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Matthew Perry and the Drug War Ghouls

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

December 17, 2023

Already read this essay? Click here to read the author's follow-up below.

Even before the cause of death was announced for Matthew Perry, you could just feel the ghouls gathering around their flat-screen TVs all across America asking, "What did he die of? What did he die of?" They were all huddled, virtually speaking, outside the door of the coroner's office, nodding their heads knowingly at one another, just waiting for the confirmation of their cynical expectations. For Americans are hungry for news that seems to justify their prejudices against the use of tribal medicines (i.e., psychoactive drugs), as who should say, "See? Now someone's actually died from the stuff! Didn't we tell you that drugs are evil!"

This statistically challenged analysis of the situation, this attempt to turn the fate of the actor into a Drug War morality play, blinds us to the obvious truths of which such occasions would otherwise remind us: namely, that healthy and ambitious people naturally seek self-transcendence, insofar as that term means freedom from the constraints that have been placed upon their mental outlook by poor parenting and the ego-crushing carping of their peers. And since many psychoactive drugs have the ability to help the user transcend the limiting mindsets thus imposed upon them through no fault of their own, it is common sense that many performers would be tempted to seek out drugs to assist them in performing without self-consciousness. Nor can we blame them, since a stage performer's earnings capacity is limited precisely to the extent that they are self-conscious on stage. They have to silence that inner voice of self-doubt because a failure to do so will mean decreased earnings at best and job loss at worst. To put this another way: no one is going to pay them one single penny for being "clean and sober."1

The obvious moral of this story is that safe use practices need to be promulgated and that drugs should be legalized and studied so that performers could choose the safest drug possible to achieve their goals in life. But Americans have a prior commitment to the Drug War ideology of substance demonization and so are blind to the obvious. Instead, they consider the drug-related death of even one performer to be a knock-down argument against drug legalization, as if one single solitary drug-related death should render that drug unavailable for anybody, anywhere, in any dose, at any time, ever.

What absolute nonsense. Since when has one single death from ANY activity qualified as a reason to erase that activity from the face of the earth?

A hundred people die from horse riding in America every year. Should we have outlawed that activity after the very first death? 37,000 people die in car accidents. Should we have closed down the roads after the first fatal collision? And what about guns? They kill 50,000 a year in the states alone, yet we hear nary a sigh in response from the Drug Warrior. Surely this breathtaking oversight on the part of ostensibly safety-conscious Drug Warriors should result in them being laughed off the public stage. In fact, in a sane world, their self-righteous mugs would be featured in the Oxford Illustrated Dictionary under the entry for "hypocrisy."

Of course, not every performer has a perceived need for pharmacological assistance to overcome mental limitations. That much is also common sense. Nature can combine with nurture to create all manner of baseline mental outlooks, from the hard-wired neurotic to the fancy-free go-getter. It does not follow, however, that those without a "perceived" need for drugs could not benefit from them as well, vocationally and thus financially speaking. I have seen plenty of seemingly drug-free performers whose stagecraft could have only improved with their use of some judiciously chosen psychoactive medicines. Their timid and apologetic performances are sometimes almost painful to watch. One can almost hear the defeatist voices of the past whispering in the player's ears: "Screw up, fool: you have no right to triumph on this stage. I bet you're gonna flub the next line. That would be just LIKE you!"2

Nor are such doubts limited to stage performers. The word "stage" in the above quote can be taken metaphorically to mean "the great stage of life," in token of the fact that even a lowly day laborer may be afflicted by such doubts - indeed, such doubts may be the reason why the day laborer IS a day laborer.

Edgar Allan Poe demonstrated his awareness of this naysaying voice in his essay-cum-short-story "The Imp of the Perverse." He describes this self-destructive impulse involved as "a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists.... "

But don't let the academic language fool you: the layperson is well aware of the phenomenon in question, which he all too aptly refers to as "choking," and yet modern psychology, in Poe's day as now, refuses to recognize this "mobile without motive," as Poe calls it; otherwise they would not profess bemused puzzlement over the use of drugs, either by performers or by the hoi polloi.

But modern academics have accepted the drug-war dogma that drugs are evil - and it therefore "follows" that drug use simply does not make sense, except perhaps as a form of irresponsible hedonism.

Unfortunately, this idea that drugs are used only for "recreational purposes" is even promoted by fans of drug legalization. Carl Hart himself (author of "Drug Use for Grownups") believes that drug use is just for fun3. Carl even reminds his readers that his book is not for those with mental problems: such would-be readers are instead reminded to keep taking their pills. The author cannot seem to see that the very drug use that cheers him up would also cheer up the depressed - and give them a reason not to kill themselves. I for my part would be on seventh heaven if I knew that I could occasionally "take the edge off" with drugs and disassociate myself for a refreshing moment from negative thinking. So I come close to taking offense to Carl's idea that he can use drugs to have a good time, but I can't use drugs (or at least illegal drugs) to treat my depression. Carl is implicitly championing what Jules Buchanan calls Drug War Apartheid, a hypocritical state of affairs in which there are supposed to be two kinds of psychoactive substances in the world, 'meds' that are blessed and 'drugs' which are accursed - with the difference here that Carl thinks drugs are just fine for recreational purposes - but are somehow still junk when used to battle depression (don't ask Carl how, though he seems to be sure that materialist science has found all the relevant answers when it comes to treating human sadness).4

Here we see that Americans are blinded to the obvious not just by Drug War ideology, but by materialist ideology as well, the ideology which considers human consciousness to be an illusion or an epiphenomenon, and therefore places all its faith in chemistry and genetics - never in the mere laughter of the historically depressed individual. It's as if they say: "ANY drug can make you laugh, Brian: we want to CURE your sadness for now and for all time, with these pills that you take every day of your life."5

What a mad ambition, to cure human sadness. The negative results of this fool's errand, unfortunately, are too enormous to be seen, for it has resulted in the greatest mass chemical dependency in human history, whereby 1 in 4 American women are now dependent on Big Pharma meds for life.

The fact is, it's a Drug War canard to say that drug use (as opposed to the use of quote-unquote "meds") is pointless, and modern academics connive to promulgate that lie by dutifully ignoring all positive uses for the substances that racist politicians would prefer that we despise. Instead of asking dumb questions like, "Why would such a fine actor want to use DRUGS?" we should be asking: "Why did we not provide this actor with information and alternatives so that he could safely achieve the transcendence that he desired?"

The very idea that we should say "no" to godsend medicine is a religiously motivated lie and has no basis in rational thought, especially in the thought of one who understands common sense psychology, as opposed to the blindfolded psychology of materialist science, that world in which laughter is no longer considered to be "the best medicine" for the depressed. And why not? Because the corollary of such an admission would be the politically and scientifically incorrect fact that ANY DRUG that cheers one up can be used as an antidepressant and so there would no longer be the need for patients to shell out a lifetime of savings to pay for an exclusive proprietary "cure" for sadness created by Big Pharma.

Finally, I have described how drug use makes psychological sense in the treatment of pathology, in the broadest meaning of that term, but drug use makes sense for a host of other reasons about which modern science is dogmatically blind. Why, for instance, should it be considered senseless to use drugs for spiritual inspiration, given the many historical precedents of such use? Why should it be considered senseless to use drugs to improve mental focus, or to increase our appreciation of music? Why should it be considered senseless to use drugs to increase one's compassion for one's enemies?

The idea that these things are wrong is mere Christian Science propaganda, based on a metaphysical (and hypocritical) hatred of psychoactive substances and about what constitutes virtue and the good life. Sure, we could argue about the relative safety of any specific drug or drugs regimen in helping a given individual achieve various laudable goals, but the Drug Warrior never likes to talk about specifics like that. They want to vote drugs up or down, as if there ever was a substance that was bad in itself, without regard to dosage, reason for use, etc. So they never consider how important music may be to me, for instance. Hell, they don't care if my very livelihood depends on music. They want to be able to say that drugs X Y and Z are always and forever wrong to use to increase music appreciation (or achieve any other goal, for that matter), without ever adding my own wants and desires into the cost/benefit analysis upon which they base such a verdict. They claim that science is on their side, when science can say nothing about my heartfelt goals and desires in life. It is mere anti-scientific defeatism to say that human beings can never learn to use such substances wisely. But even if this were true, there is one thing worse than addiction for many of us, and that is a life without meaning, a life in which we are not ALLOWED to be all that we can be thanks to the drug-hating Christian Science presuppositions of racist and fearmongering legislators.

Although this essay was inspired by the recent "ketamine-related" death of Matthew Perry, it is neither about ketamine nor about Matthew. It is rather about the hypocritical but "telling" way that a drug-war society reacts to such news stories, namely, by asking stupid questions like, "Why would he use horrible evil drugs in the first place?"

Answer: "It's the self-transcendence, stupid!"

We can recognize that search for self-transcendence as a natural and time-honored goal of the human species and work to facilitate its safe attainment, or we can continue parlaying drug-related deaths like Matthew's into propaganda on behalf of our illogical, racist and hypocritical war on drugs.

Author's Follow-up: December 18, 2023

A few notes about ketamine: its legal status and my personal experience with the drug

The story of Matthew Perry reminds us that legalization in itself is not the answer: the solution for safe use (or rather for safest POSSIBLE use) requires the removal of the profit motive from those who sell this or any other psychoactive drug. In that way, those who provide such medicines will have no incentive to dissimulate about side effects or to pay short shrift to negative scientific reports about the drug. While bringing about this change, we must start "calling out" the Drug Warrior whenever he argues that "one swallow makes a summer": i.e., whenever they say or imply that one single death from ketamine somehow justifies us in denying the drug to anyone, anywhere, ever, at any dose and for any reason whatsoever. This is the absurd "standard of safety" that Drug Warriors set for psychoactive substances, a standard whose puerility has yet to be properly "outed" and lampooned by the many savvy Americans who surely know better but who remain silent out of fear and/or apathy.

But ketamine is only "technically" legal. I add this qualification because legal ketamine is extraordinarily expensive and requires a doctor's prescription -- indeed it is extraordinarily expensive, at least in part, BECAUSE it requires a doctor's prescription.

Take me, for instance,. as a typical chronic depressive (God help us). I used the drug legally for five months two years ago in order to see what the fuss was all about (see notes below) and I am only now beginning to recover financially from the experience. I shelled out $500 for a month's supply: $250 for the required office visit and $250 for the drug. And each new monthly refill required another $250 doctor's appointment and, of course, another $250 for the drug itself. Of course, prices will vary, but the point here is that legal ketamine is prohibitively expensive for almost everyone who might benefit from the drug. As a result, the vast majority of the depressed (and/or those who merely seek self-transcendence) have to either go without the drug or else buy the relatively cheap street version, which of course has its own downsides: namely, uncertainty both as to quality and dosage of the substance thus obtained.

Finally, a few notes about my personal experience with ketamine.

The good news is: the mental "disassociation" provided by ketamine creates a mental dream world for those who, like myself, are pummeled 24/7 by a subconscious soundtrack of negative and counterproductive thoughts -- thoughts of which one is unaware until those voices are silenced by such a drug. All my entrenched or "default" pessimism about my life was given the heave-ho for a blessed moment by the drug, at least during the first few weeks of use. Ketamine also greatly increased my appreciation of music during this time -- so much so that I found it hard, under the direct influence of the drug, to stop listening to music and to get back to my daily grind as a freelance editor, the music was just so powerfully good.

The bad news is that these excellent initial experiences subsided after the first few weeks of use and the initial intensities could only be revived with increased dosage, until after three months, the initial euphorias seemed out of reach at any plausible dose. I also knew from my research that long-term ketamine use had been linked to urinary problems, especially in studies from Hong Kong -- a fact that no provider had shared with me but which I found through an online search. Speaking of which, I also found that a Google search for "ketamine" and "depression" never showed me links to such bad news. This apparently was because all the visibility for such searches had been "bought up" by vendors of the drug, who, of course, have no interest in scaring off potential purchasers with talk about urinary problems. This situation requires a whole article in itself -- nay, a whole book -- to warn the online shopper about the inadequacy of searches when it comes to revealing potential downsides of any treatment -- since those with a moneyed interest in promoting a cure have no interest in scaring you away from the same. So the links you'll find from the purveyors of your treatment of choice are bound to paint the rosiest possible picture of the services that they offer.

I hate to point out any downsides to any drug however, because in the age of the Drug War, such downsides are supposed to count as a knock-down argument in favor of prohibition. That is all nonsense, of course, but one hates to play into the hands of the prohibitionists who will surely say, "See? Even legalization proponents diss ketamine!"

The real take-home message, absent Drug Warrior prejudice, is that we need to be completely honest about all drugs: and that means we need to discuss the POSITIVE aspects of drug use as well as the NEGATIVE aspects of taking meds. But the Drug Warrior does not want honesty. They want to spread a "party line" that drugs only have downsides and that meds only have upsides.

So where does ketamine belong in the pantheon of potentially useful mood and mind medicines?

I'm glad you asked.

The idiotic Drug Warrior answer is: "Ketamine has downsides so it should be illegal." By such logic, there would be no pharmacies and no medicine cabinets: just the great outdoors from which housewives could extract roots -- if their government would allow them to, that is.

No, ketamine belongs in the great psychoactive pharmacopoeia of humankind, but only as one of hundreds (and potentially thousands) of other drugs that could help users transcend self and beat depression, gain spiritual insight, appreciate music, etc. If one day, an individual is particularly depressed and about to sit down at the keyboard for a jam session, they might say: "Let me try ketamine for my inspiration today: haven't tried that in a long time," in the same way as a cook might say, "I'm going to try marjoram today in place of rosemary."

We never think of such informed use because the Drug War teaches us to focus on one drug at a time, and then to focus only on the downsides. If a drug can cause problems in a certain usage pattern, then we are told that it must be wrong to use that under any usage scenario whatsoever. And so if ketamine is harmful when used daily for a year, we are told that it cannot be used safely for one day. It's as if we refuse to use rosemary because we know that consuming four pounds of the herb in one day would kill us.

If Drug Warriors are uncomfortable with the unlimited pharmacopoeia described above (and they surely must be revolted by so much choice and freedom happening without their say-so), they should never have outlawed opium, which was considered the closest thing to a panacea by such old-school doctors as Avicenna, Paracelsus and Galen. According to Ivan Illich, author of "Medical Nemesis," it is one of the few drugs that a society truly needs and it has the benefit of fighting both psychological and physical disorders. The drug has the remarkable quality, in fact, of fighting physical problems through psychology, by bringing metaphorical dreams that, yogi-like, separate the sufferer from their bodily disease and thus give them the power to control how -- and sometimes even if -- it will affect them.

As Jim Hogshire writes in "Opium for the Masses"6:

This feeling of detachment is the most important feature of opiate analgesia. As a deadening agent, opium has almost no effect. If measured purely for its ability to alleviate the sensation of pain, morphine, opium, or any of the others would score no better than aspirin. It is the perception of pain that opium alters, and that makes all the difference in the world.


1 Quass, Brian, America's Puritan Obsession with Sobriety, 2021 (up)
2 Quass, Brian, The Naive Psychology of the Drug War, 2022 (up)
3 Hart, Carl, Drug Use for Grownups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, (up)
4 Quass, Brian, What Carl Hart Missed, 2023 (up)
5 Quass, Brian, How Scientific Materialism Keeps Godsend Medicines from the Depressed, 2022 (up)
6 Hogshire, Jim, Opium for the Masses: Harvesting Nature's Best Pain Medication, (up)

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Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

That's why we damage the brains of the depressed with shock therapy rather than let them use coca or opium. That's why many regions allow folks to kill themselves but not to take drugs that would make them want to live. The Drug War is a perversion of social priorities.
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.
It's interesting that Jamaicans call the police 'Babylon,' given that Babylon denotes a society seeking materialist pleasures. Drug use is about transcending the material world and seeking spiritual states: states that the materialist derides as meaningless.
The DEA rating system is not wrong just because it ranks drugs incorrectly. It's wrong because it ranks drugs at all. All drugs have positive uses. It's absurd to prohibit using them because one demographic might misuse them.
It's funny to hear fans of sacred plants indignantly insisting that their meds are not "drugs." They're right in a way, but actually NO substances are "drugs." Calling substances "drugs" is like referring to striking workers as "scabs." It's biased terminology.
Here are some political terms that are extremely problematic in the age of the drug war: "clean," "junk," "dope," "recreational"... and most of all the word "drugs" itself, which is as biased and loaded as the word "scab."
Drugs that sharpen the mind should be thoroughly investigated for their potential to help dementia victims. Instead, we prefer to demonize these drugs as useless. That's anti-scientific and anti-patient.
Materialists are always trying to outdo each other in describing the insignificance of humankind. Crick at least said we were "a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." Musk downsizes us to one single microbe. He wins!
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.
At best, antidepressants make depression bearable. We need not settle for such drugs, especially when they are notorious for causing dependence. There are many drugs that elate and inspire. It is both cruel and criminal to outlaw them.
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You have been reading an article entitled, Matthew Perry and the Drug War Ghouls published on December 17, 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)