The War on Drugs (part 1)
By Gabriel Burns
Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. Well perhaps both of those are debatable but I hope you’ll give me sympathy nonetheless. I’ve been hired by the lovely people at the New Establishment to fill you all in on the state of drugs and mental health in this day and age, two aspects of a surprising majority of people’s lives I am more than well acquainted with.
I’ll be contributing weekly to this discussion (or lecture rather), so there’s only so much I can delve into on our first foray into my past, present and hopefully future. I’d like to begin with a simple little blog on the war on drugs (not nearly as sensationalised as the war on terror these days, but still there lurking in the background since Richard Nixon shook hands with Elvis Presley).
How & why I started using drugs
I’ve suffered from depression from a very early age, then came the anxiety, then came the desire to self-medicate. It’s always difficult for people suffering from a mental illness to admit they’ve got a problem or be seen as having any weakness of some sort, let alone one which isn’t visible to an outside observer, which is I never got professional help until I was in my mid twenties, far later than I should’ve, but better late than never.
My journey started innocently enough with sporadic cannabis use in my teens on the weekends. I was never popular enough to hang out with the kids that drank booze or get invited to house parties, so thanks to prohibition, dealers unlike shop keepers, don’t ask you for any ID when you’re trying to buy a mind altering substance.
Soon came magic mushrooms which were legal at the time in the UK, and being sold in shops in Camden and Portobello market. This was more of legal loophole than anything else as they were legal to sell but illegal to consume. Everything was done with a wink and a nod, although they did have the proviso that you needed to be 18 to purchase them, however at 16 years of age they never asked to see any proof from me the few times I bought them. I think it’s safe to say the reason they got banned eventually was due to the fact that so many teenagers were being sold such a powerful drug without any education or regulation behind it. This was due to the fact that if the shops did tell you how to use them safely, they’d be incriminating themselves and face prosecution, they were only interested in profits rather than any potential responsible / medical use of the drug (which has since seen a renaissance in the psychiatric field, something I’ll be delving into in later blogs).
Besides one nightmare mushroom trip (which I’ll also delve into in a future blog), my experiences thus far had been pretty fun, but I soon moved onto harder (and far more illegal) drugs when I got to University, which is when my depression and anxiety really took a turn for the worse, and I would do anything I could to stop the suffering I felt at the time.
Why are drugs illegal?
So what about these drugs that have been illegal since the turn of the century? Well there was a time when they were legal too! Without getting too bogged down in the dates and details, drugs such as opium (predominantly), cannabis and cocaine would be sold in pharmacies for various ailments, often sold as panaceas for toddlers, the elderly and anyone caught in between. This led to the first instance of modern regulation in the UK which was known as the Pharmacy Act in 1868 and a dramatic decrease in the number of deaths.
You could say the world should’ve learned a lesson then and there, but no…
The United States on the other hand, decided to implement their first law banning opium dens in 1875 in what was essentially a ban on the Chinese population that had found themselves residing there. Throughout the course of modern history, we see time and time again that drugs were banned using propaganda and fear mongering based largely on elaborate racist claims to influence public opinion and push legislation through. To use the opium dens as an example, white America was still permitted to ingest opium orally, however the smoking of it was seen as ‘Chinese’ and the official reason given was ‘many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise.’
The same thing was done with cocaine and the black community, cannabis and the Mexican/Latin American community and so on and so forth. See the pattern? Yep, so do I.
The one that stands out the most in people’s minds of course is that of Alcohol prohibition in the United States (which also happened in Finland & Canada), led by the temperance movement (puritanical miserable people as I like to call them), and gave us the clearest indication of what happens when you drive a market into the hands of criminals. Despite alcohol being one of the most physically destructive and addictive drugs, it was too ingrained in society for it stay illegal and the ban was lifted – the result? Goodbye Al Capone et al, and hello sensible policy reinstated.
So what did prohibition of alcohol give us in the end? Gang warfare, unregulated moonshine which caused far more health problems than regulated alcohol ever did, a waste of police time, tax payers money, and most important – sadly a waste of life, which carries on to this day the war on (other) drugs.
A great documentary which goes into much more detail than I ever could is called ‘The House I Live In’ and I implore all my readers (whoever you are!) to give it a watch and gain a deeper understanding of how we find ourselves in the mess we are in today, this film will give you great examples of everything I’ve stated above (and perhaps below as well).
We can’t ignore the vested interests of certain industries such as textiles/tobacco/alcohol when it comes to cannabis being made illegal, as well as the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to what medicine is made available to the public.
After some opium wars, some world wars, some more legislation passed to ban almost everything imaginable, we found ourselves in two places at once.
The first, a cat and mouse game where legal highs became the norm of our generation. Chemists often based in China would manufacture drugs which closely resembled current popular illegal drugs in their chemical structure, however a tweak here and there and soon they could be sold in shops or over the Internet for any teenager with their parent’s credit cards details, with no recourse from the law.
The second, another cat and mouse game involving the dark web, with the notorious Silk Road market and Bitcoin cryptocurrency leading the way until it’s eventual demise. Only to be replaced by several more dark net markets for any teenager with their parent’s credit card details to use, with no recourse from the law, and the underground illicit market still thriving despite any deterrent drug enforcement agencies try and use to stop it.
Where are we now?
The legal high trend peaked with the consumption of Mephedrone in the UK, it was a stimulant people described as being a cross between cocaine and MDMA, and it was cheaper than chips – leading to a boom in use and abuse, which left the country high, mystified and perplexed at how to deal with this new scourge threatening our youth.
It wasn’t long until sensationalist media latched on and started falsely reporting cases of people ripping off their scrotums under the influence, or the death of two boys who mistakenly took Methadone (an opioid used as a maintenance substitute for heroin addiction, known colloquially amongst junkies as ‘liquid handcuffs’) thinking it was Mephedrone, which the media reported as Mephedrone overdoses until the post-mortem revealed otherwise.
Nevertheless enough hysteria and panic had been whipped up that instead of seeing the legal high market for what it was, I.e. A direct result of prohibition, leading to unregulated, uneducated use – our government went ahead with what they called the ‘Psychoactive Substances Act 2016’ which in their words banned any substance which acted “by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system / affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state.” Funnily enough, this excluded drugs such as nicotine, alcohol and caffeine – the holy trinity that Theresa May approves of.
Prohibition has never, and will never work, and has caused more harm than drugs have and ever will.
Unfortunately, I don’t want to bore you senseless (though I may already have), so in my next blog I shall be delving further into what is going around the world right in terms of policy shifting (for better or worse), the therapeutic potential of currently illegal drugs in this country, and what can be done to end the war once and for all.
I’ll also inevitably share some of my own experiences, having tried over 60 different drugs in the past 15 years, I’m almost too versed in this conversation. You could almost say it feels a little one sided, so I’d love to hear back from anyone with questions or an opinion, feel free to tweet me @psychedelicsemi and thanks for reading thus far.