Essay date: September 4, 2023

How Prohibition Causes Immense Unnecessary Suffering

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.

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

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The Drug War Censors Science - Bumper Sticker

Drive the point home that the Drug War censors scientists -- by outlawing and otherwise discouraging research into the kinds of drugs that have inspired entire religions.

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Millions have needlessly suffered over the last 50 years because the DEA has lied about psychedelics, claiming that they are addictive and have no therapeutic value. Stop the lies, start the research.

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5% of proceeds from the sale of the above product will go toward getting Brian a decent haircut for once. Honestly. 9% will go toward shoes. 50% will go toward miscellaneous. 9% of the remainder will go toward relaxation, which could encompass anything from a spin around town to an outdoor barbecue at Brian's brother's house in Stanardsville (both gas and the ice-cream cake that Brian usually supplies).

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Face it, even your friends sometimes tick you off: Show them your true feelings with this novelty gift card -- and don't worry, the inside text reads: PSYCH! Just kidding.

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old time radio playing Drug War comedy sketches

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. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.

It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it 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.

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)

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