On the Fundamental Necessity of Cognitive Liberty in the 21st Century

Kevin M. Gallagher
6 min readSep 19, 2020


Photo: Me, aged 4 or 5. I can’t say that I even know what a drug meant at the time.

Is it the scourge of substance abuse that has blighted countless lives, or the War on Drugs itself?

Cognitive liberty, including the right for one to freely ingest quantitites of drugs and psychoactive substances, is a freedom which has been long neglected and riddled with inexorable taboos and stigma in the Western world. There is no doubt that certain drugs are deleterious and can have a negative influence on individual health and financial outcomes, and that the most addictive/habit-forming classes of drugs (namely, amphetamines and opiates and their analogues), when they are abused excessively, are capable of wreaking utter havoc and tragic devastation upon familial and professional relationships, and may even lead to overdose and death. Paradoxically, they possess the capacity to both alleviate and cause suffering.

Yet it is past time for us to acknowledge that the human history of drug use, going back thousands of years, occurs in harmony with our tendency to exploit nature and explore the vistas of consciousness. Though now drugs can be synthesized at mass industrial scale within laboratories, those substances that were first derived from plants (such as cannabis or cocaine) were originally criminalized under an explicitly and transparently racist, anti-immigrant policy.

This includes most notably the Harrison Narcotic Act (1914), the Eighteen Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1917, otherwise known as prohibition), the Marijuana Tax Act (1937), Controlled Substances Act (1971 — which had the awful effect of effectively ending government and university-sanctioned research on psychadelics, which had already shown fantastic results in psychological therapy, for over 30 years, in a massive setback for science and medicine), and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act (1986 — which favored punishment over rehabilitation and established mandatory minimum sentences for offenses).

That policy is still carried out in America, with increasing intensity since the mid-1980s which is only recently dissipating, by armed gangs of thugs who are empowered, by unjust laws surrounding the forfeiture of property, to seize the assets of dealers―and they are termed police. They would just love to get a piece of a highly lucrative black-market economy. Yet even under the conservative, quaint and antiquated Abrahamic notions in which God gave the whole of the Earth to humanity to enjoy, the criminalization of drugs would appear to be sinful and against the will of the creator. Surprisingly, there are absolutely no express prohibitions covering these widespread behaviors outlined in the collective text called “the Bible”.

The legacy of the temperance movement and teetotalism inhibits one’s personal freedom to alter the state of their own mind. It’s especially sad for me to consider how many children were indoctrinated in the era of Nancy Reagon’s “Just Say No” slogan; wherein a whole generation growing up in the 90s was fed misleading and inaccurate scare stories alongside debunked claims and urban myths about drugs — and were thus dissuaded from exploring the possibilities and the ways in which drugs can enrich and lead to greater enjoyment and quality of life. I’d like to imagine that perhaps some were made even more curious by the D.A.R.E. campaigns and went on to become pharmacologists. In any event, numerous professionals and successful or notable individuals throughout history have attested and provided anecdotal evidence of the positive, enhancing effects of drugs, in contrast to the negative effects which are emphasized by public health campaigns.

While the police benefit from the War on Drugs and people are killed or displaced by violence between rival cartels, the pharmaceutical industry also profits handsomely, driven by the voracious appetite of Americans, whose drug consumption patterns exceed those of any other civilized country. What were once niche tastes, via the spread of information and the rise of the global economy, have reached epidemic levels. Answering the question of why people take drugs is deceptively simple: because they are pleasurable. Other factors exist of course; peer pressure is real, as is pressure exerted by literary and musical precedent, e.g. the history of writers, jazz & rock musicians, scientists, inventors and cultural luminaries who have partaken of various drugs and were in many cases inspired by their experiences under the influence.

Childhood trauma might as well be a determining factor.

A path towards further decriminalization along with a recognition or acknowledgement of the human rights of drug users — which have long been ignored and infringed upon — along with better education and rehabilitation options — for the millions of educated, responsible users, is sorely needed within this century. Moreover, I would hope to witness research and medical discoveries within my lifetime rooted in eradicating the withdrawal syndrome.

I would suggest that it’s irresponsible and corrupt for such people as legislators, physicians, and the police to influence national drug policy without having tried taking the substance(s) at hand. The idea that what we put into our bodies is our liberty as human beings is a classical libertarian dogma that exerts far more power and elegance than even the mildest prohibition.

In modern America, or at least during the period when I attended K-12 school, becoming initiated and familiar in the usage of certain illicit drugs, through a clique and underground society which begins to exist disinctly and identifiably between the ages of 16 and 21, is a common ritual feature of the adolescent entering adulthood. Strikingly, the fact that the drugs are legally prohibited forms a large part of their appeal to young and rebellious minds that are skeptical of authority by nature. It’s been documented by several studies that in tandem with decriminalization, recreational and problematic usage actually decreases.

The current “rehab” industry is a sham and a racket, exploiting the vulnerable class of habitual drug users. They are commonly not evidence or science-based, and are filled with all sorts of quackery. Widely-followed methods such as AA or 12-step have not been shown to be effective at all. The notion that someone might need rehabilitation from their drug habit, to me, is usually based on a flawed notion that there is anything fundamentally “wrong” with their consumption in the first place. Users are frequently pressured into these circumstances against their will, in so-called interventions. The choice to live a drug-free and sober life might be seen as noble, but I would challenge any proposition that the alternative choice of being a “psychonaut” or becoming an addict, alcoholic or junkie―a process which some people, especially those with a background in the arts and sciences, evidently take up with enthusiasm based upon a rich cultural tradition―is ignoble or a mark of defective character as such.

In fact, it can be argued that an individual’s drug history and experiences can be an asset. The role of drug-related interactions and experiences as a mediator of ill repute, or a criteria of poor performance, leading to shunning by society, must treated skeptically. After all, as with adherents to religion, it’s abusers who give moderate users a bad name. History shows that many drug addicts have been conceivably possessed of incredible talent, intelligence or genius, and are otherwise capable of leading normal, fulfilling lives.

Of course my condolences are with the families and friends of those who have died from overdoses, and I applaud anyone who has attempted or succeeded at “getting clean”.

For anyone considering a stay in rehablitation, or even out-patient treatment for their substance abuse, I would recommend a book and methodology called The Freedom Model which makes the anti-rehab argument quite persuasively. The drug issue is at its heart a question of liberty, and our absolute freedom in this regard is something we must not compromise.



Kevin M. Gallagher

Linux sysadmin/DevOps/SRE privacy & transparency activist 0xB604C32AD5D7C6D8