ichael Pollan is a great writer when it comes to giving the world an inkling of the power of psychoactive medicines to 'change minds' for the better, and yet he is holding his punches when it comes to combating the Drug War. Indeed, his book about changing minds strikes a very cautious tone about reforming laws that he himself was violating as part of his own research into the subject of psychedelics. After expressing a hope that psychedelics will "someday" become more available, he goes on to worry about the potential for "bad trips" for American young people. That is one reasonable concern, of course, but like everyone else these days (the media, politicians, and academia) he considers this the one and only concern, thereby paying incredibly short shrift to the needs and desires of the millions - indeed billions - who are going without godsend cures even as we speak, folks who will never be featured in dramatic press accounts because rare but spectacular cases of drug misuse are far more newsworthy these days than the silent psychological suffering of millions. Why is a hypothetical threat to the well-being of a relatively small handful of poorly educated white American youths so much more worrisome to Michael than the silent suffering of hundreds of millions of people experiencing severe anxiety and depression?
Moreover, it's not clear why Michael thinks that the status quo is going to help things when the MO of the Drug War is not to educate people about safe use, but rather to keep users in ignorance of the psychoactive drugs that they use. The Office of National Drug Control Policy actually was founded on a charter that forbids it from considering beneficial uses of the substances that politicians have pejoratively designated as "drugs." It is therefore a propaganda arm of the US government, not a health and safety arm. (Likewise in England, where Psychiatrist DJ Nutt was fired for daring to say that some criminalized plant medicines were safer than Big Pharma meds when it came to treating psychological conditions. He wasn't fired for lying: he was fired for failing to toe the drug-war party line according to which substances that we label "drugs" have no good uses, for anyone, ever, at any time. Of course, in reality, there are no such substances on planet earth. Even the deadly Botox toxin can be used wisely for the benefit of humankind.)
I'm writing this as a chronically depressed 64-year-old American who has been denied godsend plant medicine his entire life thanks to the fearmongering of Drug Warriors, thanks to which I was shunted off onto Big Pharma meds four decades ago and have been chemically dependent on those ineffective but mind-numbing medicines ever since, including a ten-year stint when I struggled to "get off" of the Valium that I was prescribed. I've yet to find a Drug Warrior who finds my own fate to be problematic; they're too busy worrying about potential downsides for American kids who might be given free access to Mother Nature, completely ignoring every other consideration on earth, including the fact that Drug War ideology has spawned civil wars overseas and so demonized drugs like morphine that some hospices will allow children to suffer rather than to prescribe that drug for them on their death beds.
How long are folks like myself to continue waiting for pharmacologically clueless politicians to green-light the use of plant medicine, which many of us feel they had no right to outlaw in the first place, that being an obvious contravention of natural law, which, according to Locke himself, gives us a right to the use of the earth "and all that lies therein"? Michael says, "Not so fast," when it comes to legalization, but some of us have already waited a full lifetime while America tries to wrap its mind around the fact that drugs which have inspired entire religions might actually have some beneficial uses after all. In fact, the outlawing of such drugs is a violation of religious freedom because it criminalizes the very fountainhead of the religious impulse, as soma inspired the Vedic-Hindu religion, mushrooms inspired Mayan worship, and coca leaf was divine in the life of the Inca.
My answer to Michael is, we never had a right to outlaw the bounty of Mother Nature in the first place, ask the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, which was rolling in its grave when the DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the Founding Father's poppy plants, in a scene right out of a Ray Bradbury story, the government confiscating plants instead of burning books. So if we're worried about "bad trips," then the answer must be education, not criminalization. But even if Michael disagrees with that conclusion, surely the disastrous downsides of the Drug War should make that modern witch hunt an enemy of all rational thinkers, for substance prohibition has incentivized a drug trade which has armed inner cities to the teeth, killing blacks by the thousands each year, including 797 in Chicago in 2021. It has arrested and disfranchised millions of blacks, thereby leading to the election of drug-war zealots like Donald Trump, who now want to execute the blacks that the Drug Warrior was formerly happy merely to incarcerate.
The Drug War has censored scientists and resulted in a "mind medicine" monopoly for Big Pharma that has led to the creation of a psychiatric pill mill upon which 1 in 4 American women are now chemically dependent for life. It has Nazified our language, turning fellow Americans into "scumbags" and encouraging us to cheer on the DEA agent in movies where she shoots an unarmed "drug dealer" at point-blank range, all because he was selling a plant medicine that the Peruvian Indians have used for millennia to successfully combat the sorts of psychological problems that drug-war academia still considers to be insoluble. Why? Because American researchers self-censor themselves, refusing (like the ONDCP itself) to even consider the positive use of the substances that we have demonized and criminalized for political reasons. They know that they could meet the same fate as Dr. DJ Nutt if they dare to point out that, say, the Peruvian Indians might have been "onto something" when it comes to their time-honored chewing of the coca leaf to increase endurance and spiritual harmony.
Michael seems at least to sense that the Drug War is problematic. He speaks favorably of the new movement to "decriminalize Mother Nature." But he fails to realize that the drug-war is wrong root and branch, for it teaches us to fear and demonize substances rather than to understand them. Most Americans, for instance, make no distinction between using cocaine and chewing the coca leaf, and yet these are two different drugs. Yes, the coca leaf contains the cocaine alkaloid, but to demonize it on that account is like demonizing peaches because they contain prussic acid. We need to teach honestly about all psychoactive substances, their upsides and downsides, both objective and subjective, rather than giving some drugs (like alcohol and anti-depressants) a huge Mulligan when it comes to criticism, meanwhile lambasting super-safe drugs like Ecstasy for merely being connected to a mere handful of deaths -- deaths which were caused by the Drug War itself, which discouraged honest talk and research about drugs and so thwarted the creation of safe-use guidelines that would have protected the victims in question.
In conclusion, I just watched a 2019 documentary entitled "Fantastic Fungi," featuring enlightened-sounding insights by Michael Pollan, but chiefly hosted by mycologist superstar Paul Stamets. The entrepreneurial Ohioan related how he cured his chronic childhood stuttering problem in one afternoon after ingesting what he has subsequently learned was an unusually large dose of the shrooms. i repeat: He cured his chronic childhood stuttering problem in one afternoon. How? Because the shroom experience somehow helped him to step outside his problems and to see them as the impediments to his life that they were. Inspired by this insight, he was then able to rise above the knee-jerk tendency to stutter and to tell himself authoritatively: "You will stop stuttering!" And it worked.
I did not stutter as a teenager, but I had my own issues for which the externalization of the self that Paul experienced could have worked wonders for me as a kid, absolute wonders, giving me insights that it has instead taken me a lifetime of painful missteps to obtain. Such an experience could have changed my entire life for the better and saved me from a lifetime addiction to Big Pharma meds, thanks to which I have become a ward of the healthcare state, with all of the expensive and demoralizing downsides which that entails. Every three months of my life, I have to visit a stranger who is one-third my age and tell her my innermost feelings in order to get approval to receive another 3-month supply of expensive brain-numbing "meds," for the DEA so demonizes psychoactive medicines (even legal ones) that they still don't trust me to use even Big Pharma wisely after 40 long years! You would think that "drugs" were fissionable material, not medicines.
That's why I am bothered when authorities like Michael Pollan tell me that I still have to wait for the privilege of accessing the medicines that grow at my very feet. Enough waiting. The government has already succeeded in denying me the godsends I needed for an entire lifetime. Let's spare the youths of the future and start educating them how to use psychoactive substances safely, rather than lying to them by suggesting, as per Drug War ideology, that the safe and beneficial use of demonized substances is impossible.
Author's Follow-up: September 29, 2022
Three more points:
1) If America cannot live with the fact that the world is full of psychoactive medicines from Mother Nature, then there is something wrong with America, not with psychoactive medicines, demonize them as we will with the pejorative term "drugs."
2) Even if we believe that the Drug War makes sense for America (which I find an horrendous conclusion, especially for a botanist to endorse), can we possibly be humble enough to allow other countries to disagree? Does Mother Nature worldwide have to be off-limits because botanically clueless politicians in America have decided to demonize her rather than benefit from her? Does the entire world really have to profess the religion of Christian Science with respect to psychoactive medicines?
3) Do Drug Warriors realize they are outlawing our only chance of avoiding nuclear annihilation by outlawing precisely those substances that could help human beings live peaceably with one another?
Author's Follow-up: April 30, 2023
Prohibitionists are at it again today, pretending that "one swallow makes a summer." Today they're bashing MAPS on Twitter, talking about a few supposedly negative outcomes of psychedelic research. They are only comfortable in a world wherein we take one-size-fits-all medicines that promise one specific thing that they provide without our help. The fact that a "user" should have the correct attitudes is anathema to them. "What?" they cry. "Surely, the drug itself should do all the heavy lifting."
We've got to work to discredit this childish mindset, which I'm sad to say that Pollan himself holds (see page 405 of "How to Change Your Mind"): that the only stakeholders in the re-legalization game are our poor little American white children. No, no, no! Here are just a few of the other stakeholders: scientists who will be censored by prohibition, denizens of Planet Earth who will lose their natural right to the flora that grows around them, philosophers who will be prevented from following up the ontological hints that William James received from substance use, the millions of depressed who will go without godsend medicines, the people of Mexico who have been killed, relocated, maimed, and rendered homeless thanks to the fact that prohibition has destroyed the rule of law in Central America.
I hate to beat up on Michael Pollan, but I still cannot understand how any botanist could agree with the unprecedented viewpoint of the Drug War that we should be outlawing mother nature in the first place. If anybody should be outraged by such governmental overreach, it should be botanists -- especially since the prohibitionists spread the patently anti-scientific lie that the plants and fungi thus outlawed have no positives uses for anybody, anywhere, ever. That's not true of any substance. And even if it were, so what? Nature is under no obligation to pass muster with the FDA. Besides, a child could tell you that criminalizing nature is madness. That's no doubt why we indoctrinate them as early as possible in the drug-hating ideology of Christian Science, so that they learn to fear "bad evil drugs" instead of understanding them.
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).
You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. 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.
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)
Andrew, Christopher "The Secret World: A History of Intelligence" 2019 Yale University Press
Aurelius, Marcus "Meditations" 2021 East India Publishing Company