Essay date: October 29, 2022

My Conversation with Michael Pollan

about the war on drugs

few years ago, I got in touch with Michael Pollan's publicist, briefly explaining my concerns about the author's lukewarm stance on drug legalization. I pointed out that I was a lifelong victim of the Drug War, which had turned me into an eternal patient by outlawing godsend plant medicine while rendering me chemically dependent upon Big Pharma "meds" for life. I went on to explain how this dependency had lowered my morale and turned me into a ward of the healthcare state, how it had obliged me to make expensive trimonthly visits to see a complete stranger who was 1/3 my age, all in order to receive yet another prescription for expensive and mind-numbing pills, after first, of course, answering a series of humiliating and invasive questions. (On a scale of 1 to 10, how was I feeling today? Had I contemplated suicide over the last 3 months? ANSWER: Only when I thought about how the Drug War had turned me into an eternal patient.) I ended the strategically short letter by politely asking if I might have the honor of contacting Michael to elaborate my views on these topics.

To my great surprise, the gatekeeper responded promptly, telling me that she had passed my email along to Michael and that he would contact me shortly. Finally, I thought. After years of having my views ignored by psychiatrists, professors, authors, publishers and academics in general, I could get my message out to a real mover-and-shaker, someone who could help popularize at least some of my unique insights about the endless downsides of prohibition.

The good news is that Michael did contact me shortly as promised. Moreover he then generously agreed to read my extensive thoughts on this topic, which ended up taking up as many as 50 pages. This, of course, is far more than I could reasonably ask of any author, let alone a superstar, and the fact that he obliged me so generously speaks volumes about his humanity and open-mindedness.

I preface thus much lest the following criticisms be misconstrued as an attack upon Michael himself rather than on the viewpoints that I attribute to him.

For now we come to the apparent bad news: After spending several months writing my lengthy tract that I hoped would expose the folly of the Drug War, containing 40,000 words that I listened to on my headset as I walked around a nearby lake, determined to hone my message to the point where the truths it posited would strike the reader as inevitable, I received a response.

I hovered my mouse over the Gmail link, expecting to encounter a lively discussion of the topics that I had broached, some of which I was sure had never been mentioned before by anyone on planet Earth.

Then I clicked -- and my heart sank.

I had not yet read a single word, and yet my hopes had already died, for Michael's response to my 40,000 words consisted of one short paragraph. Either my ideas had completely flummoxed him, leaving him literally speechless, or else he had found literally no points in my screed that he thought even merited rebuttal.

I finally brought myself to read the unexpectedly terse response. Basically, Michael assured me that he had read my paper in its entirety and that he would think about the points that it contained.

"That's that," I thought, and I began moping around, trying to think of my next "big idea" for promulgating insights that the world seemed so determined to ignore. I wouldn't mind so much if the world disagreed with my ideas: but no one ever does. They simply ignore them instead, leaving me to ask myself: "Wherein do I offend?"

Of course, I can't really blame Michael for playing his cards close to his chest. Suppose he told me that I had raised some great points -- like the fact that the Drug War censors scientists or that it renders shock therapy necessary because the government outlaws plants like coca that could cheer people up? I might start telling everyone that Michael Pollan endorses my concerns about the Drug War, and then his brand might be compromised. For an author who targets a mainstream audience cannot afford to get too far out in front of public opinion. That's the one benefit of being a nobody like myself: I can pluck the last nerve of anyone on earth and my bank account will not suffer for it.

I am not suggesting here that Michael was being disingenuous, merely that I could understand it if he were. Besides, it's common sense to avoid offending one's paying audience unnecessarily. Almost any author could ruin themselves financially by being completely honest with their audience about every hot-button issue under the sun.

But now we come to my issue with Michael:

He is a botanist, and I believe that all botanists should be against the very idea of outlawing Mother Nature's bounty. That should be common sense and a first principle of botanical study. For once we grant the idea that Mother Nature's bounty has to be "safe" in order to be accessed by human beings, we turn over the reins of botany and science in general to politicians. That is not just an assault upon the freedom of science, but it is an assault upon the natural law upon which Jefferson founded America, for according to John Locke himself, we have a right to the use of the land "and all that lies therein."

Instead of protesting the Drug War on these most basic of American principles, Michael plays right into the hands of these Drug Warriors by fretting that, indeed, psychedelic mushrooms could cause bad trips and so therefore should be legalized slowly, if ever (which is tragic news to folks like myself, who have already waited an entire lifetime now for the "privilege" of being able to use the medicines that grow at their very feet).

But even if we grant the disturbing notion that Natural Law is henceforth invalid in America (and therefore, as a practical matter, around the entire world!), Michael fails to realize that there are far more stakeholders than uneducated youth when it comes to the prohibition of desired substances. There are the blacks who die in inner cities thanks to the guns and violence that naturally follow prohibition. There are the children who are orphaned by drug-war violence in nations where our prohibition has caused civil wars. There are the hundreds of thousands who have died in Latin America over the last 20+ years due to violence that was a natural result of outlawing a plant medicine that the Incas considered to be divine. There are the children in hospice who suffer unnecessary pain because doctors deny them morphine thanks to the Drug War ideology of substance demonization. There are the scientists whose research into cures for depression and Alzheimer's, etc., are censored by a government that prohibits them from freely studying almost all naturally occurring psychoactive medicines. Then there are the millions of depressed 'patients' like myself who are turned into wards of the healthcare state because the Drug War has denied them access to the medicines that grow at their very feet.

So why does Michael have this lopsided concern for our hapless youth, particularly as the problem he cites could be resolved through education rather than incarceration?

It's because Drug Warriors never talk about education. Drug warriors are generally fiscal conservatives and the only thing they're willing to spend money on are prisons, law enforcement, and the military. The thought of turning the DEA into the Drug EDUCATION Agency would never occur to them. Indeed, the original charter of the Office of National Drug Control Policy promoted user ignorance by forbidding its members from even mentioning any positive or safe uses of the drugs that had been outlawed by demagogue politicians.

So even when we grant the validity of Michael's concern, we find that it is the Drug War itself which promotes the ignorance that causes the problem in question.

But then that is the classic M.O. of all Drug Warriors: They point to problems that are created by the Drug War itself and then blame them on "drugs." And so Obama's drug advisor Kevin Sabet continues to decry the increasing use of cannabis today, failing to realize that the Drug War itself has made marijuana popular by outlawing all its psychoactive competition -- like the coca leaf, for instance, which the long-lived Peruvians have chewed for millennia to promote physical endurance and social harmony, just as Americans drink coffee to promote mental clarity and ambition.

I was hoping to share these concerns of mine directly with Michael himself via email, but the gatekeeper is silent to my entreaties this time around, which is understandable, of course. Miracles do not generally happen twice.

So I've posted this essay instead, in the hopes that the author of "How to Change Your Mind" will one day read it and decide to change HIS mind about the Drug War, by proclaiming what I believe that he as an American botanist has a duty to proclaim: namely, that government never had the right to outlaw naturally occurring medicines in the first place.

Because once you grant legislators an exception to Natural Law when it comes to criminalizing Mother Nature, all manner of politicized evil follows: as has been clearly demonstrated over the last 50+ years by the crowding of American prisons, the creation of civil wars overseas, and the establishment of a psychiatric pill mill which has turned me into a patient for life.

Next essay: Why Kevin Sabet's approach to drugs is racist, anti-scientific and counterproductive
Previous essay: Why I Am Pro Drugs

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...end the war on drugs. Shop today. And tomorrow.

Monticello Betrayed Thomas Jefferson

In 1987, the Monticello Foundation invited the DEA onto the property to confiscate Thomas Jeffersons poppy plants, in violation of the Natural Law upon which the gardening fan had founded America

The Drug War Censors Science - Bumper Sticker

Drive the point home that the Drug War censors scientists -- by outlawing and otherwise discouraging research into the kinds of drugs that have inspired entire religions.

Protest The Dea Bumper Sticker

Millions have needlessly suffered over the last 50 years because the DEA has lied about psychedelics, claiming that they are addictive and have no therapeutic value. Stop the lies, start the research.

Reincarnation is for Has-Beens

In a former life, I bought this bumper sticker myself. My friends got quite a kick out of it, as I recall!
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).

Nature Abhors a Vacuum - drink tile

Actually, Nature likes several of the latest Dyson models, but those are really the exception to the rule.

I Brake for Honeybees

Do your part to fight Colony Collapse Disorder: Show the honey bees your true feelings with this unBEElievable bumper sticker

Thinking of You

Face it, even your friends sometimes tick you off: Show them your true feelings with this novelty gift card -- and don't worry, the inside text reads: PSYCH! Just kidding.

What Would Socrates Do - bumper sticker

What would Socrates do if he drove a BMW? He'd sell it at once to show he wasn't tempted by luxury -- but he'd keep the kewl bumper sticker designed by that came with it.


old time radio playing Drug War comedy sketches

You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at 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.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

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)

Selected Bibliography

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  • Bilton, Anton "DMT Entity Encounters: Dialogues on the Spirit Molecule"2021 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
    • Blum, Richard "Society and Drugs" 1970 Jossey-Bass
  • Boullosa , Carmen "A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the 'Mexican Drug War'"2016 OR Books
  • Brereton, William "The Truth about Opium / Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade"2017 Anna Ruggieri
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  • Carpenter, Ted Galen "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America"2012 Cato Institute
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    • Fadiman, James "The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys " 2011 Park Street Press
  • Filan, Kenaz "The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally"2011 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
    • Fleming, Thomas "A Disease in the Public Mind: Why We Fought the Civil War" 2014 Da Capo Press
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    • Holland, Julie "Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics" 2020 HarperWave
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  • Irwin-Rogers, Keir "Illicit Drug Markets, Consumer Capitalism and the Rise of Social Media: A Toxic Trap for Young People"2019
  • James, William "The Varieties of Religious Experience"1902 Philosophical Library
    • Jenkins, Philip "Synthetic Panics: The Symbolic Politics of Designer Drugs" 1999 New York University Press
    • Johnson, Paul "The Birth of the Modern" 1991 Harper Collins
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    • Lovecraft, HP "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" 1970 Del Rey Books
  • Mariani, Angelo "Coca and its Therapeutic Application, Third Edition"1896
    • Mate, Gabriel "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction" 2009 Vintage Canada
    • Maupassant, Guy de "Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques - Guy de Maupassant: Les classiques du fantastique " 2019
    • McKenna, Terence "Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution " 1992 Bantam
  • Miller, Richard Lawrence "Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State"1966 Bloomsbury Academic
    • Miller, Richard Louis "Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca Kindle " 2017 Park Street Press
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Newcombe, Russell "Intoxiphobia: discrimination toward people who use drugs"2014
    • Noe, Alvin "Out of our Heads" 2010 HiII&Wang,
    • Paley, Dawn "Drug War Capitalism" 2014 AK Press
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
    • Pinchbeck, Daniel "When Plants Dream" 2019 Watkins Publishing
    • Poe, Edgar Allan "The Essential Poe" 2020 Warbler Classics
    • Pollan, Michael "How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence " 2018 Penguin Books
    • Reynolds, David S. "Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville " 1988 Oxford University Press
    • Richards, William "Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences Hardcover" 2015 Columbia University Press
    • Rosenfeld, Harvey "Diary of a Dirty Little War: The Spanish-American War of 1898 " 2000 Praeger
  • Rudgley, Richard "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances"2014 Macmillan Publishers
    • Russell, Kirk "Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered" 1967 Arlington House
    • Schlosser, Erich "Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety" 2014 Penguin
    • Sewell, Kenneth Clint Richmond "Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S. " 2006 Pocket Star
    • Shirer, William "The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler" 2011 RosettaBooks
  • Shulgin, Alexander "PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story"1991 Transform Press
  • Shulgin, Alexander "The Nature of Drugs Vol. 1: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact"2021 Transform Press
    • Slater, Lauren "Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds" 2019 Boston
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief"0
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology"2022
  • St John, Graham "Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT"2021
    • Straussman, Rick "DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences " 2001 Park Street Press
    • Streatfield, Dominic "Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography" 2003 Picador USA
    • Swartzwelder, Scott "Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy" 1998 W.W. Norton
    • Szasz, Thomas "Ceremonial Chemistry: the ritual persecution of drugs, addicts, and pushers" 1974 Anchor Press/Doubleday
  • Szasz, Thomas "Interview With Thomas Szasz: by Randall C. Wyatt"0
    • Szasz, Thomas "Our Right to Drugs: The case for a free market" 1992 Praeger
    • Tyler, George R. "Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System" 2016 Pegasus Books
    • Watts, Alan "The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness" 1965 Vintage
  • Wedel, Janine "Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom and Politics and Created an Outsider Class"2014 Pegasus Books
  • Weil, Andrew "From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs"2004 Open Road Integrated Media
    • Whitaker, Robert "Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America " 2010 Crown
    • Zinn, Howard "A People's History of the United States: 1492 - present" 2009
    • Zuboff , Shoshana "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power" 2019 Public Affairs
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