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What Terence McKenna Got Wrong About Drugs

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

January 2, 2023

f anyone on the planet might be imagined to "get it" with regards to drugs in the modern world, you'd think it would be Terence McKenna, and yet he too was bamboozled by Drug War ideology. In specific, Terence swallowed the drug-war lie that a psychoactive drug with addictive potential can have no beneficial uses whatsoever. And so, in his lectures in "History Ends in Green," he speaks with disdain about drugs like cocaine and opium. With regard to the latter drug, he alludes only to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas DeQuincy, as if to suggest that opium, the world's time-honored panacea, can only be used addictively and destructively. The fact is, however, that laudanum (a form of opium) was to be found in the majority of British medicine cabinets in the 19th century and addicts were the exception to the rule (although prototypical Drug Warriors like Coleridge preferred to blame their problems on the opium itself rather than on their uninformed use of the drug). As author Richard Middleton wrote, the drug in that era was used by poets of the time in "a series of quarterly carouses" in order to glean inspiration, in part through the synesthetic properties of the drug. In other words, the poets used the drug wisely, being aware of the potential for addiction.

Even many of the Chinese whom today's Drug Warrior would retrospectively label as addicts were more fairly characterized as "habitues," those for whom the daily use of opium was a cultural norm and did not cause a problem in their life. (See "The Truth About Opium" by William Brereton.) This is especially clear when one compares that lifetime use to the lifetime use of mind-numbing Big Pharma meds upon which 1 in 4 American women are addicted for life, drugs that are known for such side effects as brain zaps, weight gain and anhedonia (See William Brereton's "The Truth About Opium," written to refute the fearmongering lies and mischaracterizations of the Anti-Opium Society, the moral equivalent of America's Anti-Saloon League in 19th-century Britain.)

It's simple to prove that drugs like coca and opium have value. Just consider the case of a chronically depressed individual who has been scheduled for a lobotomy or shock therapy. Do we really think that it's better to physically injure that patient's brain with ECT rather than to give them some joy in life with coca and opium?

Of course not. It is clearly better to give the patient plant medicine than to injure their brain. In fact, it is the moral thing to do. Even a die-hard Drug Warrior would have to admit that, at least if the ECT or lobotomy candidate was a member of their own family.

The sad truth, however, is that we moderns would actually prefer to injure the patient's brain, judging by Drug War legislation which outlaws "drug use" even in this dramatic case. But surely this preference to injure the brain smacks of the most fanatical Christian Science zealotry imaginable, Christian Science being the religion of Mary Baker Eddy who told 19th-century Americans that drug use was immoral. And why did she think drug use was immoral? Because she believed that we should seek all help, whether mental or medical, from Jesus Christ. The modern Drug Warriors adopt the same notion with regard to psychoactive medicine, except that they replace our need for Jesus Christ with our need for "a higher power." The courts have long recognized the invalidity of Eddy's claim when it comes to physical medicine, yet have signed off on laws that mandate a Christian Science approach to psychoactive medicines, thereby establishing Christian Science as the law of the land when it comes to mind- and mood-affecting drugs.

Like all Drug Warriors, Terence implicitly ignores the power of anticipation to boost mood. Take me, for instance. If I knew I could intermittently use drugs like coca and opium, the mere knowledge of that upcoming use would be therapeutic: for anticipation of happiness leads to happiness itself. This is an obvious psychological truth, but one which the Drug Warrior completely ignores.

Why do Drug Warriors ignore the obvious, like the therapeutic power of anticipation?

1) Because of Freudian psychology, which keeps us from looking at obvious cures, forcing us to doubt anything but subconscious and hidden motivations.
2) Because of reductive materialism, which tells us that the "real" source of one's problems is biochemical and hidden to the naked eye or to the untrained individual (those untrained in reductive materialism).
3) Professionalism: the desire to appear to know things that a civilian does not know (because they're hidden, don't you see?).

So, for the prestige of their job and to give their jobs a veneer of being "scientific," psychiatrists ignore the obvious and look for "real" answers either in dreams or under the microscope. And so I could be laughing my ass off in front of Dr. Robert Glatter while inhaling NO2, but the doctor would tell me that laughing gas is not helping my depression. For Glatter has to find body chemistry that tells him that I'm being helped -- the mere fact that I'm happy means nothing to him.

Thus the Drug War turns today's doctor into Mr. Magoo, to the detriment of the patient.

This is why we need a philosophy of the Drug War, because Drug War assumptions skew our thinking in entire fields of human endeavor, thereby blinding us to the glaringly obvious. In psychology, they keep us grasping about for "cures" for depression, when obvious cures are staring us in the face. The legalization and aggressive promotion of laughing gas could put an enormous dent in America's depression epidemic. So could the chewing of the invigorating coca leaf. The properly scheduled use of opium and psychedelics, etc. -- scheduled in the calendar, I mean -- could give the depressed hope (not to mention esthetic insights) through anticipation and even help, under the right set and setting, to open their mind's to therapeutic self-criticism.

But Drug War ideology has blinded us to all of these obvious approaches to mood and mind "problems."

The fact that even Terence McKenna was blinded by Drug War lies shows how insidious the problem has become. Even he was duped by the Drug War propaganda of omission, thanks to which Americans never learn about the positive uses of the substances that we've been told to hate in grade school -- with television, films and academic articles being devoted entirely to misuse and abuse and never to positive and beneficial use.

Of course, it's being generous to say that doctors ignore the benefits of drugs for only the reasons enumerated above. A more cynical mind would point to their financial reasons for doing so, namely the fact that the Drug War gives them a hugely remunerative monopoly in prescribing the addictive meds of Big Pharma -- drugs for which addiction is not merely a bug, as it is with cocaine and opium, but rather a feature -- as is clear from the popular injunction to "take your meds," as if addiction in these cases was a public duty, whereas a similar use of opium or coca is considered a crime and a sin.

Author's Follow-up: January 3, 2023

Let me confirm again that I believe McKenna's speculations and insights are of great value in generating important discussions on the subject of drugs. That said, I have another qualm upon listening to his lectures featured in "History Ends in Green." McKenna keeps repeating the phrase that "ontology recapitulates phylogeny," which means basically that human beings rapidly morph through a variety of related evolutionary stages in the womb before becoming full-blown human beings at birth. This idea has been discredited in recent decades. It is now known, in fact, that the chief champion of the concept, Ernst Haeckel, drew misleading sketches of the development of the human embryo in order to advance this idea.

Also, Terence pays short shrift -- indeed he pays no shrift at all -- to the power of drugs like opium and coca to inspire great writers and intellects. He is just like the Drug Warrior in that he judges drugs based upon the apparent value systems of those whom he sees using them -- and in his social milieu, that would have been mostly party people. Meanwhile the Drug War culture is silent about all positive uses of drugs like coca and opium. The result? Terence talks as if the only possible use for such drugs is to get "stoned" by them. What then are we to say about HP Lovecraft and Poe, who were inspired by their opiate experience to create fantastic literature? What are we to say about HG Wells and Jules Verne who used coca wine to give them the focus and follow-through they needed to write great stories? To paraphrase Shakespeare, does Terence think, because he is virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale -- i.e., no more great story writing or outlandishly creative painting, etc.?

Author's Follow-up: May 11, 2023

Even if opium use is for the mere purpose of getting "stoned" in the most prejudicial acceptation of that word, it does not follow that the poppy should be criminalized. The whole idea of outlawing Mother Nature should be anathema to Terence McKenna of all people -- but then he is in good company. Even Michael Pollan believes that it makes sense to criminalize Mother Nature. How else can we explain his lukewarm support for legalization. He still advocates a "watch and see" approach -- although that approach has already denied me godsend medicines for a lifetime. It is a testament to the success of Drug War indoctrination that even American botanists agree that Mother Nature can be rightfully outlawed. It's as if the government outlawed Moon dust and NASA shrugged.

Whatever these brainiacs know, they are unaware of one thing at least: the fact that this nation was founded upon Natural Law, and that nothing is more antithetical to that law than the interdiction of freely given godsend medicine. God himself said it was good -- proving that the Drug War ideology is a religion -- or an anti-religion if you please. It is based on the metaphysical assumption that plant medicines are bad, not good, and the anti-scientific idea that they can have no beneficial uses -- which is anti-scientific for the simple reason that there are no such substances on planet earth. Even cyanide has beneficial uses. When we rule out such uses a priori, we deny ourselves medical godsends and possible treatments for Alzheimer's and autism, etc. -- insofar as psychedelics grow new neurons in the brain.

Next essay: The Handicapped NEED Crutches
Previous essay: Modern Addiction Treatment as Puritan Indoctrination

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Addiction Tweets

ME: "What are you gonna give me for my depression, doc? MDMA? Laughing gas? Occasional opium smoking? Chewing of the coca leaf?" DOC: "No, I thought we'd fry your brain with shock therapy instead."
Until we get rid of all these obstacles to safe and informed use, it's presumptuous to explain problematic drug use with theories about addiction. Drug warriors are rigging the deck in favor of problematic use. They refuse to even TEACH non-problematic use.
Until we legalize ALL psychoactive drugs, there will be no such thing as an addiction expert. In the meantime, it's insulting to be told by neuroscience that I'm an addictive type. It's pathologizing my just indignation at psychiatry's niggardly pharmacopoeia.
We don't need people to get "clean." We need people to start living a fulfilling life. The two things are different.
Chesterton might as well have been speaking about the word 'addiction' when he wrote the following: "It is useless to have exact figures if they are exact figures about an inexact phrase."
The government causes problems for those who are habituated to certain drugs. Then they claim that these problems are symptoms of an illness. Then folks like Gabriel Mate come forth to find the "hidden pain" in "addicts." It's one big morality play created by drug laws.
Chesterton wrote that, once you begin outlawing things on grounds of health, you open a Pandora's box. This is because health is not a quality, it's a balance. To decide legality based on 'health' grounds thus opens a Pandora's box of different points of view.
Using the billions now spent on caging users, we could end the whole phenomena of both physical and psychological addiction by using "drugs to fight drugs." But drug warriors do not want to end addiction, they want to keep using it as an excuse to ban drugs.
Jim Hogshire described sleep cures that make physical withdrawal from opium close to pain-free. As for "psychological addiction," there are hundreds of elating drugs that could be used to keep the ex-user's mind from morbidly focusing on a drug whose use has become problematic.
And this is before we even start spending those billions on research that are currently going toward arresting minorities.
When doctors try to treat addiction without using any godsend medicines, they are at best Christian Scientists and at worst quacks. They are like the doctors in Moliere's "M
As Moliere demonstrated in the hilarious finale, anyone can be THAT kind of doctor by mastering a little Latin and walking around pompously in the proper uniform.
Like the pompous white-coated doctor in the movie "Four Good Days" who ignores the entire formulary of mother nature and instead throws the young heroin user on a cot for 3 days of cold turkey and a shot of Naltrexone: price tag $3,000.

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You have been reading an article entitled, What Terence McKenna Got Wrong About Drugs published on January 2, 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)