December 22nd, 2016
As The Influence prepares to pause for the holidays, we’d like to thank everyone who has joined and stayed with us since our launch early this year.
This list of our most-read stories doesn’t pretend to be a scientific popularity contest, nor a measure of merit—articles published earlier in the year have had longer to soak, for one thing, and many variables drive traffic—but it is an excuse to replay some highlights and show you what everyone else was into.
So in reverse order, here they are. Happy holidays!
by Maia Szalavitz
When leading addiction journalist and author Maia Szalavitz issues a manifesto to radically transform the addiction treatment industry, people pay attention. Her eight proposals here—including removing 12-step content from paid-for treatment, ending the reliance on criminal justice referrals and de-emphasizing residential programs—almost, if not quite, represent the bulldozer suggested by one of her sources.
Many have applauded this piece. A few, including some people working in the traditional rehab space, took offense. Yet as Szalavitz wrote: “No one argues that the American addiction treatment system is anywhere near optimal—even its cheerleaders recognize that there’s miles to go before all people with addiction have access to respectful, ethical, effective and evidence-based care.”
by Sturla Haugsgjerd
One of the built-in biases of public discussion of drugs is that there is no shortage of people willing to share their former experiences with illegal substances; relatively few, for obvious reasons, are willing to be open about their current experiences, good or bad. In September, Sturla Haugsgjerd was brave enough to do just that. His piece noted that despite what he experiences as an addiction, he contributes a great deal to the world—as do so many others who use drugs in different ways. And it dwelt on the unnecessary, poisonous effects of shaming.
“Let’s build a society where everyone can be judged on their personal merits and their contribution,” Haugsgjerd wrote, “not on what we shoot into our blood or draw into our lungs.”
by Tessie Castillo
This piece answered a question that a lot of internet searches—with good reason—are asking. And Tessie Castillo’s account of how drugs that were once legal and accepted became stigmatized and illegal through racist and xenophobic fear-mongering is one of the best concise explanations out there.
The question and answers are central to The Influence‘s mission, and of far more than academic interest. As Castillo wrote: “Without addressing the root cause of drug criminalization, it will take very little to turn back the narrative towards fearing, blaming and locking up whatever new minority we decide we don’t like.”
by Jesse Jarnow
Why indeed? Heads author Jesse Jarnow related two veteran researchers’ quest to develop a method to extend the hirtherto 15-minute duration of DMT, which is “among the most literally hallucinogenic of all the psychedelics.” The technique could have mind-blowing potential for scientists investigating the brain, medical practitioners and yes, psychonauts the world over.
But some of the technical details and subjective revelations here are just as fascinating as the bigger picture. Mystical states meet pharmacokinetic curves, and the scientists’ excitement is palpable. One priority, of course, will have to be the well-being of no-doubt-willing study participants.
by Jeremy Galloway
Thanks to Jeremy Galloway’s involvement as an organizer, The Influence was able to break this news in August. The nationwide strikes—justified by the exploitation of our incarcerated population’s labor and the inherent travesty of mass incarceration—were largely ignored by national media. We continued to cover them as they broke out and expanded.
“Incarcerated workers are still workers…” wrote Galloway; “it is only by building connections between workers behind bars and in the free world that will we begin to reform a system that feeds on human suffering.”
by Seth Ferranti
The only interview to make our top 10 was not a celebrity in any conventional sense. William Leonard Pickard—aka the “Acid King”—was sentenced to life without parole in federal prison in 2003, after the DEA raided a massive LSD lab in a former nuclear missile silo in Kansas. Seth Ferranti, who himself served 21 years for nonviolent drug-law violations, approached Pickard through a mutual contact and a fascinating conversation took place.
Erudite and philosophical, Pickard reflected on prison life, his efforts to obtain freedom, his writings, and the powers and limitations of drugs: “…while one may, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, bring back pilgrims’ flowers from a far-off land—and find them very precious—how even more wonderful to consider that no phenomena are inaccessible to normal consciousness.”
by Sarah Beller
This would top a list of The Influence‘s most controversial articles by a mile. Sarah Beller’s bold piece, published at the height of the national outcry over Brock Turner’s sentencing in June, responded to those liberals and anti-incarceration activists who were demanding an automatic prison sentence of many years or decades. It did not minimize Turner’s crime. It called for a form of justice to force him to be held accountable. It called out, as this publication consistently has, the ugly racial disparities of the criminal “justice” system and included other caveats—while objecting in principle to knee-jerk calls for long sentences.
The resulting flood of feedback was a 50-50 mix of positive and negative—of considered opinions, as well as reactions formed without careful reading. “If we have these principles,” Beller wrote, “we need to stand by them when it doesn’t feel good, as well as when it does.”
by Caty Simon
“She’s the dead hooker in the trunk. A universal cautionary tale, the drug-using sex worker is too wretched to be relatable, too scorned for even countercultural cred. She is repulsive, unclean and immoral. She is pitiable at best, inhuman at worst—dismissed by police lingo about murders whose victims are drug-using street workers: ‘No Human Involved.'”
So began the first of a highly regarded series by Caty Simon, reporting from within the sex-work community about issues like clients on drugs, working through withdrawal, trading sex for drugs and refuting negative stereotypes. This piece, through a range of sex-worker experiences, issued a memorable call to strip away stigma. “The Junkie Whore trope is literally killing drug-using sex workers. We need you to see us here next to you to make it stop.”
by Johann Hari
Taking a narrative approach to answering one of the questions addressed by Tessie Castillo above, bestselling author Johann Hari applied his formidable storytelling talents to the life and motivations of one Harry J. Anslinger.
“So alcohol prohibition finally ended—and Harry Anslinger was afraid,” Hari wrote. “He found himself in charge of a huge government department, with nothing for it to do. Up until then, he had said that cannabis was not a problem. It doesn’t harm people, he explained, and ‘there is no more absurd fallacy’ than the idea it makes people violent. But then—suddenly, when his department needed a new purpose—he announced he had changed his mind.” What happened next is the worst kind of history.
by Carl Hart
This one was an instant hit when we launched in February and has been driven by search-engine traffic ever since. Dr. Hart’s brilliant explanation of how the only discernible difference between Adderall and street meth lies in the method and quantity of ingestion—mixed in with a little first-person—was shocking to some. Yet its broader theme—that many perceptions of the dangers and desirability of different drugs have little basis in reality—epitomizes The Influence‘s goal of helping to rationalize an irrational field.
“This is not to suggest that people who are currently prescribed Adderall should discontinue its use for fear of inevitable ruinous addiction,” Hart wrote, “but instead that we should view methamphetamine rather more like we view d-amphetamine.”