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The Truth About Opium by William H. Brereton

Refutation of the fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

September 3, 2023

Click on the above audio link to listen to a multi-narrator audio version of 'The Truth about Opium'. The text for "The Truth about Opium" may be found at Project Gutenberg.

Important Points

  1. "The poppy is indigenous to China... and has been used in China for various purposes for thousands of years."

  2. "[Opium] is not only harmless but beneficial to the system, unless when practised to an inordinate extent, which is wholly exceptional; whilst spirit drinking ruins the health, degrades the character, incites its victims to acts of violence, and destroys the prospects of everyone who indulges to excess in the practice."

  3. Opium smoking and opium eating are two different things, despite the attempt of opium opponents to confuse the two.

  4. Chinese officials were never driven by public health motives in their opium policies.

  5. Much anti-opium sentiment in UK was aroused by a BIG LIE passed on by an American missionary, who declared that there were two million deaths from opium every year in China, which was an utter falsehood, as regular opium use was more often associated with longevity than with premature death.

  6. "All these anti-opium articles, speeches, and resolutions are based upon the same model. They assume certain statements as existing and acknowledged facts which have never been proved to be such, and then proceed to draw deductions from those alleged facts."

Author's Follow-up: November 15, 2023

Like all of us, Brereton was a product of his time. He was unaware of the carcinogenic nature of tobacco, for instance.

Most problematically, he suggests that Brits will never embrace opium smoking for sociocultural reasons. It's a Chinese thing. And that's certainly going to be true if the drug is demonized and prohibited, but in a free world it is common sense that such use would be attractive to many writers, poets and musicians, seeking inspiration. Although materialist prohibitionists scoff at the idea that opium can provide inspiration, it did, of course, lead to the writing of the poem Kubla Khan. And author Richard Middleton wrote in the 19th century that poets of his time smoked opium "in a series of magnificent quarterly carouses." In other words, they smoked opium wisely and for admirable motives as well. And, of course, HP Lovecraft would not be HP Lovecraft without opium. His tales are full of opiate imagery.

"The spectral summer of narcotic flowers and humid seas of foliage that bring wild and many-coloured dreams." -- Celaphais

But because folks like Coleridge blamed their own moral weakness on opium, the drug has been demonized. It's as if we had outlawed horseback riding because the first well-known horse rider in England had been thrown from his horse.

Next essay: How Prohibition Causes Immense Unnecessary Suffering
Previous essay: Why Drug Warriors are Nazis

More Essays Here


John Halpern wrote a book about opium, subtitled "the ancient flower that poisoned our world." What nonsense! Bad laws and ignorance poison our world, NOT FLOWERS!
Drug warriors do not seem to see any irony in the fact that their outlawing of opium eventually resulted in an "opioid crisis." The message is clear: people want transcendence. If we don't let them find it safely, they will find it dangerously.
"Judging" psychoactive drugs is hard. Dosage counts. Expectations count. Setting counts. In Harvey Rosenfeld's book about the Spanish-American War, a volunteer wrote of his visit to an "opium den": "I took about four puffs and that was enough. All of us were sick for a week."
In the same century, author Richard Middleton wrote how poets would get together to use opium "in a series of magnificent quarterly carouses."
It's an enigma: If I beat my depression by smoking opium nightly, I am a drug scumbag subject to immediate arrest. But if I do NOT "take my meds" every day of my life, I am a bad patient.
In "Rogue Agent," the bad guy forces one of his victims to quit her antidepressants cold turkey. Had she been on any other daily drug, the take-home message would have been "drug dependence bad!" But the message here is "get her back on those important meds!" What hypocrisy.

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You have been reading an article entitled, The Truth About Opium by William H. Brereton: Refutation of the fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade, published on September 3, 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)