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What We Mean When We Say 'Drugs'

How the drug war is a creation of language

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

February 17, 2020

he term "drugs" as used in the West is really just a pejorative epithet designed to stigmatize naturally occurring psychoactive substances and those who use them. The superstitious metaphysics underlying this stigma is identical to the mindset that countenanced witch hunts in the 14th through 17th centuries. It is the metaphysics of Christian Science as applied to psychological states, the unverifiable notion (i.e., opinion, or faith) that it is in some sense wrong to avail oneself of psychoactive substances to alter consciousness, and that those who do so are, in some sense, devilish.

That this belief is superstitious is easily seen, since those who use this term pejoratively have almost always done so in wilful ignorance of the precise function (or even identity) of the psychoactive substances in question, implying that a mere detailed knowledge of psychoactive plants placed a woman (and today a drug "user" of any sex) under grave suspicion of non-Christian behavior and intent.

When a "witch" of the old school imbibed extract of mandrake and similar trance-inducing substances, it was (at least according to the stuffed shirt Witch Warriors of the time) in order to commune with devils. But from the witch's point of view, it was surely to seek personal transcendence, whether to engage in what she took to be divination, or simply to relax. When a rock star imbibes plant-based substance, it is also to transcend his or her customary personality and inhibitions on stage, this time not for divination but for vocational success.

Yet psychology insists that anything a star could do on stage using a substance could be done twice as well without that substance.

What wilful self-deception! This is not to say that every rock star or mad comedian REQUIRES substance use (though surely the probability rises as the art form entails an increasingly dramatic split between the artist's on-stage persona and their off-stage behavior, as do both rock-and-roll and hip-hop, and increasingly so, as yesterday's behavioral outrages become today's norms). There are a vast variety of people, and in many cases, the social, cultural and familial stars and planets will so align as to allow the performer to be his or herself on stage, completely, without any impulse to hold back, requiring no chemical incentive other than the baseline chemistry provided by his or her daily metabolism.

But if the vast majority of us are really going to let our hair down, it is completely understandable that -- barring 21st-century laws and mores to the contrary -- we would want to achieve some form of the ecstasy of the witches of yore to help us "let go," such that our "nay-saying" childhood (in which we were psychologically tortured, albeit unintentionally so, by the implicit and/or explicit condemnations of parents, family and friends) are not allowed to stop us from bringing out the Jimi Hendrix in ourselves.

But psychology ignores the ancient need for transcendence, stubbornly insisting, with the Drug Warrior, that we can get all the transcendence we need by simply "telling ourselves" to be happier -- for that's what the whole self-help genre field consists of (not to mention the whole field of psychotherapy itself, at least until the pill-popping paradigm took hold): words, to tell us how to be happier, as if rationality could control our feelings, a central tenet of Western society, which is just plain wrong upon the slightest serious reflection.

Nor is a poor upbringing a necessary prerequisite for seeking transcendence through plant medicine -- at least for those who wish to explore what they are truly capable of in life, those who reject the Christian Science credo that it is somehow wrong to adjust mood via plant medicine.

Even Freud knew better. He did not attempt to improve his life by talk therapy. He engaged in the psychological real politik of cocaine use, early and often, a fact that psychologists ignore at their own peril, thus keeping their discipline out of touch with the real impulses of humankind.

All because the psychologists believe in this thing called "drugs," by which certain substances (i.e., psychoactive plants) are superstitiously believed to possess nothing but evil qualities: the same know-nothing credo that motivated the witch hunters, who cast a jaundiced eye on any woman who dared so much as learn about psychoactive plants, let alone used them.

The word "drugs" works wonders for law enforcement. Imagine if we saw a SWAT team ramrodding a house while a helicopter flew overhead, all because the owners of the house possessed PLANTS! Then it would be instantly clear how tyrannical the onslaught was. The police and politicians know this: that's why they never talk about a war on plants, but rather a war on "drugs." This is how the police departments grow in wealth: the darker they paint this whipping horse of "drugs," the more money is thrown their way by way of funding and forfeitures -- and the American people sit by idly, lulled into complacency by the malevolent use of a synonym.

June 13, 2022

By creating the demonic category called "drugs" (i.e., substances that are supposed to be unsafe anywhere, anytime, for any reason at all and in any context), politicians have promoted a narrative of Christian Science fanaticism that has driven America straight toward fascism, first by encouraging us to use the epithet of "scumbag" for those of our fellow Americans who would dare use such demonic medicines, and second by jailing millions of these "scumbags," thereby removing them from the voting rolls so as to ensure the victory of fascist Drug Warriors at the polls. Once in power, as Trump has clearly shown, the fascists in question will feel free to invoke the "final solution" for their war on plant medicine: namely the execution of those who dare to sell plants and fungi of which politicians disapprove. The only bright spot is that America has not yet quite reached the hysterical fever pitch attained by the Philippines' Duterte who holds that drug users are every bit as evil as drug dealers and therefore suitable targets for the "final solution" as well.

And to think Americans created this "drugs" canard out of whole cloth, by outlawing the opium poppy plant in 1914, in violation of the natural law upon which America was founded. That's when America invented addiction as a moral shortcoming too. Before then, folks like Benjamin Franklin and Marcus Aurelius (not to mention Joe and Jane Blow) could be mere opium habitues, with no stigma attached to their psychoactive pastime. After 1914, hey presto, these habitues were suddenly transformed into "addicts" in the American mind, sad moral weaklings who were to be tended to by a new breed of doctors known as psychiatrists, who would henceforth make a living out of figuring out what deep psychological problems led the user to partake of their supposed poison of choice. In other words, the doctors accepted without question the new definition of drugs as being worthless and dangerous substances, a view foisted on the world on purpose by Joe Biden and his dogmatically mendacious Office of National Drug Control Policy starting in the 1980s.

None of these doctors stopped to think about opium fans like Benjamin Franklin or Marcus Aurelius, or of coca enthusiasts like HG Wells and Jules Verne, or of psychedelic boosters like Clark Gable and Francis Crick. Nor did they ponder the fact that the Vedic religion was inspired by the psychoactive insights provided by plant medicine, as the coca plant and psychoactive mushrooms inspired religions in South America and Mesoamerica respectively. Such mere facts conflict with Drug War orthodoxy, after all, which holds that certain medicines are evil, period, full stop, without regard to any other considerations whatsoever.

Author's Follow-up: September 26, 2022

What we need are folks like Gabriel Maté to figure out what "inner pain" led 1 in 4 American women to become dependent for life on Big Pharma meds! The fact that he'd never think of undertaking such research is proof that addiction is a political term, not a medical one.

Here's Drug War morality in a nutshell: One must never use godsend plant medicine, but one has a moral duty to "take one's meds." Americans would rather be "scientific" and depressed than to feel good without the help of a board-certified doctor.

Reminds me of comedian Iliza Shlesinger, who says she only wants to hear from doctors and scientists online. And what doctors and scientists are those, Iliza? The same doctors and scientists whose inaction and indifference to patients has forced me to go 40-plus years without access to the plant medicine that grows at my very feet; the same doctors and scientists who can't figure out whether laughing gas could actually help the depressed -- ooh, what a poser! the same doctors and scientists who say I must take my meds every day of my life for a lifetime, never apologizing for the fact that the daily use of the pills was only recommended after scientists discovered that they caused chemical dependence, at which point the scientists and doctors made a virtue of necessity by suddenly claiming that the pills were always meant to be taken for a lifetime. (I can hear Jon Lovitz now: "Yeah, that's it, they're meant to be taken every day of your life! Didn't we tell you? Oh, sure we did! Yeah, every single day!")

Well, on the bright side, this latter development must have cured depression for those holding Big Pharma stock.

Related tweet: May 5, 2023

Psychotherapy takes our eye off the prize by diverting us from OBVIOUS treatments, like occasional coca or opium use, looking for highly speculative primordial motivations instead, under the flawed assumption that mere knowledge about them will heal us.

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You have been reading an article entitled, What We Mean When We Say 'Drugs': How the drug war is a creation of language, published on February 17, 2020 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)