Essay date: February 17, 2020

What We Mean When We Say 'Drugs'

How the drug war is a creation of language

There was no drug problem in the 1800s because then folks still blamed PEOPLE for bad behavior, not substances.  Today's

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.

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


For those who want to understand what's going on with the drug war from a philosophical point of view, I strongly recommend chapter six of "Eugenics and Other Evils" by GK Chesterton.
The American Philosophy Association should make itself useful and release a statement saying that the drug war is based on fallacious reasoning, namely, the idea that substances can be bad in themselves, without regard for why, when, where and/or how they are used.
Next essay: Calling All Philosophers
Previous essay: How the DEA determines if a religion is true

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The Philosophical Idiocy of the Drug War
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The Philosophy of Getting High
Without Philosophy, Science becomes Scientism
Materialism and the Drug War
Calling All Philosophers
Critique of the Philosophy of Happiness
Heidegger on Drugs
In Praise of Thomas Szasz
Join Philosophers Against the Drug War
Libertarians as Closet Christian Scientists
Majoring in Drug War Philosophy
Rationality Uber Alles
Scientism and America's Drug War hypocrisy
Speaking Truth to Academia
Nietzsche and the Drug War
What if Arthur Schopenhauer Had Used DMT?
How Scientific Materialism Keeps Godsend Medicines from the Depressed
Psychedelics and Depression
Drug Use as Self-Medication
John Locke on Drugs
Puritanical Assumptions about Drug Use in the Entertainment Field
Why Kevin Sabet is Wrong
I asked 100 American philosophers what they thought about the Drug War
The Great Philosophical Problem of Our Time


(seemingly useful organizations)

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 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.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

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)

Selected Bibliography

  • Bandow, Doug "From Fighting The Drug War To Protecting The Right To Use Drugs"2018
  • Barrett, Damon "Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Polices on Young People"2011 IDEBATE Press
  • Bernays, Edward "Propaganda"1928 Public Domain
  • Bilton, Anton "DMT Entity Encounters: Dialogues on the Spirit Molecule"2021 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Boullosa , Carmen "A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the 'Mexican Drug War'"2016 OR Books
  • Brereton, William "The Truth about Opium / Being a Refutation of the Fallacies of the Anti-Opium Society and a Defence of the Indo-China Opium Trade"2017 Anna Ruggieri
  • Burns, Eric "1920: The year that made the decade roar"2015 Pegasus Books
  • Carpenter, Ted Galen "The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to America"2012 Cato Institute
  • Chesterton, GK "Saint Thomas Acquinas"2014 BookBaby
  • Filan, Kenaz "The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally"2011 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Gianluca, Toro "Drugs of the Dreaming: Oneirogens"2007 Simon and Schuster
  • Griffiths, William "Psilocybin: A Trip into the World of Magic Mushrooms"2021 William Griffiths
  • Grof, Stanislav "The transpersonal vision: the healing potential of nonordinary states of consciousness"1998 Sounds True
  • Head, Simon "Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans"2012 Basic Books
  • Hofmann, Albert "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications"2005 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Illich, Ivan "Medical nemesis : the expropriation of health"1975 Calder & Boyars
  • Irwin-Rogers, Keir "Illicit Drug Markets, Consumer Capitalism and the Rise of Social Media: A Toxic Trap for Young People"2019
  • James, William "The Varieties of Religious Experience"1902 Philosophical Library
  • Lindstrom, Martin "Brandwashed: tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy"2011 Crown Business
  • Mariani, Angelo "Coca and its Therapeutic Application, Third Edition"1896
  • Miller, Richard Lawrence "Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State"1966 Bloomsbury Academic
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Nagel, Thomas "Mind and Cosmos: why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false"2012 Oxford University press
  • Newcombe, Russell "Intoxiphobia: discrimination toward people who use drugs"2014
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
  • Rosenblum, Bruce "Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness"2006 Oxford University Press
  • Rudgley, Richard "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances"2014 Macmillan Publishers
  • Shulgin, Alexander "PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story"1991 Transform Press
  • Shulgin, Alexander "The Nature of Drugs Vol. 1: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact"2021 Transform Press
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief"0
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology"2022
  • St John, Graham "Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT"2021
  • Szasz, Thomas "Interview With Thomas Szasz: by Randall C. Wyatt"0
  • Wedel, Janine "Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom and Politics and Created an Outsider Class"2014 Pegasus Books
  • Weil, Andrew "From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs"2004 Open Road Integrated Media
  • Whitaker, Robert "Mad in America"2002 Perseus Publishing
  • Site and its contents copyright 2023, by Brian B. Quass, the drug war philosopher at For more information, contact Brian at