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Common Sense Drug Withdrawal

an open letter to Austin of the Huachuma Project

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

May 6, 2024

Tut-tut! This is philosophy, not medical advice. It discusses the ideal world, not the world in which we actually live. Of course, anyone who does not already recognize this fact is definitely reading the wrong website, but today we are so censorious about "drugs," that I feel like it's my positive duty to talk down to you folks! Speaking of which, some of you are looking a little peak-ed to me. Remember, your mother told you to eat vegetables for a reason! Humph!

Note: This morning our author had an informative chat with Austin of The Huachuma Project in Portugal1. They discussed Brian's desire to get off of antidepressants with the motivating help of entheogens2. Brian followed up on the 20-minute call by forwarding Austin the following document via WhatsApp, informing him that reading it was optional but that he (Brian) wanted to explain his (Brian's) views about drug-withdrawal protocol in a little more detail, especially since the duo's video chat had been subject to occasional frame freezes and signal loss. And so here now is his (Brian's) forwarded essay.

I keep hearing from materialist doctors and researchers that one has to "get off" of one drug before getting "on" another.

"So, you want to get off of Effexor? Fine," says the doctor. "You get off of Effexor, and then we'll talk."

Of course that protocol makes drug withdrawal a Catch-22 situation for the user. It provides literally zero hope for the would-be "patient." Moreover, its implementation is designed to benefit the materialist doctor, not the patient. Legally and technically speaking, it decreases doctor/researcher liability and overall workload by providing less variables to monitor and adjust. The patient suffers but the doctor/researcher is "covered." And yet it is psychological common sense that it would help to increase the dose of an entheogen WHILE decreasing the dose of an antidepressant. The "user" is motivated, not just by the entheogen as currently used, but by the knowledge that those entheogen-sparked improvements will continue growing in intensity as his or her use of antidepressants decreases. This, I believe, is precisely the sort of motivation that one needs to "stay the course" in such situations. I have some experience in this area. I spent 10 years getting "off" of Valium, but I am sure I could have done it in a few months had I been given the motivation to do so, and that motivation could have been sparked by "teacher plants" and other drugs.

To put this another way: I don't believe that "getting off" something first (prior to using other meds) is in the interest of the patient, but rather of the researcher or doctor, at least when it comes to the use of psychoactive medicines. I think, moreover, that one of the biggest problems we westerners have with "drugs" is that we refuse to even contemplate the idea of "fighting drugs with drugs." The unspoken goal of most rehab is not so much the improvement of the patient as it is turning that patient into a drug-free individual, and those two goals are not the same.

But we westerners are so convinced that "drugs are not the answer" that we recoil at the idea of using a drug(s) to get off a drug. We consider it a copout. But the shamanic approach would say otherwise, especially when informed by a little western common sense. Drugs are never bad in and of themselves in such an approach but rather substances to be used for human benefit and not to be withheld based on some abstract principles, like those formulated by Mary Baker Eddy.

i say that materialist doctors are biased against fighting drugs with drugs because they are biased against common sense, i. e. , any conclusion that cannot be drawn from observations made with a microscope.

This is why a materialist like Dr. Robert Glatter could write a 2021 piece in Forbes magazine entitled "Can laughing gas help those with treatment-resistant depression?"3 Surely this is a laughable title. Everyone knows that laughing can help the depressed - and not just the laughing itself but the anticipation of laughing4. The Readers Digest has known for a hundred years that "laughter is the best medicine." It relaxes the mind AND body. But Glatter is a materialist and materialists totally ignore that psychological truth, just as they ignore all the historic and anecdotal evidence of the benefits of time-honored plant medicines. They are like Dr. Spock or Sergeant Friday: they want "just the facts, ma'am," and to them, the facts can only be seen under a microscope. For them, the testimony of the spiritually elevated user is a subjective opinion, not a fact.

With these ideas in mind, I maintain that the ideal withdrawal therapy for antidepressants would work something like this:

  1. Have a pharmacist create a year's worth of antidepressants, compounded in such a way that the first pill contains the full dosage that the patient is currently taking (in my case 225 mg. of Venlafaxine) and that the last pill would contain a miniscule fraction of that dosage, with all interim doses decreasing proportionally. In my case, that would mean that each successive pill to be taken daily would contain roughly .6 mgs less Venlafaxine than the previous pill. Thus the pill taken at the midpoint of therapy (on the 182nd day or so) would contain roughly 112 mg. of Venlafaxine.

  2. As one follows the above regimen with Venlafaxine, the potency and frequency of entheogen use would increase correspondingly. Of course, one cannot decide in advance what the correct potency and frequency of use would be on a daily basis, but the dose should be adjusted upward as necessary to prevent and/or counteract any backsliding in the withdrawal regimen stated above. How? By inspiring the user psychologically with plant medicine, thus helping them see their situation creatively and in a new light.

In this way, one leverages the power of anticipation to get the user off of the anti-depressant.

Of course, I am not a doctor (least of all a materialist doctor), but there is what philosophers would call "prima facie" evidence that such a protocol would work, based on what we know about the psychology of motivation and the lengthy lists of psychological benefits that are known to accrue to many, if not most, who work with entheogens like psilocybin and huachuma5.

The protocol's chances of success will only increase as more plant medicines become relegalized, since then the "therapist" can do more than simply adjust the dosage and frequency of entheogens (as in step 2 above), but they can use different entheogens (and/or combinations of entheogens) in their quest to find the most adequate biochemical inspiration for a specific client. Shamans have always had this freedom. It is only in the west that we have determined a priori that psychoactive drugs have no positive uses whatsoever - a position that can only be maintained by the complete abandonment of common sense, not to mention the scientific principle that substances are only good or bad with respect to the context of use. It is also, of course, a lie, historically speaking.

Of course, the dependence-causing nature of SNRIs like Venlafaxine should not be underestimated. Julie Holland says that such meds can be harder to kick than heroin6. Heroin leaves the system in a week or so, whereas SNRIs change baseline brain chemistry and it may take months, perhaps years (if ever???), for the initial baseline to return.

I think there is also a tendency in western medicine to moralize dependency and search for hidden causes. This has its place, of course. But 1 in 4 American women are dependent on these meds. This tells me that the real hidden cause of this mass dependency is prohibition, since I cannot believe that all these women had hidden traumas that got them hooked on antidepressants: rather, it was prohibition itself that got these people hooked. How? By outlawing all other mood-changing drugs, almost all of which are less dependence-causing than antidepressants. Yes, all people have hidden issues of some kind, but when we pathologize women en masse like this, we ignore the obvious culprit behind their dependency, which is drug law.

I could make a much stronger case for the "drug-swapping" therapy that I recommend above, but it will jangle in the ears of all westerners who have been taught from grade school that they must fear drugs.

The fact is that any drug that elates the user could be used in the above routine, not just drugs that today we classify as "entheogens," although entheogens would remain a mainstay of the kind of protocol that I am recommending here. Drug war ideology insists that such use would be morally wrong and even cause addiction, but those are mere biases. Many of the drugs that elate and inspire do not cause addiction - like the phenylethylamines of Alexander Shulgin7. Even addictive drugs can be used non-addictively, notwithstanding the fearmongering of racist Drug Warriors. When all drugs are legal again, the therapist could employ a wide range of mood-elevating substances in such a way that the user need never know which specific drug was being employed at a given time, thus rendering addiction unlikely if not impossible. The therapist could even use those drugs the mere mention of which cause consternation in drug-hating America8.

Of course, this goes against our moral sense in the west that addiction and dependence therapy must be hard and hellish or it is not real therapy. But this, I maintain, is a puritanical prejudice, not a fact.

The problem in "selling" my therapy is that it merely makes psychological sense, the kind of thing that materialists completely ignore. For what is the problem with withdrawal, after all? It's not simply the bad feelings experienced by the subject but the feeling that those sensations will never cease. There is thus literally nothing to look forward to. That's one definition of the hell that many therapists seem to think is the patient's due. If, however, one is given, say, weekly mood elevation in safe and non-addictive ways, one can look forward to a surcease of negative feelings and so "stay the course" on withdrawal from the unwanted substance.

Nor does this bar the user from exploring hidden conflicts. In fact, it gives them a chance to do so since it makes them increasingly eligible for the kind of entheogenic therapies that will help them unmask conflicts. What's more, such substances can help "loosen the tongue" and the mind, enabling them to think and contemplate truths more freely than when both their mind and body are shrouded in a straitjacket of gloomy despair.

To repeat: this is all psychological common sense, but we have a variety of materialist and Christian Science prejudices in the west that keep us from acknowledging it.

This brings up one of the shortcomings of Dr. Gabriel Mate's otherwise fascinating work: his insistence on referring all addiction to what he calls "inner pain."9 By doing so, he completely exonerates the Drug War for its role in creating problematic dependency and addiction. Prior to 1914, there were opium habitues in the States. After 1914, there were only addicts. There had been no sudden mass introduction of "inner pain" in this case. It was drug law which decided by fiat that these individuals would henceforth be considered problematic. When psychologists pathologize such people, they are blaming the victim while helping to normalize the prohibition that created their problems in the first place.

Author's Follow-up: May 6, 2024

picture of clock metaphorically suggesting a follow-up

Of course when all drugs are re-legalized and we teach people instead of arresting them, the above protocols will not even require a therapist/shaman. One may choose to have one, of course. Who, after all, could not benefit from a little assistance from a pharmacologically savvy empath? But someday we will again treat adults AS adults when it comes to psychoactive medicine and let them decide how much hand-holding they need to use them wisely -- not based on fearmongering public service ads and a self-serving DEA, but based on the facts. And not just the reductively derived facts that myopic science deigns to recognize, but all the facts: including the long and ever-growing list of positive anecdotes about drug use that have been carefully censored from the public discourse by American media and those billionaires who both own and control it10.


1 The Huachuma Project, 2024 Austin (up)
2 Sotillos, Samuel Bendeck, Entheogens and Sacred Psychology, Academia.Edu, 2024 (up)
3 Can Laughing Gas Help People with Treatment Resistant Depression?, Forbes Magazine, 2021 (up)
4 Quass, Brian, The Therapeutic Value of Anticipation, 2020 (up)
5 Journeying with Huachuma, the Sacred Andean Cactus, Vounteer Latin America, 2020 (up)
6 Miller, Richard Louis, Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca Kindle , Park Street Press, New York, 2017 (up)
7 Shulgin, Alexander, The Nature of Drugs Vol. 1: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact, Transform Press, Santa Fe, 2021 (up)
8 Even if a drug becomes addictive and/or if daily use seems desirable, we need not despair. For let's be honest: 1 in 4 American women take a Big Pharma med every day of their life. There is no logical reason why we should call that use admirable while demonizing the former kind of use. The real question should be: does the drug use help the user live the kind of life that they desire? THAT should be our goal, not to turn these "users" into Christian Scientists! (up)
9 Quass, Brian, Sherlock Holmes versus Gabriel Maté, 2022 (up)
10 Tyler, George R., Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System, Pegasus Books, Michigan, 2016 (up)

Next essay: Oregon's Incoherent Drug Policy
Previous essay: Sacred Plants in the Age of Cynicism

More Essays Here

Addiction Tweets

ME: "What are you gonna give me for my depression, doc? MDMA? Laughing gas? Occasional opium smoking? Chewing of the coca leaf?" DOC: "No, I thought we'd fry your brain with shock therapy instead."
Until we get rid of all these obstacles to safe and informed use, it's presumptuous to explain problematic drug use with theories about addiction. Drug warriors are rigging the deck in favor of problematic use. They refuse to even TEACH non-problematic use.
Until we legalize ALL psychoactive drugs, there will be no such thing as an addiction expert. In the meantime, it's insulting to be told by neuroscience that I'm an addictive type. It's pathologizing my just indignation at psychiatry's niggardly pharmacopoeia.
We don't need people to get "clean." We need people to start living a fulfilling life. The two things are different.
Chesterton might as well have been speaking about the word 'addiction' when he wrote the following: "It is useless to have exact figures if they are exact figures about an inexact phrase."
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.
Chesterton wrote that, once you begin outlawing things on grounds of health, you open a Pandora's box. This is because health is not a quality, it's a balance. To decide legality based on 'health' grounds thus opens a Pandora's box of different points of view.
Using the billions now spent on caging users, we could end the whole phenomena of both physical and psychological addiction by using "drugs to fight drugs." But drug warriors do not want to end addiction, they want to keep using it as an excuse to ban drugs.
Jim Hogshire described sleep cures that make physical withdrawal from opium close to pain-free. As for "psychological addiction," there are hundreds of elating drugs that could be used to keep the ex-user's mind from morbidly focusing on a drug whose use has become problematic.
And this is before we even start spending those billions on research that are currently going toward arresting minorities.
When doctors try to treat addiction without using any godsend medicines, they are at best Christian Scientists and at worst quacks. They are like the doctors in Moliere's "M
As Moliere demonstrated in the hilarious finale, anyone can be THAT kind of doctor by mastering a little Latin and walking around pompously in the proper uniform.
Like the pompous white-coated doctor in the movie "Four Good Days" who ignores the entire formulary of mother nature and instead throws the young heroin user on a cot for 3 days of cold turkey and a shot of Naltrexone: price tag $3,000.

essays about

The Myth of the Addictive Personality
Addicted to Ignorance
Addicted to Addiction
America's Invisible Addiction Crisis
Open Letter to Addiction Specialist Gabriel Maté
Sherlock Holmes versus Gabriel Maté
Why Louis Theroux is Clueless about Addiction and Alcoholism
In the Realm of Hungry Drug Warriors
Modern Addiction Treatment as Puritan Indoctrination
How the Drug War Turns the Withdrawal Process into a Morality Tale
Night of the Addicted Americans
The aesthetic difference between addiction and chemical dependency
Tapering for Jesus
How Addiction Scientists Reckon without the Drug War
How Prohibition Causes Addiction
Four reasons why Addiction is a political term
Some Tough Love for Drug Addicts
My Cure for Addiction
The FDA's Hypocritical Concern about Addiction
Fighting Drugs with Drugs

front cover of Drug War Comic Book

Buy the Drug War Comic Book by the Drug War Philosopher Brian Quass, featuring 150 hilarious op-ed pics about America's disgraceful war on Americans

You have been reading an article entitled, Common Sense Drug Withdrawal: an open letter to Austin of the Huachuma Project, published on May 6, 2024 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)