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When Getting High Is a Hobby, Not a Habit (nytimes.com)
34 points by Hooke 9 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 60 comments

I'm surprised the NYT would give this position a platform. The author's position is that all drugs, even very hard ones like heroin, can be used recreationally. The author is a professor of psychology, so I find this surprising and really irresponsible. Very few are able to use opiates recreationally. Even the weakest opioid, codeine causes serious addiction problems via codeine-promethaize cough syrup. The extremely high risk of developing dependence, extremely painful withdrawals, and the fact that prices are inflated due to being accessible only on the black market make it a recipe for destroying your life. This is ignoring the risk of picking up a felony conviction for having it on your person.

I think many drugs can be used recreationally, my instinct is to let people do what they want, and I wish our drug policy was more technocratic, but it's really reckless to recommend people use certain substances.

This chart really drives home how dangerous heroin is.


I have to wonder if the author's judgement is too heavily impaired by his own lived experience as someone with the chops rise to a position of success. He claims in the prologue to be a responsible recreational heroin user. Sustaining this without sliding into an ever-worsening spiral of addition would require an immense amount of willpower. And as someone with a PhD in neuroscience and a tenured position at an Ivy League institution, he clearly has plenty of personal willpower.

The typical person doesn't have that sort of willpower.

The slide with heroin doesn't happen overnight. Give the guy some time and he might tip over the edge.

>In the prologue, he writes, “I am now entering my fifth year as a regular heroin user.”

I've read stores, even posted to HN, where lawyers can go longer than that before their finances collapse.

> it's really reckless to recommend people use certain substances

Indeed, heroin is terrifyingly addictive. One of my friends from high school literally resorted to purse snatching from old ladies at nursing homes to fund his addiction.

That chart is devoid of objective numbers, and appears to be a statement of statement of opinion. Heroin might indeed be dangerous, but this chart shouldn't convince anyone.

Fair enough, I first came across the chart probably 10 years ago on Wikipedia. Here this is the original source. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS014067360...

I was shocked by this article, and Dr. Hart also supports our work at http://dnnyc.org.

That said I’m fairly sure only something like 10% of Heroin users become addicted.

People like this are dangerous. I believe the vast majority of people can barely handle the stress of daily life, let alone juggle a drug use hobby.

I know there are people out there who are exceptional, one of the perils of the internet is that you get a glimpse into their lives through social media.

But we can't all compare ourselves to these exceptional people.

Take a relatively harmless drug like cannabis as an example. I personally know people who are very active on cannabis and can still steer their life towards their long term goals.

But most people are not. Most people use cannabis as a way to make a boring day fun and in the long run those boring days amass to nothing gained.

So people like Carl are probably right but they should speak for themselves, not for the masses.


I dunno, opiates in particular are scary to use recreationally.

I'm firmly in support of full legalization, but that doesn't mean that it's a great idea to nip out to the local smartshop and buy some horse.

A significant portion of the risk of using opiates recreationally comes directly with interacting with the black market. Opiates sold ‘on the streets’ are more expensive, adulterated, and inconsistent. The risks of taking opiates with access to a safe, affordable, unadulterated, and consistent supply are significantly more manageable than the current state of affairs in the US.

> The risks of taking opiates with access to a safe, affordable, unadulterated, and consistent supply are significantly more manageable

Won't unadulterated opiates be more addictive and powerful than their adulterated street counterparts? Meaning people will get addicted more quickly and more strongly? How affordable is affordable, considering that they will almost certainly be taxed? Would it be affordable enough that a minimum wage worker be able to fund a heroin addiction without sacrificing food for their kids, for example? Even now, cigarettes take a huge chunk out of poor people's budget, to the point that they buy cigarettes first and fall back on food stamps to feed the kids second.

The problem with adulterated products is that they are inconsistent. It’s adulterated with both active and inactive compounds, and the strength varies significantly. There are overdoses related to “hotspots” of fentanyl.

Yeah, an opiate addiction now is ~10x the cost of prerolled cigarettes addiction. It it was closer to 1x then the property crimes and desperation associated with it would be significantly decreased. In the book Cherry by Nico Walker the author writes about his experience of robbing banks in order to fund he and his wife’s heroin addiction.

> A significant portion of the risk of using opiates recreationally comes directly with interacting with the black market

Opiates are available through legal markets by Rx. Historically, it's been a low barrier to getting these Rx.

Opiate / opioid usage tends not to stay recreational indefinitely, and I don't know any organization realistically advocating for this.

> that doesn't mean that it's a great idea to nip out to the local smartshop and buy some horse.

This would be a pivot for "seeing a man about a horse."

"Chasing liberty". Given recent events, I'm not sure that US citizens possess the personal responsibility necessary to avoid self-harm.

To anyone who disagrees: how do you square this with calls for censorship on "dangerous information"?

Essentially, it seems the "average American" can no longer be trusted with rope - they're liable to hang themselves. I don't remember this as a child. I don't know what's happened to us.

See: riots, obesity epidemic, texting while driving, et al


The world is the wealthiest it's ever been. The world is more peaceful now than it's ever been. People are healthier now then they have ever been.

This pervasive myth of decline is completely refuted by all available evidence.

Any thoughts on obesity? This article claims the current costs of obesity are $2 trillion: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/04171...

Obesity is primarily a result of corporations not being adequately regulated, and government incentives driving down the price of particularly unhealthy additives.

In short, high fructose corn syrup leads to obesity.

>Obesity is primarily a result of corporations not being adequately regulated

What would such regulations look like?

>In short, high fructose corn syrup leads to obesity.

Is HFCS a worldwide phenomenon? US isn't the only country with obesity problems. eg. kuwait, egypt, UAE, jordan

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_body_mass...

I'd be curious about food/health laws in other countries high on that scale... the US is definitely one of the largest countries high on the list, and while the US sits at 28.5, most EU countries, where vastly better food regulation is in place, the average tends to be 25-26. (Several countries with major hunger issues sit towards the very low end, I wouldn't use as a picture of health.)

HFCS may be a uniquely US problem, but foods with it are also exported, which explains why countries like Canada sit relatively high as well.

It was a life-changing experience for me to visit EU countries, where orange Fanta contains 11% orange juice (and vaguely looks like orange juice), compared to the dark orange nearly-pure-sugar soda we drink here. Even McDonald's food was leaner, less greasy, and closer to what you'd get at a quality restaurant.

That's exactly what I'm saying here. The availability of drugs will not lead to a libertarian utopia, but a decaying rot like we see in my home city (Portland).

a select few pieces of abstract world-level information aren't super insightful as to why or why not the US is or isn't in decline. for example, life expectancy and happiness in the US were/are not increasing, which seem fairly relevant and may indicate that people in the US are not healthier now than they ever have been (whatever that means).


Perhaps "what has happened to us" is less a matter of decline, but that we've raised our standards up. People live longer, and are more financially secure, because we no longer give people the rope to hang themselves with. In the past, dying at 30-something because of bad decisions you made was a lot more likely, now we've de-selected those bad choices for you.

I cannot argue against this sentiment, you are correct. The question though is - how do we fix it? How can we get back on the right track without taking away civil liberties. How can we lead and inspire instead of command or dictate?

I am really surprised by the reactions you are receiving. I think this is a very important topic of discussion to try and approach without bias.

Not sure about that... I think it's the culture. We used to have a monoculture in the US (basically whatever the TV told us).

Nowadays we have an almost uncountable number of subcultures operating independently, and many of them despise each other. I do think that many of the new subcultures in the US praise personal hedonism over any kind of collective responsibility.

As long as we allow people to worship themselves without thinking about external costs, this will probably continue.

Another factor is that technology tends to centralize control. And the people running the technology want us to be like this. Medical costs skyrocket, they make money. Smartphone use skyrockets, they make money. etc.

> I do think that many of the new subcultures in the US praise personal hedonism over any kind of collective responsibility.

From an outside perspective the US looks incredibly individualistic. Even from a UK perspective, which is individualistic on a European scale. Which is itself individualistic compared to some Asian cultures.

So, who do you trust to run your life, if not yourself? Are you really ready to force that choice on others?

What's happened to the ability to say "that guy's an idiot and he can go to hell his own way, I don't have to follow him down"?

I trust myself to run my life. I don't trust others to run theirs. I know there is one obvious mechanism to ensure that I have liberty while others do not: to require great discretion of things that require personal liberty, and to harshly prosecute those incapable of that discretion.

So, for instance, as someone who uses substantial amounts of drugs, I support extensive prosecution of drug users - not because I don't think people should be able to use drugs but because I think there is a threshold of responsibility for drug use.

People are unable to accept that this threshold exists, but absent that threshold, many will fall into the thrall of the drug-induced haze. I have tested my own abilities here, having used drugs extensively, then abstained for half a decade as a test, and then used again. But most have not. They are not as capable as I am.

Given that, and given that people will not accept a test of their abilities, there is one surefire way to enforce the threshold: make it illegal and then permit use among those capable.

This is the status quo. Walk around any tech office and point in any direction. A ray projected from your finger will likely hit someone who has used cocaine, MDMA, LSD, Shrooms, or some other Schedule I substance that is not marijuana.

I trust myself plenty. But having drug addicts rot in the street hurts everyone. Texting while driving is another clear-cut example where their indiscretions literally could kill me.

I'm into personal liberty. But I do think we need to figure out this problem of antisocial behavior.

I’m in support of full legalization but there are so many good reasons not to have the “he can go to hell his own way” mindset in general.

First and most obvious, sometimes there are reasons that person is not only hurting themselves, like secondhand smoke indoors.

Second, as much as we are indoctrinated to believe otherwise, consumption habits are not purely individual choice. We all take conscious and unconscious shortcuts every day, and they can be exploited by marketers to get us to make poor decisions. It’s impossible (or at least very exhausting) to be a perfectly rational consumer when you have corporations that do everything in their power to get you to consume irrationally.

I’m not saying you should trust the state to make these decisions for you, just that your libertarian view leaves out a lot of nuance.

> "that guy's an idiot and he can go to hell his own way, I don't have to follow him down"?

doesn't work when we basically live in a hive-mind

Well, we didn't have texting while driving when I was a kid, because we didn't have texting. We sure had drunk driving, though.

I don't think it's more irresponsibility. I think it's a much greater number of ways that you can be irresponsible.

That's a good point, drunk driving is still very popular in Portland among the 40+ crowd (source: anytime I'm at an event with people over 40, they slam 3-4 drinks, and drive home like it's nothing)

But a long time ago, drunk driving wasn't really known to be a bad thing. And nowadays it has a pretty bad social stigma.

I think the bar is generally when people cross from hurting just themselves to hurting uninvolved others.

Underage drinking: illegal because you can drunk drive into someone else.

Underage drinking with parents at home: totally legal because you can’t affect others.

Weed: (mostly) legal, small consequences otherwise, non-addictive

Heroin: totally illegal because addiction can bring someone to harm others to get their fix.

Clearly that isn't it all because then millionaires would be legally permitted to use drugs under controlled circumstances. About $200k is sufficient to hire full-time staff for a month to ensure you do not harm anyone.

No, there's a great moral panic around many of these things just like rock and roll.

Seattle and SF are great examples of why public drug use is not a crime that doesn't inflict harm on the general non drug using public.

Seattle and SF are examples of what happens when concentrations of homeless people appear in an urban environment.

The drug use itself might not inflict harm on the general public, but the effects of addiction certainly can.

It's pretty obvious that extremely powerful chemical addictions in conjunction with poverty are a recipe for petty crime. So unless all drugs are made free, then a i.e. broke heroin addict will constantly be tempted to steal to feed the addiction.

"As Hart argues, the drug war has in fact succeeded, not because it has reduced illegal drug use in the United States (it hasn’t), but because it has boosted prison and policing budgets, its true, if unstated, purpose."

Attacking motives is a nasty way to argue. The general public pays for prison and police and supports keeping some drugs illegal (if not marijuana) because it fears the consequence of widespread drug use. This may be right or wrong, but it's not crazy or malevolent.

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, 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. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

- John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon's Chief Domestic Advisor

Maybe. Or maybe not:


-- Ehrlichman died in 1999, but his five children in questioned the veracity of the account.

“We never saw or heard anything from our dad, John Ehrlichman, that was derogatory about any person of color,” wrote Peter Ehrlichman, Tom Ehrlichman, Jan Ehrlichman, Michael Ehrlichman and Jody E. Pineda in a statement provided to CNN.

“The 1994 alleged ‘quote’ we saw repeated in social media for the first time today does not square with what we know of our father. And collectively, that spans over 185 years of time with him,” the Ehrlichman family wrote. “We do not subscribe to the alleged racist point of view that this writer now implies 22 years following the so-called interview of John and 16 years following our father’s death, when dad can no longer respond. None of us have raised our kids that way, and that’s because we were not raised that way.” --

Just pointing out that your quote is an alleged quote, and may or may not be accurate.

Of course it's a powerful (alleged) quote, but it's far from the only evidence that the War on Drugs is not based, even in principle, on social good, but rather to serve powerful interests such as private prisons and police.

As far as the pushback from the family, I would just say that it wouldn't be the first time that someone is different at work than with his family. The worst people in history still sometimes had families and pets who they treated much better than minorities and political enemies.

Furthermore, Ehrlichman may not have been racist enough to spout it unprompted, the way Nixon is recorded as being. But he would not be the first person on Capitol Hill to be craven enough to go along with racism when it helps them attain or maintain power.

He made that statement in this interview to a Harpers contributer in 1994: https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

That article is from 2016, long after Ehrlichman died. There was no Harper's interview with Ehrlichman in 1994.

> That article is from 2016, long after Ehrlichman died. There was no Harper's interview with Ehrlichman in 1994.

Those are facts. Here are some more facts:

* The article is written in 2016 by Dan Baum.

* GP refers to "a Harper's contributor". That person is Dan Baum.

* In the article in 2016, Dan Baum is relating his experience meeting John Ehrlichman in 1994.

* In the article in 2016, Dan Baum claims that John Ehrlichman, during their meeting in 1994, said the quoted text.

* An interview with a Harper's contributor need not be a Harper's interview

* It is possible to publish, in 2016, a statement made by someone in 1994

Another fact is that if the statement were made in 1994, there were five years to publish it while Ehrlichman might still be around to dispute it. Oddly enough, another fact is that this didn't come out until Ehrlichman was dead for seventeen years. Stake your reputation on such things if you like, but I think there's better material to use to make the point. Ehrlichman had a lot to answer for, but I'm not willing to pile on in this case based on something someone remembers from twenty years prior.

This is true. Ultimately, you have to multiply by the likelihood that this Dan Baum fellow is honest and has recollected correctly, using either memory or notes.

The "Banality of Indifference" is very real

Curious. I wondered what other children would say about their parents, so I googled someone I know to be reprehensible.

Edda Goering on her father, the famous Hermann Goering:

> "My only memories of him are such loving ones. I cannot see him any other way."

> "The things that happened to the Jews were horrible, but quite separate from my father."

We, of course, are well-informed and know that "the things that happened to the Jews" are not, in fact, "quite separate from her father". I suspect that children of people are not reputable character references.

Then, why are there several countries with much stricter drug laws than the US (e.g. Singapore has the death penalty).

Many of them are outside of the US sphere of influence.


I don't see this as a counterargument for two reasons.

First, how do the actions of other countries have bearing on what is true about the history of our country?

Second, I don't know the details, but seems to me that powerful people in other countries could, just like the U.S., be reaping political and financial benefits from criminalizing drugs.

There was no argument in the first place other than a disputed comment.

This often-repeated quote is almost certainly fake.

A single person claims to have heard this statement and waited until after Mr. Ehrlichman's death, decades later, to publish the quote.

tl;dr - You're spreading misinformation because it confirms your biases

He made that statement in this interview to Harpers in 1994: https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

No, it is the memory of an interview for a book (which, AFAICT, was never published) back in 1994, and that memory was posted to a Harper's article in 2016 (I mean, it's right there in the URL), long after Ehrlichman was dead. As the inexplicably-downvoted GP comment says, there is no traceable basis for this quote. As far as we know, the author just made it up. The more likely case is that, at best, it is from old interview notes from 1994.

After a while, being wrong and refusing to acknowledge the damage is indistinguishable from malice, and refusing to confront evidence which would contradict that starts to look "crazy".

It may not be crazy or malevolent, but it is egregiously negligent. There's a real wisdom behind the quote "with great power, comes great responsibility".

While I don't agree, I think it's perfectly possible for a reasonable, well-intentioned person to believe in drug prohibition. But actually following through with that policy inevitably means destroying the lives of millions of people. That may be defensible on utilitarian grounds. But if you're going to pull the Trolley Car level, you better make damn sure that you're not actually switching to a track running over more people,

How many of the current policymakers, politicians or prosecutors who continue to wage the drug war have bothered to do a rigorous evaluation of the evidence for themselves? How many have performed an in-depth examination of Portugal's experiment with decriminalization? How many could show you their utilitarian calculus, giving precise figures between people incarcerated and overdoses prevented? Heck, how many politicians lack an even basic understanding of the physiological effects of the chemicals they're imprisoning people for?

99 out of 100 drug warriors show a total lack of respect for the responsibility of the power that they're asking us to give them. If you're going to ruin the lives of millions of people, and infringe on fundamental personal civil liberties, then the standard needs to be higher than "I've got a good feeling that this is the right thing to do".

The issue is that the fear of widespread drug use does not emerge spontaneously: it is a direct result of education, law enforcement, and drug policy.

you are not the general public nor do you have an understanding of their opinion. please don't project

I am old enough to remember when the WoSD really kicked off (i.e. crack cocaine) and that has been shown to be a bunch of bollocks aka propaganda.

You are right in that reducing the causes of the WoSD to easily understood simplistic theories is too reductionistic (just like "cannabis is being suppressed because it cures cancer!!!"), but the side benefits of boosted prison and policing budgets (and civil forfeiture) are too beneficial to those in power - and thus prevent the money from being spent to actually solve the underlying problems driving drug abuse (as opposed to drug -use-). So it is sort of malevolent. Look up Richard Miller's "Drug Warriors and Their Prey".

And "moral panics" like those Anslinger leveraged to exert control on non-whites etc (and journalists who drove the fad of 'huffing' into overdrive back in the 50s) are another important factor. Again, I am old enough to remember the BS around MDMA and GHB (GHB is actually really useful, if you're responsible with it) and how all of that was founded on actions that have been shown to be less than integral by people with little integrity.

I did not read TFA, but I can guess its contents. Now that psychedelics and etc are being medicalized, journalists (who largely like to think of themselves of those who shape society) are writing lemming-like articles about the wonders and benefits of psychedelics. You know what? Those wonders and benefits were apparent / present 30 years ago. Why has it taken so long to break the silence? It's fricking science! But it was deemed 'dangerous' so ...

Because societies ... are easily lead around by the nose by those in positions of power or influence (aka presidents and journalists) who have their own agendas. Everything over the past 4 years has made it clear how so many people are so easily influenced (aka social media and presidential Twitter accounts) by "common sense". And at this point, it is just "common sense" to have a WoSD. I am certainly not arguing that heroin should be mindlessly legalized, but the problem absolutely needs to be dealt with in a different way and the existing processes are self-reinforcing because they do serve certain interests of the social systems or processes in place and those in positions of power (and who benefit from them).

I am vaguely remember now research into why corporations behave as they do despite the people in charge understanding the larger detrimental effects of the actions they undertake for the benefit of or at the behest of the corporation. I think it's analogous, but I haven't thought this through.

So the idea that "the general public" actually understands at a deep or even good level the issues, ramifications, or even the larger social forces at work is naive. You're on HN, so I assume you are smarter than the average person, but seriously, the average person has an IQ less than 120. The older I get, the more I realize how so many people are driven primarily by their emotions and unresolved psychological issues.

I guess I am ranting because my sister just asked how she can deprogram my brother-in-law from believing all the QAnon bullshite. QAnon, the drug war, the 9/11 lunatics, the Nazi Blood Libel, these are all facets of something having to do with flaws in human psychology and societies.

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