Illegal Drugs Aren't as Dangerous as You Think, Says Neuroscientist Carl Hart

Categories: Books

Eileen Barroso
Carl Hart.
Drugs -- the illegal kind -- really get a bad rap. They ruin lives, we're told. Devastate communities. Drive people mad.

In some cases that's true.

What we're not told, however, is that the overwhelming majority of those who use drugs, even regularly, including hard drugs, emerge from their merrymaking just fine.

In other words, the narrow focus society and media place on the negative side effects of drugs is arguably unwarranted. And according to Columbia psychology professor Carl Hart, by failing to take equally into account the average user's positive experience, it's also bad science.

"We know quite a bit about drugs and we know quite a bit about how the public is being misled," says Hart, author of the new science memoir High Price and a speaker at Miami Book Fair this year, from his university office early one afternoon.

Take, for instance, the anti-drug narratives foisted on the public that never seem to include the faces of our past three presidents, even though each has copped to getting high. Instead, the face of the typical drug user circulated by media is more likely to be the isolated case of a man without one - chewed off by a "Miami zombie" stoned on bath salts.

In High Price, Hart exposes the negative biases pervasive in scientific research and education on drugs and addiction, flaws that lead to counterproductive, often devastating drug policies.

Part memoir, part science, High Price follows Hart, a black man, through his adolescence in some of Miami's toughest neighborhoods (Carol City, for one), through his service in the air force, and on to his current professorship at an Ivy League university. He charts humbly the influences and mentors who helped him avoid the fate of some of his neighborhood peers, and in the process "drops some pearls of science."

"I felt a science memoir could accomplish a number of goals," Hart says. For one, "people couldn't have control over my narrative and sanitize it."

See, Hart, who currently sports long dreads and one gold tooth, wasn't that exceptional academic star who kept his nose hidden in a science book. He got grades just good enough to keep him on the football and basketball teams. He was a star DJ whose group the Bionic DJs hosted Run DMC. He didn't smoke marijuana regularly -- though he has some funny anecdotes about burning with the New York hip hop trio -- but he only abstained because he didn't want it interfering with his performance on the court.

His dedication to sports didn't stop him from dealing the stuff. In fact, it was the impetus: he sold weed to coax one of his pothead teammates to show up to practice.

He also stole inconsequential items from local convenience stores and almost got busted stealing car batteries from a body shop in Hallandale. (He outran the employee who caught him.)

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Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus

300 NE 2nd Ave., Miami, FL

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Pedro Santana
Pedro Santana

The worst thing about drugs? The police and jail.

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