never thought I would say that Jim Hogshire is completely wrong about something, especially after reading his refreshingly clear-headed "Opium for the Masses." But in his 1999 book "Pills-a-Go-Go," his rhetorical ship founders before it's even left its home port. That's because Hogshire starts out by taking the layperson's disdain for anti-depressant pills, mainly Prozac, as a telltale sign of "Medical Calvinism" in America and a puritanical refusal to be cheered up by "drugs." Now, I agree that this is the likely motivation for most Prozac critics, including Elizabeth Wurtzel and William Styron, whom Hogshire quotes in defense of this thesis. It's probably even the likely motivation for the vast majority of Prozac critics. But that's only because most Americans have their heads screwed on backwards when it comes to drugs. Most Americans are also, quite frankly, lousy at philosophy and logic. How else do we account for the fact that demagogue Drug Warriors have won such easy victories in America over their perennial foe called "common sense"?
There are, however, a raft of philosophical reasons why Prozac use is problematic, to put it mildly, none of them prompted by a Calvinistic fear of happiness and the good life. First of all, drugs like Prozac would not even exist in a society in which all drugs were legal AND we actively sought to benefit from their psychoactive effects. In such a situation, we would be profiting from the wise use of opiates, coca, MDMA, peyote, shrooms, "speed," and the wide range of non-addictive ecstasy-facilitating substances synthesized by Alex Shulgin, along with the thousands of naturally occurring medicines that our fear of drugs has kept us from even investigating, let alone harnessing for the psychological, religious and philosophical benefit of humankind. No one would be clamoring for a drug that changes their personality in a subtle way without elating them, especially when that drug cannot be stopped at will and, indeed, often results in a lifetime dependency on chemically related Big Pharma meds.
Ironically, Hogshire is guilty here of the same sin practiced by all non-fiction authors in the age of the Drug War: he is reckoning without the effects of that Drug War!
To see how, consider this quotation that he provides us from Elizabeth Wurtzel:
"By the time I was put on Prozac, they'd tried everything else possible, I'd had my brain fried and blunted with so many other drugs."
But neither Elizabeth nor Hogshire realize that Wurtzel had most definitely NOT tried everything else possible! To the contrary, she had only tried everything LEGALLY possible, which is but a fraction of the psychoactive pharmacy from which she might have profited in a free world. She had not tried laughing gas, she had not tried MDMA, she had not tried coca, she had not tried mescaline, she had not tried smoking opium on weekends with her friends. She may have even had her brain fried literally, and not just figuratively speaking, with the "modern" and "scientific" treatment of shock therapy. Why? Because according to the perverse ideology of the Drug War, it is better to damage the brain than to use the psychoactive plant medicine that grows at our very feet.
But rather than acknowledging the stingy and scientistic nature of the existing legal pharmacopoeia, Hogshire touts its benefits. He derides the notion of Dr. Peter Breggin that such pills are being used to tranquilize inner-city residents, adding dismissively that, "he wants disturbed people to stay that way, at least without pharmaceutical treatment." Again, this may be true, as far as it goes, but that's not far. I can't speak for Breggin, but if he's like many Americans, doctors included, he would indeed recoil from the idea that "pharmaceutical drugs" could or should help the depressed. But that's not the point. The point is that folks like Breggin would also recoil from the idea that outlawed psychoactive substances could (or even should) help the depressed. That's the problem with drug policy: not that folks are anti-pharmaceuticals, but that they are anti-drugs, period, full stop. They do not want us to use time-honored substances that could help with depression. They thus tacitly sign off on the puny size of the drastically limited psychoactive pharmacopoeia of Drug War America.
In fairness to Hogshire, he wrote this book over ten years before the publication of "Anatomy of an Epidemic," in which Robert Whitaker shows how modern anti-depressants cause the very imbalances that they were meant to fix. Had he known that 1 in 4 American women were going to be using such medicines by 2017 (as Julie Holland reports in "Psychedelic Medicines," 2017, by Richard Louis Miller), he might have been a little less sarcastic about anti-Prozac conspiracy theories. Would Hogshire really claim that 1 in 4 American women do, indeed, need a daily pill (or pills) to help them overcome depression? Would he not rather accept the thesis of Ivan Illich ("Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis: the Expropriation of Health") that our diagnoses are designed to privilege and protect a depressing social system that desperately requires changing?
And I would suggest to Hogshire that the biggest change needed is an end to prohibition itself: the puritanical social policy which outlaws all drugs that could help us get through down patches and help give us a broader and less self-obsessed view of the world, meanwhile even giving us insights into deeper realities, as William James himself maintained about the use of altered states in The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Here's the most I can say about Prozac: If there was nothing else available for depression (thanks to prohibition), then the severely depressed should use it or a related drug - insofar as anything that even SEEMS to work in the minds of the depressed is obviously better than suicide. But even in the age of prohibition, it is absurd to believe that 1 in 4 American women are so depressed that it makes sense for them to use Prozac (or any other SSRI or SNRI) every single day of their life, until death do they part. This is a dystopia reminiscent of "The Stepford Wives" by Ira Levin. It turns women into eternal patients and wards of the healthcare state. Even IF prohibition is taken as a given, this is still not a consummation devoutly to be wished. If women are really that depressed, then America should start looking at the man in the mirror, so to speak, and stop implicitly claiming that women are pathological for not enjoying the status quo of capitalist society.
For these reasons (and many more), I was racking my brains, trying to figure out why Hogshire was so determined to protect Prozac from all comers. I came up with the following three possibilities.
1) He believes that Big Pharma drugs are "scientific" and so must obviously make sense and be appropriate (a bias that he shares not simply with most science-worshipping Americans, but even with such otherwise sane anti-prohibitionists as DJ Nutt, Carl Hart, and Rick Doblin).
2) He is receiving money from Eli Lilly, makers of Prozac, and/or has some unmentioned connection with that company.
3) He is so focused on making a pill-friendly point that he pays drastically short shrift to the philosophical problems posed by pills like Prozac; he therefore sets up a straw man representing only the shallow anti-pill thinking of "medical Calvinists," ignoring the deeper philosophical problems with such drugs, the sort that would never occur to the average morality-obsessed prohibitionist.
I consider myself something of an authority on this subject, having been on SSRIs and SNRIs for 40 years of my life (so far).
I'm hoping to get off them entirely, by the way, beginning in five years when I retire from my freelance work at 70 ("should I live so long!"), at which point I hope to move to a section of the globe that has the least possible restrictions on the use of godsend psychoactive medicine. For my belief is that getting "off" something need not imply the commitment to a drug-free Christian Science lifestyle, as modern Drug War ideology suggests. I believe that drugs, indeed, can and should be used to "fight drugs."
But something too much of this, as Hamlet was wont to say, lest these biographical musings of mine should distract from the topic at hand.
Returning to Prozac, here are three problems with the same:
Such drugs are hard to quit because they muck about with brain chemistry in unpredictable ways, which makes the physical withdrawal symptoms last for months, rather than the week generally required for opium withdrawal (see reference for Julie Holland).
The real goal of the depressed is to THRIVE, not just to survive.
The question is therefore not, are these pills okay in the abstract? The question is: do they make sense in a world in which the depressed could freely use laughing gas, opiates, MDMA, shrooms, peyote, ibogaine, etc.?
The answer is a resounding no in my view. Why? Because the makers of drugs like Prozac clearly define "depression" differently than I define it (the proof is in their sleep-inducing pudding!) - and therefore they cannot be "fixing" what I "have" even if, in some reductionist sense, their pills may be said to "work."
Depression to me is expressed in an inability to live large, not merely in the possibility that I might kill myself.
And scoff as Hogshire might (and does), SSRIS DO indeed change personalities - and not for the better in my view. I say this based on both my own experience of 40 years of use and on my observation of family members before and after their "use" began. I telephoned a cousin about a year ago shortly after he began use. I got a creepy feeling upon hearing his voice, for it was an intonation that I had never heard from him before, as if he had stepped back a level or two, psychically speaking, from the conversation that he was having with me. It confirmed (or at least boosted) my existing impression that the use of SSRIs had subtly taken me "out" of life, made me more of a spectator and less of an actor.
Of course all psychoactive drugs may be said to change the personality in some way; but the changes with drugs like Prozac are more likely to be permanent, if only because the drug is used every day. The question is: what sort of change is made? Is it a change that the user actually wants?
The goal of the drug makers seems to have been to make me peaceable and help me survive life. But these were never MY goals. I wanted to live like the opium-loving Avicenna, who is said to have wanted a "wide" life, not a "long" one. I wanted to join the ranks of Jack Kerouac's friends:
"The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles." -Jack Kerouac from "On the Road"
But pills like Prozac do not facilitate this kind of life. To the contrary, they render its achievement far less likely, first by tranquilizing the user and then by rendering their biochemistry inimical to more vivifying treatments. The long-term users of SSRIs like myself are not eligible to participate in clinical trials of psychedelic use for depression for fear of a little studied phenomenon known as Serotonin Toxicity Syndrome.
So not only do the pills fail to help me achieve my goals in life, they also bar me from trying other treatments, treatments with a long historical backstory that vouches for their efficacy.
I am sorry to have to disagree with Hogshire because he is one of the very few authors who sees the vast majority of the hydra-headed injustices of the Drug War. It's just that he doesn't seem to even notice the ninth and final head of the monster. He fails to recognize that the psychoactive pills that he's promoting have been created according to the very puritanical Drug War ideology that he criticizes: namely, the idea that a "cure" for depression must not elate the user too much (that's a no-no) and that the use must not conduce to spiritual insights and self-transcendence (like those naughty mushrooms and cacti).
By serving as a friendly witness for Big Pharma, Hogshire deprives himself of the use of one of the biggest arguments against the war on drugs: namely, that it has created the biggest medical dystopia of all time by rendering 1 in 4 American women dependent on Big Pharma meds for life. (It did this through prohibition legislation which gave the pharmaceutical companies -- and the liquor industry -- a monopoly on mood and mind medicine in America.)
The point bears repeating: 1 in 4 American women are dependent on Big Pharma meds for life. This means that they are eternal patients, which is perhaps the most disempowering status of all, even worse than the status of "addict," which, in itself, does not render the user dependent upon the government and the healthcare industry. One does not have to be a medical Calvinist to find this state of affairs troubling - especially when the same Drug War that protects and privileges Prozac has kept folks like myself from accessing the medicines that grow at their very feet.
Buy the Drug War Comic Book by Brian Quass, featuring 150 hilarious op-ed pics about America's disgraceful war on Americans
PSYCHIATRY AND THE DRUG WAR
Imagine the Vedic people shortly after they have discovered soma. Everyone's ecstatic -- except for one oddball. "I'm not sure about these experiences," says he. "I think we need to start dissecting the brains of our departed adherents to see what's REALLY going on in there."
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 can take this drug that inspires me and makes me compassionate and teaches me to love nature in its byzantine complexity, or I can take Prozac which makes me unable to cry at my parents' funeral. Hmm. Which shall it be?" Only a mad person in a mad world would choose SSRIs.
We don't need people to get "clean." We need people to start living a fulfilling life. The two things are different.
Sana Collective Group committed to making psychedelic therapy available to all regardless of income.
You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. 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. (For proof of that latter charge, check out how the US and UK have criminalized the substances that William James himself told us to study in order to understand reality.) It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions (like the Vedic), Nazifies the English language (referring to folks who emulate drug-loving Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin as "scumbags") and militarizes police forces nationwide (resulting in gestapo SWAT teams breaking into houses of peaceable Americans and shouting "GO GO GO!").
(Speaking of Nazification, L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates thought that drug users should be shot. What a softie! The real hardliners are the William Bennetts of the world who want drug users to be beheaded instead. That will teach them to use time-honored plant medicine of which politicians disapprove! Mary Baker Eddy must be ecstatic in her drug-free heaven, as she looks down and sees this modern inquisition on behalf of the drug-hating principles that she herself maintained. I bet she never dared hope that her religion would become the viciously enforced religion of America, let alone of the entire freakin' world!)
In short, the drug war 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.
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. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.
PPS Drugs like opium and psychedelics should come with the following warning: "Outlawing of this product may result in inner-city gunfire, civil wars overseas, and rigged elections in which drug warriors win office by throwing minorities in jail."
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)
Andrew, Christopher "The Secret World: A History of Intelligence" 2019 Yale University Press
Aurelius, Marcus "Meditations" 2021 East India Publishing Company
Bache, Christopher "LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven" 2019 Park Street Press