I’ve witnessed many times that when drug-prohibition proponents talk about the effects of psychoactive drugs, they will give some kind of very extreme example of a particular drug’s effects – in an effort to convince people how dangerous these substances are and that drug prohibition is therefore justified.
For example, for psychedelics and hallucinogens, the most extreme delusions would be taken as an example of »what the drug does«. For drugs with a sedative effect such as opiates, benzodiazepines or some dissociatives, you’d be shown someone barely responsive or completely passed out. The effects of amphetamines (including »bath salts«) are often exemplified by users who have been binging on high doses for an extended period, typically becoming psychotic and very very unhealthy. (I could list many more examples, but I’m sure you have the idea.)
People will read these descriptions and think: hm, that’s really bad. I wouldn’t want that kind of thing to happen to me. Those drugs really are dangerous. They must remain prohibited.
But let me show you what it would look like if we took alcohol and did the same thing. Imagine someone chugging down a couple of bottles of wine or spirits in a short span of time. After about an hour or two, that person would become extremely uninhibited, display severe loss of motor control, slurry speech, incoherent thinking, possibly even violent behaviour. That person would become rather unpleasant. After some more time, the person would likely experience strong nausea, vomiting, and still later, possibly pass out.
Of course, if you drink extreme amounts of alcohol, your behaviour becomes extreme. But that’s not how you would describe the general effects of alcohol to your friend. You’d say that you can drink a glass of wine, maybe two, and still remain a pretty nice person to have around. The effects of the alcohol would be noticeable, but things would still be pleasant for everyone involved.
You see, the same is true for practically all of the other drugs that many people think are prohibited for a reason.
Here is the thing: most, if not all, recreational drugs can absolutely be used in a way that is as harmless and pleasant as your occasional glass or two of wine at night. But this requires knowledge of the drug’s properties and some experience with using them. Yes, we can argue about toxicity, dependence and addiction potential, and other risks. But the way that these issues come into effect depends very largely on how you use the drug. They are not an automatic property of the drug per se, even if 40 years of anti-drug propaganda have told you otherwise.
If you use alcohol in a bad way, you are likely to have severely negative health effects. Remember how it took you some time before you knew how to use alcohol in such as way that the experience was controlled and pleasant? Again, the same is true for illicit drugs. If you are going to use cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, heroin, etcetera, for the first time, you should be prepared. If you use more than you can handle, you are in for a challenge and possibly a bad time – just as you would be with alcohol.
I didn’t start seriously drinking alcohol at parties until I was 17. (Yeah, I was always a very late developer. By the way, I wasn’t particularly interested in alcohol. I hated the taste at the time, but I didn’t want to be the uncool kid. You know how this goes.) I often drank way too much and got sick and threw up, I misbehaved and lost control, etcetera. I didn’t yet know how to use alcohol in a good way. Everyone who has ever touched alcohol will share the same stories. But I learned how to enjoy alcohol responsibly, as most people do. In the very same way, you can learn how to use any drug responsibly and safely.
Let’s not underestimate the potential risks associated with any substance that alters your state of mind/consciousness (which includes alcohol, nicotine and caffeine!). But let’s be honest when we talk about drug effects. After all, it is not the drug itself that is potentially dangerous, it is the behaviour of the person who uses the drug.
If we want people to be safe when using drugs – any drug – the best thing we can do is to educate them. But first, we need to educate ourselves. The more we know what we’re doing, the safer we are, the safer are the people around us, and the more pleasure can be had by everyone.