Illegal Drugs In Your Skeptical Toolbox?

In my experience with skepticism, there seems to be a cultural reluctance to utilize drug experiences when dealing with issues of the mind and perception. I am going to focus on the stigma of illegal drugs and their users. Also provide examples of the perception of the drug and use as a skeptical tool.
The image of the ‘junkie’ in popular culture is a prevalent stereotype of most hard drug users. This strawman does exist, especially when it comes to highly addictive stimulants or depressants. The depiction of a morally stripped, drug zombie capable of killing on a whim is definitely a small minority and the more sympathetic and sad character of a person who’s brain chemistry has been hijacked is maybe a larger percentage but still not the whole.  The dichotomy of these views are missing the great ‘middle class’ of heavy addictive drugs that navigate the extremes. The hallucinogenic drugs enjoy a more moderate view as having ‘recreational’ users and is becoming more mainstream with the recent changing laws and attitudes. Unfortunately, the alternative perception attained, from these drugs, convince the credulous mind that their experiences are ‘real’ and therefore special and outside of the known world of non users.
Our society has a strange acceptance of stimulates when deemed legal or socially acceptable. Caffeine is readily  consumed and celebrated while at the other extreme methamphetamine is shunned and stigmatized. Now I am not trying to equivocate them as the same. Simply caffeine is safe to use daily and methamphetamine is not. This kind of scale is useful to skeptics when explaining how a new unregulated herbal supplement is affecting ones health. By using the studied know negative effects of these drugs to draw parallels with the seemingly innocent supplement. (Anyone remember the Effedrine abuse in the late 90s?)
Depressant/Pain Killer:
While sharing many similar addictive traits with stimulants, pain management and mind states resembling partial awareness really address motivation and bias that could be generated from physical states but expressed in their choices. (Nirvanas Kurt Cobain’s back pain became a severe heroin addiction.)
The claims of receiving ‘knowledge’ and ‘enlightenment’ seem to come mostly from the hallucinogen category. Many ‘experiences’ of altered perceptions do provide a skeptic with tools to understand our flawed perception of events and memories.  Many of these drugs effect our fact checking and stimulate or suppress parts of our brains that help construct our reality. When claims of strong emotional responses or sensations are put forth as evidence, many similar experiences has been replicated through these drugs. Claims of Near Death Experiences, false memories, and all sorts of emotional and physical responses from Psychics and false medicine can draw parallels with the known to be false sensations through these drugs.
While this is not an endorsement to take drugs (or not to, it is a moot point to me but I would suggest googling Sam Harris on drug use for an in depth read on the subject) to understand how they can be used to further skepticism. It is a plea to understand the wealth of knowledge and data that can truly be used when fighting pseudoscience and our flawed perceptions.


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