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Cocaine: A Book Review

Neuroscientist John C. Flynn summarizes his book Cocaine as “an in-depth look at the facts, science, history, and future of the world's most addictive drug.” Flynn begins with a story of a young lady suffering a cocaine overdose in a hospital emergency room. From there, he skillfully weaves history, chemistry, sociology, biology, and democracy together: always engaging the reader at a generalist level to give the big picture through an enjoyable and informative read.

Flynn describes a 1954 scientific experiment where rats were implanted with an electrode in their brains. This electrode would deliver a small electrical shock to the pleasure-seeking section of the rat's brain. When the rat discovered the lever that induced the shock, it would press the lever a thousand times per hour. The rat no longer cared for eating, self-defence, or reproduction: a sure sign the otherwise healthy rat was not going to pass its genetic attributes to the next generation.

So evolution has provided a pleasure mechanism to entice organisms into certain actions to survive and propagate the species, yet be stingy with that mechanism such that the organism is not overly consumed by that pleasure. Cocaine—and other drugs—diminish that stinginess set up by evolution. “Cocaine,” says Flynn, “stimulates pleasure in those areas of the brain that are normally involved in the experiencing of pleasure from a wide variety of sources.”

For those addicted to cocaine, the drive to obtain and use the drug is so strong that legal means to repress it will never work. Flynn states: “The poor return on the money invested in the ‘war on drugs’ is not the fault of the frontline troops fighting the war . . . [these troops] are waging a war against the biological nature of man.” In essence, Flynn states that solving the drug issue from the supply side cannot work.

The absurdity with Flynn's claim on the futility of the war on drugs is that he made his position clear in 1991. Since then, the advocates for the drug war have had 23 years to fix the problem. It is more than obvious that they have failed, and any reduction in drug usage because of their efforts is unlikely. It is time to legalize narcotics like cocaine—if for no other reason than it's time to try a new approach.

With liberalization of drug laws, will more people become users of narcotics? We should assume so. But Flynn qualitatively summarizes the social costs of continuing the current path and compares those costs to the costs of this increased usage, including the plans for effective education, regulation, and rehabilitation. Flynn suggests that were we to conduct a thorough economic analysis on this social issue, we would change our course fairly quickly.

Flynn's logic fails in his analysis of trying to solve this problem from the demand side. He was looking at monitoring drug users and overriding civil liberties to isolate users from the supply. While he admitted this path was folly and could undermine democracy, he needed to take another angle based on cocaine demand. And he did this with one profound quote that didn't seem to fit anywhere else in his book: “It may be more important to understand why most of us don't engage in such behavior [drugs] than it is to understand why a minority of us self-destruct in this way.”

Therein lies the clue to how we are going solve the problem of our many addictions.

Copyright 2014 by Dave Volek

Other Articles

· Big Brother Database
· BP Oil Spill
· BP Macondo—and Cognitive Dissonance
· The Business of Business English
· The CEO
· Chemistry
· Cocaine
· Dynamic Recovery
· Fear Mongering
· Funding Students and Universities
· Germany Goes Non Nuclear, Maybe
· Good Lessons from Smoking
· The Grain Elevator
· Higher Fuel Prices
· Hydrogen Plants
· Impedance of the American Constitution
· Jason Hale
· Jubilee 2000
· Loony Left
· Minus Signs & Being Professional
· Myth of Responsible Drinking
· Oppression of Self-Actualization
· The Passing of Jack Layton
· Public Sector Wages
· Rationality and Poverty
· Righteous Right
· Scrawny Ronnie
· Taxes for the Rich
· To My Countrymen
· Universal Welfare
· Vancouver Hockey Riots
· Vilification
· Women's Rights
· Youth Justice
© 2009 Dave Volek. All Rights Reserved.