined the brains of animals exposed to cocaine in the womb and found that the medial prefrontal cortex showed dramatic activation not seen in other cortical regions. To do this, they measured the product of a gene, FOS, which is made in an excited neuron and used to activate other genes. These secondary genes can change the way a neuron responds to a stimulus the next time it occurs. "This is thought to be one mechanism by which a neuron 'learns,'" Morrow says, noting that the excess activation may contribute to poor short-term memory.

The studies reveal the long-lasting effects on the circuitry of the brain that occur after exposure to cocaine at a critical stage in development, he says. "Essentially, the brain appears to become re-programmed in a subtle way, causing it to respond abnormally to routine events."

I see the libertarian drug legalization argument as incredibly unscientific. Libertarians haven't seriously tried to measure the costs of drug abuse. Ideological libertarianism is based on very erroneous models of human nature. Fortunately some scientists are working on figuring out all the neurological costs of drug abuse both to users and to fetuses and babies.

Bob Badour said at November 3, 2006 8:55 PM:
The burden of proof is on the advocates of drug prohibition to show that their policies work, and are worth the costs that they impose.

I disagree. Advocates of drug prohibition need only demonstrate drug use infringes on the rights of third parties to advocate protecting those rights. Similarly, advocates of murder prohibition need not demonstrate the worth of the costs imposed by prohibiting murder. Society happily pays millions of dollars to identify, to try and to incarcerate murderers.

you have provided little empirical evidence that they do--mostly just anecdotes from your personal experience.

Since when did a directly observed event cease to be empirical? While one might question the statistical significance, your assertion that our arguments lack empiricism is false on its face.

Equally empirical and anecdotal: Every junkie I have known heavily abused alcohol and every junkie I have known lacked the necessary inhibition to avoid abuse during pregnancy. Empirical and less anecdotal: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is roughly as prevalent as Down Syndrome. Fetal alcohol syndrome is recognized as a major cause of mental retardation.

While I found no statistics regarding the percentage of FAS mothers who abuse drugs other than alcohol, I found that poor maternal nutrition and low maternal socio-economic status are risk factors for FAS. Combining the poor nutrition, low SES and decreased inhibition of many junkies, I expect one will find drug use contributes to FAS over and above any direct effects of drug abuse on the fetus.

While somewhat less relevant and also anecdotal, I met two children who I immediately predicted would eventually kill someone just by watching how they behaved as children. The parents of both kids were all drug abusers. Both of the kids eventually killed someone: At the age of 17, one of the kids fatally stabbed a 41 year old motorcycle gang member in the heart. At the age of 20, the other kid, my second-cousin, Joseph Raymond Badour, beat an 18 year old young man to death with sickening brutality and then had an hours-long standoff with police in Kingston Ontario. (Ignoring the unquantifiable cost to those killed) Armed standoffs, criminal trials and incarceration impose huge costs on society including depriving good, honest people of their rights and freedoms.

If drug prohibition works as well as you and Randall appear to think it does, it should be easy for you to cite economic studies which support your beliefs.

I frankly don't give a flying fuck about the economics of protecting the rights of good, honest citizens. I will happily pay to protect those rights regardless of the economics. Then again, I suspect I have a double-dose of the altruistic punishment gene.

Christopher Rasch said at November 5, 2006 8:46 PM:

Randall,


Most libertarians arguming for legalization assert that legalization would cost less than criminalization. I'm objecting to the assertion.

Thanks for the links to the effects of cocaine on brain development. I'm not disputing that certain drugs, taken at certain times cause birth defects. What I'm disputing is your assertion that banning those drugs results in a net benefit to the society as a whole. You're the one making the positive assertion that prohibition laws against (certain) drugs saves more lives and money than they cost. The null hypothesis is that they have no effect. Given the billions that have been spent on drug prohibition, surely you can overwhelm me with statistics supporting your case.

Out of curiosity, do you support a return to (alcohol) prohibition?


Bob,


Advocates of drug prohibition need only demonstrate drug use infringes on the rights of third parties to advocate protecting those rights.

And what if drug prohibition imposes even greater costs, and infringes on even more rights, than the results from drug use itself?

Anecdotal evidence is, at best, an indicator of avenues for future research. Note that the only statistical evidence you provided was for Fetal Alchol Syndrome, which is caused by a currently legal drug. Are you arguing for a return to alcohol prohibition?

Bob Badour said at November 6, 2006 9:14 AM:
And what if drug prohibition imposes even greater costs, and infringes on even more rights, than the results from drug use itself?

Since I have already demonstrated that drug abuse infringes the rights of third parties, the onus now lies on you to prove your speculation about infringing even more rights. Cost is a red herring. We have already established the desire to protect rights regardless of immediate cost.

Anecdotal evidence is, at best, an indicator of avenues for future research.

I disagree. When anecdotal evidence contradicts an hypothesis, the hypothesis loses. One doesn't ignore the evidence because it is anecdotal. One rejects the hypothesis as it stands and chooses another hypothesis that explains the observations.

One must weigh a number of factors when considering anecdotal evidence--including whether one uses the anecdotal evidence to support hypotheses or to contradict hypotheses. We all use anecdotal evidence to inform our beliefs and behaviours. Sometimes this is more appropriate than other times. I highly recommend How We Know What Isn't So by Thomas Gilovich for some of the factors we must weigh.

You asserted a couple of hypotheses with no evidence whatsoever, and the available evidence contradicts those hypotheses.

If "most junkies bear the costs of their habits", one would expect that by sampling dozens of junkies one would see at least some of them bearing their own costs. I have sampled dozens of junkies, and I have observed the exact opposite. Given a choice between my lying eyes and an apparently absurd hypothesis, I choose to go with my lying eyes.

If "many junkies have no children", one would expect that by sampling dozens of junkies one would see at least some of them conceiving no children. Having sampled dozens of junkies, I have observed one man who has no children because he is sterile and is physically unable to conceive, and I have observed dozens who each have conceived at least three children.

Can you produce any empirical evidence whatsoever to support your hypotheses?

Are you arguing for a return to alcohol prohibition?

I support selective prohibition for some populations without any hesitation. Are you suggesting we should sell alcohol to schoolchildren and place it on the shelf next to the bubble gum and pop rocks? I have no problem whatsoever with making abstinence a condition of parole for some convicted criminals (including those convicted of drug abuse), and I have no problem with a judge passing a sentence mandating life-long abstinence for some criminals. I have no problem with municipalities prohibiting sale or possession of alcohol. Keeping booze off the rez is an excellent idea.

Christopher, you seem interested in concepts like burdens of proof and empiricism. However, you only seem interested in asserting that you have no burden of proof and in denying the valid empricism that contradicts your beliefs. When you raise these issues in the way you have, you are just handwaving as a meaningless distraction.

Randall Parker said at November 6, 2006 6:54 PM:

Christopher,

You state:

I'm not disputing that certain drugs, taken at certain times cause birth defects. What I'm disputing is your assertion that banning those drugs results in a net benefit to the society as a whole.

Banning reduces use. If the drugs were legal people could buy them more cheaply, more conveniently, without fear of arrest, and without fear of losing their jobs. The barriers we place in the way of usage does reduce usage. The barriers raise costs. People surely respond to costs, no?

Usage of cocaine, for example, probably damages babies. What are the costs of that damage? I figure the costs are huge. ADHD people make less money. They are more prone to criminal behavior. Drug use by moms probably increases criminal behavior of offspring both due to neuronal damage and later due to abuse which will cause worse behaviors (e.g. the MAOA gene variation found in the New Zealand Dunedin Longitudinal Study of Youth which make kids more violent if they are abused).

The legalization advocates tally up costs of enforcement and imprisonment. But they do not tally up costs to babies born under the influence of crack or meth or heroin. Near as I can tell, the legalization advocates never read about the research on brain and body development damage caused by drug use. I keep posting on the research on the damage done because the legalization advocates need to hear about what they are ignoring.

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