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The Muddled Metaphysics of the Drug War

How modern science helps normalize prohibition

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

January 14, 2024

t's amazing to me how many drug law reformers believe that the treatment of "mental illness" has not been negatively affected by prohibition. Why? Because they believe that modern science has found the answer to depression. They seem to believe that Big Pharma has just happened to find the one cure that works -- and that it's just a coincidence that the US Government has happened to outlaw all of the thousands of possible alternatives to that cure.

So Carl Hart tells us in "Drug Use for Grownups" that illegal drugs are not for depressive folks like myself, but rather that I should keep taking my meds1. Jim Hogshire agrees: in fact, he considers those who reject Prozac as tantamount to imbeciles who are opposed to the progress of science2. Rick Doblin at Maps3 joins the folks at the Heffter Institute4 in staging studies for what they call "treatment resistant depression," the implication being that depression has been adequately handled by science, but that there are still depressed people out there whose biochemistries do not recognize a good thing when they see it, just as 30% of Americans cannot drink milk due to lactose intolerance.

In attempting to convince others that these attitudes are wrong (indeed philosophically crazy, if the truth be told), I would first point out that there is huge money invested in the business of cultivating these very attitudes. Read "Anatomy of an Epidemic"5 for an account of how Big Pharma pays doctors to endorse products (and attitudes toward "meds") on shows like Oprah Winfrey. Such propaganda has helped create the drug apartheid of which Julian Buchanan writes, which encourages us to see two distinct classes of substances in the world: meds (made scientifically and so blessed) and drugs (made by nature and/or God knows whom and so cursed)6. Whitaker also shows how SSRIs seem to cause the very imbalances that they are supposed to be correcting. For further on these topics, see the writings of Julie Holland7, Irving Kirsch8.

But one way to evaluate a paradigm, like the materialist ideology of drug use, is to look at its results. If a paradigm leads to absurd results then the paradigm is surely flawed.

And what are the results of the materialist paradigm about drug use?

1) Today we will fry the brains of the depressed and yet we will not let them cheer themselves up with drugs like MDMA, or coca, or opium, or the hundreds of psychoactive medicines created by Alexander Shulgin9.

2) Today we will allow people to use drugs to kill themselves (what we call euthanasia) and yet we will not let those same people use drugs in order to make them WANT TO LIVE10!

3) Today we will demonize and arrest people for smoking a plant medicine nightly -- and yet we will tell them that it is their medical duty to take a Big Pharma med daily.

4) Drug researchers say they are unsure that laughing gas can help the depressed11 (or rather the "treatment-resistant depressed" -- see above!) Laughing gas! (And I'm like: "Give me the damn laughing gas while you continue looking for a way to make me 'REALLY' happy!")

These absurd outcomes are all a result of our faith in modern materialist science, which is based in turn on what Alfred North Whitehead called the bifurcation of nature, whereby we think that atoms are the real thing and that perceptions are secondary and unreal12.

Why else would a drug researcher ignore my laughter under laughing gas and tell me that I'm not "really" happy? Why? Because my perceptions are not real -- what's real is the atomic and molecular.

This is why the Drug War is the great philosophical problem of our time: not just because it is based on a host of logical fallacies but because its anti-scientific demonization of psychoactive drugs has been given the veneer of science by what Whitehead saw as a "muddled" metaphysic: one which believes that "reality" consists of atoms and molecules and that feelings are secondary epiphenomena, meaning that patient reports of positive drug experience need not be acknowledged or counted as important. Millions have used Ecstasy safely over the past 50 years and reported positive experiences, but such accounts, to the scientific mind, are just opinions based on unscientific impressions13. The way scientists see it: only THEY can tell when a depressed person is REALLY happy, not by listening to them laugh but rather by looking at their brain and gut chemistry.

Today's harangue was inspired by a Tweet from a follower (probably now a FORMER follower) who pushed my buttons this morning (no doubt unwittingly) by referring to SSRIs as "godsends for some."

I could not disagree more, but unfortunately it took this entire essay for me to explain why. I did at first try to respond through a series of frenetic Tweets, however, so I will close with a list of the same in the hope that they spread some additional light on this subject.

America's religion is science -- that's why everyone from George Bush to Carl Hart thinks that I should keep taking my meds. WRONG! The only reason the pill mill was created was because we outlawed endless uplifting godsends, like the hundreds created by Alex Shulgin.

Now, if the question is: would a woman be better off to stop taking an SSRI at this very moment, that's an entirely different question. The question is: should they have been started on them in the first place, or should we not rather have re-legalized MOTHER Nature?

Alex Shulgin synthesized chems that occur in the human brain. The outlawing of the godsends he created was absurd. The best we can say about SSRIs against the backdrop of this prohibition is that they are probably better than nothing in some cases -- but that's not saying much.

It's our faith in this materialist science that makes us think it's okay to fry the brain of the depressed but it's not okay to give them medicines that elate and inspire. It's the same doctrine at work with SSRIs: Don't elate them -- try to "cure" them -- a fool's errand

This is why I tend to lose half the followers I get -- because science is America's religion and I am a heretic. Even Carl Hart tells me that I should take my pills, not use drugs. It's this warped belief that science has conquered depression. My entire 65 years of life says otherwise.

Let's give SSRIs real competition, then we can talk about popularity and efficacy. Let's see: "I can take a drug that inspires me, puts me on seventh heaven, and is not addictive -- or I can take an SSRI that dulls my mind and which I have to take for an entire lifetime!"

I can't say that SSRIs destroy creativity, but it is a frequent complaint of pundits on this subject. So we should at least not recommend their use except for the suicidal -- and then ONLY BECAUSE we've outlawed everything that's much much better.

The problem is, almost EVERYONE ignores the Drug War when they write. For instance, they'll say, "SSRIs are a godsend." But what does that mean? That they're a godsend in and of themselves? Or they're a godsend because we have outlawed everything else? There's a huge difference.

Author's Follow-up: January 14, 2024

picture of clock metaphorically suggesting a follow-up

This is why it's often very difficult to discuss drug issues rationally, because folks do not admit that they're taking prohibition as a natural baseline. Magazines like Sci Am14 and Sci News15 help foster this kind of insincere argument by failing to add disclaimers to their many articles in which they pretend that outlawed substances do not exist. Take Laura Sanders' series in Sci News on what I call "Shock Therapy 2.0." Laura tells us how depression is a seemingly intractable problem for many -- but the question I have for Laura:

Is depression an intractable problem per se, or is it intractable because we have outlawed almost every substance that could help the depressed?

Clearly it is only intractable in the latter sense, since even the seemingly hopeless would-be suicide could be laughing in the next 10 minutes were we to recommend their use of laughing gas -- or MDMA, or one of the hundreds of empathogens synthesized by Alexander Shulgin. The fact that Sci News does not mention these options shows that they are taking the drug prohibition to constitute a natural baseline -- which, however, is so far from being logically obvious that they should note this assumption as a disclaimer on all articles on such a topic. Unfortunately, they know that their audience has been brainwashed to believe that drugs are bad and so will already assume that the article in question was written from the point of view of a Christian Scientist when it comes to the topic of psychoactive medicine.

And so we see not only that science is not free in America, but that it is not honest either: otherwise it would tell its readers that it believes so thoroughly in prohibition that they (the magazine's authors) are going to pretend (caveat lector) that outlawed medicines do not even exist. Otherwise their "science" would be unintelligible and filled with non-sequiturs, at least in the mind of someone who had not yet been indoctrinated in the drug-hating religion of the Drug War.


1 Quass, Brian, What Carl Hart Missed, 2023 (up)
2 Quass, Brian, What Jim Hogshire Got Wrong about Drugs, 2023 (up)
3 Doblin, Rick, Maps founder Rick Doblin, (up)
4 Hogshire, Jim, Pills-a-go-go : a fiendish investigation into pill marketing, art, history and consumption, 1999 (up)
5 Whitaker, Robert, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America , Crown, New York, 2010 (up)
6 Buchanan, Julian, Drugs, Human Rights & Harm Reduction, (up)
7 Holland, Julie, Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics, HarperWave, New York, 2020 (up)
8 Kirsch, Irving, The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the antidepressant myth, 2011 (up)
9 Quass, Brian, Alexander Shulgin: American Hero, 2022 (up)
10 Quass, Brian, Euthanasia in the Age of the Drug War, 2019 (up)
11 Quass, Brian, Forbes Magazine's Laughable Article about Nitrous Oxide, 2022 (up)
12 Whitehead, Alfred North, The Concept of Nature, (up)
13 Wininger, Charles, Listening to Ecstasy, 2021 (up)
14 Quass, Brian, How Scientific American reckons without the drug war, 2023 (up)
15 Quass, Brian, Science News Unveils Shock Therapy II, 2023 (up)

Next essay: Top Ten Drug War Essays
Previous essay: Timothy Leary was Right

More Essays Here


If psychoactive drugs had never been criminalized, science would never have had any reason or excuse for creating SSRIs that muck about unpredictably with brain chemistry. Chewing the coca leaf daily would be one of many readily available "miracle treatments" for depression.
That's why we damage the brains of the depressed with shock therapy rather than let them use coca or opium. That's why many regions allow folks to kill themselves but not to take drugs that would make them want to live. The Drug War is a perversion of social priorities.
Weaponizing science is a bigger problem. Even as we speak, Laura Sanders of Sciam is promoting Shock Therapy 2.0 for the depressed, this in a world wherein reductive scientists aren't even sure that laughing gas will help the depressed.
It's because of such reductive pseudoscience that America will allow us to shock the brains of the depressed but won't allow us to let them use the plant medicines that grow at their feet.
David Chalmers says almost everything in the world can be reductively explained. Maybe so. But science's mistake is to think that everything can therefore be reductively UNDERSTOOD. That kind of thinking blinds researchers to the positive effects of laughing gas and MDMA, etc.
"Can I use poppies, coca, laughing gas, MDMA?" "NO," says Jonathan Stea, "We must be SCIENTIFIC! We must fry your brain and give you a lobotomy and make you a patient for life with the psychiatric pill mill! That's true SCIENCE!"
In "The Book of the Damned," Charles Fort writes about the data that science has damned, by which he means "excluded." The fact that drugs can inspire and elate is one such fact, although when Fort wrote his anti-materialist broadside, drug prohibition was in its infancy.
In other words, materialist scientists are drug war collaborators. They are more than happy to have their fight against idealism rigged by drug law, which outlaws precisely those substances whose use serves to cast their materialism into question.
Drug warriors have harnessed the perfect storm. Prohibition caters to the interests of law enforcement, psychotherapy, Big Pharma, demagogues, puritans, and materialist scientists, who believe that consciousness is no big "whoop" and that spiritual states are just flukes.
There are endless drugs that could help with depression. Any drug that inspires and elates is an antidepressant, partly by the effect itself and partly by the mood-elevation caused by anticipation of use (facts which are far too obvious for drug warriors to understand).
But materialist puritans do not want to create any drug that elates. So they go on a fool's errand to find reductionist cures for "depression itself," as if the vast array of human sadness could (or should) be treated with a one-size-fits-all readjustment of brain chemicals.
The search for SSRIs has always been based on a flawed materialist premise that human consciousness is nothing but a mix of brain chemicals and so depression can be treated medically like any other physical condition.
I'd like to become a guinea pig for researchers to test the ability of psychoactive drugs to make aging as psychologically healthy as possible. If such drugs cannot completely ward off decrepitude, they can surely make it more palatable. The catch? Researchers have to be free.
The drug war ideology of substance demonization actually outlaws such investigations. Why don't at least the saner half of the prohibitionists understand that this makes no sense in a purportedly free and scientific country?
Caveat: the experimentation must be done holistically, and not with the presupposition that brain waves and molecular analysis is more important than my perceptions -- for my perceptions are what really matter viz. psychological health.
I don't want purblind researchers telling me when I am happy or optimistic. Materialist researchers need not apply, especially those so immersed in minutia that they cannot even figure out if laughing gas could help the depressed!
To understand why the western world is blind to the benefits of "drugs," read "The Concept of Nature" by Whitehead. He unveils the scientific schizophrenia of the west, according to which the "real" world is invisible to us while our perceptions are mere "secondary" qualities.
This is why we would rather have a depressed person commit suicide than to use "drugs" -- because drugs, after all, are not dealing with the "real" problem. The patient may SAY that drugs make them feel good, but we need microscopes to find out if they REALLY feel good.
This is why the foes of suicide are doing absolutely nothing to get laughing gas into the hands of those who could benefit from it. Laughing is subjective after all. In the western tradition, we need a "REAL" cure to depression.
Both physical and psychological addiction can be successfully fought when we relegalize the pharmacopoeia and start to fight drugs with drugs. But prohibitionists do not want to end addiction, they want to scare us with it.
Materialist scientists cannot triumph over addiction because their reductive focus blinds them to the obvious: namely, that drugs which cheer us up ACTUALLY DO cheer us up. Hence they keep looking for REAL cures while folks kill themselves for want of laughing gas and MDMA.
It's "convenient" for scientists that their "REAL" cures happen to be the ones that racist politicians will allow. Scientists thus normalize prohibition by pretending that outlawed substances have no therapeutic value. It's materialism collaborating with the drug war.
In the Atomic Age Declassified, they tell us that we needed hundreds of thermonuclear tests so that scientists could understand the effects. That's science gone mad. Just like today's scientists who need more tests before they can say that laughing gas will help the depressed. Science today is all about ignoring the obvious. And THAT's why scientists are drug war collaborators, because they're not about to sign off on the use of substances until they've studied them "up the wazoo." Using grants from an agency whose very name indicates their anti-drug bias: namely, the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

essays about

How Scientific Materialism Keeps Godsend Medicines from the Depressed
Obama's Unscientific BRAIN Initiative
Materialism and the Drug War Part II
How Thomas Nagel Reckons Without the Drug War
Materialism and the Drug War
Alternative Medicine as a Drug War Creation
Why Science is the Handmaiden of the Drug War
David Chalmers and the Drug War
The Placebo Effect and Drugs
Why Rick Doblin is Ghosting Me
How Bernardo Kastrup reckons without the drug war
The Pseudoscience of Mental Health Treatment
Physics has found a theory of everything
The Handicapped NEED Crutches
Forbes Magazine's Laughable Article about Nitrous Oxide
Speaking Truth to Academia
A Quantum of Hubris
Unscientific American: the hypocritical materialism of Elon Musk
Modern Science as a symptom of insipient madness
Materialism's War on Drug Addicts and Alcoholics
This is your brain on Neuralink
The Book of the Damned continued
Illusions with Professor Arthur Shapiro

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You have been reading an article entitled, The Muddled Metaphysics of the Drug War: How modern science helps normalize prohibition, published on January 14, 2024 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)