Johann Hari

Are psychedelics the answer to addiction and depression?

Roland Griffiths was trying to meditate – but he couldn’t do it. If he sat there for a few minutes, it felt as through hours were stretching out before him, like a long, slow torture. So he quit. This tall, thin young scientist, who was rapidly rising through the ranks of academic psychology, would not meditate again for twenty years — but when he returned to mindfulness, he became part of unlocking something crucial. Professor Griffiths was going to make a breakthrough — just not for himself, but for all of us.

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This One Shocking Factor Can Make You 4600 Percent More Likely To Become an Addict

One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. As I got older, I understood why. We had addiction in my family. And as I watched some of my other close relatives become addicts, I asked myself several questions, but one in particular seemed haunting and insistent: why does addiction so often run in families? Why does it seem to pass from mother to daughter, from father to son, as though it were some dark genetic twist?

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The Intersection of the War on Drugs and the Jihad Attacks on France

For two years now, the world has been watching as France is subjected to the most vicious jihadi attacks of any European country. From the murder of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, to the massacre of partying twenty-somethings at the Bataclan, to the driving of a truck into the crowds celebrating Bastille Day, the most obvious question is – why France? Why are such a disproportionate number of their own citizens behaving this way?

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The Movement to End the War on Drugs Is Going Global

Rebels in the war on drugs

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Should We Stop Using the Word 'Addict'?

For the past year, I’ve been publicly arguing that we need to think very differently about addiction. For a century, we’ve been punishing addicts, and waging war on them—and we’ve ended up with a catastrophic addiction crisis. I’ve been to the countries that have instead adopted the opposite approach—compassion and love for addicts—and their addiction crises are shrinking over time.

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Why Is Marijuana Banned? The Real Reasons are More Surprising Than You Think

This article was originally published by The Influence, a news site that covers the full spectrum of human relationships with drugs. Follow The Influence on Facebook or Twitter.

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Everything We Think We Know About Drug Violence Is Wrong

Rosalio Reta was at summer camp, like all the other American teenagers his age. He was a short Texan fifteen-year old with spiky hair, nicknamed “Bart” because he looks like a less yellow Bart Simpson, and loves to skateboard. He was also into the Power Rangers, alternative pop, and Nintendo 64, especially The Mask of Zelda and Donkey Kong.

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This Surprising Factor Can Make People 4600 Percent More Prone To Addiction

One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. As I got older, I understood why. We had addiction in my family. And as I watched some of my other close relatives become addicts, I asked myself several questions, but one in particular seemed haunting and insistent: why does addiction so often run in families? Why does it seem to pass from mother to daughter, from father to son, as though it were some dark genetic twist?

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This Country Cut Drug Addiction Rates in Half by Rejecting Criminalization

It is now 100 years since drugs were first banned—and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds we take it for granted: There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day 21, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

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The Unbelievable Story of How America's War on Drugs Started

The following is an excerpt from Johann Hari's new book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (Bloomsbury, 2015).

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The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered and It Is Not What You Think

It is now 100 years since drugs were first banned, and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction, by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my book Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong. There is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

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The Turning Point We Miss at Our Own Peril

Sometimes there are turning-points in history – moments when we have to choose between an exuberant descent into lunacy, and a still, sober voice offering us a sane way out.

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Why Disasters Make the Vast Majority of Us Better People

Before the Second World War, the Ministry of War confidently predicted what would happen when London was bombed from the air by Nazi planes. There would be, they warned, "a mass outbreak of hysterical neurosis among the civilian population". For every one person injured, there would be dozens who lose their morals or lose the plot. They would howl and they would loot and they would rape. Humans couldn't take it. They would break. They would turn on each other.

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What Makes a Young Person Embrace Death and Murder? Former Jihadists Speak Out

Ever since I started meeting jihadis, I have been struck by one thing -- their Britishness. I am from the East End of London, and at some point in the past decade I became used to hearing a hoarse and angry whisper of jihadism on the streets where I live. Bearded young men stand outside the library calling for "The Rule of God" and "Death to Democracy."

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Our Thinness Obsessed Culture Is Destroying Women

When did it die? When did our collective disgust at the sickness and sicked-up stomach juices that fuel the fashion industry get replaced by an oh-so-ironic appreciation? When did even most liberals and feminists stop snubbing it and start wrestling their way to the rope-line in search of a goody bag?

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Have Republicans Turned Into a Weird Religious Cult?

Something strange has happened in America in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been summarised by the comedian Bill Maher: "The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital."

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Why the London Protesters Are on the Right Side of History

When this hinge-point in human history is remembered, there will be far more sympathy for the people who took to the streets and rioted than for the people who stayed silently in their homes. Two global crises have collided, and we have a chance here, now, to solve them both with one mighty heave -- but our leaders are letting this opportunity for greatness leach away. The protesters here in London were trying to sound an alarm now, at five minutes to ecological midnight.

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Should Barack Obama and Cindy McCain be in Jail?

On January 20th 2009, either the president of the United States will be a man who used to snort coke to ease his blues, or the First Lady will be a former drug addict who stole from charity to get her next fix. In this presidential campaign, there are dozens of issues that have failed to flicker into the debate, but the most striking is the failing, flailing 'War on Drugs.' Isn't it a sign of how unwinnable this 'war' is that, if it was actually enforced evenly, either Barack Obama or Cindy McCain would have to skip the inauguration -- because they'd be in jail?

At least their time in the slammer would feature some familiar faces: they could share a cell with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and some 46 percent of the U.S. population.

The prohibition of drugs is perhaps the most disastrous policy currently pursued by the U.S. government. It hands a vast industry to armed criminal gangs, who proceed to kill at least excess 10,000 citizens a year to protect their patches. It exports this program of mass slaughter to Mexico, Colombia and beyond. It has been a key factor in reviving the Taliban in Afghanistan. It squanders tens of billions of dollars on prisons at home, ensuring that one in 31 adults in the U.S. now in prison or on supervised release at any one time. And it has destroyed an entire generation of black men, who are now more likely to go to prison for drug offenses than to go to university.

And for what? Prohibition doesn't stop people using drugs. Between 1972 and 1978, eleven U.S. states decriminalized marijuana possession. So did hundreds of thousands of people rush out to smoke the now-legal weed? The National Research Council found that it had no effect on the number of dope-smokers. None. The people who had always liked it carried on; the people who didn't felt no sudden urge to start.

So where's the debate? The candidates have spent more time discussing froth and fancies -- how much air is in your tires? -- than this $40 billion-a-year 'war."

They should be forced to listen to Michael Levine, who had a thirty year career as one of America's most distinguished federal narcotics agents. In his time, he infiltrated some of the biggest drugs cartels in the world -- and he now explains, in sad tones, that he wasted his time. In the early 1990s, he was assigned to eradicate drug-dealing from one New York street corner -- an easy enough task, surely? But he quickly learned that even this was physically impossible, given the huge demand for drugs. He calculated that he would need one thousand officers to be working on that corner for six months to make an impact -- and there were only 250 drugs agents in the whole city. One of the residents asked him, "If all these cops and agents couldn't get this one corner clean, what's the point of this whole damned drug war?"

When Levine penetrated to the very top of la Mafia Cruenza, one of the biggest drug-dealing gangs in the world, he learned, as he puts it, "that not only did they not fear our war on drugs, they actually counted on it… On one undercover tape-recorded conversation, a top cartel chief, Jorge Roman, expressed his gratitude for the drug war, calling it 'a sham put on the American tax-payer' that was 'actually good for business'." He was right -- prohibition is the dealer's friend. They depend on it. They thrive on it, just as Al Capone thrived on alcohol prohibition. When Levine recounted these comments to his boss -- the officer in command of the paramilitary operation attacking South America -- he replied, "Yeah, we know [the police and military battles against drug gangs] don't work, but we sold the plan up and down the Potomac."

Yet virtually no politicians are exposing this scandal. A rare and heroic exception is Jim Webb, Senator for Virginia. In his brilliant new book Born Fighting, he says "the hugely expensive antidrug campaigns we are waging around the world are basically futile." He even goes further, and exposes how this intersects with racism to create a monstrous injustice. The ACLU found in 2006 that although the races use drugs at the same rate, black Americans -- who comprise 12 percent of the population -- make up 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

Webb shows the human cost: "Even as I write these words, it is virtually certain that somewhere on the streets of Washington D.C. an eighteen year-old white kid from the Maryland or North Virginia suburbs is buying a stash of drugs from an eighteen year-old black kid. The white kid is going to take that stash back to the suburbs and make some quick money by selling it to other kids." He will grow up and grow out of it, and one day -- as a wealthy professional -- he will "look back on his drug use just as recreational and joke about it … just one more little rebellion on the way to adulthood."

But the black kid "will enter a hell from which he may never recover." He is likely to be arrested, and to go to prison. "Prison life will change the black kid, harden him, mess up his mind, and redefine his self-image. And after he is released from prison, the black kid will be dragging an invisible ball and chain behind him for the rest of his life … By the time the white kid reaches fifty years of age, he may well be a judge. By the time the black kid reaches fifty, he will likely be permanently unemployable, will be ineligible for many government assistance programs, and will not even be able to vote." Barack Obama only narrowly missed this fate. He would not be the Great Black Hope he deserves to be; he wouldn't even be allowed to cast a ballot in 2008.

Of course, ending drug prohibition may seem impossible now. But in 1924, even as vociferous a wet as Clarence Darrow was in despair, writing that it would require "a political revolution" to legalize alcohol in the U.S. Within a decade, it was done.

Before this campaign is out, Obama needs to be asked: do you really think you should be in jail? McCain needs to be asked: do you really think your wife should be in jail? Both need to be asked: do you really think 46 percent of Americans should be criminalized? And if not, what are you going to do to begin ending this mad, unwinnable 'war on drugs'?

What Will the Candidates Do to End the War on Drugs?

On January 20th 2009, either the president of the United States will be a man who used cocaine, or the First Lady will be a former drug addict who stole from charity to get her next fix. In this presidential campaign, there are dozens of issues that have failed to flicker into the debate, but the most striking is the failing, flailing 'War on Drugs.' Isn't it a sign of how unwinnable this 'war' is that, if it was actually enforced evenly, either Barack Obama or Cindy McCain would have to skip the inauguration -- because they'd be in jail?


At least their time in the slammer would feature some familiar faces: they could share a cell with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and some 46 percent of the US population.



The prohibition of drugs is perhaps the most disastrous policy currently pursued by the US government. It hands a vast industry to armed criminal gangs, who proceed to kill at least excess 10,000 citizens a year to protect their patches. It exports this program of mass slaughter to Mexico, Colombia and beyond. It has been a key factor in reviving the Taliban in Afghanistan. It squanders tens of billions of dollars on prisons at home, ensuring that one in 31 adults in the US now in prison or on supervised release at any one time. And it has destroyed an entire generation of black men, who are now more likely to go to prison for drug offenses than to go to university.

Where Have All the Strong Women Gone?

Precisely a century ago, in a suburb of Boston, a child called Bette Davis erupted into the world. She was not only a woman; she was an electrical storm with skin. With nothing but raw talent and raw determination, she became the most famous woman in the world, taking on the Hollywood studio system, the FBI and the Catholic Church.

For a while, this not-especially-beautiful woman in her forties ruled Hollywood, playing tough women who chose their careers and their own desires over sacrificing for men or children or a picket fence. She never pretended to be dumb, or a little girl. She didn't do soft, or simpering. She had a voice like sour cream, and eyes like a raven. Humphrey Bogart said about her: "Unless you're very big she can knock you down." And she was one of the great events of her time.

She was popular with the mostly-female movie audience -- women like my grandmother, who gave me my first glimpse of Bette Davis movies from her lap -- in part because her characters will not accept 'their place.' They want more, more, more. It was not easy to be a strong woman then; she said, "When a man gives his opinion he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion she's a bitch." But she fought, and women responded to it. She was only the most shimmering example of a generation of tough Hollywood women whose characters saw the world as a place not to cower from or simper at, but to conquer: Mae West (who made her first film at 40), Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Barbra Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, Marlene Dietrich, and more.

Bette was self-confident enough to demand to look bad on camera. On the cast of 'Bordertown', she had a four-hour screaming row with the director because she thought it was ridiculous to show her character wake up in bed with a wig and full make-up; she wanted curlers and cold cream all over her face. In' Marked Woman', she was shown with black eyes and a broken face. In Elizabeth and Essex, she wanted to be shown with a completely bald head -- sending the studio into a panic. And she was self-confident enough to be unsympathetic on screen.

But something odd has happened since the reign of Queen Bette: women in cinema have become weaker. If the symbol of 1930s Hollywood was Bette Davis in 'Jezebel', defiantly wearing red to her virgin-white ball, today it is Cameron Diaz in 'There's Something About Mary', rubbing semen into her hair because she is too dumb to realize it's not hair gel.

As women have progressed, the women we idolize -- in the movies, on television -- have dramatically regressed. Who are our female icons now? Nicole Kidman, whose career is empitomized by her role in 'Moulin Rouge', where she plays a limp, passive prostitute, waiting to be saved. Julia Roberts, whose only iconic role is as a screwed-up prostitute, waiting to be saved. The women of 'Desperate Housewives' -- chaotic ditzes, who are either jobless, or have jobs where they merely spread chaos. The women of 'Sex and the City', who are obsessed with shoes and -- in the end -- have to compromise their careers for men. The popular women are numb blondes or bony little girls with submissive smiles. If a female star becomes too 'tough', she becomes box-office poison: Demi Moore was seen after G.I. Jane as too hard, too 'male.' Even Thelma and Louise had to drive into the Grand Canyon in the end.

The closest we have to Bette Davis-style characters today are found in the films and TV shows of Aaron Sorkin. His dream-girl is a woman talking very fast about foreign policy while putting on her make-up. In West Wing, he found two glorious stars who would have held their own with the 1930s generation: Alison Janney, and Stockard Channing. But what happens to their characters? C.J. has to be given a sick father to humanise her -- unlike any of the men -- and in the end has to choose between Washington and love. Abigail Bartlett is stripped of her job entirely. Janney and Channing are now reduced to bit-parts in films about teenage girls.

The biggest female stars have contracted in every sense. As they are reduced emotionally to hollow male fantasies, they are reduced physically to skin and bone too. If Bette Davis has screen presence, skeletons like Keira Knightley have screen absence; you stop seeing her even when she is the only thing in the frame. Almost all of the great Hollywood starlets would be considered uncastably 'fat' now: who can forget Liz Hurley's statement, "If I was as fat as Marilyn Monroe, I'd kill myself too"?

The few strong women in Hollywood movies and TV are safely located in an unreal world: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess. The closest to an unapologetic feminist is Lisa Simpson -- and she is eight years old, and a cartoon. This isn't because Hollywood is especially sexist. Hollywood largely gives us what we want -- and we don't want to idolize strong, powerful women today.

My female friends need to disguise or soften their ambition and intellect, in a way my male friends don't have to. A while ago, after writing a column about feminism, I received an e-mail from a reader who said: "I think it's great that you, as a man, write about these issues. But imagine a situation where you were exactly the person you are now, but female. Imagine you were comparably overweight, took comparably little care over your appearance, were comparably aggressive in your opinions, admitted to a history of depression, and were a lesbian. You would not be writing for a national newspaper at all." I think that is undeniably true.

The fear of strong women isn't confined to anecdotes; there's reams of evidence for it. A study by Oxford University psychologists in 2006 found that having a high IQ is a boon for men in finding a partner -- and for women, it is an obstacle. For each 16-point rise in IQ, a man is 35 percent more likely to find a partner -- while for women, the same IQ bump reduces their odds by 40 per cent. This is why so many clever women mask their intellects, in pubs and offices across the country.

This dynamic spreads to politics too. There's a famous experiment called 'the Goldberg paradigm', where a group is given a speech and asked to rate how effective, intelligent and persuasive. Every time this is run, if they are told it is by a man, they invariably rate it ten to twenty points higher than if they are told it is by a woman.

(There are a thousand-and-one good reasons to oppose Hillary Clinton, but one bad one too: her gender. She fits into this Hollywood pattern. What were the two moments when Hillary -- for a flickering second -- was actually liked? It was when we found out her husband was cheating on her, and in New Hampshire, when she cried. When Hillary is strong, we loathe her. When she is weak, we warm).

This rubbing-out of strong, clever women from the popular imagination is part of a subtle backlash against feminism. Women are unimaginably better off than in Bette Davis' hey-day: while she was ruling Hollywood, both my grandmothers were leaving school at the age of 13, told there was nothing for them but the farm, the factory or the altar.

Today, a majority of graduates are female. Yet the culture says -- yes, you can have your success, up to a point -- but you will have to feel guilty about it. You will have to disguise your skills behind a carapace of self-deprecation and self-abnegation. You will be encouraged to idolise empty shells like Jordan or Victoria Beckham. You will be paid seventy pence to the man's pound for the same work. You will be prompted to inject poison into your face, or have your breasts cut open, to conform to a warped vision of beauty that makes you dislike your own body. Updating Bette's old dictum, the writer Arianna Huffington says, "For a man to be called aggressive, he has to be Joe McCarthy. For a woman to be called aggressive, she has to put you on hold."

The fight against all this need to recapture something of the prehensile spirit of Bette Davis. She faced down these boring old prejudices with a perfectly-modulated snarl. As her biographer Ed Sikov says, "Bette Davis didn't give a goddam. She dares us to hate her, and we often do. Which is why we love her."

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