Essay date: November 13, 2022

Psychoactive Drugs and the Fountain of Youth

"With a child's heart, nothin' can ever get you down" -- Stevie Wonder

When I was a kid growing up in coastal Virginia, I would go on yearly skiing trips with the local church youth group to the western part of the state. Having lived the majority of my life in the flatlands, I was always excited when I saw the first mountains appear on the horizon. The peaks in question were scarcely the Himalayas, maxing out at less than 4,000 feet at Skyland on the Skyline Drive, with the ski resort itself rising less than 2,000 feet above the Shenandoah Valley at the southern end of the Massanutten Range. Yet when the first rounded summit became visible on rural route 33 in Orange County west of Richmond, I actually felt that we were entering a kind of Alpine Oz. I wanted Mr. Coulthard to stop the car so that I could run up to the door of one of the many land-rich country properties en route and remind the owner how lucky they were to be living in this location. It's difficult to explain what I was feeling at that time, except to say that I felt that life in that whole area must be boosted psychologically by the mere presence of the mountains. If one had a bad day here in Orange County, one merely needed to glance westward and realize that they could escape to the mountains at any moment, thus rising both literally and figuratively above the mundane problems of daily life.

Fast-forward 40 years and cue "Trying to Get the Feeling Again" by Barry Manilow.

Today I live smack-dab in the middle of those peaks that so enchanted me as a child and I see all too clearly the folly of rushing up to the doors of my neighbors and telling them how lucky they are. For I've discovered that humans quickly get used to anything -- even mountains. I've been living in "Alpine Oz" now for over ten years, and I blush to think how many times I've driven the back roads here with bleary eyes and preoccupied mind. That's why I'm always searching for obscure local routes that I've never taken before, since the lack of predictable surroundings helps me regain at least some of that childhood wonder that came so easily to me as a kid.

Now we've come to the part where the typical autobiographer sighs and reminds us that "those days will never come again."

But, like almost every other author in business today, such a writer reckons without the Drug War.

There is ample and time-honored evidence showing that many of the drugs that we outlaw today can return the user to this original state of awe and wonder. Anecdotal accounts reveal that such seemingly improbable transformations have been wrought by "drugs" ranging from MDMA to psychedelics to coca and, yes, even opium. Here is a starting list of authors whose books present such first-person testimony about the rejuvenating effect of such "drugs": James Fadiman, William Griffiths, William Richards, Stanislav Grof, Charles Grob, Anton Bilton, Aleister Crowley, Thomas De Quincey, Kenaz Filan, Daniel Pinchbeck,Julie Holland, Timothy Leary, Terrance McKenna, W. Golden Mortimer, William H. Brereton and Jim Hogshire. We also learn this truth from fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle shows how Sherlock Holmes CHOSE to use cocaine because it sharpened his mental acumen. Edgar Allan Poe shows how August Bedloe CHOSE to use morphine because it gave him a profound appreciation of the byzantine complexity of Mother Nature. He would suddenly stop and appreciate the flora and fauna that he had previously passed by with a yawn.

But the Drug Warrior is determined to keep us seeing the world in a cynically practical way, and so they outlaw substances that could conduce to what Heidegger would call "other ways of being in the world," as for instance seeing the world with a child's heart.

The Drug Warrior accomplishes this goal by raising the specter of addiction. Thanks to many decades of propaganda (chiefly the propaganda of omission, whereby "drugs" are never portrayed in a positive light, neither in TV, film, nor in academic papers), we have been taught to believe that an addictive drug must be USED addictively. Of course, this is a big fat lie. The only reason why it seems to be true, is that Drug War prohibition MAKES it true by foisting users off on the addictive substances peddled by self-interested dealers, meanwhile discouraging honest discussion of substances in deference to their policy of fearmongering, thereby rendering "safe use" almost impossible.

This propaganda has been so successful that even most of the opponents of the Drug War would never dare to praise, say, opium, coca, or morphine. Like everyone else, they have been taught since childhood that those substances are "drugs," indeed "hard drugs," and so their use can only end in sorrow and despair.

This is an absolute lie! If such drugs end in despair, it is merely thanks to a self-fulfilling prophecy guaranteed by the war on drugs. If you remove me from the work force and arrest me for using opium, yes, that might make me despair, but the culprit in such a case would be the Drug War itself, not opium.

Creative humanity can find safe ways to use any substance. Even cyanide and Botox have valid medical uses. Such drugs are not devil spawn, they are inanimate substances.

In a free and scientific society, we would learn EVERYTHING POSSIBLE about these substances and use them in a shamanic empathic way to bring out the best in human beings. We would learn how to schedule and alter the use of substances such that dependency does not develop -- unless the user CHOOSES that dependency, in which case we would permit them to use maintenance doses of their drug of choice, just as we now let 1 in 4 American women use maintenance doses of Big Pharma meds.

Instead, we outlaw almost all psychoactive medicines, thereby censoring scientists and ignoring godsends (like the coca leaf and MDMA) whose advised use could end depression in America and help fight autism and Alzheimer's disease.

This is not just substance boosterism on my part. Alison Gopnik tells us that "Babies and children are basically tripping all the time." It follows automatically that tripping can help us experience the world as a child.

Unfortunately, the government will not allow such a salubrious return to childhood.

Instead, they have criminalized godsend medicines which are ours by natural right and thereby denied us all of the enormous benefits that they could provide: not just the ability to appreciate mountains but perhaps even to help Alzheimer's and autistic patients, given the fact that some of these outlawed medicines increase neuronal connections in the brain.

The good news is that Ponce Leon was right: there is a fountain of youth.

It was growing all around him, in the form of psychoactive plants and fungi.

The bad news is that the Drug War has padlocked the fountain and threatened trespassers with unemployment, imprisonment and death.

Next essay: Kevin Sabet and What-About-Ism
Previous essay: Teenagers and Cannabis

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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.

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)
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