Altered States

Saying Yes by Jacob Sullum

An impressive work that manages to turn the "drugs are bad" mindset of modern times completely on its head with clear, practical reasoning. Most books advocating reform of drug policy make their argument from the strength that anti-drug policies cause more harm than they prevent. The basic assumption - that humans using psychoactive chemicals is inherently wrong - typically remains unchallanged. Saying Yes systematically examines this attitude in our culture, targeting specific drugs (marijuana, heroin, alcohol) and concepts (addiction, hedonism, moderation).

The chapter about marijuana addresses a point often made by those opposing medical marijuana: that pro-MMJ reformers have the real goal of legalizing marijuana completely, because MMJ is a slipery slope which will lead to a blurring of the line between medicinal and recreational. Sullum says yes, absolutely! Medicinal and recreational are closely tied together. Marijuana is a good medicine for cancer patients because it soothes stress, improves appetite, and lifts the spirits. Guess what - these are the very same reasons people do it for recreation, too! But in that context, we say that it "mellows you out man, gives you the munchies, and makes everything funny."

If it's good for cancer patients, why not everyone else? Reducing stress and lifting spirits are good for the soul. And what's good for the soul is good for the body. In this modern age of high-intensity careers, marijuana is one way to keep stress levels to a minimum.

The chapter on addiction is perhaps the crowning glory of this book. It uses as its test subject herion, which is widely acknowledged to be the most addictive (and thereby life-destructive) chemical known to man. Sullum starts by throwing light a common attitude: that addiction is mind-enslaving condition which inhibits human free will completely. No matter how much self-control you may have (says conventional wisdom), breaking free of the grip of heroin is nearly impossible.

Sullum then presents statistics (gathered by the US government's anti-drug offices, no less) which show that, of everyone who has ever tried heroin, only about 2% remain users today. Think about that. That meanes that 98% of heroin users kick the habit (the vast majority, it should be noted, without any kind of rehab or other external assistance). What's going on here? Sullum interviews a number of former heroin users and finds that most report a period of intesive use, during which they eventually realized that their habit was destructive and that they should stop. So they did. Was it hard to quit? Yes of course, they say. But obviously not anywhere near as impossible as conventional wisdom would have us believe.

Rating: 1 of 5
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