Ecstasy Safer Than Peanuts

A New Scientist editorial titled “Drugs drive politicians out of their minds” begins with an interesting thought experiment:

IMAGINE you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

Robin Hanson, Alex Massie, and Ronald Bailey all have some interesting thoughts on the piece, which is itself worth reading in full.

I hasten to point out, however, that the safest course of action when a stranger walks up to you and you have bowls of peanuts and illegal psychoactive drugs is to say, “Would you like some peanuts?”

If they’re old enough to be at your party, they’ve presumably ascertained whether they’re allergic to peanuts and will decline if they are.  Or if they don’t like peanuts.  Or aren’t hungry.

In no case should you offer strangers illegal psychoactive drugs.  For one thing, doing so is, well, illegal and could land you in jail.  For another, many people would prefer not to have their brain chemistry unexpectedly altered when in the company of strangers.

With that out of the way, I agree with the substantive point of the article and with the points raised by Alex and Ron about the tendency of politicians to act as if they’re taking some bad drugs when making policy decisions about drugs.  As regular readers know, I’m generally in favor of it being legal for adults to put whatever they want into their bodies so long as they’re not endangering others.

Even peanuts.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. As a libertarian, I generally am in favor of allowing adults to do pretty much whatever they damn well please as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else and take full responsibility for the onsequences of their actions.

    However, this test of MDMA and peanuts leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, the smaple sizes are way, way out of whack. How many people eat peanuts versus how many people regularly take MDMA? And is death the only thing worth measuring? Strangely, your choice with peanuts seems to be either you enjoy them, you have a terrible allergic reaction which is almost always rpeventable, or you get some tainted peanuts and, of course, there is nothing unique about peanuts when it comes to this. It’s not like MDMA purchased on the street has any purity content label or reliable quality control. Folks who take MDMA may have a lot of other negative results from their use of MDMA that stop well short of death that peanut poppers will never, ever see.

    I can agree that the political responses to illicit drugs is rather poor without resorting to this kind of specious argument.

  2. Eneils Bailey says:

    IMAGINE you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

    Who gives a shit…I am at the wrong party…

    The premise is flawed; why would I show up at your party for peanuts and drugs…Hell, my ex-wife used to try to feed that to me all the time and told me that it would make me grow up strong and stout.

    Invite me over when you can put some good steaks, a baked potato, a fresh green salad, and a lemon meringue pie on the table..then, you put the alfalfa sprouts and tofu on the other side of the table…you can graze, I will eat…now that’s a fair fight.

  3. Grewgills says:

    A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

    You need more information to answer that. How much time do they have and how much of that time will be devoted to listening to techno?
    Peanuts do not make techno bearable.

  4. anjin-san says:

    One of the interesting facets of the question of legalization/decriminalization is that the legal stuff does more harm than the street drugs do (by orders of magnitude).

    Cigarettes kill far more and cost far more to society than street drugs ever did. Ditto for alcohol. Yearly deaths from prescription drugs are also very high.

    Factor in that many of the deaths from street drugs result from users not knowing what they are buying and violence that is a result of criminalization, and it gets much harder to make a strong argument in favor of the status quo.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Cigarettes kill far more and cost far more to society than street drugs ever did. Ditto for alcohol. Yearly deaths from prescription drugs are also very high.

    I’m sympathetic to legalizing all of it but, really, one can’t compare raw numbers of complications from legal, profligately used substances and illegal, much less used substances.

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    Peanuts do not make techno bearable.

    lol…. well if you jam enough of them in your ear holes……..