The stimulant hexedron – better known as "bath salt" – is the type of medication Carl Hart thinks is ideal to take right before a hell of a academic reception or department holiday party. He will drink cocaine and ecstasy from time to time and is a fan of the opioids oxycodone and morphine for the "comforting calm" they induce. But after a long day, there are some things Hart, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Columbia University, enjoys more than just a few lines of heroin by the fireplace.
Hart has long resisted what he sees as the demonization of certain drugs and those who use them, especially black users imprisoned at higher rates as white users. He has questioned the prevailing opinion that methamphetamine interferes with cognition and presented results suggesting that marijuana has minimal impact on the working memory of regular smokers. In his 2013 memoir, Big prize: a neuroscientist's journey to self-discovery that questions everything you know about drugs and societyHart advocates decriminalization of narcotics, arguing that "we are too afraid of these drugs and what we think they do". In one Speak 2014 At the TEDMed conference, he argued that "science should drive our drug policy and education, even if it makes you and I feel uncomfortable."
In his new book Adult Drug Use: Freedom Hunt in the Land of FearThe former chairman of the psychological department in Colombia goes a step further and reveals that he has used and continues to use a number of illicit drugs. In fact, Hart said on a recent podcast that he was taking methamphetamine when he gave this TEDMed talk and that he did some of his best interviews the day after using heroin. Hart, 54, first tried heroin in his 40s and has been using it regularly – and responsibly, he claims – for years. "I am a non-apologetic drug user," he writes. “I use drugs as part of my pursuit of happiness, and they work. I am a happier and better person because of them. “He's not an addict, he writes, and his book isn't about addiction. Hart says his stressful stint as a department head lately has been more damaging to health than any substance he's ingested.
Hart has been a substance abuse researcher for about three decades, and in that time cultural thinking about which drugs deserve to be stigmatized and banned has changed remarkably. Marijuana is currently largely legal in a number of states. Taking tiny doses of LSD and other psychedelics to improve mood is no longer a fringe idea. Ecstasy has been touted as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress. But to say that you sometimes use heroin to relax, or that bath salts could be used as a social lubricant for uncomfortable work functions, is unlikely to go down well even in more free-thinking circles.
Of course, Hart knows all of this. He has made it his business to study the effects of drugs and our attitudes towards them. And he knows that some people will see him differently now. He writes in the book about his fear, as he says, of "getting out of the closet" about his drug use, but at the same time he had the feeling that he could not continue writing and talking about the subject without acknowledging his own experiences. "I know the potential dangers of getting caught up in a story like this," he told me. “But I want to read people who have real stories and people who are exposed and who are vulnerable to writing. Otherwise, I read a textbook and don't want to read a textbook. "(He actually wrote a textbook and says I'm bored.)
Regarding these dangers, Hart believes that his openness to drug use has resulted in professional ramifications in recent years. There are awards he thinks he's received – one in particular – but not. It is also possible that some of his grant applications have been rejected because of his openness, although given the closed-off nature of such decisions it is difficult to tell. "I want to try to live as honestly as possible and to know what I know and not to say anything is unethical and that is cowardly and I can no longer do that," he says. "That is far more important than any professional consequences. I may not get a scholarship, but that's how it should be. I will be able to sleep at night."
In the book, Hart throws a few nudges to Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Volkow is known for her research on the neurobiology of addiction and has written about the harmful effects of marijuana. She made the case that there is drug addiction a complex brain disease;; Hart declared this sentence "catchy, but empty". He writes that some scientists believe Volkow "routinely overestimates the negative effects of recreational drug use on the brain." He calls her a "kingmaker" but adds that she is "seen as tyrannical by some too". Given that NIDA's annual budget exceeds $ 1.4 billion and the federal agency is the largest source of funding for drug abuse research, there are obvious downsides to biting the hand that is funding you.
I emailed Volkow to find out what she thought of Hart's account in the book. She didn't reply, but a spokeswoman sent an email with links to information on addiction, overdose deaths, and substance abuse treatment.
Hart's book has received mostly positive press. He was recently featured in GQ and Vice News and appeared on Joe Rogan's podcast. The Wall Street Journal called the book "provocative and insightful". The story of Ivy-League-prof-snorts-heroin was also taken from the New York PostThis led to some commenters on his Instagram calling him a junkie and saying he encouraged children to use drugs.
He specifically does not give children the green light to use drugs (see "Adults" in the title), and he writes that he does not encourage those with mental illness to experiment either. He argues that many adults can and do use drugs responsibly, and that while "peddlers of pathology" are quick to equate drug use with addiction, science suggests that it is not. In general, the feedback he has received so far has been encouraging. He points to commentators who have said they were forced to review their assumptions. "I feel like I've hit the mark and I think this is a document that will be there for those people who feel persecuted and alone even when I'm not here," he says.
There are some pragmatic questions that arise when a professor publicly acknowledges that he is using a drug such as heroin. One is whether he is worried about what others will think of his institution. "When it comes to colleagues, I don't care what they think, especially on this subject, since I've been studying drugs for 30 years," he says. Another reason is legality: it would be big news if a respected professor from Colombia were arrested for heroin possession. Hart isn't particularly concerned about this. "I didn't say where I do whatever I do because it's nobody's business," says Hart. “I am very careful and anally reserved and I plan. You cannot write all of these books and academic articles if you are not really organized. "
(tagsToTranslate) Columbia University (t) Carl Hart (t) National Institute on Drug Abuse (t) Scholarship and Research