Drug Policy

'I Use Heroin to Be a Better Person': Columbia University Neuroscientist Carl Hart

His new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, is a provocative manifesto for legalizing all drugs.


HD Download

Carl Hart is a 54-year-old Air Force veteran, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, and an unapologetic recreational user of heroin.

"I use heroin," he tells Reason, "in part because it's really good at helping me to unwind, to be more forgiving of other people, to look at my own behavior and see where I need to modify in order to be a more responsible person, in order to be a better person."

Hart's new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, is a provocative manifesto for legalizing all drugs and letting responsible adults use the intoxicants of their choosing. He is coming out of the "chemical closet" because he says the costs of the drug war—the violence that attends to black markets, the creation of a prison-industrial complex, the destruction of minority neighborhoods, the perversion of justice, and more—are too great to bear.

He says prohibition is based on a series of lies about substance abuse, and he documents that the overwhelming majority of drug users—even of hard drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine—use responsibly and are no more likely to develop problems than drinkers.

More important, Hart says drug prohibition is inimical to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, which "guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of us, as long as we don't disrupt anybody else's ability to do the same. We get to live our life as we choose, as we see fit and taking drugs can be a part of that. And it is a part of that for a lot of Americans."

Opera house: Photo 29350232 © Serban Enache | Dreamstime.com, Methamphetamine: Photo 59084394 © Daniel Kaesler | Dreamstime.com, Heroin: Photo 175304146 © Feriansyah Pz | Dreamstime.com, Men: Photo 85566591 © Wisconsinart | Dreamstime.com, Field: Photo 191556262 © | Dreamstime.com, Binocular: Photo 17693275 © Ron Sumners | Dreamstime.com, Heroin: Photo 209101787 © Majo1122331 | Dreamstime.com, House in field: Photo 149474381 © Charmphoto | Dreamstime.com, Teenagers: Photo 180950138 © Dmytro Tolmachov | Dreamstime.com, Couple: Photo 129923072 © Mariia Kalinichenko | Dreamstime.com, Statue of Liberty: Photo 108954099 © Byelikova | Dreamstime.com, Cocaine: Photo 135335692 © Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com, Photo 101949361 © Ded Mityay | Dreamstime.com, Adderall: Photo 178129745 © Colin Temple | Dreamstime.com MDMA: Photo 109474106 © Couperfield | Dreamstime.com, Photo 181220345 © Eskymaks | Dreamstime.com, Photo 177051537 © Olha Karpovych | Dreamstime.com, Pills: Photo 159435400 © Fortton | Dreamstime.com; Alcohol and pills: Photo 69273380 © Feverpitched | Dreamstime.com; Columbia University: Photo 53231440 © Gabriel Robledo | Dreamstime.com, Leslie Spurlock/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Kristopher Skinner/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Stan Carroll/ZUMApress/Newscom, Yuko Saito-Miller/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Yuko Saito-Miller/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Sam Harrel/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Allen Eyestone/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Allen Eyestone/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Allen Eyestone/ZUMA Press/Newscom

NEXT: Bitcoin Is Protecting Human Rights Around the World

HD Download

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I think Heroin should be legal, just like I think all recreational drugs should be legal, because it's not my business if you make bad life decisions. But that does not mean I have to buy that recreational heroin use is anything but a bad thing for you.

    1. You know who else had a "provocative manifesto"?

      1. No, no. That one was a cocaine freak who got it from his dentist. And his elite snipers used Methamphetamines. And for them, the resulting violent behavior was a feature, not a bug.

    2. Agree on all fronts. While I am anti-prohibition, this guy undercuts his argument by admitting recreational heroin use; he sounds delusional, as if heavy narcotics can be equated to unwinding with a glass of wine. If you've ever seen anyone on heroin--or worse, known someone who was desperately addicted and seem them go through withdrawal--you'd destroy that stuff at the first sight of it.

      1. Smoking heroin is different from injecting it straight into your veins. This guy smokes the stuff. I've tried it; it's a euphoric high that does not interfere with cognition, but it also induced severe nausea in me. Not something I'm eager to try again.

        1. I have a good friend who has been fighting her addiction to smoking heroin, in and out of treatment for years.

          Can say without a doubt she became a serious asshole, and fights withdrawals and spends her time these days getting arrested for Identity theft to fund her habit.

          The smokers are unlikely to OD, but they are every bit as addicted.

      2. Have you ever seen anyone on heroin?
        If so, tell us about it, please. And yes, I know - one must actually SEE to understand/believe. Let's start with whether you've seen, and if that actually is what you thought you might be seeing.

  2. heroin is roulette of the Russian type. I'm all for the freedom but there are better games in town.

    1. I don't think Professor Hart is playing fentanyl roulette. I'd wager with his Black Science Man privilege he's copping quality Golden Crescent shit if not reagent-grade pharmaceutical smack. If used i n known quality and quantity the only side effects are constipation and, with continuous use at increasing dosage, physical dependence. I recall Sullum citing statistics that 90%+ of regular users never become addicts and of those who do most quit on their own w/o rehab or 12 stepping.

  3. Do whatever you want, but this statement, "... no more likely to develop problems than drinkers", is not comforting.

  4. I love drugs but minimizing the risks of heroin is pretty glib. If you know a dozen people that regularly use heroin, you know a least ten people in serious trouble and two who will be. That said, illegal, unregulated opiates are now killing people in large numbers because of inconsistent dosages and adulteration. The solution is not clear.

    1. If you know a dozen people, do you have any dependable way of spotting those who regularly use heroin? Do they tell you (and are they telling the truth)? Do you see them? Do you just suspect it?
      What about the ones you can't spot? Which ones are they? And what are they like?
      You might be basing your conclusions on non-observation.
      Think about it. Esthetics and long-term conditioning are involved here.

  5. Hmmm...if heroin made him better, what was he before?

    1. Good. IV wit some pharma coke and he'd be "best".

  6. I realize that drug legalization is the holy Grail of libertarianism. Still, it says a lot about the state of higher education that a professor who candidly admits to committing state and federal felonies for the past four years and blatantly announces his intention to Continue committing the state and federal felonies suffers no consequences; but a professor who uses the Mandarin Chinese word that Kinda, sorta sounds a little bit like an English language racial slur has his career placed in jeopardy, as does a law professor who uses bowdlerized racial and sexual slurs in an entirely appropriate and realistic law school exam hypothetical.

    1. “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word—doublethink—involved the use of doublethink.” -- _Nineteen_Eighty-Four_

    2. Black Urban Privilege. Hart would run into trouble if he was Baylor faculty.

  7. Heeoin junkies have long been known as the very best people, tjis has been true for decades if not centuries.
    Most parents want to make sure their are track marks on the arms of their future sons and daughters in law. Employers always look for Heroin on the resume, under hobbies

    1. As a hobby, insufflation is more likely than intravenous.

    2. “Heroin junkies have long been known as the best people”....Where on gods green earth did you pull that sentence from?

  8. What George Washington said about the effects of irreligion could be applied to hard-drug use:

    "Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without [avoiding hard drugs]. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of [staying off heroin]."

      1. One, an authority figure saying it doesn't make it so (Appeal to Unfounded Authority Fallacy.) Two, mankind was eat up with religion since antiquity and was also eat up with barbarism, slavery, poverty, disease, corruption, and overall immorality. Three, George Washington wasn't all that religious himself. He rarely attended the Episcopal Church of his upbringing and was never seen praying or taking Communion in its four walls.

        Oh, and four, religion is a pretty addictive thing itself, and while not defending heroin use, religion has certainly destroyed more lives than any single substance.

  9. Gillespie's new focus away from the nebulous "libertarian moment" is to rationalize away the bad effects of hard drug use as mere aberrations. This won't end well.

  10. The freedom to ingest what ever substance(s) you will in private without interference from the state (so long as you're causing no harm to others nor infringing on their rights)? I'm all for it. But publicly praising (and therefor encouraging) the use of a narcotic that has destroyed countless lives doesn't really help you with that whole "being a better person" goal.

  11. Apparently, Arthur Conan Doyle was a regular opium smoker. Many artists, writers, and creative types were too. Lots of high school, college kids and adults take adderall to boost their performance-caffeine and nicotine are my personal favorites for this. If this guy likes heroin, great! But to say it, or any drug, makes you a better person tells me there wasn’t much there to begin with.

    1. It reminds me of the time I had a young tell me that he had his tongue pierced and a stud installed in it because it, "Made oral sex better." My response was that if a piece of metal in his tongue actually resulted in an improvement in that exercise then he was doing it wrong.

      1. Leaving words out of text compositions is a sign of incipient Alzheimer's Syndrome, I've read.
        It's also a sign of careless (inconsiderate) posting.
        A young WHAT?

  12. Anyone interested.

    Working my way through this excellent review article on the neuroscience of opiates and other drugs. It is a bit dense but worth the time to understand more.

    Learn something every day.


    1. That is a good review but written almost 23 years ago. They have since found many more genes associated with different addictions, but they are still just puzzle pieces that don’t give you an answer of what makes an addict. I’ve known several and some common factors are chaotic or abusive childhood, serious mental illness like bipolar or schizophrenia , or repressed homosexuality. The last one I’ve noticed to be rather common among alcoholics, especially older ones.

  13. Yeah we all know about all those "responsible" hard drug users that rob and kill all the damn time. I don't believe in restriction on the use of weed but this is a step too far for me. I have seen Heroin ruin people financially and professionally.

  14. What would the reaction be if the article was written by a young woman holding a toddler and listing her job as a server.?
    This is written by an addict .. there’s no dressing it up with a lofty job title

    1. Well said.

  15. Reminds me of a family member who was a heroin addict . His mantra for 5 years - "I got this." Yeah, until he didn't and overdosed. Addiction is progressive and is destructive to everyone... family, friends, communities. Mr. Hart (or is it Dr. Hart?) is smoking heroin now but when that high doesn't do it, what next?
    Carl Hart is a professor now but his continuing use will result in him losing his profession. He is lying to himself if he thinks he can control his heroin use. Look around, Many of us not only know several "chasing the dragon" but also many who have lost that battle. Denial is an addict's worst enemy.

  16. I'm thinking this guy has to be the result of affirmative action college admission policies. What he is suggesting is obscenely irresponsible and idiotic. He may not have found disaster yet for himself but I'd bet anything it's not far off. Heroin and opiates like it are a deadly trap from which most never escape. The few that do make it out are typically never the same. I'm no prude when it comes to party drugs as most aren't really that addictive, but this stuff is almost guaranteed to destroy its users' lives eventually. I don't think I'd send my child to Columbia if this represents their judgement on staffing.

  17. While, again, I defend anyone's right to change their consciousness, I think opioids would have to be seriously genetically or chemically modified before someone could use it safely and be functional. All the more reason to legalize it so that pharmaceutical labs can work on ways to kill pain without killing people.

    Even if all drugs were completely legal for consenting adults, their use still wouldn't be a totally good thing in all circumstances. You wouldn't want people using mind-altering substances while handling heavy machinery or handling big decisions affecting many people's lives and well-being. Private individuals and businesses acting in a free marketplace would still have a right to discriminate against such drug use on the job and the cost would probably be very little and the savings greafer for doing so.

    Bottom line: It takes stone-cold, down-to-the-bone sober people to fight against "The War On (Some) Drugs" and every other form of tyranny and to uphold ta free society and its bounties. Perhaps Nick Gillespie could highlight more sober people like this instead.

  18. Heroin was once a legal pain medication. It's synthetic analogue, morphine is essentially the same; morphine is actually the more addictive of the two; heroin was prescribed for patients with severe pain who were coming off of morphine.

    Making it illegal leads to more violent crime, and more fatal or life threatening situations due to the purity, potency and dosage being uncertain. All the opioids are very similar in their effects. From a scientific standpoint, it makes little sense to tout one as a pain medication and demonize another as a harmful recreational drug.

  19. What a miserable piece. It would of failed basic journalism because of the lack of content. It is a great subject and instead of finding an informed writer you shit yourself.

Please to post comments