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The Phantastica

Substance Abuse News Stories

Everyday there are new stories and report about substance abuse.

Those which catch my eye and seem to be of interest are featured on the Substance Abuse News page.

Older stories are then grouped by subject on the following pages;

Substance Use and Abuse in General
Opium, Morphine & Heroin

With those few exceptions which TV wildlife programmes can rely on for high viewing figures, the human race is the only living species which knowingly puts substances into itself to alter the performance of the brain. Dr. Louis Lewin coined the term 'phantastica' to describe all those substances because terms like 'drugs' or 'narcotics' have other meanings.

This section of The Poison Garden website is concerned, specifically, with psychoactive substances, the reasons we use them and what makes us prepared to debase ourselves or destroy our health just to 'enjoy' their effects.

Though, as with all websites, each page deals with one item, the organisation of the section is intended to provide first an historical trail of mankind's use of plant based substances and then a look at particular substances on an ascending scale of harm caused.

This initial phase deals only with plant based psychoactive substances but there are, of course, many synthetic products in the overall definition of 'substances of abuse'. I plan to add those in time.

Sources - Louis Lewin

Louis Lewin (1850- 1929), published his first work, on the pharmacological and chemical effects of kava, in 1886. The study of psychoactive materials became his life’s work and he brought together all his writings in the book ‘Phantastica’.

First published in 1924 it is the much expanded 1927 second edition which was translated into English in 1931 and became the key reference work for anyone interested in the study of substances affecting the brain in any way.

He was the first to discover the pharmacologically active alkaloid, mescaline, in peyote and the peyote cactus was named, by the botanist Hennings, Anhalonium lewinii in honor of Lewin. (It is now called Lophophora williamsii.)

It is hoped that you will find this section of The Poison Garden website interesting and, at times, amusing. It is not my purpose to lecture. I am not an expert on drug counselling but I do know that the 'Just Say No' approach does not work and our ancestors hundreds of years ago knew it did not work which is why many of the plant folklore stories exist.

I also know that you will never completely eliminate substance abuse so the intention of any 'drug' education programme should be on reducing the harm abuse causes both by trying to minimise the number of abusers and by making substance abuse safer for those who can not resist it.

Prohibition, leading to the 'War on Drugs' which criminalises many thousands of people for no other reason than that they are unable to resist the temptation to 'get high' is certainly not the way to minimise the harm these substances do. As the opening sentence of the 'REPORT OF THE GLOBAL COMMISSION ON DRUG POLICY', published on the 2nd June 2011, says 'The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.' 

I take a very simplistic view of the situation. If drugs do not cause harm, what is the justification for making them illegal? If drugs do cause harm, it is morally indefensible to leave their manufacture and supply in the hands of criminals whose only interest is profit.

The effect of leaving criminals in charge of substance quality was seen, early in 2010, with the emergence of mephedrone as a substance of concern. Many people claimed that mephedrone had become popular because it was legal to possess it. In fact, it seems most people choosing to use mephedrone did so because it was mephedrone. That is, they knew what they were getting. In early March, the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee noted that seizures of 'cocaine' had been found to contain as little as 5% of the alkaloid. In Hampshire, in February, two men were released without charge after the 1,000 or so 'ecstasy' pills they were taking to a town centre were found to be completely free of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) the chemical name of the substance called ecstasy.

The mephedrone story is further indication that people who are determined to alter the functions of their brain will find ways so to do and attempting to prevent them from accessing substances with reasonably well understood effects only leads them to substances about which very little is known.

The top half of the menu on the right takes you to the pages of the phantastica section. The bottom half gives links to pages in the main A to Z section dealing with the plants which provide psychoactive substances.