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Open Letter to Addiction Specialist Gabriel Maté

ending the torture-friendly 12-step programs

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

November 6, 2019

ear Dr. Maté.

My name is Ballard Quass and I am the webmaster of

As the name of the site suggests, I am greatly bothered by the outlawing of natural substances in America, and therefore in the world. I think that the government has thereby made plants the scapegoats for societal problems while turning America into a penal colony and creating a whole new movie genre worth of violence, namely the Drug War movie. The result, I believe, is not only ruined lives, but stolen elections, since the Drug War results in tens of thousands of Americans being dropped from the voting rolls on account of felony convictions for drug offenses, thereby ensuring that the conservative Drug Warriors remain in power at election time, simply because their opponents cannot vote.

I am further motivated on this topic because I have spent over 40 years on what turned out to be mind-numbing and addictive LEGAL medicines, going a lifetime without self-actualization, all because my government has decided that I could have no recourse to psychoactive medicines from the rain forest, because, in effect, my government has outlawed the plants and fungi that grow at our very feet. This is why I tell everyone who will listen that the Drug War is not just a war against minorities, but it is a war against patients everywhere - even a war against DEA agents themselves, many of whom will get old someday and find themselves lonely and depressed in a "home for the aged," wanting to die, perhaps - a condition that could so easily have been remedied by the intelligent use of the entheogenic substances that the agent has spent a lifetime confiscating and burning.

With this backstory in mind, I wanted to share my views about the treatment of addiction. I believe I have some common sense ideas that have never been considered, because, in my opinion, modern thinkers on both the left and the right are so in thrall to a myriad of unfounded assumptions of the Drug War.

One of these assumptions is that we should automatically be disdainful of treatments that involve a patient getting "high." Even this terminology itself, "high," is a drug-war pejorative, since it describes what one person may think of as a life-changing religious experience as something tawdry and cheap. In the works of Poe and De Quincey, we find that "highs" can bring about a deep appreciation of nature and the opera respectively, but the Drug Warrior dismisses all that positivity in favor of the metaphysical assumption that "highs" are bad in and of themselves, period, full stop.

But I agree with these authors that "highs" do not have to be seen that way, that certain kinds of "highs" can be put to work in the treatment of addiction, despite our Protestant-inspired conviction that addiction treatment must be a hideous experience from which one learns life lessons.


Consider an alcohol, cocaine, or opium addict who visits a "drug dealer" instead of a psychiatrist to "get off' of their favorite poison. Let's suppose for the sake of argument that this "dealer" is extremely empathic and has access to (and deep knowledge of) every psychoactive plant in the world, as well as the ritual uses which best enhance their therapeutic value. I believe that, in theory, such a shaman-like figure could cure the patient's addiction in a relatively painless way (perhaps even a psychologically insightful way) using a wide variety of what the Drug Warrior would dismiss as "happy pills" or "happy plants," but plants which, viewed rationally, would be seen as nature's godsends, not demons in disguise.

What is the main problem with addiction, after all? It is the fact that the body is crying out for a status quo metabolism, so to speak, screaming bloody murder when a certain substance is suddenly absent from the bloodstream. One obvious but seldom considered response to this metabolic panic is to take a cue from Google and fight bad drugs with more drugs, in the same way that the search engine fights bad speech with more speech. In other words, the therapeutic goal of the shaman would be to drown out and/or override the body's panic signals with a host of positive messages brought about by the clever and strategic use of various psychoactive plant compounds. Such treatment would be continued, at least until the body has made its metabolic peace with the absence of the original addictive substance.

Here is where the Drug Warrior would charge the dealer in question with being a "Doctor Feelgood." But what exactly is wrong with being a Doctor Feelgood? A Doctor Feelgood is bad only to the extent that he or she prescribes treatments that are addictive*. But I am advocating the strategic use of a wide variety of highs (or, less pejoratively, entheogenic states), chosen and administered according to a schedule such that no addiction is created, the point of the highs being to shout down the negative metabolic messages of the withdrawal process, to incentivize the addict to hold firm during that process, and to ideally even learn something about his or herself through the ritual use of the therapeutic plants thus employed.

*Note: addiction is another concept whose meaning and significance has been muddled by Drug Warrior assumptions. No one is in a hurry to remind us that HG Wells and Jules Verne were strategically habituated to coca wine or that Benjamin Franklin was an habitual user of opium, since to acknowledge these facts would violate a central strategy of the Drug Warrior, which is to never say anything positive about banned substances. The Drug Warrior also fails to distinguish between the problems caused by addiction to a given substance and the problems caused by an interruption of the supply of that substance. Finally, the use of the term "addiction" often involves a subjective judgment: thus a Drug Warrior will call a heroin user an addict (even a bounden slave) to the drug, but he or she will describe a daily SSRI user as someone who is simply "taking their meds."

{^According to psychiatrist Julie Holland, one in four American women are addicted to SSRI anti-depressants, many of which are harder to quit than heroin. Why? Because heroin rapidly leaves the system while SSRIs screw up one's brain chemistry for months if not years at a time -- by causing the very chemical imbalances that they purport to fix. (See Robert Whitaker's "Anatomy of an Epidemic" for more.) Yet our most addicted country demonizes non-addictive therapeutic godsends from Mother Nature.}{

Here I possibly part company with your viewpoint, but to be clear, I am not saying that addicts do not have deeper issues. But I do dispute the assumption held by many Americans that the withdrawal process has to be a living hell - one that leads at best to livable lives but only very rarely to self-fulfillment.

The idea that withdrawal has to be hell is, I believe, an unexamined philosophical tenet more than a fact.

It may well be a scientific fact, as well, given current drug law which outlaws all mood-improving medicines - but we should not draw conclusions about what's possible by taking an aberrant legal system as a given. We should state what would work - and then point out the fact (loudly and clearly) that drug law is standing in the way of the proposed solution.

Unfortunately, psychiatrists are not always this honest. I have read many stories of cases in which psychiatrists say they used ECT as a "last resort." But this is misleading, because the psychiatrist is thereby ignoring the fact that thousands of potentially harmless alternatives were outlawed by our government, namely almost every psychoactive plant and fungi in the rain forest. It would therefore be far more honest to say, "I used ECT as a last resort, but it would not have been necessary except for our drug laws." That would be a helpful statement, too, because it would remind the reader of the still unrecognized truth: that the Drug War is anti-patient.

In short, I think the outlawing of ayahuasca cures is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drug-war outrages. The real story is the outlawing of Mother Nature itself, a despotic government power grab which has deprived would-be mind healers of a vast arsenal of natural therapeutic substances, some of which appear to have been custom-made by Mother Nature to bring about the precise sort of fundamental healing that psychiatry has always claimed to have as its ultimate goal.


I think the long-term answer to all these problems lies in the re-legalization of Mother Nature's plants, possibly requiring an amendment stipulating that the government cannot outlaw plants at all, this flora being the birthright of every citizen. (Jefferson and Locke clearly would have said that Natural Law already covered this proscription, but apparently nothing in the world is so obvious that it cannot be denied by racist and power-hungry politicians.)

Folks then ask me, how would I ensure public safety?

First, I'd have to stop laughing in order to answer this question. After all, the Drug Warriors, as mentioned above, have created so much violence by outlawing Mother Nature that they have single-handedly created a whole new movie genre: the drug-war genre, in which DEA agents gleefully subvert the US Constitution in order to stop Americans from using the plants and fungi that grow at their very feet. They have militarized local police forces and created civil wars overseas.

When I succeed in controlling my laughter, I would point out that it is not my responsibility to say how I would ensure public safety. If someone takes away my right to free speech, I am not under the obligation of telling the tyrant how my free speech can be restored without causing problems. My free speech was taken from me unconstitutionally and must be restored NOW.

Likewise, when the government has criminalized plants and fungi - some of which may naturally grow on my very own real estate - I am under no obligation to explain how the natural state of affairs can be restored without problems.

But in the hopes of getting my rights back sooner than later, I will condescend to reassure the tyrant as follows:

First, you might stipulate that natural substances cannot be distributed for profit. This will stop any ridiculous ads from encouraging ill-advised plant consumption.

Second, why not crack down as always - but this time on actual behavior, not on substances. Stop punishing a supposititious "pre-crime" (the mere possession of substances) and start punishing REAL crimes (rape, murder, undue rowdiness, etc.) - whether they were inspired by substance use or not? Indeed, crack down still further for crimes in which drugs were involved, since the offender's actions threaten the rights of reasonable substance users everywhere, in the same way that gun-related violence puts rational gun owners on the defensive about their own gun ownership.

That said, with full legality, users will have the opportunity to correct their drug-related errors - say their accidental addiction to coca consumption - by using more benign and non-addictive psychoactive plants under expert guidance, in such a way as to transcend their unwanted addiction.

Finally, my number one suggestion for curing America of its addictions and drug obsessions:

The psychiatrist of the future must be an empathic shaman with legal access to all the psychoactive substances in the world - rather than a handful of addictive nostrums that have been misleadingly popularized by psychiatrists on the Oprah Winfrey show, psychiatrists and other opinion leaders who were being paid for that endorsement by the pill makers themselves.

Yours Truly,
Ballard Quass

PS Speaking of addiction, there are two kinds that psychiatrists seem to ignore:

1) Effexor (like many modern anti-depressants) causes such chemical dependency that it has a 95% recidivism rate for those who attempt to "kick it," and this is according to the NIH. Yet, perversely, psychiatrists say that this somehow proves that it works! If so, my brain chemicals never got the message. If so, then heroin works too, probably even better.

2) Secondly, no one seems to realize the negative effects of turning a depressed person into a lifelong patient. This is what happens when they are put on SSRIs and SNRIs. After spending 40 years on the receiving end of psychiatry's pill-pushing paradigm, there is nothing that bothers me more than having to visit a doctor every three months of my life and tell him or her how I'm feeling. This has made me a patient for life, which is the exact opposite of "empowering" me as a normal human being. But psychiatry as an institution does not even acknowledge this situation and the way that it damages patient morale (meanwhile driving some of us into the poorhouse as it does so).

APRIL 30, 2022

Drug War ideology is so pervasive and based on so many hidden assumptions and half-truths that it takes constant rigorous philosophical thinking to grasp the totality of the hydra-headed beast. This is why I have long maintained that the Drug War is the great philosophical problem of our time (a problem that is more relevant than ever given the fact that "cuddly" psychoactive drugs like Ecstasy could help end school shootings and avert the nuclear-Armageddon toward which hate-obsessed humanity seems to have been heading ever since it first began using pronouns like "us" and "them"). But with perseverance, I hope that I am making myself, if not perfectly clear on this topic, then at least perfectly clearer as time goes by. With that in mind, I would like to point the interested reader toward my article entitled Heroin and Alcohol. It's more than a year old itself, but I recently appended an editorial comment to it that I hope will clarify my views on the topic of addiction and how Drug War ideology itself bars us from dealing with the problem effectively -- and without glaring hypocrisy, I might add.

The Links Police

Do you know why I pulled you over? That's right, I wanted to give you some links to more essays about addiction and the Drug War. Oh, how about these two Addicted to Addiction and Addicted to Ignorance. Oh, and what was the name of that movie in which wine-swilling Glenn Close manifests all the worst qualities of the brain-addled Drug Warrior? Oh, yes: Glenn Close but no cigar. But far be it from me to micromanage your browsing experience. Just search 'addiction' to find more. (Oh, and just between us, psst! your left rear signal light is out.)

Author's Follow-up: October 14, 2022

My uncle received ECT therapy as a supposed "last resort," but it was nothing of the kind. It was the only legal treatment available because the US had outlawed almost all psychoactive medicines that could have cheered him up. Are we so disdainful of "getting high" that we would prefer to knowingly injure a brain rather than help one achieve such a state? The answer, incredibly, is yes in drug-war America. In fact, we'd rather let children suffer extreme pain rather than give them morphine on their deathbed. And we'd never even THINK of using MDMA to treat "haters" so that the world will not end in nuclear war -- or at least that there will be fewer school shootings.

Addiction Comix

Next essay: Running with the torture loving DEA
Previous essay: The REAL Lesson of the Opium Wars

More Essays Here

Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

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?
We're living in a sci-fi dystopia called "Fahrenheit 452", in which the police burn thought-expanding plants instead of thought-expanding books.
America is insane: it makes liquor officially legal and then outlaws all the drugs that could help prevent and cure alcoholism.
The government causes problems for those who are habituated to certain drugs. Then they claim that these problems are symptoms of an illness. Then folks like Gabriel Mate come forth to find the "hidden pain" in "addicts." It's one big morality play created by drug laws.
The Drug War is based on two HUGE lies: 1) that prohibition has no downsides, & 2) that drug use has no upsides.
This, by the way, is why we can't just "follow the science." The "acceptable risk" for psychoactive drugs can only be decided by the user, based on what they prioritize in life. Science just assumes that all users should want to live forever, self-fulfilled or not.
Many articles in science mags need this disclaimer: "Author has declined to consider the insights gained from drug-induced states on this topic out of fealty to Christian Science orthodoxy." They don't do this because they know readers already assume that drugs will be ignored.
Americans heap hypocritical praise on Walt Whitman. What they don't realize is that many of us could be "Walt Whitman for a Day" with the wise use of psychoactive drugs. To the properly predisposed, morphine gives a DEEP appreciation of Mother Nature.
Besides, why should I listen to the views of a microbe?
That's another problem with "following the science." Science downplays personal testimony as subjective. But psychoactive experiences are all ABOUT subjectivity. With such drugs, users are not widgets susceptible to the one-size-fits-all pills of reductionism.
More Tweets

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Addicted to Ignorance
Addicted to Addiction
America's Invisible Addiction Crisis
Sherlock Holmes versus Gabriel Maté
Why Louis Theroux is Clueless about Addiction and Alcoholism
In the Realm of Hungry Drug Warriors
Modern Addiction Treatment as Puritan Indoctrination
How the Drug War Turns the Withdrawal Process into a Morality Tale
Night of the Addicted Americans
The aesthetic difference between addiction and chemical dependency
Tapering for Jesus
How Addiction Scientists Reckon without the Drug War
How Prohibition Causes Addiction
Four reasons why Addiction is a political term
Some Tough Love for Drug Addicts
My Cure for Addiction
The FDA's Hypocritical Concern about Addiction
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Fighting Drugs with Drugs

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Critique of the Philosophy of Happiness
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Why CBS 19 should stop supporting the Drug War
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Another Cry in the Wilderness
Open Letter to Vincent Hurley, Lecturer
Canadian Drug Warrior, I said Get Away
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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, Open Letter to Addiction Specialist Gabriel Maté: ending the torture-friendly 12-step programs, published on November 6, 2019 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)