Wednesday, January 9, 2008

America's Love-Hate Relationship with Drugs

America's Love-Hate Relationship with Drugs

By Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet

Posted on January 9, 2008, Printed on January 9, 2008


While Americans are inundated with coverage of the

Democrats' quibbling over Barack Obama's use of

marijuana and cocaine as a teenager, a truly important

drug story continues to be neglected: The hypocrisy of

Big Pharma, psychiatry officialdom, and justice

institutions regarding mood-altering (psychotropic)

drugs -- specifically the denial of the similarity

between illegal and psychiatric drugs.


Author and science writer Michael Pollan observed the

following about Americans' illegal-psychiatric drug

hypocrisy: "Historians of the future will wonder how a

people possessed of such a deep faith in the power of

drugs also found themselves fighting a war against

certain other drugs with not-dissimilar powers. ... We

hate drugs. We love drugs. Or could it be that we hate

the fact that we love drugs?"


When we recognize that psychotropic prescription drugs

are chemically similar to illegal psychotropic drugs,

and that all of these substances are used for similar

purposes, we see two injustices. First, we see the

classification of millions of Americans as criminals

for using certain drugs, while millions of others,

using essentially similar drugs for similar purposes,

are seen as patients. Second, we see a denial of those

societal realities that compel increasing numbers of

Americans to use psychotropic drugs.


In the history of psychiatry, there has been a

revolving door in which a "medication" becomes an

"illegal drug" -- and visa versa. Sigmund Freud used

cocaine as medication to treat his own and others'

depression and despair. In the 1930s amphetamines were

prescribed to treat depression; later amphetamines

were prescribed for weight loss; while today

amphetamines such as Adderall and Dexedrine are

prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity

disorder (ADHD). Alcohol was a recommended treatment

for anxiety as late as the 1940s; and in the 1950s and

early 1960s, psychiatrist Oscar Janiger treated the

neuroses of Hollywood stars and other celebrities with

LSD. Ecstasy was used in marital counseling during the

1980s, and today researchers are studying it as a

possible treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.


It is politically -- and economically -- incorrect for

the corporate press, dependent on Big Pharma

advertising revenue, to compare psychiatric drugs with

illegal drugs. However, the psychiatry drug textbook A

Primer of Drug Action notes that individuals who have

used cocaine have difficulty distinguishing between

the subjective effects of cocaine and

dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) when both are

administered intravenously. The amphetamines Dexedrine

and Adderall, besides being prescribed for ADHD, are

used by many college kids, truck drivers, and others

to pull all-nighters.


Both cocaine and amphetamines enhance the

neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and

dopamine. The antidepressant Effexor enhances

norepinephrine and serotonin, and the antidepressant

Wellbutrin enhances dopamine; and it is not uncommon

to be prescribed Effexor and Wellbutrin at the same

time. Effexor in combination with Wellbutrin enhances

the same neurotransmitters as cocaine (you won't

likely feel the same, mainly due to the quicker impact

and shorter half-life of cocaine). And selective

serotonin reuptake inhibitiors (SSRIs) such as Prozac,

Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, and Luvox enhance the

neurotransmitter serotonin. Ecstasy also enhances

serotonin, although by a different mechanism (you

won't likely feel the same using SSRIs as you would

using Ecstasy in part because Ecstasy has a quicker,

shorter-lasting pop).


The Speed Culture, coauthored by psychiatrist Lester

Grinspoon in 1975, astutely predicted: "Drug companies

probably will continue to produce increasingly

sophisticated and disguised amphetamines, and these

'new' drugs undoubtedly will be greeted with initial

enthusiasm by the medical establishment until it is

recognized that any drug with amphetamine-like CNS

[central nervous system] stimulating properties almost

invariably is just as toxic, potentially addictive,

and therapeutically limited as Benzedrine or



While many people use mood-altering drugs

recreationally, many others believe that they need

their psychotropic drugs -- prescribed and illegal --

to function. Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation,

investigating the meatpacking industry, discovered

this: "The unrelenting pressure of trying to keep up

with the line has encouraged widespread

methamphetamine use among meatpackers. Workers taking

'crank' feel charged and self-confident, ready for



In 2004 Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams

announced that he had found marijuana to be "ten times

more helpful than Paxil" for his anxiety and

depression. What made Williams's declaration difficult

to ignore was that he had been a celebrity spokesman

for GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturer of Paxil.


Neuroscientist Pankaj Sah notes, "It's worth

considering that people who constantly use cannabis

may be doing it for other reasons than just to 'get

high' -- perhaps they are experiencing some emotional

problems which taking cannabis alleviates. Much the

same way as some people drink alcohol to relieve



Marijuana and other illegal psychotropic drugs can,

according to Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive

director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "represent a

form of self-medication against physical and emotional

pain among people who do not have access to

psychotherapy or Prozac." The Drug Policy Alliance (an

outgrowth of Nadelmann's Lindesmith Center, a drug

policy institute created with the support of George

Soros) "advocates for drug policies grounded in

science, compassion, health, and human rights."


The illegal-psychiatric drug hypocrisy in the U.S. is

an ugly triumph. It is a triumph of marketing over

science. It is a triumph for pharmaceutical

corporations and America's ever-growing

prison-industrial complex. It is a triumph for those

comfortably atop society who would rather Americans

view their malaise as exclusively a medical rather

than a social problem. And ultimately, it is a triumph

of injustice and greed over human rights and a sane



Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and

author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How

to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone

Crazy (Chelsea Green, 2007).


© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights


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