bird icon for twitter

Why Americans Can't Handle the Truth about Drugs

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

April 21, 2022

he reader who believes that I am desperately in favor of "drug use" is wrong. I am desperately in favor only of complete honesty about drugs whereby intelligent persons may make intelligent decisions about using (or abstaining from) any given substance -- complete honesty, that is to say, about ALL drugs, including everything from Ketamine to SSRIs, from LSD to alcohol, from opium to tobacco. This honesty that I'm after would be based not on wish fulfillment or eye-catching one-off anecdotes, but rather on actual outcomes of actual use patterns, telling potential users in effect, "If you use substance A in this way, then X is statistically likely to happen, if you use it in THAT way, then Y," with such reports focusing both on the reported subjective AND objective benefits and downsides of use. My urgency derives from the fact that there is no such drug honesty in the United States. Instead, users must decide for themselves precisely how much of Drug Warrior bluster, overstatement and factual cherry-picking should justifiably discourage them in their particular use of a particular substance.

That said, it is emphatically not just the Drug War which is to blame for this lack of honesty about drugs in America. There is another force at work in American society that limits our understanding about so-called "drugs" and that is what I call the sanctification effect. It is a descendant of the American penchant for medicine shows in the 19th-century, wherein an authority figure (generally decked out as a "doctor") convinced a desperate audience that a bottle of "Dr. Good" would cure everything that ailed them and without any untoward side effects whatsoever. This sanctification effect appears whenever capitalism (or more specifically the entrepreneurial spirit) works to promote an unnuanced and glorified understanding of a psychoactive substance in order to peddle that substance to an often desperate clientele. Such a drug soon becomes beatified in the minds of its champions, who are thenceforth averse to even contemplating facts that might conduce to removing said substance from the pedestal that has been fashioned for it, often through a powerful combination of wishful crowd-think and the conscious sales strategy of ambitious entrepreneurs.

This tendency to sanctify is understandable as a reaction to the omnipresence of Drug War lies and misinformation in American society. It's especially understandable in those who believe as I do in our right to control our own minds and thought processes. Why, after all, would we want to give ammunition to our enemies so that they can emotionally trash psychoactive substances still further? Yet lies should be met with truth if we are ultimately to gain our freedom from those who would demonize psychoactive substances, even if such truth might seem to 'play into the hands' of our opponents in the short run. For it's not simply isolated truths that will eventually set us free, but rather the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In a world of such rigorous truth-telling, the unfounded and sensationalized fears of Chicken Little Drug Warriors will be seen for the uneducated panic that they represent.

For a specific example of the sanctification effect, let us consider ketamine. It is marketed as a new godsend for depression and highly praised both by entrepreneurs in the field and those who hope to benefit from the drug. So far, so good, as there is indeed some reason for excitement, especially in cases of severe depression. And yet ketamine use is not without risk1. I learned that there were risks, however, not from American doctors -- and certainly not from those doctors attempting to sell the drug as a depression treatment -- but rather from articles written by doctors in Hong Kong and Malaysia, where ketamine has been linked to urological problems in certain users. This negative factoid, however, is silenced in America by the above-mentioned sanctification effect. Why? Because generally speaking, the only folks who are talking extensively about ketamine depression therapy are the desperately depressed and those who cater to them capitalistically speaking, neither of whom are eager to hear about flaws in a substance that they are embracing (and/or marketing) as a long-awaited panacea.

So we have lies coming from both sides when it comes to drugs like ketamine: the Drug War encourages us to fear the drug uncritically while the sanctification effect leads us to embrace the drug uncritically.

That's why we need a Drug Education Agency to replace the highly mendacious DEA, which has been brazenly libeling plant medicine since its inception in 1973. We need an honest, nonpartisan and completely independent agency that neither touts drugs nor demonizes them, but rather provides totally unbiased and statistically based results of actual use of specific psychoactive substances in specific contexts, to clearly demonstrate how said substances can be used most safely for worthwhile purposes and in what ways their use may be seen to cause actual problems in the real world (problems, that is, which are not caused, as so many drug problems are today, by drug criminalization itself).

As this analysis suggests, it is not just the Drug Warrior who would oppose the creation of such a completely honest agency: it is the capitalist as well. For if we were completely honest about ketamine in this way, we would also have to be completely honest about Big Pharma meds, and complete honesty based on actual usage would show Americans (in black and white, as it were, after years of self-interested silence on this point from financially interested parties) that many SSRI antidepressants lead to a lifetime of substance dependency while yet not "fixing" depression, but rather leading in the long-term to emotional-flatlining.

And so when it comes to psychoactive substances, Americans of both parties are like Lieutenant Kaffee in "A Few Good Men." They say they want the truth, but they can't handle the truth.

PS Some might say that drugs are covered honestly in Academia, but this is not so. Any survey of the literature shows that almost all discussion of psychoactive substances is written with a myopic focus on the downsides of use. The collective effect of this body of literature is to toe the Drug War line that there is no rational use for psychoactive substances, a stance which is at odds both with the history of substance use (as, for instance, when soma inspired the Vedic religion) and the very basics of human psychology, which tell us that the search for self-transcendence is universal and not pathological as the prudish academic literature on this topic seems to imply.

May 26, 2022

Let's toss in a few caveats here that Brian (bless him) failed to address: First, when it comes to naturally occurring medicines, we have no right to outlaw them in the first place since they are a gift from nature and therefore not subject to criminalization -- in light of the natural law upon which America was founded. Yes, let's be truthful about them until the cows come home, but we must not let any safety scruples that we formulate about them convince us that we have a common-law right to criminalize plants. That was the original sin of the Drug War back in 1914 when politicians had the unmitigated hubris to criminalize the poppy, thereby creating a century-plus of gunfire, violence and the outlawing of religion -- insofar as drugs like coca, opium and psychedelics have inspired entire religions before the west came along to declare the substances somehow criminal in and of themselves.

Here's another elephant that Brian failed to observe in the room: The FDA's idea of "safety" reckons without its host. It gives decidedly short shrift to the desperate needs of the depressed and suicidal. That's why they can outlaw such an obvious help to the depressed as laughing gas (nitrous oxide). They outlaw it because they're scared to death that some uneducated young people will find a disastrous way to use the drug and then end up on the evening news in some local tragedy that will get drug-warrior jaws flapping in Congress. And what's the result of their politically inspired fear: MILLIONS AND MILLIONS must go without a godsend treatment -- all because a handful of young people might find a politically button-pushing way to misuse it. Since when do the merely theoretical concerns about a small number of young people trump the needs of millions if not billions??? Answer: Since the topic of "drugs" was politicized and became all about fear instead of education. Speaking of which, it never occurs to the FDA that the answer to their disproportionately centered fears is to educate the public -- rather than force the whole world to go without godsends because a relatively tiny number of kids are going to find a way to misuse them.

Author's Follow-up: June 21, 2024

picture of clock metaphorically suggesting a follow-up

In reality, it is very difficult to give objective information about drug usage. We may find, for instance, usage rules that hold true for Stateside Americans but which do not hold true historically in Latin American use. This is because drug use, especially of psychedelics and entheogens, is not just about set and setting, it is also about what Bobi Hill Deere of Oklahoma University described as "Set, Setting, and Sacra.2" Although he does not use this latter terminology, author Michael Stuart Ani highlights the importance of this additional category in his 2020 YouTube interview with Stephen Gray entitled "Secrets of the Sacred Mushroom.3." Also, we judge drugs by how they act on their own, not in combination with any other substances or in consideration of dietas that a "user" might have performed in advance of use. It is, however, foreign to the shamanic viewpoint to consider the effect of one substance in and of itself, in the abstract, without regard for the entire mix of circumstances in which "use" might occur.

Finally, no substance is bad in itself. When we outlaw a drug, we outlaw all of the potential benefits that a clever mind might have found in that drug. That is anti-science, anti-progress, and inhumane.


1 Ketamine, like any drug, has positive uses. We need neither apologize for it nor sanctify it. We simply have to evaluate the costs and benefits to decide if it makes sense in our particular situation. This is common sense, of course, but it's precisely what the drug warrior has forgotten. (up)
2 Deere, Bobi Hill, Set, Setting, and Sacra: Eastern North America’s Tobacco Shamans and the New World Narcotic Complex,, 2023 (up)
3 Stuart Ani, Michael, Secrets of the Sacred Mushroom: StephenGray Vision interviews Michael Stuart Ani., StephenGray Vision, 2020 (up)

Next essay: How the Drug War is a War on Creativity
Previous essay: The Menace of the Drug War

More Essays Here

Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

Q: Where can you find almost-verbatim copies of the descriptions of religious experiences described by William James? A: In descriptions of user reports of "trips" on drugs ranging from coca to opium, from MDMA to laughing gas.
Typical materialist protocol. Take all the "wonder" out of the drug and sell it as a one-size-fits all "reductionist" cure for anxiety. Notice that they refer to hallucinations and euphoria as "adverse effects." What next? Communion wine with the religion taken out of it?
The worst form of government is not communism, socialism or even unbridled capitalism. The worst form of government is a Christian Science Theocracy, in which the government controls how much you are allowed to think and feel in life.
To put it another way: in a sane world, we would learn to strategically fight drugs with drugs.
I looked up the company: it's all about the damn stock market and money. The FDA outlaws LSD until we remove all the euphoria and the visions. That's ideology, not science. Just relegalize drugs and stop telling me how much ecstasy and insight I can have in my life!!
There's a run of addiction movies out there, like "Craving!" wherein they actually personify addiction as a screaming skeleton. Funny, drug warriors never call for a Manhattan Project to end addiction. Addiction is their golden goose.
Even the worst forms of "abuse" can be combatted with a wise use of a wide range of psychoactive drugs, to combat both physical and psychological cravings. But drug warriors NEED addiction to be a HUGE problem. That's their golden goose.
By reading "Drug Warriors and Their Prey," I begin to understand why I encounter a wall of silence when I write to authors and professors on the subject of "drugs." The mere fact that the drug war inspires such self-censorship should be grounds for its immediate termination.
Prohibitionists have the same M O they've had for the last 100+ years: blame drugs for everything. Being a drug warrior is never having the decency to say you're sorry -- not to Mexicans, not to inner-city crime victims, not to patients who go without adequate pain relief...
Peyote advocates should be drug legalization advocates. Otherwise, they're involved in special pleading which is bound to result in absurd laws, such as "Plant A can be used in a religion but not plant B," or "Person A can belong to such a religion but person B cannot."
More Tweets

essays about

Unscientific American
How the Atlantic Supports the Drug War Part II
There is a Specter Haunting Science
Open Letter to Lisa Ling
The Problem with Following the Science
Another Academic Toes the Drug Warrior Line
Self-Censorship in the Age of the Drug War
Science News Continues to Ignore the Drug War
When Drug Warriors cry 'Censorship!'

front cover of Drug War Comic Book

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

You have been reading an article entitled, Why Americans Can't Handle the Truth about Drugs published on April 21, 2022 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)