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On Drugs

David Lenson
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    On Drugs
    Book Description:

    Engaging, articulate, and brilliantly argued, On Drugs is destined to become a revolutionary classic that redefines what it means to be “high.” Calling for the acceptance of a “diversity of consciousness,” Lenson delivers a searing critique of the War on Drugs as an effort based, like all attempts to eradicate “getting high,” on an incomplete understanding of human nature. “Lenson’s magnificent book is a perceptive mapping of the rippling waves of undiscovered solar systems within our brain. It will comfort the fearful and guide the unprepared. A classic.” --Timothy Leary, author of The Psychedelic Experience

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8697-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE Writing about Drugs
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. NOTE
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. PART I Drugs, Sobriety, and the Metaphysics of Consumerism

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART I: The Very Short History of Sobriety
      (pp. 3-6)

      Westerners have a long history of thinking in opposites, and when we think about intoxication we tend to construct it in opposition to another condition called sobriety. Sobriety is supposed to be the primary or “natural” condition, the thesis, and intoxication is assumed to be secondary, unnatural, and antithetical. We think: at the moment I am straight, or I am high. “Straight” is the default option; we need to do nothing to achieve it. “High” requires a deliberate intervention, a conscious and active negation of “straight.”

      Or so it seems. But what would sobriety mean if there were no such...

    • 1 Pharmaka and Pharmakos
      (pp. 7-24)

      The use of drugs for pleasure has been characteristic of human life and society from the beginning of recorded history. If this assertion, supported by every discipline that has studied the past of the species, were simply accepted as a statement about our nature, there would be no War on Drugs with its three hundred thousand prisoners, or its multibillion-dollar budgets for soldiers and matériel. And there would certainly be no need for this book. But the practice of getting high, among all the other unflattering things that could be ascribed to humans, offends us particularly.

      The War on Drugs...

    • 2 What Is “Straight” Consciousness?
      (pp. 25-30)

      A government legislating and enforcing sobriety must be subscribing, however tacitly, to an implicit model of consciousness that drugs in general are thought to impair and endanger. But what is this model, and where does it come from? If there is no official statement on the subject—and neither corporate boards nor the American state routinely pronounce on matters of metaphysics—then where can evidence be found?

      One hypothesis is that the state always uses a model of consciousness that passively reflects the beliefs of a majority of its citizens. The use of the phrase “community standards” in legal decisions...

    • 3 A Phenomenology of Addiction
      (pp. 31-50)

      It is a commonplace of official drug rhetoric that there is an absolute divide between “casual use” and addiction. The presumption is that the voluntary use of a given psychoactive drug becomes involuntary after a certain number of administrations, or over a certain length of time. But it is difficult to say where this divide falls, because drugs differ from one another, as do drug takers. It is unlikely that there is a fixed point beyond which a user becomes “addicted” to a drug, because the notion of an absolute divide suggests that the drug’s effect then becomes entirely different...

  6. PART II What Drugs Do and Don’t

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART II: What Drugs Do and Don’t
      (pp. 53-54)

      Generalized “drugs” are often said to interfere with mental functioning, especially where that interference may impede the mind’s adherence to the consumerist paradigm: download, remember, desire, and purchase. But most psychotropics do not have the simple effects that are usually ascribed to them. Perception, emotion, intellect, and memory are changed in certain users under certain circumstances, but none of these elements is obliterated or disabled short of unconsciousness or death. Here again the experience of users is different from what is imputed to them.

      The notion that drugs cripple the mind is something of a joke to users. I can...

    • 4 User Construction
      (pp. 55-64)

      The life of the senses is not passive. What I perceive right now—the long view over a cow field to the hills, smoke from my neighbor’s woodstove, the thunder of an Acid House CD, the discouraging clutter of an academic’s desk—are not here just by accident. I prearranged them. I bought the house with this view and neighborhood, I put on the CD, I chose university life. What I sense, its joys and disgusts together, has been preconstructed by some earlier me. I see it now because it somehow resembles what at some point in the past I...

    • 5 “High”: Drugs, Perception, and Pleasure
      (pp. 65-76)

      From the days of antihippie proselytizing comes the image of the stoned-out freak stumbling into furniture, mistaking one object for another, or seeing things that aren’t there. Although this made for good situation comedy at the time, it has left in its wake all kinds of misapprehensions about the effects of drugs—particularly cannabis and the psychedelics—on perception and the higher cognitive functions. It may come as a surprise that social and natural scientists generally agree that these and the other most commonly used recreational chemicals have almost no impact on the physical operation of the senses, and relatively...

    • 6 Drugs and Thinking
      (pp. 77-84)

      There is a Buddhist proverb that goes: “The mind is like a wild monkey.” When consciousness is idling, disengaged from any particular task, its attention tends to jump from branch to branch in capricious patterns. Any systematic and orderly movement from one to another can only be the result of deliberate discipline and effort. This may take the rudimentary form of a meeting’s agenda or a list of phone calls to be made, or it may be a grand ideological scheme like Marxism or Christianity that tries to provide a strong central trunk for all the monkey’s business. Whatever degree...

    • 7 Drugs, Regression, and Memory
      (pp. 85-96)

      If there has been so much effortful writing on drugs, it is in part because writers tend to overcompensate in various ways for taking up the subject at all. There is often a half-conscious desire to prove to the reader that the narrator is not now and has never been, or at least is no longer, a drug-using Other, but a peer who somewhat abashedly happens to know something about, well, this. It is rather like confessing that there is syphilis in the family; one would never do so unless it were cured long ago.

      Often the quickest way to...

  7. PART III Five Drug Studies

      (pp. 99-102)

      The following group of studies is not inclusive. The most obvious omission is an essay on the opiates. I have felt unable to write on this subject because I do not completely understand the way these drugs work. They have the reputation of being soporifics, more or less, but this is simply not the case. There is an element of stimulation to them, an excitement that comes of being impervious to pain. There is a misapprehension that opiate users cannot function in the world, and this too is untrue. I admit to feeling a terrible respect for users of these...

    • 8 Cannabis and the War against Dreams
      (pp. 103-114)

      Cannabis, a drug as protean as alcohol, always brings about some sort effusion between cognition and dream. It never defeats the cognitive mechanism—as LSD, for example, can sometimes at least threaten to do. High on pot, a user can generally function adequately (and sometimes more than adequately) in the waking world of objects; can work, parent, soldier, write; can certainly even shop. But every object perceived under the influence has a simultaneous existence as dreamwork, and can be contemplatedeven thoughit can also be bought. However, the point of intersection between these discrete epistemological planes is extremely mobile;...

    • 9 Runaway Engines of Desire
      (pp. 115-134)

      Because Consumerism relies on the engine of desire to power its economic and social vision, it cannot tolerate the traditional ethics of the earlier culture. Old virtues like restraint, thrift, and temperance would subvert the paradigm of wanting and buying on which it depends, and are reinterpreted as stinginess and timidity. Images of the body dominate the promotion of consumer products, generalizing sexual desire, and endowing every purchase with the gratifications of an erotic conquest. Instead of the intellect serving its old role of tempering desire, Consumerism requires that it give its assent. This devaluation of the mind to a...

    • 10 Mystery Drugs I: Alcohol
      (pp. 135-142)

      Alcohol is so much a part of the fabric of Western life that it has become an element of the landscape. From the density of cities to the isolation of dirt roads, the neon iconography of beer and spirits illuminates every corner of the American universe. Bar and lounge find their place in every architectural gesture, from corporate obelisks to bayou lean-tos to blocks of converted factories. Billboard images of bottles and their venerable marks—Old Grand-Dad, Hiram Walker, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels—give patriarchal comfort. Wherever you go in the West, alcohol is offered like the grasp...

    • 11 Mystery Drugs II: Acid Metaphysics
      (pp. 143-158)

      The first problem in thinking about LSD and the other psychedelics¹ arises from the Easternizing language initiated by Aldous Huxley inThe Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell, andIsland, and then by Timothy Leary and his associates inThe Psychedelic Experience, where, as one contemporary complained, “their insistence on forcing their insights into a framework which is essentially Tibetan produces a strained, somewhat artificial effect like the efforts of early astronomers to force the movements of planets to fit into the Ptolemaean system.”² Because these texts determined the popular reception of the family of psychedelics, it is now difficult...

    • 12 Squares and Cubes: Combinations of Drugs
      (pp. 159-164)

      It is a rare person whose first experience of a psychotropic is with cocaine or heroin. The easy availability of legal substances makes it far more likely that a user’s career will begin with tea or coffee, cigarettes or alcohol. There is a tendency to think of these as “base” drugs upon which other experiences are constructed at a later time. But watching children in line at the supermarket or at the candy counter of a convenience store suggests that sugar may be the primordial drug for neophytes. Children’s famous avidity for sweets clearly resembles drug hunger at its most...

  8. PART IV Problems with Drugs

    • 13 Drugs and Violence
      (pp. 167-172)

      In the early 1990s consternation about violent crime in American cities, and even exurban areas, escalated to the point where by 1994 it was ranked first in importance among political issues in the public opinion polls. Whatisall this violence anyhow? It is the fighting of the War on Drugs, which (like any other civil war) has turned streets and even private homes into battlefields. The conventional war rhetoric has it that drugscauseall this violence by disinhibiting aggression among users. Proponents of legalization argue that the prohibition has driven the cost of drugs so high, and made...

    • 14 Blow Money: Cocaine, Currency, and Consumerism
      (pp. 173-178)

      Of all heterodox moneys, drugs are among the most complex and subversive. Where drug currency can be safely contained—for example, in the hermetic use of cigarettes as prison money—it can be ignored, But during the past fifteen years or so, when the drug business has passed from the hands of amateurs into the workings of international cartels, cocaine has become not only a world-class commodity in and of itself, but a medium of exchange as well.¹ Politicians and radio program directors have taken it as bribes, musicians, strippers, and prostitutes have accepted it as payment, and American government...

    • 15 Sex, Drugs, Technology, and the Body
      (pp. 179-188)

      The mystique of self-administration makes every user his or her own doctor and pharmacist. This means that heretical medical rationales are available for almost all illicit substances, even as their therapeutic potential (marijuana for glaucoma or multiple sclerosis, or to ease chemotherapy; LSD for the dying; heroin for pain) is denied by a health-care establishment that is committed to selling the “legitimate” products of pharmaceutical companies.

      All sorts of tales are told by users about therapeutic side effects. Some think that snorting cocaine or drinking whiskey can cure a cold, or that scotch or heroin can profit the lower intestine,...

  9. CONCLUSION Toward a Diversity of Consciousness
    (pp. 189-202)

    A number of templates have been superimposed upon the inevitable human practice of getting high. The dominant model ever since Homer’sOdysseyhas been the criminal one, but today it is being seriously challenged by a medical schematic. The growing identification of drug use with sickness has created a movement to reassign the responsibility for combating drugs from the police and the military to the medical establishment. Most liberal drug reformers subscribe to some variant of this theory, and certainly their argument is a strong one from a humanitarian point of view. Alcohol and nicotine cessation programs have been test...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 203-222)
    (pp. 223-228)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 229-240)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)