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Notes: Science versus Mythology 

[1] Drug policy is dominated by irrational fears based on false assumptions. 

Science often questions engrained ways of thinking and "common sense" conclusions, such as that the earth is flat, unmoving and circled by the sun. It particularly threatens those who most fear change and those who trade on "tradition." The irony is that science has long been a traditional way for societies to learn and advance.  

Politicians, other special interests and the media often promote mythology, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes deliberately when science threatens their interests and egos. This is not a conspiracy, only various groups and individuals pursuing their own confluent interests.  

Once a notion, for instance the notion that stopping supply is critical, is deeply entrenched in the public mind, it is only a very brave politician - usually one not up for reelection - who is going to contest the assumption. 

See: [7] below.

Some are propagandists who trade on fear. Fear allows them to play "saviour" in order to control votes and to acquire power. Fear helps to rationalize spending increases and special interest profits. Fear of THEM or IT sells to voters. Promise pie in the sky and blame your opponent - or any other convenient scapegoat - for any clouds. 

The media focus on sensationalism and its failure to provide a balanced view is another major factor in misconceptions. Worst case scenarios of drug abuse are portrayed as being typical rather than unusual. Imagine if all we knew or heard about alcohol was only the worst behavior of alcoholics.  


"The general public has been so misinformed that the solutions of experts make little sense to them. The media have played a primary role in both the failure to convey accurate information and to convey distorted images that both perpetuate and magnify misunderstanding. Politicians, often misinformed themselves, have, for this and many other reasons, played a major role in aggravating the disinformation problem." 

- "The Drug War on Cocaine Is a Snow Job" by Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1996 


"Everyone who now supports drug law reform, like me, once didn't and the reason is we became more involved and we became better informed. When you look around at all the reports, regardless of how conservative the people doing the inquiry were, not one didn't say prohibition has failed, we have to do something else." 

- Chief Minister Kate Carnell, ACT, Australia (The Australian 6-9-97) 


Officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva suppressed a report that confirmed cannabis is safer than alcohol or tobacco, New Scientist magazine said ... (DPFT note: New Scientist reported that some expert authors of the report blamed pressure from US officials for the suppression)  

- Reuters, LONDON, February 18, 1998 


" Bureaucrats seek to shift the blame elsewhere. Blaming crime on people crazed by drugs takes advantage of such an opportunity. As a consequence, a good deal of false or misleading information emanating from police bureaucrats about the relationship between drugs and crime has clearly characterized the evolution of drug policy."  

- Rationalizing Drug Policy Under Federalism ( Florida Law Review, 2003) by David W. Rasmussen: Professor of Economics and Director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University and Bruce L. Benson: Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at Florida State University. (Ph.D., Texas A&M University, 1978) 



For more see: 16 Drug War Distortions  and Follow the Money

[2] Illegal drugs are not more dangerous than alcohol. 

U.S. officials are determined to avoid comparisons with alcohol, which is arguably the most dangerous of the drugs. This deprives the public of their most logical basis for assessing other drugs. 

The result is a mythology that is used to justify a double standard for alcohol under the law, and that difference [See: Prohibition Makes Drugs More Dangerous] then creates an illusion that the mythology is true. 

Whether a comparison is made on the basis of death, general health, fetal damage, addiction, or crazed, reckless or violent behavior, dose-for-dose, alcohol is at or near the top of the list. 

The user of alcohol is no more likely to evolve to abuse than the user of other drugs[ See note 4 ]. The difference is that alcohol abusers are more likely to engage in behavior clearly harmful to others from reckless driving and family abuse to fetal damage, crime and date rape. 

See: Crime

Since alcohol is always readily available - and since no serious person believes that most people addicted to some other drug would switch to tea, water or lemonade if deprived of that drug - the question is whether the drug war has any more beneficial impact on minimizing the harm done by drug abuse than a decision to prohibit all foreign cars would have on reckless driving and other traffic problems. 


The French National Institute of Health, INSERM, consulted with experts from other countries and rated drugs by their danger in 1998 at government request. They established 3 groups: 

[a] "most dangerous" - heroin, alcohol, and cocaine 

[b] "next most dangerous" - tobacco, amphetamines, and others 

[c] "least dangerous" - cannabis [marijuana], since it has "low toxicity, little addictive power and poses only a minor threat to social behavior," and others 

-- from "Alcohol as bad as heroin and worse than pot," Reuters, 6-16-98 


"Addiction to such legal substances as alcohol and tobacco may constitute problems more severe in their adverse consequences than addiction to such illegal drugs as cocaine, heroin or marijuana." 

- The White House [ONDCP] ordered report from the National Research Council, Informing America's Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don't Know Keeps Hurting Us, 2001 


"Why does society persecute those with some kinds of addiction, while calmly putting up with others that are far more widespread, dangerous and expensive ?" 

- French Minister of Health, Bernard Kouchner in The Economist, 6-26-99 


[1] What happens after the use of an illegal drug ?
(Experiment usually does not lead to heavy use.)

[2] Which drug is most addictive ?
(Rankings of 6 common drugs)

[3] Spending. Criminal Justice System 1982 to 2004.

[4] Drug Use By Age

[5] Which drugs are the most dangerous?

[6] Addiction: What Drug - What Race - What Age



"Of all the drugs being used in our society, alcohol has the strongest claim to the label 'drug' in view of the prominence of its long-term physical effects. "  

- Dr. Andrew Weil, in The Natural Mind  

Also see Crime and Drugs

[3] Drug use is NOT abuse and seldom leads to addiction.

"These data show that most illicit drug users are not 'hard core' addicts and that most experimental or casual use does not eventuate in continued or regular use." 

- "Prohibition and Public Health: 25 Years of Evidence" by Dr. Ernest Drucker, Montefiori Medical Center and member of the National Academy of Sciences (Public Health Reports, Jan/Feb 1999)

"It is clear that most persons who take illicit drugs are experimental or socio-recreational users. The typical drug user is scarcely distinguishable from the typical citizen. This government advocates a policy which treats all illicit use as abuse. This is a major cause for the failure of the drug war and prohibitionist policies in general." 

-- National Association of Public Health Policy in the Journal of Public Health Policy, October 1999 

The Canadian Senate's Special Committee On Illegal Drugs knew the danger if we failed to realize this in an environment where most will at least try illegal drugs, prompting them to ask rhetorically in 2002: 

"If use IS abuse, what hope is there of establishing successful prevention programs ?" 


There has NEVER been any significant connection between the huge numbers who try drugs and the small number who become even fairly regular drug users much less drug dependent. 

"Among adults aged 18 or older in 2001, college graduates had the lowest rate of current use (4.3 percent). The rate was 7.6 percent among those who had not completed high school. This is despite the fact that adults who had completed 4 years of college were more likely to have tried illicit drugs in their lifetime when compared with adults who had not completed high school (47.2 vs. 32.0 percent)." 

- government report/Office of Applied Statistics:

see EDUCATION below Figure 2.12


Above we see that one large group USED drugs when young at a 50% higher rate than another large group but continued use later in life at about only half the rate of the group who abstained to a much greater degree when young. [And even the continued use was only some use in the "past 30 days."]

Despite huge rates of USE, about 2 % of our population is now estimated to be dependent on illegal drugs. Based on actual responses, the number is much lower. 

According to the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, of all those who had ever tried cocaine (including crack), only 3% had used it in the past week and 97% had not. 

"Because drugs are already widely available, controlled users could use more right now if they wanted to. In other words, they regulate their own behavior. " 

- Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga, Director for the Center of Neuroscience at U.C. Davis (National Review, 7-10-95) 


[4] See: 62% Use 

[5] About 1% will become addicted exclusively to illegal drugs.

Government estimates of the number of illegal drug addicts vary but they hover around 6 million, a bit over 2% of the population. Of those, about 60% have a concurrent alcohol problem. [Marijuana "addiction" is too mild to be comparable and is not included.]

See: Marijuana FAQs

[6] Whites do the "crime" and minorities do the time.

"Spurred on by a 'drug war' that focuses inordinately upon the poor and minorities, we have seen astonishing patterns of incarceration among young black men vis à vis similarly accused white men. Although the rates of drug consumption are roughly equal among white and black populations, blacks are imprisoned for drug offenses at 14 times the rate of whites. "

"In effect, the attitude that suffused Southern jails and prisons during post-Civil War reconstruction has been replicated nationally."

-- Jerome G. Miller in YES! Magazine 2-6-01. Miller is the president and co-founder of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives and has headed criminal justice programs in five states.

See: Race 

See: Note 3

[7] Foreign countries are not the problem. Stopping supply is impossible.

See: Supply for a more detailed look at the problem. and how our effort to stop supply guarantees that we will increase the amount of available drugs. 

Facts indicate this is the most worthless form of anti-drug activity but polls indicate that it is the most favored tactic by voters. Politicians can tell the public what they want to hear and promote special interests at the same time. The problem grows worse.

Some examples:

"Even here in America, in locations ranging from national forests to bedroom "grow closets" and basement laboratories, psychoactives can be grown or concocted in quantities sufficient to satisfy the most demanding drug appetites. Thus, even if we somehow stopped the flood of foreign drugs, domestic producers stand ready, willing, and able to jump into the breach.

The bottom line is short and simple. In attempting to eliminate the world supply of drugs, the federal government has been building sand castles against the incoming tide. Despite occasional fleeting satisfactions, in the long run there is no realistic chance of success."

- "Undoing Drugs, beyond legalization" By Daniel K. Benjamin and Roger 
LeRoy Miller 

"Importation was successfully impeded for a time in Western Australia and New Zealand. In both these regions, addicts made their own heroin substitute, 'homebake', in mobile factories. Using codeine-containing pain killers as raw material, they produced high potency mono-acetyl morphine which is just as addictive as heroin."

- "Addict In The Family; How To Cope With The Long Haul" by Andrew Byrne

"... legal systems have little effect on consumption or supply."

-- Senate Special Committee On Illegal Drugs, Canada, September 2002

[8] Addiction 

Addiction is normally a temporary condition, ended without treatment. Persistence is normally rooted in a quest to relieve psychic or physical pain, not to seek pleasure. And, even if it persists, controlled addiction that allows a fairly normal life may well be possible. Many long term addicts will have a diagnosable mental problem and most will also have a major alcohol problem. Most addicts harm themselves and not others.

Dr. Lee Robins radically changed the scientific assessment of heroin use when she studied returning veterans from Viet Nam.

"Among men who had become addicted in Vietnam, 56% abstained entirely after their return. 32%, however, did go back to using heroin but without becoming addicted to it. Only 12% became readdicted."

" [Young addicts] do recover, and they are likely to show few ill effects of their addiction once recovery takes place "

- "Addict Careers" by Lee Robins who cites Robins, et. al. in "Problems of Drug Dependence" L. Harris, ed., 1977

See Addiction and see Other Drugs and see Heroin

Drug War Failure

A shocking statistic:

In 2009 62% of our young had tried an illegal drug by age 22.

A cornerstone in the justification for the drug war is that it will deter the first time use of illegal drugs by the young; it doesn't.

[See: Drug Use In America]

Nationwide, all of those aged 12 and over who are willing to admit to ever using an illegal drug has soared from 32% 20 years ago to 47%, an increase of almost 50%. 

What do we know about these illegal drug users who are well over half of the younger generation? 

* They willingly broke the law. 

* They knowingly disregarded "messages," drug education warnings and federal ad campaigns. 

* They chose which drugs to use based on considerations other than legality or price. 

* They usually did not harm themselves or others through their illegal drug use. Addiction was a very unusual consequence. [See: Drug Use In America]

* Only a minority of our population [roughly 25%] is vulnerable to drug abuse. [See: Drug Use In America

* Use has saturated the vulnerable sector for decades. If the 75% figure was only 50%, the same would be true. [See: Drug Use In America]

Source For 62% Estimate 

The basis for estimating a 62% use figure combines three basic pieces of information: 

* Government funded surveys show that about 50% of high school seniors admit to having tried an illegal drug. Some of their surveys show even higher use. (a) 

* Researchers believe that self-reported behavior seriously under-estimates actual use since many respondents are likely to hide their illegal drug use. (b) 

* Many of the young first try an illegal illegal drug only after high school between the ages of 18 and 22, a period when many are living away from their parents for the first time. (c) 


This one statistic should dispel one of the dominant assumptions that influences drug policy, which is that prohibition has a significant impact in limiting the amount of illegal drug use and therefore limits the negative consequences of that use.

The 62% figure should be understood in the context of a nation where only about 50% of adults have used alcohol in the past month. We have reached the point where many of those who have little interest in using illegal drugs have tried them, usually out of curiosity. (X.1 - Use Of Prohibited Drugs Is Mostly Experimental)

Beyond this, many researchers believe the real figure for the total number who have tried some illegal drug may be significantly higher. About 14% decline to answer. The survey only covers those teens who have not dropped out of school. And, The National Opinion Research Center reports that when study participants believed they were connected to a "lie detector," the reported use of marijuana increased by 25%. [ "Motivation to Report Sensitive Behaviors on Surveys," by R. Tourangeau et al, Journal of Applied Psychology, 1997, 27(3)209-222.]


(a)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Surveillance Summaries, June 9, 2000. MMWR 2000 ; 49 (No. SS-5). Reporting Period: February­May 1999. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS)

This survey of teen use in 1999 is one of the largest done by the government. It reported that about 59% of those in the 12th grade had used marijuana; for males the figure was almost 64%. There are many reasons that researchers believe the real figure for the total number who have tried some illegal drug is significantly higher. There were 14% who declined to answer. The survey only covers those teens who have not dropped out of school. There were about 5% who had used an illegal drug but had never used marijuana. 

"According to data cited by the government agency, drug abuse by young people remains stubbornly high. In an annual survey by the University of Michigan released last December, 25% of high-school seniors said they used illegal drugs in the prior month; more than half said they experimented with illegal drugs at least once before graduation." 

- Wall Street Journal, 5 -14 - 02 

The government's website - ONDCP Clearinghouse 2002 - shows that in 2001, 67% of 12th grade students in Nevada had used marijuana at some time in their life. 

(b)The National Opinion Research Center reports that when study participants believed they were connected to a "lie detector," the reported use of marijuana increased by 25%. -- "Motivation to Report Sensitive Behaviors on Surveys," by R. Tourangeau et al, Journal of Applied Psychology, 1997, 27(3)209-222.

(c) Among those who have taken an illegal drug, the average age of the first experience is 18 

- The Observer (UK) 4-21-02 

Reported alcohol use increases proportionately with age. Some 29% of 13-15 year olds, 55% of 16-18 year olds, and 79% of 19-20 year olds report they drink alcoholic beverages. Illegal drug use would probably show a very similar pattern if respondents were willing to admit to use. 

[d] National Household Survey on Drug Abuse 2000 [aged 12 and over] 

Substance: Alcohol 

Ever Used 181 million 81%
Used in Past Year 138 million 62%
Used in Past Month 104 million 47%
Frequent [51+/yr] 46 million 21%

[e] National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 1998 [aged 12 and over] 

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