Sensational Drug Myths: What You Need to Know

Frown drugs went out of business.

Myth: If You Don’t Take Illicit Drugs, You Don’t “Do” Drugs

If you take Tylenol for minor aches and pains, drink coffee to wake up in the morning, or have a glass of wine to relax, you do drugs. However, some people like to think that if they’re not taking illegal drugs, they don’t “do” drugs. Any mind-altering substance you take into your body counts as doing a “drug.” There’s a wide classification of drugs; depressants, stimulants, opioids, hallucinogens, inhalants, barbiturates, and cannabinoids. You probably take at least one of them.

Why do people deny that they use drugs?

It’s more than hair-splitting. One theory is that people deny taking drugs because they want to distinguish themselves as someone who doesn’t do “dangerous” drugs. To dig one layer deeper, the implication is that these people don’t want their identity comprised by the stain of taking illegal drugs. What is at stake to these “non”-taking drug takers is group identity and group acceptance.

Myth: Marijuana is a Gateway Drug

American students have long been told that marijuana is a gateway drug. The idea is that if they smoke marijuana, it will inevitably lead to them seeking other drugs. This misconception was debunked years ago. The truth is most people who try, or routinely smoke marijuana do not go on to take other “harder” drugs. It’s a matter of correlation that does not equal causation. A connection alone doesn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship. 

While many people know this is a myth, there are still plenty of people who believe it is true.

The Origins of the Myth:

The myth began almost 100 years ago when Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, started campaigning against marijuana after the success of his campaign against alcohol. Besides having a connection to another failed prohibition, marijuana’s illegality stems from racism toward Mexicans. This fear-mongering leads to the next myth: What makes some drugs illegal?

Myth: Drugs are Criminalized to Protect Society

Depending on who you ask, certain drugs are illegal because they “may cause bad behavior” (namely criminal behavior). Another possibility is that some drugs are illegal because they supposedly corrupt the youth. Or that some drugs are illegal to encourage harm reduction. But beliefs don’t make myths become facts.

The evidence, however, strongly suggests that certain drugs have been made illegal to demonize various marginalized groups that the government views as a threat. Besides marijuana being used as a gateway to fear Mexicans, opium was used to stoke fear of Chinese immigrants in America (and Australia), and cocaine was used to vilify African Americans.

Part of the narrative was that marijuana made Mexicans lazy, and cocaine caused black men to rape white women. Marijuana has also been said to cause rape, murder, and insanity in black men. If this were true, to paraphrase Rick James, marijuana would be a hell of a drug.

What’s obvious to any human is that making something forbidden makes it more exciting. When opium was criminalized, it led to an increase in importing and cultivating opium. Further, it introduced the drug to a wider audience. Making one thing forbidden also pushes people to find new mind-altering substances. In the case of the snake eating its tail, the prohibition on alcohol led to more people doing opium, smoking marijuana, or using cocaine.

Why Does The War On Drugs Persist?

The war on drugs is a costly, ineffective war. Its failure could only be matched by a war on premarital sex. And the evidence suggests what birthed it also keeps it alive: racism. The ACLU has likened the war on drugs to the “new Jim Crow.”

And if egghead researchers and bleeding heart liberals don’t persuade you, take it from a horse’s mouth. John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon’s domestic policy advisor, said drug laws were a way of demonizing the anti-war left (hippies) by associating them with marijuana and African Americans with heroin. Ehrlichman said, verbatim:

 We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities

This notion that drugs lead to societal chaos brings us to the next point: the idea that drug use leads to crime, which will be explored in part two.

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