The Muddled Metaphysics of the War on Drugs

Brian Quass
7 min readJan 17, 2024

How modern science helps normalize prohibition

Reductive materialism makes scientists stupid

It’s amazing to me how many drug law reformers believe that the treatment of “mental illness” has not been negatively affected by prohibition. Why? Because they believe that modern science has found the answer to depression. They seem to believe that Big Pharma has just happened to find the one cure that works — and that it’s just a coincidence that the US Government has happened to outlaw all of the thousands of possible alternatives to that cure.

So Carl Hart tells us in “Drug Use for Grownups” that illegal drugs are not for depressive folks like myself, but rather that I should keep taking my meds. Jim Hogshire agrees: in fact, he considers those who reject Prozac as tantamount to imbeciles who are opposed to the progress of science. Rick Doblin at Maps joins the folks at the Heffter Institute in staging studies for what they call “treatment resistant depression,” the implication being that depression has been adequately handled by science, but that there are still depressed people out there whose biochemistries do not recognize a good thing when they see it, just as 30% of Americans cannot drink milk due to lactose intolerance.

In attempting to convince others that these attitudes are wrong (indeed philosophically crazy, if the truth be told), I would first point out that there is huge money invested in the business of cultivating these very attitudes. Read “Anatomy of an Epidemic” for an account of how Big Pharma pays doctors to endorse products (and attitudes toward “meds”) on shows like Oprah Winfrey. Such propaganda has helped create the drug apartheid of which Julian Buchanan writes, which encourages us to see two distinct classes of substances in the world: meds (made scientifically and so blessed) and drugs (made by nature and/or God knows whom and so cursed). Whitaker also shows how SSRIs seem to cause the very imbalances that they are supposed to be correcting. For further on these topics, see the writings of Julie Holland, Irving Kirsch.

But one way to evaluate a paradigm, like the materialist ideology of drug use, is to look at its results. If a paradigm leads to absurd results then the paradigm is surely flawed.

And what are the results of the materialist paradigm about drug use?

1) Today we will fry the brains of the depressed and yet we will not let them cheer themselves up with drugs like MDMA, or coca, or opium, or the hundreds of psychoactive medicines created by Alexander Shulgin.

2) Today we will allow people to use drugs to kill themselves (what we call euthanasia) and yet we will not let those same people use drugs in order to make them WANT TO LIVE!

3) Today we will demonize and arrest people for smoking a plant medicine nightly — and yet we will tell them that it is their medical duty to take a Big Pharma med daily.

4) Drug researchers say they are unsure that laughing gas can help the depressed (or rather the “treatment-resistant depressed” — see above!) Laughing gas! Meanwhile, Reader’s Digest has known for over 100 years that “laughter is the best medicine.”

These absurd outcomes are all a result of our faith in modern materialist science, which is based in turn on what Alfred North Whitehead called the bifurcation of nature, whereby we think that atoms are the real thing and that perceptions are secondary and unreal.

Why else would a drug researcher ignore my laughter under laughing gas and tell me that I’m not “really” happy? Why? Because my perceptions are not real — what’s real is the atomic and molecular.

This is why the Drug War is the great philosophical problem of our time: not just because it is based on a host of logical fallacies but because its anti-scientific demonization of psychoactive drugs has been given the veneer of science by what Whitehead saw as a “muddled” metaphysic: one which believes that “reality” consists of atoms and molecules and that feelings are secondary epiphenomena, meaning that patient reports of positive drug experience need not be acknowledged or counted as important. Millions have used Ecstasy safely over the past 50 years and reported positive experiences, but such accounts, to the scientific mind, are just opinions based on unscientific impressions. The way scientists see it: only THEY can tell when a depressed person is REALLY happy, not by listening to them laugh but rather by looking at their brain and gut chemistry.

Today’s harangue was inspired by a Tweet from a follower (probably now a FORMER follower) who pushed my buttons this morning (no doubt unwittingly) by referring to SSRIs as “godsends for some.”

I could not disagree more, but unfortunately it took this entire essay for me to explain why. I did at first try to respond through a series of frenetic Tweets, however, so I will close with a list of the same in the hope that they spread some additional light on this subject.

America’s religion is science — that’s why everyone from George Bush to Carl Hart thinks that I should keep taking my meds. WRONG! The only reason the pill mill was created was because we outlawed endless uplifting godsends, like the hundreds created by Alex Shulgin.

Now, if the question is: would a woman be better off to stop taking an SSRI at this very moment, that’s an entirely different question. The question is: should they have been started on them in the first place, or should we not rather have re-legalized MOTHER Nature?

Alex Shulgin synthesized chems that occur in the human brain. The outlawing of the godsends he created was absurd. The best we can say about SSRIs against the backdrop of this prohibition is that they are probably better than nothing in some cases — but that’s not saying much.

It’s our faith in this materialist science that makes us think it’s okay to fry the brain of the depressed but it’s not okay to give them medicines that elate and inspire. It’s the same doctrine at work with SSRIs: Don’t elate them — try to “cure” them — a fool’s errand.

This is why I tend to lose half the followers I get — because science is America’s religion and I am a heretic. Even Carl Hart tells me that I should take my pills, not use drugs. It’s this warped belief that science has conquered depression. My entire 65 years of life says otherwise.

Let’s give SSRIs real competition, then we can talk about popularity and efficacy. Let’s see: “I can take a drug that inspires me, puts me on seventh heaven, and is not addictive — or I can take an SSRI that dulls my mind and which I have to take for an entire lifetime!”

I can’t say that SSRIs destroy creativity, but it is a frequent complaint of pundits on this subject. So we should at least not recommend their use except for the suicidal — and then ONLY BECAUSE we’ve outlawed everything that’s much much better.

The problem is, almost EVERYONE ignores the Drug War when they write. For instance, they’ll say, “SSRIs are a godsend.” But what does that mean? That they’re a godsend in and of themselves? Or they’re a godsend because we have outlawed everything else? There’s a huge difference.

But it is very difficult to discuss drug issues rationally, because folks do not admit that they’re taking prohibition as a natural baseline. Magazines like Sci Am and Sci News help foster this kind of insincere argument by failing to add disclaimers to their many articles in which they pretend that outlawed substances do not exist. Take Laura Sanders’ series in Sci News on what I call “Shock Therapy 2.0.” Laura tells us how depression is a seemingly intractable problem for many — but the question I have for Laura is the following:

Is depression an intractable problem per se, or is it intractable because we have outlawed almost every substance that could help the depressed?

Clearly it is only intractable in the latter sense, since even the seemingly hopeless would-be suicide could be laughing in the next 10 minutes were we to recommend their use of laughing gas — or MDMA, or one of the hundreds of empathogens synthesized by Alexander Shulgin. The fact that Sci News does not mention these options shows that they are taking the drug prohibition to constitute a natural baseline — which, however, is so far from being logically obvious that they should note this assumption as a disclaimer on all articles on such a topic. Unfortunately, they know that their audience has been brainwashed to believe that drugs are bad and so will already assume that the article in question was written from the point of view of a Christian Scientist when it comes to the topic of psychoactive medicine.

And so we see not only that science is not free in America, but that it is not honest either: otherwise it would tell its readers that it believes so thoroughly in prohibition that they (the magazine’s authors) are going to pretend (caveat lector) that outlawed medicines do not even exist. Otherwise their “science” would be unintelligible and filled with non-sequiturs, at least in the mind of someone who had not yet been indoctrinated in the drug-hating religion of the Drug War.

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Brian Quass

Founder of AbolishTheDEA.com, whose life purpose is to expose the philosophical absurdity of America's unprecedented war on substances