The War on Drugs (part 2)
By Gabriel Burns
Greetings yet again to our readers at The New Establishment! In my second instalment of my assessment of the War on Drugs I’ll be delving into the topics of drug policy and legislation worldwide – how different countries are tackling the problem, whether they act in a progressive manner and consider drug use a health issue or whether they act regressively (the standard current UK model) which considers drug use a criminal act with a lesser emphasis on treatment, and a greater one on punishment and abstinence.
I’ll also discuss the therapeutic potential of certain drugs which are starting to be seen as having legitimate medical use such as Cannabis, Psychedelics (such as LSD or Psilocybin), Empathogens (such as MDMA), and dissociatives (such as Ketamine). These are currently being researched at the cutting edge of psychotherapy and still have decades of stigma attached to them, however the science is undeniable and it should be a matter of time before they are recognised as the potentially powerful healing tools that they are.
Finally, I’ll discuss what can be done to end The War on Drugs, whether it is even conceivable given just how much opposition governments around the world place on the UN whenever the suggestion to be more lenient and tolerant arises.
Brief look at drug policy worldwide – pushing for Harm Reduction
There is such a huge contrast in how drug policy is treated globally, penalties for Cannabis for example can range from being non-existent in decriminalised countries such as The Netherlands, Portugal, or some of the US states that have recently gone from medical to full recreational use allowed – to other political regimes which might give you the death penalty if you’re caught with even a trace of it.
An example of such an extreme was the poor man who flew from Heathrow to Dubai, bought himself a bagel on the way, only to get a poppy seed stuck to the bottom of his shoe, and upon arriving in the UAE, he was accused of smuggling opium. This is what happens when arresting people for a victimless crime goes too far.
What do they have to gain from arresting people? Prisons have a vested interest in keeping people locked up, drug enforcement agencies have a vested interest in keeping their jobs and politicians despite knowing the facts, the science, the real harm involved will ignore government advisers (see David Nutt) in favour of never having to admit they are wrong. Think of the children is generally the de facto reason a politician will throw out, playing on worried parent’s heart strings and ignoring the fact ‘Just Say No’ – never worked for anyone.
We are however seeing a shift in some places, attitudes towards Cannabis are relaxing slowly but surely, especially as governments realise the money that can be made from taxation, tourism, the money saved on prosecuting people or chasing drug dealers instead of rapists and murderers…
Few people are aware that Spain has hundreds of Cannabis clubs, they aren’t advertised for tourists but are for locals to casually enjoy themselves without fear of prosecution. They’re so discreet you wouldn’t even know they’re there and what do you know – the rates of teenagers who smoke Cannabis in places where decriminalisation has taken place are far lower than that of the UK which still thrives on the black market, unregulated and therefore free for any dealer to sell to anyone of any age.
Of course there are still polar opposites such as the Philippines where current President Duterte who likens himself to Hitler has vowed to rid his country of drugs by simply killing drug users / suspected users / suspected dealers through vigilantes and police death squads.
The irony of Duterte however is that he himself is on prescription opioids and therefore a drug addict. He also must’ve missed the memo that even Hitler was receiving daily injections of Methamphetamine and various opiates (which explains why the guy was so batshit crazy!). There’s a good book written by Norman Ohler called ‘Blitzed – Drugs in Nazi Germany’ which goes into great detail about how practically every soldier in WW2 were given drugs to push them through the gruelling days, as well as how ‘dieting pills’ which were essentially speed were pushed on the public to keep them ‘alert and vigilant’ and last but not least, oh so slim and good looking.
Besides the growing trend for allowing possession of personal amounts of drugs, some countries have started to implement ‘shooting galleries’ – a harm reduction measure designed for those who use drugs intravenously, to be able to do it in a supervised place with medical attention at hand should they need it. These are still considered controversial because it appears as if they condone the practice, but the reality is, this is happening anyway, everyday – and by letting people have access to these facilities you will lower the number of deaths, diseases and every other harm associated with intravenous users. The countries that have implemented them (Switzerland being one of the first) have the statistics to show that they work. It is shocking that the UK have only recently adopted it in Scotland – think of all the deaths that could have been prevented, if only people looked at the problem head on instead of trying to make it disappear altogether.
Therapeutic potential of currently illegal drugs
Drugs tend to be scheduled or classified depending on whether they have any medicinal value. In theory. The reality however is that it is more or less arbitrarily done based on public perception of the harms associated with them.
We know that Cocaine and Morphine were valuable tools for treating various ailments, and their derivatives are still used to this day by the pharmaceutical industry. However the therapeutic benefits of certain drugs tend to be completely ignored ever since the backlash of the counter-culture in the 60s, as well as the rave scene in the 80s.
There is growing evidence that MDMA as well as Cannabis can be used to treat PTSD in war veterans, Israel is a big player when it comes to researching this field, however non-profit organisations such as MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) have recently carried out enough trials through public funding that they are at the final stage of FDA approval for it to be used as a legitimate medicine potentially by 2021.
These treatments have had huge opposition from ‘Big Pharma’ simply due to the fact that they don’t require a lifetime prescription of antidepressants, which in themselves are more of a bandaid than a real way of treating a mental health problem. People suffering from PTSD that have taken part in these trials have been relieved of all their symptoms after a few sessions. This isn’t big business. At least not yet.
Ketamine has also been shown to help alleviate symptoms of depression in those that have tried almost every treatment available after a single session. However – there are no instant miracle cures, all these drugs need to be used with a trained mental health practicioner who can guide you through the experience, unfortunately these people are few and far between because of the fact governments have made it so hard to research or study these drugs and therefore the standard model of psychiatry doesn’t involve any use of medication besides those with endless side effects such as antipsychotics, antidepressants (which have been shown to be as effective as placebo), or anti-anxiety medication (which can lead to lethal seizures if stopped abruptly).
Finally trials on psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin the active drug in Magic Mushrooms, have been found to treat end of life anxiety in cancer patients with tremendous results. Now that research is being done, we can see how these drugs affect the brain through MRI scans and see how they either activate certain parts or switch off certain parts of the brain – in the case of psychedelics, the ‘Default Mode Network’ is shut down temporarily, allowing the person to see themselves or their lives from another perspective – one without rumination or fear, but instead openness and acceptance.
Recent brain scans on LSD have shown how it increases connectivity throughout the whole brain, leading to a state where it is almost back to it’s child like plasticity which can help people detach from the ego they’ve spent years building as they grow old. This has implications for issues such as treatment of addiction – there’s been a significant study done on people quitting smoking with the use of psychedelics, and speaking from my own personal experience, I can understand why. It forces you to question your life decisions and helps you realise what is beneficial to you and what isn’t.
Micro-dosing – the practice of taking a fraction of a psychedelic dose has now become the trend in places such as Silicone Valley, or high end business entrepreneurs who say it helps them focus and improves their creativity. Even Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were unapologetic when it came to their use of the drug LSD. How much evidence needs to be presented before people start taking notice?
How to End the War on Drugs
The more and more people become aware of the therapeutic, medicinal and economic benefits of regulation and taxation – I truly believe we will be one step closer to having all drugs be legalised globally. There is too much at stake, and so far the war has been a total failure. Governments can’t acknowledge it without overwhelming scientific proof that laws need to change, so until then, we must be patient, petition, raise awareness, don’t be afraid to speak out – people will look at you like you’re insane but maybe they’ll thank you one day when they or a loved one is suffering from cancer and through the use of a guided psychedelic session they can come to terms with their lives and die peacefully, instead of being filled with terror. This isn’t about just having fun, this about ending suffering – especially preventable suffering which is a direct result of an overt fear of people thinking too freely. God forbid.
Aldous Huxley the author of ‘The Doors of Perception’ & ‘Brave New World’ had his wife inject him with LSD on his death bed. People have been aware of just how helpful these practices can be for decades now but it is kept from the public with fear mongering and propaganda.
In conclusion I will provide some links to back up all the statements I’ve made above, just in case I come across as having talked directly out of my arse!
I’m aware Wikipedia is not the ‘best’ of sources, but feel free to do further research based on the actual scientific journals in their references.
In my next blog I’ll begin discussing my own experiences of drug use and mental health.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_liberalization (global drug policies)
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7234786.stm (UAE poppy seed example)
- http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/sacked-ndash-for-telling-the-truth-about-drugs-1812255.html (Drug advisors ignored)
- http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/cannabis-clubs-spain-inside-legal-weed-dens-which-are-turning-barcelona-into-amsterdam-1501531 (Spain cannabis clubs)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_Drug_War (Duterte’s War)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supervised_injection_site (Shooting galleries)
- http://www.maps.org/ (Research into treating various disorders using currently illegal drugs)
- http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_11-4-2016-17-21-2 (LSD brain scans)
- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/psychedelic-microdosing-research_us_569525afe4b09dbb4bac9db8 (Micro-dosing in detail)
- http://www.lettersofnote.com/2010/03/most-beautiful-death.html (Laura Huxley’s letter)