THE EDGE, HISTORY- Greetings from the frontlines of the Drug War. No, not the War on Drugs, which has come to exemplify everything bad about American governance. From the racism of sentencing disparities between white drug users and those of color, or the undue influence of corporate money in politics demonstrated in the privatization of prisons, or the class antagonisms found in the different minimum sentencing for crack — poor — to powder — rich — cocaine, or the voter suppression of disproportionately black prisoners, to the ridiculous hypermilitarization of police forces. No, not that war. This is the war of ideas which works as the underlying justification for that war.
Only recently has the insurgency of those in support of legal, safe, smart, responsible, recreational drug use arisen out of the continuing devastation and havoc incurred by the War on Drugs. For the last century or so there was no drug war; it was a given that all nonpharmaceutical drugs were bad, so bad in fact that we declared war on them. Well, unless their names were “alcohol,” “tobacco” or “firearms” — those guys got their own bureau so they could continue killing us under the innocuous guise of the free market. For years, the ideological foundation for the Drug War was rarely questioned, and it appeared unnecessary to justify why the government legally forbade even the most basic research into the various narcotics it deemed Schedule I — the most illegal classification.
Under current federal law, marijuana, LSD-25, peyote and a few others are all Schedule I drugs. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 codified into law the notion that “The drug … has a high potential for abuse. … no currently accepted medical use in treatment … [and] a lack of accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.” But this simply is not true for many of the drugs listed, and it is logically fallacious to ban research while declaring that the drugs are not safe. We now know that marijuana has a myriad of medical benefits, is not addictive and its users cannot overdose. But we also know that it has its drawbacks, such as memory loss and a possible relation to psychotic episodes. LSD, as well as being nonaddictive and nonoverdose-able, is also gaining recognition in the medical community for its ability to treat end-of-life anxiety, depression and certain brain conditions related to headaches. There is no evidence that “High Culture” cannot incorporate high culture. Recreationally, LSD has advanced the arts, sciences and even the realm of theology — priests and believers alike have reported revelatory religious trips. Again, LSD has its drawbacks, especially if used by those with pre-existing neurological conditions.
Aside from the government’s decision to intervene to suspend the progress of scientific discovery and the drug laws’ most explicit encroachments on individual liberty, the government also ignores the correct approach to addressing the scourge of drug addiction: responsible drug use. We need politically incorrect, but scientifically founded, and supremely honest education on how to approach recreational drugs as safely as possible. We already know from the statistical evidence that abstinence-only sex education does not work. Kids will bang regardless of their elders’ approval. And if you only teach them not to bang, rather than how to bang safely, you get teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease outbreaks. But when you teach a student how to bang safely, including all the risks, as well as possible approaches to contraception and their respective efficacies, without moralist polemics about whether or not to bang, you get fewer negative “sexternalities” like abortion, STDs or unwanted children, which then cost society more. So too is it with drugs.
When you tell a kid marijuana is addictive, and he or she Googles it and finds that it is not, then you lose credibility. Then he or she is going to do the drug anyway without investigating the actual risks involved. But if you teach a kid how to do drugs responsibly, if you teach them honestly, then you avoid the negative externalities of drug use, such as STDs through needles and addiction. AlcoholEdu, the mandatory web course for freshmen at many universities, provides a good example. It doesn’t just say, “Don’t drink alcohol,” which is a drug. Instead, it teaches you how to drink responsibly. The War on Drugs has already been prematurely eulogized as a misguided disaster. After our policymakers recognize this, we can use the funds to rework drug education and approach the underlying conditions that lead to America’s drug problems. Why don’t we focus on a war on poverty? A war on abusive, cost-cutting corporate prison practices like solitary confinement and chain-gangs — the form of pseudo slavery that still exists in the 21st century — that create high recidivism rates? A war on mental illnesses — which could be aided by the medicalization of currently illegal narcotics? A war on addiction? Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous Bill Wilson used LSD to help cure his alcoholism, and some contemporary research has backed this up.
We also have to teach kids how to learn about drug safety for themselves. So in the meantime, here’s the skinny on all those drugs your mom warned you about. Before trying any drug for recreational purposes, do your research: Check Reddit’s r/Drugs page, flip through the entries of your substance of choice on Erowid or read the Doper’s Dictionary. Hell, read the Wikipedia page. Don’t do drugs on a whim, especially if you’re already on something — alcohol, I’m looking at you. Don’t do drugs you haven’t researched, much less, heard of. Do drugs with people who have done them before. Supervise your friends when they try a drug with which you have experience. Talk to your doctor — they have patient confidentiality — about what medical conditions you may have that preclude certain drugs. Don’t do drugs if they are affecting your ability to strive in any aspect of your life — academic, social, sexual, mental or physical. Don’t take drugs from strangers. Don’t do drugs because you’re self-medicating or are just feeling low, unless prescribed by a doctor. Do drugs if you want to open yourself up to new and exciting experiences that could shape your worldview in profound, fundamental and revolutionary ways. But don’t take my word for it — I am no doctor. Take a critical approach and do your research before your drug.
Jack Bennett is a junior in the College. Culture Warped appears every other Friday.
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