Essay date: August 21, 2020

Heroin versus Alcohol

an open letter to Professor Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College

How the lies and rewritten histories of drug-war culture shape our views on psychoactive substances ranging from coffee, to antidepressants, to heroin.

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.

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


"Drugs" is imperial terminology. In the smug disdain of those who use it, I hear Columbus's disdain for the shroom use of the Taino people and the Spanish disdain for the coca use of the Peruvian Indians. We push liquor upon the conquered in order to divide and conquer them.
Next essay: Karolina Zieba just doesn't get it
Previous essay: What Obama got wrong about drugs

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(seemingly useful organizations)

Sana Collective
Group committed to making psychedelic therapy available to all regardless of income.

You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.

A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.

The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. (For proof of that latter charge, check out how the US and UK have criminalized the substances that William James himself told us to study in order to understand reality.) It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions (like the Vedic), Nazifies the English language (referring to folks who emulate drug-loving Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin as "scumbags") and militarizes police forces nationwide (resulting in gestapo SWAT teams breaking into houses of peaceable Americans and shouting "GO GO GO!").

(Speaking of Nazification, L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates thought that drug users should be shot. What a softie! The real hardliners are the William Bennetts of the world who want drug users to be beheaded instead. That will teach them to use time-honored plant medicine of which politicians disapprove! Mary Baker Eddy must be ecstatic in her drug-free heaven, as she looks down and sees this modern inquisition on behalf of the drug-hating principles that she herself maintained. I bet she never dared hope that her religion would become the viciously enforced religion of America, let alone of the entire freakin' world!)

In short, the drug war causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)

If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.

PPS Drugs like opium and psychedelics should come with the following warning: "Outlawing of this product may result in inner-city gunfire, civil wars overseas, and rigged elections in which drug warriors win office by throwing minorities in jail."

Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)

Selected Bibliography

  • Bandow, Doug "From Fighting The Drug War To Protecting The Right To Use Drugs"2018
  • Barrett, Damon "Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Polices on Young People"2011 IDEBATE Press
  • Bernays, Edward "Propaganda"1928 Public Domain
  • Bilton, Anton "DMT Entity Encounters: Dialogues on the Spirit Molecule"2021 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Boullosa , Carmen "A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the 'Mexican Drug War'"2016 OR Books
  • Brereton, William "The Truth about Opium / Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade"2017 Anna Ruggieri
  • Burns, Eric "1920: The year that made the decade roar"2015 Pegasus Books
  • Carpenter, Ted Galen "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America"2012 Cato Institute
  • Chesterton, GK "Saint Thomas Acquinas"2014 BookBaby
  • Filan, Kenaz "The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally"2011 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Gianluca, Toro "Drugs of the Dreaming: Oneirogens"2007 Simon and Schuster
  • Griffiths, William "Psilocybin: A Trip into the World of Magic Mushrooms"2021 William Griffiths
  • Grof, Stanislav "The transpersonal vision: the healing potential of nonordinary states of consciousness"1998 Sounds True
  • Head, Simon "Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans"2012 Basic Books
  • Hofmann, Albert "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications"2005 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Illich, Ivan "Medical nemesis : the expropriation of health"1975 Calder & Boyars
  • Irwin-Rogers, Keir "Illicit Drug Markets, Consumer Capitalism and the Rise of Social Media: A Toxic Trap for Young People"2019
  • James, William "The Varieties of Religious Experience"1902 Philosophical Library
  • Lindstrom, Martin "Brandwashed: tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy"2011 Crown Business
  • Mariani, Angelo "Coca and its Therapeutic Application, Third Edition"1896
  • Miller, Richard Lawrence "Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State"1966 Bloomsbury Academic
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Nagel, Thomas "Mind and Cosmos: why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false"2012 Oxford University press
  • Newcombe, Russell "Intoxiphobia: discrimination toward people who use drugs"2014
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
  • Rosenblum, Bruce "Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness"2006 Oxford University Press
  • Rudgley, Richard "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances"2014 Macmillan Publishers
  • Shulgin, Alexander "PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story"1991 Transform Press
  • Shulgin, Alexander "The Nature of Drugs Vol. 1: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact"2021 Transform Press
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief"0
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology"2022
  • St John, Graham "Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT"2021
  • Szasz, Thomas "Interview With Thomas Szasz: by Randall C. Wyatt"0
  • Wedel, Janine "Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom and Politics and Created an Outsider Class"2014 Pegasus Books
  • Weil, Andrew "From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs"2004 Open Road Integrated Media
  • Whitaker, Robert "Mad in America"2002 Perseus Publishing
  • Site and its contents copyright 2023, by Brian B. Quass, the drug war philosopher at For more information, contact Brian at