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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

February 2014

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Thursday 27th February 2014

This is one of those where I thought I could get my comment into the 140 characters Twitter allows but then realised I had more to say about it. I’m not a great fan of using multiple Tweets to tell a story so I’m here instead.

It concerns a paper from the International Journal of Drug Policy entitled  ‘Correlates of Intentions to Use Cannabis among US High School Seniors in the Case of Cannabis Legalization’. The abstract is here but I decided I should pay for the full paper in order to be sure that I was not being misled by poor abstracting...more

Monday 24th February 2014

Time for tea. In my talks I use Camellia sinensis, tea, to illustrate issues about addiction, the use of words and the confusion of facts. Take the last of those. The answer to the question ‘Which has more caffeine, tea or coffee?’ is tea – and coffee. There is more caffeine in a kilo of dry tea than there is in the same weight of coffee beans but there is more in coffee than tea when it comes to a cup of prepared beverage. Er, generally. Depending on how dry the tea leaves are. Or, how strong the beverage is.

And the fact that people exhibit physical symptoms if they suddenly reduce or discontinue their consumption of caffeine-bearing drinks makes us ask whether addiction is as straightforward as it is generally represented to be. But it is the third issue – the use of words – that interests me today..more

Wednesday 19th February 2014

There have been ‘cons’ since the beginning of time. My last piece mentioned the way that belief in the Doctrine of Signatures was exploited by charlatans selling an alleged remedy for toothache. And, today, Internet based scams of all sorts are widespread.

Whenever I hear people getting angry about some scheme for parting the public from its money I always say that the perpetrators aren’t entirely to blame. Put simply if these schemes didn’t work, they wouldn’t happen. It is the combination of poor judgement and the desire to make or save money that leads people to ignore the risks and make poor decisions...more

Monday 17th February 2014

Circumstances at home mean I haven’t been able to get out giving talks very much this winter but I’ve got a morning one coming up this Thursday in Kelso. It’s the Probus Club suggesting there should be a good number of people.

Before every talk, I go back through all the material and make changes. It is impossible to tell every story in the normal sort of time slot and I’m always finding new things to say meaning I have to find things to leave out...more

Thursday 13th February 2014

For my latest video in the ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ series, I’ve stepped a little out of the intended format. The idea of the series was to provide a brief summary of what is known about a plant in the hope of creating interest leading to further investigation.

With Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, I’ve stepped away from what is known and put forward my speculations about why this plant is such an unpleasant presence. And, though I hope my musings might be of interest, I have little hope that any further investigation is possible...more

Tuesday 4th February 2014

I don’t pay a lot of attention to statistics about psychoactive substances. They are often based on incomplete data or skewed research conducted to ‘prove’ a prejudice concerning prohibition. And they can’t alter my central belief that substances that have the potential to do harm should not be left in the hands of criminals rather than being regulated by governments. Only when governments accept responsibility for minimising the harms caused is the true extent of those harms worth more scrupulous study.

But there are numbers that bounce around and I, sometimes, wonder how reliable they are. One such is the number of cannabis users who will become dependent (often described as ‘addicted’). The number favoured by drug aunt website ‘Smart Approaches to Marijuana’ is 1 in 10 but this is a rounding up from the 9% (or 1 in 11) number usually given...more

Monday 3rd February 2014

I finally got around to one of the best known poisons in my series of short videos ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’. If the TV programme ‘Pointless’ asked its 100 people to name poisons from history two of the highest scoring answers would be arsenic and hemlock.

Hemlock is the name given to a number of different plants but the one I’m interested in today is Conium maculatum, poison hemlock..more

Saturday 1st February 2014

I am not perfect. I’m not even close. I’m not going to claim that, on every occasion, I immediately undo a wrong. But I try.

I’ve found that correcting wrongs as quickly as possible and as transparently as possible is much to be preferred over either denying that there was something wrong or trying to find some weasel-worded excuse to try and wriggle out of responsibility for the wrong...more

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