bird icon for twitter

'Intoxiphobia' by Russell Newcombe

A critique

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

April 15, 2022

Note: I created a more in-depth critique of Intoxiphobia in 2023. Click here to read.

Hi, Russell.

Just a few comments on your excellent paper (Intoxiphobia: discrimination toward people who use drugs).

1) The original sin of the Drug Warrior was to criminalize plants, which is a violation of the Natural Law upon which Jefferson founded America. In this connection, you might quote John Locke as well as John Mill in the latter section of your paper, for the former wrote that human beings (under Natural Law) have a right to "the use of the land and all that lies therein." Even without that quote, I believe that Natural Law (if it tells us anything) tells us that human beings cannot justifiably be denied access to the plant medicine that grows at their very feet.

2) You say you want to avoid moralistic language by not using terms like "drug abusers" and "drug misusers." Fair enough. But in my view, the real way to avoid moralistic language is to avoid the term "drug" altogether, which as used today is simply a pejorative term for "psychoactive substances of which politicians disapprove." In fact, to see how wrong the Drug War is, we need only replace the word "drugs" with "psychoactive plant medicine," or better yet "godsend plant medicine." The latter term may be subjective, but it is no more subjective than the term "drugs," with its implication of "dangerous substances used only for hedonistic purposes."

3) In attacking the moral model of drug suppression, it should be pointed out, I think, that the Drug War is nothing less than the enforcement of the Christian Science religion with respect to psychoactive medicine, i. e. it represents the theological idea that the substances that we demonize as 'drugs' are somehow bad in and of themselves, without respect for how, when, why or by whom they are used. I call this idea theological because it is not supported by facts, but rather by strong religious and/or pseudo-religious prejudices on the part of the 'moralizer. '

4) With respect to drug testing, it's worth underscoring the fact that such tests, as a practical matter, are not looking for impairment, but rather for mere use. You could not get, say, a cashier's job in America at Lowe's hardware store if a trace of cocaine was found in your system, even tho' there was no sign of impairment whatsoever. This kind of drug testing is really just the extrajudicial enforcement of Drug War sensibilities, thanks to which one is basically removed from the job market without a trial, indeed without even being legally charged with anything. And one cannot mount a legal defense against something for which one has not even been charged.

5) You say that the use of methadone constitutes drug dependency according to the VISA WAIVER PROGRAM ESTA. I would here simply point out the huge irony of this fact, when you consider that 1 in 4 American women are dependent on Big Pharma meds for a lifetime. That's surely the biggest national chemical dependency in world history, and yet this medical dystopia is so far from being decried, that top medical officials (often under the pay of Big Pharma, I fear) regularly appear on talk shows to remind Americans to "keep taking their meds," many of which SSRIs are harder to kick than heroin according to psychiatrist-author Julie Holland (because the antidepressants muck about with brain chemistry, disrupting one's neurochemical baseline).

Thanks again, and best wishes.

Brian Quass

Russell also casts his argument "on the back foot" by failing to point out that psychoactive substances have been used, time out of mind, for religious and practical reasons by societies across the world (as the Vedic religion worshipped Soma and the psychedelic kykeon inspired Plato's views on the afterlife). He should then also point out the number of well-respected westerners (Marcus Aurelius, Benjamin Franklin, HG Wells, Jules Verne, etc.) who have used demonized substances responsibly.

By failing to mention these, he leaves the impression that "drug use" is merely something that should be tolerated, however reluctantly, based on an appeal to safety and human rights data -- whereas, truth be known, it's something that should be encouraged for mental and religious improvement (and reasons to do with Natural Law and the Natural Rights of human beings to Mother Nature's bounty). But then most opponents of the Drug War are so immersed in the culture of substance demonization that they argue apologetically rather than citing facts that call the whole culture of substance demonization into question.

July 1, 2022

Russell Responds

Russell was kind enough to respond to me on July 1, 2022, with the following comment:

Hi Brian, thanks for the insightful comments, which are very useful. I agree that, like addiction, the term 'drug' is riddled with semantic baggage, but these psychoactive substances include synthetic chemicals as well as plants. 'Intoxicants' is used but not that popular, and 'highs' and other colloquial terms are fine as far as they go, but I'm fairly sure we are stuck with 'psychoactive drug/substance' for the time being. But human and scientific language changes with time and fashions, so I guess we have to wait and see!

Brian Responds to Russell

Thanks, Russell. My feeling is that very few authors grasp the full degree to which the current talk about drugs and addiction presupposes extremely problematic assumptions. Even Michael Pollan, I think, fails to understand that the term "drugs" is really just a politically created pejorative term for "psychoactive substances of which politicians disapprove." So merely to discuss "drugs" without mentioning this fact is to tacitly support the problematic assumptions which would seem to justify the use of that pejorative term: assumptions like the idea that drugs are "bad" and that "sobriety" equates to "cleanliness" and thus to morality, that "the best use is always no use," and so forth. These are all Christian Science ideas that most people would never adopt if we were talking about medicine for physical disorders.

Although "drugs" can include synthetic nostrums, I think it is still instructive to replace the term "drugs" with "godsend plant medicine," since the Drug War was founded to outlaw the poppy plant and it is the subsequent outlawing of the coca plant that has led to the current violence in South and Central America. Even LSD is derived from Ergot, so the line between synthetic and natural is not always clear. That said, it is always inconvenient from a rhetorical standpoint to include synthetics in one's anti-Drug War arguments. That's why I sometimes ignore the synthetics entirely in order to drive home the point that the Drug War is outlawing plants. Although that can't be a knock-down argument for comprehensive drug legalization, I personally think that the outlawing of plants is such an obvious overstep by government (one that I view to be a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded) that even a diehard drug-hater has to be uncomfortable in countenancing such a power grab. If I can't convince them that it's nonsense to criminalize plants, then my slightly more nuanced arguments on behalf of synthetics would fall on deaf ears in any case.

For now, the word "drugs" is like the word "scabs." Both not only connote something but they do so while conveying a harshly negative attitude toward that something, and that attitude makes sense only on the basis of unstated propositions which are highly problematic and sometimes plain false. That's why I believe that the Drug War is the philosophical problem par excellence, because it is being powered by unspoken presuppositions. For this reason, I believe that an effective pushback can only be mounted when Drug Warriors are confronted with these problematic assumptions - when, in short, Drug War opponents stop using the utterly tainted word "drugs" altogether (or at least only in quotes), and replace it with "potential godsends," perhaps, and thereby include synthetics.

In a research setting, the use of the term "potential godsend" may be inappropriate. But I'm advocating the term here specifically for those laypeople who, like myself, are attempting to change the status quo through essays, comments and other forms of peaceful protest. It may read like a biased term, but if the Drug Warrior can demonize psychoactive substances with the epithet "drugs," surely their opponents can be allowed to praise them as "potential godsends." By so doing, in fact, the opponents of the Drug War can tacitly reveal that the Drug Warrior's arguments presuppose a jaundiced way of looking at the world of psychoactive substances, one that is by no means a view that would occur naturally to any free, unbiased and open mind.

Meanwhile, I'll hope with you for a change in the language that we use to describe "drugs," since, in a way, that is the whole problem with the Drug War: it is a problem created out of whole cloth through the strategic use of provocative and assumption-filled language. There was no "drug" problem in the 1800s. The problem back then in the public mind was liquor (and prostitution). It's ironic that the folks who protected liquor from public fear-mongering with a constitutional amendment soon began a little fearmongering of their own, as they attempted to convince the 20th-century world that the problem hadn't been liquor after all: it was all those dirty evil "drugs" instead (especially those associated with the Chinese!)

My fear is that most of the sane people in America still cannot help but be influenced by the Drug War propaganda of demonization. I consider the fact that psychoactive medicines like soma and coca have inspired entire religions, and then I search American TV and movie scripts for positive references to such medicines - and there are none. Almost all the references to "drugs" are negative, treating them as bad in and of themselves. I then search the academic literature on "drugs" and find almost every single research article devoted to "misuse" and "abuse." No one writes about the ability of morphine to improve one's appreciation of Mother Nature (as in Poe's story "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains"), no one writes about the well-known ability of psychedelics to improve one's appreciation of music, no one writes about the ability of MDMA to foster peace, love and understanding between hitherto antagonistic ethnic and social classes, no one writes about how certain drugs bring peace of mind to the depressed, albeit in a non-reductionist fashion that modern material science can never bring itself to acknowledge, except with scorn, by referring to such drugs as "crutches" (as if the SSRIs upon which 1 in 4 women are dependent for life could not be just as easily demonized in this way).

This is the propaganda of omission and I fear it has fried the American brain - with help from the gleefully mendacious "fried egg" ad, which claims that psychoactive substances fry the brain the minute that they are criminalized by pharmacologically clueless politicians. This is almost the opposite of the truth in the case of drugs like opium and coca, and so-called "speed" is so far from frying the brain that the Air Force used to require its use by pilots on crucial missions.

This disconnect between the historical use of drugs and America's attitude toward them makes me think of the remarks by William L. Shirer in his book about Nazi Germany:

"No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime's calculated and incessant propaganda."

I think the same can be said for those who live in a Drug War society in which all good (or even potentially good) news about "drugs" is suppressed. Such propaganda is no doubt especially persuasive in the eyes of the many Americans who received teddy bears from the state police in grade school in return for saying no to the plants and fungi that grow at their very feet.

Thanks again for your kindness in reading my presumptuously long comments. This is one topic upon which I find it difficult to be concise. So thanks for your patience.

And have a great weekend!

PS Caught myself just in time: I was about to wish you a Happy Fourth of July!

Next essay: Critique of the Philosophy of Happiness
Previous essay: Top 10 Problems with the Drug War

More Essays Here

essays about

'Good Chemistry' is a good Covid read
Drug War Quotes
Fifty Years of Bogus Articles about Creativity
In Praise of Augustus Bedloe
In Praise of Thomas Szasz
In the Realm of Hungry Drug Warriors
Michael Pollan and the Drug War
Michael Pollan on Drugs
My Conversation with Michael Pollan
Richard Feynman and the Drug War
Richard Rudgley condemns 'drugs' with faint praise
Science Fiction and the Drug War
Sherlock Holmes versus Gabriel Maté
How the Cato Institute is Bamboozled by Drug War Propaganda
The End Times by Bryan Walsh
What Terence McKenna Got Wrong About Drugs
Alternative Medicine as a Drug War Creation
Synthetic Panics
Clodhoppers on Drugs
The Drug War Imperialism of Richard Evans Schultes
What Jim Hogshire Got Wrong about Drugs
Noam Chomsky on Drugs
Disease Mongering in the age of the drug war
How Bernardo Kastrup reckons without the drug war
'Synthetic Panics' by Philip Jenkins
I've got a bone to pick with Jim Hogshire
Opium for the Masses by Jim Hogshire
Even Howard Zinn Reckons without the Drug War
How Thomas Nagel Reckons Without the Drug War
What Andrew Weil Got Wrong
Review of When Plants Dream
Brahms is NOT the best antidepressant
Step Aside, Entheogens

essays about


front cover of Drug War Comic Book

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

You have been reading an article entitled, 'Intoxiphobia' by Russell Newcombe: A critique, published on April 15, 2022 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)