Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Psychoactive drug use: why not permit it?

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I blogged yesterday about the puzzle of why some want to outlaw sativa, a plant that is (so far as one can tell) totally harmless—no evidence to date of any problems. The Cato Institute broadens the question. The article begins:

Psychoactive drugs are everywhere. Any discussion of drug use needs to take this into account. The broad category of “psychoactive drugs” consists of natural and synthetic substances that alter a person’s thoughts or feelings. There exist hundreds of plants, which, if eaten, smoked, snorted, or injected, will affect the mind—whether acting as a stimulant, depressant, or psychedelic. Thousands of known chemicals will do the same. Used recreationally, medicinally, or for work, some are illegal and others not: They include coffee, wine, and tobacco; prescription pain medications, sleep aids, and antidepressants; as well as cannabis, LSD, and heroin. Psychoactives are in the kitchen, in the hardware store, in the greenhouse, in home medicine cabinets, and in fuel tanks across the country.

Everyone uses them. Would you believe that nearly 90% of 45-year-olds in the United States have tried an illegal drug in their lifetime?[1] As of 2006, more than 35 million Americans had taken an illicit drug in the previous year.[2] Monitoring the Future (MTF), the best current survey about illegal drug use in the United States,[3] reports that one in five college students used an illicit drug in the past month. Nearly all adults in the U.S. have tried alcohol, while over 80% use caffeine daily.[4] Last year there were over 180 million prescriptions written for opiates alone,[5] and a diverse assortment of psychoactives are increasingly used by older Americans from coast to coast.[6]

They are not going away. Humans have used psychoactive substances for as long as we have records[7] and some of the largest corporations in the world are actively developing new ones for the future. There is no magic bullet that will suddenly make these compounds disappear from our society. If there were, the past century of ever-increasing penalties for possession and sale of recreationally used drugs, along with massive anti-drug “education” campaigns, would have reduced use. But they have not.

The United States has implemented random drug testing of junior high and high school students who participate in chess club. No-knock warrants allow police to invade private homes with guns drawn in case a suspect might try to flush illegal drugs down the toilet. Taxpayers spend 8 billion dollars each year to incarcerate drug law offenders,[8,9] and pay for ideologically driven, abstinence-only education programs that are so factually misleading that they often fail to acknowledge the pleasurable or useful effects of the substances they teach about.

Despite these extreme measures, a majority of the population age 18-65 has chosen to try an illegal drug.[10] The mainstream reaction is to continue the calls for “getting tougher.” Instead of working towards unrealistic, naïve goals such as a “drug free century,” our response has been to step back and reassess, asking: How can society adapt to the realities of the communication age and develop more sophistication and balance regarding the use of psychoactive drugs?

Modern humans must learn how to relate to psychoactives responsibly, treating them with respect and awareness, working to minimize harms and maximize benefits, and integrating use into a healthy, enjoyable, and productive life. But above all else, in a world filled with materials and technologies that affect the mind, adults must have the robust education and accurate, pragmatic information necessary to help them take charge of their relationships with psychoactives and teach their children how to do so from an early age.

EVERYONE MAKES CHOICES

Many people would agree that drug culture reform is needed, but we must recognize that “the drug culture” now includes everyone. Modern life involves daily decisions about psychoactives. The option of caffeine use is encountered multiple times a day. It is rare to watch an hour-long television show without seeing an advertisement for a mind altering pharmaceutical or a legal recreational drug. Late night coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics was sponsored by Ambien, a popular sleep aid with memory-scrambling side effects whose commercials enticed audiences nationwide with comforting images of dreamy, refreshing, sedative-assisted sleep. A large portion of the population is exposed to the possibility of taking LSD, even if only 10-20% ever try it.[11,12] In today’s world, everyone must choose how they relate to innumerable psychoactive drugs. Whether or not one decides to use a specific drug, that decision should be made with skill, knowledge, and self-awareness, supported by accurate information.

Struck by the quantity and complexity of choices being made about psychoactives, and dismayed by the poor quality of accessible information, in 1995 we began a project called Erowid. Dedicated to providing an online library of information about psychoactives to the public through its website Erowid.org, the project has grown to serve over 60,000 visitors per day.[13] In 2008, Erowid became an educational 501(c)(3) non-profit under the name Erowid Center.

In thirteen years of learning about both legal and illegal psychoactives, we have collected over 30,000 documents and 75,000 self-reports that catalog the choices people make and provide insight into the results of those choices. These reports include everything from pedestrian recreational use to life-changing spiritual experiences and personal tragedies. We have also learned that there are many subcultural niches in which responsible use of psychoactive drugs is taken very seriously. These communities disapprove of recklessness, and consider care a top virtue, regardless of whether use is for recreational, medicinal, self-improvement, work-productivity, or spiritual purposes.

WHAT DOES RESPONSIBLE USE LOOK LIKE?

Continue reading. There’s lots more…

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2008 at 11:22 am

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