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war on drugs

The End Of The War on Drugs: 2 New Polls Show Americans Are Changing Their Minds On Cannabis and Psychedelics

June 17 marked 50 years since then-President Richard Nixon stood before a podium in Washington, D.C. and announced that drugs would become “public enemy number one” in the United States. Decades later and this sentiment may be maintained by federal legislation, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the majority of Americans no longer support the war on drugs.

Two new representative polls conducted by separate groups show that voters in the U.S. are becoming more supportive of changes to federal laws around drugs and their criminalization. 

ACLU and DPA Poll Shows Overwhelming Number of Americans Think The War on Drugs Was a Failure

The first poll, released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), was conducted by Bully Pulpit Interactive and surveyed 800 people. It showed that an overwhelming number of participants felt the war on drugs was a failure (83 percent), with 65 percent in support of ending the war on drugs. Two thirds said they supported the elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession, as well as the reinvestment of drug enforcement resources into treatment services.

The poll showed that this issue is a bipartisan one in America: among Democrats, 83 percent said the war on drugs had failed. Numbers were comparable for Independents (85 percent) and Republicans (82 percent).

The company that conducted the poll pointed out that the same number of Americans now consider the issue of drug reform to be as important as ensuring universal access to healthcare. 

Just 27 percent agreed that the war on drugs had decreased problematic drug use in the United States. In a separate question, 63 percent said drug use would be better addressed as a public health issue, while 33 percent said it was an issue of criminal justice.

More Americans Are Open to Therapeutic Use of Psychedelics, According to USA Rx Poll

The team at digital health marketplace app USA Rx recently conducted a representative poll surveying 1,000 Americans about their perceptions around cannabis and psychedelic drugs. This poll was particularly interesting because it looked at how survey participants viewed specific substances, and whether they had used them or not.

The majority of participants (78 percent) said they had used cannabis, with most smoking flower (62 percent.) While participants in their 20s favoured vaping, Americans in their 30s and 40s seemed to prefer smokables, edibles, and tinctures.

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As for psychedelics, 27 percent of respondents said they had tried psilocybin mushrooms, with fairly consistent numbers across age groups. In comparison, 23 percent said they had tried LSD. The next most-popular psychedelic was salvia divinorum at 13 percent, followed by ketamine (12 percent), DMT (9 percent), DXM (9 percent), peyote (8 percent), PCP (7 percent), and ayahuasca (5 percent). 

Almost one fifth of participants (19 percent) said they had never tried any of the drugs listed. 

When considering the way these substances should be used, over three quarters of participants said cannabis should be available to be used for any use. Nearly half (47 percent) said that the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes should be acceptable. Those most likely to oppose this idea were baby boomers, with 29 percent saying there is no acceptable use for psychedelic drugs.

Breaking down the data by substance, 34 percent of participants said ayahuasca should be used for therapeutic purposes, followed by ketamine (29 percent), peyote (26 percent), LSD (22 percent), DMT (22 percent), and psilocybin (20 percent). 

war on drugs
The man responsible for the war on drugs: Richard Nixon, who declared war on “drug abuse” in June 1971.

Americans Have an Idea of Psychedelics’ Perceived Benefits, But More Education is Needed

This poll also asked participants about the perceived benefits of both cannabis and psychedelics. More than 50 percent of participants believed that cannabis could help with anxiety, stress, chronic pain, sleep, short-term pain, relaxation, insomnia, cancer related-symptoms, and depression. 

Fewer participants believed in the perceived benefits of psychedelics, however those that did believed they could help the most in areas related to mental health, with 39 percent of participants believing psychedelics could help with depression, while 35 percent believed they could help with anxiety, and 32 percent said they could help with lowering stress. While 29 percent said they believed psychedelics could help with PTSD, 30 percent said that they did not believe in any perceived benefits associated with psychedelics. 

Although news is emerging everyday about the perceived benefits of cannabis and psychedelics, after 50 years of taboo and misinformation, many Americans are still (rightfully) fearful of their potential risks. Over half of participants believed that cannabis (51 percent) and psychedelics (64 percent) caused mental impairment. For cannabis, long-term health impacts were a concern among 38 percent of participants, and for psychedelics, that number increased to 50 percent. 

It seems the fear of tainted drugs is still common too, even for cannabis, with 30 percent of participants saying they believed that tainted cannabis could cause death. What’s worse, 16 percent of participants said that they believed a downside of cannabis use was risk of death by overdose.

The same was true for psychedelics, although in greater numbers: 56 percent said they believed a downside of cannabis use was potential death due to tainted drugs, while 49 percent said they they could fatally overdose on psychedelics. (Psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD have actually been shown to be safer than alcohol.)

While the tides are changing when it comes to drug use, it’s clear there is much work to do when it comes to educating the general public about the safety profile and potential uses of drugs like cannabis and psychedelics.