A quick, two-question quiz. (1) Are drugs good or bad? (2) Good or bad for what?
Drugs, like automobiles, guns, and knives, are things. They are neither good nor bad. What is good or bad is what is done with them.
Whether their net effect is good or bad is to be determined by the drug user. Only he is entitled to say, "The likelihood of lung cancer outweighs the pleasure of smoking," or, "The possibility of a cure for leukemia outweighs the certainty of paying for a possibly ineffective treatment." Moral back-seat drivers may criticize the individual's choices, but they may not reach over and grab hold of the wheel, substituting their own choices for his.
This is precisely what conservatives and liberals are doing.
Conservatives view "substance abuse" as a legal problem. Because they view the law as a means of enforcing their anti pleasure ethic, they wish to ban drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. The individual is viewed as a sinner whose activities should be controlled by his moral superiors. Sin, like disease, is contagious; if we do not lock up the sinner, others near him will sin as well.
Liberals view "substance abuse" as a medical problem. They view the government -- and the medical establishment through which it acts -- as a kindly, knowledgeable parent. Its function is to protect the ignorant child (that is, the individual) from the consequences of his own actions. Even if saving them means they rot in prison.
To the statist, law is medicine: the medicine of the "body politic". The individual has no existence except as a cell in the body politic, which may be lopped off with no concern for such things as rights.
In this ideological morass, only libertarians view "substance abuse" as a fraudulent concept which attempts to use the prestige of science to justify the violation of rights. Drugs are not a legal or a medical issue (although they may lead to problems in these areas); rather, they are an issue of personal values. If a person risks his health by drinking or smoking too much, it is no different from risking it by skydiving or riding a motorcycle. Neither the indulgence in dangerous drugs nor in dangerous sports violates anyone else's rights. It is no one else's business.
The world has a long history of futile attempts to suppress drugs, including those which currently enjoy Most Favored Drug status in the U.S.: caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
The modern reaction to this is apt to be: well, they certainly got worked up over nothing, didn't they? But caffeine is a drug, and a powerful one.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant resembling, in both use patterns and effect, the cocaine which it replaced in Coca-Cola in 1903. Caffeine is now an unnoticed ingredient in commonly used patent remedies, as was cocaine until 1914.
A substance is said to be physically addictive if its use is followed by withdrawal symptoms which can be relieved by an extra dose, and if the user experiences tolerance -- that is, if larger and larger doses are required to get the same effect. Double-blind studies have confirmed that caffeine is psychoactive (mood-altering), causes withdrawal (headaches), and creates tolerance (a diminished effect from a constant dose level). Physical dependence results from five or more cups of coffee a day.
Few ever suspect caffeine as the culprit behind a whole array of symptoms. For example, caffeine withdrawal is the leading cause of headaches in America today. Thus, popular headache remedies, like Excedrin, include caffeine as a main ingredient; an extra dose of the drug eliminates the withdrawal symptoms.
People seldom think of their own caffeine consumption as drug use, yet they forbid their children to drink coffee or tea -- at the same time naively letting the kids have Coca-Cola or hot chocolate, which contain significant quantities of caffeine.
Over-indulgence in this drug causes symptoms akin to those of chronic poisoning: stomach upset, restlessness, disturbed sleep, and cardiac irregularities and palpitation. It may cause or exacerbate ulcers and nutritional deficiencies.
Even a single gram of caffeine ( 7 to 10 cups of coffee) produces acute toxic effects: insomnia, restlessness, excitement; sometimes mild delirium, ringing in the ears, flashes of light, and heart irregularities.
For humans, a fatal dose of caffeine is estimated at 10 grams (by comparison, a bottle of 40 Vivarin tablets -- an over the-counter medication -- contains 8 grams). As with cocaine, an overdose results in convulsions followed by respiratory failure.
Were caffeine a new drug, it would not likely get past the F.D.A.
How can Americans consume such a hazardous drug at a rate of over a hundred billion doses a year without doing intolerable damage? The answer: caffeine has been domesticated. Because its consumption is socially acceptable, the likelihood of overdoses has been minimized. Were it illegal, users might resort to more efficient and dangerous methods of taking the drug, such as ingesting pills of high dosage...and high risk. It would be both more expensive and of lower quality. Caffeine would become dangerous.
Thanks to Christopher Columbus bringing tobacco seeds back from the New World to Europe, the tobacco habit caught on quickly all over the world -- throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, even Australia. Demand was so strong that, on the west coast of Africa, slave traders would take several hundred pounds of tobacco as the price of another human being.
Pope Urban VIII issued a formal bull against tobacco in 1642; Pope Innocent X issued a second one in 1650. But the clergy continued to smoke. In 1725, Pope Benedict XIII annulled these edicts to avoid the spectacle of church dignitaries hastening outside to take a few clandestine whiffs.
Nonetheless, entire countries declared themselves no-smoking sections. In Japan, the tobacco habit was outlawed in 1603. Ensuing edicts declared that the property of any man detected selling tobacco should be turned over to his accuser (a practice similar to the modern U.S. policies of paying informants, and confiscating property alleged to have been purchased with drug money). In Constantinople in 1633, the Sultan Murad IV decreed the death penalty for smoking tobacco. In 1634, smoking was outlawed in Russia, with such penalties as beatings, or the slitting of the nostrils. Bavaria banned tobacco in 1652, Saxony in 1653, Zurich in 1667, and so on across Europe.
Despite these measures -- or because of them -- the tobacco habit spread rapidly.
We have heard much about the addictive properties of heroin, and how users will rob to get money for a fix to prevent withdrawal symptoms. In fact, this is true: such drug addiction is estimated to be the cause of about fifty percent of burglaries and muggings. Yet some experts believe tobacco is even more addictive. But since it is legal and -- therefore -- inexpensive, little crime results from the habit.
Yet when the supply of cigarettes is curtailed, smokers behave remarkably like heroin addicts. Habitual smokers in P.O.W. camps -- even when food rations were down to a scant 900-1000 calories a day -- were willing to barter their food rations for tobacco. Following World War II, the tobacco ration in Germany was cut to two packs a month for men and one pack for women. Cigarette butts were picked up out of street dirt by people who, by their own statements, would have otherwise felt disgust at such contact. Smokers begged for tobacco, but not for other things. Women prostituted themselves and men traded stolen goods for cartons of cigarettes. These are exactly the sort of accusations hurled at opiates under conditions of scarcity.
It takes a lot of will power to stop smoking. Sigmund Freud tried to quit his prodigious twenty cigar a day habit, especially after he was told it was causing his jaw cancer. Yet even during over 30 painful operations for this cancer, at the conclusion of which he had an artificial jaw and palate, he continued to smoke. By comparison, Freud occasionally used cocaine. He injected it under the skin, from 1884 until 1887, when he simply decided to quit using the drug. He continued to recommend it highly to friends and in journal articles.
In the U.S. from 1920 to 1933, alcohol was prohibited. People did not stop drinking it. Reputable saloons were replaced with sleazy speakeasies. Safely brewed and distilled beverages were replaced with dangerous rotgut. And, lest the large quantities of alcohol used in industry fall into the wrong hands, the government mandated the addition of poisonous methanol. Large quantities of the adulterated alcohol inevitably ended up in the "wrong hands": people were poisoned. Some of them were blinded or killed -- thanks to the government's concern for their health.
Since hard liquor is less bulky and, therefore, safer to smuggle than beer or wine, the nation turned to drinking this more concentrated and more dangerous form of alcohol. This shift in tastes persisted for over forty years after Prohibition ended.
There was also a shift to other, still legal, drugs. During Prohibition marijuana became popular. Coffee consumption jumped from 9 pounds per capita in 1919 to 12.9 pounds in 1920: a 43% increase in one year. Illegal alcohol also provided a toehold in this country for the Mafia: violent criminals replaced reputable businessmen. The huge liquor profits were used to bribe police and judges, reminding us that power corrupts.
To cap it off, taxpayers were forced to pay for 'this war on alcohol'. The major beneficiaries of Prohibition were the additional government employees hired to enforce it, who were for thirteen years spared the nuisance of performing productive jobs. When Harry Anslinger, chief enforcement officer of Prohibition, foresaw the end of Prohibition and his government job, he began to agitate for marijuana prohibition.
In the 19th century, the U.S. did not have a "drug problem" in the sense of a dangerous black market. Opium was legally sold at low prices; morphine came into common use during and after the Civil War; heroin was marketed toward the end of the century.
These opiates were as accessible as aspirin is today. Some thought their use immoral -- a vice akin to dancing, smoking, theater-going, gambling, or sexual promiscuity. But the law did not prohibit their use. Employees were not fired for addiction, spouses were not divorced for it, children were not taken from addicted parents. An 1889 Massachusetts State Board of Health survey found that the typical opium users were middle or upper class.
Dr. William Stewart Halsted, a founder of Johns Hopkins University, was addicted to morphine for decades until his death in 1922. His skill as a surgeon during those years of addiction earned him international renown. Since pure opiates do not have the body-destroying effects of alcohol or nicotine, addicts who -- like doctors -- have access to pure sources, can lead successful and relatively healthy lives.
Even Dr. Jerome Jaffe, the drug czar of the Nixon Administration, wrote in 1970:
"The addict who is able to obtain an adequate supply of drugs through legitimate channels and has adequate funds usually dresses properly, maintains his nutrition, and is able to discharge his social and occupational obligations with reasonable efficiency. He usually remains in good health, suffers little inconvenience, and is, in general, difficult to distinguish from other persons."
Anti-heroin laws, however, led to the synthesizing of legal substitutes for heroin which are far more potent and -- when impure -- far more dangerous. They can cause fatalities and degenerative conditions similar to Parkinson's disease.
Back then, anti-drug laws were passed as a way to harass racial minorities. Chinese opium dens were common in San Francisco when the city outlawed the smoking of opium in 1875. Opium smoking had never attracted much attention, until organized labor and small business perceived the Chinese as unfair competition because they were willing to work for lower wages than whites. Later the laws were justified by the claim that the Chinese got whites addicted, despoiled white women, and so forth. Anti marijuana laws were passed to harass Mexicans, who also worked cheap. Later, the laws were justified by the claim that smoking marijuana drove Mexicans to criminal behavior.
The drive to ban cocaine was fueled by hatred of blacks, who were, it was claimed, driven by the drug to commit crimes and despoil white women. The real motive was revealed by a Dr. Charles B. Towns, who wrote in 1912, "When an overseer in the South will deliberately put cocaine into the rations of his Negro laborers in order to get more work out of them to meet a sudden emergency, it is time to have some policy of accounting for the sale of a drug like cocaine." In other words, blacks were successfully competing with white laborers, and something had to be done about it.
In addition to racism, the series of federal anti-drug laws passed after 1900 had another underlying motive. Doctoring was not as powerful, lucrative, or prestigious as it is now, and leaders of the American Medical Association wanted to make sure people had to pay doctors to get prescriptions for cocaine, morphine, and heroin. They succeeded. In 1919, however, there was a total narcotics prohibition.
After 1932, amphetamines provided a cheap substitute for cocaine. During World War II, the American, British, German, and Japanese armed forces issued amphetamines to their men to counteract fatigue, elevate mood, and heighten endurance -- much as cocaine came into common use when a German army physician issued it, in 1883, to Bavarian soldiers. When the F.D.A. cracked down on legal sources of this prescription drug, a large number of illegal amphetamine manufacturing labs resulted. Quality plummeted. Prices soared, as did crime.
In the sixties, the widespread use of various psychedelic drugs gave the government the opportunity to crack down on two more hated minorities -- dissident college students and "hippies".
Drug laws have manifestly failed to stem the consumption of drugs. They have been expensive failures for centuries and all over the globe. Among the costs have been additional taxes for law enforcement, disrespect for law, corruption of law enforcement, crimes committed by addicts, worsened health of drug users, and the conditioning of citizens to 1984-type tactics such as entrapment, wiretapping, mail theft, and breaking into residences with tanks.
An individual who views drugs as a panacea, and takes increasing doses of them, can do untold harm to himself -- but only to himself. A society which views government as a panacea, and takes increasing doses of it, can do untold harm to everyone.
What is drug abuse? Or, as it is commonly phrased, what is substance abuse?
The term of "substance abuse" is used in a manner that is overbroad and overselective at the same time. Overbroad because some of our favorite things, including food, are "substances" which can be abused. For example, you can overeat. Overselective because it refers only to substances voluntarily ingested by the so-called abusers. Drugs injected into involuntary mental patients by doctors are never said to be abused substances.
Evaluating the doctor's actions is not a scientific matter, but a moral one. A so-called scientist who dresses up this moral issue as a "scientific" one is similar to a bandit who wears a disguise to rob a bank: both wish to commit an immoral act, then pretend they haven't done so. By creating the pseudo-science of "drug-abusology", social controllers wrap themselves in the dignity and mystery of science. What they practice is not science, but scientism.
The difference is this: science describes; scientism prescribes...while pretending to describe. Science is used to manipulate the environment, and thus increase our self-control; scientism is used to manipulate other people, and thus decreases their self-control. Science is the search for truth; scientism is the search for excuses -- excuses for actions which, without the fake scientific jargon, would be called criminal.
For instance...if I club a bartender over the head and kidnap him for encouraging intemperate drinking, my action is called criminal. But if a doctor says the bartender's patrons suffer from a contagious "disease" called alcoholism, and calls upon legislators to arrest the bartender, his action is called "scientific".
Scientism is characterized by the use of value-laden terms as if they were objective. This is necessary because once we admit we are discussing values, we have to ask: whose values? And this leads to the question: if other people's values differ from ours -- if other people value the use of supposedly mind rotting marijuana to that of lung-rotting tobacco -- why is it our business? It isn't our body.
The distinction between "use" and "abuse" is highly subjective. Most often, it is not a scientific matter, but a political one. It is determined not by the presence or absence of objective physiological damage, but by the presence or absence of laws or social approval. We never hear of oxygen abuse, although breathing pure oxygen can cause serious lung damage; but then, pure oxygen is neither illegal nor looked upon with contempt. We never hear of water abuse, although drinking excess quantities of water can be, and has been fatal, having provided the means of a number of extremely unpleasant executions and suicides. Before discussing currently controversial forms of self abuse, like the consumption of heroin, let's discuss one about which most of us can reason calmly.
In the nineteenth century, the habit called "self-abuse" (in plain English, masturbation) was deemed by so-called scientific minds to be both the cause and consequence of "insanity". The accepted "treatment" for girls was the surgical removal of the clitoris and circumcision for boys. Physicians used to strap spiked chastity belts on boys to prevent "self abuse". Amputation of the penis was advocated, as recently as 1891, by one of the presidents of the (British) Royal College of Surgeons. [Szasz, p. 108] The absurdity and barbarity of this is clear now, but the mentality behind them has not vanished; it has merely moved on, like an exposed swindler, to other territory.
For a more contemporary absurdity, let's look at a territory which so-called scientists are attempting to take over. Again the so-called "abuse" is not an illness, but merely a habit. The substance I have in mind has been much discussed for thousands of years; some forms of it are taboo in various cultures. Yet the hysteria surrounding this substance these days exists mostly amongst physicians. It provides a model of the sociology and psychology of a power-grab disguised as a scientific diagnosis.
The substance in question is food. Those who fail to indulge in the medically "correct" amounts of it are deemed to be ill: either anorexic or obese. Common sense tells us that obesity is caused not by having too long an intestinal tract, but by eating too much, and that the "cure" is to eat less -- that is, to exercise self-control. Yet medical doctors have "treated" obesity by such mutilations as intestinal bypass operations. The so-called patient is not supposed to control himself, but to be controlled by others, like a child, for his own good.
This attitude can be seen in a 1969 American Journal of Surgery article on the surgical "treatment" of obesity, written by the surgeons who pioneered these operations. "A hostile attitude on the part of the patient cannot be tolerated," they note, which suggests that they wish to control not only the weight of the patient, but also his attitude.
The medicalization of personal problem-solving means the replacement of self-control with control by others. A further example of this is how, even into the seventies, an attempt to control one's own weight through illicitly obtained amphetamines could result in a permanent prison diet. If a state-licensed physician prescribed the same drug for the same purpose, however, this constituted medical treatment. The lesson once again: self control is badthink; control by others is goodthink.
When people want to justify the repression of individuals who have not violated anyone's rights -- individuals who are merely inconvenient -- they almost instinctively emit a cloud of pseudo-scientific jargon, as a squid emits a cloud of ink. If drug-abusologists were frank, they would admit that what they simply wished to impose their values on others
We are hearing more and more food abuse, because society disapproves of fatness, and because doctors see an opportunity to expand their own power and prestige. It is essential to place food abuse into a moral context, instead of a medical or legal one.
My idea of morality is this: it is immoral to take or destroy the life, liberty, or property of innocent persons by the initiation of force or fraud. What is immoral for a single individual to do is immoral for two individuals...or a hundred, or a hundred million, regardless of whether they call themselves a government.
The government derives its moral authority from citizens who delegate authority to it through voting. But they may not delegate authority they don't have, such as the right to arrest those who use unpopular drugs. If I don't have the right to stop you from taking drugs, two hundred million of me don't have that right, and neither does the government.
The idea of "privatization" became popular because it was going to get government off our backs. But what is being privatized is repression.
Many examples of privatized repression have turned up in the news in the last couple of years. A United Airlines ticket agent turned a passenger in to Drug Enforcement Administration agents because, among other suspicious things, he wore gold jewelry and paid for airline tickets in cash. [United States of America v. Andrew Sokolow; No. 85-1021; United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Slip Opinion; Filed January 28, 1987]
Police in Burbank, California, asked about 200 real estate agents to tip them off to clients who met similarly stringent criteria of suspiciousness. [Los Angeles Daily News, Feb. 7, 1986, p.1]
The giant Security Pacific National Bank has voluntarily tipped off the IRS in several cases of suspected money laundering, and even allowed an undercover IRS agent to operate out of one branch. [Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1985, Sunday, Home Edition, Business section, Page 1, Column 6]
In another "Volunteers for Repression" crusade, public and private employers have been instituting drug-testing programs. Public employees have been "just saying 'No'" to this. Several federal district courts have ruled that some government employees are protected from random, mandatory urine tests because of the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures -- by government.
However, a private employee can't appeal to the Constitution when his private sector employer says, "Your urine or your job."
Many Fortune 500 companies now screen employees or job applicants for drugs. Even Rolling Stone "reserves the right" to test employees for alcohol or drug use. [Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1986, Sunday Calendar, p. 76]
Yet the greatest accuracy claimed for any common test is 97% (under ideal circumstances). [Time, March 17, 1986, U.S. Edition, p. 52.] Thus if only three percent of a tested group use drugs, half of those stigmatized as drug users will be falsely accused. The Centers for Disease Control report that false positives may be as high as 66%.
Reading their tarot cards would have been about as accurate.
Safety concerns are understandable in work that's inherently dangerous. But what needs to be screened for is not past drug use, but present impairment. This could arise from sleepiness, hangovers, or other legal drugs not tested for. Computerized tests exist to measure such things as hand-eye coordination, concentration, and short-term memory. In some circumstances, such tests could replace drug tests with better results in both safety and morale, both of which have cash value to the employer. Money is not the reason for rooting out drug users from non-safety related occupations. It is a political, almost a religious, crusade. After all, when safety ceases to be a consideration, the difference between an employee who uses drugs on his own time and one who does not is like the difference between water and holy water: the latter is no more functional than the former, but people feel better knowing it's been blessed.
The ritual nature of drug tests is disguised by the high-tech methods used by enforce them, as though by using a scalpel instead of a butcher knife, a stabbing becomes a medical procedure. Drug testing is not rational cost-cutting, but hysterical scapegoating. (Alcohol still costs industry more than marijuana or cocaine.) The obscene success of drug testing is that even many of its victims believe it is justified. And that is the ultimate privatization of repression.
The costs of urine testing are not simply having employees queue up to pee.
In terms of civil liberties, the tests are invasive in more ways than just the collection, sometimes 'witnessed,' of the sample. The tests may also reveal drugs taken for such conditions as high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, or venereal disease. It pries into off-the-job conduct, since positive urine tests can be obtained long after the effect of the drug has worn off: days for cocaine, two months for marijuana.
Economically, any restriction on the way an employee may spend his income amounts to a wage cut. Moreover, drug users or no, most people above the moral level of politicians consider their personal dignity to be worth something. Even a drug-free pee in a bottle counts as a pay cut.
Doesn't it seem a bit odd to say that a man's home is his castle when his urine belongs to IBM?
You could hardly be more open about your sexuality than to walk into a police station in one of the more retrograde states and announce that you had committed the felony of sodomy. It would probably be a good thing if more gay people did just that. Stuart Reges did that at two different police stations in Virginia, but the cops declined to arrest him. Perhaps he'd have gotten results if he'd said, "Who do you have to fuck to get arrested around here?"
It is a higher order of bravery to announce that your -- what should we say? pharmaceutical preferences? -- are not in keeping with the reigning orthodoxy. Although the government continues its war on homosexuality, it is at least a low-level and undeclared war. But billions of our extortion dollars are earmarked for the War on Users of Unpopular Drugs. Even money not explicitly devoted to that purpose is turned to that end. For example, the vast subsidies the federal government gives to "private" universities can be cut off if those universities don't enthusiastically victimize drug users. The door to federal funds may as well be emblazoned -- to paraphrase Matthew 7:7 -- "Narc, and it shall be opened unto you."
And that is why Stuart Reges stirred up a much bigger controversy by using drugs than by being gay. Reges had been a lecturer in computer science at Stanford University for 11 years. In 1985, Stanford President Donald Kennedy handed him an outstanding faculty service award. Now Reges is purged from Stanford's hypocrisy-covered halls. Why? For the crime of speaking honestly on the subject of drugs.
When Stanford got its hand slapped for overbilling the feds on research expenses, we discovered what a large part of its diet that university gets from the federal cookie jar. Well, the feds have a little rule that says that they can withhold all the cookies from any university if a student or employee is allowed to violate drug laws. Thus places of learning are bribed or drafted into acting as narcs.
Some of us may recall the days when 'private' colleges started accepting federal funds. Their spokesmen proclaimed that they would not lose their independence, would not allow strings to be attached to the funds. Well, a few decades have passed. The funds now have more strings than a marionette show. The 'take a buck, be a narc' string being just one among many.
Given the competitive disadvantage of refusing the funds and allowing the feds to subsidize competing colleges -- the "right" to decline the money is practically meaningless.
Stuart Regis forced the issue by writing a letter to the federal Drug Czar stating that he had violated drug laws, and inquiring whether Stanford stood to lose its share of the federal cookies. Regis was quickly placed on administrative leave. Later, he was fired.
Since members of the press like to pose as champions of the underdog, and since no one in America is persecuted more ruthlessly than drug users, you might expect the press to grudgingly acknowledge Reges's courage. But consider the slant of the Los Angeles Times coverage: the Sunday, April 28, 1991/headline was, "Taunting Target in the War on Drugs." The issue of the autonomy of Stanford was never raised: instead, the article posed the question, "Who is stupider, Reges or the university?"
Even a protester who sits in front of a train and gets his legs cut off is not treated this way by the press. Even people who set themselves on fire in front of the White House are not treated this contemptuously. The reason is clear: there is no real fear that hordes will follow the examples of the train blockers and human torches. There is a real fear that if people like Mr. Reges are not stepped on by the state (and its hirelings, like Stanford; and its apologists, like the L.A. Times), then others will be emboldened to discuss drugs rationally.
A subtle point is often missed here. Reges was not fired for using drugs. If so, why did they wait five months after he had discussed his drug use in the Stanford student newspaper? The pretext for his dismissal was having -- off campus -- responded accurately to questions from a former student about a drug the student was considering: namely, MDA. He wanted to know if it was addictive and did it cause a loss of control? Reges honestly replied that MDA was not addictive and did not cause hallucinations of lack of control at anything remotely close to the customary dose.
He then repeated the mistake of claiming his own experiences on MDA had been very positive. This statement was the real cause of his dismissal.
Note: no one is ever censured for relating their drug experiences to America's youth -- if they say their experiences were bad. If Reges had lied and said he'd found drugs unpleasant, he would be canonized by the Drug Inquisition instead of given the Galileo treatment.
Ironically, the youth of America might pay some attention to the stories of bad experiences if (a) so many of them were not recounted only as conditions of probation on the part of the story-tellers; and (b) there were not such a curious lack of balance, a lack of admission that there may be reasons why bright successful people do take drugs.
The real issue is not drugs, the privatization and academization of oppression. It is the subversion of universities, like Stanford, into DEA enforcement agents. The mission of educational institutions has shifted from disseminating information, to suppressing it.
This is your university on federal funds. Any questions?
The first casualty in war is truth, and the war on disapproved lifestyles is no exception. The material on drugs is a curious mixture of fact, judgment, and fabrication. It embodies the fundamental assumption of pseudo-scientific social engineering: that people exist to be manipulated for their own good by experts. (What the experts exist for, and who manipulates them, is never made clear.)
Consider the treatment of drugs in Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia (Fifth Edition). Between 'Amperometer' and 'Amphibia', we find a terse 'Amphetamines. [See] Drug Addiction.' The clear implication: amphetamines cannot be used responsibly. This is a value judgment, not science.
Academics get government grants for "research" justifying fashionable policies. The purse strings are held by politicians, to whom lies are mother's milk. The result is usually propaganda, which bears the same relation to science that the National Lampoon does to life: it is a largely unamusing parody. Yet it rationalizes government repression.
Anti-drug crusaders characterize drug dealers as an unsavory class. Yet this is strictly a function of the legal status of the drug in question. Were the bottlers of Coca-Cola villains in the days when their product featured cocaine? Were the major drug companies making amphetamines twenty years ago composed of gun-toting hoodlums? No. Those who manufactured, distributed, sold, prescribed, and used these products were pillars of the community.
Conceivably there are drugs (PCP, perhaps) whose use often results in a danger to those around the user (like the risk of burning to death along with the neighbor who smokes in bed); there might be some sense in outlawing such drugs, though even here the costs would probably outweigh the benefits.
The vast majority of recreational drugs, however, pose no such problem. The greatest danger posed by proximity to pot smokers is terminal boredom; and an alcoholic is certainly more dangerous to be around than a speed freak, such as a housewife on prescription diet pills.
It is one thing to propose warning labels on drugs, similar to the cancer warning on cigarettes. Anti-depressants, sleeping pills, decongestants could inform the prospective user of the risk of habituation or adverse side-effects.
But to deny everyone access to drugs affecting only the user, is to attempt to structure society for those who are both too irresponsible to use drugs properly. The result of protecting a nation from folly is a nation of fools.
It may be foolish to believe that taking a drug will solve personal problems; how much more foolish to believe that passing a law will solve social problems. Yet how seductive the idea is, almost narcotic in effect. I was about to suggest we might be better off electing drug peddlers to public office -- but then, perhaps we already have.
We do not need protection. We need information.
This can come from two sources: personal testimony and good research.
The second source of good information on drug use and abuse are the observations of those with real world experience. Take me, for example...
My drug addiction began in Wisconsin in the late '60's. I didn't think it was serious at first. I just took a nose full of the stuff with a high school chum. Later I increased the dose. I was buying it every three weeks. I didn't know the nasal congestion I suffered was a withdrawal symptom, but I did know the stuff cleared it up. It wasn't until years later, when a doctor told me, that I realized I was addicted.
To Neo-Synephrine. An over-the-counter nasal decongestant which I took for hay fever.
Why did I become addicted back in those hippie days? Not because Neo-Synephrine was legal. After all, pot was illegal, but most of my friends smoked it; yet I abstained. What I didn't know about the nose drops was that my friend was taking far more than he needed; and following his lead, so was I. What I needed to protect me from Neo-Synephrine addiction was not laws, but information.
Drug laws, after all, cannot prevent drug use. They only prevent society from learning anything from the drug use that occurs; they foster lies to fill the silence; and this discredits valid warnings on the real dangers of drugs. This silence and disinformation, this never-ending cultural lobotomy, is the most subtle, the most ignored, and yet the greatest cost of the war on drugs. Silence and disinformation.
My Neo-Synephrine experience coincides with recent findings cited by Arnold Trebach in The Great Drug War: that honest, credible drug education may increase drug use -- but decreases drug abuse. To illustrate this important distinction, take an extreme case: imagine you could choose between having everyone take one drink a day before driving home, and having four people out of five drive home sober while the fifth one drives home on five drinks. The latter case, with fewer users and more abusers, is clearly less desirable.
A great deal of abuse is due to ignorance. This is an ignorance that government and society encourages. It busies itself instead outlawing drugs, thus driving information about them underground. By subjecting users to a black market, government makes them less knowledgeable and puts them at greater danger from what they are ingesting. Sometimes it even pollutes the drugs itself by, for example, spraying poisonous paraquat on marijuana. Those who do honest drug research or speak out with a dissenting view are silenced.
Those who take pot-shots at the truth are rewarded. Like Janet Cooke when she wrote a Pulitzer-winning fabrication about an "8-year-old heroin addict." Lies about drugs are so common that, if Cooke had not also lied about her academic credentials, she probably would have gotten away with it. Another classic tale told as true came in 1968 from then-Governor Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania: he claimed six college students had gone blind staring at the sun while on LSD. The Governor later recanted when his source, another government official, admitted he'd made it up.
I mention this old hoax because (a) we all remember its tenacity, and (b) it illustrates the self-fulfilling hysteria about "bad trips" which guaranteed that first-time LSD users would be more susceptible to bad trips as a result.
I can attest to this personally. In the summer of 1972, before moving to California to go to graduate school at Caltech, I did for the first time what other friends had done many times before: I took LSD. I went into the experience with the wrong attitude, and had a very bad trip.
But the worst of it was that afterward, my trip remained a private horror. The public hysteria did two monstrous things simultaneously: it made me fear that I had permanently damaged the only asset I had: my mind; and it made this unfounded fear something I could not confide to anyone. I finally went to the student health service, which referred me to a psychiatrist, whom I saw once. His answer to my problems: Valium, 10 mg., several times a day.
I had no idea what a high dose this authority had prescribed. One-tenth or one-twentieth of that would have provided a crutch. The prescribed dose, which I took, was an emotional strait-jacket. It was the opposite of what I needed. I needed the plain truth, and I got chemical repression. And the social inhibition against discussing the sort of shameful weakness that would lead to a need for tranquilizers assured that I would not soon learn how to use even them in a responsible manner. Valium wasn't even illegal; but the error-correcting mechanism -- communication -- was shorted out by the taboo.
All of the harm here came not from drugs but from silence and lies. Much the same, I suggest, is true of our culture.
Research is desperately needed to counter balance to the drug war propaganda which floods the media.
Three recent books provide evidence that our drug taboos are overreactions that stigmatize use instead of abuse. They are: Arnold Trebach's The Great Drug War (Macmillan); the Pacific Research Institute's anthology, Dealing with Drugs; and Steven Wisotsky's Breaking the Impasse in the War on Drugs (Greenwood). All three detail the pathologies growing from our addiction to anti-drug laws. These pathologies include: the destruction of constitutional rights; the growth of organized crime; the corruption of law enforcement officers; the denial of legitimate medical uses for stigmatized drugs; the destabilization and corruption of drug-producing countries.
In Breaking the Impasse in the War on Drugs, Wisotsky pinpoints a watershed for America's attitudes toward drugs:
"We may assume that the tolerant attitude toward unregulated drug use taking in the late nineteenth century reflected the zeitgeist of laissez-faire capitalism -- freewheeling entrepreneurship, self-reliance, and a near absence of governmental regulation. At the of the century, the Progressive movement produced, or perhaps reflected, a profound shift in this paradigm, from an individualistic ethic to a collectivistic ethic. Acting largely on materialist assumptions -- the detrimental effects on people of poor environmental conditions, physical and social (including drugs and liquor) -- reformers succeeded in justifying the 'need' for governmental regulation to displace individualistic or market approaches...The general tendency of the modern welfare state to attribute causation to environmental factors in shaping or controlling human behavior encouraged the perception of drug taker as helpless or sick victim." [pp 198-9]
Much more such analysis is needed.
"A great war always creates more scoundrels than it kills." anonymous
Society advances, in Karl Popper's phrase, by a process of "trial and the elimination of error." Hindering either of these two steps merely ties together the shoelaces of society. It does not hamper the commission of error, merely the elimination of error. It disconnects the ratchet of social progress.
Illegal drug "experiments" go on constantly, but we can learn little from the good or bad experiences of drug users. They may be arrested if they talk about them. Celebrity drug-users who are arrested often avoid prison if they agree to go on the lecture circuit and recant their heresy. To denounce their own self-experiments. The resultant testimony can hardly be considered reliable.
Drug companies have no incentive to invest in developing safer psychotherapeutic or "recreational" drugs, since these would simply be outlawed. The government's hostility to safe drugs was noted by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw in Life Extension:
"...[the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms] forbids the addition of anti-oxidant vitamins such as B-1 to booze, although medical experts ... agree [it] would significantly reduce alcohol-induced brain and liver damage." [p.563] An even better solution, they note, "would be to develop new recreational drugs which provide the desired alcohol high without the damaging side effects. There is, in fact, such a drug. [It has already been tested, but it] is not FDA approved, and it is not likely to be approved in the foreseeable future.".
This show of concern for the health even of legal recreational drug users is no less than we could expect from those wonderful folks who let thousands of AIDS patients die while awaiting the nirvana of the perfectly effective drug, and the chimera of the perfectly safe one.
These examples of cost imposed as savings, of danger and death imposed as safety, could be -- and still are -- multiplied ad infinitum.
Prohibitionists are starting to concede that their policy has costs. But their analysis usually fudges entries on both sides of the ledger. Anti-drug techniques include the following:
1. Ignoring the costs of the "Tuskegee experiment". That is, ignoring the social costs.
2. Aggregating costs imposed by people on themselves with costs imposed by people on others.
Consider what the anti-drug researcher does when he cites "productivity loss" as a cost of drugs. If Joe Would-be-cokehead were not producing anything in the first place, then his self-destruction would have "zero cost." Thus Joe's productivity is perversely used as an argument for curtailing his liberty. Would the researcher argue that, if Charles Krauthammer could make more money as a doctor than a political writer, he should be forced to do so? This simple minded "economic analysis of the law" is like cost/benefit on acid.
This leaves the one real social cost: accidents, especially on the roads. These are caused primarily by an irresponsible minority of drinkers and other drug users. The idea of rounding up all drug users because of the actions of a few sounds suspiciously like "There is no such thing as an innocent suspect." Surely this is better dealt with by diverting $10 billion a year worth of zealous narcotics officers into traffic patrols.
3. Ignoring damage to Constitutional rights.
It is said that the genius of Beethoven was such that he wrote for a piano that did not exist at the time: had his music been played as he intended, it would have destroyed the flimsy pianos of the day. Just so, the genius of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution was such that they wrote for a morality of which only traces existed in their day. And, sadly, in ours as well. It was a morality of individual rights.
There was serious debate amongst the Framers as to whether there should be a Bill of Rights attached to the Constitution. They feared that specifying certain rights which government must respect might invite government to usurp other rights which were implied, but not listed. This is why the Ninth Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights:
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
The right of adults to use drugs of their choice was one of these 'other' rights. Framers -- like Thomas Jefferson who used 'tincture of opium' -- did not think it was necessary to spell this out, because the presumption that government has a right to pass anti-drug-use laws was unthinkable.
How much more unthinkable would it be to them that the government can silence discussion of drugs, and make a mockery of the First Amendment. When the government confiscates putative drug profits (including money intended for attorney's fees), due process is mocked. Increasingly obtrusive searches are rubber-stamped in the name of the drug war...and the right to privacy dies. The list goes on.
'War is the health of the state', and the drug war is no exception.
4. Ignoring psychic benefits.
The feelings of drug users have no weight in this scheme. Yet the psychic benefits of some drugs may be far more than the mere physical pleasure of, say, cocaine.
One of the objections to drugs is that they "cause" some people to lose control over their lives. But in most of these cases, drugs -- legal or illegal -- simply help people carry out an already existing program for self-destruction. The "cure" is not to remove a few of the many available means of self-destruction, but to teach people how to change their own programming -- that is, how to become an autonomous human being instead of a robot.
Ironically, there is strong evidence that some illegal drugs, such as MDMA, would be suited to psychotherapeutic purpose.
There is even clearer evidence of the medical benefits of some illegal drugs, such as marijuana. Even the government doesn't deny its value in treating nausea in chemotherapy patients and glaucoma.
Millions of Americans suffer the progressive eye disease of glaucoma. 7,500 people go blind from it every year. In 1972, Robert C. Randall, aged 24, was told he had glaucoma an could expect to be totally blind in three to five years. By chance, he found that smoking marijuana completely restored his eyesight and arrested the progress of his ailment. When he began to grow these medicinal plants, he was arrested. Naively, he had called federal drug bureaucrats to get permission. He discovered that they already knew about its value for treating glaucoma; they had just never bothered to tell the public.
After tremendous legal battles, Randall won the right to use marijuana, supplied from Uncle Sam's Mississippi pot farm. The bureaucrats tried to make the supply subject to his keeping quiet about it. He refused; they capitulated. (How are you going to keep them down on drugs, after they've seen free speech.)
People are still going blind from glaucoma. People on chemotherapy, or with other chronic nausea, are still starving in retching agony.
For vast numbers of responsible would-be drug users, the law does not aid -- it obstructs -- their health and well being.
5. Ignoring spinoffs. Only when drugs are legal can they give rise to spinoffs which benefit non-users. Thus Friedrich Hayek writes in The Constitution Liberty,
"We shall never get the benefits of freedom, never obtain those unforeseeable new developments for which it provides the opportunity, if it is not also granted where the uses made of it by some do not seem desirable. It is therefore no argument against individual freedom that it is frequently abused."
Let's examine three of these costs in more detail.
Thankfully, some of the arguments from social cost are becoming familiar. The laws profit criminals. Inflated prices provide an incentive to sell to kids. Drug money corrupts police and judges. Foreign countries are destabilized by an industry we've made artificially profitable. Civil liberties are trampled by the perpetual-motion juggernaut of the Drug Abuse-Industrial Complex. Innocent people are terrorized or killed in nighttime break-ins by police who've bashed down the wrong door.
The American Bar Association estimates that half of all burglaries, and more than half of muggings, are committed by drug addicts. The odds are that you know one or more victims of these crimes. One friend of mine was mugged in the parking lot of his "security" building in West Hollywood. My lover's Los Feliz house was burglarized. My car was broken into across the street from USC. My landlord was mugged at the end of our driveway in Hollywood. My list of victimized acquaintances is much longer; you probably have your own.
Also, the cost of theft insurance is practically doubled by addict-committed crimes -- for you, and for all the businesses you deal with. Our dollars lose in value in proportion as addicts who would have added goods and services to the economy, instead live by stealing and mugging. We also pay in terms of fear of walking our streets -- and even of staying at home.
Now, is it some pharmacological effect of opiates that their users tend to crime for support? Or is it their illegality which has so staggeringly raised the price that many users must resort to crime to feed a habit which would cost no more than about a dollar a day in a free market?
Unadulterated opiates are not incapacitating to their users. A great many morphine users are among the most respected members of society: doctors, who have legal access to the drug. Their use is seldom detected because such use neither causes nor requires anti-social behavior or professional incompetence -- a claim which can hardly be made for excessive, yet legal, alcohol use.
The government mugs you as a taxpayer to support its victimless crime pogroms. A monumental sum -- about fifty percent of the law enforcement budget -- goes to track down, entrap, prosecute, and incarcerate people in the never-ending battle against truth, justice, and scapegoats of every sort. Drug users have traditionally been part of the grist for this grisly mill.
Take MDMA, which is also called Ecstacy. With a name like "Ecstasy", it had to be banned.
A newly controversial drug, MDMA, has earned plaudits from a number of psychotherapists around the country. The drug, they say, vastly increases the very bases of therapy: motivation, empathy, and the depth and extent of communication.
It allows patients to experience a few hours' of light at the end of the tunnel: a life without unceasingly negative emotions; a life without neurosis. Dissolving the fear or embarrassment associated with new self-insight, the drug helps to break through the sticking points of therapy.
Success stories abound: a woman who was the victim of rape and torture was still suicidal after six months of ordinary therapy. With MDMA-aided therapy, she was able to face the past and begin living a normal life again. The positive mental attitude it helps encourage seems to have aided another woman's remission from an otherwise fatal cancer. And so on.
Use of the drug seemed justified because it allowed people to be helped by others, by experts. But some nervy people helped themselves. Worse, they enjoyed themselves. Like Adam and Eve, who ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they needed to be punished -- in this case, by a secular god: government.
The Drug Enforcement Administration placed MDMA with heroin on Schedule 1 as a drug with "high abuse potential and no medical usefulness". The catch-22: the red tape involved in research on Schedule 1 drugs virtually guarantees that no medical value can be "proven". Mere possession of MDMA carried the threat of 15 years in prison and a fine of $125,000.
Bad science drives out good. The ban was justified by an unpublished report alleging that a related drug, MDA, when administered in extremely high doses, can cause brain damage in rats. This is like banning steel upon finding that a titanium hammer, administered at extremely high speed, can cause brain damage in rats.
DEA hearings in Los Angeles on MDMA were stacked by the government. Yet there was remarkable objectivity even from some of the DEA's own witnesses, such as Dr. Daryl Inaba, of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. Dr. Inaba had actually seen a number of overdose cases, including people who had taken up to seven times the normal dose. This sometimes caused paranoia, but no visual or auditory hallucinations. Treatment for overdose victims was not medical, but consisted in "talking them down", said Inaba.
By contrast, Dr. Ronald Seigel, of UCLA's school of psychiatry, claims that MDMA causes "hallucinations, disorientation, psychotic episodes." How was this sample of users obtained? Seigel preferred to wait and reveal his methodology only in "medical" publications, thus impairing the ability to judge the validity of the conclusions he so freely disseminated to the press.
The term "psychotic" conjures up an image of raving madness. Why were there no such reports from the Haight-Ashbury clinic and other sources?
Dr. Seigel explained that psychosis is actually something too subtle to be detected. This was typical of the 'clarity' of thought underlying the placement of MDMA on Schedule 1. Many psychiatrists wish to put MDMA on Schedule 3, to ease research. Many of them prefer that to a return to legality, believing that use of the drug does entail risks, which they can weigh against the benefits. Their concern for our health is laudable, but the question arises: if psychiatrists should not have to play "mother may I" with government, why should we have to play it with psychiatrists?
MDMA may be risky; but we own our own bodies. Whether we wish to take a dose of MDMA or a death-defying gulp of a cyclamate-laden soft drink, no one is entitled to intervene.
The entire advance of civilization is a web of "spinoffs," intricately and unpredictably related. Cut off a strand of inquiry, narrow the range of allowable personal experiments, and the damage to the web grows exponentially with time -- and in ways we cannot predict.
Let us look at a business similar to the recreational drug trade: the entertainment industry. If any business could be hamstrung without impairing progress, surely it is this. Let's say, arguendo, that "freedom of entertainment" has been grossly abused -- that 99% of entertainment dollars have gone for mindless rubbish. But let's see what else those dollars have financed.
Audiophiles financed the development of magnetic tape, later used in computers; diskettes and hard disks spun off that. The quarters plunked into early video games helped finance Silicon Valley. From the money consumers spent on laser discs there arose CD-ROM storage, which even New Age bookstores use for instant computer access to Books In Print. Couch potatoes in the '50's buying TVs to watch "I Love Lucy" helped make it possible to have high quality, inexpensive computer monitors for millions today.
Thus entertainment spinoffs accelerated all the other advances based on computers. This includes artificial intelligence, whose applications include medical expert systems, which aid doctors with faster and more accurate diagnoses. It also includes the new science of chaos theory, which has been applied to the study of cardiac arhythmia, Parkinson's disease, and other medical abnormalities.
The hardware and software developed to animate sequences in the "Star Wars" movies has been adapted for computer-aided design and medical imaging applications. The first people whose lives were saved by this technology can thank George Lucas and his fans.
If science fiction has yielded medical spinoffs, it defies credibility that recreational drug research would fail to do likewise.
We can already point to the accidental discovery of marijuana's value fighting nausea and glaucoma. In fact, we can even name one of its non-medical spinoffs: many utilitarian products can be made from the marijuana plant, including an inexpensive, high-grade paper that is far more long-lasting than acid-treated wood pulp. Thus the disintegration of old books is one of the continuing legacies of the drug war.
We tamper with society's complex web of information and innovation at our own peril.
Our culture has evolved the custom of freedom and the concept of individual rights because they work...in the long run. They have developed so slowly because their benefits are not always obvious in the short run. To Gregor Mendel ignored, to Bruckner overlooked, to Semmelweiss driven mad...those who intervene in freedom -- at gunpoint! -- declare: 'don't take a chance on those experiments, those symphonies, those theories'.
Every freedom we take for granted arose in a struggle against those who attacked it as dangerous. Neophobes of Plato's day attacked writing -- as an enemy of memory. And writing has been misused: look at the acres of forests slaughtered for the printing of statute books.
Of course drug use has risks and costs. And bystanders should be protected by law. Anything more -- laws that silence and lie -- is not an immune response to disease: it is a cultural lobotomy. It routes the cultural neurons bearing information on drug use -- dangerous and harmful -- into oblivion.
This is cultural lobotomy. It is a cost that must be included in the social accounting, whenever the drug warriors trot out their moral calculators.