"He took too much LSD in the '60s".
October 19, 2009 4:42 PM   Subscribe

"He took too much LSD in the '60s". No, really. Any number of Americans approaching old age are doing so with long-term illegal drug habits. If you've seen the Osbournes on TV, Ozzy seems the picture of the sort of cognitive impairment you can expect someone to have after years of illegal drug use. Is this typical of such a person? Can someone be rendered mentally incompetent by means of a history of long-term illegal drug use? Would someone with obvious cognative impairment like Ozzy still be considered legally competant?
posted by bunky to Health & Fitness (32 answers total)
He has Parkin Syndrome.
posted by Electrius at 4:56 PM on October 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

The same could be said for legal drugs. Different people react differently to different drugs..what happens to one person in the long term may not be the same for someone else. Sure it is possible for someone to "be rendered mentally incompetent by means of a history of long-term illegal drug use", but it is also possible with legal drugs, or even plain old old-age. I assume you're referring to being competent to stand trial....but competency needs to be taken on an individual level, case-by-case, regardless of drug use history....it is entirely possible that someone can still be competent after years of long term drug use.

Sorry for rambling, it's just that the question is worded rather strangely. It almost seems like you're trying to make the blanket statement 'If someone has used drugs for a long time, then they are incompetent' which may be true for some people, but not for others, and the competency could be related to a ton of other things, not just the drug use.
posted by AltReality at 4:56 PM on October 19, 2009

According to Wikipedia, "Excessive alcohol use may cause either alcohol dementia or Korsakoff's psychosis (and certain other recreational drugs may cause substance-induced persisting dementia); once overuse ceases, the cognitive impairment is persistent but non-progressive."
posted by oinopaponton at 4:58 PM on October 19, 2009

Also, it would depend greatly on what type of drug. Marijuana has been thought to do exactly the opposite.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:59 PM on October 19, 2009

Mod note: few commetns removed - no idea what's going on here but let's see if we can keep this questions answers sort of narrowly focussed...
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:09 PM on October 19, 2009

there is nothing "typical" about ozzy. for a counter point i'd put forth keith richards, iggy pop, and david bowie. all of them are older than ozzy, all of them have well documented drug issues, and none of them are what you'd consider incompetent.
posted by nadawi at 5:18 PM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think Syd Barrett was a pretty compelling case of someone incapacitated by heavy use of psychadelic drugs.
posted by tomwheeler at 5:29 PM on October 19, 2009

Correlation is not cause. The things that make people like Ozzy Osbourne take massive amounts of drugs are the same kinds of things that can lead to the type of behavior he now exhibits. In other words, often, crazy people take drugs in order to feel less crazy. Sometimes, it works-- sometimes, just the opposite.

Marijuana does not appear to cause lasting cognitive problems that don't resolve with abstinence. Alcohol can produce irreversible brain damage, most of which is oddly due to alcohol-related nutrient deficiencies, rather than caused directly by alcohol. Opioids do not appear to cause lasting cognitive damage.

Since he is not an imminent danger to self or others, he would not be likely to be declared incompetent. Dumb behavior does not equal incompetence-- and he clearly hasn't shown the type of cognitive impairment (not knowing what a car key is for, rather than not knowing where one is) that would result in a dementia diagnosis.
posted by Maias at 5:33 PM on October 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

There is an obvious selection effect at work here - heavy drug users are more likely to die (insert the name of your favorite dead celebrity who OD'ed). The people remaining are either lucky or may have used drugs to a different level than those who have died.
posted by meowzilla at 5:44 PM on October 19, 2009

Uh forget correlation is not cause. Data is not the plural of case study.

Unless someone was running a control Syd Barrett somewhere it's hard to say where, exactly his problems originated. A psychotic break, or God know what, can happen to anyone.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:47 PM on October 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

Anecdotal, but so's Ozzy. Know plenty of people who did truck loads of LSD and heroin for years on end. The ones that are alive and clean seem functional, even if they look a little older than their peers.

The one person I know who had a psychotic break while on LSD did so on their first try (two hits of double dipped window pane).

Even the kid who ate a sheet of acid in high school (watched him do it) seems as fine as any kid stupid enough to eat a sheet of acid when he heard a cop siren after a few months of hospitalization.

Lots of drug use is really bad for you, but given the usage rates in the early '70s, we still have a fairly functional generation of people.

Or as everyone else has said, correlation != causation.
posted by Gucky at 5:56 PM on October 19, 2009

The term "illegal drugs" is a very broad group of substances, and it's almost impossible to generalize about them.

Re LSD and marijuana: There are plenty of people who have used massive quantities of them without showing any apparent mental impairment. This means that either (1) at least some significant number of people people are not affected; or (2) the effect is sufficiently subtle that it would be hard to tease out without a large-scale, randomized, controlled clinical trial -- which isn't going to happen any time soon.

I'd be willing to bet the same is true for many other illegal drugs - mushrooms, many types of opiates, etc. I'd be less sanguine about other drugs, like meth.

Suffice it to say that the mental effects of these drugs (LSD and marijuana) is enormously overblown by many.
posted by mikeand1 at 6:14 PM on October 19, 2009

Another anecdotal: For years I knew a guy who, by the time I met him, had been using heavy doses of psychedelics on a weekly basis and marijuana on a daily for over twenty years; it was his personal, spiritual ritual. I didn't know him as a younger man, but he'd been going to med school when he dropped out after turning on. He was very bright, and had a philosophical view of life, but emotionally, he seemed a burned-out husk. I can't attribute it to the drugs, but it seemed quite plausible an explanation. Even if it was the cause, I have no idea how often that happens.
posted by Red Loop at 6:20 PM on October 19, 2009

You seem to be focused solely on illegal drugs in your question, but I don't think it's the legality or illegality that matters so much as the actual substance involved. The damage drugs do to one's body is not correlated with their legality. So I don't think you can really ask what a "typical" illegal drug user will be like when they get old. You'd have to break it down by specific drugs and at least a rough definition of "heavy" use.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 6:37 PM on October 19, 2009

Syd Barrett had many mental issues believed to exist prior to massive drug intake.

I know plenty of people who suffer from what would seem like an excess of drug and alcohol use, with the stunning caveat that none of them actually did drugs or drank much. In fact, in Bosnia, where I grew up, illegal drug use is pretty rare. But one would probably find just as many people you'd call "drug cases" walking around, it's just that they're not drug cases per se. In fact, I'll be totally forthcoming and tell you that for all the American drug hysteria we heard about in Bosnia, I expected to see some real difference after arriving here. There isn't much, and many people I know who regularly smoke pot or indulge in other drugs do not, generally speaking, seem to function any more poorly than those friends of mine who abstain. (This is especially true as they get older - I think a lot of people confuse drug usage with the idiocy of college age, which is unfortunate.)

I reckon drug use might exacerbate pre-existing metal conditions, as with Syd Barrett or Peter Green. But I suspect that - with the exceptions of some of the "worse" recreational drugs, such as cocaine and meth - that they don't really end up devastating you over time, the way that the media suggests.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:39 PM on October 19, 2009

Thanks jessamyn!

No really, bunky... why are you asking?

I want to know because all kinds of specific long-term drug/alcohol abuse produce all sorts of effects.

For example, this famous female golfer was on Oprah years ago, apparently, she was super into champagne, etc. This caused her brain to sorta turn into swiss cheese, aka - wet brain.

If you are curious about Ozzy, specifically - there's plenty of info on the interwebs about him. If you are trying to compare him to someone you know with similar behavior... that behavior can be caused by a variety of ailments, not just substance abuse -or- a combo of that plus something organic.

Regardless... I'm pretty sure the answer regarding being legally judged competant or incompetant depends on whether or not a case was brought to court, and what the evidence might be.

I'm pretty sure Ozzy's very wealthy family has no reason to declare him incompetant as long as he has good "handlers" that keep him safe, and as long as he makes them money by being viable partner in their economic endeavors.

Since my last statement is fairly obvious... why do you ask?
posted by jbenben at 6:46 PM on October 19, 2009

such as cocaine and meth

Meth does damage people physically and mentally in the long term. It may be from impurities in the product or from accompanying nutritional/behavioral effects like alcohol, but if you've ever interacted with someone who has used meth for a while, it's obvious.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:51 PM on October 19, 2009

In other words, I agree strongly.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:53 PM on October 19, 2009

I think Syd Barrett was a pretty compelling case

I have a feeling he was probably going to have those issues, regardless of the drugs. Some people just aren't "right" in the head—I don't mean that in a defamatory way—just, some people's brain chemistry is out-of-whack. Bi-polarism, manic depression, schizophrenics, psychotics, etc. I honestly doubt all the acid he shampooed with would have helped him, but blaming it on the drugs seems too pat (and given all of the counter-examples you can could mention, too refutable).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:09 PM on October 19, 2009

Not a direct answer, but some further info -

Ozzy has struggled with depression since he was a teenager. Alot of his lifestyle was a combination of easy money and "self-medication" - perhaps some of his symptoms today are a result, or have helped complicate other medical conditions but it would be very difficult to determine which is the cause and which the effect.
posted by jkaczor at 8:42 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one has brought up Brian Wilson yet. While I can't speak on the matter of his legal competence, it's well known that his abuse of drugs both legal and illegal has brought him to his current state of frailty. This interview has a good example of that:

By now a pattern was set for the Brian Wilson interview technique. Talking to him is like feeding a corpse. You spoon in questions, clarify what you just said, repeat the original question, put your head on one side, smile, flirt, nod – and when he's ready, he'll offer the tiniest quantum of communication known to mankind. Often it's one laconic word. Sometimes he'll repeat your question as a statement.

This, anecdotally, matches secondhand word from a friend of mine who's had to handle him for interviews. I've met similarly fried musicians on a smaller scale, as well. They spend all day gathering their focus as best they can for their set, and then after that they're gone. It can be pretty sad to experience, especially if you respect that person as an artist.

On the other hand, I think that stimulant/depressant abuse just exacerbates a problem that was already there. (In the case of Brian Wilson: pre-existing mental problems.) There are musicians with similar backgrounds who remain sharp as a tack. Elvis Costello's been up and down the block with heroin, Tori Amos started in with hallucinogens after her first record, and Paul McCartney's drug history spans decades but all of them are still chugging away.

So, yeah, mental incompetence can be a result of heavy, continuous drug use, but it's not a given.
posted by greenland at 9:18 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

This may be a slight derail, but Ozzy seems to have been the only person to ever utter the phrase "Parkin syndrome". I suspect he means -- by "Now I've found it all stems from the family" -- that he has a Parkin gene [aka PARK2] inheritance that has led to a "Parkin gene related neuronal multisystem disorder" -- most likely the correct name for his condition is autosomal recessive juvenile parkinsonism -- which is generally considered a subset [or more properly, a separate cause] of Parkinson's. ARJP has a mean onset of age 32, with symptoms generally presenting as motor function problems and tics. According to one source, "psychiatric abnormalities have been recognized in PD patients with parkin mutations, but there have been no systematic studies to determine whether this is a characteristic feature" of the disorder.

Thus, though I haven't seen him on video recently, I would probably say that your "obvious cognitive impairment" claim is suspect. Someone can have motor system disorders and retain a sharp mind. In this old interview Ozzy seems to have pretty clear insight into his condition.
posted by dhartung at 10:25 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

As with the general societal beliefs about what drug users look like / act like / et cetera, I think there's a huge selection bias here. The habitual heroin user who shoots up at home after breakfast, then puts on his tie and heads off to the office, is not included in people's perceptions of what characteristics illegal drug users have. It's extremely difficult to even do epidemiology about this sort of thing.

Much "drug damage" has to do with ancillary behaviours that are not caused by, though they may quite strongly correlate with, use of the actual drug. If you like your crack, smack or speed so much that you spend every cent you get on them and so hardly even eat any more, for instance, you will in short order be a total wreck.

To pick a specific example, "meth mouth" is not caused by any direct effect that methamphetamine has on teeth, but by the decision to address the lower saliva production you'll have when speeding by drinking lots of sweet, acidic soft drinks. Someone who behaves exactly the same but drinks water instead of cola will keep their teeth. Well, they will as long as they get a bit of vitamin C, too.
posted by dansdata at 1:06 AM on October 20, 2009

meowzilla: "There is an obvious selection effect at work here - heavy drug users are more likely to die (insert the name of your favorite dead celebrity who OD'ed). The people remaining are either lucky or may have used drugs to a different level than those who have died."

Hah, get real - "heavy drug users are more likely to die"?! The chances of a drug user ODing is vanishingly small compared to all the other possible causes of death over a lifetime.

To answer the question, there's nothing specific about illegal drugs which means they they are more likely to reduce mental competence in the long term. In fact, the scientific consensus from recent studies indicates the opposite - legal drugs are often much more harmful. Moreover, it depends massively on which drugs you are talking about. Just because they are in the same schedule does not mean meth and acid are equivalent. Finally, as has been mentioned, confirmation bias is huge.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:35 AM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: I was asking with the conspicuous public example of Ozzy Osbourne in mind. It has occurred to me to wonder exactly how well he functioned off the camera, how much "help" he needed from his handlers, and what his mental capabilities/everyday functioning might have been had he not engaged in long-term multiple drug use. And yes, I know illegal drugs are not the only ones that can cause cognitive damage, I have heard stories of people who have taken antidepressants and other psych meds who suspect they may have paid a price with some of their mental sharpness.
While it does seem that Ozzy may well have had some pre-existing organic issues before engaging in drug use (on the show, he claims to have been dyslexic, which he also claims led to him not getting a good education and turning to drugs as a result of poor self-esteem) I've met dyslexics who did not engage in drug use, who may still have some issues in adulthood (e.g. the dyslexia did not go away), but who aren't anywhere near as conspicuously impaired as Ozzy.
posted by bunky at 6:51 AM on October 20, 2009

Just as a point of clarification, Ozzy is also purported to be a victim of poor choices in medical intervention. I believe he was or is suing a doctor who basically just shoveled drugs into him with little investigation as to the root cause of his problems. Some of those drugs are the kind that caused (it is alleged) permanant damage. Like how anti-psychotics can sometimes cause motor problems. For someone who is truely psychotic, this is often a good trade off. Better to be twitchy and relatively engaged in the world, than nuts and locked up somewhere. But if Ozzy's problems weren't psychotic in nature, and the anti-psychotics were improperly prescribed, he's got a case.

From watching the show, he seems to be mentally better than he appears. He seems to have some kind of disconnect between what he's thinking and what he's able to express.

As to the main question, my observations are that people who engage in drug abuse are people who have some kind of mental deficiency that causes them to be somehow unhappy and in constant search of some kind of fix for that. And so besides suffering the effects of drug abuse, they also are suffering the effects of a lifetime of unhappiness. And the snowball-like reinforcement of seeking the wrong drugs for the wrong problems. (Analogy- someone who becomes dependant on alcohol to self-medicate their depression begins to incorrectly view the buzz as the solution to their depression. When they are given anti-depressants, there is no buzz and so no matter how non-depressed they are, they don't feel right without the buzz. At least until they get the psychological help they need.)

I have had a number of family members with these kinds of issues. Their deaths seemed to happen in slow motion- their physical and psychological problems intertwined with their drug of choice until there was basically nothing left of them. Nothing is sadder than an old man dying of cancer who denies himself Fentanyl so he can still drink. On the other hand, I kind of respect his choice in a sick way- he knew he was dying, and he preferred to live the remainder of his life feeling what little happiness he can, rather than numbly rotting away...

Reminds me of the joke: I used to take acid in the 60's. Now I don't care what temperature it is.
posted by gjc at 9:41 AM on October 20, 2009

I think there is a bit of selective reporting and wishful thinking in many of these responses. Long term use/abuse of alcohol, marijuana, meth, crack, cocaine, possibly ecstasy and some hallucinogens cause various cognitive impairments. Not in all users and not in all cognitive activities. And it makes little difference whether it is the direct or indirect cause of the drug. That is like saying it is not the fall but hitting the ground that causes the broken leg. The prolonged use/abuse of certain drugs is usually a sufficient if not not necessary component for a variety of physical/behavioral/psychological pitfalls The impairment in executive function and memory (whether permanent or transitory) attendant to many of these drugs is still a problem if the impairment is on a daily/continual basis. It is perfectly reasonable to decatastrophize many of the myths surrounding drug abuse but it is equally reasonable to accept the reality that drug abuse takes a horrible toll on many many persons. And, none of us really knows the causes(s) of Ozzie's quirkiness--but I bet it is not because of regular exercise, good diet and moderation.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:32 AM on October 20, 2009

I do know someone who used to be pretty smart, uses a lot of recreational drugs and alcohol, and now seems brain-damaged. I also know someone who has Parkinson's symptoms, likely caused by lots of very toxic anti-cancer treatments that saved her life. The legality of the drugs is not the issue; it's the toxicity.
posted by theora55 at 11:39 AM on October 20, 2009

Response by poster: Let me put it this way. I don't know if Ozzy Osbourne drives. Assuming a DMV clerk didn't take one look at him and just say no to him getting a license, if Ozzy does drive, would you trust him to safely operate a motor vehicle? If he commits a traffic violation, and has to go to court, would he get off "by reason of mental defect or deficiency"? Now multiply this by the Baby Boom generation.
posted by bunky at 12:15 PM on October 20, 2009

It is sometimes impossible to compare "celebrities" to the rest of the population. Especially if you are talking about someone on a reality-type show. Those shows are scripted, and therefore not a "real" depiction of any given individual's capabilities or actions.

(Incidentally, Ozzy finally passed his driver's test 2 weeks ago!)

I think you are wondering what laws or other oversights might be in place to keep folks from hurting themselves or others? This short article might give you an idea of terms to google in your quest for answers.

For some reason, I think your question might mostly be related to the civil rights area of things. (for example, I think it is very difficult for the gov't to force treatment or meds on a mentally ill/incompetent individual if they resist treatment, and Ozzy took his drive test 19 times, so you could infer the DMV can't easily deny the opportunity to try and obtain a license, etc. etc)

Hope that gives you a start.
posted by jbenben at 1:35 PM on October 20, 2009

If Ozzy is considered minimally functional, a better example for your purposes may be Shane MacGowan, who definitely seems (to me) like a danger to himself. He is not a guy you want handling an open flame, as you can deduce pretty quickly from If I Should Fall from Grace with God.
posted by booksandlibretti at 3:27 PM on October 20, 2009

"Now multiply this by the Baby Boom generation."

you mean the part of the baby boom generation that have a degenerative disease? dyslexia isn't ozzy's issue - as was pointed out upthread, parkin syndrome is.
posted by nadawi at 4:01 PM on October 20, 2009

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