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Heroin versus Alcohol

an open letter to Professor Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

August 21, 2020

See 2022 update below.

Dear Professor Gimbel,

I'm enjoying your course on Formal Logic. I graduated as a philosophy major back in 1989, so the beginning lectures have been a nice refresher and I'm looking forward to improving my analytic skills as the course continues.

I did want to say something, however, regarding your criticism of the argument that compared alcohol to heroin.

I believe that, in analyzing the reasonableness of premises, we have to be mindful not only of our personal prejudices but of the mindset of our culture. We live in a drug-war culture in which we suppress all talk of positive effects of illegal substances. Thus we have rewritten history so that there's no mention of Benjamin Franklin using opium, or Sigmund Freud using cocaine, or Francis Crick using psychedelics. In our cop shows and movies, all such drugs are used only by "scumbags." Meanwhile, a drug like alcohol is advertised 24 hours a day in positive images spread by TV, radio, print and the Internet. So personally, I do not think that Americans are in a position to objectively compare alcohol, say, to heroin (or to any other illegal substance), without first investigating how the culture has shaped their views of the substances in question.

Should we fail to do so (should we place a naïve trust in our own socially-determined viewpoints on these issues) we run the risk of accepting drug-related premises on the basis of a fallacy: namely, the fallacy that "Everyone knows that..." (for instance, "Everyone knows that alcohol isn't THAT bad...") when what "everyone knows" has been determined by Big Liquor marketing combined with a century-old anti-drug campaign full of lies (such as "drugs fry the brain") and rewritten history, in which the positive use of currently criminalized substances disappears from religions, cults and cultures of the past.

Even the safety of coffee, which we take for granted in the US (and which I'm drinking right now, in a way because I'm literally ADDICTED to my "morning cup"), was a view inculcated in us through an intense lobbying and PR campaign by the coffee industry, which was determined not to have its coffee beans outlawed as Drug War hysteria reached a fever pitch in the 1980s (the decade in which the DEA marched onto Monticello and confiscated Thomas Jefferson's poppy plants - thus, in my view, violating the natural law upon which Jefferson founded this country). And so advertisements turned coffee into an innocent non-drug in the minds of Americans and the west in general.

Meanwhile Americans of all social classes and education levels take the "frying pan" ad as gospel truth. That's the infamous 1980s ad from the Partnership for a Drug Free America which claims that substances fry the brain once they have been criminalized by politicians. The facts, however, are almost the opposite: say what you will about drugs like cocaine, opium, and morphine, but they don't fry the brain. Freud used cocaine to increase his mental power and endurance, not to fry his brain. Benjamin Franklin certainly wasn't frying his brain by using opium. Morphine can produce an almost surreal mental clarity (as can be seen by Edgar Allan Poe's descriptions of the drug's effect in "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains"). Indeed, one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins medical school, Dr. William Stewart Halsted, was a lifelong user of morphine. Amphetamines are so far from frying the brain that the Air Force has required pilots to use them prior to vital missions.

What Americans "know" about drugs is a very fraught topic. Psychiatrist Julie Holland has found that many SSRIs are harder to quit than heroin for long-term users (because the former drugs muck about with brain chemistry, such that it may take months or years - if ever - for a former user to regain a pre-drug neurochemical baseline). My own psychiatrist told me not to bother trying to get off Effexor since a recent study by the NIH shows it has a 95% recidivism rate after three years of non-use.* Meanwhile, one in four American women are currently addicted to Big Pharma meds - one in four -- and yet America does not even consider this to be a problem. To the contrary, influential doctors still appear on shows like Oprah (under the pay of Big Pharma) to remind Americans to "take their meds" (and now Big Pharma is even going after the toddler market under the guise of "nipping ADHD in the bud"). So even the seemingly knock-out argument against heroin - that it is addictive - is a shortcoming that can only be hypocritically urged against that drug, at least in a drug-war culture.

For these reasons, I would personally suggest that you avoid using drug-related premises in your examples of argumentation, unless your purpose in doing so is to highlight the role of culture and propaganda in biasing us as to what is reasonable to believe when it comes to "drugs."

Best Wishes.

PS I personally believe that the Drug War is the philosophical problem par excellence. That's why I created my website ( a year ago to start publishing my own essays on this topic. I do this in part because I consider myself to be a victim of the Drug War, since its criminalization of therapeutic godsends from Mother Nature has shunted me off onto the highly addictive nostrums of Big Pharma.

FOOTNOTE added MAY 23 2022 *The psychiatrist stopped working at the center in question shortly after this incident. I have no doubt that he was fired for being honest with me about psychiatric medicine. His superiors must have deduced that he was being honest given the complaints that I lodged about the addictive nature of psychoactive medicine shortly after my last visit with him. This illustrates the religious and supernatural power of the politically created boogieman called "drugs" in American society. It is a modern taboo. The less one talks honestly about the subject, the better, if one values their job and their professional reputation.

AFTERTHOUGHTS January 13, 2022:

Heroin Problem: Solved

We could solve the heroin problem overnight once we remove the ideological Christian Science blinders of the Drug War. Here's what we do: Make quality heroin easily available to heroin users at a reasonable price, just as highly addictive Big Pharma pills are currently made easily available to Big Pharma addicts. Those satisfied with their life may keep using heroin just as Big Pharma patients keep using Big Pharma meds. Those who are unhappy with their heroin use can be treated by psychologically savvy empathic individuals, who will use a variety of plant medicines -- coca, opium, shrooms, etc. -- to help the dissatisfied heroin habituee gradually change their drug of choice to meds that they find it more easy to live with, or to complete abstinence if they so desire. In this treatment, the therapist does not believe that the "patient" has to feel like shit in order to be cured.

The accepted "treatment" for heroin addiction, on the other hand, is more like Christian Science punishment for heroin addiction. Cold turkey. Charge $3,000 for a cot and keep the patient there for a week. It's a religious cure, based on the Christian Science assumption that the good life is a life without medicine. It's a religion that values suffering over giving the "patient" a real life and helping them achieve self-actualization.

APRIL 30, 2022 In writing on this topic, of course, one has to constantly try to anticipate all the ways in which one is going to be misunderstood. One's reader, like almost everyone in the world today, has been raised on a steady diet of drug-war propaganda. In grade-school we are told to say no to psychoactive medicine and surrounded by signs reading "drug-free" zone -- basically sending the message that Mary Baker Eddy is in control of our children's schooling. Eddy, of course, is the founder of the Christian Science religion which tells us to say no to drugs. Then in our teenage years, we grow accustomed to cop shows in which those who use illegal substances are "scumbags" and "filth." We then watch movies in which those who dare to sell mother nature's plant medicine are shot at point-blank range by self-righteous cigarette-smoking DEA agents and hung from meathooks in their Speedos in order to elicit confessions (see "Running with the Devil"). Then when we enter the workforce, we are required to submit to the humiliation of drug testing, in which the amoral lab techs are not searching for impairment but rather for the least trace of psychoactive medicines of which politicians disapprove -- and all this to get a minimum wage job at Lowe's, Home Depot or Burger King.

Of course, all this time we've been reading the horror stories about juveniles misusing substances -- by reporters who never bother to point out that mind-altering substances have inspired entire religions, given Plato his view of the afterlife, and inspired the stories of such modern writers as Lovecraft, Poe, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Henrik Ibsen and Alexandre Dumas. But the Drug War party line only lets us hear about abuse, abuse, abuse, when it comes to the politically defined category of "drugs," which of course does not include the most deadly drugs of all (namely, alcohol and tobacco) nor the drugs to which 1 in 4 American women are chemically dependent for life: namely Big Pharma antidepressants.

But once we throw out this noxious brew of lies and half-truths in which we have all been steeped since birth, we see a world of possibility when it comes, not simply to the pharmacological treatment of mood disorders, but more ambitiously to the psychological improvement of the "normal" human mind. This issue is coming to the fore now as tech companies seek employees who are truly on the ball -- companies that do not particularly care what substances their employees may have consumed in order to evince that desired quality.

To illustrate the wonderful therapeutic vistas that await us once we jettison the heavy backpack of fear and loathing with which Drug Warriors have loaded us westerners down since the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, let's think in broad terms for a moment. There are generally two major sensibilities toward psychoactive substances in the world: the attitude of the Drug Warrior and the attitude of the shaman. The Drug Warrior declares all psychoactive drugs bad a priori (with a few glaringly hypocritical exceptions, of course), whereas the shaman wants to therapeutically employ any and all substances that conduce to a better mental life for the client -- as "better" is defined by that client.

I hold that the latter choice is the one that is most becoming for democracies that value freedom, human improvement and the rights guaranteed by natural law.

For once we restore natural law (which gives us the right to what Locke called the use of the land "and all that lies therein") and affirm the principle of "my consciousness, my choice," then the world is our collective oyster when it comes to mental improvement. Moreover, a society governed by such principles would get rid of the very concept of mental patient as anyone seeking mental improvement would seek out a shaman (which we define here as a "pharmacologically savvy empath"), whether this so-called "patient" were afflicted by what our materialist medicine calls OCD or passive-aggressive behavior or SAD syndrome -- or any of the countless other labels that capitalist science has foisted upon behavior in order to channel it efficiently in the direction of profit-making treatment protocols.

Based on our issues, our priorities, and our philosophy of life, the shaman might prescribe a vast array of therapies. Confused patient A-- or rather confused CLIENT A-- might require what we might call simple "talk therapy," whereas deeply depressed client B might respond to talk therapy aided by the honest gregariousness produced by MDMA or psilocybin, etc., whereas patient C might seek a weekly glimpse of self-transcendence through the weekend use of a variety of medicines, from morphine to laudanum to opium to cocaine to mushrooms, etc. Of course, the average reader nearly faints like a 1920's drama queen upon merely hearing such a prescription, but that's only because the Drug War has taught us to fear the drugs in question, not to use them as wisely as possible for human benefit. Once we get over this carefully cultivated knee-jerk fear of ours, we realize that all of these demonized substances can be used non-addictively, especially in a once-weekly therapy that uses a variety of medicines -- in other words a protocol that is specifically created to avoid addiction.

Moreover, modern medicine can only be hypocritically dismissive of addiction in a world in which 1 in 4 women are chemically dependent upon Big Pharma meds for a lifetime.

This state of affairs begs the question: if the cost of legal therapy is the lifelong reliance on a drug, or set of drugs, then why can't the patient in question choose the drug upon which they will be reliant for life? Had I been given the choice -- me, a 40-year veteran of the psychiatric pill mill -- I would never in a million years have chosen Effexor, this mind-numbing drug that has led to anhedonia, but rather would have gladly opted for a prescription of "Coca Wine, to be used as needed." I want to be awake to life (as did coca-loving HG Wells and Jules Verne), not sleeping through it. And if that resulted in "addiction," so be it. Just call me an habitue and keep the coca wine coming (and I'll let you disapproving Drug Warriors keep smoking your stinky cigars, drinking booze, and taking liberal doses of Xanax). Or better yet, let me use opium "as needed" for life. That's what Marcus Aurelius and Benjamin Franklin did, before it became de rigueur to dismiss such users as "scumbags." Why opium? Because those gents and I value the metaphorical and creativity-sparking dreams that opium provides. Incidentally, the contents of those dreams could provide fertile fodder for psychoanalytic discussion -- once we get past the politically incorrect fact that those dreams were inspired by what the Drug Warrior can only see as a dirty evil drug.

But I'd better quit here, as this "editorial note" of mine is already far longer than the post which inspired it. I trust that I have convinced at least one former member of the Drug War Cult (you, perhaps?) that a brave new world of POSITIVE drug use awaits us once we discard the Chicken Little "fear first" doctrine of the Drug Warrior and start learning how to use any and all psychoactive substances as safely as possible for the benefit of humans -- and humanity.

Speaking of humanity, we could actually save it from self-destruction with drugs -- like Ecstasy, for instance, which brought peace, love and understanding to the British dance floor in the 1990s (until Drug Warriors predictably shut it down, since they value the Drug War more than peace, love and understanding). Just require all haters to be therapeutically treated with love drugs like E (aka MDMA) -- and require that all heads of state be "on" such a drug when they meet with their adversaries.

To paraphrase Gordon Ramsay: "Nuclear proliferation: sorted."

Oh, one tiny footnote and then I'm outta here:

Of course, "addiction" can be technically defined in a way to differentiate it from "chemical dependence," but in practice the term "addict" is a value-laden term for "habitue." Moreover, the negative experiences of addiction -- in contradistinction to habituation -- are almost always a result of drug policy, and not of drug use itself, as when a user dies from tainted supply or goes through hard withdrawal symptoms due to a lack of supply, both of which circumstances are the result of prohibition, not of drug use itself.

Author's Follow-up: September 22, 2022

The coca leaf could cheer up the depressed and help those who want to get off of another substance. MDMA and nitrous oxide would greatly help as well. But Drug Warriors are anti-patient and pro-medical establishment. They want to keep Americans dependent on Big Pharma's dependence-causing meds. They don't care about the depressed or addicted. That's why I've gone a lifetime now without being allowed to access the plants that grow at my feet, tho' psychiatry was more than happy to addict me to Big Pharma meds, so that I can pay Wall Street fatcats a monthly dividend in the form of ridiculously expensive and worse-than-ineffective "meds." The coca leaf is a godsend valued greatly by HG Wells, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, and countless other 19th-century geniuses. America outlaws it by demonizing it, conflating it with the alkaloid cocaine, which is a different drug altogether, all so that we can keep boots on the ground in South America and facilitate the killing of minorities in inner cities -- 797 in Chicago alone in 2021. And if Trump gets elected, he'll start executing the very folks that he's screwing with his anti-scientific demonization of godsend medicines that have inspired entire religions.

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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.

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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, Heroin versus Alcohol: an open letter to Professor Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College, published on August 21, 2020 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)