Two Scientific Evaluations of the Claims of Narconon – a Scientology Front Group

narconon blackboardNarconon is a front group for the Church of Scientology which claims to operate successful  drug education and rehabilitation programmes, “based on the works of L Ron Hubbard” (the founder of Scientology). Narconon anti-drug education programmes target  schools and employers.

Narconon also operates residential drug rehabilitation facilities which claim a astonishingly high success rate (at least 76%).

The content of the Narconon rehabilitation programme is indistinguishable from Scientology training and the organisation pays ‘franchise fees’ to another entity controlled by the Church of Scientology, which passes them on to the Church. The theoretical and practical claims made Narconon have been evaluated by researchers on behalf of two public health organisations, and two documents containing their findings are provided below (after the break).

In the first,  the California Department of Eduction assess the claims made for Narconon’s ‘educational’ programme. It concludes that their educational presentations lack scientific accuracy and are poorly presented.

The second document assesses Narconon’s claims for both its educational and rehabilitation facilities. A team of researchers performed an  extensive literature search to uncover only five research papers that examined Narconon. One was unavailable and two were strongly negative. Only one suggested that Narconon’s practices were beneficial – and that was undertaken by Narconon itself. The overall conclusion is that the Narconon educational and  rehabilitation programmes are  not supported by science, nor is there any evidence that their practices produce positive results.

The fact that there have been a worrying number of avoidable deaths in Narconon facilities – expecially  in the US further suggest that Narconon ‘treatment’ is a very poor option. The third document included here is a  “Drug Education Presentation”  from Narconon. This purports to show that the theories underlying their programme are supported by academic references. It fails to do so, as its brief quotes are taken out of context. It is included to demonstrate that Narconon does indeed make the unsupported and pseudo-scientific claims that the other researchers condemn. Critics have long argued that Narconon is little more than a means to recruit vulnerable people into Scientology, and charge them for the privilege. One of the papers in this report explicitly supports this proposition, stating that  – from their direct observations of a Narconon halfway house –  “There appears to be little difference between Narconon and the Church of Scientology california dept of education 2005 |Deborah Wood Phd | California Department of Education | Narconon Drug Abuse Prevention Program Evaluation | View Online | Download as .pdf This (very understated) document is an evaluation of Narconon’s “Drug Abuse Prevention Programme”.  The DAPP organises presentations which claims to describe the facts about illicit drugs and discourage their use. One in eight of these take place in elementary middle and high school classrooms. The evaluation takes criticises Narconon on a number of points, which include:

  • A lack of scientific accuracy
  • Overstatement
  • A failure to distinguish between drug use and abuse (likely due to Scientology’s vendetta against the psychiatric profession, which characterises psychiatric medication as at least as harmful as illicit drugs)
  • The use of a ‘one size fits all’ presentation, which is particularly inappropriate to the requirements of schools
  • The lecture-based nature of the presentations, which provides insufficient interaction
  • The use of ex-addicts in the presentation, which undermines the  attempts of schools to present the consumption of  illicit drugs as dangerous (if addicts can recover so easily, what it there to be worried about?).

A similar (less well-resourced) organisation operates in the UK, which I have described in a previous post. Their website, and their own video of their presentations in schools, provide examples of these shortcomings. The evaluation goes into great detail, so it is worth quoting it’s summary of the scientific and medical shortcomings of Narconon presentations:

Examples of inaccurate information presented to students in NDAP presentations and supplementary resources include:

  • Drugs burn up vitamins and nutrients
  • Drug-activated vitamin deficiency results in pain which prompts relapse
  • Marijuana-induced, rapid vitamin and nutrient loss causes the “munchies”
  • Small amounts of drugs stored in fat are released at a later time causing the person to re-experience the drug effect and desire to use again

This information reflects hypothesized processes of drug metabolism, bioavailability, and psychoactive impact, and is the premise for the Narconon detoxification regimen. This theoretical information does not reflect current evidence that is widely accepted and recognized as medically and scientifically accurate. Examples of misleading statements and inferences presented to students in NDAP presentations and supplementary resources include:

  • drugs are poisons
  • the amount of a drug determines if it acts as a stimulant or as a sedative
  • anyone who takes drugs does so to avoid problems
  • drugs ruin creativity and dull senses

This information is overgeneralized or exaggerated.

norwegian research 2008 |Project leader, researcher Rigmor C Berg. Research librarian, Karianne Thune HammerstrømResearcher, Bjørg Høie A brief summary and evaluation of the evidence base for Narconon as drug prevention intervention Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health services | View Online | Download as .pdf This report from the Norwegian National Heath Service examines the evidence base for Narconon’s claims by collecting and accessing rigorous studies which fairly test whether or not treatment by Narconon leads to a positive outcome. The report  is notable for its brief description of the Church of Scientology (pgs 9-10)  which characterises it as:

[…]  a multifaceted transnational corporation involved in religious teachings, politics, business, and education. It offers hundreds of goods and services for which members are urged to give “donations”

The team identified only five relevant papers, and assessed them all. The first compared examined an experiment using school students in Oklahoma and Hawaii as subjects. One group received a Narconon presentation, the other did not.  If Narconon’s techniques were effective, you would would expect the group that saw the presentation to be less likely to use drugs. Four years later, the group that recieved the presentation used drugs 78% less often that the control group. 78% is a remarkable figure – similar to Narconon’s claimed 76% success rate for rehabilitation. The authors note that:

It must be mentioned that the study was supported by Narconon, conducted by Narconon staff, and the second author, Ms Cecchini, is the former Executive Director of a Narconon center.

There is surely a vested interest here – an organisation simply cannot honestly assess itself. Both the integrity of the data (supplied by Narconon staff) and it’s evaluation (by someone employed by  Narconon) are highly suspect. The second study concerns a Narconon drug rehabilitation facility in Stockholm. Researchers approached 61 clients four years after their participation. It found that 77% did not complete the programme. It is difficult to understand how Narconon can claim a 76% success rate when, in this case, 77% of the clients dropped out before completing the progamme. The third study (of a Narconon halfway house) concluded that:

[…] there was little evidence that a significant number of the clients treated at Narconon were drug dependent individuals. Additionally there is little doubt that the religion of Scientology is advocated, openly discussed, and encouraged within Narconon. Since the Church of Scientology is a religion it appears that State money is being directly used to support a church. There appears to be little difference between Narconon and the Church of Scientology.

The authors were only able to obtain an abstract (a short summary provided at the beginning of the paper) of the forth study. Although it claimed positive results, it was consequently impossible to assess its reliability. The final study considered was the one posted above, from the California Department of Education, which was highly critical of Narconon’s ‘educational’ activities.


The authors decided that, overall:

There is currently no reliable evidence for the effectiveness of Narconon as a primary or secondary drug prevention program. To the extent our extensive database search could determine, no randomized controlled trials about the program have been conducted

In other words there is no reliable scientific evidence at all to support the claims made by Narconon. The only justification that can be offered by Narconon is that those are based on the writing of L Ron Hubbard which they, as Scientologists, believe to be effectively infallible.

narconon claim to science2005 | Narconon Science references and Background | Download as .pdf This document, which represents the official view of Narconon is included to demonstrate that Narconon really does make the statements that the authorities above criticise.  For example, the California Department of Education condemn Narconon for teaching that:

  • Drugs are poisons
  • The amount of a drug determines if it acts as a stimulant or as a sedative

Narconon not only makes this claim, but attributes it to the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard on page 8:

Drugs essentially are poisons. The degree they are taken determines the effect. A small amount gives a stimulant. A greater amount acts as a sedative. A larger amount acts as a poison and can kill one dead. This is true of any drug. Each has a different amount. L. Ron Hubbard, August 1968

The ‘science references’ consist of  very brief quotations (sometimes as few as 15 words) from a large of number of scientific papers.  Unfortunately, like some of the quotations use in film posters, they are taken completely out of context. The California Department of Education also criticises Narconon for stating that:

Small amounts of drugs stored in fat are released at a later time causing the person to re-experience the drug effect and desire to use again

This is scientific nonsense. Drugs are highly reactive substances which are rapidly metabolised. This UK government-sponsored drug education website gives representative times. It is also irresponsible – such a claim may cause unnecessary fear in people who have used drugs in the past. This fear which could be used to pressure them into undertaking (and paying for) Scientology’s  ‘purification rundown‘ to rid themselves of non-existent ‘drug residues’. Once again, this claim came directly from Hubbard’s writings, and is quoted in the Narconon document as if he was an authority in the subject:

Not only LSD but other chemical poisons and toxins, preservatives, pesticides, etc., as well as medical drugs and the long list of heavy street drugs (angel dust, heroin, marijuana, etc.) can lodge in the tissues and remain in the body for years…. “Thus it seems that any or all of these hostile biochemical substances can get caught up in the tissues and their accumulation probably disarranges the biochemistry and fluid balance of the body.” L. Ron Hubbard, February 1978

Hubbard held no degree-level qualifications, and even if he had have done they would be woefully out of date by now. His only encounter with higher education came when he dropped out the first year of a physics course. Again, tiny quotes are taken out of context to support Hubbard’s unsupported assertion. Many other claims are made in this document, and ‘supported’ in the same way – for example the notion that drug use ‘uses up’ vitamins and minerals which must be artificially ‘replenished’ in the form of pills and preparations. They are all contrary to mainstream scientific and medical knowledge.


2 thoughts on “Two Scientific Evaluations of the Claims of Narconon – a Scientology Front Group

  1. Pingback: Istituto ominicomprensivo Leonardo Da Vinci di Acquapendente ospita rappresentante del centro Narconon di Terni | favisonlus


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