Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do



It's amazing how little Americans know about drugs. Considering that we spend $40 billion per year to make 1,350,000 arrests and have sacrificed a good number of our personal freedoms and physical safety to the war on drugs, it might be valuable to take a look at the "enemy."
Because it is the consensual crime on which the greatest prohibitions are placed, we'll go into drug myths and facts in a fair amount of detail.


The opiates are opium, morphine, and heroin. All three come from the opium poppy. They are generally known as narcotics.
At first, opium was smoked. It wasn't smoked, actually; it was heated until it gave off vapors—but did not yet "smoke"—and the vapors were inhaled. The active ingredient of opium, morphine, went directly into the bloodstream and to the brain. This was the method favored in China and by the Chinese immigrants brought to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroads.
Morphine was first separated from opium in 1806. Any oral ingestion was referred to as "eating." Opium eating was usually drinking some concoction made with morphine. These included any number of patent medicines such as laudanum, an alcohol-morphine mixture. In addition to pain killing, morphine was known for its tranquilizing and relaxing effects. Many of the patent medicines were marketed to women to cure anxiety, nervousness, and menstrual cramps. By the 1890s, men went to the saloons to drink alcohol and women stayed home and "ate opium." Eugene O'Neill wrote eloquently and touchingly about his mother's morphine addiction, his brother's alcoholism, and his father's disapproval of both, in his play, Long Day's Journey into Night.

Creation is a drug
I can't do without.
Physicians referred to morphine as G.O.M. or "God's Own Medicine." With the introduction of the hypodermic syringe in the mid-1800s, the effects of injecting morphine were discovered. The Civil War was an ideal laboratory to experiment with morphine's injectable anesthetic and painkilling qualities. The doctors went a little overboard: many soldiers returned from the war addicted to morphine. For quite some time, morphine addiction was known as the "soldier's disease."
Nevertheless, by 1880, physicians recommended G.O.M. for fifty-four "diseases" including anemia, insanity, and nymphomania. The addictive quality of morphine, however, did not concern doctors. Although many people needed the drug daily, as long as they were able to get the drug, morphine addicts functioned normally in society. Most addictions are only troublesome when the addictive substance is taken away. As a culture today, we are addicted to—among many other things—electricity, packaged foods, television, and automobiles. As long as these are readily available, we don't notice our addiction. If one—or all—were taken away, we would immediately exhibit the classic symptoms of addictive withdrawal.
Dr. William Stewart Halsted is widely recognized as "the father of modern surgery" and was one of the four founders of Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Dr. Halsted died at the age of 70, having revolutionized surgery (the sterile operating room was one of his many contributions). He enjoyed a thirty-two-year marriage, good health, and the admiration of his peers. However, Sir William Osler's "Secret History" of the medical center, made public in 1969, revealed that Dr. Halsted had been addicted to morphine until the end of his life. Dr. Osler, another of the founders of Johns Hopkins, wrote,

He had never been able to reduce the amount to less than three grains [180 milligrams] daily; on this he could do his work comfortably, and maintain his excellent physical vigor.

Just say know.
A daily injection of morphine is certainly not recommended operating room procedure, but the history of Dr. Halsted is hardly the stereotype of narcotic addiction that we have come to believe.
In 1898, heroin was synthesized from morphine by the Bayer company, the folks who gave us aspirin. They were looking for a better painkiller than aspirin, and they found it. Heroin is four to eight times more potent than morphine. Unfortunately, it had this minor drawback: it was almost as addictive as tobacco. Knowing this, why would anyone risk addiction? The answer may be found in this description:

Heroin's most valued effect is the ecstatic reaction that it gives after being intravenously injected; within seconds, a warm, glowing sensation spreads over the body. This brief but intense rush is then followed by a deep, drowsy state of relaxation [that] lasts two to four hours and then gradually wears off.

That was not an enticement from an illicit drug catalog or some pusher, but the description from the Encyclopedia Britannica. No matter how addictive heroin may be, however, most ill effects and almost all heroin fatalities are due to the laws against the drug, not the drug itself.

Of course drugs were fun.
And that's what's so stupid about
anti-drug campaigns:
they don't admit that.
I can't say I feel particularly
scarred or lessened by my
experimentation with drugs.
They've gotten a very bad name.
It is impossible to accurately determine the strength and purity of heroin purchased on the street. Practically all overdoses occur because users cannot accurately determine a dosage level. In addition, most of the negative effects people associate with heroin addiction (premature aging, ill health, and what Roseanne Roseannadanna might describe as "You look awful!") come not from the heroin, but from the impure substances used to cut the heroin.
Heroin is cut—that is, diluted—at least six times by six different individuals (or organizations) on its way to market. When drug dealers cut heroin, anything that's white and dissolves in water will do—laxatives, powdered milk, baking soda, quinine. By the time the heroin reaches the end user, often more than 70% of the "white powder" is something other than heroin. All these "additives" may be perfectly fine for the stomach, but can play havoc on the body when directly injected into the bloodstream. When a heroin addict refers to being ill by "bad dope," he or she is referring not to the quality of the heroin, but the content of the contaminants.
Although heroin is the opiate most effective for killing pain, it is not available by prescription. What is readily available on street corners cannot be used in hospital wards. People are suffering needlessly at this very moment because the moralists of our time are concerned that heroin manufactured for medical use will be used "recreationally." Because of an ineffective attempt to control the personal habits of would-be heroin users, innocent hospital patients in advanced stages of degenerative diseases must suffer.
All of the opiates have the same active ingredient, morphine, in different degrees of concentration. While the most addictive of all illegal substances, it is seldom deadly, and the primary harm opiates cause is due to their illegality.

I always wanted to blunt and blur
what was painful.
My idea [in taking drugs] was
pain reduction and
mind expansion,
but I ended up with
mind reduction and
pain expansion.

Cocaine, Crack, Amphetamines

Cocaine is simply a stimulant, an energizer. That's all. Its close chemical cousin is caffeine. In the early 1500s when the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Incas, they discovered the coca leaf was a gift more prized than silver or gold. "Priests and supplicants were allowed to approach the Altar of the Inca only if they had coca leaf in their mouths," writes Edward M. Brecher in Licit and Illicit Drugs. For religious and superstitious reasons, the conquistadors themselves did not chew the coca leaves, but did use it to encourage the Incas to work harder and produce more.
Although coca-leaf chewing never caught on in Europe or North America, wine drinks prepared with coca were very popular. They were first marketed in 1886 as a "remarkable therapeutic agent." Gounod, who wrote "Ave Maria," and Pope Leo XIII were regular imbibers of "Mariani's wine," a popular cocaine-wine concoction. Coca-Cola, also originated in 1886, contained cocaine from the coca plant and caffeine from the kola nut.
Cocaine, first synthesized from the coca leaf in 1844, was used as a local anesthetic, to fight fatigue, and as an antidepressant. Here's how one doctor described it in 1884:

I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion, and with the most brilliant success. . . . In short it is only now that I feel I am a doctor, since I have helped one patient and hope to help more.

This same doctor wrote to his fiance:

If you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a gentle little girl who doesn't eat enough or a big wild man who has cocaine in his body. [Italics in original.] In my last severe depression I took coca again and a small dose lifted me to the heights in a wonderful fashion. I am just now busy collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magical substance.

Cocaine habit forming?
Of course not.
I ought to know,
I've been using it for years.

The interestingly titled "Song of Praise" to cocaine and its therapeutic benefits was published in a medical journal in July 1884. The doctor's name was SIGMUND FREUD.

Amphetamines were first synthesized in 1887, but their effect as a cocaine-like stimulant was not noted until 1927. In 1932, an amphetamine marketed under the trade name Benzedrine replaced cocaine as the "power drug" of choice. Several film historians report that Gone With the Wind never would have been made without producer David O. Selznick's twenty-two-hour Benzedrine-inspired work days. World War II has been called the Benzedrine War—the American, British, German, Italian, Russian, and Japanese armed forces were given amphetamines to counteract fatigue, elevate mood, and heighten endurance. After World War II, "pep pills" replaced caffeine for many students, cross-country truck drivers, and athletes.

A small minority of users were not content with the increased well-being and productivity cocaine and amphetamines supplied, so they began injecting themselves with amphetamines (the "speed freaks") and, later, smoking cocaine in preparations known as "freebase," "ice," or "crack."

As long as people regulate their use of these more concentrated and directly ingested forms to avoid "burnout," there is nothing intrinsically more addictive or harmful about mainlining amphetamines or smoking crack than there is in cocaine or amphetamines themselves. This is not to say that they are not addictive—cocaine and amphetamines are, although less addictive than tobacco or opiates—but to single out "crack" as though it were some newly discovered instant addicter and destroyer of humanity is a serious misrepresentation. In fact, if cocaine were legal, most people who chose to use it would drink it or take it in pill form.

Brownie pledge,
I swear I've never,
never, ever tried drugs.
The most popular drug in the Cocaine, Crack, and Amphetamines category is caffeine. It is the most popular drug in the world. I must caution you, however, that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has the following to say about caffeine:

Dependence: A form of physical dependence may result with regular consumption. In such cases, withdrawal symptoms may occur if caffeine use is stopped or interrupted. These symptoms include headache, irritability, and fatigue. Tolerance may develop with the use of six to eight cups [of coffee] or more a day. A regular user of caffeine who has developed a tolerance may also develop a craving for the drug's effects.

Dangers: Poisonous doses of caffeine have occurred occasionally and have resulted in convulsions, breathing failure, and even death.

These are roughly the same dependence and dangers of the illegal stimulants cocaine (crack) and amphetamines.
Narcotic means "inducing sleep or stupor"—or at least that's what it once meant. While this does describe the opiates, precisely the reverse is true of the stimulants cocaine and amphetamines. To lump these two types of drugs—opiates and stimulants—into a category (narcotics) which only applies to the opiates, is an unnecessary attack on the perfectly good word narcotic. The reason for this languagecide is that once the American public believed narcotics were bad, the easiest thing to do was lump every other drug the government wanted to control into that category.Narcotics has been shortened to simply drugs to fit limited headline space and television newscast time. At least drugs is more accurate.>

Woodbury, GA.—Few families in this
rural Georgia town were left untouched
by a federal investigation that
culminated in the arrest of 62 people
on charges of selling crack.
The accused sellers include
a sheriff's deputy, a retired policeman
and a 68-year-old woman.
April 25, 1993


The psychedelics include peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, and that relative newcomer, LSD. We will explore peyote and LSD in the chapter, "Religious and Psychologically Therapeutic Use of Drugs."

(Hemp, Cannabis)

Marijuana was among the first plants cultivated by humans. Approximately 10,000 years ago, at the same time humans began making pottery and working metal, they began weaving hemp fiber.

As Jack Herer points out in his book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes,

From at least the 27th to 7th century B.C. up until this century, cannabis was incorporated into virtually all the cultures of the Middle East, Asia Minor, India, China, Japan, Europe, and Africa for its superior fiber, medicines, oils, food, and for its meditative, euphoric, and relaxational uses. Hemp was one of our ancestors' most important overall industries, along with tool making, animal husbandry and farming.

There's been no top authority
saying what marijuana does to you.
I tried it once
but it didn't do anything to me.
Homer refers to a drug brought by Helen to Troy that sounds remarkably like marijuana. Dr. Robert P. Walton, an American physician, found passages from Pliny, The Arabian Nights, Herodotus, Marco Polo, and others clearly indicating that marijuana was used in the ancient world for purposes other than making rope.
Although the Greek and Roman civilizations certainly had access to the ingestible forms of hemp, wine was the intoxicant of choice. The early Christians inherited this preference. The pagans, however, supplemented wine with various "herbs," one of which was hemp. The use of any intoxicant other than alcohol, then, became associated with paganism, and the Christian world turned its back (and eventually its wrath) on such practices. The use of any plant product other than grapes for consciousness- altering was considered a form of witchcraft. It was banned by the Church, and later enforced by the Inquisition. In 1430, for example, Joan of Arc was accused of using "witch" herbs to hear her "voices" and burned at the stake. The most popular "witch herb" at the time was cannabis. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII proclaimed that cannabis, among other herbs, was central to satanic worship. Until the end of the Inquisition, lighting up could have led to burning at the stake.
Hemp continued to be grown, of course, as raw material for manufacture. The sails and ropes on Columbus's ships were made of hemp, as were the sails and ropes on the Mayflower. When the Mayflower arrived in 1620, marijuana had been grown on the American continent for almost a decade: the Jamestown settlers brought it to Virginia in 1611 and cultivated it for its fiber. As Edward M. Brecher wrote,

From then until after the Civil War, the marijuana plant was a major crop in North America, and played an important role in both colonial and national economic policy. In 1762, Virginia awarded bounties for hemp culture and manufacture, and imposed penalties upon those who did not produce it.

Any formal attack on ignorance
is bound to fail
because the masses are always
ready to defend
their most precious possession
—their ignorance.
It was common knowledge that smoking the flowering tops of the hemp plant caused intoxication. As tobacco at that time was smoked primarily for its high and usually in a pipe, the paraphernalia and the practice for pot smoking—as well as the cannabis plant itself—were readily available.
Marijuana was one of the few painkillers in colonial America. George Washington, who had dental problems his entire life, was obviously concerned about the medicinal uses of marijuana. His journal for August 7, 1765, states "—began to seperate [sic] the Male from the Female Hemp at Do—rather too late." It was the belief then that the unfertilized female plants produced the best resin for making hashish. Washington's comment that he was "rather too late" indicates that he wanted unpollinated female plants. Other than medicinal or recreational use, there is no reason to concern oneself with whether or not the male plants had fertilized the female plants.
Throughout the nineteenth century, cannabis was prescribed for a number of conditions. It was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia as extractum cannabis or Extract of hemp, and was so listed until 1942. In 1851, the United States Dispensatory reported of extract of hemp:

The complaints in which it has been specially recommended are neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, tetanus, hydrophobia, epidemic cholera, convulsions, chorea, hysteria, mental depression, delirium tremens, insanity, and uterine hemorrhage.

The greatest service
which can be rendered
any country
is to add a useful plant
to its culture.
By the second half of the 1800s, fluid extracts of hemp were marketed by Parke Davis, Squibb, Lilly, and Burroughs Wellcome. Grimault and Sons manufactured cannabis cigarettes as an asthma relief. All these products were sold at modest prices without a prescription at neighborhood pharmacies.
Recreationally, hemp was generally eaten or smoked in the form of hashish, a concentration of the THC-containing portions of the hemp plant. Hashish was freely imported, and World's Fairs and International Expositions from the 1860s onward often featured the Turkish Hashish Smoking Exposition. At the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, for example, the Turkish Hashish Exposition was most popular, and fairgoers were encouraged to return again and again to "enhance" their enjoyment of the fair.
For the most part, however, Americans in the mid- to late 1800s either drank extracts of cannabis or ate hash. From the Civil War onward, for example, the Ganjah Wallah Hasheesh Candy Company sold a popular intoxicating hash candy. A typical ad read:

Hasheesh Candy.—The Arabian "Gunje" of Enchantment confectionized.—A most pleasurable and harmless stimulant.—Cures Nervousness, Weakness, Melancholy, &c. Inspires all classes with new life and energy. A complete mental and physical invigorator. Send for circular. Beware of imitations. 25 cents and $1 per box. Imported only by the Gunjah Wallah Co., 476 Broadway, N.Y.

Every form of addiction is bad,
no matter whether
the narcotic be alcohol
or morphine
or idealism.
And then there were Alice B. Toklas's favorite, "hash brownies"—actually called Haschich Fudge. Here, from her 1954 Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, is the recipe (which is presented here solely for its historical, gastronomical, and literary illumination):

(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)

This is the food of Paradise—of Baudelaire's Artificial Paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies' Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by "un vanouissement reveill."

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as canibus sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called canibus indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed while the plant is still green.

Seurat's eyes then
began to tremble
at what his eyes
were seeing.
Only the poor and lower classes smoked (or ate) the hemp plant. Liquid extract of cannabis, hashish candy, and hashish itself were readily and inexpensively available. Why bother with the plant?
Marijuana is not a narcotic. Like alcohol, it is not sleep-inducing unless taken in large quantities. Unlike tobacco or opiates, it is nonaddictive. To quote from the Consumers Union Report, "the lethal dose is not known; no human fatalities have been documented."
As we're in the midst of a drug war, each day we are inundated with news—some heartening, some discouraging. For example, in Newsweek, June 14, 1993,

Fed up with mandatory sentences, about 50 senior federal judges have refused to hear any more drug cases. Others have disobeyed sentencing rules and a few have resigned in protest. "You get a kid who makes a mistake. If he's involved with enough drugs then it's a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence and he has to do 8-1/2 years. To me, that's ludicrous," says J. Lawrence Irving, who quit the federal bench in San Diego in 1990.

It's gotten to where
defense attorneys
in federal drug cases
can do their clients
about as much good
as Dr. Kevorkian can do his—
quietly shepherd them through
to the least painful end.
Fifty federal judges refusing to hear drug cases is unprecedented. Heartening. But then, on the same page,

An 18-year-old Alabama high-school senior [was] sentenced to 10 years for federal drug conspiracy because she told an undercover agent where to meet her boyfriend to buy LSD.

Allow me to end this section on recreational drug use in an unusual way: by quoting at length from the National Review.
One might think if I wanted a supporting point of view, I would quote at length from The Nation, The New Republic, or maybe High Times. But no. The sanest words I've read in a while on drugs come from a discussion between William F. Buckley, Jr., and Michael S. Gazzaniga, Professor of Neuroscience at Dartmouth Medical School. I would like to thank Mr. Buckley for his permission to quote from this discussion at length. So, this from the February 5, 1990, issue of the National Review. First, the magazine gives Professor Gazzaniga's credentials:

Professor Gazzaniga is the Andrew W. Thompson Jr. Professor of Psychiatry (Neuroscience) at Dartmouth Medical School. He is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (MIT Press) and his most recent book is Mind Matters (Houghton Mifflin, 1988).

Our laws are telling people,
"If you're concerned
about getting caught,
don't use marijuana,
use cocaine."
Well, that is not necessarily
what people want to do.

BUCKLEY: It is said that the drug crack is substantively different from its parent drug, cocaine, in that it is, to use the term of Professor van den Haag, "crimogenic." In other words a certain (unspecified) percentage of those who take crack are prompted to—well, to go out and commit mayhem of some kind. Is that correct?

GAZZANIGA: No, not in the way you put it. What you are asking is: Is there something about how crack acts on the brain that makes people who take it likelier to commit crime?

Let's begin by making it clear what crack is. It is simply cocaine that has been mixed with baking soda, water, and then boiled. What this procedure does is to permit cocaine to be smoked. Now any drug ingested in that way—i.e., absorbed by the lungs—goes more efficiently to the brain, and the result is a quicker, more intense experience. That is what crack gives the consumer. But its impact on the brain is the same as with plain cocaine and, as a matter of fact, amphetamines. No one has ever maintained that these drugs are "crimogenic."

The only study I know about that inquires into the question of crack breeding crime reports that most homicides involving crack were the result not of the use of crack, but of dealer disputes. Crack did not induce users to commit crimes. Do some crack users commit crimes? Of course. After all, involvement in proscribed drug traffic is dangerous. Moreover, people who commit crimes tend to use drugs at a high rate, though which drug they prefer varies from one year to the next.

BUCKLEY: You are telling us that an increase in the use of crack would not mean an increase in crime?

GAZZANIGA: I am saying that what increase there would be in crime would not be simply the result of the pharmacology of that drug. Look, let's say there are 200,000 users/abusers of crack in New York City—a number that reflects one of the current estimates. If so, and if the drug produced violent tendencies in all crack users, the health-care system would have to come to a screeching halt. It hasn't. In fact, in 1988 the hospitals in New York City (the crack capital of the world) averaged only seven crack-related admissions, city-wide, a day. The perception of crack-based misbehavior is exaggerated because it is the cases that show up in the emergency rooms that receive public notice, and the whole picture begins to look very bleak. All of this is to say: when considering any aspect of the drug problem, keep in mind the matter of selection of the evidence.

The alarming statistics cited by
testing advocates to demonstrate
the high costs of drug abuse
do not always accurately reflect the
research on which they are based.
In fact, some of the data could be
used to "prove" that drug use has
negligible or even beneficial effects.

It is prudent to recall that, in the past, dangerous and criminal behavior has been said to have been generated by other drugs, for instance marijuana (you remember Reefer Madness?). And bear it in mind that since cocaine is available everywhere, so is crack available everywhere, since the means of converting the one into the other are easy, and easily learned. It is important to note that only a small percentage of cocaine users actually convert their stuff to crack. Roughly one in six.

BUCKLEY: Then would it follow that even if there were an increase in the use of crack, the legalization of it would actually result in a decrease in crime?

GAZZANIGA: That is correct.

BUCKLEY: Isn't crack a drug whose addictive power exceeds that of many other drugs? If that is the case, one assumes that people who opt to take crack do so because it yields the faster and more exhilarating satisfactions to which you make reference.

GAZZANIGA: That is certainly the current understanding, but there are no solid data on the question. Current observations are confounded by certain economic variables. Crack is cheap—

BUCKLEY: Why? If cocaine is expensive, how can crack be cheap?

GAZZANIGA: Cocaine costs $1,000 per ounce if bought in quantity. One ounce can produce one thousand vials of crack, each of which sells for $5. The drug abuser is able to experience more drug episodes. Crack being cheap, the next high can come a lot more quickly and since there is a down to every up, or high, the cycle can become intense.

The number of teenagers "huffing"
or inhaling household products
is reportedly higher than
the number abusing cocaine.

So yes, crack is addictive. So is cocaine. So are amphetamines. The special punch of crack, as the result of going quickly via the lungs to the brain, may prompt some abusers to want more. By the way, it is the public knowledge that crack acts in this way that, as several studies document, causes most regular cocaine users to be cautious about crack. The casual-to-moderate user very clearly wants to stay in that category. So, all you can say is that there is a perception, widely shared, that crack is more addictive. Whether it is, isn't really known. One thing we do know is that crack does not begin to approach tobacco as a nationwide health hazard. For every crack-related death, there are three hundred tobacco-related deaths.

Another example of hyperbole is the recent claim that there were 375,000 "crack babies" born last year; how could that possibly be, when the government (the National Institutes on Drug Abuse) informs us that there were only 500,000 crack users last year? Exaggeration and misinformation run rampant on this subject.

BUCKLEY: Well, if crack were legally available alongside cocaine and, say, marijuana, what would be the reason for a consumer to take crack?

GAZZANIGA: You need to keep your drug classifications straight. If your goal were, pure and simple, to get high, you might try crack or cocaine, or some amphetamine. You wouldn't go for marijuana, which is a mild hallucinogen and tranquilizer. So, if you wanted to be up and you didn't have much time, you might go to crack. But then if it were absolutely established that there was a higher addiction rate with crack, legalization could, paradoxically, diminish its use. This is so because if cocaine were reduced to the same price as crack, the abuser, acknowledging the higher rate of addiction, might forgo the more intensive high of crack, opting for the slower high of cocaine. Crack was introduced years ago as offering an alluring new psycho active experience. But its special hold on the ghetto is the result of its price. Remember that—on another front—we know that 120-proof alcohol doesn't sell as readily as 86 proof, not by a long shot, even though the higher the proof, the faster the psychological effect that alcohol users are seeking.

After 20 years on the bench
I have concluded that
federal drug laws are a disaster.
It is time to get the government
out of drug enforcement.
New York Times
May 14, 1993

BUCKLEY: Is there evidence that the current consumption of drugs is restrained by their illegality? We have read that ninety million Americans have experimented, at one time or another, with illegal drugs. Would more than ninety million have experimented with them if drugs had been legal?

GAZZANIGA: I think illegality has little if anything to do with drug consumption—and, incidentally, I am certain that far more than ninety million Americans have at some point or other experimented with an illegal drug.

This gets to the issue of actual availability. Drugs are everywhere, simply everywhere. In terms of availability, drugs might just as well be legal as illegal. Now it has been argued that legalization will create a different social climate, a more permissive, more indulgent climate. It is certainly conceivable, primarily for that reason, that there would be greater initial use—the result of curiosity. But the central point is that human beings in all cultures tend to seek out means of altering their mental state, and that although some will shop around and lose the powers of self-discipline, most will settle down to a base rate of use, and a much smaller rate of abuse, and those rates are pretty much what we have in the United States right now.

BUCKLEY: Then the factor of illegality, in your opinion, does not weigh heavily? But, we come to the critical question, if ninety million (or more) Americans have experimented with the use of drugs, why is drug abuse at such a (relatively) low level?

GAZZANIGA: If you exclude tobacco, in the whole nation less than 10 per cent of the adult population abuses drugs. That is, 9 to 12 million adult Americans abuse drugs. That figure includes alcohol, by the way, and the figure remains fairly constant.

We're in a war.
People who blast some pot
on a casual basis
are guilty of treason.
Los Angeles Police Chief

Consider alcohol. In our culture alone, 70 to 80 per cent of us use alcohol, and the abuse rate is now estimated at 5 to 6 per cent. We see at work here a major feature of the human response to drug availability, namely, the inclination to moderation. Most people are adjusted and are intent on living productive lives. While most of us, pursuing that goal, enjoy the sensations of euphoria, or anxiety reduction, or (at times) social dis-inhibition or even anesthesia, we don't let the desire for these sensations dominate our behavior. Alcohol fills these needs for many people and its use is managed intelligently.

It is worth noting that the largest proportion of this drug is sold to the social drinker, not the drunk, just as most cocaine is sold to the casual user, not the addict. Now, early exposure to alcohol is common and inevitable, and youthful drinking can be extreme. Yet studies have shown that it is difficult to determine which drunk at the college party will evolve into a serious alcoholic. What is known is that the vast majority of early drinkers stop excessive drinking all by themselves. In fact, drug use of all types drops off radically with age.

BUCKLEY: Wait a minute. Are you telling us that there is only a 10 per cent chance that any user will become addicted to a drug, having experimented with it?

GAZZANIGA: The 10 per cent figure includes all drugs except tobacco. The actual risk for abuse of some drugs is much lower. Consider last year's National Household Survey (NHS) which was carried out by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. It is estimated that some 21 million people tried cocaine in 1988. But according to the NHS only three million defined themselves as having used the drug at least once during the month preceding their interview. Most of the three million were casual users. Now think about it. All the cocaine users make up 2 per cent of the adult population, and the addicts make up less than one-quarter of 1 per cent of the total population. These are the government's own figures. Does that sound like an epidemic to you?

No major American decision
was ever made without
the influence of
alcohol, nicotine, caffeine—
often all three.

BUCKLEY: But surely an epidemic has to do with the rate at which an undesirable occurrence is increasing. How many more cocaine users were there than the year before? Or the year before that?

GAZZANIGA: The real question is whether or not more and more Americans are becoming addicted to something. Is the rate of addiction to psycho active substances going up? The answer to that is a flat no. Are there fads during which one drug becomes more popular than another as the drug of abuse? Sure. But, when one drug goes up in consumption, others go down. Heroin use is down, and so is marijuana use. That is why the opiate and marijuana pushers are trying to prove their purity—so they can grab back some of their market share, which apparently they have done for heroin in New York City.

But having said that, you should know that the actual use of cocaine and all other illicit drugs is on the decline, according to the NHS. The just-published National High School Survey carried out by the University of Michigan reports that the same is true among high-school students. Crack is used at such a low rate throughout the country that its use can hardly be measured in most areas.

BUCKLEY: Well, if a low addiction rate is the rule, how do we come to terms with the assertion, which has been made in reputable circles, that over 40 per cent of Americans fighting in Vietnam were using heroin and 80 per cent marijuana?

GAZZANIGA: Stressful situations provoke a greater use of drugs. Vietnam was one of them. But what happens when the soldiers come home?

That point was examined in a large study by Dr. Lee Robbins at Washington University. During the Vietnam War, President Nixon ordered a study on the returning vets who seemed to have a drug problem. (Nixon didn't know what he was looking for, but he was getting a lot of flak on the point that the war was producing a generation of drug addicts.) Dr. Robbins chose to study those soldiers returning to the United States in 1971. Of the 13,760 Army enlisted men who returned and were included in her sample, 1,400 had a positive urine test for drugs (narcotics, amphetamines, or barbiturates). She was able to re-test 495 men from this sample a few months later. The results were crystal clear: Only 8 per cent of the men who had been drug positive in their first urine test remained so. In short, over 90 per cent of them, now that they were back home, walked away from drug use. And all of them knew how to get hold of drugs, if they had wanted them. Incidentally, Dr. Robbins did a follow-up study a couple of years later on the same soldiers. She reported there had not been an increase in drug use.

As a first-time drug law offender,
I was sentenced to
27 non-parolable years in prison.
The amount of time was based on
liquid waste found in the garage
and unprocessed chemicals.
There were no drugs.
May 29, 1993

BUCKLEY: Aha! You are saying that under special circumstances, the use of drugs increases. Well, granted there was stress in Vietnam. Isn't there stress also in American ghettos?

GAZZANIGA: If you live in poverty and frustration, and see few rewards available to you, you are likelier than your better-satisfied counterpart to seek the escape of drugs, although the higher rate of consumption does not result in a higher rate of addiction. Virtually every study finds this to be the case with one possibly interesting twist. A recent Department of Defense study showed that drug use in the military was lower for blacks than for whites, the reverse of civilian life. (It is generally agreed that the military is the only institution in our country that is successfully integrated.) In short, environmental factors play an important role in the incidence of drug use.

BUCKLEY: So you are saying that there are social circumstances that will raise the rate of consumption, but that raising the rate of consumption doesn't in fact raise the rate of addiction. In other words, if 50 per cent of the troops in Vietnam had been using crack, this would not have affected the rate at which, on returning to the United States, they became addicted. They would have kicked the habit on reaching home?

After much criticism in 1990, the
Naples, Florida, Police Department
canceled a highly touted campaign
against drug dealers. The department,
which has one black officer (out of 75),
had dressed undercover white officers
in blackface and colorful clothes
because, said one official,
"sales are made
predominantly by blacks."

GAZZANIGA: That's the idea. Drug consumption can go up in a particular population, fueled by stress, but the rate of addiction doesn't go up no matter what the degree of stress. Most people can walk away from high drug use if their lives become more normal. Of course, the stress of the ghetto isn't the only situation that fuels high drug consumption. Plenty of affluent people who for some reason or another do not find their lives rewarding also escape into drugs.

BUCKLEY: If it is true, then, that only a small percentage of those who take crack will end up addicted, and that that is no different from the small percentage who, taking one beer every Saturday night, will become alcoholics, what is the correct way in which to describe the relative intensity of the addictive element in a particular drug?

GAZZANIGA: That is an interesting question and one that can't satisfactorily be answered until much more research is done. There are conundrums. Again, it is estimated that 21 million people tried cocaine in 1988. Yet, of those, only 3 million currently use it, and only a small percentage are addicted. As for crack, it is estimated that 2.5 million have used it, while only a half million say they still do, and that figure includes the addicted and the casual user. Some reports claim that as many as one half of crack users are addicted. As I have said, crack is cheap, and for that reason may be especially attractive to the poor. That is a non-pharmacological, non-biological factor, the weight of which we have not come to any conclusions about. We don't even have reliable data to tell us that crack creates a greater rate of addiction than, say, cocaine. My own guess is it doesn't. Remember that the drug acts on the same brain systems that cocaine and amphetamines do.

BUCKLEY: To what extent is the addictive factor affected by education? Here is what I mean by this: Taking a drug, say heroin or cocaine or crack—or, for that matter, alcohol—is a form of Russian roulette, using a ten-cartridge revolver. Now, presumably, an educated person, concerned for his livelihood, wouldn't take a revolver with nine empty cartridges and one full cartridge, aim it at his head, and pull the trigger. But granted, decisions of that kind are based on ratiocinative skills. And we have to assume these skills don't exist even among college students. If they did, there would be no drinking in college, let alone drug taking. Comments?

Nothing will ever be attempted
if all possible objections
must be first overcome.

GAZZANIGA: Most people perceive themselves as in control of their destiny. They do not think the initial exposure will ruin their lives, because of their perceived self-control, and they are right. Take the most difficult case, tobacco—the most highly addictive substance around. In a now classic study, Stanley Schachter of Columbia University formally surveyed his highly educated colleagues at Columbia. At the same time, he polled the working residents of Amagansett, a community on Long Island where he summered. He first determined who were ongoing smokers, and who had been smokers. He took into account how long they had smoked, what they had smoked, and all other variables he could think of.

It wasn't long before the picture began to crystallize. Inform a normally intelligent group of people about the tangible hazards of using a particular substance and the vast majority of them simply stop. It wasn't easy for some, but in general they stopped, and they didn't need treatment programs, support programs, and all the rest. Dr. Schachter concluded, after this study, that it is only the thorny cases that show up at the treatment centers, people who have developed a true addiction. For those people, psychological prophylactics, including education, are of little or no value. Yet it is these people that are held up as examples of what happens when one uses drugs. This is misleading. It creates an unworkable framework for thinking about the problem. Most people can voluntarily stop using a psycho active substance, and those people who do continue to use it can moderate their intake to reduce the possibility of health hazards. This is true, as I say, for most substances, but I repeat, less true for tobacco because of its distinctively addictive nature. The people who unwisely continue to use tobacco tend to smoke themselves into major illness even though they are amply warned that this is likely to happen.

Marijuana is not much more
difficult to obtain than beer.
The reason for this is that
a liquor store selling beer to a minor
stands to lose its liquor license.
Marijuana salesmen don't have
expensive overheads,
and so are not easily punished.

BUCKLEY: So no matter how widely you spread the message, it is in fact going to be ignored, both by Ph.D.s and by illiterates?

GAZZANIGA: If they are real abusers, yes. That is the reason for the high recidivism rate among graduates of drug treatment centers. Here we are talking about the true addicts. Education appears not to help the recalcitrant abusers, who are the ones that keep showing up at health centers.

Yet, manifestly, education contributes to keeping the abuse rate as low as it is. I think the message gets to the ghetto, but where there are other problems—the need for an artificial reward—drugs are going to be taken by many people because the excruciating pain of a current condition overrides long-term reason. In short, the ghetto citizen or the psychologically isolated person might well decide that the probability of living a better life is low, so grab some rewards while you can.

BUCKLEY: In that case, education, even in the popular media, is likely to influence primarily the educated classes. That has to mean that the uneducated class will suffer more addiction than the educated class.

GAZZANIGA: Well, again, people in the lowest socio-economic status will continue to consume more drugs, but that doesn't change the addiction rate. Still, legalization shouldn't change the current figures, since drugs are literally available everywhere in the ghetto. They are also available on every college campus. They are available in prisons! I suppose if one wants to conjure up fresh problems brought on by legalization, they will center on the folks living on Park Avenue, where drugs are less easily secured, not the ghetto. Legalization of drugs would reduce crime in the ghetto, and much that is positive would follow. The vast majority of the crime network ought to crumble. The importance of that cannot be underestimated.

Adulation is all right
if you don't inhale.

BUCKLEY: What would be your prediction, as a scientist, of what the advent of [drugs sold legally and without prescription to adults in a kind of] Federal Drugstore, combined with a program of intensified education, would accomplish in the next ten years?

GAZZANIGA: Drug-consumption rates will bounce around, related as they are to environmental factors, fads, and a host of other factors. Drug-abuse rates will not change much, if at all. Yet many of the negative social consequences of keeping drugs illegal will be neutralized. The health costs of drug abuse will always be with us. We should try to focus on those problems with more serious neurobiologic and neurobehavioral research and help where we can to reduce the percentage that fall victim. I am an experimental scientist, and like most people can see that the present system doesn't work. We need to try another approach. If, for whatever reason, legalization doesn't improve the situation, it would take five minutes to reverse it.

Thank you, Mr. B. and Professor G. Good conversation: what a drug.

I close this chapter with this quote from the National Institute of Justice, from a program sponsored by the Police Foundation:

The goal of legalizing drugs is to bring them under effective legal control. If it were legal to produce and distribute drugs, legitimate businessmen would enter the business. There would be less need for violence and corruption since the industry would have access to the courts. And, instead of absorbing tax dollars as targets of expensive enforcement efforts, the drug sellers might begin to pay taxes. So, legalization might well solve the organized crime aspects of the drug trafficking problem.

On average, drug use under legalization might not be as destructive to users and to society as under the current prohibition, because drugs would be less expensive, purer, and more conveniently available.

The trouble with most folks
isn't so much their ignorance,
as knowing so many things
that ain't so.


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