Monday, October 22, 2012

If illicit drugs were legal… they would become obsolete

Today we live in a society which prohibits some psychoactive (mood/mind-affecting) drugs and allows some others. Most assumingly believe that these illegal drugs if made legal would impact both the health of users and those around them by being massively available on the market. Unfortunately, those with this assumption don’t understand that it is just that, an assumption taken for granted, with no proof. Many while discussing the topic of legalization may say, “I don’t want to see cocaine or heroin being sold in stores!”. What they fail to see is the fact that such a recreational drug industry would be much like the pharmaceutical industry, always producing new generations of drugs with reduced side effects and more target effects. In other words, if illicit drugs became legal, many of them would become obsolete. New drugs would take their place with fewer side effects, or old ones which work well will be implemented. So the assumption about these drugs being around in their current untreated forms is highly unlikely.

The pharmaceutical industry is a good model for what a recreational drug market could be like. Drugs would be tested for safety of use, with the goal being a mood shift of some kind. This is in contrast to the pharmaceutical industry’s goal of either mitigating or removing symptoms of illness. Interestingly, one part of the pharmaceutical industry reveals itself to be a prototype of the recreational industry: lifestyle drugs. These compounds like Viagra, balding treatment, or Contraception straddle the line between what one wants and needs, with wants being more of a recreational pursuit. This gives us a direction in which we could picture the future of the recreational drug industry.

An advantage of the recreational drug industry would be the proper understanding and handling of what the psychopharmacologist Ronald K. Sigel calls the “fourth drive”, which follows from the other three: hunger, shelter, and sex. This is our drive to alter our mood; this can be accomplished in various ways, but one of the most efficient and direct ways are drugs. Therefore, it makes sense from both a rational and humanitarian point of view to go about satisfying this universal human drive with care and understanding, rather than denial and restriction. The way to do this is to make illicit drugs legal and have them be a part of an industry which improves on them and allows for the access of the proper usage information. We should not keep our current drug policy: denying our natural urge to alter our mood with chemicals, and restricting it to a few compounds which are never improved upon, with little information given about their proper safe use.

An important fact which is never considered is that with such an industry, the current form of illegal drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin would be obsolete and reformed. For instance take cocaine, it could be worked on so that it comes in a form which would bring out feelings of extreme pleasure but without an abrupt crash which causes the user to crave more; rather, they could be satisfied with the experience, thereby allowing it to end. This could be a form of cocaine that is not done through the nose but chewed as a gum. It could also be attached with a time release hypnotic to induce sleep so as to assure the end of the experience. Therefore, one can imagine how these drugs could be improved upon, fitting them in with society and a healthy life. Alternatively, one could engineer a new form of cocaine by altering its chemical structure. This would be like the process of creating designer drugs, with the difference that the goals wouldn't be to merely create new drugs. Instead, the goal of such pharmacological manufacturing would be to create better and safer drugs, not just novel ones.

A concern raised could be what to do about people over doing these experiences. The fact of the matter is that in the real world things need to get done, and people know that. If they find themselves addicted, like many do (with non-drug addictions) they know they can get help in a safe and legal way with little social repercussions. It is just facile to assume that everyone will be completely incompetent and doped up. Many forget that could happen now, but it doesn’t because things need to get done. Also, drug addiction has little to do with "chemical hooks" and more to do with social isolation and depression. An experiment called referred to as "Rat Park" showed that when you gave addictive drugs to rats who were isolated, they almost always got addicted. Yet, if the same addictive drugs were given to rats who had social lives, then the rats would not become addicted, even when forced to have dependency! In that case, they would suffer withdrawals with every redosing, although able to do so. This experiment shows how addiction comes from us being in an emotional cage, cut off from people. But if we are happy with ourselves and surroundings, then addiction is much less likely.

An unseen effect of this industry would be the normalization of recreational drug use, thus removing the stigma and thereby allowing society to have a proper place for this drive of ours. This being a much better alternative to the current “war on drugs” and constant shaming of the desire to fulfill a natural and universal human need.