Essay date: November 2, 2019

The REAL Lesson of the Opium Wars

ike almost everyone else in America, John Halpern looks at the opium wars of the 19th century and draws two erroneous conclusions. I discuss and refute those two conclusions below.

1) Opium is a drug from hell.

Why do we think that opium is the drug from hell? Why? Because we never hear from the thousands of human beings who have used opium responsibly and to good effect. How many westerners know that Benjamin Franklin used opium? How many westerners know or care that opium had a great productive influence on writers like De Quincey, Poe and Lovecraft? How many westerners know that opium has been found to cure the common cold by many users?

This is the Drug Warrior strategy, by the way, to never admit to or point out any positive uses of Mother Nature's psychoactive drugs, to constantly highlight the negative, thereby leaving the impression that these substances truly are evil incarnate. If these people focused their polemics on driving, we would come to feel that driving only led to accidents and should therefore be outlawed. Unfortunately, the worst villain in this story is the news media. Cowed as they are by the DEA and public hysteria, they studiously avoid reporting positive news about substance use, thereby giving the impression, through selective negative reporting, that illegal substance use is always substance abuse.

Here's a headline you'll never see: "'Responsible opium use helps me write creatively and prolifically!'"

While it's true that opium can become addictive if used on a daily basis, this is a property of opium that no westerner has a right to complain about. As I type this, 1 in 4 American women are addicted to modern anti-depressants -- 1 in 4. Besides, opium addiction can be "kicked" in a week whereas certain modern anti-depressants like Effexor CAN NEVER BE STOPPED according to a recent study by the NIH itself, which reports a 95% recidivism rate for those who try.

Monticello Betrayed Thomas Jefferson

By demonizing plant medicine, the Drug War overthrew the Natural Law upon which Jefferson founded America -- and brazenly confiscated the Founding Father's poppy plants in 1987, in a symbolic coup against Jeffersonian freedoms.

2) We should therefore make opium illegal.

The lesson of the opium war is not that natural substances should be illegal. Opium itself never injured anyone in the 19th century. It was the PROFIT MOTIVE that made opium a bad thing. It was the PROFIT MOTIVE that flooded the market and brought forward only the most potent productions of the poppy plants. It was the same PROFIT MOTIVE that allows today's Big Pharma to get away scot-free with addicting an entire nation.

But writers like Halpern ignore this. Instead of blaming exploitative capitalism, they make a scapegoat out of the substances themselves. The real lesson of the opium war, however, is that the PROFIT MOTIVE should have no role when it comes to the sale of psychoactive substances, not because the substances are evil incarnate, but because the PROFIT MOTIVE encourages irresponsible and uninformed use of such substances.

Indeed, the whole opioid crisis today exists because of the PROFIT MOTIVE, not because poppy plants are the spawn of the devil, as the superstitious Drug Warrior prefers to believe -- probably because they can't bring themselves to criticize capitalism, and so Mother Nature's plants become convenient scapegoats.


Language counts because it is laden with stealth assumptions. When we say "Opium War," we superstitiously associate the evils of the conflict in question with a plant, turning Mother Nature into a scapegoat for human evil and giving a free pass to the phenomenon of unbridled and militaristic capitalism, which is really the villain of the piece.

The Links Police

Do you know why I pulled you over? That's right, because you look like one of those uptight bougie's who think they're high and mighty because they don't use "drugs." [This copper's opinion is not necessarily that of] Well, guess what? Drugs is just a political term for "psychoactive substances of which pharmacologically clueless politicians disapprove." And since the above essay concerns opium, you should know that Marcus Aurelius and Benjamin Franklin were big fans of the stuff -- and that Thomas Jefferson was a dealer of said godsend. Don't feel so high and mighty now, do you? What? I'm just sayin'. Oh, speaking of which, here are some more essays that touch on the power of that sacred plant -- which, despite Drug War lies, can be used wisely, thank you very much. Hey, listen, baby, facts not fear, and education not incarceration.

Related tweet: June 2, 2023

"Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing toward death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving. It is to concern oneself with something other than life or death." -Jean Cocteau

Using Opium to Fight Depression
The Politically Incorrect Cure for the Common Cold
The REAL Lesson of the Opium Wars

Next essay: Open Letter to Addiction Specialist Gabriel Maté
Previous essay: Running with the DEA -- er, I mean the Devil

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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

  • 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
  • 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
  • Griffiths, William "Psilocybin: A Trip into the World of Magic Mushrooms"2021 William Griffiths
  • Hofmann, Albert "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications"2005 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • 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
  • Mariani, Angelo "Coca and its Therapeutic Application, Third Edition"1896
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
  • 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
  • Site and its contents copyright 2023, by Brian B. Quass, the drug war philosopher at For more information, contact Brian at