Why America Needs to End Its War on Drugs

By Alexander Greco

April 1, 2019

It’s getting silly, guys. Land of the Free, and you get sent to jail for lighting a plant on fire in your own home? But the War on Drugs extends beyond cannabis. The War on Drugs extends to MDMA, LSD, mushrooms, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, and we need to legalize all these things.

Yes, even heroine, coke and meth.

My argument is not that everyone should use them, but that it is unlawful and possibly harmful to keep these drugs illegal.

First of all, there is a simple Humanist argument for this. Why should an adult be told what they can and cannot put into their body, so long as they’re not hurting other people?

We allow sugar, alcohol and tobacco into our society (which are all linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health risks), and we allow people to consume as much as they want, because we’re a free, democratic society. We trust that people will either make safe, balanced decisions, or they will accept the consequences of their actions, because the pleasure they get outweighs the consequences.

And yet, we put people in prison for using psychedelics, opioids and amphetamines, unless they’re prescribed by large pharmaceutical companies…

Weird…

Why can’t we simply allow people to put whatever substances they want into their body, and punish them for any crimes they commit while intoxicated, rather than punishing them for whatever substance they’re using.

However, beyond this, there are actual medical and social benefits to legalizing drugs, or at least making them available in a regulated way. From cannabis to heroin, there are sound reasons to re-think drug laws.

Cannabis:

So, the cannabis-horse has been beaten to death. If you haven’t read or listened to the pro-cannabis articles or videos, there’s a billion and half blogs and YouTube posts that can tell you all about cannabis.

Still, since cannabis is still a schedule 1 drug (illegal because of high abuse potential, no medical use, and safety concerns) I think the horse should be beaten again.

Here are some proven or potential health benefits of Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two compounds found in Cannabis:

CBD[1] [2] THC[3] [4]
Lowered Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Pain Relief
Cancer Prevention Reduces Nausea and Vomiting
Promotes Healthier Brain Function Promotes Healthy Brain Function
Prevents Osteoporosis Sleep Aid
Promotes Skin Health PTSD Treatment
Reduces Inflammation Promotes Neurogenesis
Reduces Anxiety and Stress Can Prevent Alzheimer’s
Helps Combat Depression and Mood Disorders Acts as an Antibacterial
Relieves Pain Is an Antioxidant
Helps With Daytime Drowsiness Reduces Inflammation
Can Reduce High Blood Pressure Has Anti-Tumor Properties
Possible Antipsychotic Effects Acts as a Muscle Relaxant
Possible Treatment for Substance Abuse Treatment for Seizures
Treatment for Seizures  

And I suppose now would be a good time to say cannabis isn’t for everyone. While CBD has few relatively minor side effects, THC has been linked to Schizophrenia and Psychosis.[5] It’s unclear as of yet if THC actually causes Schizophrenia or Psychosis, if it acts as a trigger for people predisposed to mental illness, if people prone to Schizophrenia or Psychosis are drawn to cannabis, or if correlation does not equal causation in this scenario.

If you want to learn more about cannabis, there’s a billion other blogs, articles and research studies out there on the subject. I’ve referenced a few, but there’s an endless supply of knowledge out there.

MDMA:

My opinion of MDMA has typically been a negative one. Excessive use of MDMA can short your serotonin system[6], and I’ve personally met people who thoroughly wrecked their brain with repeatedly taking high doses of MDMA. But, I’ve also met people who’ve ruined their minds on ADHD medication and cell-phone addiction, so it’s not like there aren’t legal ways to mess your brain up.

However, I’ve started to change my mind in MDMA.

In recent years, MAPS (MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy) scientists and therapists have been experimenting with MDMA to help patients with PTSD, anxiety, and other mental disorders.[7] The researchers have performed trial runs where patients are given doses of MDMA once every few weeks during a special therapy session. The rest of the time, patients are treated with typical psychotherapeutic practices.

So far, the results have been positive. MAPS scientists have done trials for reducing anxiety in patients with autism, reducing anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses, and helping veterans cope with symptoms of PTSD, just to name a few.

I have always had a negative view of MDMA. However, after doing a fair amount of research on MAPS and other similar ventures, I’ve changed my mind on MDMA. There’s a lot of good that can be made from the substance.

If you want to learn more about MAPS, check them out at https://maps.org/research.

Mushrooms:

There are a plethora of mushroom species with great health benefits, such as Lions Mane and Maitake, but no one ever talks about the pharmacological benefits of psychedelic mushrooms. Beyond falling into the sky and watching buildings melt, much research has come out which shows that psilocybin mushrooms are really good for your brain and your psyche.

Research with psilocybin has been done by John Hopkins University, UCLA, and New York University, and they have found that psilocybin can:

  • Reduce Death Anxiety[8]
  • Treat Depression[9]
  • Help People Quit Smoking[10]
  • Increase the Psychometric Trait Openness[11]
  • Promote Neurogenesis[12]

These effects primarily come from psilocybin’s ability to turn off the Default Mode Network (DMN) in the brain. The DMN basically inhibits other parts of the brain, maintains habits and behavior patterns, and keeps different parts of the brain from communicating with each other.

When psilocybin turns the DMN off, the brain is no longer inhibited, and “unrestrained cognition” occurs.

  • More and more neurons fire
  • New connections between neurons are made
  • Different parts of the brain communicate with each other (this is why things like “smelling sounds” can happen)
  • Your perception of information changes, and your perception of reality is altered

In this context, the DMN can be compared to a valve of information in the brain, which is normally 95% closed. When you take psilocybin mushrooms, this valve is opened completely.

This shows the activity and number of neural connections without psilocybin, and then activity and connections with psilocybin:

Research on psilocybin mushrooms has picked up in the last few decades, and still continues. There’s likely to be more effects discovered soon, and more information about how psilocybin works in the brain.

LSD:

LSD likewise has been found to benefit people with depression, addiction, OCD, and other mental disorders.[13] [14] In fact, this is old news. Scientists had already been experimenting with LSD as a psychotherapeutic treatment in the 1950’s, but this research was largely disregarded once the War on Drugs made psychedelics illegal in the 1970’s.

However, there’s been a resurgence of research since the 90’s, and interest in these substances as a form of treatment has grown.

The Legalization of Psychedelic Substances:

It’s almost a crime to keep cannabis illegal at this point. If you still look down on lazy stoners and glassy-eyed 7-11 employees, then fine, whatever, but what about kids suffering from epilepsy? What about cancer patients? Or people using cannabis to relieve pain, or get off of their opioid addiction?

Cannabis even has potential to help people with diabetes, heart conditions, and mental illness—even dementia and Alzheimer’s.

It’s almost criminal to deny these people the use of cannabis.

And what about denying MDMA to veterans who suffer from PTSD? Or to people with autism who suffer extreme social anxiety? Or to people with terminal illnesses, who are suffering from death anxiety? That seems absolutely criminal to me.

And why should LSD and psilocybin mushrooms be denied to people?

Good LSD and good psilocybin have few, if any, lasting negative effects. The worst that can happen with pure, true LSD is that Johnny loses his shit at a Pink Floyd concert, and has to lie down in his friend’s car for a while. Bad LSD and bad shrooms can literally kill you.

What’s the cure to bad drugs?

The legal sale of quality-controlled, purity-tested LSD and psilocybin mushrooms.

Now, what about the harder drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and meth?

First of all, all of these drugs have actual medical uses. In fact, some of these drugs, or similar variations of these drugs, are commonly prescribed to people.

Heroin:

Heroin, or Diacetylmorphine, is an opioid, and is still prescribed to people (though they usually don’t call it heroin when it’s prescribed to you).

It’s similar to morphine, which is still used as a medicine, despite its own stigma. Also, many pain pills that can be prescribed by doctors are also opioids, and these prescription opioids are as powerful if not more powerful than heroin.

Think of this: [15] [16]

  • Morphine is about as strong as hydrocodone
  • Heroin is about 4-5x stronger than morphine
  • Buprenorphine is 40x stronger than Morphine, or about 8x as strong as heroin
  • Fentanyl (the shit that killed Prince) is 50-100x times stronger than morphine, and about 10-20x times stronger than heroin

If you can get a bottle of hydrocodone (which is really easy)[17] then you essentially have a bottle of morphine pills. If you take as little as two or three doses of hydrocodone, you essentially have a dose of heroin. If you down an entire bottle of hydrocodone, or shoot up 10-20 times in a row with heroin (which is not advisable), then you’ve taken a dose of fentanyl.

Cocaine:

Cocaine is actually an anesthetic, though its primary use is as a stimulant.

Other stimulants include nicotine (legal), caffeine (legal), taurine (legal), guarana (legal), and ginseng (legal).[18]

What makes Cocaine different is essentially the potency, and the metabolization of different substances. Doses of cocaine are comparable to large doses of caffeine, taurine or guarana. It’s been explained to me by adventurous friends that using cocaine is similar to chugging three cups of coffee in a span of 15 minutes—which isn’t good for you, by the way, but it’s for sure better than shooting up on heroin 10-20 times in 15 minutes.

Meth:

Meth (or methamphetamine) is an amphetamine, the same class of drugs as Adderall and Vyvance, and it works the same way that ADHD medications do. In fact, Adderall and Vyvanse just different versions of meth.

Meth and ADHD medication work by inhibiting dopamine reuptake in the brain, which causes higher brain activity, and a boost in energy.[19] Just like coke and coffee, the main difference between meth and Adderall is potency and metabolization.

People who take meth are stimulated for hours on end, and often can’t sleep when they’re high on meth. Just anecdotally, I’ve known people who took a little too much Ritalin or Adderall the night before an exam, and they’re bouncing off the walls at 4 AM.

Should Hard Drugs be Legalized:

I’m not going to pretend like there aren’t good reasons for making drugs like cocaine, meth and heroin illegal. People get addicted, people begin abusing these drugs, and people’s lives are ruined, in part, by their abuse.

We made these drugs illegal (in part (there were some political reasons as well)) because people’s lives were being ruined by these drugs.

The assumption is that drug abuse is the problem, and that if people stopped using drugs, their lives would get better.

However, the problem isn’t drug abuse. The problem is why people are abusing drugs.

What Causes Addiction:

Think of all the different habits, obsessions, and addictions people have (reading, drinking, smoking). Now, think about why those people are “addicted” to these things.

Reading might help a person relax and unwind, or maybe it’s a special sort of “ritual” they do every day.

Maybe someone who’s really socially awkward feels like they can’t loosen up at a bar or club if they haven’t had a few drinks.

Maybe a cigarette during a work break is the best part of going to work for some people.

Psychological addictions occur because certain habits or substances are associated with positive emotions. There are physiological/chemical hooks in certain substances that make it far easier to become addicted, but people also become addicted to things with no possible chemical hooks.

Addictions can also develop as a form of self-medication, where someone believes they can’t function their best without a certain substance or habit.

People also develop addictions when their drug-of-choice is the only thing worthwhile in their lives.

I mentioned a hypothetical person whose most enjoyable part of work is a cigarette break.

Now, what if the only enjoyable part of someone’s entire life is a cigarette break?

Imagine someone who’s unemployed, or they live in poverty, or they have poor social connections, or all of the above.

Imagine if that person took some hydrocodone one day, and they felt sooo gooood when they took it. But a couple months later, that hydrocodone just wasn’t enough, or they didn’t have the money to keep buying expensive prescriptions, so now they have to find a dealer who sells opioids cheaply.

Here, we can begin to understand why addiction occurs, and why it is running rampant in our society.

When people lack meaning or enjoyment in their lives, they either rationalize their lives to feel better about it all, or they seek out something that can fill the void.

If you don’t believe this, let’s take a look at the Rat Park Experiment.

Rat Park Experiment:[20] [21]

The Rat Park Experiment was conducted with four groups of mice. Two of the groups were given as much food as they could eat, given toys to play with, and had sex whenever they wanted. The other two groups were kept isolated, and were purposefully put under stress by the researchers.

All four of the groups were given two water supplies: one with regular water, and one with added morphine.

The first two groups of rats—the much happier rats—tended to drink the regular water more than the water with morphine in it. In fact, many of those rats seemed to dislike the morphine-water.

However, the rats in the second two groups, the isolated and stressed rats, rapidly became addicted to the morphine. Happy rats don’t do drugs. Sad rats do.

What does this experiment tell us?

Addiction is not just a chemical phenomena, it’s a psychological one.[22]

The experiment shows that rats who are stressed out and live in sub-optimal conditions, are far more likely to abuse a drug than the happy-go-lucky, orgiastic rats.

But Xander, you might say, rats aren’t people.

Yes, true.

But let’s look at demographics of substance abuse.

  • People who have been the victims of childhood, sexual abuse and physical abuse are more likely to abuse a substance[23] [24]
  • People with mental illness are more likely to abuse a substance[25]
  • Drug use is 50% more common in families/households living on welfare[26]
  • People making $20,000 or less a year are less likely to recover from addiction[27]
  • Unemployed people are more likely to try an illegal substance[28]
  • 35% of homeless people living in shelters abuse illicit substances[29]
  • Rates of drug use is highest among young adults age 18-24
    • 18-24 year-old’s have the highest rates of poverty[30]
    • 18-25 year-old’s have the highest rates of depression[31]
    • The majority of young adults 18-24 make less than $40,000 a year, and about 25% make less than $20,000[32]

So, the numbers show us that most people who use drugs probably aren’t happy with their lives. Correlation does not equal causation, but there’s a damn strong correlation here.

But, just because we know why people get addicted, that doesn’t mean we should make it legal.

Why Hard Drugs Should Be Legalized:

In Switzerland, a highly conservative nation, a radical drug policy was adopted in the 90’s to stop their heroin and HIV epidemic.[33] What did they do?

They created clinics where heroin addicts could get free doses of medically pure methadone [AG11] and heroin, whenever they wanted. The clinicians monitor the people using the drug, to make sure they don’t have any adverse effects, and then let them go.

They don’t stop anyone from coming back for more, and they don’t try to force people to quit. People are given heroin in a safe environment, they’re monitored by certified clinicians, and then they’re allowed to leave. No strings attached.

What happened?

Switzerland saw major drops in:

  • Crime rate
  • Cases of HIV
  • Drug-related deaths
  • Rates of drug abuse

They let people use drugs whenever they wanted…

…and things got better.

Because heroin addicts were able to get their fix in a safe, controlled environment, and get it for free, they stopped going to drug dealers for heroin, causing the dealers to go out of business.

Most would go in once or twice a day, and they would go on with their lives once they left the clinic, until they returned the next day.

From this, many people were able to start getting their lives together. They got jobs. They reconnected with friends and family. They found better places to live. Their lives began to improve, and then many former addicts stopped using heroin.

Similar policies have been introduced in countries such as Germany and Portugal, with similarly positive outcomes.

The key here wasn’t imprisoning people for using drugs, it was letting people safely use the drug, and allowing these people to get their lives back on track. As these people’s lives improved, they didn’t want the drug as much, and they engaged in less high-risk behaviors. Why?

Because once your life becomes enjoyable, you don’t want to be numb all the time.

Why the War on Drugs Needs to End:

As we’ve seen with cannabis, MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms, and LSD, there are actual benefits from taking these substances, so long as they are taken safely.

The biggest risk with these drugs is confusing them with their synthetic versions, taking too much of them, or using a substance that has been laced with something.

The synthetic versions of cannabis and LSD can seriously harm your brain, and possibly even  lead to death. The party-drug versions of MDMA—ecstasy, molly, etc.—are often laced with stimulants such as cocaine, and other drugs, which, in conjunction with MDMA, can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system and nervous system.

If these drugs were legalized, there would be safe ways of obtaining cannabis, MDMA, psilocybin or LSD. Right now, the only “safe” way of getting pure LSD or MDMA that I’m aware of is through the Dark Web, where you can buy pure, laboratory-grade compounds at bulk-price (or so I’ve been told…).

If these drugs are legalized and sold from reputable businesses, the products can be tested for purity and quality. When you buy something off the street, how are you supposed to know what you’re really getting?

With harder drugs, the Drug War needs to end because we need to solve the actual problems in people’s lives, rather than demonizing the one thing in life they enjoy, and ignoring the rest of their lives.

People become hooked to these substances because nothing else in their lives makes them feel as good, or happy, or as energized. I’m sure there’s exceptions, but people aren’t shooting up with heroin because life is going according to plan, and once these people begin to obsess over drugs, they let the rest of their lives fall apart. Friendships matter less and less, their jobs matter less and less, and their living conditions matter less and less.

The War on Drugs doesn’t help people with their actual problems, and only makes them worse. People don’t receive the help they need, and are instead locked up in hell-holes with murderers and rapists. People are humiliated, vilified, demonized, and punished with horrific living conditions, simply because they injected their bodies with a painkiller to feel better.

The key to ending the Drug War isn’t to win the War, but to stop fighting the War.

Let people use these substances, but in a safer, more regulated way.

People want heroin? Sure, let them have two free, medically pure doses a day, until they can kick the habit. Or, fuck it. Let them keep their habit, so long as they’re not a detriment to society. Why should anyone care what another person puts into their body, so long as they’re not harming society?

People want to smoke pot? Just don’t come to work in a glassy-eyed daze.

People want to experiment with psychedelics to help cure their mental traumas? Yes! Hell yes!

Imagine if we actually tried to help people with addictions, or if we actually learned how to treat mental disorders with various drugs that are currently illegal.

The War on Drugs is keeping this from happening. The War on Drugs, with all of its draconian laws and ill-informed, propagandic stigmas, is keeping a revolution of mental health, physical health, and socio-cultural health from occurring. It needs to end. It’s fucking silly.


[1] Kubala, J. (2018 Feb 26). “7 Benefits and Uses of CBD Oil (Plus Side Effects).” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cbd-oil-benefits

[2] Johnson, J. (2018 Jul 27). “Everything You Need to Know About CBD Oil.” Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317221.php

[3] NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018 June) “Marijuana as Medicine.” https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine

[4] Garland, R and Wilcox, A. (2018 May 17). “15 Essential Health Benefits of THC.” Green Flower. https://www.green-flower.com/articles/219/8-amazing-benefits-of-thc

[5] “Schizophrenia and Marijuana: Trigger or Treatment?” WebMD Medical Reference. (2018 Oct 22). https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/schizophrenia-marijuana-link

[6] Davis, K. (2017 Jun 29) “MDMA: What You Need to Know About Molly.” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297064.php#adverse_effects_and_risks

[7] “MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy.” https://maps.org/research/mdma

[8] Biello, D. (2010 Sep 8). “Psilocybin Found to Ease End-of-Life Anxiety in Small Study of Patients with Fatal Cancer.” Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/psilocybin-found-to-ease-end-of-life-anxiety-in-small-study-of-patients-with-fatal-cancer/

[9] Olson, D. (2018 Jun 20). “Psychedelic Drugs Could Treat Depression, and Other Mental Illnesses.” https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/psychedelic-drugs-could-treat-depression-and-other-mental-illnesses

[10] “’Magic Mushrooms’ Can Help Smokers Break the Habit.” John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/stories/mushrooms_quit_smoking.html

[11] (2011 Sep 29) “Single Dose of Hallucinogen May Create Lasting Personality Change.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/newsmedia/releases/single_does_of_hallucinogen_may_create_lasting_personality_change

[12] (2018 Aug 8). “Psychedelics Promote Structural and Functional Neural Plasticity.”  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082376/#_ffn_sectitle

[13] https://maps.org/research/psilo-lsd

[14] (2018 June 19). “LSD as a Therapeutic Treatment.” Alcohol and Drug Foundation. https://adf.org.au/insights/lsd-therapeutic-treatment/

[15] Keating, D and Granados, S. (2017 Oct 25). “See How Deadly Street Opioids Like ‘Elephant Tranquilizer’ have Become.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/health/opioids-scale/?utm_term=.05a56e7bc6d3

[16] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equianalgesic

[17] Patterson, E. (2018 Dec 3). “Hydrocodone History and Statistics.” https://drugabuse.com/hydrocodone/history-statistics/

[18] “A Complete List of Legal Stimulants.” https://stimulants.com/legal-stimulants/a-complete-list-of-legal-stimulants/

[19] Newman, T. (2017 Dec 22). “Uses and Risks of Amphetamine.” Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/221211.php

[20] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park

[21] (2018 Oct 15) “New NIDA Research Reveals the Power of Social Reinforcers.” NIH Nation Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2018/10/new-nida-research-reveals-power-social-reinforcers

[22] Alexander, Bruce K., (2001) “The Myth of Drug-Induced Addiction.” Delivered to Canadian Senate, January 2001

[23] J Trauma Stress. (2016 Oct 29). “Exposure to Childhood Abuse and Later Effects on Emotion Dysregulation and Exposure to Trauma” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5064859/

[24] NIH. (2010 Dec 27). “Substance Use, Childhood Traumatic Experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an Urban Civilian Population”.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/

[25] NIDA. (2018 Feb 27). “Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders” https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness

[26] Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2000 May;26(2):335-42. https://www.ncbi.nih.gov/m/pubmed/10852365

[27] Szalavitz, M. (2011 Nov 1). “Yes, Addiction Does Discriminate.” The Fix.

[28] American Addiction Centers. (2019 Mar 14). “Statistics on Drug Addiction” https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics

[29] “Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States.” (July 2011). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

[30] https://www.statista.com/statistics/233154/us-poverty-rate-by-gender/

[31] NIH National Institute of Mental Health. “Major Depression” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

[32] PK. (2019 Feb 27). DQYDJ. “Income Percentile by Age Calculator for the United States in 2018” https://dqydj.com/income-percentile-by-age-calculator/

[33] Ochsenbein, G. (2016 Apr 20). “Switzerland: A Pioneer for a Humane Drugs Policy” https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/four-pronged-approach_switzerland–a-pioneer-for-a-humane-drugs-policy/42102778


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