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a philosophical review of the academic paper by Russell Newcombe

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

August 27, 2023

Note: My criticism regarding what I see as the insufficiency of Newcombe's argument for drug legalization (beginning in paragraph six) is nothing personal. In fact, I know of no one in the Drug War debates who has addressed this issue entirely to my satisfaction. The very title of Newcombe's paper shows that he is one of the few who sees through the fog of Drug War propaganda.

"Intoxiphobia" is a depressing read because it confirms how drug users have become the punching bag of modern societies, the one group toward whom intolerance and the denial of basic human rights is still considered acceptable around the globe. In England, drug users can be detained without charge for twice as long as murderers and rapists. In China, they are subject to mass incarceration, police abuse and execution. In Thailand, the police "force false confessions from people detained for drug use." In Kazakhstan, the authorities beat drug users with fists and clubs. Meanwhile many countries (including the US) deny public housing to users, deny them welfare payments, and threaten to take their children from them. Through pre-employment drug testing, they can even be denied the opportunity for gainful employment in their country of residence.

In 2008, Uruguay attempted to improve this bleak status quo at the 51st Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. They made the apparently novel proposal that international drug control activities should henceforth be conducted in conformity with human rights law. (Gee, ya think?) Naturally, China and most other Asian countries demurred. That was perhaps to be expected from countries that have historically put little stock in the rights of the individual. But the United States also protested. The US delegates did not want their police forces to be hindered by respect for something so mundane as human rights.

One might have expected better from a country founded on Jeffersonian principles, but then our supposedly independent media has been cranking out Drug War agitprop for decades now. In "Running with the Devil," 2019, the DEA agent shoots an unarmed drug suspect in cold blood and at point-blank range. In "Crisis," also from 2019, a DEA agent plants evidence to cover up his girlfriend's vigilante murder of a drug suspect. And in "The Runner," 2021, a SWAT team riddles the chest of an unarmed black teenage drug suspect with bullets in an outrageously irresponsible sting operation on a high-school dance party, for which the white good guy, Detective Wall, nevertheless receives an award.

These movies are not mentioned in Russell Newcombe's paper: I cite them here to help account for America's reluctance to respect human rights while fighting the war on drugs. For if the anti-democratic plots of these movies say anything about the American mindset of our times, it's no wonder that our stateside bureaucrats are unwilling to fight fair in their unprecedented war on the psychoactive bounty of mother nature.

In short, it's open season on drug users around the world, and Newcombe's paper corroborates the fact.

Unfortunately, however, the author's defense of drug use is weak. He cites the utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill in affirming our right to sovereignty over our own body, with the usual proviso that we hurt no one else with our actions. But drug use is far more than just a victimless crime. Drug use has inspired religions and philosophies around the world. The Vedic-Hindu religion was inspired by the consumption of the psychedelic soma concoction; the Peruvian Indians considered the coca plant to be divine; the Maya used psychoactive mushrooms in religious rites. Many western greats considered the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian mysteries to be the most enlightening experience of their life. William James' entire philosophy was inspired by the use of nitrous oxide.

Considering this backstory, the outlawing of drug use is not merely bad social policy: it is the outlawing of religion - indeed the outlawing of the religious impulse. The outlawing of drug use is also the outlawing of philosophy, insofar as it criminalizes the attainment of those altered states that American philosopher William James told us that we must investigate to understand reality. "No account of the universe in its totality," wrote James, "can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded." Yet disregard them we must if Drug Warriors have their way.

Speaking of religions, Newcombe also fails to recognize that the Drug War itself is a religion, namely, the religion of Christian Science. For there is no rational imperative that tells us to say no to drugs; it's certainly not an idea that would occur to anyone who had grown up in a rainforest. No, the idea that we should say no to drugs was first codified into a moral position by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science religion. And so the Drug War is basically the enforcement of Christian Science as a world religion.

Instead of arguing on the back foot, so to speak, by assuring our opponents that our drug use is not going to hurt anybody (an assertion that the Drug Warrior is going to attempt to refute at any rate with the usual litany of highly tendentious arguments) we must insist on the right to drug use as a prerequisite for the very existence of religious and philosophical freedom. That statement, along with a reference to the aforementioned psychopharmacological history of the world, is all we should need as drug users to restore our humanity in the eyes of our opponents.

This is no time to be talking about John Stuart Mill and victimless crime. We need to come together as unapologetic drug users and start "outing" the Drug Warriors for their attack on religious and philosophical liberty. We need to point out, loudly and clearly, that the Drug War, with its seemingly endless menu of over-the-top punishments, is nothing less than the worldwide enforcement of what can justly be called a kind of Christian Science Sharia, a wholesale fanatical crackdown on those who would dare seek self-transcendence with the help of natural and nature-inspired substances.

Newcombe also is arguing on the back foot when he discusses harm reduction without also discussing benefit maximization. Morphine can inspire an almost surreal appreciation of the world. Psychedelics can help us deeply appreciate music. MDMA can help us love our fellow human being. Coca can inspire and revivify. Opium can facilitate creative dreaming in the properly predisposed mind. These godsends will be ours again once Drug Warriors stop holding psychoactive drugs to a standard to which we hold no other risky activity in the world. 37,000 Americans are killed every year in car accidents, and yet we never even THINK about outlawing cars. Instead, we teach safe driving while attempting to create cars and roads that conduce to safety. With drugs, on the other hand, we refuse to teach safety while pursuing a policy of prohibition which ensures that drug use will be as dangerous as possible.

Nor is it just drug users who suffer. When the chronically depressed patient has his or her brain damaged by shock therapy, it is prohibition that is to blame: for it was prohibition that outlawed all the obvious treatments that would have made shock therapy unnecessary: laughing gas, MDMA, coca, opium, psychedelics, etc. etc. Talk about Christian Science fanaticism: the powers-that-be would rather fry the brain of the depressed than to let them use drugs. This reminds us that the endgame of pushback is not just achieving respect for drug users. The psychiatrists may respect the hell out of us, but prohibition is still going to force them to unnecessarily damage the brain of the chronically depressed - a crime for which prohibition has been getting off scot-free for decades now because no one seems to have noticed its culpability in this regard.

Take the Citizens Commission on Human Rights in the UK: despite their vehement opposition to shock therapy, they have made no connection between prohibition and this brain-damaging treatment. Either they are unaware of the potential enormous blessings of psychoactive substances that inspire (both the known drugs and the endless empathogens and entheogens that could be synthesized by the Andrew Shulgins of the world were they free to do so) or they have been programmed by Drug War propaganda to believe with Mary Baker Eddy that all drugs are bad, even the medicines that grow at our very feet and which God himself told us were good.

Speaking of which, there is another argument that drug users should be advancing before resorting to the tepid expedient of citing John Stuart Mill on behalf of our trampled rights, and that is the fact that it is a clear violation of natural law to outlaw plants and fungus. As John Locke tells us in his Second Treatise on Government, "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." To men, that is, not to government. In other words, America, the country that started the worldwide Drug War, did so in violation of the natural law upon which it was founded. This is why Thomas Jefferson rolled over in his grave when the DEA confiscated his poppy plants in 1987.

And I'm just getting warmed up. Prohibition has also led to unprecedented self-censorship on the part of authors, especially in academia. Almost all academic papers about "drugs" have to do with abuse and misuse, not beneficial use. This is because tenure-seeking academicians know better than to write papers about good uses for the modern scapegoat called drugs. And did I mention that the Drug War handed the 2016 election to Donald Trump? Drug laws have jailed the natural opponents of prohibition, thereby depriving them of the right to vote, thus handing America's typically close elections to fascists and insurrectionists (with a little help from state redistricting plans specifically designed to suppress minority voting, of course).

By publicizing such inconvenient home truths (of which the above are still just a subset), we can put the Drug Warriors on the defensive and, I trust, win over those of our opponents who have denied our humanity in the past because of the tepid nature of the arguments that we had been advancing. We are not calling for the right to "go to the devil in our own way," as some libertarians would have it; we are calling for the end of a century-old drug policy that outlaws free thought and blinds us to the godsends of mother nature.

We have nothing to apologize for. It is, in fact, the Drug Warriors who owe us an apology. You know, something short and sweet, like: "Sorry for censoring science, guys, and for riding roughshod over your religious liberty. Oh, and please forgive me for facilitating the election of Donald Trump in 2016 by sidelining millions of his opponents."

Author's Follow-up: August 27, 2023

Descendants of the South American Inca have been treated with double inhumanity by Drug Warriors: the western powers not only outlawed the coca medicine whose daily use helped define their society and culture, but they then arrested descendants who dared to deal in or use that substance.

Here's another knockdown argument against prohibition, one that's never mentioned, as far as I can tell: The Drug War tells us that substances can be judged up or down, as good or bad. That is clearly anti-scientific. All substances, even cyanide, have uses at some dose, in some circumstance, for some reason. It's only because we say otherwise that we are now denying morphine to cancer patients who are languishing painfully on their deathbeds. We do not need to end prohibition for the benefit of hedonists: we need to end it for the benefit of science and for those who suffer when the realm of science is invaded by fearmongering politicians.

Next essay: Drug Warriors and their Prey
Previous essay: Time for News Outlets to stop promoting drug war lies

More Essays Here

Prohibition Tweets

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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
The worst form of government is not communism, socialism or even unbridled capitalism. The worst form of government is a Christian Science Theocracy, in which the government controls how much you are allowed to think and feel in life.
The Shipiba have learned to heal human beings physically, psychologically and spiritually with what they call "onanyati," plant allies and guides, such as Bobinsana, which "envelops seekers in a cocoon of love." You know: what the DEA would call "junk."
And where did politicians get the idea that irresponsible white American young people are the only stakeholders when it comes to the question of re-legalizing drugs??? There are hundreds of millions of other stakeholders: philosophers, pain patients, the depressed.
Yes, BUT when they say "drugs plus therapy," they don't mean drugs in general. They mean a small selection of drugs that pass muster with pharmacologically clueless politicians.
I agree that Big Pharma drugs have wrought disaster when used in psychotherapy -- but it is common sense that non-Big Pharma drugs that elate could be used to prevent suicide and obviate the need for ECT.
There are a potentially vast number of non-addictive drugs that could be used strategically in therapy. They elate and "free the tongue" to help talk therapy really work. Even "addictive" drugs can be used non-addictively, prohibitionist propaganda notwithstanding.
We need to start thinking of drug-related deaths like we do about car accidents: They're terrible, and yet they should move us to make driving safer, not to outlaw driving. To think otherwise is to swallow the drug war lie that "drugs" can have no positive uses.
The DEA outlawed MDMA in 1985, thereby depriving soldiers of a godsend treatment for PTSD. Apparently, the DEA staff slept well at night in the early 2000s as American soldiers were having their lives destroyed by IEDs.
Imagine someone starting their book about antibiotics by saying that he's not trying to suggest that we actually use them. We should not have to apologize for being honest about drugs. If prohibitionists think that honesty is wrong, that's their problem.
I, for one, am actually TRYING to recommend drugs like MDMA and psilocybin as substitutes for shock therapy. In fact, I would recommend almost ANY pick-me-up drug as an alternative to knowingly damaging the human brain. That's more than the hateful DEA can say.
A pharmacologically savvy drug dealer would have no problem getting someone off one drug because they would use the common sense practice of fighting drugs with drugs. But materialist doctors would rather that the patient suffer than to use such psychologically obvious methods.
If there's any doubt about this, check out the 2021 article in Forbes in which a materialist doctor professes to doubt whether laughing gas could help the depressed. Materialists are committed to seeing the world from the POV of Spock from Star Trek.
If the depressed patient laughs, that means nothing. Materialists have to see results under a microscopic or they will never sign off on a therapy.
Oregon's drug policy is incoherent and cruel. The rich and healthy spend $4,000 a week on psilocybin. The poor and chemically dependent are thrown in jail, unless they're on SSRIs, in which case they're congratulated for "taking their meds."
Prohibitionists have blood on their hands. People do not naturally die in the tens of thousands from opioid use, notwithstanding the lies of 19th-century missionaries in China. It takes bad drug policy to accomplish that.

William James Tweets

William James knew that there were substances that could elate. However, it never occurred to him that we should use such substances to prevent suicide. It seems James was blinded to this possibility by his puritanical assumptions.
So he writes about the mindset of the deeply depressed, reifying the condition as if it were some great "type" inevitably to be encountered in humanity. No. It's the "type" to be found in a post-Christian society that has turned up its scientific nose at psychoactive medicine.

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'Intoxiphobia' by Russell Newcombe

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You have been reading an article entitled, Intoxiphobia: a philosophical review of the academic paper by Russell Newcombe, published on August 27, 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)