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Monday, February 23, 2009

Peanuts or Pills?

As we all know, or should, Reason is awesome. Over at Hit and Run, Ron Bailey posts an interesting question:

A New Scientist editorial poses this thought experiment:

IMAGINE you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

Correct answer:

You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

A lot of folks won't like this answer. Ecstacy, after all, is a dangerous drug that has people acting wacky and incoherently, destroying lives left and right. Right? Apparently not:

...on all tests except for verbal memory, ecstasy users performed just as well as before [they used it] and on a par with abstainers....the effect on [verbal memory] was so small - a difference of a quarter of a word on average from a list of 15 - the real world implications are questionable.

Neither Bailey nor the New Scientist deny that ecstasy is a mind-altering substance. Otherwise, why would anyone take it? (This applies both to recreational and medical use, of couse.) But the results do raise the question of why, exactly, there is such rabid fear mongering about such drugs. As the article points out, the main long-term effects of ecstasy appear to be "driving politicians crazy." Politicians, of course, drive the rest of us crazy with the phenomenal costs of the drug war - not the least of which is the fact that too many people no longer trust that there is any cost to taking drugs simply because so many of the exaggerated costs have proven unfounded.

The call isn't for everyone to go out and have ecstasy for lunch instead of a peanut butter sandwich. It's for drug policy to be based on the real, scientifically proven dangers of the drugs, and not the extent to which busybodies and politicians lose sleep over it.

Read the rest of the Reason blog post here and the New Scientist editorial here. The study on effects of ecstasy that's quoted briefly above can be found here.

Posted by Janet Neilson on February 23, 2009 | Permalink


Long term E-Freaks don't act just like everyone else, they're not "normal" or "functional". Sorry I know SEVERAL and they're fricked up people. One of them has never done any other drug and doesn't drink, the other also smokes Marajuana infrequently. The rest of their 30 something raver buddies are much the same.

Posted by: Pete | 2009-02-23 3:16:44 PM

Marijuana rather.

Not that I don't support unbanning either peanuts or E, I'd rather more E-Freaks than alcoholics (which we should deregulate as well) :P

Posted by: Pete | 2009-02-23 3:17:50 PM

Gotta love this site, you never miss an opportunity to call for legalizing some drug! Will you guys call for legalizing crystal meth or heroin next? Are there other legitimate medical sources that can verify that ectasy poses almost no danger? Libertarians have a lot of valid arguments on economics, guns, affirmative action, and race relations. However, when you get so fanatical about drug legalization you turn off a lot of people. I expect these kinds of discussions from the hippies in the green party with their 1960's reborn lifestyle. People who don't give a crap about the country and just want to "get with it, man". I look to this site for a legitimate discussion of the role of government. This is one of the few places where center-right Americans can meet and exchange ideas with likeminded Canadians. The media here and in Canada(CBC, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, etc.) give the impression that almost all Canadians are left-wing Obama loving social democrats who hate guns, mock religion, universally approve of abortion, and are very supportive of the gay lifestyle. I like to see that the media is wrong and that there are some Canadians who are willing to fight the tide of political correctness. In most countries(in the developed world), there is a legitimate battle of ideas going on between the right-leaning and left-leaning forces. Some countries(like Ireland, Australia) have seen the success of the free market model over socialism. Others(like the U.S., Israel, Poland, and to some degrees Italy, New Zealand) have seen to some level the success of social conservatism over left-wing social engineering. A few like Sweden and hopefully not Canada have effectively rolled over and surrendered to the left. Others like Venezuela and Cuba are governed by virtual communists who various left-wing foreign governments will prop up because they have similar economic or social policies in common. The fact that they are dictatorships means nothing to the international left. To them, the ends justify the means. The election of Obama has made the international left feel that this is their moment. They will ignore the fact that the left will lose the next elections in Britain, Spain, Germany, Norway, and Brazil. The facts that the right-wing governments lead the polls in France, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands and Turkey mean nothing to them. The left will say nothing about the recent election in Austria where the far-right polled almost 30% and all right-wing parties polled 57% of the vote. Instead, they will feel that they have a new mandate to shape the world in their image. It is important that center-right voters of various countries debate in the marketplace of ideas and develop the effective set to slay the left-wing leviathan. Western Standard can have an important role to play in this. You are no longer just a Canadian site. Nor are you limited to North America. There are people outside of the North America who read and are influenced by sites such as yours. They look to sites such as this because it presents the facts that are conveniently ignored by their government run medias(BBC, etc.) National Review started small but is now read by many in conservative international circles. The Heritage Foundation is used as a legitimate source of information by many public think tanks outside the U.S. The Fraser Institute serves as a source of information for people in the U.S., Australia, Britain, and elsewhere. Isn't it time that Western Standard more throughly address this international audience as well?

Posted by: David | 2009-02-23 4:15:37 PM

We (libertarians) also have some good arguments in favour of proper paragraph composition but, alas, not everyone listens.

Are you surprised a website that endorses individual liberty and personal responsibility would call for the legalization of drugs, David? Don't be.

As for your more general suggestions, I, myself, will try to keep them in mind. They are good ones, and worth remembering. Thanks.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-02-23 4:25:51 PM

Another reason why ecstacy might be safer: it's probably not tainted with nasty salmonella. :-)

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-02-23 5:21:56 PM

David: Yes, there are lots of other sources where you can read about medical uses of MDMA, and there are efforts currently underway to move it to classification as a Schedule II drug by the DEA so that it can be prescribed again for these purposes - it was used rather frequently in therapy before it was banned (at which point, by the way, its recreational use went nuts).

You can read more about it in this Economist article, which is quite good: http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12792611
or you can Google it.

As for dealing with drug legalization, when there is a day where the drug war does not adversely effect such a ridiculous number of public policy areas (postponing investigation and prosecution of real crimes, higher taxes, bureaucratic waste, restricted health care research, criminalizing youth, erosion of the rule of law, imprisonment of a huge portion of the population, privacy laws, property laws, foriegn military aggression - you know, just to name a few) then perhaps libertarians will be less enthusiastic about legalization. And with support for legalization increasing (don't believe me? look here: http://www.reason.com/blog/show/129679.html ) I don't think we turn off as many people with this sort of talk as you think we do.

Posted by: Janet | 2009-02-23 5:54:05 PM

my Mom told us to not talk to strangers..
this article shows that she had the right idea'
a choice of MDMA or peanuts from a stranger? we note that these two bowls mysteriously appear, and nobody is certain of the validity or safety of contents. and did anyone say you could help yourself ? these aren't your snacks// drugs-
would you eat things that are not yours?
offer something that isn't yours to a stranger?
one is clearly a food * the peanut ) and the other is an unmarked black market psychotropic drug-

the " stranger" that joins you knows what a peanut is.. unless they were lugging a gas spectrometer along with then they would have no way to tell what the pills were -- besides, you would be a stranger to them and how wise is it to accept & injest a pill from a stranger.. maybe wipeheads look forward to these sorts of moments where a stranger offers them free dope but the rest of us do not relish the concept of being offered being drug poisoned..

the writers of the article may be scientists, but they are terrible guests

Posted by: 419 | 2009-02-23 6:04:49 PM

I have to agree with Jaworski.
David you have some very interesting points and I learned a lot from reading your post!

When it comes to drugs and gay marriage(if thats what you ment by supportive of the gay life style) I would cite John Stuart Mill and the harm principle, since I see this as victimless crime.

Posted by: Marco Franco | 2009-02-23 6:09:42 PM

The reason ecstasy is stigmatized so is simply that it's a chemical drug and you, Joe User, have no way of knowing what kind of awful bleach or granite is in that pill.

But then, that's prohibition for ya.

Posted by: Andrew P | 2009-02-23 6:11:00 PM

..it was used rather frequently in therapy before it was banned...
Posted by: Janet | 2009-02-23 5:54:05 PM

Not true. It had minimal use as an experimental therapy and has never been properly tested except by the US Army who saw it as a potential psychotropic weapon.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-02-23 6:11:18 PM


Have you ever met a drug dealer? If there's one thing they like better than selling drugs to dumb chicks, it's selling fake drugs to dumb chicks.

I used to swallow whatever was put in front of me, and eventually I OD'd on rat poison. Thank goodness I was able to explain the facts to my kids, so they didn't get sucked into trusting the "cool" kids.

I'd assume that if I offered a peanut to anyone older than 2 or 3, they'd know if they had a danderous allergy to it. Sorry to mess up your little comparison with common sense reasoning.

Posted by: dp | 2009-02-23 6:56:32 PM


Do you think the fact that you ended up swallowing rat poison (ouch!) has something to do with drug prohibition?

After all, it's not even like you could sue the dealer for damages. He has little motive not to put some poison into the mix.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-02-23 7:20:22 PM

Typical politically-motivated pseudoscientific drivel. The scientific method consists of formulating a hypothesis based on preliminary observation and then improving or disproving that hypothesis. Science is NOT forwarded by "thought experiments." But to demonstrate how easily such tactics an subvert the basic truth, let's consider the following:

"Imagine" you are seated at a table and have a choice of giving a random person peanuts or a non-lethal dose of methyl alcohol. Which do you give? If your sole objective is to maximize his chance of survival, then you choose the methyl alcohol, because the peanuts will kill sometimes, but the non-lethal dose of methyl won't. Of course, the alcohol will blind everyone who drinks it, but they won't die. Which choice does the greater harm? Well, love chilluns, it ain't the peanuts.

The point is that there is more to the harm that a drug does than its LD50. Pro-pot activists pull the same scientific sleight-of-hand with the fact that there have been no known overdoses from marijuana and extrapolate that to conclude that marijuana is a harmless substance. And they're just as wrong.

The New Scientist editorial does not offer a single fact in evidence of its position. Like most pro-drug literature, it's simply a petulant screed of how evil government and MSM conspiracies are keeping "harmless" substances illegal and "criminalizing" millions of people who consciously choose to break the law and then act offended when they are called to account.

The trouble with the anti-prohibition crowd is that they have the scientific formula backwards. They have already decided what the truth is, so they confine their research to factors that seem to back up their claims. When more objective folks point out the shortcomings in their methods, they bristle in outrage and start punting ad hominem nonsense in every direction. They are the very picture of offended righteousness, if not offended sensibility.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-23 7:48:48 PM

Another reason why ecstacy might be safer: it's probably not tainted with nasty salmonella. - True. Just with chemicals that require a hazmat team to properly deactivate. One spark and there goes the neighbourhood. And you support the right of sixteen-year-olds to put this stuff in their stomachs?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-23 7:58:15 PM

Janet, MDMA is not as harmless as you imply. While there were some protests raised when it was banned by the U.S. in 1985, it was also banned by the World Health Organization, an independent body, the very same year. The WHO did note research that suggested promise for the drug, but found fault with the methodologies used, while at the same time inviting member nations to research the drug further.

Some studies show long-term brain damage from heavy MDMA use, which may or may not clear up following cessation of the drug. The research here is incomplete and the results conflicting, but it is most definitely not a harmless substance, and certainly not safer for the average citizen than a bag of peanuts.

As for the supposed evils caused by prohibition, these are merely retreads of the same justifications for legalizing pot, or indeed, legalizing any illegal product, including weapons of mass destruction. People who choose to break the law when there is no compelling reason for them to do so have NO right to cry foul. Their Charter rights are not being violated. They, on the other hand, are willing to fund and bankroll all the horrible activities you mention, so long as they get their toke of pot or their tablet of ecstasy. Tell me, what does that say about their character? And is that really the sort of thing a peaceful, prosperous society should delight to honour?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-23 8:04:34 PM

The reason ecstasy is stigmatized so is simply that it's a chemical drug... - Is there another kind?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-23 8:10:25 PM

Marco, the gay lifestyle was largely responsible for the proliferation of the AIDS virus in North America; I wouldn't call that harmless. The nature of anal sex by itself increases the chances of transmission over vaginal sex; the unreconstructed promiscuity of the gay community simply made it a thousand times worse. You could argue that if gays weren't promiscuous then the difference in transmission rates wouldn't be that large, but you could also argue that if your aunt had balls, she'd be your uncle.

And anyone who thinks legal drugs are harmless has never studied the Opium Wars. Why do you think hard drugs were outlawed to start with, Marco?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-23 8:15:37 PM

Terrance- Actually, I wasn't trying to make a connection. I was simply pointing out how naive some of these comparisons can be.

If anything, I may be leaning toward ending prohibition for many substances. I don't think MDMA would be a good choice, though.

Out of respect for Shane, I'd only support legalizing odorless marijuana.

Posted by: dp | 2009-02-23 8:25:26 PM


I was being facetious. But you make a good point: the fact that X won't instantly kill you isn't evidence that it is harmless.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-02-23 8:50:18 PM

The libertarian position is misrepresented here. If there was freedom of association, as Hoppe outlined, then communities of like minded individuals will establish rules for property use which may include the exclusion of gays and drugs (even alcohol). Normalising gayness was not a function of an evolutionary process, it was coerced by the state. Section 15 of the Charter trumps Section 1. Discrimination based upon sexual orientation is illegal. Criticism of the normality of gayness can be considered 'hate speech' and those using it (Boisson) may be harshly censored. Ditto drug use. A medical marijuana user cannot be banned from a restaurant for fear of retribution from the HRCs.

The harm in legalising drugs and gay marriage in a society that coerces compliance means that freedom is lost. As long as so-called libertarians continue to eschew freedom of association, yet profess the harmless nature of drugs and gay marriage, personal freedom will continue to diminish. It's hypocritical at best.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-02-23 8:52:01 PM

pass the peanuts, I'll take my chances

Posted by: 419 | 2009-02-23 9:43:01 PM

Out of respect for Shane, I'd only support legalizing odorless marijuana. - Thanks. :-)

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-23 11:05:11 PM

419: Short, sweet, effective. I like it.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-02-24 7:06:50 AM

...I love these 'studies' with a forced answer in the questions.

Why even bother with peanuts or X? Why not offer a grilled steak sandwich with complete with peas and a cream cheese stuffed baked potatoe and a tossed salad on a side dish, plus a nice glass of red wine?

It's like a 'survey' I was asked once:

Who would make a better parent?
1. A loving gay couple
2. A hard working single parent
3. A religious family

I asked the person what about option #4?

A loving hard working religious family that believes in a Moral standard, discipline, and has an understanding that we are merely stewards of God's green earth?

Killed that survey pretty fast.

Posted by: tomax7 | 2009-02-24 9:00:35 AM

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