Padraic P. McGuinness, The Weekend Australian, May 8-9, 1993, p. 2.

If the anti-smoking and anti-drinking lobbies were genuine in their warnings of the health dangers from these substances, they would be addressing themselves seriously to the legalisation of other drugs.

But their chief motivation is not, of course, the good of humanity or the health of the community but a mean-spirited puritanism — remembering the definition of a puritan as someone who suspects that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.

The world is a pretty tough place and most people from time to time feel a need for some escape or relief from its pressures, some aid to relaxation or just oblivion. Sleep is not automatically the way to dispel the pressures and tensions of life. That humanity has always needed some kind of assistance in dealing with the world is evidenced both by the antiquity of religion and by the fact that drugs of various kinds are part of the fabric of civilisation. Beer and wine are older than written history and in cultures where these have not existed there have been substitutes, from magic mushrooms to marijuana.

Religion is usually the least physically harmful of the means of escape from everyday life — unless it involves human sacrifice, common enough, or is as psychologically harmful as its cultist varieties. The story of Abraham and Isaac in the Old Testament is a difficult one for modern people to deal with since it implies the possibility of a father believing that he is obeying God by killing his son. Noah’s drunkenness is a better model.

I do not want to join in the naive God-bashing of my colleague Phillip Adams at the other end of this newspaper but there is a good case for the proposition that in history alcohol has done a lot less harm than fanatical religion, which is all too often the solution that those who can’t get a drink opt for. The Salvation Army’s success in recruiting from the ranks of fargone alcoholics is no accident.

While that organisation does mainly good (and in these times any criticisms which can be levelled against it pale into insignificance), it typifies the way in which the sufferers from the ravages of addiction to alcohol need a form of religious solace as a substitute.

Excessive consumption of alcohol is of course harmful, physically, psychologically and socially. But is it in fact more harmful than self-intoxication through obsessive absorption in religion or political fanaticism? There is, after all, nothing more boring than a reformed alcoholic extolling the virtues of the alternative soporific he has discovered.

And an eminent neurologist I know in Sydney has argued for years that the main ill-effects of alcohol on the brain derive from malnutrition and head injury from falling over.

He recommends that people who like drinking should eat well and possibly take vitamin B supplements as well. This is a good reason for adding vitamin B supplements to beer and cheap, especially fortified, wine. The killjoys however have so far successfully prevented this. They would rather see the alcoholics suffer.

The chances of any harm to the brain if this is observed are negligible. But, he advises, if you drink heavily and are likely to fall over it is advisable to wear a crash helmet after about 6pm.

There is growing evidence that alcohol is reasonable quantities is physically beneficial. Some of the benefit seems to depend on the from in which alcohol is taken. Thus it is true that the drinking of red wine has a lot to do with the health of Mediterranean peoples and in particular residents of the south of France, who eat large quantities of high cholesterol foods, like the delicious goose, whose fat is the best cooking medium, along with olive oil, ever discovered. Essentially, if you eat plenty of salads, fish and good bread and drink red wine, the rest is totally innocent.

The problem of alcohol comes from the need for psychological support. And it is well known that there are other drugs that have mind-bending effects of varying degrees of strength which have no harmful physical effects at all.

Surprisingly enough, among the chief of these is heroin. Despite the huge amount of propaganda surrounding this drug, if pure and properly handled it is far more benign than alcohol. It is not addictive for the great majority of users. For the small percentage who do become hopelessly addicted, the best solution would simply be to give them enough good, pure heroin to ensure that they get what they need and can function in normal society. It is the illegality of heroin that creates the terrible milieu of criminality and prostitution that surrounds it. (And heroin is very cheap to produce.)

There are many other drugs that can be abused, but whose harmful effects derive almost totally from the fact that they are illegal or underground. The kneejerk censoriousness has prevented any sensible policy directed towards accommodating their use. For example, like many others, as a student I used amphetamines both to stay awake while studying and for recreational purposes. I gave up the first when I discovered before long that it is harmful to concentration and thought and the latter when it became obvious that it tended to impair sexual performance.

But not a single person of the many I knew who used amphetamines, sometimes quite heavily, suffered any harm, short or long term. It was only when they became scarce and expensive, and thrill-seekers started to inject rather than swallow them in order to maximise cost-effectiveness, that they began to be genuinely harmful.

The story of the vast majority of drugs, from the boring puffing of bongs to the dangerous sniffing of cocaine derivatives, is one of progressive banning without any genuine research as to ways in which they might be rendered innocuous, while still available for recreational or therapeutic purposes. (And the refusal of heroin to terminal cancer patients is a crime against humanity.)

Marijuana is a drug which is almost totally harmless when it is homegrown in the form of grass and smoked like tobacco, or marketed in a relatively pure form like hashish. When I lived in London in the 60s my best mate was married to the West Indian hash queen of Notting Hill and occasionally I would smoke hashish. Since I dislike tobacco and nicotine, I smoked it pure and high quality. This was occasionally fun but neither very addictive nor habit-forming. Possibly I would have been healthier if I had smoked it in moderation rather than drinking beer, which I enjoy more.

There is a lot of argument about the degree of harmfulness of cannabis and its derivatives, and to the extent that there is any evidence it shows that alcohol in moderation is better for you. But why not allow legal alternatives to alcohol? Why not allow people to find alternatives for whatever it is that people find useful in nicotine? (I don’t know, I have never liked smoking — except good Havana cigars.)

That is, if we were genuinely concerned about public health rather than killjoy wowserism, we would be looking for the best way to use drugs, including alcohol and nicotine; and to the extent that they really are harmful when overused, developing pure and healthy mindbending substances which people could use as an alternative to religious and political fanaticism. And we would stop killing kids by forcing them to use really harmful substances as they search for solace.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Where Friedman is a pinko
  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
  8. LA safe from religious poverty
  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
  13. Youth victims of the welfare con
  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. Will Australia compete?
  27. Canberra's social revolution
  28. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
  29. Why not pay for the ABC?
  30. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
  31. Sometimes the truth hurts
  32. Paddy McGuinness on compulsory, informal and donkey voting, and breaking electoral laws
  33. Thomas Sowell, McGuinness, Aborigines and other minorities
  34. Genocide with kindness
  35. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  36. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  37. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
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