The Drug War is fueled by the fact that at this historic moment . . . our politicians are suffering from enemy deprivation. Faced with the real problems of urban decay, slipping global competitiveness, and a deteriorating educational system, the government has decided instead to turn its energies toward the sixty million Americans who use illegal psychoactive drugs. — Timothy Leary, advocate of psychedelics, 1920–1996
The primary problem with drugs is that they are illegal and/or state-controlled. This counter-evolutionary state control of substances that we ingest for other than nutritional purposes is the root cause of virtually all the problems that people are concerned about in connection with drugs, drug abuse, and drug-related crime. Sure, all drugs have potential problems if abused. But we are human beings and we are able to make judgments about these things, and treat them with respect and caution—just as we must when we drive vehicles, have sex, or buy food from street vendors. Cannabis, magic mushrooms, peyote, opium, coca leaf extracts, and alcohol were all legal at the end of the nineteenth century, when only alcohol was regarded as a major social problem. A century later, we find that alcohol is the only consciousness-altering drug that remains legal, and it remains a major social problem.
It should not surprise us that young people, especially, seek to experiment with drugs that alter or enhance their perception of life, and that youths and adults seek a drug-granted respite from the predictability of everyday life. There’s a menu full of options out there to choose from, but all of our choices are channeled towards alcohol. The biggest cause of alcoholism is, perhaps, the difficulty in obtaining safer, nonaddictive, and less befuddling alternatives, cannabis in particular. During the 1990s alcohol consumption plummeted amongst Europe’s youth, together with football hooliganism, as a wider selection of drugs became available, “ecstasy” in particular. Clubs and bars were losing a significant slice of their income to this competitor that made people feel great for less, and happy to drink water. Once they realized what was going on, the brewers mounted a skilled and successful campaign. Kids are once again drinking large amounts of alcohol, and the most likely white powder they will ingest is cocaine, which tends to encourage more drinking, not less.
It seems a reasonable desire for people to find some means to get “out of their heads” from time to time—to take a totally different perspective on life. Perhaps some new perspectives are needed in the world today, and the attraction to drugs is evolution trying to happen. We should be pleased that many of today’s generation are avoiding the trap of alcohol addiction, together with the anti-social behavior, depression, trivia worship, and middle-age burnout that abusers risk. When not abused, alcohol can be an enjoyable and stimulating drug that is beneficial to our health and well-being. Alcohol has a well-earned place in our culture, but that place does not deserve to be defended by state legislation and turned into a drug monopoly.
Drugs are an integral part of our culture and, as we learned in school, they made up the core of the early international business that brought the world’s differing cultures into trade with each other. Those products of trade included tobacco, alcohol, opium, tea, coffee, chocolate, cocaine, and sugar. Tea was such a costly drug in the pre-revolutionary US that users would season and eat the dried leaves after drinking the strong tea. Prior to the discovery of sugar cane, the sweetening for Europe had been expensive honey; the intense sugar hit was once a luxury drug. Today, we are made addicts from childhood, with many seeing it as a child’s inalienable right to consume large quantities of sugary things. Yet it is clear that the effects of sugar consumption are more damaging than many illegal drugs, and that for many, sugar is a harder drug to kick. The other major items of trade were pepper and spices, products we might view as virtual drugs to the taste buds of the bland European palate of the mid-millennium. The glorious history of trade in the civilized world was firmly anchored in humanity’s desire for new and diverse drugs and sensory inputs.
Under the pressure of the cares and sorrows of our mortal condition, men have at all times, and in all countries, called in some physical aid to their moral consolations—wine, beer, opium, brandy, or tobacco. –Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, 1729–1797
People have always sought to include drugs in their lifestyle for many non-medical reasons: whether to stay awake longer or to fall asleep sooner; whether to drown their sorrows or to better understand them; whether to enjoy a banter in the bar with friends or have mystic communication with a tree; whether to explore their dark side or say hello to the god within. Some drugs are not an escape from “reality” but a gateway to exploring the very nature of reality. Even the humble drug tea was first discovered by Buddhist monks, who used its stimulatory qualities in their quest for higher consciousness when meditating through the night. One could imagine how dismayed they would be at the level of tea abuse taking place in modern Britain.
Some of the banned drugs are not only less dangerous than alcohol—they are hardly dangerous at all, and can lead to behavior that is positive and beneficial for the individual and society. Such minimal risk is involved in using psilocybin mushrooms and cannabis that it is difficult to find figures relating to deaths, if any, arising from their usage. Ecstasy (E, MDMA, Molly) is responsible for fewer deaths each year than paracetamol, lightning hits, or beef consumption. And millions of happy users continue to use these drugs with far less damage than that experienced by alcohol drinkers, amphetamine abusers, cocaine sniffers, cigarette puffers, or chocolates gobblers. Adults, as they long have, should certainly discourage drug experimentation in children. All drugs carry some risk if abused, even aspirin and cough syrup. But if we wish to enjoy the benefits, then we have to accept the responsibility, just as we take care when we travel in our car or on our bike, or go horseback riding, skiing, or swimming in the ocean. Much of our life consists of balancing the risks in life with the benefits to be had.
Getting happy, loving, insightful, bursting with positive energy, able to dance all night, or just chilled out are all definitely nice things to do; on what basis is it claimed that these valuable experiences are invalid when a drug assists us in easily reaching the desired state of mind? Let the critics keep drinking their instant coffee, downloading instant music, and flying across the world in hours instead of weeks. Let them eat their microwaved dinners, sliced pre-baked bread and takeaway fast food, working on processors performing billions of calculations per second. Let them connect instantly with anybody in the world and escape from reality on TV, smart-phone, or iPad. But are we allowed to access happiness, peace, vision, boundless energy, or deep feelings of love quickly and without great expense? Oh no, this must be done the long way, through years of training and abstinence; or purchased, if we are to believe the advertising, when you select the right brand of automobile, sanitary towel, or soft drink.
Contrast the state’s complacency regarding what we put into our bodies under the guise of food with its concern over what we ingest to feed our heads (an apt phrase from the Sixties). With food, that basic and essential necessity of life, we can eat whatever we like for any reason whenever we want to. We are allowed to consume chemical food additives that have no natural equivalent on planet Earth. The state even assures us that all this stuff is safe, as they did with every now-banned food additive when it was still legal.
We are allowed to eat genetically modified foodstuffs, the likes of which could only have evolved in nature had you persuaded and enabled a scorpion to mate with a tomato. We can freely consume four times as much food as we need, and more than our body can safely process. We can go on doing this as long as we please, consuming hamburgers, candy bars, and soft drinks all the way to our state-provided hospital deathbed if we so choose. In the early 1990s the American Surgeon General attributed 80 percent of all illness-related deaths to diet-related causes. Yet nobody will jail you anywhere in the world for eating yourself to death.
So who is protecting whom from what? We are being denied sovereignty of our own mind! How can the state have the effrontery to control and legislate what we do with our own state of mind? Just what is going on here? Literally, you can end up behind bars for puffing on a plant that makes you feel happy and loving, gives you no crunching hangover, and is safer than crossing the road or visiting a friend in hospital. Must some twenty-nine million Europeans and thirty-two million Americans continue to be branded as criminals for making this choice?
Cannabis is the most risk-free illegal drug in existence, with a recognized safe history going back thousands of years. It is a happier and safer alternative to alcohol that doesn’t tend to the dangerous combination of diminished abilities and boundless self-confidence.
Since the precursor to this book, costlier super strong “skunk” strains have appeared on the market. These require greater caution, make cannabis easier to abuse, and have triggered psychotic reactions in a minority of younger smokers. Many smokers make a point of seeking out milder versions, while many growers still go for the highest return in an illegal market. The World Drug Report from 2011 reports that this adverse reaction arises from strains with a high THC content and a low level of cannabis’ other active ingredient, cannabidiol, which has been shown to have anti-psychotic properties. It is a problem that can be corrected by conscientious growers and breeders, and one that does not exist for users of hashish and more traditional varieties of the plant’s resinous buds.
There appears to be no statistical evidence linking cannabis consumption with actual dangerous driving. August 2003 UK House of Commons Research paper on cannabis says that “the impairment in driving skills does not appear to be severe, even immediately after taking cannabis, when subjects are tested in a driving simulator. This may be because people intoxicated by cannabis appear to compensate for their impairment by taking fewer risks and driving more slowly, whereas alcohol tends to encourage people to take greater risks and drive more aggressively.” More recently a US-based auto insurer (4autoinsurancequote.org) published a study showing that cannabis smokers were, statistically speaking, safer drivers than non-smokers. The US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said that driving under the influence of marijuana “might even make you a safer driver,” and found that cannabis users have accident responsibility rates below that of drug-free drivers. Yet penalties remain harsh for any driver testing positive on cannabis, for no sensible reason.
Cannabis is a drug, and use can turn to abuse and lead to reduced focus and motivation; this is a risk that is easier for a pot user to deal with when it occurs than it is for an alcohol user. And when it does occur, it is usually when cannabis is taken in combination with the addictive drug tobacco. Together they become a new drug that is pleasurable but addictive and tending more to abuse as a result. You are more likely to hear pure smokers talk about getting high and tobacco mixers about getting stoned.
Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man . . . It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record. –Findings of Senior US DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, 1986
There are no confirmed published cases worldwide of human deaths from cannabis poisoning. –The Lancet, November 18, 1998
By comparison, tobacco is attributed to some 450,000 deaths each year in the US. Alcohol, which is directly responsible for over 85,000 US deaths each year, is also as a major contributor to the incidence of murder, violent crime, rape, suicide, fire, and drowning.
Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere! –George Washington’s note to gardener at Mount Vernon, 1794
Cannabis smoking was never perceived as a major threat to society, or associated with crime, until the 1930s, when the fanatical and ambitious Harry J. Anslinger became America’s first drug czar. He made it his major mission to eradicate smoking of the “evil” drug marijuana, thereby undermining cultivation of the hemp plant on which it flowers. He had the backing and support of publishing baron William Randolph Hearst and his timber-owning buddies, in whose interest it was to wipe out hemp cultivation. It was the threat of hemp’s competition against timber as the raw material for paper that motivated the press magnate to give considerable media backing to Anslinger. America’s thousands of hemp farmers would soon have to change crops or go bust.
Marijuana is taken by . . . musicians. And I’m not speaking about good musicians, but the jazz type. –Harry J. Anslinger, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1948
The cannabis plant, hemp, can produce up to four times as much paper per acre as trees, and was the world’s main agricultural crop for three thousand years. It was the first US agricultural product ever referred to as a “billion dollar” crop—in a 1938 Popular Mechanics article, which read: “ . . . a machine has been invented which solves a problem more than 6,000 years old. The machine is designed for removing the fiber-bearing cortex from the rest of the stalk, making hemp fiber available for use without a prohibitive amount of human labor. Hemp is the standard fiber of the world . . . and can be used to produce more than 25,000 products ranging from dynamite to cellophane.” Getting “high” is just a minor fringe benefit that this wonderfully useful plant offers our culture.
Drug czar Harry Anslinger and a couple curious “specialists” heavily promoted the movie Reefer Madness, a bizarre piece of anti-cannabis propaganda made in 1936. My father graphically remembers being shown it at age fourteen, when it was being screened to teachers and students throughout the US. Its hysterical attitude, epitomized by a man going crazy and stabbing his girlfriend to death after a frenzied few puffs on a joint, defined America’s paranoid attitude to pot smoking for many years to come. Those who profit from pot’s continued illegality use more sophisticated techniques today, and are still winning the propaganda war despite the fact that nearly all of the official reports commissioned by governments, here and abroad, have come out in favor of legalization.
It really puzzles me to see marijuana connected with narcotics, dope, and all of that stuff. It is a thousand times better than whiskey. It is an assistant and a friend. –Louis Armstrong, 1901–1971
The class of drugs referred to as psychedelics have their original roots and inspiration in natural substances that have for millennia been our tools as we explore altered states of consciousness, seeking a deeper understanding of life and the mysteries of the Universe. The state bans these substances for the same reason that it issues passports and control which borderlines we cross. They take us to territory the state would rather we left undiscovered and unexplored. Psychedelics are the traveling drugs—they do not, generally speaking, work by stimulating or reducing urges or inhibitions. They are not addictive, and have the fewest fatalities associated with them of virtually any class of drug.
I have no words to explain the effect the LSD had on me, although, I can say it was a positive life-changing experience for me and I am glad I went through that experience . . . o ne of the two or three most important things in [my] life. –Steve Jobs, 1955–2011
They give us a new perspective on our familiar world, as we travel to other dimensions and connect with the spirit that accompanies the physical world. In many ways the familiar world we live in, with houses, plumbers, parliaments, smart-phones, cars, roads, wars, button-up shirts, bread, and so forth is but one channel on the set of all possible channels. Since this is the “reality” we have created within the world around us, we are tuned to it to such a degree that we can easily become oblivious to the deeper nature of the vast Universe that encompasses the little fleck of matter in space that we call Earth.
Psychedelics are not taken as an “escape” from this world but as a ticket to see it from a different perspective, perhaps from a different dimension. It is hard to emerge from this voyage without developing a realization, amongst many others, that those “in power” are possessed of a narrow vision fueled primarily by the desire to stay in power. Their viewpoint is of one channel only—the one that represents the status quo in whatever country they control—and their efforts to fine-tune this channel to a micro degree can often appear ludicrous. Thus, these drugs reveal clearly that “the emperor has no clothes” and therefore must be prohibited at all costs.
I’m glad mushrooms are against the law, because I took them one time, and you know what happened to me? I laid in a field of green grass for four hours going, “My God! I love everything.” Yeah, now if that isn’t a hazard to our country . . . how are we gonna justify arms dealing when we realize that we’re all one? –Bill Hicks, American comedian and satirist, 1961–1994
Many of the psychedelics grow naturally and have been utilized from the early days of our species along with the many other gifts of the Earth that we use to feed, clothe, and heal ourselves. LSD had its origins in the work of Dr. Albert Hoffman, who had a hunch that rye fungus ergot might yield some interesting drugs to his employers, Swiss drug firm Sandoz. First synthesized in the same year as the atom bomb, LSD exploded into the popular consciousness and kick-started the Sixties before it was banned. People never “looked within” before that—there was nothing there but intestines, muscles, organs, and stuff.
In the 1970s, chemist and psychonaut Alexander Shulgin, referred to as the stepfather of ecstasy, began experimenting with the MDMA molecule that created such a pleasurable sensation, and discovered over two hundred other psychoactive substances, most of which have now been banned. The latest new passports to enter our culture and attract persecution are the sacred plant medicines used since antiquity by indigenous peoples. Ayahuasca, peyote, and other ancient traveling tools are being increasingly explored in the West, with a sense of respect and usually with an experienced shaman in attendance. Many profess to feeling transformed and reborn by the experience of trying them.
Unlike our experiences with tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, chocolate, or heroin, we do not encounter users of psychedelics who continue to take these drugs while professing a constant desire to quit taking them. Many profess to experiencing profound healing with psychedelics—on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels—but if the experience is neither enjoyed nor beneficial, then there is never an urge to repeat it. They are powerful and dose-sensitive drugs, and in a legal climate buyers could be assured of dose and purity, reducing to zero the risk of accidentally taking too much and having an unpleasant time. Psychedelics should always be treated with respect, and are capable of giving stern reminders when this is not done. It is rare, too, for smokers of pure marijuana (tobacco-free) to continue smoking while professing their desire to stop.
Not all drugs are as safe and non-addictive as cannabis. Some, like heroin, cocaine, and controlled pharmaceuticals, carry serious risks and can create dependency and addiction. These are routinely made illegal in the belief that this will reduce consumption. The evidence could not be more to the contrary. Both the organized drug dealers and police forces grow in strength and stand to make more money or preside over bigger budgets in an illegal drugs climate. In this covert market products are sold without proper identification, industry controls, manufacturer name, usage instructions, safety cautions, or any buyer’s guarantee or maker’s liability. In a free market, the insurer’s requirements and legal liabilities for makers of crack cocaine and heroin could be a lot more effective at inhibiting this drug’s usage than are the ineffective efforts of police and politicians.
In a free and informed drugs market, fewer would choose the dangerous drugs. The evidence supports this in liberal countries such as Spain and Holland, where the majority of drug users choose from the far less toxic cannabis, ecstasy, mushrooms, and LSD. Many of these users have at one time or another sampled drugs such as cocaine, heroin, crack, methamphetamines, speed, or alcohol and either not returned, or just occasionally revisited. People are able to make intelligent choices, and when they are enjoying life, they are naturally interested in preserving their own, and act accordingly. Many of those minority who do slide downhill into a dangerous or damaging addiction will eventually pull themselves back, sometimes stronger for the experience. Alcoholics Anonymous has now been joined by Narcotics Anonymous. Legality isn’t the issue. Yet the state steadfastly refuses to let us exercise our own judgment in drug use. We live in a world where if you choose to make up your own mind about what you do with it, you can go to jail—for your own good, of course.
This perverse small-minded attitude has embroiled much of the world in a virtual third World War under the guise of America’s internationally exported War on Drugs. Whole economies have been ravaged and vast sums are spent each year from our taxes, and confiscated from our citizens, while the numbers imprisoned worldwide would equal the annual casualties of a great ongoing war. Millions of lives have been damaged to no purpose. This de facto World War does not defend us from any great evil threatening society. Yet it costs the US over $15 billion per year, fattening the coffers of those waging it—from the countless worldwide bureaus, agencies, and police forces, to the ever-expanding prison industry and makers of sophisticated testing apparatus. We frequently hear retired police chiefs, judges, and drug squad officers voicing the opinion that the War on Drugs is a failure, an opinion underlined by most major studies undertaken on the subject. Ex-President Bill Clinton is one of the latest to sing from the same “what a waste” song sheet.
The quality of life for all of us has been diminished by the growth of the police state and by the murderous activities of the criminal gangs enfranchised, and kept in business, by the blind and mindless perpetuation of this failed and bankrupt “War on Drugs.” –Graham Hancock, author and speaker, b. 1950
Perhaps the zeal with which this war is waged reflects the state’s own dependency on the massive tax revenues it raises from the well-established approved drugs, and hinges on its cozy centuries-long relationship with distillers, tobacco companies, and the pharmaceutical industry—the biggest drug dealers in the world. The small cartels running these empires are accustomed to having a de facto monopoly on recreational drugs as well as medicinal or healing ones, seeing any other drugs, first and foremost, as unwanted competition.
Another prime stimulus to the intolerance of psychedelic drugs, and a more deeply rooted one, arises from a religious establishment fearing that personal revelations of brotherhood and oneness with the Universe might not be in accordance with church teachings. The world’s three major prophet-driven religions cannot cope with the concept of spiritual understanding arising in us without the need for their books and stories (instructive as they may be). Could this be what the serpent offered us in the Garden of Eden? Taste of this fruit and ye shall taste what it is to be divine, and know the difference between good and evil (no mention of sex). Is this not a valuable thing to do? The gnostic Ophite sect, thriving in the first few centuries AD, had a similar biblical story, and in theirs the serpent was revered for offering us this sacred experience, and Jehova reviled for denying access and spurning the serpent. The Ophites were virtually erased from history by the triumphant Christian onslaught that soon followed its merger with the Roman Empire in the fourth century.
The casualties of the global War on Drugs are many and varied. Most obvious are those hundreds of thousands of the world’s citizens who are locked up, at our expense, for indulging or trading in alternatives to the standard “OK by the USA” drug; substances like alcohol, tobacco, anti-depressants, sedatives, coffee, and cola drinks that must be the only mood or mind-altering fare available to the world. Though it has long been openly acknowledged that the majority of illegal drug shipments do get through to their markets, the casualties and costs continue to mount with no benefit for society. In the US it can cost upwards of $50,000 annually to house a convict, in addition to the cost of arrest, trial, and conviction, which can easily exceed $150,000. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, the US holds 25 percent of those in prison globally. In other words, in the “land of the free” there are five times as many people in jail per capita as there are in the rest of the world.
Another level of casualties in the War on Drugs evolves from the distortion of the natural market, as consumers are driven to use and abuse more dangerous drugs than they would choose in a free market. The laws banning production, sale, and use of cannabis and ecstasy (MDMA) carry more responsibility for the growing abuse of cocaine than do all the drug barons of Colombia. They also carry responsibility for solvent-related deaths, teenage alcoholism, and the growing and dangerous abuse of pharmaceutical cocktail combinations that now figure as a major, though under-reported, problem in much of the US. Backflow occurred too, in the War on Drugs, when in the early 1980s the CIA are believed to have helped distribute crack cocaine to America’s inner cities in order to covertly fund the Nicaraguan contras. History will undoubtedly judge that the War on Drugs was itself the largest causative factor of America’s downhill slide into dangerous drug abuse. This would not be the first time that coercive state programs have produced opposite results to those intended. This war has clogged courts and jails worldwide with drug cases, creating far more problems than drugs ever posed on their own.
Like the American Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, the long-running War on Drugs has no chance whatsoever of success. As we know from history, the effect of Prohibition was to double the overall level of alcohol consumption while increasing deaths from sub-standard illicit alcohol. It provided the mafia with a very successful start in life and a database of virtually every club, bar, or place of entertainment in the US. And when marijuana prohibition ends, it could leave us the legacy of wealthy Mexican gangs controlling most of the American market, as do Vietnamese gangs in the UK. Prohibition provides us with an excellent example of the unintended consequences that arise from attempts to control society through top-down regulations underwritten by force.
The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. –Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist, 1879–1955
Society does have a problem with drug use. It is a serious problem that is getting worse. For some reason, though, the perception of this problem is focused entirely on the very small range of drugs that are being used illegally. We cannot ignore the very real problems faced by those who are using drugs prescribed by doctors. Their lives can be damaged and sometimes destroyed as a result of diagnostic error, their own abuse of the prescribed stocks (few recreational drug users have a month’s supply in a bottle), or just years of being dependent on pharmaceuticals with known side effects. These legal drugs must be obtained through controlled channels, but these channels translate into a multi-billion dollar industry throughout the world—the real drugs trade. While we condemn it when drug barons bribe and seduce judges, police, and politicians, we think nothing of the lobbyists employed by the pharmaceutical industry in Washington DC, who number more than three for every single Congressman or Senator. To rephrase that, there are 535 elected representatives shaping law and regulation in the capital of the United States, attended to by 1,724 paid persuaders from the pharmaceutical drug barons alone (as well as some 9,750 lobbyists from other interest groups in 2011).
The most successful, and profitable, pharmaceutical drugs are those which do not cure, but instead create a lifelong habit for the user, such as steroids, beta blockers, and antihistamines. These often generate hundreds or even thousands of dollars/pounds a month income to the suppliers. These drug dealers’ lobbyists openly encourage the state to pass laws controlling and restricting the alternative healing industry and the sale of herbal and other natural and unpatented medicinal remedies. Their expert lobbyists put convincing arguments to politicians that herbal medicines are unsafe and endanger the user’s life, over a nice cardiac-endangering lunch at a top restaurant. Even the deadly killers alcohol and tobacco are usually left out of the picture when the vast majority talk about “the drug problem.”
While acknowledging the dangers posed by some illegal drugs, I point out that the unnecessary suffering and destruction meted out by the “authorized” drugs trade is clearly the greater problem, despite being managed by trained people in white coats and slick PR professionals. More people will probably die from mis-applied or mis-prescribed pharmaceuticals in a week than from the so-called drug problem in a year. The statistics are not released and possibly not even tallied.
Changing our state of mind has long been a normal part of human activity, whatever agent or activity is being used to bring about the change. To allow some techniques, dangerous and addictive ones, as it happens, and ban others is an unacceptable intervention in our evolution. Many of these drugs arise from the vegetable kingdom, having specific fits to receptors in our brain that are designed to recognize and respond to their presence. The freedom to exercise sovereignty over our own state of mind should be at the core of any society calling itself free, and we must openly recognize and reject the audacity of those who would deny it us.
Disclaimer: Readers are advised to avoid all illegal drugs and to only ever ingest those substances that have been approved by the government, or prescribed by a government-approved doctor. Then you will be a happy, healthy bunny.
Image by Neon Tommy, courtesy of Creative Commons license.