Prof Peter Cohen the ‘Drugs Professor’ is a Sociologist who believes that much of modern thinking on drugs and drug addiction is completely wrong. Not only is modern thinking on the ‘war on drugs’ dangerously wrong, but our understanding of addiction is also wrong. According to Professor Cohen the very concept of drug addiction itself is wrong. These are controversial theories, but with more and more countries looking to abandon the expensive and un-winnable war on drugs perhaps Prof. Cohen’s message will find more followers.
Bonds. Prof. Cohen bases his arguments on the bonds that humans develop in life. "All bonds have the potential to become a problem. Think of a girlfriend you're crazy about, but who drives you crazy. What should you do? You’re not happy with her but you’re not happy without her either. Is the bond good or bad for you?”
Assumption #1. Drug addiction as we understand it is simply wrong
Cohen then speaks about a Dutch Heroin/Methadone addict that goes to Spain for 6 week holidays and finds it easy to break the bonds with his drugs to re-establish his love of Spain. The addicts love/bond with heroin is simply changed for a love/bond with Spain. Prof Cohen explained how the addict approached his need to stop taking hard drugs by decreasing his methadone intake a few days before his holiday. “In short, in practice, people can apparently structure bonds very well."
Assumption #2. Bonds can be broken more easily than we think.
Part of understanding Prof Cohens views is to first question how much truth there is in societies ‘accepted’ view of drugs. "The prevailing norm at this time is that each individual must participate, must be productive in society and at the same time be his or her own boss and responsible for his or her own choices. “So if you are so engaged all day with things that society sees as unproductive, it will be rejected by the prevailing morality.”
If a relationship falls apart, you have to say goodbye to that bond as well. It can leave you in bed for days and make you physically ill. The breaking of a bond is always rough, so sometimes you need help. A strong bond cannot be given up easily.”
"Look: the addiction model is a lens through which you view things. Remove your addiction-tinted spectacles and you will suddenly understand the relationship between humans and substances. The fact that that bond is not very different than other strong bonds. That sometimes they cannot be broken without making sacrifices. But taking off those glasses is very difficult. The addiction model fits nicely into our current picture of how society should look"
Assumption #3. Drugs do not control the bonds with human
This is where some disagree with Prof Cohen, arguing that drugs do create biochemical dependencies which can’t be easily overcome simply by changing your perspective on the situation. “If it were true, in practice it turns out that only a small group of people suffer from it. The idea that there are chemical hooks in these substances that make them irresistible is simply nonsense. As it doesn’t explain why the vast majority of people have no problems with it”
“Do we condemn it or not? Should we put a person like that in Siberia and say that there is something wrong with that person? That conversation is already thirty years old. Suppose I'm crazy about sailing and I see a race around the world with sail boats on TV. Surely it isn’t surprising if the sail boat part of my brain lights up?"
But are some people more susceptible to ‘addiction’? Prof Cohen explains that in any area of life there will be enthusiasts. "Many people love to hike. Many people love a gentle walk, but a small group of people find it necessary to climb Mount Everest until their legs freeze off. However, if we replace 'hike' with 'drugs', we suddenly call it an illness and a problem.
Assumption #4. Some bonds may be bad for you personally.
When asked if Drugs should be banned because they are unhealthy, Prof. Cohen points out that many other unhealthy things are tolerated in society without being criticised in the way that drugs are. "Ah, health fascism. Shall we analyse everything that is unhealthy and why we mainly make drugs a problem?”. Cohen argues that if you do make the wrong choice in life it can be painful no matter what that choice is.
And what about the common misconception that smoking cannabis can increase later addiction. “Just stop already with the word addiction! it’s irrelevant, it’s all nonsense. Sex was once considered devilish. Back then it was claimed that someone who has a lot of sex at an early age would no longer enjoy it later in life. This was used to deter young people from sex. Pseudoscience as foundation of moral precepts is as old as the world."
So: smoking weed is okay as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of your life? "The process of growing up is partly about knowing who you are and partly about what is important to you. Making choices and therefore also making the wrong choices. And if you make a wrong choice: just deal with the effects. Just mess up. But informing people about choices and the risks is very important to me."
Prof Cohen points out that in Europe only a few hundred years ago people killed tens of thousands for witchcraft. People did clearly not understand anything about the subject, but social and peer pressures allowed a hysterical over-reaction to a non-problem to persist for decades. Stopping the injustice, as cannabis lovers know, can take forever. Prof. Cohen reminds us that humans are slow to embrace new thinking especially when it takes them into conflict with the establishment.
“You have to imagine that cultures can undergo tremendous changes. In the past if you were thought to be a witch, you could really just give up your life. Society as a whole could not deal with people who were labelled as witches”
“When I see an unemployed American girl in an awful neighbourhood with a jerk of a boyfriend tell me that things would have gone well for her if it weren’t for the heroin, I can’t help but think: heroin is currently one of the least of your problems. I’d tell that person: just keep using heroin until you have a job. Then just see how you can avoid these two interfering with each other. And then go looking for a better home. The addiction ideology is instilled in her in every possible way, so she’ll believe that heroin is the source of all her problems."
based on this original article in Dutch in De Correspondent from 15th Feb 2016.March 11th 2016