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Brahms is NOT the best antidepressant

A critique of The Emperor’s New Drugs

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

August 1, 2022

he title sounded promising: "The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the antidepressant myth" by Irving Kirsch1. Here was someone who was going to uncover the insidious link between the Drug War and the great American addiction of our time: namely, the fact that 1 in 4 women are hooked on Big Pharma drugs for life because the Drug War outlaws all better medications!

But I was wrong. I could tell just by reading the book's very first sentence:
"Brahms is the best antidepressant."

What? That is the kind of vapid bromide that only an indoctrinated Drug Warrior could come out with. It's absolute nonsense. If such feeble advice really worked ("listen to Brahms, exercise, eat right, focus on the positive"...) I would be the happiest man on earth, because that's about all the help I've gotten from "psychotherapy" over the years - before, that is, they decided to drug me instead and thereby make me a patient for life on a big pharma antidepressant that's been found to be harder to kick than heroin.

Like almost every nonfiction writer today, Dr. Kirsch reckons without the Drug War. In other words, he writes as if he's living in a free country, where psychoactive medicines are legal and he can therefore generalize about them meaningfully. But the inconvenient truth is that almost all psychoactive medicines have been criminalized. Instead of acknowledging this fact, Kirsch keeps opining about the value of "meds," apparently thereby referring to the handful of substances that can be legally prescribed for mood and/or mental improvement. He completely ignores the fact that there is a vast pharmacopoeia of drugs that are completely off-limits, both to therapist and patient. His silence on this topic suggests that he's in full agreement with the Drug War lie that such substances have no beneficial uses whatsoever, no matter how, when, why or where they are used.

So when he concludes that psychotherapy is better than "meds," it's unclear what he means. I could gladly endorse the idea that psychotherapy is better than the currently available drugs for depression, but that is not what Kirsch seems to be saying: He seems to be saying that psychotherapy is better than any kind of drugs, while simultaneously implying that no "drugs" are worth even mentioning unless they have not been criminalized by the government. And yet the kinds of psychoactive drugs that we're talking about here have inspired entire religions in the past, a fact that Kirsch does not seem to know, as he is likewise ignorant of the fact that MDMA and psilocybin have been showing great promise for treating depression, even in 2012 when this book was published.

Kirsch does understand the simple psychological fact that hope leads to happiness -- the ability to have something to look forward to -- and yet he fails to draw the obvious conclusion from this fact, namely that drug use -- the intermittent use of coca, opium, psychedelics, MDMA and all manner of psychoactive plants -- necessarily fights depression in that it provides hope. If I am struggling today emotionally, but know that I can look forward, say, to a weekend in which I deeply enjoy nature with the non-addictive use of morphine or coca, etc., then I will not be depressed -- I will have hope. Moreover,, just because a substance is potentially addictive does not mean that it has to be used addictively -- unless we're talking about Big Pharma meds, of course, in which addiction seems to be a feature, rather than a bug (as is implicit in the advice: "You gotta keep taking your meds!")

But Kirsch can't see this because, in line with Drug War ideology, he accepts that demonized substances can have no beneficial use for anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances whatsoever. It is thanks to that lie that I have spent my whole life as an eternal patient of Big Pharma, shunted off onto highly addictive meds. And why? Because the government wanted to protect me from addiction?


Kirsch does not realize that the condition that we call "depression" today is a creation of the Drug War. No one had to see a doctor for sadness in the past because the world of psychoactive medicine was free. Now anyone who wants to medically improve their mind or battle their depression is forced to go to the monopoly holders on mind medicine - a monopoly- which exists because of the very "illness" metaphor which Kirsch otherwise denounces as invalid. When will writers on this topic start asking themselves the million-dollar question when it comes to drug laws: Cui bono? (I'll tell you who benefits: the healthcare industry! Why? Because substance prohibition gives them a fabulously remunerative monopoly on mind medicine.)

Speaking of the "mental illness" metaphor, Kirsch denounces it on scientific grounds, but the fact is that depression as an illness does not make philosophical sense, for if Big Pharma has really cured depression, then they ought to be able to tell us what that cure consists of. Am I cured when I become a good consumer and stop thinking about killing myself, or am I cured when I start to "live large" in the world, enjoy mother nature, and feel sympathy for other people, etc. ? Judging by the tranquilizing effects of the Big Pharma antidepressants that I've taken for decades now, Big Pharma's definition of "cure" is quite different from my own. Therefore their pills may cure something, but they do not cure my depression as I define that word: namely, a condition that keeps me from "living large" in the world.

Kirsch says he enjoys being controversial, but frankly he has not yet begun to be controversial. If he wanted to truly be controversial, he'd connect the dots of his own argument and admit that the Drug War itself causes depression by denying human beings the right to access mother nature and the kinds of medicines that have inspired entire religions.

Instead, he condescends to the chronic depressed like myself, telling us that we need to listen to Brahms -- or exercise -- or meditate and then, hey presto, we'll be happy. But this advice rests on the following causal fallacy: "Because successful happy people do X (listen to Brahms, exercise, and/or meditate), then doing X will make a person successful and happy." This is the fallacy behind all self-help books, of which American bookstores are full these days thanks to the Drug War, which outlaws all REAL mind cures.

Author's Follow-up: August 5, 2022

I think "talk therapy," as Kirsch seems to recommend, can be very valuable indeed. Who could not benefit from discussing their life concerns with an empathic human being? The problem is that Kirsch thinks that talk therapy and drug therapy are two completely different protocols and that never the twain shall meet. This, of course, is probably true if by "drugs" we mean Big Pharma medicine. But the fact is that there are plenty of demonized psychoactive medicines out there that have the potential to help "talk therapy" actually succeed like it was always intended to succeed, by rendering the "patient" honest and self-aware in a way that is completely impossible for them without such pharmacological prompting. Sure, not everybody requires such assistance, but for some it is a godsend. Indeed, many "patients" who have engaged in talk therapy while "on Ecstasy," for instance, claim to have made more progress in one pharmacologically aided session than they had previously made in several years' worth of drug-free counseling.

When I look back on the counseling that I myself received as a young man, I can say for certain that I was not honest with my highly paid interlocutors -- but not because I wanted to lie to them. In fact, I did not even know that I was being dishonest with them, that's how ridiculously NON-self-aware I was at the time. It's so plain to me now that I needed a medication back then (a "drug," if you must) that would help me get outside my very narrow thought processes and see myself objectively, not as my "self" but as a kind of third person whose thoughts and behaviors could be analyzed dispassionately. Only then would I have been able to do much more than mutter and say commonplaces during my psychotherapy sessions.

What I'm advocating here is what I call "pharmacologically savvy shamanism," in which we stop ideologically scorning psychoactive medicines and begin using them advisedly for the benefit of human beings. But this can only happen when otherwise smart people like Kirsch disabuse themselves of the big Drug War lie: namely, the idea that most psychoactive substances can have no positive uses for anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any reason whatsoever, and that such substances can simply never be used safely, no matter how hard we might try.

These are all lies, of course. There are no such things as substances like that, except in the minds of Joe Biden and his Office on National Drug Control Policy, which actually forbids its members from even considering beneficial uses for the substances that America has criminalized2.

These considerations lead us to the mother of all ironies: the fact that the only way for a nuclear-armed world to survive and for its people to be truly happy (at very least to the point that they will refrain from shooting up grade schools) is for people to START USING DRUGS -- start using them advisedly, that is: especially empathogens, which teach us, experientially as it were, to love our fellow human beings and to see ourselves objectively, without the blinders of "self" that nurture and nature have securely fastened to our mind's eye by the time we are adults.

One of the many benefits of this "pharmacologically savvy shamanism" is that it would get rid of the whole concept of "patient" when it comes to mental and mood issues, because the drug-aided talk therapy that I'm advocating here could benefit anyone who wishes to see their world more clearly and define their life goals with the help of a friendly empath. Of course, those who have Christian Science scruples against drug use are free to abstain, yet there are so many potential mood and mind medicines out there that researchers have been dutifully ignoring in deference to the Drug War that it seems silly to me for someone to prejudge the utility of this class of medicines based on drug-war ideology -- especially as that ideology has been promoted through censorship and lies, like the blatantly false idea that psychoactive substances fry the brain the moment that they are criminalized by pharmacologically clueless politicians.

The truth, as always, is the opposite of what the Drug Warrior says, for the only drugs that are known to fry the brain (by conducing to anhedonia in long-term users) are Big Pharma meds like SSRIs.


1 Kirsch, Irving, The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the antidepressant myth, 2011 (up)
2 Recognizing, of course, that Trump has managed the seemingly impossible by being far worse than Clinton (or even Biden, for that matter) when it comes to drug policy. (up)

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Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

Many in the psychedelic renaissance fail to recognize that prohibition is the problem. They praise psychedelics but want to demonize others substances. That's ignorant however. No substance is bad in itself. All substances have some use at some dose for some reason.
We need to start thinking of drug-related deaths like we do about car accidents: They're terrible, and yet they should move us to make driving safer, not to outlaw driving. To think otherwise is to swallow the drug war lie that "drugs" can have no positive uses.
Q: Where can you find almost-verbatim copies of the descriptions of religious experiences described by William James? A: In descriptions of user reports of "trips" on drugs ranging from coca to opium, from MDMA to laughing gas.
The DEA conceives of "drugs" as only justifiable in some time-honored ritual format, but since when are bureaucrats experts on religion? I believe, with the Vedic people and William James, in the importance of altered states. To outlaw such states is to outlaw my religion.
There are a potentially vast number of non-addictive drugs that could be used strategically in therapy. They elate and "free the tongue" to help talk therapy really work. Even "addictive" drugs can be used non-addictively, prohibitionist propaganda notwithstanding.
Besides, why should I listen to the views of a microbe?
The government causes problems for those who are habituated to certain drugs. Then they claim that these problems are symptoms of an illness. Then folks like Gabriel Mate come forth to find the "hidden pain" in "addicts." It's one big morality play created by drug laws.
Alexander Shulgin is a typical westerner when he speaks about cocaine. He moralizes about the drug, telling us that it does not give him "real" power. But so what? Does coffee give him "real" power? Coke helps some, others not. Stop holding it to this weird metaphysical standard.
Folks like Sabet accuse folks like myself of ignoring the "facts." No, it is Sabet who is ignoring the facts -- facts about dangerous horses and free climbing. He's also ignoring all the downsides of prohibition, whose laws lead to the election of tyrants.
"Can I use poppies, coca, laughing gas, MDMA?" "NO," says the materialist, "We must be SCIENTIFIC! We must fry your brain and give you a lobotomy and make you a patient for life with the psychiatric pill mill! That's true SCIENCE!"
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You have been reading an article entitled, Brahms is NOT the best antidepressant: A critique of The Emperor’s New Drugs, published on August 1, 2022 on For more information about America's disgraceful drug war, which is anti-patient, anti-minority, anti-scientific, anti-mother nature, imperialistic, the establishment of the Christian Science religion, a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded, and a childish and counterproductive way of looking at the world, one which causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, visit the drug war philosopher, at (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)