Essay date: September 3, 2022

Why the Drug War is Worse than you can Imagine

an open letter to Damon Barrett

The Drug War is a smashing success for law-and-order  conservatives, whose world view is:

Damon Barrett is co-Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy and author of the 2020 book entitled 'Child Rights and Drug Control in International Law.' He is also editor of the 2011 essay collection entitled Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Policies on Young People.

Dear Mr. Barrett:

I was reading "Children of the Drug War" - or at least trying to. It's tough reading to see what the drug-war ideology of substance demonization has wrought in terms of unnecessary suffering.

Personally, I believe that the Drug War survives in part because it is so very wrong that smart people do not even know where to begin in criticizing it. For it is not simply wrong in one respect or another, but it represents a fear-driven and anti-scientific way of looking at the world.

To see this, we need simply consider what the word "drugs" means today in common parlance. Drugs: a psychoactive substance for which there is no good use: not for you, not for me, not for anyone, not now, not ever, not here, not there, not anywhere.

A moment's reflection tells us that there are no substances of that kind. There are no such things as "drugs" thus defined. Even the deadly Botox has beneficial uses in the right doses at the right time for the right person. So the Drug War enshrines a political conclusion about Mother Nature's medicines as the law of the land and debars science (by law and indirectly through discouraging funders) from even attempting to refute the notion that certain substances are somehow bad in and of themselves. This is not simply anti-scientific but it's also ahistorical as well, for the kinds of substances we're talking about here have inspired entire religions, as soma inspired the Vedic-Hindu religion and coca was considered a sort of divinity by the Inca. To say that these substances have no beneficial uses for humanity is not only wrong, but when these prejudices are enforced by drug law, it is a crackdown on religion. Indeed, it's a crackdown on the religious impulse itself.

Many drug reformers inadvertently give aid and comfort to the Drug Warriors by basically accepting that there are indeed substances that can work only evil. They quickly ascribe most western drug use to hedonism and "recreation," but this I would argue is presumptuous, at least when we are speaking of adult substance use. Human beings have always sought self-transcendence. To declare that such attempts are hedonistic or recreational is often a value judgment, even if the users themselves might have never consciously recognized that they were striving for self-transcendence in their substance use.

And so the would-be reformer's argument against the Drug War is watered down to say: "Yes, drugs are bad, but it's even worse to outlaw them."

This sentence is problematic for the reasons mentioned above: First, the very word "drugs" is a politically defined term, and second it ignores the human desire for self-transcendence and the way that religions have been born in the past. Also "bad" is a term that cannot properly apply to substances, except in a world in which governments make superstitious drug policy, while modern scientists (unlike the feisty Galileo) sit back and placidly accept the new censorship, refusing to speak up on behalf of themselves, or of the freedom of science -- refusing even to at least acknowledge that they are being censored.

This denigration of a thing called "drugs" has been public policy for decades now. It has recently been revealed, in fact, that the Office for National Drug Control Policy in America was founded on a charter which barred the group from ever even considering beneficial uses for criminalized substances, with the warped and circular reasoning being that merely talking about such things would "encourage drug use."

To get an idea of how VERY wrong the Drug War is, let us consider a country in which Mother Nature was considered a godsend medicine maker rather than a Drug King Pin.

In such a country (if the US would only allow it to exist!), the psychoactive pharmacy would be a wonderland of potential shamanic treatments wherewith a pharmacologically savvy empath could teach a truly honest and candid client how to live large. Are the clients not enjoying music sufficiently: let them listen to great music under the guided influence of a psilocybin mushroom; are they failing to love their fellow human being sufficiently: let them become more compassionate under the guided use of entheogens; do they not appreciate mother nature sufficiently: let them experience a guided garden tour while using morphine; do they need to increase their work output to survive: let them be taught how to use coca wisely, in the manner of great writers like HG Wells and Jules Verne, both of whom touted the ability of coca wine to increase both the quality and quantity of their literary output.

In such a world as I'm attempting to outline above, the real enemy is not "drugs" but ignorance.

"Drugs" as currently defined would be a meaningless term in their society, for it posits what Julian Buchanan calls a drug apartheid, in which some substances are to be judged harshly in the absence of all evidence (like MDMA and psilocybin) while others (like alcohol) may be green-lighted despite the fact that they cause almost 100,000 deaths a year.

In the world I propose, a substance would be a substance and would be treated dispassionately as such. We can already see why such a world would be opposed root-and-branch by Big Pharma: in a free market in which any substances could be used, no one would choose to buy expensive Big Pharma meds which, unlike any naturally occurring medicine, are actually MEANT to be taken every single day of one's life, for life.

Instead, we actually remove Americans from the workforce should they be found to be using any competitors to Big Pharma meds, upon which 1 in 4 American women are, indeed, chemically dependent for life.

When a long-lived public policy accomplishes all sorts of evil like this while yet failing utterly in its announced goal: namely, to end "drug use," then we can safely say that the policy represents a wrong way of looking at the world. Indeed, the very goal was wrong, since the very idea that we should say "no" to psychoactive medicines is a Christian Science prejudice, not some ineluctable truth to which rational minds are naturally drawn. Of course, the Drug War's longevity (dating from 1914, when America first outlawed a plant medicine) means that it's accomplishing SOMETHING in the eyes of politicians, but it's not stopping drug use: in fact, America is now the most drug-taking country in the world and by far the most chemically dependent. No, the real reason for the Drug War's staying power among racist know-nothing politicians is that it is quite successfully removing minorities from the voting rolls while giving America the moral cover it needs to intervene in foreign countries at will. In this way, the Drug War is a smashing success for law-and-order conservatives, whose world view may be stated by this paraphrase of the Federalist doctrine: "Millions for law enforcement, but not one cent for education."

I could go on and on... but the fact that there is still so much more to say on this topic makes my point: namely (to paraphrase biologist JB Haldane): the Drug War is not only worse than we imagine, but it's worse than we CAN imagine.

Mind you, it would be easier to imagine if the media conglomerates did not deep six any stories that connected the dots between inner-city shootings and substance prohibition, which created armed gangs and cartels just as surely as liquor prohibition created the Mafia. It's quite amusing to read the various local stories (published in "faux local" papers that are actually owned by Gannett or Scripps) in which mayors and other officials scratch their heads bemusedly about the growing death totals in inner cities, as who should say, "Well, where did THAT come from?" It's as if these befuddled leaders had completely forgotten the lesson of the 1920s: namely, that prohibition causes violence, and so they cast about for bogus causes, like the heat, lack of social skills and job opportunities. (They're like, "Search ME!") In 2019, CNN correspondent Lisa Ling produced an entire hour-long special about Chicago violence in which she never even MENTIONED the Drug War. Not once.

Yet, as Ann Heather Thompson wrote in the Atlantic in 2014: "Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist."

Extra Credit

September 24, 2022

For extra credit (and to warm the cockles of your underpaid professor's heart), the avid student would do well to read Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas, 2017, by W. Golden Mortimer (see link below). It's interesting to note that in writing this brave work -- which the vast majority of authors would not dare to undertake in today's substance-hating climate -- Dr. Potter solicited thoughts on coca from countless members of academia who might be supposed to have an interest in the topic. The vast majority of these savants completely ignored her letter (which I can well believe, given my own fizzled attempts to rouse philosophers into fighting mode viz. the Drug War -- see I asked 100 American philosophers what they thought about the Drug War). But among those who did reply, a fair portion were indignant that Carol would even dare to write on the subject.

It sounds horrible and anti-scientific, right, to declare that a subject should be off-limits to science in supposedly freedom-loving America? And yet this attitude is to be expected when we consider what the term "drug" means as used today. It means "psychoactive substances for which there is no good use: not here, not there, not for you, not for me, not for anyone: not now, not ever."

Of course, that definition is bogus. There are no substances of that kind. Any substance has potential value at some dose, in some situation, in some place, for some person, at some time. Even the deadly Botox toxin has beneficial uses. To say that the creative mind of humanity can never find positive uses for demonized medicines is nonsense.

But you see the problem here, right? Once we accept this truly superstitious definition of "drugs," then it follows that we should avoid even talking about them. They are evil incarnate after all, and therefore to even talk about them is to remind the unwary youngster that they exist.

This is the evil logic of the Drug War, based on demonstrably false premises, which keeps folks from learning the truth about psychoactive medicines.

But for those who believe that we should value facts over fear, please continue reading books like the following, at least while it's still legal to do so. For once the sentiments of the indignant Drug Warriors mentioned above are codified into law, it may eventually be illegal to merely point out the positive sides of the drugs that America has been taught to hate, sight unseen.

Potter, Carol. "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas." January 01, 2017.

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

Next essay: Ignorance is the problem, not drugs
Previous essay: Ignorance is the enemy, not Fentanyl

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(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