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Drugs and the Whole Person


Whole Person
New Approach

Reviews of movies, books, and television shows that deal with drugs and drug use.



Created by
Jenji Kohan

A funny series about pot farming and drug dealing. Not a documdrama, but more realistic than most shows about drugs on TV.

Monster Quest
"Mutant Dogs"

Why do I think this is relevant to drug use and abuse? Because I see parallels between the usage of the terms "mutant" and "dog" in this program and the use of the term "disease" in many discussions of addiction. Read more.


Forces of Habit
by David T. Courtwright
(Harvard University Press, 2001)

In this book David Courtwright, Professor of History at the University of North Florida, tells "the story of psychoactive commerce." It is Courtwright's theme that psychoactive drugs -- both legal and illegal -- are commodities, like bread or cloth. They are manufactured, packaged, distributed, marketed and used much like any other commodity. They go in and out of public favor and new and improved products are constantly being introduced. Throughout human history, governments had generally treated drugs like any other commodities. Prior to the Twentieth Century opium, coca, and cannabis were all legally available in the form of patent medicines that were widely and casually used in both the United States and Britain.

For the remainder of this review see:

The Fix
by Michael Massing.
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998)

The dust jacket of Michael Massing's The Fix summarizes his thesis in bold red letters: "Under the Nixon Administration, America Had an Effective Drug Policy. WE SHOULD RESTORE IT. (Nixon Was Right)." That is a pretty extraordinary claim to make regarding an administration that gained office in large part through the racism-based "Southern Strategy" that had at its heart Nixon's declaration of a "War on Drugs" and whose policies created the cocaine epidemic that caused so many new concerns a decade later. At most, I would agree that the Nixon administration's pursuit of a fundamentally bad policy included some worthwhile efforts that have been devalued by every subsequent administration. This was not because Nixon or his closest advisers were right about drug policy but because Nixon was more interested in foreign policy issues and his benign neglect of domestic policy allowed a number of positive developments to blossom in the midst of the mire of incompetence and corruption that characterized his presidency.

Massing is a very fine journalist but he doesn’t have the background necessary to conduct a meaningful analysis of drug policy and its effects. You can’t learn to be a physicist by watching Nova specials and you aren’t going to gain much of an understanding of drug policy by reading books like The Fix. As an introduction to the problems in the field it has merit but I would recommend the equally well written journalistic accounts by Baum (1996) or Gray (1998).

For the remainder of this review see:

Ten Years of Cocaine: A Follow-up Study of 64 Cocaine Users in Amsterdam
by Peter Cohen and Arjan Sas.
(Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 1993)

Ten Years of Cocaine is a follow-up to Peter Cohen's (1989) Cocaine Use in Amsterdam in Non Deviant Subcultures. One of the main conclusions of the controversial earlier report was that a very large majority of cocaine users showed no evidence of ever losing control of their use. Furthermore, while a variety of negative effects of cocaine use were identified, it appeared that most cocaine use was non-problematic. Contrary to popular conceptions about cocaine use, that study found that the main tendency in cocaine users was toward decreasing levels of use, leading to stable low-level use or to abstinence.

The purpose of this four-year follow-up was to examine the development of use patterns over time in the same group that had participated in the 1987 survey. This new study was particularly aimed at determining the prevalence of cocaine-related problems and of loss of control in the sample of cocaine users.

For the remainder of this review see:


Cocaleros (2007)
directed by Alejandro Landes

Recently, the United States has directed its War on Drugs against Bolivia’s coca-growing regions, and the Bolivian government attempted to eradicate coca crops, devastating the livelihood of the Indigenous peoples who cultivate it. In response, the coca farmers formed a powerful union. Their leader was the Aymara Indian Evo Morales, who in 2005 made a historic bid for the presidency of Bolivia.

A lively story about geopolitics, people's movements, Indigenous culture, the damage done by the War on Drugs, and one man's impressive determination, Cocalero follows Evo's campaign, getting up close and personal with the candidate and the union organization backing him, while presenting critical views of both. What makes Evo so fascinating is how unlikely a candidate he is -- a relaxed 40-something bachelor who sports blue jeans and sneakers and lives in a one-room house, he drinks beer with his cronies and goes swimming in his underwear. Yet he moves effortlessly from formal fund-raising dinners to mass rallies, charismatically proposing the redistribution of wealth, re-nationalization of industries, and legalization of cocaine.

Not surprisingly, Evo's populist platform elicited strong responses. After he addressed Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as "Commandante", Bolivian TV questioned whether Evo was on Chavez's payroll, and his presence at an airport elicited racist epithets. But Evo, defender of Bolivia's first people, won by an unprecedented majority. Cocalero offers fresh insight into big political changes afoot in Latin America. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

Spun (2002)
directed by Jonas Ackerlund
written by Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero.

Spun opens with the message "Based on the Truth... And Lies." The same thing should be said whenever the media address the topic of methamphetamine, whether it is in a feature movie, a documentary, a news report, or a pamphlet. But in all of those, it is the lies that usually predominate. In Spun you will see exaggeration aplenty but none so gross as those you are likely see on the evening news or in the pages of your local newspaper. The characters and some of the situations may be extreme but they are extremes you might well run into if were foolish enough to spend a few days hanging out with a bunch of meth freaks.

For the remainder of this review see:

Saving Grace (2000)
Nigel Cole, director

Not to be confused with the American TV series with the same title. This is the hilarious story of a British widow who is left facing financial disaster following her bankrupt husband's suicide. With the help of her Scottish gardener, she finds fiscal salvation in pot cultivation. This movie apparently inspired the TV series Weeds but is a much gentler and funnier story.

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