Skip to main content

Book review of High Price by Carl Hart


I recently finished reading an eye-opening book called High Price by Carl Hart, a neuroscientist at Columbia University. The subtitle provides a nice abstract: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society. Prof. Hart tells the story of his non-traditional journey from the "special needs" classroom of his youth (where he was tracked along with the other black kids at his school) through his eventual graduate and post-graduate career in academe. He also mixes in the results of his research on the effects of drugs on the human brain that cast a boatload of doubt on our government's ongoing war against its citizens, also known as the "war on drugs."

Here's a fairly typical yet mind-blowing excerpt about the 1986 law that resulted in a huge disparity in sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine possession:
Under the 1986 provision, a person convicted of selling 5 grams of crack cocaine was required to serve a minimum sentence of five years in prison. To receive the same sentence for trafficking in in powder cocaine, an individual needed to possess 500 grams of cocaine---1000 times the crack cocaine amount...From a scientific or pharmacological perspective, the disparity wasn't justified: it didn't accurately reflect any real difference in harm related to the drug.
This is because the only differences between crack and powder cocaine crack is cooked with baking soda, which allows it to be smoked. The two forms of cocaine are otherwise nearly identical chemically. Sadly,
One of the keys to crack's success on the market was the selling of very small doses at a low price, something that obviously increases the number of transactions...Crack cocaine increased the prevalence of both street markets and frequent transactions in many black communities. Law enforcement agencies placed considerable resources in black communities aimed at arresting both dealers and users. This combination of factors meant that creating disparate sentences for crack would inevitably---even without any racist intent----put more black people in prison for much longer terms. 
But isn't crack super-addictive? No more addictive than powder cocaine. And according to Prof. Hart's research, cocaine in any form is not very addictive at all, and certainly not as it is portrayed in government propaganda and the popular media. Indeed, 80-90% of people who try "hard drugs" do so without negative impact on their lives. After all, even one of our former presidents dabbled in cocaine without becoming a "fiend."

I highly recommend this book. But be forewarned: once you know something, it's impossible to un-know it. And once you know what's going on with the "war on drugs," it's difficult not to be deeply angered and saddened.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:


It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I started by downloading a stock photo of J.J. from NBA.com, which I then loaded into OpenOffice Draw:


I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…