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Open Letter to Rick Doblin and Roland Griffiths

the downsides of 'working within the system'

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher




December 2, 2022

t the risk of being charged as a heretic in the pro-legalization community, I have to engage in a little push-back against the scientific approach to drug-law reform being championed by Rick Doblin and Roland Griffiths. Of course, I cheer on their efforts to the extent that they succeed in bringing mental godsends to people in need (which is to say almost everybody in the world, whether in fighting depression or truly awakening their minds to the marvels of life), but I think we should stop for a moment and consider the downsides of the system that they are "playing ball with" in order to attain their goals.

First, the scientific method is not the appropriate way to study psychedelics as healing medicine. Sure, science can try to quantify what's going on in the brain of a "user" and identify brain receptors and electrical activity, but it can and should have nothing to say about the meaning and value of such experiences. Those are qualitative issues which science, by its very quantitative nature, is not qualified to assess. As philosophers would say, the scientist deals with the world of res extensa, things that can be measured, and typically denies the very existence of a separate world of thought, res cogitans, to the point that they even chided Roland for including the word "consciousness" in the name of his new center for the study of psychedelics. In other words, the scientist qua scientist looks at the epiphanies spawned by psychedelics and says, "Nothing to see here. It's all just the result of matter combining in various ways without any regard for the hopes and dreams of carbon-based computers like ourselves."

But that does not stop scientists from trying to snag qualitative data from study participants, while doing their best to shield the participants from the supposedly prejudicial influence of their environment. The usual scientific approach in this regard is to perform double-blind and even triple-blind experiments in the hope of receiving "unbiased" feedback from their psychedelic trial participants. In other words, the standard MO is to keep the test subject in the dark -- or even mislead them -- about the nature of the substance that they are about to ingest. But as Alexander Shulgin points out, such experiments are borderline immoral when the drug being tested is a psychedelic, a drug whose positive experiences are generally imparted only to those who approach those experiences with the right set of expectations. When we lie to such clients, or even just "keep them in the dark" about the nature of the substance that they are to receive, then we put them at risk of a bad trip -- yes, even in cases where we give them nothing but a placebo! In other words, when it comes to psychedelics, the scientific method has met its match. Psychedelics, by the subjective nature of their effects, starkly confront us with the unacknowledged limits of the scientific approach to life, which Americans naively believe can deal with any topic under the sun.

(Incidentally, I'm always surprised when I hear researchers breezily talking about how they lie to research study participants in order to avoid giving them "expectations." Even if we find those lies useful, they have surely reached their sell-by date now, since every decently educated drug study participant knows that it is, and has long been, common practice for researchers to lie to the participants of psychologically oriented research studies. So when modern studies employ such mendacity, the question needs to be asked in the nature of a game theory inquiry: how many study participants were expecting the researchers to lie to them and so discounted the pre-study information that they were given?)

Here's another problem with the scientific approach to drug research: it never puts the downsides of psychoactive substances in a proper context.

The scientific environment in which these guys work is astonishingly anti-use, as if drug evaluation guidelines had been written by Mary Baker Eddy herself. The algorithm for approving a psychoactive drug seems to be as follows: If the substance could (even theoretically) cause problems for a few uneducated white teenagers, then it must not be used anywhere, ever, for anybody. Thus millions -- perhaps billions -- of people go without godsend medicine. Yet Roland, by his silence on this topic, seems to think that this is a just and reasonable way to proceed. We want to be cautious after all. But it's that ENORMOUS caution that has kept me for a lifetime now from leaning down and using the plant medicine that grows at my feet.

It's as if the researchers think they can save EVERYBODY by keeping a substance illegal, whereas all they are really doing is shifting the downsides of their drug disapproval decisions to the quietest, least empowered communities, like the chronically depressed for instance, who are no political threat, as they generally sit at home leading what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation." No politician is going to raise hell if the well-being of this taciturn demographic is not taken into consideration by drug researchers.

What will it take for scientists to wake up to the fact that the drug-approval process is incredibly anti-statistical? Why are the interests of juvenile delinquents always put ahead of the millions of needy depressed like myself? What we need is a new March on Washington, in which the depressed and those suffering pain demand their rights and demand to be considered as full stakeholders in the drug approval game, rather than as a group that can be safely thrown under the bus so that scientists can cater to the prejudices of the loudest-shouting Drug Warrior demagogue in Washington, DC.

To further illustrate the contextual blindness of modern drug researchers, consider the following questions that never occur to such researchers:

1) How many suicides could be prevented if we legalize this psychoactive medicine?
2) How many topers might give up alcohol if we legalize this psychoactive medicine?
3) How many lives will grind to a slow depressive halt if we do NOT legalize this psychoactive medicine?
4) How many inner-city youth will be killed by gun violence caused by prohibition if we do NOT legalize this psychoactive medicine?
5) How many users will die or be harmed by tainted product if we do NOT legalize this psychoactive medicine?
6) How many will use this substance unwisely if we do not legalize, normalize and fund research on this psychoactive medicine?
7) Should use of this psychoactive medicine lead to habituation, would that be any worse than the lifetime habituation that occurs for 1 in 4 American women on Big Pharma meds?

This is just another way of saying to safety-obsessed drug researchers: you can't save everybody!

I'm not saying to ignore safety concerns, merely to place them in some context. Roland, for instance, cites some anecdotal studies that some MDMA users have long-term problems that they attribute to the drug, although he admits that these rare cases seem to involve unusually heavy use and that the MDMA may have been mixed with other drugs (not to mention the fact that purity of the drug is always rendered in doubt thanks to substance prohibition). But this is a concern that merits a warning label and public education, surely, not an across-the-board ban on a time-honored empathogen that could be used therapeutically to end school shootings and to dissuade world leaders from green-lighting the use of nuclear weapons! (Ketamine treatment should come with a warning about potential urinary problems, but because science today is politicized, such well-documented potential downsides are hushed up with impunity by Ketamine providers. So much for America's supposedly "scientific" process of drug approval.)

Yet another related problem with the scientific method: its number-one consideration (at least as a matter of official policy) is user safety. But the number-one consideration of drug users is self-actualization and self-transcendence, with safety coming in second. My personal goal in life, for instance, is to know myself and the world I live in, and psychoactive drugs help me when they show me that there is so much more to reality than the world as perceived by my socially trained five senses. I would far prefer to live a full drug-empowered life for 60 years than a dull drug-free life for 80. Like the opium-loving physician Avicenna, 'I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length.' So when scientists tell me of a drug's danger, as if that's the last and final word on the subject, I say, "Thanks, but now let me make up my mind for myself whether to use it or not," because the decision to use is always a personal one, based on one's own philosophy of what constitutes the good life -- and science, for all its powers, is not able to tell me what sort of life I should lead. Science values longevity and safety in the abstract. Fine. But for me, self-actualization comes first.

But to repeat, more power to these guys if they can make headway against this "scientific" system for drug approval. That said, Rick has been busting his proverbial for 30 years now and the legalization date for MDMA just keeps getting pushed back further and further by the bureaucratic system that he's partnered with. If Trump "comes to power" again, all bets are off on the turnaround time on the long-overdue approval this one solitary and much-maligned substance.

To be honest, I'm hoping that such frustratingly incremental efforts ("incremental" being a generous word here) will eventually be rendered moot by the initiatives of states like Colorado and Oregon, where substance legalization continues apace and where the therapeutic value of at least some psychoactive meds is now acknowledged. The time is ripe, at least in such enlightened outposts, for the creation of a replacement for pill-mill psychiatry, whereby the depressed will no longer be looked upon as replaceable widgets amenable to one-size-fits-all cures that enrich the 1%. In this new paradigm, the very concept of a psychiatric "patient" will disappear, as the depressed and the carefree visit the same psychologically savvy empath to learn about themselves and the world around them through a new kind of drug-assisted therapy, whose goal is neither to turn them into good consumers nor flower children, but simply to help them live the "good life" according to their own definition of that term.




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Previous essay: The Lopsided Focus on the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs

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You have been reading an article entitled, Open Letter to Rick Doblin and Roland Griffiths: the downsides of 'working within the system', published on December 2, 2022 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)