Today’s repressive drug laws are at a dead end. The war on drugs harms society and citizens in a multitude of ways, of which I listed some in yesterdays blog post. Ironically it also prevents effective treatments for such things as addiction. But where can we go from here? Let’s imagine that all substances are legal. How can we organize the community to limit the damage and help addicts?
Legalizing all drugs would of course not mean that you could buy them next to the sweets at your local supermarket. And everything doesn’t just fall into place because they come under government control. There would probably need to be a combination of solutions, some of which already exist and others that don’t. Here are some possible parts to such a system.
In the current situation the entire drug trade is a black economy that is largely controlled by criminal organizations. If all substances were legalized they would become part of the regular economy, where it becomes possible to set up rules for manufacturing and quality control products. The substances would be provided with a table of content, just like any other commodity. The goods may additionally be provided with other labels, such as organic and fair trade.
Those working in the trade would have the same rights as other workers, would have the support of existing labor laws, would have the right to organize themselves into unions and would become tax payers.
Sales could take place within established models, such as the state control (pharmacies/tobacco sales) or as a state monopoly (in Sweden all alcohol is sold by the state run Systembolaget). Age limits could be imposed on substances and they could also be differentiated, so that one would have to be older to purchase some of the more potent compounds.
When drugs come under government control it is possible to steer people away from more harmful substances by levying heavier taxes on them. It’s would be easy to see which substances are economically costly for society and adjust the taxes accordingly.
Possibility to withdraw the right to use certain substances.
People should be able to lose their right to use certain substances if they commit crimes or harm themselves or others when they use them. I think it is strange that those who repeatedly get into fights drunk, drive intoxicated or get wasted on the verge of dying, still have the right to buy as much liquor as they can pay for.
When one shows that they aren’t able to handle a certain substance, it should be possible to revoke that person’s right to do so, in the same manner that one can lose ones driving license or license to practice medicine.
The possibility to exclude oneself from certain substances.
Many people are very aware of which substances they should not take. For example I know many who say they have no problem drinking beer, but go berserk if they drink hard liquor. It’s the same with all substances. What is pure bliss for one, can be hell for another. What one is able to take a couple of times a year without developing a craving for, another becomes addicted to after just a few doses.
But then again, many people know perfectly well what substances are dangerous for them. It could be made easy for them to take responsibility with the choice to voluntarily waive the right to use certain substances. They could also be able to set limits for themselves, by specifying how much of a substance they may purchase during a certain time period.
Many addicts will arrive at the point where they want to break free from their habit. During a certain period the window of change is open. The problem is often that they relapse because the substance will continue to be available to them. If they can exclude themselves from the right to buy certain substances, such as if an alcoholic does not allow him/herself to buy liquor, it would effectively help in the recovery process.
Licenses to handle certain substances.
With some particularly heavy drugs such as heroin, it would be possible to introduce a license allowing an educated person to handle the substance. For most substances it would probably be enough with basic education in school and a little everyday common sense, but with substances that carry serious consequences, it is important to be sure that those who use them have proper knowledge about risks and safety. The education for such a license may contain things like responsible management, how to use in a safe manner to prevent spread of infection, and how to deal with accidental overdoses. Such a license may be revoked if the person is irresponsible and for example sells substances to other people or uses them in an unsafe manner.
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In addition to the distribution itself – what can we do to get control of the situation regarding different substances?
Universal education in dealing with drugs and addiction.
I often wonder how drug education in schools can be allowed to be so absolutely worthless. The “education” is basically designed solely to scare people not to try anything. As a teenager I was an exchange student in the United States and the school that I went to worked in exactly the same way when it came to sex education. There was no information about STDs, contraception or sex. The whole message was only “you should not have sex until you get married”, and it was really crammed down the teenagers throats. It is a dangerous kind of indoctrination that creates ignorant and bigoted citizens, while increasing the actual risks.
Instead we should have a proper drug education, which includes such themes as:
∙ What is an altered state of mind and how you can you work with it?
∙ How to use drugs safely.
∙ What to do if you or someone else feels bad under the influence.
∙ How to manage an overdose.
∙ How to identify and get rid of substance abuse.
Use tax revenues for addiction treatment and prevention.
A legalization would generate tax revenue that I think primarily should go to addiction treatment and prevention. Even more money is now being spent on hunting, harassing and punishing people.
If we add a substantial part of those resources to create good addiction treatment, we will soon have the best addiction treatment the world has ever seen. Health care should be accessible and able to quickly help addicts who express a desire to receive care. Addiction is a disease and addicts should be treated as patients, not criminals.
There will always be addicts, but it is my firm belief that the addiction is to be found in the person – not in substance. People flee into abuse because they are fleeing from themselves, from the traumas they try to forget or from situations that are unbearable. Good prevention work builds on this understanding and aims to help people face themselves, help them process past trauma and to make their lives bearable. It helps them to stop fleeing and encourages them to take responsibility for their own lives. Much of today’s preventive work lacks this basic understanding.
Make substances available for scientific research, therapists, health care workers and healers.
There are many substances that are currently incorrectly classified as drugs with no medical value. This applies above all to psychedelics that are proven to be extremely effective in curing such things as addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress, empathy disorders and death anxiety. There are lots of stories about absolutely miraculous healing taking place with these substances, and they are at the same time very safe when used correctly.
Another substance that is being discussed greatly right now is cannabis and not only in its mind-altering form, but also as tinctures without the mind-altering properties. It is used with good results for such things as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, depression and end of life care. There seems to be some evidence that it also has cancer fighting properties.
These substances need to be made available to those who need the help and for the professionals who are working on this – from therapists, to regular health care workers, and also in alternative treatments. Today there are plenty of alternative therapists and traditional healers such as shamans, who have the knowledge and who have been passing it on for thousands of years. Here are exciting cross over’s to be made, when traditional methods of healing meet western medicine. Such work is already taking place. To fully take advantage of this scientific research needs to get started as soon as possible.
Making up for abuse committed by the state.
While the intention has probably been good, many people have been abused and badly treated under the current legislation. The current drug laws have stigmatized people, forced them into alienation, punished them, led people into a criminal lifestyle, actively withheld health care for sick addicts and has also led to many unnecessary deaths.
There is a need for redress and reconciliation. The very least the government should do is to apologize for the abuse that occurred under the current legislation.
What do you mean by dangerous, Daniel? Do you mean for the mind or for body, or is it a combination?
I want to start with a disclaimer – I haven’t put a lot of thought into this. There are probably many sharp minds who have, but I can imagine splitting the harmful effects into at least six categories.
1. Physical damage and the possibility of dying.
Some substances are physically much more dangerous than others. For example, in Sweden 12.000 people die every year from smoking. This can be compared with the number of deaths for all illicit drugs together, which barely passes the 500 mark. This is comparable to the number of suicides, and some of them are of course suicides. Hundreds of people die each year from alcohol poisoning, but we have yet to seen anyone die of cannabis.
If we look at damage caused by substances, I have seen estimates that between 10-25 percent of the hospital beds in Sweden are occupied by someone who is there because of their drinking. And even though nobody is dying of cannabis, there are those who take physical damage, such as with memory impairment. Other physically dangerous drugs are, for example, opiates (including heroin), cocaine and amphetamine.
2. Physical and psychological dependence.
Some drugs are physically addictive, so that users get a strong physical craving for them. Some of the more well known are opiates, nicotine, alcohol and cocaine. From my own experience I can say that cannabis is also physically addictive, but much less so than nicotine.
There are many substances which do not create physical dependence, but people with addictive personalities don’t need a physical addiction to abuse a substance. The addict has a frame of mind where the search for the next high/intoxication is compulsive.
Drug opponents sometimes try to convince us that illegal substances that do not create physical dependence, instead automatically create psychological dependence. That is not my experience when it comes to psychedelics. LDS and magic mushrooms create no physical dependencies, but also seems to have built into the actual experience that people are satisfied and needs time to integrate their insights. Psychedelics sometimes also moderate or often solve addiction problems. Certainly there are addictive personalities looking for highs with psychedelics, but it is more common that people use psychedelics in a moderate manner.
3. Mental harm.
Here it starts to get tricky, because discomfort is not the same as harm. Is it mental harm to trigger psychosis or latent disorders? I do not think psychoses always let themselves be categorized so easily, because they can often lead on to something extremely positive. Many addicts have paranoid traits, but is it really a sign that the drug did something with their psyche or is it the result of a long, well-founded fear of the legal system?
Leaving this aside, I think that it is really important to address the “bad trips” reported on psychedelics. This is not to be regarded as mental harm, no matter how ignorantly one discusses the matter.
A bad trip pretty much always stems from the persons inability to handle that which comes up during the trip. It could be a childhood trauma, fear, or pain that you have caused others. When something like this pops up during a trip we can choose to face the problem, or we can try to escape from it. When we try to run away from aspects of ourselves that need healing, we hurt ourselves, which can lead to, for example, depression or psychosis. But the problem is not that we have the opportunity to confront this. The opportunity is really a great gift. The problem is that we do not dare or have the ability to meet these challenges and that we are fleeing from ourselves. Mental difficulties that occur in this way should therefore not be attributed to the substance, but rather the person’s inability to meet themselves. The solution to it all is education, support and guidance; something we get very little of in society today.
Flashbacks on psychedelics is a curious chapter in itself. There are those who suffer from involuntary lingering effects, such as prolonged light, bouncing sound etc. I cannot say much about that. However, there is another kind of flashback, the one where you experience new, but true perception. Example, let’s say you open up the ability to see energy patterns in nature. When the trip is over, the ability stays. It was there all along and just needed to be opened up, jump started. This could also be considered a flashback and for someone who cannot put the ability into an understandable context, it can be misinterpreted as mental injury. But again, the problem is not the substance or what it opened up, but the persons inability to deal with it.
4. Increased risk behavior.
There are substances that are clearly linked to risky behavior. In that sense I have not been in contact with anything more dangerous than alcohol. Example, I have driven a car plastered, really fast on a winding country road in the dark. If I had smoked cannabis instead, I might still have gotten behind the wheel, but instead of driving 40 kilometers over the speed limit, I would likely have driven 40 kilometers below it. When I smoked cannabis, it made me very careful and cautious.
It is no coincidence that drunkenness and violence go hand in hand. Alcohol brings out an aggressive mentality – of course not in all, but in very many – and it ‘s very easy to go out of control on alcohol. It is no coincidence that there is next to no violence at rave parties, where illegal substances are easily accessible. People on cannabis, MDMA, LSD or mushrooms often have a hard time understanding violence, and even more difficulty participating in it.
One myth regarding LSD is that you think that you can fly and jump out of a window. On alcohol, I have climbed scaffoldings and cranes, swum across lakes, thrown myself into channels, gotten into quarrels and driven cars. On LSD, I usually walked around in the woods looking at the flowers and trees, meditated, danced, explained to people how much I love them and felt at one with the universe.
5. Danger to society.
Some things are obvious risks to society, such as violence, abuse and theft. An economist would perhaps also count in sick days and lost productivity as dangers to society. We might with small differences all agree, and I think it is clear which substances are hazardous in this respect.
One issue that I think is interesting is whether there is a danger to society when its citizens refuse to obey unjust laws. I would argue that it is not a danger to society when people ignore the drug laws to seek alternative ways to heal, develop, connect to the divine, or just relax and have fun. It is on the contrary a very healthy challenge that will lead to positive change. Unfortunately, many get into trouble, being prosecuted for things that should not be considered criminal. That is a danger to society.
6. Spiritual danger.
From personal experience I can say that there are substances that connect us to the divine and there are substances that stun and disconnect us. Psychedelics such as mushrooms, DMT, mescaline and LSD have the ability to connect us. Substances such as opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine disconnect us.
When I talk about what is dangerous, this is not what I ‘m talking about. This has its own chapter.
To return to the question: what do I think of as dangerous?
When I say dangerous, I mainly mean what is physically dangerous – that is what kills, what hurts, what leads to physical dependence, what leads to dangerous behavior and what leads to violence and crime that affects other people. These substances I consider to be the most dangerous and they include drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine and amphetamines. Funny enough, these are all in some form legal and readily available, and the deadliest (nicotine) and the most risky (alcohol) are completely legal.
I am not so naive as to dismiss psychological risks, but we should not, as today, exaggerate them. These risks can be minimized with education and guidance. I see two main psychological hazards:
1. Abuse. The abuse is never in substance, but in the person. We need to help people overcome addictions, instead of stigmatizing them. Substance abuse is a sickness and should not be fought with law.
2. People freak out because they do not know how to handle life. We need to give people the tools to process trauma, fear, sadness, anxiety, depression, and similar things, so that they may take control of their lives instead of being caught off guard and freaking out.