Essay date: December 2, 2022

Open Letter to Rick Doblin and Roland Griffiths

the downsides of 'working within the system'

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.

Buy the Drug War Comic Book by Brian Quass, featuring 150 hilarious op-ed pics about America's disgraceful war on Americans


If I want to use the kind of drugs that have inspired entire religions, fight depression, or follow up on the research of William James into altered states, I should not have to live in fear of the DEA crashing down my door and shouting: "GO! GO! GO!"
Next essay: Obama's Unscientific BRAIN Initiative
Previous essay: The Lopsided Focus on the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs

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(seemingly useful organizations)

Sana Collective
Group committed to making psychedelic therapy available to all regardless of income.

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. (For proof of that latter charge, check out how the US and UK have criminalized the substances that William James himself told us to study in order to understand reality.) It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions (like the Vedic), Nazifies the English language (referring to folks who emulate drug-loving Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin as "scumbags") and militarizes police forces nationwide (resulting in gestapo SWAT teams breaking into houses of peaceable Americans and shouting "GO GO GO!").

(Speaking of Nazification, L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates thought that drug users should be shot. What a softie! The real hardliners are the William Bennetts of the world who want drug users to be beheaded instead. That will teach them to use time-honored plant medicine of which politicians disapprove! Mary Baker Eddy must be ecstatic in her drug-free heaven, as she looks down and sees this modern inquisition on behalf of the drug-hating principles that she herself maintained. I bet she never dared hope that her religion would become the viciously enforced religion of America, let alone of the entire freakin' world!)

In short, the drug war 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.

PPS Drugs like opium and psychedelics should come with the following warning: "Outlawing of this product may result in inner-city gunfire, civil wars overseas, and rigged elections in which drug warriors win office by throwing minorities in jail."

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

  • Bandow, Doug "From Fighting The Drug War To Protecting The Right To Use Drugs"2018
  • Barrett, Damon "Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Polices on Young People"2011 IDEBATE Press
  • Bernays, Edward "Propaganda"1928 Public Domain
  • Bilton, Anton "DMT Entity Encounters: Dialogues on the Spirit Molecule"2021 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • 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
  • Burns, Eric "1920: The year that made the decade roar"2015 Pegasus Books
  • Carpenter, Ted Galen "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America"2012 Cato Institute
  • Chesterton, GK "Saint Thomas Acquinas"2014 BookBaby
  • Filan, Kenaz "The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally"2011 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Gianluca, Toro "Drugs of the Dreaming: Oneirogens"2007 Simon and Schuster
  • Griffiths, William "Psilocybin: A Trip into the World of Magic Mushrooms"2021 William Griffiths
  • Grof, Stanislav "The transpersonal vision: the healing potential of nonordinary states of consciousness"1998 Sounds True
  • Head, Simon "Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans"2012 Basic Books
  • Hofmann, Albert "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications"2005 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Illich, Ivan "Medical nemesis : the expropriation of health"1975 Calder & Boyars
  • 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
  • Lindstrom, Martin "Brandwashed: tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy"2011 Crown Business
  • Mariani, Angelo "Coca and its Therapeutic Application, Third Edition"1896
  • Miller, Richard Lawrence "Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State"1966 Bloomsbury Academic
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Nagel, Thomas "Mind and Cosmos: why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false"2012 Oxford University press
  • Newcombe, Russell "Intoxiphobia: discrimination toward people who use drugs"2014
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
  • Rosenblum, Bruce "Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness"2006 Oxford University Press
  • Rudgley, Richard "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances"2014 Macmillan Publishers
  • 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
  • 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
  • Szasz, Thomas "Interview With Thomas Szasz: by Randall C. Wyatt"0
  • 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 "Mad in America"2002 Perseus Publishing
  • Site and its contents copyright 2023, by Brian B. Quass, the drug war philosopher at For more information, contact Brian at