by Johann Hari
January 20, 2015
from BoingBoing Website
Johann Hari, author of
learns about drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo,
and the grieving mongoose.
U.S. government officials agree, stressing that,
So this isn't a war to stop addiction, like that in my family, or teenage drug use.
It is a war to stop drug use among all humans, everywhere.
All these prohibited chemicals need to be rounded up and removed from the earth. That is what we are fighting for. I began to see this goal differently after I learned the story of the drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo, and the grieving mongoose.
They were all taught to me by a remarkable scientist in Los Angeles named Professor Ronald K. Siegel.
Professor Siegel, a silver-haired official adviser to
two U.S. presidents and to the World Health Organization, was
watching this scene. The mongoose found the corpse, and it made a
decision: it wanted to get out of its mind.
Before long, it had tuned in and dropped out.
But Siegel had seen cats lunging at
catnip - which, he knew, contains
chemicals that mimic the pheromones in a male tomcat's pee - so, he
wondered, could his supervisor really be right? Given the number of
species in the world, aren't there others who want to get high, or
stoned, or drunk?
It was such an implausible mission that in one
marijuana field in Hawaii, he was taken hostage by the local drug
dealers, because when he told them he was there to see what happened
when mongooses ate marijuana, they thought it was the worst police
cover story they had ever heard.
He explains in his book Intoxication:
Noah's Ark, he found, would have looked a lot like London on a Saturday night.
In West Bengal, a group of 150 elephants smashed their way into a warehouse and drank a massive amount of moonshine. They got so drunk they went on a rampage and killed five people, as well as demolishing seven concrete buildings.
If you give hash to male mice, they become horny and seek out females - but then they find,
In Vietnam, the water buffalo have always shunned the local opium plants.
They don't like them. But when the American bombs started to fall all around them during the war, the buffalo left their normal grazing grounds, broke into the opium fields, and began to chew. They would then look a little dizzy and dulled.
When they were traumatized, it seems, they wanted - like the mongoose, like us - to escape from their thoughts.
There was one fact, above all others, that I kept placing next to it in my mind. It is a fact that seems at first glance both obvious and instinctively wrong. Only 10 percent of drug users have a problem with their substance.
Some 90 percent of people who use a drug - the overwhelming majority - are not harmed by it. This figure comes not from a pro-legalization group, but from the United Nations Office on Drug Control, the global coordinator of the drug war.
Even William Bennett, the most aggressive drug czar in U.S. history, admits:
This is hard to dispute, yet hard to absorb.
If we think about people we know, it seems about
right - only a small minority of my friends who drink become
alcoholics, and only a small minority of the people I know who use
drugs on a night out have become addicts.
All we see in the public sphere are the casualties. The unharmed 90 percent use in private, and we rarely hear about it or see it. The damaged 10 percent, by contrast, are the only people we ever see using drugs out on the streets.
The result is that the harmed 10 percent make up 100 percent of the official picture. It is as if our only picture of drinkers were a homeless person lying in a gutter necking neat gin. This impression is then reinforced with the full power of the state.
For example, in 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a massive scientific study of cocaine and its effects.
They discovered that,
The U.S. government threatened to cut off funding to the WHO unless they suppressed the report.
It has never been published; we know what it says
only because it was leaked (read 'International
Study on Cocaine - WHO-UNICRI').
For anybody who suspects that we need to reform the
drug laws, there is an easier argument to make, and a harder
argument to make.
The only difference is between prohibitionists who
believe the tragedy of drug use can be dealt with by more jail cells
in California and more military jeeps on the streets of Juárez, and
the reformers who believe the tragedy of drug use can be dealt by
moving those funds to educate kids and treat addicts.
Some drug use causes horrible harm, as I know very well, but the overwhelming majority of people who use prohibited drugs do it because they get something good out of it - a fun night out dancing, the ability to meet a deadline, the chance of a good night's sleep, or insights into parts of their brain they couldn't get to on their own.
For them, it's a positive experience, one that makes their lives better. That's why so many of them choose it. They are not suffering from false consciousness, or hubris. They don't need to be stopped from harming themselves, because they are not harming themselves.
As the American writer Nick Gillespie puts it:
So, although it is against my instincts, I realized I couldn't give an honest account of drug use in this book if I talked only about the harm it causes.
If I'm serious about this subject, I also have to look at how drug use is deeply widespread - and mostly positive.
As soon as plants began to be eaten by animals for the first time - way back in prehistory, before the first human took his first steps - the plants evolved chemicals to protect themselves from being devoured and destroyed.
But these chemicals could, it soon turned out, produce strange effects. In some cases, instead of poisoning the plant's predators, they - quite by accident - altered their consciousness. This is when the pleasure of getting wasted enters history.
All human children experience the impulse early on: it's why when you were little you would spin around and around, or hold your breath to get a head rush.
You knew it would make you sick, but your desire to
change your consciousness a little - to experience a new and
unfamiliar rush - outweighed your aversion to nausea.
High in the Andes in 2000 b.c., they were making pipes through which they smoked hallucinogenic herbs. Ovid said drug-induced ecstasy was a divine gift. The Chinese were cultivating opium by a.d. 700. Hallucinogens and chemicals caused by burning cannabis were found in clay pipe fragments from William Shakespeare's house.
George Washington insisted that American soldiers be given whiskey every day as part of their rations.
Professor Siegel claims the desire to alter our consciousness is "the fourth drive" in all human minds, alongside the desire to eat, drink, and have sex - and it is "biologically inevitable."
It provides us with moments of release and relief.
They found drugs passed around the crowd freely, to anybody who wanted them. Everyone who took them soon felt an incredible surge of ecstasy. Then came the vivid, startling hallucinations.
You suddenly felt, as one user put it, something that was,
Some people came back every year because they loved this experience so much.
As the crowd thronged and yelled and sang, it became clear it was an extraordinary mix of human beings. There were farmers who had just finished their harvest, and some of the biggest celebrities around.
Their names - over the years - included,
The annual ritual in the Temple at Eleusis, eighteen kilometers northwest of Athens, was a drug party on a vast scale. It happened every year for two thousand years, and anybody who spoke the Greek language was free to come.
Harry Anslinger said that drug use represents,
I first discovered this fact by reading the work of
the British critic Stuart Walton in a brilliant book called
Out of It, and then I followed up
with some of his sources, which include the work of Professor R.
Gordon Wasson, Professor Carl Ruck, and other writers.
We do know that a special cup containing a mysterious chemical brew of hallucinogens would be passed around the crowd, and a scientific study years later seemed to prove it contained a molecular relative of LSD taken from a fungus that infested cereal crops and caused hallucinations.
The chemical contents of this cup were carefully guarded for the rest of the year. The drugs were legal - indeed, this drug use was arranged by public officials - and regulated. You could use them, but only in the designated temple for those ten days.
One day in 415 b.c., a party-going general named Alcibiades smuggled some of the mystery drug out and took it home for his friends to use at their parties.
But while it was a crime away from the Temple and
other confined spaces, it was a glory within it. According to these
accounts, it was Studio 54 spliced with St. Peter's Basilica -
revelry with religious reverence.
The classicist Dr. D.C.A. Hillman wrote that the "founding fathers" of the Western world,
There was some political grumbling for years that women were behaving too freely during their trances, but this annual festival ended only when the drug party crashed into Christianity.
The early Christians wanted there to be one route to ecstasy, and one route only - through prayer to their God. You shouldn't feel anything that profound or pleasurable except in our ceremonies at our churches.
The first tugs towards prohibition were about power, and purity of belief. If you are going to have one God and one Church, you need to stop experiences that make people feel that they can approach God on their own.
It is no coincidence that when new drugs come along,
humans often use religious words to describe them, like ecstasy.
They are often competing for the same brain space - our sense of awe
The new Christianity would promote wine only in tiny sips. Intoxication had to be sparing.
Yet in every generation after, some humans would try
to rebuild their own Temple at Eleusis - in their own minds,
and wherever they could clear a space free of local Anslingers.
They took the parts of their subconscious that generated these wet dreams and daydreams and projected them onto somebody else, the depraved people Over There, who had to be stopped.
Stuart Walton and the philosopher Terence McKenna both write that we are at this stage with our equally universal desire to seek out altered mental states. McKenna explains:
Just as we are rescuing the sex drive from our subconscious and from shame, so we need to take the intoxication drive out into the open where it can breathe.
Stuart Walton calls for a whole new field of human knowledge called "intoxicology."
When he sees people raging against all drug use, he is puzzled.
Indeed, he continues,
He seems for a moment to think back over all the animals guzzling drugs he has watched over all these years.
This is in us. It is in our brains.
It is part of who we are...