Maptalk-Digest Monday, December 11 2000 Volume 00 : Number 262
A story about Ritalin
From: "Kevin Fansler" <>
MANDATORY SENTENCING: IS THE SYSTEM BROKEN?' at 6:00 PM
From: "kim hanna" <>
Cannabis trial patients 'gaining benefit'
From: Eric Ernst <>
Subj: A story about Ritalin
From: "Kevin Fansler" <>
Date: Sat, 9 Dec 2000 18:40:13 -0500
I found this article in GQ and thought it was appropriate for this site so I
OCR'd it onto the computer. One could not classify this as a scientific
study but rather more anecdotal. Nevertheless, one might think that it might
have more gravity than a scientific study sponsored by NIDA striving to
please politicians or a promotional blurb put out by a pharmaceutical
company bound on making billions of dollars.
Ritalin is an amphetamine derivative, as is methamphetamine and some
prescription diet drugs. One would expect essentially similar effects from
these closely related drugs.
It is ironic that methamphetamine is demonized by the law
enforcement-industrial complex but is sanctified by the pharmaceutical
industry. Diet drugs are prescribed to millions of adults and Ritalin is
force fed to millions of our children.
It seems that the pharmeuceutical industry and the law enforcement industry
tell conflicting stories about amphetamine derivatives. But in both cases,
these stories are calculated to strengthen their institutions and increase
It has been said that there are no bad drugs but that there bad
relationships with drugs. Below is a story of a relationship with Ritalin
Newshawk: Chair Man
Pubdate: Dec 2000
Copyright: CondeNet 2000
Contact: GQ Letters, 4 Times Square, New York, NY 10036
Author: Walter Kirn
My Life on Ritalin
At 31, Walter Kirn was a successful novelist and a respected book critic.
Yet inside his head, he always feared something was a bit off. When a
psychiatrist put him on Ritalin-and he became one of 500,000 adults who are
now taking one of the most controversial prescription drugs in America-his
life changed for the better. And for the worse.
This is his story
SIX YEARS AGO, in a Montana psychiatrist's office, I learned that my chronic
problem had a name-a name more scientific and respectable than the one I'd
For reasons I'll get to, I called my problem Frankenstein. The symptoms
first appeared in junior high school. Fm eating lunch in the cafeteria and
reading Moby-Dick for English class when, suddenly, a thought lights up my
brain: Since ragged jeans are all the rage at school, why not use the
jackknife in my pocket to cut holes in the knees of my Levi's? I open the
knife and test its sharpness by shaving the fine hairs along my forearm.
It's then that I remember hearing somewhere that hair, once cut, grows back
thicker than before, and since I have no beard yet-arid I want one-I go to
the boys' room and scrape the rusty blade across my downy cheeks. I nick
myself. Blood drips onto the sink. I wipe it up, but once the blood is gone
I can't stop cleaning. I polish the mirror, the faucets. A bell rings: class
time. But where is my book? I can't find it anywhere. I get to class late,
and the teacher asks me why I'm holding a knife and a wad of bloody toilet
paper. I try to explain to her my chain of thoughts, but it's all a big
mess, and I give up.
As I grew, attended college and went to work, my problem ate up my hours, my
days, my weeks. I order a hamburger in a café, call back the waitress to ask
her to hold the bun and then decide that if meat is all I want, I should
have a steak. So I run to the kitchen to change my order again. Once in the
kitchen, though, I smell chicken cooking.... Or, on a larger scale, I start
a book about a young Mormon man who wants three wives, so I set out for Salt
Lake City to do research, only to be waylaid in southern Idaho by a sign for
a nuclear-research lab, which I turn off the interstate to visit but never
reach, because en route I see a more interesting sign for a casino fifty
miles away in Nevada.... Or, in an even stranger lapse of focus, I'm hosting
a quiet dinner party at home when I remember some trash in the garage that
I've been meaning to burn. I excuse myself and go outside, pour gasoline on
the trash and strike a match, then return to the table, finish my dessert
and look up a few minutes later, shocked and startled to discover a
miniature wildfire raging in the driveway.
My mind was a forest, dark and overgrown-an endlessly branching tangle of
small distractions, spreading forever outward into thin air. It was one of
those spiderwebs woven on LSD, whose threads overlap and snarl and trail
off. I called it Frankenstein, my glitch, my problem, after the scene in the
Boris Karloff movie when the monster starts out picking daisies with a
sunny-faced village girl and ends up throwing her body into a pond for no
apparent reason. His brain betrays itself. Patched together from wormy
cadaver parts, it wants to do one thing but ends up doing the opposite.
During my twenties, I told myself that mental disorganization breeds
creativity, but by the time I reached my thirties, I wanted Frankenstein to
go away. I was tired of taking the path of most resistance. My livelihood
was at stake, my future. I had a new job, reviewing books for a glossy
weekly, and I was struggling. Books progress in a line, from page to page,
but my neurons only fired sideways. Hours before my deadline, I'd find
myself miles from my desk, in the mountains, tracking a bighorn sheep along
a creek bed or plinking at soda cans with a target pistol. The problem
wasn't normal procrastination but something more elusive and profound. If I
read the book between pistol shots, scribbling notes on a pad set on a rock,
I was OK, but the moment I entered my office, chaos reigned. I'd order a
pizza for delivery, then drive to the shop to change my toppings selection,
then bump into a friend before I got there....
Disgusted with myself and scared, I went to see a doctor. I almost didn't
make my first appointment. I stopped for an oil change on the way, then
decided to have my radiator flushed. I was late by the time my truck came
off the hoist, and I reached the clinic in a sweat.
I had been to shrinks before. They didn't speak. They stared at you in
silence until you spoke.
"I'm all over the place," I said.
The doctor nodded-a thin man, tall, with a gigantic head, sitting
cross-legged in a swivel chair and spooning frozen yogurt from a cup.
"Everything's a great big mess."
I told him, and he diagnosed my condition instantly. With my twitching left
leg, my rapid speech and my affirmative answers to several questions ("Do
people find you intense?" "Are you a thrill seeker?" "Has anyone ever asked
you to slow down?"), I betrayed all the classic symptoms of the syndrome
that happened to be the doctor's specialty: ADHD, attention
What a relief! I couldn't believe my luck. Frankenstein's days were
numbered. He was history. For not only did my problem have a name; it had a
HAS YOUR LIFE ever coincided with the news? Have you ever found yourself at
a protest, say, that was reported in the morning papers, or attended a party
that showed up on the gossip page? The published stories a!ways seem wrong
somehow, and you wonder where the reporter got his info, or if he was even
on the scene at all. Well, that's how it was with me and Ritalin, a drug
that turned out to be entirely different from the "chill pill" I'd read
about in the papers.
First off, I'd heard that Ritalin was a sedative, or at least that it acted
like a sedative on patients who needed it. Mostly, these patients were kids.
Kids who threw scissors, who set their pets on fire. Bad kids, crazy kids.
Almost always boys. Ritalin calmed them, though. It smoothed them out,
improving their schoolwork and their home lives too. So potent were the
drug's effects, in fact, that it had drawn criticism from certain experts.
These criticisms fell into two categories: the philosophical and the
medical. The philosophers argued that drugging young underachievers revealed
some moral defect in society. The doctors held that Ritalin's long-term
effects hadn't been researched and studied sufficiently.
There were books on both sides of the issue, pro and con: Running on
Ritalin, Ritalin Nation, Driven to Distraction. According to some of these b
ooks (and my doctor), the drug was vastly underprescribed and millions of
kids who needed it weren't getting it due to irrational cultural prejudices
against using medication for behavior problems. According to other books,
however, Ritalin was hugely overprescribed and was turning the nation's
children into drones. What I couldn't find in any of these books, though,
was a clear description of how it felt to take the drug. The experts treated
Ritilan as an issue, an occasion for debate and argument, but no one could
tell me what the buzz was like.
By the time I swallowed my first white pill, washing it down with Ovaltine
before going into my office to review a thick new biography of Walter
Winchell, I was racked with suspense. Apprehensive is not the word. Soon I'd
become either a cool, clear thinker or a placid, malleable zombie.
I turned on my computer and opened the book and waited for the old urge to
drive to Idaho.
It never came. What came instead-trickling electrically up my spine and
neck, then spreading across my scalp and down my forehead-was a surge of
artificial illumination so sharp and radiant it made me grin. The bones in
my face felt shiny, light, metallic, and my posture-usually lousy when I'm
working-corrected itself in an instant. My cluttered desk metamorphosed into
a new sports car, throbbing deep with hidden rpm, ready to peel rubber at my
command. I cracked a liter bottle of mineral water and opened my mental
What a day. In no time, I was typing like a madman, spraying sentences like
a broken hose. My customary method of composition-slow, deliberate,
reflective and filled with self-critical pauses and revisions-gave way to a
swooping, driven, verbal momentum that filled the screen as quickly as I
could read. My keystrokes were so firm that, more than once, the keys stayed
down and wouldn't come up again. At one point, I forced myself to reread my
piece, afraid that I'd been spewing druggy nonsense. Not at all. It was
lovely, every line, its logic and emotion synchronized, its arguments sound.
Except for one wrong word.
Well, two wrong words. I pondered a list of synonyms. None seemed right. I
frowned. My mood was sinking. My mouth felt parched, but the water bottle
was empty, so I went to the bathroom sink to refill it and caught my face in
the mirror: rigid, gray, the face of a long-haul trucker after midnight. I
checked a clock and saw that I'd been writing for six high-octane,
Time for another dose of Ritalin. I'd been warned that the drug was short
acting, its half-life brief, and that keeping a steady blood level was
crucial. Unscrewing the pill bottle's childproof cap, I nearly cracked the
plastic in desperation. For the hour between taking my tablet and feeling it
hit, I felt like a driver broken down in the desert, watching the steam rise
from his radiator. My thoughts grew ugly and compulsive. Yes, the Winchell
biography was good, but Winchell himself, what a poisonous old crackpot! He
had ruined journalism, flushed it down the gutter, and it had been crap ever
since, a dark profession, gossipy and trivial, a sewer, and I was crap, too,
for making my living at it.
Relief arrived in a second tingling rush, and soon I was back at my desk,
productive again, though not feeling quite so inspired as earlier. About
this time, my girlfriend entered my office. Apparently, she'd been peeking
in all day, but I'd been too preoccupied to notice her.
"Looks like it's going smoothly," she said.
Smoothly? Not the word I'd have chosen.
"Are you finished? You've been at it pretty steadily."
"A few little touch-ups," I said.
"I guess it works, then."
My girlfriend shut the door. I sat there, thinking. I'd been whirled in a
white tornado that afternoon, lofted into the skies and smashed back down,
but from the outside I'd been working "smoothly." The inner drama hadn't
shown, it seemed. How curious. A funny drug, this Ritalin. It feels like
speed to the person taking it but looks like a sedative to observers.
It's no wonder, I thought, that parents and teachers love the stuff.
Forget how the little white pills make Johnny feel- sitting still and silent
at his desk while his brain bores through textbooks like a power drill-they
make the adults looking after him feel great.
I FELT GUILTY each time I renewed my prescription, but like Ritalin's other
effects, it didn't show. I felt guilty because the drug was so damned
powerful-easily as euphoria inducing as any illegal substance ever tried. In
fact, its effects were better. Cleaner. Tighter. Plus, compared to street
drugs, the stuff was cheap. For the same amount cokeheads pay for one
night's high, I could soar for a month, without fear of the police. Not that
I didn't feel paranoid anyhow. During the eighteen months I took the drug, I
rehearsed countless times a scene in which a cop pulled me over for a
traffic infraction, looked deep into my dilated pupils, then spotted the
pill bottle on the seat beside me. "It's a prescription, officer," I'd say.
And what could he do about it? Not a thing. There I am, as jazzed as any
speed freak who has just put his girlfriend in the hospital after an
all-night quarrel in a motel.room, and yet I'm untouchable, innocent, free
I hid these thoughts from my doctor. I stayed upbeat. While he gobbled his
frozen yogurt, I told him of my progress. Articles written. Deadlines easily
met. A desk so tidy it sparkled. No trips to Idaho. My only problem was
insomnia. After a hardworking day on Ritalin, I couldn't stop writing in my
head, I'd found. Sentence fragments spun inside my skull like socks in a
washing machine. I needed an "off" switch. The doctor suggested a
self-hypnosis routine, the use of calming imagery. I tried this. I pictured
a lake surrounded by tall green trees. Then I counted the trees. And
counted. And counted. Nine hundred sixty-four trees and still awake.
My doctor prescribed a new, short-acting sleeping pill that was guaranteed
to leave no hangover. Every tranquilizer I've ever been given has come with
such guarantees. They're meaningless. Still, I needed something to stop the
tree count. And though I usually woke hungover after all, Ritalin cured
that, pronto. Up and at 'em.
And, boy, was I getting things done. At least it felt that way. I worked
longer hours than I ever had, took fewer breaks and was wholly
undistractible. One time, on the street outside my house, a pickup truck
rear-ended a Cadillac. I heard the smashup, the yelling and the sirens but
went on typing. When I was on Ritalin, nothing fazed me. My water bottle
would topple off my desk, brushed by my elbow as I moved my mouse, and I'd
barely look down as the fluid soaked the rug or ruined an expensive
dictionary. On Ritalin, the task at hand was the only task in all the world,
and the world was very, very small-the size of a book or a computer screen.
Frankenstein had been banished to the grave. The problem was that Dracula
had replaced him. Overwork left me pale. Not eating made me thin. Ritalin
doesn't reduce the appetite; it renders eating abstract, a boring duty, like
taking out the garbage or folding shirts. Yes, I was able to eat when it
occurred to me, but it seldom occurred to me. I drank instead. Not booze
(I'd quit imbibing years before, which allowed me to rationalize taking
these pills as part of a sober, strictly medical regimen) but cool, clear
water by the bucketful. Dried out by stimulants, my mouth and throat
required constant flushing. I peed nonstop.
And something else dried up: my human sympathies. The flip side of my
ability to focus was my waning ability to feel. Partners of people with ADHD
often complain that the sufferer doesn't listen, and it's true-he doesn't;
he's off in space. On Ritalin, he doesn't listen, either, though. He hears,
he takes in, he comprehends, oh yes, but only on an analytical level, not in
the manner of Oprah, say. It's not a hug drug. It's a stand-and-stare drug.
When required A to simulate empathy or caring, I could do so convincingly,
but it took willpower.
The women in my life weren't thrilled. If they'd wanted to date Mr. Spock,
they'd have moved to the planet Vulcan. "So long," they said. Fine. I had
work to do. My doctor chalked up the departures to their intolerance, to
fear of my medication. Quite common, he said. Our society frowns on drugs,
especially stimulants, and stigmatizes even legitimate users as addicts,
mental defectives or worse. I appreciated his understanding because, by
then, it was us against the world, everyone else who knew me having left. My
great consolation, heightened productivity, eventually ceased to console. No
longer was I churning out the words; I was just churning. My oil light was
on. Six hours at the desk would yield a couple of sentences gone over and
over so often they barely existed. I cut out the sleeping pills, doubled my
Ritalin dose, experienced a week of the old power, then lapsed again into
The Internet wasn't what it is now, or I'd have logged on to a
special-interest chat room to compare my symptoms with fellow sufferers'.
I've since dropped in on such groups-there must be hundreds-and sampled
their endless pledges of support, pleas for help and avowals of expertise.
Self-pity predominates. Grown-up ADHDers tend to feel judged by society at
large and often by their own families. The whining is deafening, and the
advice, most often, comes down to this: Adust your dosage, press on, and
know we're praying for you. Then there are the bulletin boards for parents
whose children take Ritalin. These are almost as bad. Instead of asking
their zooming, lit-up kids what it feels like to be on the drug, the parents
compare their own feelings about the drug.
Thank goodness I avoided my computer when it came time to throw out my
prescription-I might have run back to the garbage and started digging, or
back to my doctor for one of the new pills that claim to do Ritalin one
better. As it happened, I went cold turkey, which sounds brave-the sweats,
the shakes, the grim determination-but wasn't much harder than refusing
dessert when you're stuffed from dinner.
I'd had enough by the time I wanted no more.
Enough concentration. Enough intensity. I missed the old dreaminess and
spontaneity. I missed not knowing exactly where I was going. I missed ending
up at surprising destinations that I might not have chosen but had chosen
Does this sound like revisionism? It is. All the chaos and frustration of
ADHD-a disorder that, if it exists at all, I'm sure I have, like a trillion
other scatterbrains-I have chosen to reinterpret, post-Ritalin, as
exhilarating confusion and curiosity. Frankenstein and I are working things
But what about the estimated 2 million American kids who don't have the
option of canceling their prescriptions, assuming they want to? I'm sure
some doiit want to. The pills are a kick. If I'd had them in junior high,
dispensed by a kindly old school nurse, I might or might not have ended up
in English class bleeding, bookless and bewildered, but I wouldn't have let
a day pass without taking them, especially a Saturday. They're uppers. Get
it? Uppers. They act like downers on kids who truly need them, according to
the experts, but what do they know? The experts are on the outside, looking
in, monitoring behavior, not emotion. All they see are rows of little heads
sitting obediently at little desks.
The kids are the ones on the inside. It's different there- stranger, hotter,
faster. I know: I've been there, cranking out the pages and gulping water,
utterly focused, on target and in the groove. Sometimes that's a good
feeling and sometimes not, but frankly I'd rather be lost somewhere in
Subj: MANDATORY SENTENCING: IS THE SYSTEM BROKEN?' at 6:00 PM
From: "kim hanna" <>
Date: Sun, 10 Dec 2000 22:15:02
MONDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2000
Free and open to the public.
No tickets required.
"MANDATORY SENTENCING: IS THE SYSTEM BROKEN?" at 6:00 PM
The 2000 Norman E. Zinberg Lecture With:
BARNEY FRANK, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MA)
Cosponsored by the Division on Addictions at Harvard Medical School, the
Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Kennedy School's Criminal
Justice Professional Interest Council, the KSG Democratic Caucus, and the
Harvard College Democrats.
Institute of Politics
Kennedy School of Government
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
For further information:
Call (617) 495-1380 or visit http://www.iop.harvard.edu
Directions by T:
Take the red line to the Harvard Square stop. From the station, exit to
Massachusetts Avenue. At the top of the station stairs, you will be at the
intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and John F. Kennedy Street. Turn left
and walk down John F. Kennedy Street, passing the Curious George/Wordsworth
bookstore on your right and Abercrombie & Fitch on
your left. The Kennedy School starts at the corner of Eliot and JFK, 2
lights from Harvard Square.
Get more from the Web. FREE MSN Explorer download : http://explorer.msn.com
Subj: Cannabis trial patients 'gaining benefit'
From: Eric Ernst <>
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2000 14:54:46 +0100
Doctors say that the majority of patients taking part in a Government-backed trial to test the medicinal use of cannabis are benefiting.
Seven out of 10 patients involved in the research project at the Jame Paget Hospital, Gorleston, Norfolk, are said to have been helped by a cannabis-based drug.
Ministers agreed to sanction research last year. A month ago Mo Mowlam, the
minister in charge of drugs policy, said moves to legalise cannabis for medicinal use could begin in 2001.
She added that a decision would be made when the scientific trials had been fully analysed.
Dr Willy Notcutt, who is heading the trail at Gorleston, said results had been "very acceptable", adding: "There's no doubt in our minds that a large number of patients have gained benefit. "
He told the Eastern Daily Press newspaper that between 70 and 80% of patients had gained some benefit.
He commented: "That's actually very good results for people with long-standing pain, although not all the benefits are in the relief of pain but in the quality of life.
"If you are dealing with people with chronic pain and you find something that benefits 30% of patients then you are doing well."
Dr Notcutt said much more research was needed before experts could be certain about the benefits of legalising cannabis for medicinal use.
End of Maptalk-Digest V00 #262
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