I regularly drink alcohol, smoke cannabis and tobacco, and indulge in other mind-bending drugs such as psilocybin, cocaine and MDMA – and have done so for over a decade.
By most people’s standards, at 32 years old, I should be well on my way to self-destruction. My career and my relationships should be suffering and my mental and physical health should be waning.
However, contrary to mainstream assumptions, my life has never been better. I run a successful online business that I find very fulfilling, I have close bonds with friends, family and a loving partner, and I’m the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been.
How can this be? After all, my whole life I’ve been warned of the unstoppable negative effects of drugs and addiction.
So how is it possible that I regularly drink, smoke and take drugs yet am still healthy, happy and productive?
Drugs are tools and can be used to build or destroy (the poison is in the dose)
The way I see it, drugs are tools. When used appropriately, they can be very useful – they can be used for healing, for deepening relationships, for being productive, or for simply having a jolly good time. When used inappropriately, they can worsen your health, relationships and productivity and generally make you feel like crap.
Just because something can have negative effects, though, doesn’t mean it is bad and should be demonised (including being made illegal). It means it needs to be understood. You see, the more we know about a drug, the better positioned we are to make use of it.
For example, while smoking tobacco clearly has many health risks, nicotine on its own is a potent nootropic that increases focus and enhances cognition while offering neuroprotective benefits.
While cocaine can induce paranoia and be habit-forming for some, coca leaves have been used for thousands of years to prevent altitude sickness and allow the respiratory system to adapt to working at heights. It can also boost energy, confidence and libido while reducing fear.
Even alcohol offers numerous health benefits that are rarely talked about, such as lowering chances of neurodegenerative disorders and cardiovascular conditions. In fact, the more you drink – up to two drinks a day for women, and four for men – the less likely you are to die of anything.
When it comes to cannabis, there’s plenty of science showing positive health effects, primarily from cannabinoids like THC and CBD, but also terpenes (aromatic plant compounds), and flavonoids. Cannabis and its constituents have been found to protect the brain, reduce inflammation, reduce pain, relax muscles, boost mood, protect against cancer, enhance respiration, and much more.
Opiates have also been used for centuries for their incredible pain-killing effects.
Once I started looking at drugs without a preinstalled judgement and saw them as tools, I recognised that, with a little thought, I could maximise the positive effects of using drugs while minimising the negative effects.
Education reduces harms
Drugs are too quickly judged. They’re either demonised or deified when in truth most have positive aspects and negative aspects depending on context, as displayed in the section above.
Therefore, instead of outlawing drugs and trying to frighten or force people away from them, let’s learn about them. By learning about drugs, you demystify them. You realise that while they may have negative effects if used carelessly, they can also offer very positive effects when used sensibly.
The more I’ve learned about drugs, the more I’ve been able to experience their positive effects while minimising their negative effects. For example, whereas I used to binge drink on the weekend and abstain during the week, I now enjoy one or two drinks most evenings, usually over dinner and conversion.
While some may say this is an unhealthy practice, there is actually a huge amount of research that says this rate of alcohol consumption reduces the risk of dying. Put simply, the research suggests that low to moderate drinkers live longer than those who abstain.
Another example; my research has led me to lots of studies showing nicotine to have powerful cognition-boosting effects, such as improved working memory and focus. It’s also pretty harmless when taken in low doses on its own. It’s smoking that causes most of the issues that people assign to nicotine.
There’s even a chemical in tobacco smoke that makes nicotine more addictive than it is by itself. This is why addiction to nicotine gum or patches is almost unheard of.
This information has had a profound impact on the way I use tobacco. Whereas I didn’t touch it for about four years due to fears of negative health effects, I now vape it alongside my weed (this reduces memory impairment caused by THC). I will also occasionally smoke it in a joint with no worries about getting re-addicted or causing any long-term harm.
Dr Carl Hart, a renowned neuroscientist and drug researcher, has had a big influence on my thinking about drugs. In his recent book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, he confides that he has used heroin regularly for years. He said he often uses it to relax after a long day or with his partner. He really enjoys it, and reports little to no negative effects.
And this is a man who has studied drugs and addiction for decades and never consumed an illegal substance before he was 40 years old. Stories like his do not fit with the mainstream opinion of drug use. And that’s because mainstream opinions on drugs are rarely rooted in truth.
I think, ultimately, drug education leads to a reduction in harm when using drugs. Instead of fear mongering and threats, let’s learn about drugs and educate others on how to use them safely and in ways that improve our health and life.
Drugs aren’t intrinsically addictive
An addiction is a habitual behaviour that provides a source of gratification or security in response to certain uncomfortable feelings, but that also leads to negative life outcomes.
It is a way of coping with the world that we can become so attached to that it can hold us back from acting on other priorities. This coping mechanism can be any rewarding behaviour, including drug use, sex, watching porn, shopping, gambling, gossiping, and many more.
Therefore, no substance or behaviour is intrinsically addictive. The addictive potential of a substance or behaviour lies primarily in the meaning it has for a person.
If a person feels a lack of satisfaction in life – an absence of intimacy or strong connections, a lack of self-confidence or compelling interests, a loss of hope, poor health, poverty, etc. – they are more likely to find meaning in rewarding behaviours that are easier to come by, like drug use.
That’s not to say happy, healthy and well-loved people are not susceptible to addiction. They are. All humans are. It’s just that being part of a strongly-bonded, loving family and community gives people better support, more resources, and healthier strategies for coping with worldly stress.
The principles underlying addiction are no different whether the stimulus is cocaine, nicotine, caffeine, porn, or shopping. It’s also the reason most people can’t go five minutes without checking their phones.
Once I understood that drugs aren’t intrinsically addictive, I recognised that I could avoid addiction by focusing on the fulfilling parts of my life: my health, relationships and purpose.
While I consume alcohol, cannabis, tobacco and caffeine daily, I also exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, and connect with other people daily.
While I occasionally use psilocybin, cocaine or MDMA, I also make sure to get outside as much as possible, I occasionally fast, and I do breathing practices and meditate.
And I’ve never felt better.
I have proven to myself that it is possible to enjoy and benefit from drugs as part of a healthy lifestyle. And although I don’t think that drugs are for everyone, I do think that many people can benefit from them just like I do.
What do you think? Can drug users be healthy?