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Duterte 'ignorant' about drugs, says neuroscientist

Columbia University neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart hit back anew at the Duterte administration's war on drugs, calling the president "ignorant" for the latter's understanding of drugs and drug abuse.

"When you have a president making such ignorant comments about drugs (as if) he's a pharmacologist—and when society allows that? And the scientific community doesn't say it's wrong? They have much bigger problems," Hart said in an interview with's GlobalPost.

"Duterte's ignorance is only surpassed by those who support him on this issue," he added. "He is way out of his league when he talks about drugs."

'Duterte's most abhorrent claim'

Hart, who chairs  Columbia University's Department of Psychology, challenged Duterte's claim that methamphetamine—locally called "shabu"—shrinks people's brains.

"A year or more of shabu use would shrink the brain of a person and therefore he is no longer viable for rehabilitation," Duterte said in his keynote speech at the Philippine National Police's (PNP's) 115th Police Service anniversary in August last year.

"This is the most abhorrent claim made by (Duterte). Millions of people around the world take this drug. For a variety of conditions. We don't see anyone's brain shrinking," Hart said.

Myth of shrinking brains

"We've never seen, in the methamphetamine doses humans take, any shrinking brains or destroyed brain cells. It's a ridiculous notion," he underscored.

Hart pointed out that brain shrinkage has not been seen in relation to most drugs other than alcohol—and even then, he argues, it only happened with extremely large doses and not as a direct result of the alcohol itself.

He said that with the very high doses used in lab experiments—as much as 80 times the normal dose—some brain damage can be expected, even from such a mundane drug as ibuprofen, an off-the-counter medicine used to treat fever and pain.

Medical uses of amphetamines

Hart said he is no stranger to the effects of methamphetamine on people.

"I've given out hundreds of doses of methamphetamine, approaching thousands. I've never seen anyone become violent," he said.

Hart stressed that methamphetamine is "essentially the same drug as" amphetamine, a medicine commonly and legally prescribed by doctors around the world to treat a wide variety of diseases including ADHD, depression, narcolepsy, and obesity.

"In the United States, (amphetamines are) the number one drug for attention deficit disorder—prescribed to children as young as five years old," he said.

"Amphetamines are used widely but you don't see all this violence that people are claiming. It's just a myth," Hart underscored.

Earlier brush with Duterte

This is not the first time that Hart has butted heads with the country's head of state over the drug war.

Last May, Hart flew in to give a talk on drugs and drug abuse at the University of the Philippines.

At the event, he maintained that shabu use alone does not lead to violence nor causes brain damage by itself. He also said that drug abuse should be countered by public education and alternative solutions for would-be drug abusers.

Hart's views were shared by United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, a move which prompted the Philippine president to snap back at the pair:

"She should go on a honeymoon with that black guy," Duterte said.

"They have prejudged shabu and announced—ewan ko kung scientific (or) not—(that) it is not a virulent chemical. Pagka ganon, wala na tayong pag-uusapan," he added.

Hart said that he had received death threats in the wake of his controversial talk and left the country shortly thereafter. — GMA News