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The REAL Lesson of the Opium Wars

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

November 2, 2019

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

More Essays Here

essays about

Drug War Bait and Switch
In Praise of Opium
Re-Legalize Opium Now
10 Idiots who helped spread drug war propaganda on Listverse
Using Opium to Fight Depression
Smart Uses for Opium and Coca
Opium for the Masses by Jim Hogshire
Why doctors should prescribe opium for depression
I've got a bone to pick with Jim Hogshire
In Defense of Opium
The Truth About Opium by William H. Brereton
John Halpern's 'Opium': a pre-review
What Andrew Weil Got Wrong

essays about

Using Opium to Fight Depression
The Politically Incorrect Cure for the Common Cold
In Praise of Opium
In Defense of Opium

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, The REAL Lesson of the Opium Wars published on November 2, 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)