This article is not an argument to do drugs. It’s meant to broaden the conversation about drugs.
It was the year 2000. Officer Sherman strutted in front of our 5th grade D.A.R.E. class. He was over 6 feet tall, had huge muscles, and a gun. The picture of authority to a 10 year old.
He told us impressionable kids:
Don’t give in to peer pressure. Don’t do drugs.
Fast forward 15 years, and I did drugs. And it changed my life for the better.
What did Officer Sherman get wrong?
Keep reading and you’ll have a different view on drugs. I’ll either leave you more confused or more curious than before.
First things first — what are drugs?
I used to put all drugs in one category. When I had my first sip of alcohol, I didn’t consider that I was technically doing drugs*.
When I tried a cigarette, I didn’t know that was a drug.
On painkillers after gum surgery? See, that was medicine.
Go far enough in any direction and we’ll realize that drugs are simply too big of a category.
- Here’s a chemical classification of drugs, : Alcohol, Opiods, Benzodiazepines, Cannabinoids and Barbiturates
- The DEA’s legal classification of drugs organizes drugs from Schedule V (“lowest potential for abuse”) to Schedule I (“highest potential for abuse”)
- Drug classifications based on effect: depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and inhalants
There’s over 13,000 identified drugs. But I’m no medical professional and this isn’t a science class.
Judging drugs or drug use categorically is not only unproductive…but creates fear and misunderstanding around an unavoidable aspect of society.
What’s the value of getting specific? Of treating each drug as an individual case?
Getting into the Weeds
As of this writing (Nov 2020), marijuana is still a Schedule I drug. That means the DEA considers cannabis as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Curiously, cannabis is in the same category as the more dangerous and addictive heroin.
We must consider the arbitrary nature of laws. Marijuana is legal on a state-by-state basis. It was originally outlawed for xenophobic reasons:
…in the 1930’s, claims were made about marijuana’s ability to cause men of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women. This imagery became the backdrop for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which effectively banned its use and sales.Drug Policy Alliance Center
Often, legality is just a proxy for what’s socially acceptable in the current zeitgeist. There are still ridiculous laws that exist (don’t ride a camel in Nevada highways). Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right, and vice versa.
We don’t need to look far to see this in action.
Just look at everybody’s favorite drug – alcohol. During the Prohibition, alcohol was outlawed because it was deemed a moral and health hazard. Now that it’s legal and sold everywhere, the stigma of general alcohol consumption has largely dissipated.
Consider this: why is it more socially acceptable to get drunk with friends, than to have an LSD trip?
This is interesting when you compare the societal and economic impact of alcohol to other drugs. Some experts claim that alcohol abuse is more dangerous than crack or heroin abuse (WedMD).
The stigmatization of psychedelics like magic mushrooms and LSD is particularly regretful, when you consider their promising therapeutic uses and relatively low negative societal impact. Luckily, new studies and changing attitudes towards psychedelics have began to chip away at the stigma.
Alcohol far outstrips psychedelics in it’s negative impact, from overdoses to accidents caused by drunk driving.
Dr. David Nutt calls psychedelics “among the safest drugs we know of.”
“It’s virtually impossible to die from an overdose of [psychedelics]; they cause no physical harm; and if anything they are anti-addictive as they cause a sudden tolerance which means that if you immediately take another dose it will probably have very little effect.” (Source)
So what’s the deal, Oz? You want me to do LSD? You trying to
No, my goal is to de-stigmatize the conversation around drugs, especially around the promising field of psychedelic research.
Reframing the drug conversation
I believe that legalization (including decriminalization) is the top domino that leads to real change. Shaping public opinion about drugs, in the meantime, can influence voters and policy in productive ways. Here are some of my stabs at concerns I hear from the drug-weary:
Drugs are not naturalJust because something is natural (mold) does not necessarily mean that it’s healthy for you. A lot of us are here thanks to the wonder of modern medicine. Consider that we are all just bags of chemicals. We should treat chemicals and drugs with reverence and curiosity, and not fear.
But I’ve heard pretty crazy stories about meth and LSD.We have to differentiate between drugs, and really give each drug their own fair treatment (heh). Meth is a far cry, and different class of drugs, than LSD>
But aren’t drugs bad?Opponents of drug legalization often focus on the negative impacts of drugs. They don’t focus on the positive effects of this drugs, like positive economic impact from tax revenues from marijuana sales, job creation and public services. The existing culture/attitude towards certain drugs may also limit the funding to conduct scientific studies.