bird icon for twitter

The Problem with Michael Pollan

Why a botanist should not support the drug war

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

June 7, 2023

or all his popular writing about psychoactive medicine, Michael Pollan supports prohibition. He believes it actually makes sense to outlaw Mother Nature's bounty. That's a strange position for a botanist living in a purportedly free country. Worse yet, Michael is hypocritical, because he believes that prohibition makes sense for you and I, but not for himself. That's why, in his lengthy book "How to Change Your Mind," he spends 400 pages telling of his personal experiences with psychedelics, only to confess on page 405 that he is not in favor of mushrooms being legal for mere human beings. Putting the elitist hypocrisy aside, I think this is an appalling position for a botanist to take.

But let's suppose for a moment that Mother Nature is so evil that outlawing her bounty makes sense - even though such measures would violate the natural law upon which America was founded and clash with Christian orthodoxy which tells us that people can be good or bad, not things. Even then, we have the proof of the last 100 years that prohibition causes civil wars overseas, militarizes police forces, creates inner-city violence, arms the gangs and the cartels, causes drive-by shootings, denies godsend medicines to the depressed and those in pain, and censors science. And what is Michael's argument in FAVOR of prohibition? A shroom might be misused by a young American kid.

Well, of course a shroom might be misused, Michael, but that's BECAUSE of the Drug War itself, which teaches Americans to fear drugs rather than to understand them. That's why the tellingly named National Institute for Drug Abuse publishes endless papers on misuse and abuse of drugs, but almost nothing on responsible use, which, as Dr. Carl L. Hart writes in "Drug Use for Grown-Ups," is by far the main way that psychoactive drugs are used in the real world, this despite the fact that the Drug Warrior does everything they can to keep Americans ignorant about drugs, since their goal is to make us fear rather than understand them.

And why do prohibitionists like Michael insist on thinking that young white American suburban kids are the only stakeholders in the prohibition debate? As a chronic depressive, I've been forced to go a lifetime now without godsend medicine that grows at my feet. Yet I've never heard of a Drug Warrior wringing their hands on my behalf. And there are hundreds of millions like me who suffer all so that we can protect Johnnie and Janie Whitebread from the politician-created boogieman called drugs. I'm not saying that Michael is racist himself, of course, but the prohibition that he supports (however lukewarmly) most definitely is. (See the book "Whiteout" for some of the many ways that this is so.)

The truth is that Michael is Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to drugs. The choice of his subject matter makes him sound progressive, but he occasionally lets slip a line which betrays a deep conservative streak as well. In supporting prohibition, for instance, in "How to Change Your Mind," Michael tells us that Nixon outlawed psychedelics in order to ensure the health of young men being recruited into the army. That's simply not true. Nixon didn't want the campus followers of Timothy Leary to be fit for military service, he wanted them thrown in jail, preferably on felony charges to deny them the future right to vote.

He created drug laws in order to disenfranchise his opposition, a step that removed hundreds of thousands of blacks from the voting rolls and handed elections to Drug Warriors, and eventually to Donald Trump himself, who, if re-elected has voiced his determination to start executing those Black drug dealers that previous administrations had been satisfied with just throwing in jail.

If Michael is really excited about the psychoactive substances that he is studying, he should denounce the Drug War which keeps all those godsends from being used by his readers. Until then, Michael is treating those readers like Tantalus of the Greek myth, vividly exciting them about a host of substances that turn out to be just out of reach for everybody but Michael himself.

Next essay: The Placebo Effect and Drugs
Previous essay: Why doctors should prescribe opium for depression

More Essays Here

Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

There are neither "drugs" nor "meds" as those terms are used today. All substances have potential good uses and bad uses. The terms as used today carry value judgements, as in meds good, drugs bad.
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.
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.
Of course, prohibitionists will immediately remind me that we're all children when it comes to drugs, and can never -- but never -- use them wisely. That's like saying that we could never ride horses wisely. Or mountain climb. Or skateboard.
Ann Lemke's case studies make the usual assumptions: getting free from addiction is a morality tale. No reference to how the drug war promotes addiction and how banned drugs could solve such problems. She does not say why daily SSRI use is acceptable while daily opium use is not. Etc.
Q: Where can you find almost-verbatim copies of the descriptions of religious experiences described by William James? A: In descriptions of user reports of "trips" on drugs ranging from coca to opium, from MDMA to laughing gas.
Besides, why should I listen to the views of a microbe?
Over 45% of traumatic brain injuries are caused by horseback riding (ABC News). Tell your representatives to outlaw horseback riding and make it a federal offence to teach a child how to ride! Brought to you by the Partnership for a Death Free America.
Classic prohibitionist gaslighting, telling me that "drugs" is a neutral term. What planet are they living on?
The Drug War is based on a huge number of misconceptions and prejudices. Obviously it's about power and racism too. It's all of the above. But every time I don't mention one specifically, someone makes out that I'm a moron. Gotta love Twitter.
More Tweets

essays about

My Conversation with Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan and the Drug War
The Michael Pollan Fallacy
Hey, You, Get Off Of My Creed!

front cover of Drug War Comic Book

Buy the Drug War Comic Book by the Drug War Philosopher Brian Quass, featuring 150 hilarious op-ed pics about America's disgraceful war on Americans

You have been reading an article entitled, The Problem with Michael Pollan: Why a botanist should not support the drug war, published on June 7, 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)