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The Philosophy of Drug Use

why celebrities tend to use 'drugs'

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

September 14, 2020

I too well understood that to think, in my situation, was to be lost. - Edgar Allan Poe from "The Imp of the Perverse"

Why do so many rock, pop, TV and movie stars have "trouble" with "drugs"? The answer is rather simple, despite the fact that addiction "experts" do everything they can to confuse the issue.

Take Gabriel Mate, for instance. He asserts that almost every addict is dealing with inner pain.

This is a problematic statement already, since the term "addict" is a political label: it refers to those who are "addicted" to illegal drugs only, not to those who are addicted to Big Pharma Meds (including one in four American women, an addiction crisis with which Mate does not appear to be particularly bothered). Moreover, when JFK used speed, it was for "therapeutic" reasons, but had John Doe used "speed" in the same way, he would have been called an addict. These, of course, are political diagnoses, not medical ones.

But putting aside the hypocrisy of the term "addict," Mate and his fellow addiction counselors are so eager to medicalize and moralize the "addiction problem" that they miss the obvious psychological explanation of drug use among celebrities (and would-be celebrities). These people are "putting themselves out there" in a more nerve-racking position than those that are notoriously encountered by a public speaker. They cannot flinch before the camera or their career is dead. The moment that they demonstrate the least bit of doubt before their public, they are headed down the road of self-destruction. How? Due to the phenomenon that laypeople so accurately refer to as "choking," aka self-destructing, the masochistic phenomenon that Edgar Allan Poe so meticulously described in his short story entitled "The Imp of the Perverse."

Poe himself pointed out that "the schools" take no notice of this phenomenon and that remains the case to this very day, 150 years later, despite the fact that the laypeople just mentioned are under no delusions about the existence of this tendency: this tendency to destroy oneself by becoming excessively conscious of what one is doing, when one is doing it. Heidegger himself understood this phenomenon though he apparently addressed it too pedantically to be understood by the addiction counselors of our time. These latter professionals tend to see illegal substance use among celebrities as a sign of some deep-seated inner conflict from childhood, rather than as the instinctive employment of real politik by a user who realizes, in the words of Poe himself, that "to think was to be lost." If they become aware of what they're doing while they're doing it, their career is over, in the exact same way that knife jugglers are dead (or at least hideously injured) the moment that they start consciously thinking about specific knife trajectories while they are juggling.

In short: celebrities must silence the inner voice or quite simply lose their job, their self-respect, and their money.

Faced with these psychological facts of life, it is no wonder that many celebrities resort to "drugs" to keep that inner voice at bay. They "know" about the phenomenon of choking even if psychologists do not, and they know that, should they "choke" in front of an audience, they will get no kudos for having performed "sober" - no record company is going to keep paying their salaries because they have "just said no to drugs." Their job demands performance, and while society sings the praises of sobriety, no one is going to pay them one single penny for it: they are going to pay only for that celebrity who can be a real personality - right in front of the prying and judgmental eyes of the audience.

No doubt some of us have personalities that are naturally up to that task, just as some of us are less nervous than others while speaking in public. But many of us have a tendency to self-doubt in front of audiences and we realize instinctively (as demonstrated by our natural grasp of the psychological concept of "choking") that self-doubt is a killer. Given this state of affairs, it is no surprise whatsoever that would-be celebrities would have an instinct to self-medicate, and what's more, that instinct is usually "right." They DO need to self-medicate, precisely to the extent that they would otherwise "choke." What's more, they are motivated by the simple desire to survive in the world - and not by some childish desire to "get high" for the hell of it.

But instead of grasping these facts, Drug Warriors (and those who are influenced by their philosophically flawed premises) express a naïve surprise in the face of celebrity drug use, saying idiotic things such as: "Oh, he was such a talented person: why did he have to ruin himself by taking drugs!" Or, "She was such a wonderful performer: had she only said no to drugs, how much better she might have been!"

But the notion that these performers would have been performers without "drugs" is just so much Christian Science piety. It's a matter of faith of the Drug War, without any grounding in the psychology of the everyday life of actual human beings. Sure, many early drug users eventually renounce the drugs in question (preferably while publishing a best seller about their "courageous battle with addiction"), but the drug still served its psychological purpose, even if the ungrateful star fails to acknowledge it: the substance kept the user from choking just long enough that success became a habit, at which point the drug itself was no longer necessary. In other words, drug use of this kind can lead to a virtuous circle of positive feedback, thanks to which the "imp of the perverse" is often effectively silenced for the rest of the performer's life.

Of course, since celebrities (and celebrity wannabes) get exactly zero help from naive psychology in acquiring substances that quiet the overly censorious mind, they end up buying and using whatever substances are available for that purpose on the black market - which, thanks to Drug War prohibition, end up being some of the most addictive substances on the planet, especially when used ill-advisedly, which is the only way they CAN be used thanks to the Drug War prohibition on educating people objectively about the pros and cons of psychoactive substances. Such education may not be technically illegal but it is strongly discouraged by drug law. Why? Because the objective recital of the pros and cons of psychoactive substances would show up Big Pharma meds for the ineffective and highly addictive substances that they are. Such a listing would also show that drugs like opium and cocaine are not evil incarnate, but rather simply substances that can be used for good or ill, depending upon how they are employed.

So, why do so many rock, pop, TV and movie stars have "trouble" with "drugs"?

It is a leading, and therefore misleading, question, phrased in such a way as to make "drugs" a universal scapegoat, the cause of all evil in the world (even psychological evil), thus allowing psychologists and society in general to ignore the real problem here.

The fact is there is no drug problem among celebrities: there is a problem with egos and choking.

Until psychology correctly defines the problem, they'll be lousy at combatting it.

Of course, psychology is no doubt willfully purblind in this regard, because once this problem is acknowledged, the "fix" that suggests itself is politically incorrect. Why? Because the psychological problems in question cry out for the creative use of thousands of psychoactive plants in therapies custom-made for each doubt-riddled performer, substances which can quiet the "imp of the perverse" with the least problematic side effects in both the short and long runs. And since Drug Warriors, in their simplistic philosophy, cannot see anything but hedonism and pathology in the use of psychoactive substances, they cannot imagine a world in which plant medicines are used in this way.


Of course, it might be argued that I myself am pathologizing drug use by referring it to a kind of basic human anxiety, but the anxiety of which I speak here is inherent to the human condition (Poe certainly thought so) and therefore not pathological in any meaningful sense of that word. I should also add that the fear of choking is not the only reason why a celebrity might rationally seek out drugs, as for instance they may simply need a boost in stamina after the manner of a Red Bull devotee. But we must be careful here, because if the "Imp of the Perverse" is a fundamental principle of psychological life, then celebrities must often self-medicate in order to avoid it without consciously recognizing the motive behind their actions. According to the usual moralizing approach of modern psychology, such self-medicating is inexplicable: the celebrity was doing fine, after all, why need he or she self-medicate!? When we think in this way, we have to start fishing about for childhood traumas (Gabriel Mate's "inner pains") in order to explain the substance use in question. But such drug use makes perfect sense once we recognize that the celebrity must intuit the absolute imperative to avoid excessive introspection at any cost. Platitudes about "just say no" are all well and good, but the celebrity has to survive in the world and pay bills, not just please some politically correct psychiatrist that they see every three months or so.

For such celebrities know, to quote Poe again, "that to think was to be lost," and that is why they seek to keep one step ahead of their self-doubt, by any means necessary, and to hell with the DEA and purblind psychiatry, which would want to arrest him on the one hand and addict him on the other, though not to drugs that will help him forget himself and so succeed in celebrity life, but rather to Big Pharma meds which merely help him make his peace with falling short of self-fulfillment in life.

EDITOR'S STILL FURTHER NOTE: But we need not look at the rock star as pathologically shy. Rather, the rock star is seeking inspiration in the same way that the priest and priestess used to seek inspiration at the oracles. It involved the introduction of ecstatic states in order for the mere human user to become something more or better than one's mortal sober self. But we have been taught to pathologize all criminalized substance use today, and so we dogmatically ignore the psycho-pharmacological history of humankind as expressed in ancient ritual and prudishly ascribe all 'drug use' (a pejorative term in itself) to hedonism, in line with the Christian Science metaphysic of the Drug War.

EVEN FURTHER YET!: Sobriety is overrated. Anyone who's lived a dull sober life for 60 years knows that. No doubt the vast majority of suicides could have passed a drug test. Stone-cold sobriety for me has always been a killer, conducive of negative revolving thoughts about the hopelessness of all human effort, particularly my own. Yet the Drug Warrior has given an almost religious significance to the achievement of their hypocritically defined "sobriety," tacitly canonizing all of us who have renounced our right to godsend plant medicine, in lockstep with the ideology of substance demonization in which we've been steeped since birth -- or at least since we received our first teddy bear from the local police force in recognition of our heartfelt vow to "just say no" to the botanical medicines of mother nature.

The Links Police

Relax, I just stopped you to give you some link suggestions about the psychology of substance use, of which American psychology is shamefully ignorant, by the way. You might check out, for instance, Using Opium to Fight Depression and how about America's Puritan Obsession with Sobriety or better yet The Philosophy of Drug Use. Oh, and check out your left rear tail light when you get a chance, would ya? It doesn't seem to be illuminating when you tap on the brake. Oh, yeah, here's one more of Brian's essay that we're calling 'a link of interest': Puritanical Assumptions about Drug Use in the Entertainment Field. Get it? 'A link of interest'? Oh, I'm hot tonight.

Oh, yes, and How The Drug War Killed Andy Gibb and How the Drug War Killed Amy Winehouse

Author's Follow-up: December 29, 2022

The idea that "users" are dealing with inner pain is a joke. Why do we pathologize the desire to feel happy and fit and ecstatic? There is nothing pathological about that desire. Jack Kerouac liked the sort of people who burned brightly and never yawned -- yet the armchair addiction expert is so self-satisfied with their own bourgeois middle-class Christian protestantism that he considers such life goals to be extravagant and unseemly, and so he breezily dismisses such aspirations as a sign of pathology. Talk about intolerance. It's one thing to dislike another's lifestyle -- it's taking that dislike to a whole new level by insisting that your neighbor's lifestyle is pathological.

Author's Follow-up: January 11, 2023

Psychology is naive toward drug use in another way. It has been convinced by Drug War fearmongering that illegal drugs which can cause addiction must be used to cause addiction -- and that they can have no beneficial uses whatsoever. To accommodate this Drug War belief, psychologists ignore the therapeutic benefit of anticipation. They have to, for once that benefit is admitted, we see that all sorts of potentially addictive substances have positive uses, i.e. when used intermittently to refresh the mind of the depressed, get them speaking freely in therapy, and helping them appreciate nature, music, and other people for starters.

Moreover, in treating drug addiction as the ultimate evil, we are being highly hypocritical. 1 in 4 American women are hooked for life on Big Pharma meds, and yet we want to lecture the substance user who chooses inspiration over tranquilization? There are, in fact, worse things than addiction: a life without meaning, a life without purpose, a life during which one wishes that they were dead. What's more, the idea that illegal substances can have no positive use, for anyone, anywhere, ever is simply wrong and unscientific. For there are no substances of that kind in the world. To insist otherwise, is to stand in the way of progress and tell drug researchers to "stand down" rather than searching for therapeutic potential in a whole raft of psychoactive medicines -- some of whose neuron-generating ability show prima facie potential for treating autism and Alzheimer's.

To advocate for this current system is cruel, because it tells the desperately depressed that they must have their brain fried by ECT rather than use godsend medicines -- that's how puritanical the Drug War is. There's so much sorrow that could be alleviated in the world -- if we stopped fearing substances and started learning how to use them for the benefit of those sorely in need. Nor should we bar millions of sufferers from use for fear that a minority of white suburban juvenile delinquents will misuse a drug. That's racist, considering that those who promote that concern never mention the tens of thousands of kids who have lost their parents down south due to our Drug War. And it's enormously hypocritical, given that American sugar kills over 100,000 every year in Mexico via diabetes: Coca-Cola, j'accuse!

Author's Follow-up: January 26, 2023

An essay on the philosophy of drug use should probably contain a reference to the fact that drug use has impacted philosophy. The ontology of William James would have been very different indeed had he not partaken of nitrous oxide, an experience which proved to his satisfaction that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. There is also strong circumstantial evidence that Plato partook of the pyschedelic kykeon at Eleusis and that this experience inspired his views of the afterlife. We know as well that coca was considered divine, if not a deity, by the Peruvian Indians and that the entire Vedic religion was inspired by the psychoactive effects of a plant and/or fungi. In light of this almost completely ignored backstory, we can conclude that drug prohibition is not simply a violation of the rights of hedonists, as conservatives would like to portray it, but rather it is a government-imposed prohibition against human advancement in general, saying in effect, "The world as we know it is good enough for us, and it is forbidden for us to learn more about ultimate reality'." As such, the Drug War is not simply a worthy attempt that has failed, but it is rather a misguided attempt that had no right to succeed in the first place, least of all in a country that purports to value education and freedom of inquiry.

Next essay: Dirty Minded Drug Warriors
Previous essay: How The Drug War Killed Andy Gibb

More Essays Here

Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

Only a pathological puritan would say that there's no place in the world for substances that lift your mood, give you endurance, and make you get along with your fellow human being. Drugs may not be everything, but it's masochistic madness to claim that they are nothing at all.
Clearly a millennia's worth of positive use of coca by the Peruvian Indians means nothing to the FDA. Proof must show up under a microscope.
In the 19th century, author Richard Middleton wrote how poets would get together to use opium "in a series of magnificent quarterly carouses."
Americans heap hypocritical praise on Walt Whitman. What they don't realize is that many of us could be "Walt Whitman for a Day" with the wise use of psychoactive drugs. To the properly predisposed, morphine gives a DEEP appreciation of Mother Nature.
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."
Well, today's Oregon vote scuttles any ideas I might have entertained about retiring in Oregon.
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'm told that science is completely unbiased today. I guess I'll have to go back and reassess my doubts about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
I, for one, am actually TRYING to recommend drugs like MDMA and psilocybin as substitutes for shock therapy. In fact, I would recommend almost ANY pick-me-up drug as an alternative to knowingly damaging the human brain. That's more than the hateful DEA can say.
Prohibitionists have 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.
More Tweets

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front cover of Drug War Comic Book

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You have been reading an article entitled, The Philosophy of Drug Use: why celebrities tend to use 'drugs', published on September 14, 2020 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)