Essay date: October 25, 2022

The Problem with Following the Science

How Kevin Sabet caused the problem that he's trying to solve

"If there is a problem with marijuana use, folks like Kevin Sabet caused it by championing a Drug War that gives us no psychoactive substances to use EXCEPT for marijuana. It's as if Kevin had outlawed everything but 2% milk and then screamed about the fact that 2% milk was far too popular!"

-the Drug War Philosopher

When Obama took office, he said he wanted to "follow the science" when it came to "drugs." I wish he had decided to follow the constitution instead. Because what Obama failed to realize, or at least failed to admit, is that science is not free in a Drug War society. Just look at all the articles about so-called "drugs" on You'll see hundreds of papers about misuse and abuse, but not one about how drugs like MDMA could be used therapeutically to end school shootings, or how the chewing of the coca leaf could cure depression, or how psychedelics can improve one's appreciation of music, or how morphine can give one an intense appreciation of mother nature. For it never occurs to a scientist in a Drug War society that demonized substances can be used in any positive way whatsoever. And so when we "follow the science" of these self-censored scientists, we naturally conclude that we must do everything we can to ratchet up the war on drugs, this despite the fact that the kinds of drugs we criminalize today have inspired entire religions, as soma inspired the Vedic-Hindu religion and the Incas and Mayans venerated coca and mushrooms respectively.

Had Obama and company followed the constitution instead, they would have outlawed the Drug War entirely as a violation of the natural law upon which that document was based. Instead, they "followed the science," which, in their view, told them they were duty bound to return cannabis to Schedule I, thereby "protecting" users (apparently by throwing them in prison for decades at a time and removing them from the voting rolls). I say they followed the science "in their view" because Obama's drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet has a very different take on the dangers of marijuana than does Professor David Nutt of England, the UK drugs expert who lost his job for suggesting that some criminalized substances were less dangerous than Big Pharma meds. In any case, it's odd that America's first black president would want to sign off on a change that would send still more blacks to jail in a country where the black suffrage has already been decreased by millions thanks to the war on psychoactive plant medicine.

But "following the science" is wrong for other reasons (as if disenfranchising blacks and thereby handing elections to racists was not enough). Even if we grant that "the science" is telling the whole story about psychoactive medicine (which is almost the exact opposite of the case), America is statistically challenged when it comes to interpreting that "science." Yesterday, I saw a tweet referring to an alleged death by overdose of marijuana, which if true would be the first death of its kind. The "tweeter" crowed that if the story was true, it would change the entire discussion about marijuana. But that is absolute nonsense. All substances can be fatal at some dosage. If you kept drinking lamb's milk, your stomach might eventually rupture, but that is no reflection on lamb's milk, but rather on the idiocy of those who drink it to such bizarre excess. Yet in the age of a "Drug War," Americans actually believe that they can trash a substance if they can associate it with one single negative outcome, this in a country in which half a million die yearly from using alcohol and tobacco, a fact that Drug Warriors never even notice.

That's how Brits trashed Ecstasy. They associated it with a handful of highly publicized raver deaths, thereby concluding that the science was telling them that Ecstasy was deadly. But the deaths in question were actually caused by the Drug War itself, which taught kids to fear psychoactive medicines rather than to understand them. Had Drug Warriors merely told the kids to remain hydrated during use, there would have been no deaths from Ecstasy (except, perhaps, if someone decided to take the drug in bizarrely huge doses, in the way that the alleged cannabis mortality mentioned above used cannabis).

And yet Kevin Sabet's viewpoint is the mainstream view, supported by Jimmy Carter and The Atlantic. But then I shouldn't be surprised. The Atlantic is the magazine which publishes feel-good articles about treating depression, none of which even mentions the fact that the Drug War has outlawed all the hundreds of medicines that could do just that. Nor is it just their reporters that ignore this 6,400-pound gorilla. The very scientists that the reporters interview write and speak as if psychoactive substances do not exist. I guess that helps them sleep at night, because it would surely be depressing for a scientist to admit to him or herself that their research is being hampered by Drug War laws and ideology.

One wants to scream at the Kevin Sabets of the world: "It's the prohibition, stupid!" But as long as government insiders like Sabet can keep the focus on evil "drugs," we can ignore the devastation that our Drug War has caused south of the border, the way it has corrupted police forces and government offices, and put the poor in harm's way, not because they were using drugs but because they were advocating social policies with which the US government takes issue.

Yet there's still another way in which "following the science" is wrong. It's all well and good to "follow the science" when it comes to approving the use of physical medicine (though in reality much of that process is surely fraught with politics as well), but psychoactive medicine is used for subjective purposes like finding spirituality, increasing mental focus, combating life-destroying self-doubt, etc. Safety is certainly a consideration in such substance use, but it is neither the only consideration nor the most important one. Like the fictional Sherlock Holmes, Robin Williams chose to use cocaine regularly (rather than, say, choosing to use those anti-depressants upon which 1 in 4 American women are dependent for life). That coca alkaloid helped him become the person he wanted to be. When the government countermands such choices, it is tacitly saying the following: that safety is more important than one's self-actualization in life -- and that is a false statement for most living, breathing persons. Is safety the most important thing for a free climber, or for an astronaut, or for a stuntman? No. So following the science is wrong, if by that we mean keeping Americans as safe as possible.

Besides, America has tried to keep young people safe for over a century now and look at the results:

We have turned inner cities into war zones, militarized law enforcement, corrupted the armies and police forces of South America, empowered a self-described Drug War Hitler in the Philippines, created the psychiatric pill mill thanks to which 1 in 4 American women are dependent for life on Big Pharma meds, Nazified the English language, thrown elections to racists by disfranchising blacks, and put godsend medicines off-limits to silently suffering millions around the globe.

We have thus protected young people from "drugs" in the same way that the governess protected Miles from the imaginary Peter Quint in "Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, by a campaign of irrational hysteria that ultimately caused the very problems that it was allegedly seeking to prevent. Indeed, the "downsides" of prohibition are so obvious and so manifold that one cannot help but suspect that the goal of the Drug War was to create this dystopia in the first place, a thesis which becomes all too believable for those who dare to read Dawn Paley's 2014 book called Drug War Capitalism.

Of course, if naturally occurring substances are dangerous, then surely a free and scientific country would teach about them, not criminalize them in violation of natural law. For plants and fungus are not obliged to meet FDA standards. They are God's (or the universe's) gift to us, and it's our job to use them as safely as possible.

If Kevin REALLY wanted to cut back on marijuana use, he would call for the immediate re-legalization of the coca leaf to give users alternatives. But he's bamboozled by Drug War propaganda into thinking that "drugs" are some objective category of evil substances that we all are duty-bound to ignore.

That is not science, Kevin, it's Christian Science, the religion that tells us that we have a moral duty to refrain from using drugs.

How the Atlantic Supports the Drug War
What Obama got wrong about drugs
Why Kevin Sabet is Wrong
Kevin Sabet and Drug War 2.0

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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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