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Prohibition Spectrum Disorder

an open letter to Twitter follower Frank Smith

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

September 9, 2023

seldom try to refute critics in long-form because they're usually so wrongheaded that I feel a single reply tweet of mine can demolish their feeble pretentions to truth, at least when the subject is drug prohibition and its endless downsides. But occasionally I get some pushback that calls for a little more effort on my part.

Take Frank S., for instance. I maintain that "addiction" is a problematic and political diagnosis because it ignores the fact that prohibition helps cause addiction. But Frank S. demurs. He tells me that we often make diagnoses without regard for one's personal life, their lack of education, lack of food, etc. So why should we not label a problem user as an "addict" without regard for the existence of a Drug War?

My answer is as follows:

The fact that we fail to highlight things such as poor diet and poor education in our diagnoses should be seen as a shortcoming of the whole categorization system of the west, rather than an excuse to add drug prohibition to the list of causes that we already ignore. If huge problems are being caused, say, by poor diet, it would be misleading to diagnose the starving with all sorts of maladies attendant upon malnutrition -- depression, fatigue, and so forth - without simultaneously stressing the outsize role that malnutrition played in causing those subsequent disorders. If we simply label all victims of a lack of food as depressed and anxious, etc. - however true those diagnoses may be "in and of themselves" -- we are helping to divert attention from tragically bad social policies. This is the whole thesis of Ivan Illich's book "Medical Nemesis," in which he shows how medical diagnoses help to justify and normalize bad social policies and, indeed, the failures of the capitalist system as a whole.

But diagnosing someone as an "addict" without referencing prohibition is especially problematic. This is so because "addict" is a wildly subjective term as used in Drug War America. As Richard L. Miller writes in Drug Warriors and Their Prey:

'As used by politicians and law-enforcement agencies today, the term "addict" often becomes synonymous with... a person who has had only one or two contacts with the substance.'

In fact, the term "addiction" is subjective, even as it is defined in Webster's Dictionary:

addiction: "The quality or state of being addicted -- specifically : the compulsive uncontrolled use of habit-forming drugs beyond the period of medical need or under conditions harmful to society."

Here are at least four problems with that definition:

  1. It's a little "rich" to pathologize the "compulsive uncontrolled use" of drugs with the pejorative label of "addiction," given that we live in a world where multibillion-dollar agencies are tasked with the job of making drug use as unsafe as possible. If, on the other hand, drugs were re-legalized and users had a smorgasbord of psychoactive options from which they could choose freely and were taught to use them safely, this "compulsive uncontrolled use" would arguably not exist. A drug that caused undue compulsion would be replaced by other less compulsion-causing drugs. (Obsessive use of a contaminated Fentanyl supply could be replaced, for instance, with a relaxing nightly session of uncontaminated opium smoking.) But this is something that the Drug Warrior cannot imagine, of course, because their puritanical presumptions make it unthinkable to fight drugs with drugs.

  2. "beyond the period of medical need." This qualification ignores the whole reason for USING psychoactive drugs in the first place: they are not used for medical purposes but rather for the very human purpose of attaining self-transcendence in life. By defining addiction in terms of "medical need," we put scientists and doctors in judgment of a decision about drug use that only the user is competent to make. Only the user can decide if use of a certain psychoactive drug can be justified by a cost-benefit analysis given the user's own priorities in life, given what they personally consider to be the "summum bonum," a good life. The scientists and researchers may advise the would-be user about physical risks of a given drug, but they cannot decide whether that risk is worth taking because they do not know what the user most values in life. (Perhaps the user is like the opium-loving Avicenna, who was said to have valued "a short life with width to a narrow one with length.") Sure, the scientists and doctors can say that such illegal use would be wrong, morally speaking, as most would probably do these days, but that is not medical advice, that is legal and/or religious advice.

  3. "under conditions harmful to society"? Who decides what is harmful to society? This is a subjective judgment. The Christian Scientist believes that any drug use is harmful to society, as do most politicians. The typical politician will also point to open-air drug markets and the miss-called "opioid crisis" as signs of harm, but this is a mere political charge in a world in which the harms of prohibition are never acknowledged, let alone discussed. The Drug Warriors use the downsides of prohibition as a scapegoat and a red herring to divert attention from the real culprit: prohibition itself, which limits choices, contaminates the drug supply, and refuses to even speak about safe use.

  4. The definition implies that there's something wrong with habit-forming drugs. But this is not an obvious truth. Coffee is habit-forming and use is encouraged. Alcohol is habit-forming, cigarettes are habit-forming. 1 in 4 American women use SSRIs every day of their life. Of course, we don't call that a habit, we call that "taking care of one's mental health!"

Like so many topics (human consciousness, human perception, the nature of ultimate reality, etc.), our definition of "addiction" cannot be meaningfully discussed until we end the Drug War and the many anti-scientific premises upon which it is waged. It would be like trying to discuss the supposed intransigency of depression without mentioning the fact that we outlaw and/or marginalize drugs whose wise use could end most depression overnight: the coca leaf, laughing gas, and MDMA, for starters. American science journalists like Laura Sanders can pretend to write authoritatively about the supposed intransigence of depression only because they assume that the drugs that we outlaw today do not exist - and they expect that their readers will not even notice the omission, let alone care about it, because like the author, the readers too have been indoctrinated from childhood in the drug-hating ideology of the Drug War - thanks in part to the endless TV shows they watch in which Christian Science messages have been inserted into the action thanks to pressure from the White House.

The authors of the DSM may wish to rise above the fray of politics by being "totally scientific," but they cannot escape the political implications of their work.

Let's take a real-life example.

Several decades ago, I complained to my psychiatrists about the fact that they could not give me something more. I had read about shrooms, opium, coca, etc. etc. and felt that the meds I was receiving were shabby replacements for drugs that could REALLY help me.

I was warned that if I kept up such talk, I might be diagnosed as an "addictive personality."

But had they followed through with this threat - for "threat" it certainly was - that would have been a political diagnosis, not a medical one. Why? Because it would have been based on a variety of unspoken premises such as: "it is wrong to use Mother Nature's psychoactive substances; it is wrong to seek too keenly for self-transcendence and spiritual insight." In fact, such premises would typically include the Christian Science idea that Mother Nature's drugs can offer no spiritual insights in any case, a proposition with which I heartily disagree. (I guess I'm old school, but then I can cite God himself in support of my view, for He told us in the Book of Genesis that his creation was good. Now, you can tell me that God misspoke, but please don't try to convince me that it has been scientifically proven that God was in error on this point!)

This is why I can't back down on this subject with a clear conscience. It's 30 years since the shrinks threatened to diagnose me as an "addictive personality," and my subsequent reading about the tremendous untapped potential of criminalized medicines has only strengthened my belief that such a threat was based on politics, not science. Had I been diagnosed as an "addictive personality," it would have just been another attempt by society to blame the victim for the downsides of America's war on self-transcendence, AKA the war on drugs.

We should remember moreover that the DSM is basically written so that insurance companies and doctors can be "on the same page," both literally and figuratively speaking, when it comes to assigning costs for treatments. This has led to endless disease mongering since a condition cannot be treated in a remunerative manner unless it ticks some box in the paperwork of the insurance companies. But the DSM has political ramifications nonetheless, as its authors discovered in 1952 when they defined homosexuality as a disorder. In fact, one could almost say that, "those who define the illnesses control the society." That's what the above-referenced Ivan Illich says, in so many words, in "Medical Nemesis." And that is why I'm leery of diagnoses that help shield Drug Warriors from responsibility for the endless evils that they are inflicting upon society.

My suspicions of the diagnostic labeling systems are only heightened by the fact that scientists are almost universally silent about the Drug War. They pretend that it does not exist. Meanwhile, they write endless articles about abuse and misuse, but almost never about positive use: how the coca leaf can inspire and invigorate; how morphine can give one a supernatural appreciation of mother nature; how "mindful" opium smoking can re-cast one's problems as a metaphorical dream from which one can learn; how psychedelics can provide a new way of seeing one's world, etc. etc. And when I write to the authors and politely ask them to speak up, they almost never respond, because they are terrified by the Drug War and want to say nothing against it.

What's the answer?

In place of diagnoses like "substance misuse disorder" and "addictive personality," I propose that we use the diagnosis of "Prohibition Spectrum Disorder," which would include all of the mal-adaptive behaviors that prohibition helps bring about. The fact that scientists would never even consider this proposal is proof of my thesis that the labeling system today serves a political purpose: to normalize prohibition by pretending that it has no consequences in the real world. It's as if a country were to outlaw almost all food, only for its doctors to discover that the people were experiencing a raft of diet-related disorders. The scientists know that the ban on food is causing the problems, but they ignore that fact on the "scientific" ground that "dietary problems are dietary problems." Maybe so, but it's still cowardice on the part of those scientists when they fail to mention the gorilla in the room: namely, the fact that their government has caused these problems by outlawing almost all food.

Next essay: How Prohibition Causes Addiction
Previous essay: How Prohibition Causes Immense Unnecessary Suffering

More Essays Here


Today's Washington Post reports that "opioid pills shipped" DROPPED 45% between 2011 and 2019..... while fatal overdoses ROSE TO RECORD LEVELS! Prohibition is PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE.
Prohibitionists having nothing to say about all other dangerous activities: nothing about hunting, free climbing, hang-gliding, sword swallowing, free diving, skateboarding, sky-diving, chug-a-lug competitions, chain-smoking. Their "logic" is incoherent.
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."
If we let "science" decide about drugs, i.e. base freedom on health concerns, then tea can be as easily outlawed as beer. The fact that horses are not illegal shows that prohibition is not about health. It's about the power to outlaw certain "ways of being in the world."
The formula is easy: pick a substance that folks are predisposed to hate anyway, then keep hounding the public with stories about tragedies somehow related to that substance. Show it ruining lives in movies and on TV. Don't lie. Just keep showing all the negatives.
Then folks like Sabet will accuse folks like myself of ignoring the "facts." No, it is Sabet who is ignoring the facts -- facts about dangerous horses and free climbing. He's also ignoring all the downsides of prohibition, whose laws lead to the election of tyrants.
I think there needs to be a law -- or at least an understanding -- that it's always wrong to demonize drugs in the abstract. That's anti-scientific. It begs so many questions and leaves suffering pain patients (and others) high and dry. No substance is bad in and of itself.
When we say so, we knowingly blind ourselves to all sorts of potential benefits to humankind. Morphine can provide a vivid appreciation of mother nature in properly disposed minds. That should be seen as a benefit. Instead, dogma tells us that we must hate morphine for any use.
I might as well say that no one can ever be taught to ride a horse safely. I would argue as follows: "Look at Christopher Reeves. He was a responsible and knowledgeable equestrian. But he couldn't handle horses. The fact is, NO ONE can handle horses!"
That's the problem with prohibition. It is not ultimately a health question but a question about priorities and sensibilities -- and those topics are open to lively debate and should not be the province of science, especially when natural law itself says mother nature is ours.
I personally hate beets and I could make a health argument against their legality. Beets can kill for those allergic to them. Sure, it's a rare condition, but since when has that stopped a prohibitionist from screaming bloody murder?
I can think of no greater intrusion than to deny one autonomy over how they think and feel in life. It is sort of a meta-intrusion, the mother of all anti-democratic intrusions.
Enforced by the blatantly rights-crushing solicitation of urine from the king's subjects, as if to underscore the fact that your very digestive system is controlled by the state.
Until prohibition ends, rehab is all about enforcing a Christian Science attitude toward psychoactive medicines (with the occasional hypocritical exception of Big Pharma meds).
When folks die in horse-related accidents, we need to be asking: who sold the victim the horse? We've got to crack down on folks who peddle this junk -- and ban books like Black Beauty that glamorize horse use.
Democratic societies need to outlaw prohibition for many reasons, the first being the fact that prohibition removes millions of minorities from the voting rolls, thereby handing elections to fascists and insurrectionists.
Prohibition turned habituation into addiction by creating a wide variety of problems for users, including potential arrest, tainted or absent drug supply, and extreme stigmatization.
The goal of drug-law reform should be to outlaw prohibition. Anything short of that, and our basic rights will always be subject to veto by fearmongers. Outlawing prohibition would restore the Natural Law of Jefferson, which the DEA scorned in 1987 with its raid on Monticello.
Philip Jenkins reports that Rophynol had positive uses for treating mental disorders until the media called it the "date rape drug." We thus punished those who were benefitting from the drug, tho' the biggest drug culprit in date rape is alcohol. Oprah spread the fear virally.
This is the "Oprah fallacy," which has led to so much suffering. She told women they were fools if they accepted a drink from a man. That's crazy. If we are terrified by such a statistically improbable event, we should be absolutely horrified by horses and skateboards.
This hysterical reaction to rare negative events actually creates more rare negative events. This is why the DEA publicizes "drug problems," because by making them well known, they make the problems more prevalent and can thereby justify their huge budget.
The Partnership for a Death Free America is launching a campaign to celebrate the 50th year of Richard Nixon's War on Drugs. We need to give credit where credit's due for the mass arrest of minorities, the inner city gun violence and the civil wars that it's generated overseas.
In 1886, coca enthusiast JJ Tschudi referred to prohibitionists as 'kickers.' He wrote: "If we were to listen to these kickers, most of us would die of hunger, for the reason that nearly everything we eat or drink has fallen under their ban."
Drug Warriors never take responsibility for incentivizing poor kids throughout the west to sell drugs. It's not just in NYC and LA, it's in modest-sized towns in France. Find public housing, you find drug dealing. It's the prohibition, damn it!
I don't believe in the materialist paradigm upon which SSRIs were created, according to which humans are interchangeable chemical robots amenable to the same treatment for human sadness. Let me use laughing gas and MDMA and coca and let the materialists use SSRIs.
What prohibitionists forget is that every popular but dangerous activity, from horseback riding to drug use, will have its victims. You cannot save everybody, and when you try to do so by law, you kill far more than you save, meanwhile destroying democracy in the process.
Prohibition is based on two huge lies: 1) that there are no benefits to drug use; and 2) that there are no downsides to prohibition.
The 1932 movie "Scarface" starts with on-screen text calling for a crackdown on armed gangs in America. There is no mention of the fact that a decade's worth of Prohibition had created those gangs in the first place.

essays about

How Prohibition Causes Immense Unnecessary Suffering
Prohibitionists Never Learn
What Obama got wrong about drugs
When Drug Warriors cry 'Censorship!'
Kevin Sabet can Kiss My Effexor Prescription
The Infuriating Philosophical Idiocy of Kevin Sabet
Kevin Sabet and What-About-Ism
Why Kevin Sabet's approach to drugs is racist, anti-scientific and counterproductive
The Problem with Following the Science
Kevin Sabet and Drug War 2.0
Questions for Kevin Sabet
Partnership for a Death Free America
Thought Crimes Blotter
One Long Argument for legalizing drugs
The Book of the Damned continued
The Problem is Prohibition, not Fentanyl

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You have been reading an article entitled, Prohibition Spectrum Disorder: an open letter to Twitter follower Frank Smith, published on September 9, 2023 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)