Cognition & Reality

Saturday, 15 January 2011

“Drugs, Inc.”: Reinventing The Sensitization Wheel

Filed under: Medical Morality,Propaganda,Psychomyths,Television — drtone @ 3:36 pm

I couldn’t help myself. I had to watch “Drugs, Inc.: Cocaine,” on the National Geographic Channel, once I inadvertently tuned into it. I knew it would annoy me. The few things I’ve  seen on National Geographic have all annoyed me, which is why I seldom watch it. This documentary tread the thin line between being open-minded and non-blaming enough to seem “scientific,” and at the same time sufficiently condemnatory and scary to satisfy the PTA at your local Christian high school. In that universe, powder cocaine is a lesser evil than crack, which of course has nothing to do with anything except the way US laws are currently written. The powder cocaine user they showed was a highly paid, sophisticated family man in the British TV industry, who happened to be Black (must have had to look high and low for him). The crack addict they showed was a snaggle-toothed, impoverished American degenerate with no family, who had to be Black (must have had to look high and low for him, too). It was both hilarious and sad, but not what I’m here to talk about.

Near the end, they included an extended segment featuring a Mexican-born American physician with a Russian name who studies cocaine addiction, because her uncle was an alcoholic (???!!!). In between all her moralizing, disguised as “science,” the documentary introduced her “revolutionary” discovery that “merely seeing video of someone lining out coke stimulates the dopamine centers in the brain,” which proves, of course, that cocaine is addictive (????!!!). This “revolutionary” finding is so old that it has great-great-grandchildren, so old that it has been rediscovered and renamed many times.

In essence, it is the most basic finding in Pavlovian conditioning: The “conditioned stimulus” (CS), in this case the lining out the cocaine, but in the classic experiments, the bell signaling the delivery of food powder, becomes associated with the “unconditioned stimulus,” in this case the cocaine, but in the classic case, the food powder, eliciting the “unconditioned response,” the cocaine high, or salivation in the classic case. The response thus established is called the “conditioned response” (CR). Junkies know about this relationship and will, desperate in the absence of drugs, prepare an empty fix, boiling up some distilled water in a bent spoon and injecting it, as if it had dope in it. In spite of knowing that it is a placebo, they get some relief from their “Jones.” The most recent rediscovery of this phenomenon–before this Mexican-American-Russian  rediscovered it again, this time having to use brain scans–is called “sensitization.”

Note: As I peer deep into my Google results, I notice that the name of the Mexican-American-Russian doctor, Volkow, may actually be associated with research showing the very opposite of the way it was portrayed in the National Geographic documentary. In my experience, this is par for the course with what passes for science on TV.



  1. I have a similar beef with National Geographic. Not only is everything in there PTA approved, it’s a bunch of hooey.
    In the earlier days of the National Geographic, I enjoyed their bent toward subjects related to nature and to strange cultures and lands. Like other programs, they are now headed out to the seas of the sensational. You used to watch tigers in the wild, but now the tigers are fiercer and more virulent, and they are bad. They were just animals then, but now they are predators that might eat your throat out if they lived next door, or there’s something sensational about how many tigers eat how many people etc. It’s a predatory world out there in the jungle, and they don’t spare the gore. I don’t watch those programs any more. m

    Comment by annie wallack — Saturday, 15 January 2011 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

    • It’s a jungle out there.

      Comment by drtone — Tuesday, 18 January 2011 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  2. There’s more. It’s all about murder mysteries. You can’t just go see the pyramids. You have to go and figure out who killed who in those ancient times. You’d think Monk was on the case. That’s kind of a good idea actually.


    Comment by annie wallack — Saturday, 15 January 2011 @ 5:47 pm | Reply

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