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How Prohibition Causes Immense Unnecessary Suffering

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

September 4, 2023

he problem with Drug Warriors is that they never recognize all the stakeholders in the debate over drug laws. They seem to think that the one and only stakeholder category on the topic is the group of impressionable (generally white) American young people and their anxious parents. This is no doubt why Milton Friedman made his incredibly naïve statement in 1972 to the effect that folks of goodwill could exist on either side of the drug legalization debate. Now, that statement might be true if our one and only concern in life was protecting American young people from the substances about which we refuse on principle to educate them. But the fact is we punish hundreds of millions of people around the globe when we outlaw a substance like opium.

I will elaborate on that point in a moment, but first let me ask: on what grounds do we perpetrate this injustice? Well, you'd hardly believe it, but we do so on the pretext that opium, the one and only universally recognized panacea of Mother Nature (as extolled by Galen, Avicenna, and Paracelsus) has no reasonable uses whatsoever - no, not at any dose, in any country, at any time, for any reason, ever.(1) Having thus brazenly defamed opium, the most useful drug in the world, we then, of course, feel no compunction in declaring ex cathedra (through our mendacious scheduling system) that all lesser psychoactive drugs (save for those created by Big Pharma, of course) are similarly useless to humankind and must suffer a like banishment, not only around the world but presumably around the universe as well, as humans begin their attempts to colonize other planets.

The mind boggles. How do you attempt to reason with an opposition that not only makes such mendacious claims, but feels justified in brutally enforcing them by law through a so-called "scheduling" system created, not by substance users and scientists, but by demagoguing politicians?

It may be argued that the scheduling system does not explicitly state that scheduled drugs have no positive uses "at any time, for any reason, ever," but that is nevertheless the obvious implication of placing drugs on the schedule. It turns such drugs into pariahs and makes them dangerous to research, not for chemical reasons but because a scientist's reputation and funding may suffer should they search for positive uses for substances that the scheduling system has told us have no positive uses whatsoever.

What can we say about Drug Warriors who demonize amoral substances in this anti-scientific way? The best one can say about them is that they think they are thereby punishing only "scumbags" and "filth," i.e., those who would dare sell Mother Nature's medicines in spite of laws that forbid them from doing so, though, of course, the responsibility for the downsides that result from such laws belong to the prohibitionists, not the dealers that their laws have predictably called forth via the stern law of supply and demand. The laws do not end demand, of course, but they do ensure that users will receive a dangerous product of uncertain quality and quantity, hence the so-called "opioid crisis" of our time, which should more accurately bec alled a "prohibition crisis."

And who bears the brunt of these laws?

Let's just take one single set of invisible Drug War victims from a seemingly endless list of possible examples: namely, Americans who are suffering from autism spectrum disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic:

"Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The term 'spectrum' in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity."

In more direct language, those who experience such conditions have problems with being touched, both emotionally and physically speaking. It's difficult to imagine a more hellish psychological impairment. It may not strike the autistic person as such, but that's because they have never felt the power of deep emotional attachment. To convince them of what they're missing would be like attempting to convince a person who has been blind from birth that they are missing a visual world of wonders. You may convince them on a logical level, but only the experience of sight itself will allow them to regard their status quo condition as a deficit in need of prompt attention.

Nor am I speaking as an armchair philosopher on this topic. I myself am "on the spectrum," albeit on the mild side when it comes to symptoms. I never realized this until I was in my twenties on a ski trip in New York state with my sister. We were commencing our bus ride back to the city when she suddenly put her arm around my shoulders and pulled me towards her in a hug. Now, I had always considered myself to be allergic to hugs and when offered one, I would either decline or else follow through in a sort of rote performance, going through the action while feeling nothing new except awkwardness at engaging in what for me was a slightly embarrassing formality. But this time I had been caught off-guard.

The result? It's hard to put into words, but I suddenly felt a sense of deep belonging in the world that I had never felt before. Suddenly all my worries were gone. All of them. (see footnotes 2 & 3 below)

Of course, the embrace soon ended, and I slowly returned to my default stand-offishness, but I now realized that there was truly a "there" there when it came to human connectedness. I was truly missing something.

This is why I think I speak advisedly when I say that the autistic individual has a hellish condition. They really do not know what they're missing.

Well, the fact is that drugs like opium and MDMA cry out for use in such cases.

Now, I am not a doctor, and the exact drug, dose and circumstances of use would have to be tailored to an individual, etc. etc. etc., in a way that keeps user safety in mind. But there is nevertheless what philosophers call a prima facie case to be made for using such empathogens to help users experience closeness. When I say there's a "prima facie" case, I mean it's common sense to try such an approach. We don't need a scientist using a microscope to tell us this. We draw our conclusions from the following deductive argument:

Autistic people have difficulty making emotional connections.

Drugs like MDMA help non-autistic people make emotional connections.

Therefore, drugs like MDMA might help autistic people make emotional connections.

Notice I do not claim that psychoactive drugs would HAVE to work, I merely claim that it's a no-brainer to try them. And yet that is exactly what no one even talks about doing.

This is finally starting to change, at least in the case of MDMA.

The only problem is that scientists continue to look for molecular proof of efficacy, which causes them to ignore the obvious. That's why I can't use laughing gas today, because scientists like Dr. Robert Glatter are looking for molecular proof that it might help me with my depression: they don't care how long and loud I laugh while using the substance, nor how much I look forward to that use, even though they will agree in other contexts that anticipation of positive events improves health.

The fact is that a whole host of drugs have prima facie value in fighting autism. Drugs like opium are known to induce a state wherein one feels at peace with one's world. Opium should therefore be an obvious candidate for treating autism - unless we truly feel that a life of emotional coldness is better than a life in which one has a daily pipe instead of a daily beer.

Sadly, prohibitionists do indeed have such warped puritanical priorities.

So, to finally return to my thesis, we can see that prohibition is doing far more than saving white suburban young people from the ignorance that we have dogmatically inculcated in them thanks to Drug War ideology: prohibition is denying godsend common sense treatment to millions. The use of MDMA in the case of autism is just one limited and long-overdue exception to the rule.

The problem is that today's materialist scientists are helping to normalize drug prohibition by insisting that drug efficacy be demonstrated on a molecular basis. This means that we must ignore deductive inferences and wait for our purblind scientists to find some reductive explanation for the efficacy of drugs that common sense would have told us to start using decades ago!

This is why French Poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote that "Science is too slow for us" (in "Une Saison en Enfer"). He saw that reductive science, by dogmatically focusing on the parts rather than the whole, is frustratingly out of touch with life as it is really experienced.

And so Drug Warriors and scientists give a one-two punch to the hopes and dreams of the depressed, the anxious and the lonely, with science holding out the feeble hope that, maybe someday, researchers will find themselves able to sign off on the obvious (that drugs can help) by pointing to PowerPoint close-ups of molecules!


1 Many Indian hospitals do not even stock morphine, not due to inadequate supply, but because it's considered wrong to supply the drug, even to cancer patients on their deathbeds.

2 I had only had one similar experience in my life, and that was at age 19 when a pill that I thought was speed turned out to be a psychedelic that illuminated the world in a way I had never seen before. I suddenly saw clearly all the possibilities that I was missing thanks to my customary gloom, to the point that I actually began crying, as if mourning for the time I had wasted in moping.

3 I should also add that this experience did not 'teach me' to experience hugging correctly. Unfortunately, one swallow does not make a summer when it comes to knee-jerk emotional reactions. To really 'hug,' I still need either a complete surprise or a drug like MDMA, which can override preprogrammed behavior with a wave of good feeling, toward oneself and others. So far, the DEA and drug squads have successfully kept me from trying such an approach, but there is reason to believe that multiple experiences of emotional hugging -- drug-induced or otherwise -- could improve not just my hugging, but my emotional life in general. After all, there is such a thing as a virtuous circle, though Drug Warriors only like to talk about vicious ones. That's why I think it's a crime that the self-serving DEA criminalized MDMA in 1985 against the advice of its own counsel. they're not interested in the health of America, they're interested in increasing their budget and workload.


At the risk of opening Pandora's box and incurring the wrath of materialist counselors and doctors across the globe, I should add the following disclaimer about my 'autism,' or rather about my autism spectrum disorder. Although I have been diagnosed as "on the spectrum," I doubt that such a diagnosis would have ever been sought, let alone made, had I lived in a world wherein all drugs were legal. In such a case, I would have seen my aversion to hugs as problematic and have treated it accordingly with substances such as MDMA and opium -- and believe it or not, I would have done so responsibly, in violation of the chief Drug War tenet that Americans -- and alas the entire world -- are now, and always will be, babies when it comes to the use of psychoactive medicines.

So, while I do not deny that there are genetic and biochemical correlates to autism and that some of these may be considered to be both determinative and causative in certain cases, we cannot scientifically discuss any topic dealing with human behavior without acknowledging the fact that we live in the age of a Drug War, which has outlawed almost all mood-affecting drugs. We must therefore ask when confronted with counterproductive behavior: is this behavior pathological in and of itself, or is it merely the predictable artefact of a social policy that keeps human beings from improving their mood through the use of time-honored medicines?

Of course, Drug War ideology discourages us from thinking of drugs in this way, as potential boons to humankind, but if we as scientists are operating in agreement with that premise, we should say so in our research in the interests of full disclosure. The premise that drugs are bad is not common sense, after all, but rather an assumption on the part of western scientists in the 21st century, an assumption based not on science, but rather on the puritanical ideology of Mary Baker-Eddy, the founder of the drug-hating Christian Science religion.

Author's Follow-up: January 8, 2024

picture of clock metaphorically suggesting a follow-up

I say that we judge "drugs" as bad through the jaundiced lens of puritanical Christian Science. But there is another jaundiced lens: namely, that of reductive materialism, which tells us that human behavior is an epiphenomenon and that the "real" topic should be molecules and genes. According to this doctrine, the fact that I laugh when using laughing gas is unimportant. The doctor has to find reductive proof that I am "truly" being rendered happy before he can sign off on laughing gas as a therapy.

A hundred years ago, Alfred North Whitehead protested eloquently against this bifurcation of nature, but what he did not realize -- or perhaps simply did not have time to investigate -- is how this Cartesian-induced blindness to common sense would eventually deprive folks like myself of godsend medicines, under the bifurcationist notion that the "real" world consists of inanimate molecules and not the laughter of actual human beings. Reader's Digest has known for 100 years now that "laughter is the best medicine, but scientists have forgotten that fact in fealty to their dogmatic disdain for the merely anecdotal and personal.

Next essay: Prohibition Spectrum Disorder
Previous essay: The Truth About Opium by William H. Brereton

More Essays Here


Today's Washington Post reports that "opioid pills shipped" DROPPED 45% between 2011 and 2019..... while fatal overdoses ROSE TO RECORD LEVELS! Prohibition is PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE.
Prohibitionists having nothing to say about all other dangerous activities: nothing about hunting, free climbing, hang-gliding, sword swallowing, free diving, skateboarding, sky-diving, chug-a-lug competitions, chain-smoking. Their "logic" is incoherent.
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."
If we let "science" decide about drugs, i.e. base freedom on health concerns, then tea can be as easily outlawed as beer. The fact that horses are not illegal shows that prohibition is not about health. It's about the power to outlaw certain "ways of being in the world."
The formula is easy: pick a substance that folks are predisposed to hate anyway, then keep hounding the public with stories about tragedies somehow related to that substance. Show it ruining lives in movies and on TV. Don't lie. Just keep showing all the negatives.
Then folks like Sabet will 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.
I think there needs to be a law -- or at least an understanding -- that it's always wrong to demonize drugs in the abstract. That's anti-scientific. It begs so many questions and leaves suffering pain patients (and others) high and dry. No substance is bad in and of itself.
When we say so, we knowingly blind ourselves to all sorts of potential benefits to humankind. Morphine can provide a vivid appreciation of mother nature in properly disposed minds. That should be seen as a benefit. Instead, dogma tells us that we must hate morphine for any use.
I might as well say that no one can ever be taught to ride a horse safely. I would argue as follows: "Look at Christopher Reeves. He was a responsible and knowledgeable equestrian. But he couldn't handle horses. The fact is, NO ONE can handle horses!"
That's the problem with prohibition. It is not ultimately a health question but a question about priorities and sensibilities -- and those topics are open to lively debate and should not be the province of science, especially when natural law itself says mother nature is ours.
I personally hate beets and I could make a health argument against their legality. Beets can kill for those allergic to them. Sure, it's a rare condition, but since when has that stopped a prohibitionist from screaming bloody murder?
I can think of no greater intrusion than to deny one autonomy over how they think and feel in life. It is sort of a meta-intrusion, the mother of all anti-democratic intrusions.
Enforced by the blatantly rights-crushing solicitation of urine from the king's subjects, as if to underscore the fact that your very digestive system is controlled by the state.
Until prohibition ends, rehab is all about enforcing a Christian Science attitude toward psychoactive medicines (with the occasional hypocritical exception of Big Pharma meds).
When folks die in horse-related accidents, we need to be asking: who sold the victim the horse? We've got to crack down on folks who peddle this junk -- and ban books like Black Beauty that glamorize horse use.
Democratic societies need to outlaw prohibition for many reasons, the first being the fact that prohibition removes millions of minorities from the voting rolls, thereby handing elections to fascists and insurrectionists.
Prohibition turned habituation into addiction by creating a wide variety of problems for users, including potential arrest, tainted or absent drug supply, and extreme stigmatization.
The goal of drug-law reform should be to outlaw prohibition. Anything short of that, and our basic rights will always be subject to veto by fearmongers. Outlawing prohibition would restore the Natural Law of Jefferson, which the DEA scorned in 1987 with its raid on Monticello.
Philip Jenkins reports that Rophynol had positive uses for treating mental disorders until the media called it the "date rape drug." We thus punished those who were benefitting from the drug, tho' the biggest drug culprit in date rape is alcohol. Oprah spread the fear virally.
This is the "Oprah fallacy," which has led to so much suffering. She told women they were fools if they accepted a drink from a man. That's crazy. If we are terrified by such a statistically improbable event, we should be absolutely horrified by horses and skateboards.
This hysterical reaction to rare negative events actually creates more rare negative events. This is why the DEA publicizes "drug problems," because by making them well known, they make the problems more prevalent and can thereby justify their huge budget.
The Partnership for a Death Free America is launching a campaign to celebrate the 50th year of Richard Nixon's War on Drugs. We need to give credit where credit's due for the mass arrest of minorities, the inner city gun violence and the civil wars that it's generated overseas.
In 1886, coca enthusiast JJ Tschudi referred to prohibitionists as 'kickers.' He wrote: "If we were to listen to these kickers, most of us would die of hunger, for the reason that nearly everything we eat or drink has fallen under their ban."
Drug Warriors never take responsibility for incentivizing poor kids throughout the west to sell drugs. It's not just in NYC and LA, it's in modest-sized towns in France. Find public housing, you find drug dealing. It's the prohibition, damn it!
I don't believe in the materialist paradigm upon which SSRIs were created, according to which humans are interchangeable chemical robots amenable to the same treatment for human sadness. Let me use laughing gas and MDMA and coca and let the materialists use SSRIs.
What prohibitionists forget is that every popular but dangerous activity, from horseback riding to drug use, will have its victims. You cannot save everybody, and when you try to do so by law, you kill far more than you save, meanwhile destroying democracy in the process.
Prohibition is based on two huge lies: 1) that there are no benefits to drug use; and 2) that there are no downsides to prohibition.
The 1932 movie "Scarface" starts with on-screen text calling for a crackdown on armed gangs in America. There is no mention of the fact that a decade's worth of Prohibition had created those gangs in the first place.

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You have been reading an article entitled, How Prohibition Causes Immense Unnecessary Suffering published on September 4, 2023 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)