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In Defense of Cocaine

Change your mind, change your mind, change your mind...

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

February 13, 2024

he demonization of cocaine is based on a dogmatic and puritanical conception of human psychology. We have a feeling that human beings should NOT NEED this type of drug. That has been the view of everyone from Andrew Weil1 to Hugo Chavez2, from Terence McKenna3 to those ex-stoner friends of mine who are now into meditation in their old age and see no place for cocaine in the 21st century despite their own indiscriminate use of the drug in their apparently misspent youth. But this is a very cavalier and condescending attitude to take toward any psychoactive substance. Why? Because the utility of psychoactive substances can only be meaningfully evaluated with reference to the hopes and dreams of the potential users of the same and not based on the highly debatable viewpoint of an abstainer about what constitutes the good life, metaphysically speaking.

To show what I mean, let's consider how Alexander Shulgin speaks of cocaine in "Pihkal," a drug-friendly autobiography if there ever was one4. His prejudices on the topic reflect the judgmental mainstream western viewpoint about the drug, namely that no one SHOULD have any need of it whatsoever.

He starts out honestly enough:

To me, cocaine is an aggressive pusher, a stimulant which gives me a sense of power and of being completely with it, on top of the world.

Now, of course, as westerners, we are all waiting for "the big but"... As in, "But cocaine is wrong for so many reasons, my brethren!"

Whereas a super-intelligent space alien would have remarked: "Great! This means that cocaine can be a great resource for preventing suicide and treating those whose 'inner voice' is constantly negative!5"

The fact that human beings never have this response shows how thoroughly the prohibitionists have infantilized the world when it comes to psychoactive substances. We never evaluate such drugs for risks AND benefits, only for risks, and then only for the risks that they might pose to suburban white American youngsters in the lurid imaginations of Chicken Little Drug Warriors. This is why morphine is no longer available in most Indian hospitals: prohibitionists have so thoroughly demonized the drug that using it, even in hospices, is increasingly difficult from both a legal and a practical point of view6. It's as if morphine were now uranium and required a small army of bureaucrats and armed guards in order to make it available to those stubborn doctors who absolutely insist on using it for their patients who are in pain, doctors who thereby risk the suspension of their medical licenses by some Christian Science bureaucrat located in Washington, D.C.6

And now here comes Alexander Shulgin's, ahem, "big but," in his very next sentence, no less...

But there is also the inescapable knowledge, underneath, that it is not true power, that I am not really on top of the world, and that, when the drug's effects have disappeared, I will have gained nothing.

"True power"? Did coffee give Shulgin "true power"? Who cares? It helped him pry his eyes open and get to work. What more does he want from his drugs of choice?!

Who cares if it is "true power" (whatever that means)? If cocaine helps me do something that I want to do, who cares if it's providing me with "true power"? That misses the point entirely. I don't get my sense of "power" from the cocaine (or from any other drug, for that matter) but rather from my sense of achievement that the drug facilitates. Without it, I might not have been able to achieve goals X or Y. When I achieve those goals, I feel powerful, not because of the cocaine, but because of the achievement! This is Psychology 101, Alex: or it used to be until American psychologists fell under the spell of the Drug War and lost all their common sense8. And what does Shulgin mean by "I will have gained nothing"? Surely, that is only because he personally believes that he could achieve all his own goals without using cocaine, which is all well and good, and tooty-fruity for him! His problem is that he then makes the totally unwarranted and unscientific generalization that THEREFORE no one should need cocaine to help them achieve goals! Or does he mean that no one should be so ambitious as to even HAVE goals that would require the use of cocaine? In the first case he is presumptuous, in the second case he is puritanical.

But Alexander is not yet through with his confused metaphysical musings about cocaine use. He then continues...

There is a strange sense of falseness about the state. There is no insight. There is no learning.

No insight? No learning? Alex, Alex! People do not use cocaine for insight and learning any more than they use it to create "true power" out of whole cloth. They use it to achieve goals, from which they then get a sense of achievement that exists independent of the drug effects themselves. The "true power" created IS that sense of achievement.

But it gets worse. Alexander gets downright snooty in his closing lines on this topic. One gets the feeling that he was actually sniffing indignantly as he wrote the final sentence:

I find cocaine to be as much an escape drug as heroin. With either one, you escape from who you are, or—even more to the point—from who you are not. In either case, you are relieved for a short time from awareness of your inadequacies. I frankly would rather address mine than escape them; there is, ultimately, far greater satisfaction that way.

[sigh] Where does one begin to combat such a noxious combination of presumption, puritanism and pop psychology?

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with escaping from an intolerable situation9. If (as just one example) you have been raised in an abusive environment and taught that you were dirt, one has a duty to themselves to escape the counterproductive inner voices that such an upbringing might generate. But Shulgin obviously had a basic mental outlook from which he did not feel the need to escape, and so he cannot conceive of anyone's need or desire for such an escape. Moreover, Shulgin seems to assume that I am not my "real" self when I use cocaine, but this is a metaphysical or religious conclusion, not a logical one. It would make a good topic for philosophers with too much time on their hands, but it has nothing to do with the price of tea in China, especially since, speaking for myself, I would rather NOT be my real self and achieve my goals than to BE my real self and fail to achieve them10.

And what about the ecstatic oracles of yore or the over-the-top rock musicians of our time? Their jobs depend upon being "completely with it, on top of the world." Are you saying that it's wrong to have that desire? Again, that is not a logical viewpoint but a metaphysical and/or religious belief. And what if I wanted to be such a musician? Are you implying that I ought to be able to behave "completely with it," on demand, at any time, and without any drugs? That, of course, is far-fetched given the kind of ecstatic displays that we see on stage these days. So you apparently mean that I should not even have the goal to BE such a performer - but this, again, is not a medical opinion of yours; it is merely your own Christian Science belief about what constitutes the good life, i.e., how we should live our lives.

Shulgin also complains that "you are relieved for a short time," as if the drug would have been better had one single dose worked for my entire life! But who cares if it's a short time, provided that use can be repeated in those circumstances when it is justified - based on my own priorities and needs?

Shulgin's most aggravating conclusion is the idea that it is better to "address" one's inadequacies than to use cocaine to overcome them. First of all, what does he mean by "addressing" one's inadequacies? He no doubt means signing on for a lifetime of analysis and a lifetime course of scientifically developed pill-taking - pills that, ironically, you can tell are working scientifically because they have no obvious effects whatsoever. That's because they're working in the background, don't you see? in order to "cure" the "real" problem, wink, wink, just like any other one-size-fits-all-drug made by Big Pharma. (Yeah, and if you believe that, your pharmacists have some swampland in New Jersey that they want to sell you.)

This muddled idea about "real" cures is precisely what keeps materialist doctors like Robert Glatter from championing the use of laughing gas for the depressed11. He actually thinks more study is necessary! Why? Because as a scientist, he does not care that laughing gas makes the depressed laugh: it must first be shown to REALLY help them, in some mystical metaphysical sense of that word. As a lifelong depressive myself, I want to reply to Glatter as follows: "Just let me use laughing gas, damn it, while you continue your search for something that will quote-unquote REALLY work!"

Shulgin says there is far more satisfaction in "addressing" one's inadequacies, but using cocaine IS, in fact, one way of addressing those inadequacies, albeit by stomping them out rather than by obsessing over them in a seemingly endless series of expensive psychiatric office visits! I also think he would have sang a different tune had he gone through 40+ years of legally sanctioned pill-taking and still had no breakthroughs anywhere NEAR those that drugs like cocaine (or many other outlawed substances) might have facilitated. I find nothing satisfying about having laid out tens of thousands of dollars over the last four decades while never adequately transcending my ingrained sense of negativity, something that many much-maligned "drugs" could have made possible, thereby creating a virtuous circle in which success begets success. I find nothing satisfying in having been turned into an eternal patient by the dependence-causing pills of Big Pharma. I would have been much better off if I had had the courage to "treat the symptoms" of my psychological shortcomings rather than to fall for science's false claim that they had a "real" cure for me in the form of lifelong talk therapy and addictive "meds."12 13

Alexander Shulgin has a bit of an excuse for his myopia on this topic. As a pharmacological researcher, he was used to testing drugs in the abstract, without considering the usual motivations or goals of any specific user. But psychoactive drugs cannot be evaluated that way. They are always used by a specific person for a specific reason and general rules may not apply or may even turn out to be nonsense in particular cases. This is the problem with the Drug War: it encourages us to judge substances "up" or "down," rather than with regard for the actual circumstances of any given case. This is an anti-scientific view which basically says: "If a drug has negative effects for one demographic - especially a white young American demographic -- then it must not be used by anyone, anywhere, for any reason, at any dosage, ever!"

This unscientific attitude toward psychoactive drugs has caused immense unnecessary suffering around the world (for hospice patients in India, for instance) and kept us from researching a vast array of potential therapies for all manner of mind-related conditions, from Alzheimer's and autism to depression and anxiety. That's why I say we are living in a new Dark Ages, one in which we willfully forgo medical progress in the name of a Christian Science war against psychoactive medicine. Worse yet, this attitude is used to justify the incarceration of millions of folks like myself, whose only crime is that they want results from psychoactive medicine in the here and now, and not on the leisurely timeframe of psychiatry, which seeks to turn one's pressing and immediate psychological needs into a lifelong search for some "real" underlying cause, never mind the fact that the sufferers in question may go bankrupt in the meantime (both emotionally and financially speaking) because of their inability to achieve said goals in real-time in the real world.

So is cocaine good or bad?

The fact that we even ask such questions demonstrates how confused we have become about drugs thanks to prohibitionist propaganda. For no drug is good or bad in the abstract. All psychoactive drugs have positive uses. If we believe a psychoactive drug has no potential uses whatsoever, it's surely due to a lack of imagination on our part, not to any intrinsic drawbacks in the drug itself. Because usefulness depends on a wide variety of factors: the dosage, the time of use, the place of use, the age of the user, the goal of the user, the potential user's aspirations in life, their needs (financial, emotional and occupational), etc. etc. etc.

"One has been taught to assign the power of a drug to the drug itself, without considering the person into whom it goes. A drug by itself can be a powder, a spoonful of sugar, without any curative value whatsoever. But there is a personal reality of the recipient of the drug that plays a major role in the definition of the eventual interaction. Each of us has his own reality, and each of us will construct his own unique drug-person relationship." -Alexander Shulgin 4

Unfortunately, we have all been taught from childhood to focus only on the potential downsides of psychoactive medicines, so let me end this essay by mentioning a few facts about this subject that are carefully suppressed by the prohibition establishment:

1) Most cocaine users do not become addicted
2) There are worse things than addiction
3) Addiction could be easily treated if we re-legalized mother nature and used "drugs to fight drugs"


1 Quass, Brian, What Andrew Weil Got Wrong, 2022 (up)
2 Quass, Brian, Venezuela continues to kowtow to US Drug Policy, 2022 (up)
3 Quass, Brian, What Terence McKenna Got Wrong About Drugs, 2023 (up)
4 Shulgin, Alexander, PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story , Transform Press, (up)
5 Quass, Brian, Assisted Suicide and the War on Drugs, 2023 (up)
6 Shariff, Um-e-Kulsoom, An Epidemic of Pain in India, The New Yorker, 2013 (up)
7 Shariff, Um-e-Kulsoom, An Epidemic of Pain in India, The New Yorker, 2013 (up)
8 Quass, Brian, The Naive Psychology of the Drug War, 2022 (up)
9 Quass, Brian, The Handicapped NEED Crutches, 2022 (up)
10 Quass, Brian, The Book of the Damned continued, 2023 (up)
11 Can Laughing Gas Help People with Treatment Resistant Depression?, Forbes Magazine, 2021 (up)
12 Of course, cocaine should be evaluated alongside drugs like MDMA, plus the hundreds of other potential treatments that will be available when we finally re-legalize mother nature and, what's more, actually try to leverage her bounty for the benefit of humankind. (up)
13 That is, I would have been much better off had I escaped the many snares set up for me by law enforcement. (up)
14 Shulgin, Alexander, PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story , Transform Press, (up)

Next essay: Immanuel Kant on Drugs
Previous essay: The Book of the Damned

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We would never have even heard of Freud except for cocaine. How many geniuses is America stifling even as we speak thanks to the war on mind improving medicines?
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You have been reading an article entitled, In Defense of Cocaine: Change your mind, change your mind, change your mind..., published on February 13, 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)