author of 'Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear'
by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher
May 13, 2023
Note: Dr. Carl L. Hart is the author of 'Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear'
Dear Dr. Hart:
I wanted to thank you for your bravery in writing "Drugs for Grown-ups." It is so rare for someone in academia to point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes when it comes to American drug policy. The field of academic research on this topic is so lopsidedly focused on pathological outcomes of drug use (abuse, misuse and addiction) that one can only conclude that most researchers are biased on this topic. They seem to have what biologist Richard Lewontin might have called "a prior commitment," not to materialism in this case but rather to the Drug War ideology of substance demonization, which tells us that "drugs" are so bad that it is actually irresponsible to write truthfully about them, for fear of encouraging "drug use."
This bias goes back well over 100 years, before the effective outlawing of the poppy plant in 1914. When W. Golden Mortimer was writing "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas" at the turn of the previous century, he solicited input from hundreds of academics on the topic. The vast majority of them ignored his query, but of those who did respond, many were indignant that he would dare write such a book. Even back then, the ideal of free scientific inquiry had already taken second place to the instinct for substance demonization (a fact that no doubt helps explain academia's subsequent failure to push back against drug laws that censored science, for the research thus outlawed was already being denigrated and discouraged by the academic mainstream).
I approach this topic as a 64-year-old white male who has been "on" psychiatric medicines for depression ever since he was 19 years old, medicines which eventually proved to cause lifelong dependency, which is expensive, time-consuming and above all, demoralizing, for it turns one into a patient for life. Like the Wedding Guest in Coleridge's poem, one has to sail into Healthcare Harbor every three months of their life to share their life story with strangers who are at least half one's own age, all for the privilege of being allowed to purchase another $300 worth of ineffective drugs - er, I mean "meds," of course.
DOCTOR: Have you ever considered suicide?
PATIENT: Only when I realize that the Drug War has turned me into an eternal patient and outlawed all the medicines that could REALLY help me.
When I first started on these "scientific" meds, I thought that I was doing the right thing. I was letting science solve my problems. This was back in the 1980s when everyone believed (as a kind of religious tenet) that modern antidepressants treated depression by correcting chemical imbalances in the brain. I even thought that the meds were helping. What I failed to realize at the time is that a depressed person is in no condition to evaluate his or her own state of mind. I only realized this one afternoon when I took an illicit pill from a friend - don't know what it was to this day - which opened my eyes wide and made me see the possibilities in life. I instantly saw all the opportunities that I had been missing thanks to my apparently innate gloom. I actually started crying, as if I were mourning for all the time I had wasted in life thanks to a veil of sadness so innate that I did not even realize it existed, except by contrasting that veiled state with the glorious sunshine elicited by this unknown drug.
I've since read books by Julie Holland, Irving Kirsch and Richard Whitaker suggesting that these "scientific" antidepressants may actually cause the chemical imbalances that they purport to fix. That would perhaps account for the many bizarre side effects associated with their sudden discontinuance and the fact that withdrawal takes such a long time. Julie Holland points out that "getting off" such pills may take months, as opposed to one week for heroin or opium. And a psychiatrist once told me that an NIMH study about Effexor (the SNRI that I've been on for the last 25 years) showed that it had a 95% relapse rate for long-term users who had been off the substance for three years. (I made the mistake of then complaining to the healthcare company about this dependency about which I had never been warned, only to find upon my next visit that the psychiatrist in question had been "let go," apparently by way of punishment for his honesty with me. That's what a "hot potato" the subject of drugs has become in the age of the antiscientific Drug War.)
This is why I cannot understand the ongoing support for the modern psychiatric pill mill provided by such otherwise clear thinkers as Rick Doblin and DJ Nutt. One in four American women are dependent upon Big Pharma meds for life (source: Julie Holland). They have to take antidepressants every single morning without exception. Surely, in a sane world this would be considered the biggest chemical dystopia of all times. It's a real-life "Stepford Wives."
And yet this situation is completely off the radar of modern medicine (and even drug law reformers, alas). Why? First because of the evangelizing work of many doctors who have been suborned by pharmaceutical companies to appear on prime-time shows like "Oprah Winfrey" to tell Americans to keep "taking our meds." (Imagine the hypocrisy of crying "take your meds" on the one hand and "just say no" on the other.) Then too we science-obsessed Americans think that the pill mill is logical and rational - it satisfies our materialist and consumerist preferences for a one-size-fits-all cure for what ails us. But patient outcomes tell another story. Even those who claim life improvement on these drugs are completely unaware of what they're missing, having never used a drug that could give them a hint of their full potential in life.
Moreover, no one in their right mind would choose mind-numbing and expensive SSRIs and SNRIs for daily administration in a free world in which every other psychoactive medicine on earth is available for their use and of which they are given honest information. In other words, the pill mill is a creation of the Drug War, pure and simple. It owes its existence to the monopoly that prohibition has given Big Pharma when it comes to mood medicine. Finally, if 1 in 4 American women really do need to take an antidepressant every day in order to cope with American life, there is something wrong with American life, not with women.
One can only champion the use of SSRIs by reckoning without the Drug War. SSRIs are like shock therapy in this regard (for which there are still academic apologists today, alas): neither treatment would make sense in a world in which nature's medicines were legal, available and heavily researched. In fact, I believe it is a crime against humanity to knowingly injure the brains of the depressed with shock therapy merely because we have outlawed all of the drugs that could cheer him or her up. I have personal experience with this latter "treatment," which left my uncle moping and depressed for the rest of his life (but made the caregivers happy, of course, because he was now pliable). Government policy is producing evil in such cases, just as it was during prohibition when it poisoned liquor with methanol, or today during the "opioid crisis," when it is incentivizing the uninformed use of Percocet containing unhealthy amounts of acetaminophen. Speaking of which, what about euthanasia in the age of the Drug War? We will allow doctors to prescribe drugs to kill their patients but we will not let them prescribe drugs that would make their patients want to live! It's hard to imagine a more misplaced set of priorities.
But it's not so much the science of the pill mill that is at fault, but the philosophy. If a pill manufacturer tells me that their pill will cure my depression, then it matters how the manufacturer defines the word "cure." Am I cured of depression if I am a placid and compliant consumer and make do with a second-rate life, or am I cured when I'm living large a la Jack Kerouac and burning bright "like fabulous yellow roman candles"? My psychiatrist will favor the former definition, if only for selfish legal reasons. He is required to put safety first, after all. But safety comes in second place in most people's lives, second, that is, to the goal of achieving self-actualization and thus feeling that one's life is actually worth living. This is why Avicenna, when chided for his regular opium use, was said to have replied: "I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length." So would I. So, I think, would many of us. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of life that the guys who created SSRIs were seeking to facilitate. To put it philosophically, their definition of "the good life" does not coincide with mine.
Again, the problem here is not so much with the "science" as it is with the materialist philosophy upon which that science is based. The materialist cannot imagine a treatment that cannot be confirmed under the microscope. Dr. Robert Glatter represented this view when he wrote a 2019 article for Forbes magazine entitled: "Can Laughing Gas Help People with Treatment-resistant Depression?"
What? Even the Reader's Digest tells us that laughter is the best medicine. But Glatter does not care how a user feels - such data is subjective, after all - he needs good hard facts about dopamine levels and brain chemistry before he'll green light a drug. In this way, he is like Descartes, who ignored the obvious in thinking that animals had no feelings in the human sense of that word. The evidence of a dog's howling and shrieking meant nothing to him: he had to see a reductive proof that pain was "really" being felt. Until then, the beasts could be beaten without remorse. Likewise, my laughing under nitrous oxide means nothing to Glatter, nor my mood-enhancing anticipation of such laughter. Glatter needs reductive proof that the laughing gas is "really" working for me. Until then, I can be denied godsend medicines without remorse. (These issues always remind me of the line by Rimbaud: "Science is too slow for us.")
I want to cry out: "Just restore my right to Mother Nature - and then go on counting your materialist angels on a pinhead!"
I also cringe when I hear someone refer to "drug-resistant depression," because the implication is that we have a cure for depression that works just fine, thank you very much, but that some people's finicky "systems" do not tolerate that cure, just as lactose-intolerant people do not tolerate milk (which is the line that the Dairy Industry uses to blame consumers for the shortcomings of their own product). The fact is, we have no "cure for depression," nor should we seek one. Depression, in some sense, is a part of the human condition. Rather, we need to avail ourselves of the ongoing and intermittent treatments which the materialist have always demonized as "crutches." (Sadly, even Terence McKenna was bamboozled on this issue, as can be seen by his comments in "History Ends in Green," in which he speaks dismissively of drugs like coca and opium, not because of the drugs' methods of action, but because he associates their use with people of whom he disapproves in a moral and/or aesthetic sense.) But handicapped people NEED crutches -- and we're all handicapped in some ways, psychologically and spiritually speaking. I'm talking about the wise and strategic use of the coca leaf, opium, opium derivatives, MDMA, speed - all the drugs that we've been taught that Americans are too childlike to ever use responsibly.
The irony here is that no medicines are more like "crutches," in the derogatory sense of that word, than SSRIs and SNRIs, which help one get by in life by numbing one's reactions to the outside world. At any rate, that's what these drugs do for me, based on my 40 years' worth of experience with using them. While I may no longer experience deep depression when I'm on "my meds," I never experience great joy either. In fact, when I watch a movie scene these days of a young person becoming spontaneously ecstatic over a sudden positive change in fortune, I feel as if I'm watching a different species, for I have been rendered completely unable to have such vehement reactions to anything in life. Now, have antidepressants cured my depression? Maybe so, but only by turning me into a zombie. (Actually, there is one thing that can still rouse my dander, and that is the spouting of any drug-war lie or half-truth, for I know all too well that such comments represent the antiscientific ideology that has forced me to go a whole lifetime now without accessing the time-honored plant medicines that grow at my very feet!)
I will conclude my remarks about Big Pharma antidepressants with this Tweet that I created after reading the last two chapters of your book:
I have half a mind to get addicted to heroin and then apply for a heroin maintenance program in Switzerland, since heroin is a much better treatment for my depression than modern antidepressants.
Here I would like to apologize for writing at such length, but I think one of the problems of the drug debate is that no one explores niceties like these and instead bases their arguments on the repetition of what they consider to be common sense but what is actually Drug War superstition - like the very idea that there are such things as "drugs" in the first place, a word which in practice means "substances which have no good uses for anyone, anywhere, ever, for any reason, at any time." The fact is that there are no such substances in the world. It's superstitious to think so. Even botox and cyanide have positive medical uses. In other words, the Drug War ideology is antiscientific, as should be clear to scientists, considering that they have been discouraged and even prevented from studying certain botanicals for decades now because Americans value prohibition more than they do the freedom of scientific inquiry.
When we demonize "drugs" a priori like this, we outlaw the study of hundreds of psychoactive medicines that have a prima facie potential to be of great use to humanity. Psychedelics have been shown to grow neurons in the brain and as such should be exhaustively studied as a treatment for Alzheimer's and autism. MDMA and related compounds inspire love and as such should be exhaustively studied as a treatment for hotheads who might otherwise shoot up the local grade school. Substances like laughing gas have an obvious potential (if we must use such a meek word) for helping the depressed, and we therefore should be seeking all sorts of safe and creative ways to make these substances available to those in need. Yet researchers who want to follow up such leads will find few funders - not to mention a world of red tape from the DEA, including a list of such stringent "security precautions" that you would think the researchers had proposed to study plutonium rather than mood medicine.
The civilian response to drugs is just as crazy, because for the Drug Warrior, one swallow does indeed make a summer. If one single uneducated person can find a way to abuse these drugs, especially in a well-publicized way on the evening news, then no one in the world should profit from their use, anywhere, ever. Such is the Drug Warrior's absurd belief. It was with this theory in mind that UK pundits were recently calling for the outlawing of laughing gas. Why? Because the drug was being dangerously misused in a couple of inner-city neighborhoods in London. It never occurred to the pundits that the money they propose to spend on policing could go instead to hire a team of educators who could descend on such neighborhoods in well-educated droves and teach safe use to the residents. Instead, their solution is to send SWAT teams to break down doors and traumatize kids and grandmothers - all in order to prevent the use of the substance which inspired the philosophy of William James.
It was William James who wrote the following with regard to psychoactively induced experiences: "No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded." And yet disregard them we must, thanks to the antiscientific war on drugs.
Thanks so much for your time, and thanks for a book full of such long-overdue honesty!
PS I appreciated your reference to the Isley Brothers' song "Harvest for the World," a real favorite of mine. Like your mom, I was a big Soul Train fan in the '70s. I also used to listen to the "Soul Ranger" on WRAP from Norfolk, Virginia (and also WWOC in Portsmouth, "the Music Mother"), a fact which always seemed to nonplus my older sister. I think it's worth noting how the music of that time (sappy pop music aside) had such an optimistic air and spoke of goals that could bring us all together regardless of race: "Love Train," "Wake Up Everybody," "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now," and "We're not stones rolling down a mountainside." I believe that the state of soul music today - aggressive and misogynistic - speaks to the society that Nixon's Drug War has created: one in which guns, power and money rule the day and in which life is cheap, to the point that there are entire no-go zones in inner cities today. For as Ann Heather Thompson wrote in the Atlantic in 2014, "Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist." The fact that there are still such no-go zones in American cities should be on the front page of every newspaper, every single day (just as the Iran Hostage Crisis was on Nightline every single night for over a year) until we've solved the problem (by implementing a sensible and constitutional drug policy) and no more young kids are caught in the crossfire on their way to school or to buy an ice-cream cone. Instead, Drug Warriors pretend that such violence is normal ("It's an inner-city neighborhood after all, full of blacks and Hispanics!") thereby escaping their obvious culpability in bringing that violence about. They are the real killers, those who incentivized all the bloodshed. We need to start holding them responsible.
PPS The Drug War is such a hydra-headed compilation of injustices that I believe every university in America should have a Department of Drug War Studies, to clearly demonstrate the many false presumptions of the Drug Warrior and how those muddled ideas have real-life consequences in marginalizing minorities, denying pain medicine to hospice patients, facilitating destructive American intervention in Latin America, etc. etc. etc. (see Dawn Paley's "Drug War Capitalism"). In fact, I've already created a syllabus for such a university. I hope you will find time to view it.
PPPS I hope you will write many more books on this subject. When you do, I invite you to consider some of the following issues. I am sure you're aware of all these things, and your current book alludes to them indirectly, but I just wanted to share a few of my major concerns about the modern superstitious view of drugs that is being promulgated and perpetuated by prohibition.
1) The way that psychoactive medicines have been responsible for the creation of entire religions - as soma inspired the Vedic-Hindu religion and coca was considered divine by the Inca.
2) How the outlawing of Mother Nature is a violation of the Natural Law upon which Jefferson founded America (which you've already covered in part by pointing out how prohibition denies us the pursuit of happiness). I think it's also worth reminding your readers that Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 to confiscate the founding father's poppy plants -- which reminds me of the dystopian novel "Fahrenheit 451," except that in this case, the government is cracking down on mind-opening plants instead of mind-opening books.
3) The fact that psychoactive drugs inspired the philosophy of William James and that to outlaw such drugs is to outlaw philosophy and human progress.
4) The fact that drugs were used for good reasons in 19th-century England, where laudanum was in the average Brit's medical cabinet and where poets used opium, as author Richard Middleton tells us, "in a series of magnificent quarterly carouses." (Plus the fact that HG Wells and Jules Verne swore by Coca Wine, etc.)
PPPS Sorry, Carl. I thought I was done here, but then I got a DM from Núria Calzada of Cáñamo magazine pointing me to her excellent interview with you from November 2018. In it, you state your preference for the "Three E's" when it comes to choosing a drug for personal use: euphoria, energy and empathy. No arguments here. However, I would add a fourth E to this list: namely, education.
MDMA, for instance, could be used in a music appreciation class to REALLY teach music appreciation. Morphine could be used in a biology class to help students REALLY appreciate the intricacies of Mother Nature (see Poe's story "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains"). And laughing gas, as noted above, could be used to follow up on the philosophical investigations of William James, who held that the use of such substances gives us hints about the nature of ultimate reality (as per the brain "filter" theory put forward in "The Doors of Perception"). I think also that, in a sane society (not to mention a free one), philosophers would be regularly using DMT and trying to figure out what it's telling us with its weird but, in some ways, consistent world of geometric forms and friendly (if somewhat aloof) teddy bears and jelly fish etc., all of whom seem to want to teach the user something. (See the short book "DMT Trip Reports" by Alex Gibbons, which is the only book I know of that is devoted to providing detailed descriptions of the DMT experience -- although the author has, it seems, no philosophical motive in so doing.)
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 Dr. Carl L. Hart: author of 'Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear', published on May 13, 2023 on AbolishTheDEA.com. 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 abolishTheDEA.com. (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)