Carl Hart's New Book Challenges Drug-Policy Misconceptions

Dr. Carl Hart, author of "Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear"

Dr. Carl Hart takes no prisoners in his new book Drug Use for Grown-Ups.

The Columbia professor aims at a wide range of people and subjects, including NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, the opioid crisis, crack babies, harm reduction, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, Dr. Leana Wen, NIDA meetings, Dr. Alan Leshner, former House Speaker John Boehner, drug courts, reefer madness, Tell Your Chidren author Alex Berenson, Dr. Ira Chasnoff, drug exceptionalism, microdosing, the movie New Jack City and even Neil Young.

It's Carl Hart unleashed, telling the real stories of his life as a Black man in the world of drug research and neuroscience. As a teenager growing up in Miami, Hart smoked pot, but took a dim view of other so-called recreational drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetemine. This continued as he attended various universities, earning degrees in psychology and neurosciernce. Hart conducted research for NIDA (National Institutes on Drug Abuse) on various drugs and got to know the science community. Now, he says "Nora (Volkow) is a kingmaker" who "is also seen by some as tyrannical," but then he touted the federal government's line: Recreational drugs damage the brain.

Eventually, Hart learned to disagree with that statement and love the drugs he was administering. What's most revealing about Drug Use for Grown-Ups, even shocking, is Hart's casual admissions of his own use.

"I am now entering my fifth year as regular heroin user," he reports in the Prologue. "I do not have a drug-use problem. Never have. Each day, I meet my parental, personal and professional responsibilities. I pay my taxes, serve as a volunteer in my community on a regular basis and contribute to the global community as an informed and engaged citizen. I am better for my drug use."

Hart doesn't expressly call for decriminalization of all drugs, like Portugal did in 2000, but that's clearly his hope. 

To be clear, Hart is not a "junkie" hooked on horse. He prefers opioids and amphetatmines, and pretty much tries every drug discussed in the book. Hart snorts cocaine in Brazil and hexedrone (a derivative of khat) in Barcelona, and enjoys 6-APB (it's analagous to MDMA) with his wife at home. In the final chapter, "Dope Science: The Truth About Opioids," Hart goes a step further, forcing heroin withdrawal after repeated use (he does not inject). It's all part of him gaining a better understanding of why U.S. drug policies are the way the are.

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a daring book. Many will damn Hart for his openness to a drug (heroin) that's been villified more than any other for so long. No, he's not nodding out in the corner. Like Hart insists, he's an active member of the community.

As far as marijuana is concerned, Hart acknowleges the racial aspects to its continued prohibition and notes in the book's "Cannabis: Sproutiung the Seeds of Freedom" chapter, "Decade after decade, the public has been gaslighted regarding the real effects of cannabis."

He expectedly rails against the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, which punishes people arrested for crack 18 times more severely than for powder (it used ot be 100 to one) and questions why PCP is not accepted as a psychedelic.

One of Hart's pet peeves gets its own chapter, "Beyond the Harms of Harm Reduction." "It doesn't capture the complexity associated with grown-up activities such as love or war or drug use," he writes about the term and its effects. "Instead, it preoccupies us with drug-related harms. And the connections between harms and drug use is reenforced repeatedly through our speech. This connection in turn narrows our assocations, conversations, feelings, memories and perceptions about drugs and those who partake. Perhaps, even worse, it relegates drug users to an inferior status. Surely, only a feeble-minded soul engages in an activity that always produces harmful outcomes, as the term implies."

Hart delicately dances around the psychedelic community's superiority complex, which he calls "drug exceptionalism... people who justify the use of these drugs by couching it in medical or spiritual jargon." About guided ayahuasca-style ceremonies, Hart offers glibly, "I find it creepy and have never done so myself." However, by the end of the "Psychedelics: We Are One" chapter, Hart becomes one with MAPS founder Rick Doblin and has a sudden, new appreciation for Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.

What's most revealing about "Drug Use for Grown-Ups," even shocking, is Hart's casual admissions of his own use.

Hart's anger rises when he writes about the intersection between racial policing and the drug war, pointing to the unnecessary deaths of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, RaMarley Graham, Rumain Brisbon and Keith Lamont Scott, all of whom were accused of using marijuana before they were killed or such claims were made after they died.

"This pissed me off," Harts explains about the Martin case. "I got a copy of Trayvon's toxicology report, carefully examined it and wrote up an op-ed pointing out that the notion that weed causes violence is an inexcuseable fallacy."

Hart says Martin was not under the influence of marijuana ("a mere 1.5 nanograms of THC per milligram of blood was in his body") when he was murdered by George Zimmerman in 2012.

He spreeads the blame around with the statement, "For its part, the scientific community has virtually ignored the shameful discrimination that occurs in drug-law enforcement."

Hart doesn't expressly call for decriminalization of all drugs, like Portugal did in 2000, but that's clearly his hope. He looks to Europe for leads, such as the heroin program in Switizerland and drug-safety testing at festivals. Hart's reportedly planning to move from New York to Switzerland.

Clearly a fan of '70s R&B and soul, Hart spices up the text with quotes from his favorites like Bill Withers, Al Green and Roy Ayers, whose song, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," is the title of the cocaine chapter. That pretty much sums up Drug Use for Grown-Ups.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.