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The Dumb and Dangerous Anti-Drug Propaganda in the Miami Zombie Story

The media love a story about people going crazy from drugs. But that's rarely the true story.

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LSD is a relatively benign substance that, while also occasionally linked to erratic behavior, also shows great therapeutic benefits. LSD has been proven to assist in curing alcoholism, depression and anxiety, debilitating cluster headaches, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other ailments. There is little or no evidence that LSD produces dramatic aberrant behavior. 

One problem in drug hysteria, or even in situations when there is medical harm taking drugs, is that unscrupulous dealers are often producing and selling drugs that are cut with other chemicals, and may have little in common with pure forms of drugs. This is especially true when one form of a drug is made illegal, and whomever is creating this stuff in labs makes up some new combination and throws it out on the street. In other rare cases people do have strong medical reactions to various drugs, not unlike when people are allergic to seemingly benign substances like peanuts. The use of the term "excited delirium" is noteworthy in the Miami case. Excited delirium can be a phrase police use to justify force. But the term is not a medically recognized condition.  

Bath salts-related calls to poison control centers have spiked over the past year, and the public needs to be concerned with some of the reported side effects; still it is unclear under what circumstances they arise. Synthesized in the late ‘60s and popularized in recent years, bath salts were legal until the Drug Enforcement Agency  enacted a temporary ban on them last year.

To get around the ban, the illegal ingredients are being replaced by other chemicals so the stuff can be sold in stores. Basically, we don’t even know what’s in bath salts, which are not regulated even when branded because they are marked “not for human consumption” -- nor do we know very much about how they work. But the total ban, which will likely be broadened to encompass synthetic marijuana and other “new drugs,” will only make research that could provide crucial information more difficult. Of the thousands who have tried bath salts, there have been relatively few incidents remotely like this one.

Drug scare stories, however, keep us afraid. It's likely that Rudy Eugene was suffering from mental illness, even if he might also have been on drugs. Horrible situations we don’t understand are easiest to blame on drugs we don’t know much about. It makes the source of violence a substance that we can simply try to do away with and ban. It is not homelessness, poverty, mental illness, that causes the violent break, but rather bath salts, LSD, speed, and coke. As Jacob Sullum at Reason pointed out, years ago, we would have blamed it all on weed.


Kristen Gwynne covers drugs at AlterNet. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and psychology.

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