Why drug prevention isn’t always a good goal

Written by on November 19, 2015

In April 2016, the UN General Assembly Special Session meeting on the current drug law treaties which require all member states to pursue prohibition will be looking at alternative options.

The last meeting on these UN treaties promised a wide discussion and potential for reform, but ended up with the motto, “A drug free world: We can do it!”

The Assembly laid out a mandate for the U.N. International Drug Control Programme “….to develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008.” The UNGASS motto became, “A Drug Free World – We can do it!” – UNGASS 1998, Drug Policy Alliance

The issue of prevention is one that has been difficult for the drug law reform movement to adequately address. On one hand, prevention is the best way to avoid a harm, if a harm were to be the outcome of use. But assuming that all use IS abuse is the beating heart of prohibition’s biggest ethical issues.

The beating heart of ethical issues surrounding drugs divides us. There are those who have seen only problems come from the use of a illegal drugs. This camp see all illegal drugs as equally harmful and therefore equal targets for the goal of absolute prevention, whose only end goal can be abstinence for all, though they now claim that drug users are ‘sick’ rather than necessarily morally evil (please note that use and abuse are equated as the same thing from within a prohibitionist narrative, making it difficult to debate an equal grounds).

The wide range of alternatives to incarceration that are being undertaken, both systemically across all segments of the criminal justice system as well as by individual components, reflect the increasing broad-based awareness of drug addiction as a disease rather than simply a behavioral issue or a moral failing – a disease which has profound impact on individuals, families and communities worldwide. – Future of Drug Policy, World Federation Against Drugs and European Cities Action Network for Drug Free Societies (ECAD)

For the rest of us, we see that illegal drugs have been classed as such based on various prejudices, ranging from racial to class, economically competitive to metaphysical. The drugs listed in prohibition legislation are widely varied and do not have consistent negative effects to justify such policies. Even those drugs that can be called “addictive” beyond reasonable doubt may not be better regulated through a policy of absolute prohibition, with a goal to ensure every human abstains from their use.

Any movement other than absolute prohibition, and any suggestion of containment, was said to imply that Australia would have ‘run the white flag up the pole, we’ve surrendered. We’ve surrendered to the drug dealers.’ – Desmond Manderon Possessed: Drug Policy, Witchcraft and Belief

What this comes down to is an issue of identity.

12248801_1030435363688167_673452855_nA drug is an inanimate object that once consumer by a certain person in a certain set and setting gains its relevance. It does not hold within itself a goal of fostering evil or good. It only holds a chemical potential that can react with the human mind.

There has been very little discussion within the modern discourse of what certain psychoactive substances mean for how someone perceives their identity. Much of this discussion has been piggy-backed off of the discourse of ancient cultures, as if the drug that we take today carries with it the spirit of an ancient (and usually lost) culture. The other side of this discussion in a modern context is that of prohibition, which suggests an inherent moral evil contained within a drug, that once taken will be unleashed upon the mind (or soul, as some may prefer to call it) and wreak havoc.

The 2016 UNGASS meeting is an optimistic time for drug law reformers. There are numerous articles from the various drug law reform organisations, human rights organisations, religious organisations, civil liberties organisations, political parties, not for profits and more that all outline why UNGASS 2016 is a good opportunity to re-think the current paradigm surrounding psychoactive substances.

But the point I want to make is perhaps more difficult to communicate. I am a person who consumes various (currently) illegal drugs for a variety of reasons. The scope of the term ‘drugs’ is one I find puzzling. The top meaning for it, when Googled is:

a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.
“a new drug aimed at sufferers from Parkinson’s disease”
I consider many substances that we consume readily in our every-day diet to be drugs. Especially substances like caffeine and sugar. It comes back down to an issue of identity. The caffeine contained in coffee spurred a conscious revolution of sorts, because what we put in to our bodies fundamentally affects the way our mind works.
The arrival of coffee, then, triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for truly spectacular economic growth in the decades that followed as people thought clearly for the first time. The stock exchange, insurance industry, and auctioneering: all burst into life in 17th-century coffeehouses — in Jonathan’s, Lloyd’s, and Garraway’s — spawning the credit, security, and markets that facilitated the dramatic expansion of Britain’s network of global trade in Asia, Africa and America. – The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse, The Public Domain Review
The coffeehouses of the time spurred a new type of thinking through the consciousness achieved by ingestion of a psychoactive substance new to the culture. This bothered the status quo, including the Royal Family of the time, with King Charles II declaring that coffee be prohibited in 1675.
At the beating heart of this prohibition was a concern from the status quo that the mental states achieved through the use of caffeine would challenge their authority. This was again an issue of identity – Of how the individual relates to the ‘other’ in the grand concoction of human society.
I feel like I am getting a little rambly, so I hope that I have made it clear as mud that:
a) Avoiding drug use is a false goal based on incorrect or poorly defined definitions or false ethical dichotomies, and;
b) What we put into our bodies (including the drugs we ingest) are integral to our perception of our identity.
Of the currently illicit drugs, the biggest category to throw a thorn in the side of the ‘prevention’ ideology are the psychedelic substances. These are a category of substances that unveil questions integral to our identity, especially around the metaphysical and how our ideas about metaphysics relate back to our identity. Psychedelics are being used now in medical trials to treat those with end-of-life anxieties, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and various other mental ailments. There are also growing cultures around substances like ayahuasca (DMT), LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and mescaline (cactus) which seek to use the insights of the psychedelic experiences garnered from these substances to alter ones life through a shifting of ones identity.
Prevention of drug use is a nonsense goal. It doesn’t have clear parameters and appears to support a policy of absolute 12244060_1030435423688161_160154653_nprohibition. Ultimately, prevention of drug use also prevents those who know and understand the various state of consciousness involved with the taking of a psychoactive substance from sharing their lessons with the younger generation, thus stalling the ability for wisdom to be fostered and for role models to be formed in order that future generations may learn the harms of generations past and not repeat their mistakes.
Now that I’ve said all of this, perhaps one of the most important messages to remind everyone of is that: The use of drugs is not for everyone. Just like our tastes in flavours differ from person to person, so do our tastes in mental states. Some of us do not enjoy the states of mind induced by certain plants or chemicals and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some people enjoy them for reasons that do not focus on the positives, but instead exacerbate the negatives of the substance, also creating a negative outcome.
Our goal should not be drug prevention. We should never hold as our goal something which has already decided the action of another. Instead we should aim to share our knowledge, including the bad side of things, with our peers and more importantly the younger generations. A “Just say no” approach is unacceptable and incredibly inefficient.
Instead, just say know:
Parents are terrified that a reality-based, safety-oriented discussion of drugs will lead to experimentation. But the door already is open, just as it is to sexual activity. Our goal ought to be drug-abuse prevention. Teenagers who are determined to experiment need to know which drugs pose the most risks; that mixing certain substances can be deadly; and that driving while under any influence must be avoided.
I’d like to leave you with this short (15 minute) video from Psychedelic Researcher Nese Devenot on ‘Coming Out of the Psychedelic Closet’, an excellent look into the psychedelic identity.
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