By Clyde Lewis

In the drug war we are all prisoners, prisoners of our own compulsion and denial. In the movie American Beauty there is a line that says, "never underestimate the power of denial." We can all point fingers at the drug culture and say that they are corrupt, but all of us are drugged in some way.

There is a disease that is decaying the minds of people all over our country. It creeps in slowly and remains with us. It is hidden away by make up, nice cars, diet pills, plastic surgery, credit cards, breast implants, hair plugs, Viagra, and antidepressants. Whatever we use to mask it, the disease remains with us all.

That disease is denial.

Not a typical denial but a denial where fear of the truth makes you immune to arguments that demonstrates that there is a problem or that you are a part of the problem.

This type of denial unwittingly makes you a part of the conspiracy devoted to covering up the evidence that there is a problem.

This denial puts us in the position of finger pointing or witch hunting. It allows us to pontificate over those who have been caught in the act of being human.

It allows us to decry the actions of these people and yet we can secretly gather behind closed doors and read, listen, or watch the titillating or graphic details without guilt.

This denial is becoming pandemic and in order to treat the symptoms we become compulsive. The whole time we are trying to cover up the truth. Unfortunately it gets uglier and uglier every day.

The biggest denial we have is the denial that we seem to have about drugs and the so-called drug war.

Before you start to think that I am about to preach to you that the use of drugs is wrong or immoral I will tell you that drugs are fun! They make life easier. They take the edge off the day-to-day turmoil.

I am not being sarcastic I am being truthful.

Oddly enough I am not alone in encouraging you to take them, use them and experiment with them.

Your government encourages you to use drugs and so do your loved ones. But in the same instance they have this uncanny knack for demonizing them. They will use some drugs as scapegoats for the evils of society but others seem to be okay.

They will call marijuana the gateway drug when it obviously is not.

I interpret the typical gateway drug as any drug that you take that gets you in the habit of taking other drugs to increase or decrease your stimulation.

So using my definition the first drug that I ever put into my body was not Marijuana at all.

The first drug that I put into my system was caffeine.

It wasnít in a little pill. It was in a bottle of brown sugar water.

My first drug was found in an ice-cold bottle of Coca- Cola.

Think about it.

Parents would never dream of giving a child two pills of Vivarin, or Ephedrine, yet they will give their children a drink that has sugar and caffeine.

It is not only okay for children to drink cola but later it is encouraged.

Coke had its humble beginnings as a tonic for stomach cramps. It also received its namesake because of a trace ingredient that to this day Coke hesitates to admit once existed in the formula, Cocaine.

According to research gathered by Barbara Mikkelson from the book For God Country and Coca cola by Mark Pendergrast, CocaĖCola once had Cocaine as an ingredient but now it virtually has no trace of the drug today.

Coca-Cola was named back in 1885 for its two "medicinal" ingredients: extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. Just how much cocaine was originally in the formulation is hard to determine, but the drink undeniably contained some cocaine in its early days.

Frederick Allen describes the public attitude towards cocaine that existed as Coca-Cola's developers worked on perfecting their formula in 1891: The first stirrings of a national debate had begun over the negative aspects of cocaine, and manufacturers were growing defensive over charges that use of their products might lead to "cocainism" or the "cocaine habit".

The full-throated fury against cocaine was still a few years off, and Candler and Robinson were anxious to continue promoting the supposed benefits of the coca leaf, but there was no reason to risk putting more than a tiny bit of coca extract in their syrup. They cut the amount to a mere trace.

Allen also explains that cocaine continued to be an ingredient in the syrup in order to protect the trade name "Coca-Cola": But neither could Candler take the simple step of eliminating the fluid extract of coca leaves from the formula.

Candler believed that his product's name had to be descriptive, and that he must have at least some by-product of the coca leaf in the syrup (along with some kola) to protect his right to the name Coca-Cola.

Protecting the name was critical. Candler had no patent on the syrup itself. Anyone could make an imitation. But no one could put the label "Coca-Cola" on an imitation so long as Candler owned the name.

The name was the thing of real value, and the registered trademark was its only safeguard. Coca leaves had to stay in the syrup.

How much cocaine was in that "mere trace" is impossible to say, but we do know that by 1902 it was as little as 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup. Coca-Cola didn't become completely cocaine-free until 1929, but there scarcely any of the drug left in the drink by then:

By Heath's calculation, the amount of ecgonine [an alkaloid in the coca leaf that could be synthesized to create cocaine] was infinitesimal: no more than one part in 50 million. In an entire year's supply of 25-odd million gallons of Coca-Cola syrup, Heath figured, there might be six-hundredths of an ounce of cocaine.

This is probably why my father used to always refer to 12 ounce bottles of coke as "dopes."

Were the founders of Coke secretly trying to find a way to get people hooked on their product using a secret ingredient?

Another argument that significantly solidifies the "Cola Is the gateway drug" theory is the effect that it has on the children of America.

Itís not enough that it rots childrenísí teeth but it seems that it is turning them into sugar/ caffeine junkies.

Children used to drink juices and water when they needed to quench their thirst.

Now with the arrival of 44 oz. tanker cups, and Super Swill mammoth refill mugs Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, or Mountain Dew can be delivered into the system to continue stimulating youngsters who are addicted. Have you ever heard of a Kid getting a 44 oz. Orange juice? Or how about a 44oz. Milk? Certainly no child would dream of filling a 44-oz. travel mug with fresh water.

Unless of course Mom or Dad insisted.

It is also possible that other hidden effects send children on their way to all sorts of problems. Each problem remedied with more drugs.

Research is now suggesting that an extra soft drink a day gives a child a 60 percent greater chance of becoming obese. The study found that each sugared soft drink the children consumed each day inched their Body Mass Index up by 0.18 points.

If they increased their daily soft drink intake, each extra soda made them 60 percent more likely to become obese, regardless of how many sodas they were drinking before.

These findings set up a vicious circle. Children who are obsessed with their weight are setting themselves up for problems where they could easily end up using weight-reducing pills that are filled with more stimulants that have been proven to cause problems with the heart and blood pressure.

Which of course is remedied with other drugs that are prescribed by Doctors.

There are also many people who believe that the over use of sugar and caffeine in a childís diet sets them up for attention deficit problems.

Reports can be found everywhere about the uses of drugs to remedy the problems of children who wonít sit still or pay attention in schools. Reading Comprehension is down and math skills are at an all time low. Between 29,000 and 48,000 children in Massachusetts' public schools are operating under the influence of Ritalin. It was Dr. Peter Breggin, director of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology in Bethesda, Maryland, who published an article in The Boston Globe on its editorial page under the headline, "Kids Are Suffering Legal Drug Abuse."

Breggin stated in the article that:

" We are the first adults to handle the generation gap through the wholesale drugging of our children. We may be guaranteeing that future generations will be relatively devoid of people who think critically, raise painful questions, generate productive conflicts, or lead us to new spiritual and political insights."

The systematic drugging of our children seems to be out of control. With disastrous results.

Many groups are pointing the finger at problem juveniles and the use of psychotropic drugs. It was a red flag that was raised in the Columbine shootings. When it was found that one of the gunman was on all sorts of drug treatments for depression.

We have already jumped into the use of potentially harmful drugs from just one taste of Coca-Cola. Where do we go from here?

Can we fairly make a case that the first time you took a stimulant is when you had your first Coke?

There are some that are hooked on Coca-Cola today because of the lift it gives them. The caffeine and sugar rush is enough to get them through their day.

However there are some that have passed the right of passage and graduated to a full cup of coffee in the morning. Some are creative in the coffee shops drinking espressos and latteís with double or triple shots just to get that buzz.

Starbucks Coffee the leading retail coffee company allover the world gained a consolidated net revenue of $184 million for the four-week period ending January 28, 2001, an increase of 26 percent from consolidated net revenues of $146 million for the same period in fiscal 2000.

People will pay as much as $3.00 for their favorite coffee drink and about a $1.00 to $2.00 for that extra shot of espresso. That is how much we are willing to pay for that "lift" in the morning.

Coffee itself is not bad for you but it does complicate your life in some ways. It raises blood pressure and heart rate. It also can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and can contribute to ulcers in the stomach. It also dehydrates you, aggravate the prostate and rob you of Vitamin C.

Not to worry. All of these things can be treated with Prescription drugs.

Now there are some people who donít like the taste of the bean but need that little push.

No problem.

There are caffeinated waters on the market, and something that is relatively new. "The Power Drink."

Power drinks are merely a new way of packaging a product that has even more caffeine than Coke or Mountain Dew.

Drinks like RED BULL and "Whoop Ass" are citrus drinks loaded with corn syrup, caffeine and herbal stimulants like Ginseng and the enzyme Taurine.

While these drinks are hyped as "high brow" they are really no different than a Surge or a Mountain Dew.

Mountain Dew and Surge are highly fortified drinks that are popular with the skateboard crowd and so marketing has forced the makers of Red Bull to play in the hands of "savvy" hipsters who now mistakenly regard it as a liquid amphetamine.

Red Bull had $1 billion in worldwide sales last year. According to Red Bull, sales in the U.S. have doubled every year since 1997, when the product was first brought over from Austria.

Red Bull in non alcoholic-and is about as caffeinated as a cup of coffee.

According to a report filed by Salon.comís Jeff Edwards, Red Bull's reputation has been in question for sometime. He reports that the Irish prime minister recently called for an inquiry into Red Bull after a student who had been drinking the beverage at a sporting event suddenly died.

Just this year, John Burroughs High School in Burbank, Calif., made news when the school banned energy drinks, including Red Bull, from its campus. Jay Gudzin, an assistant principal at the school, explained that two students became ill after ingesting an energy drink before football practice: "They became dizzy and disoriented. It was a very hot day, but these two weren't sweating at all. At first we were concerned that they may have been suffering from concussions, but practice hadn't started yet. When we took their pulse rates, one of the students had a pulse of 190."

The danger of a Dangerous Red Bull "drug high" increases its notoriety and sales skyrocket.

At a Hollywood party I attended Red Bull was the preferred mixer for Vodka, Rum and other beverages.

Many claim it is like Liquid cocaine. There is also a lie floating around that one of its ingredients, Taurine is literally bull semen and that it will make you as virile as Viagra.

Think again. Taurine is found in many animals. Itís only an enzyme. It was first found in Bulls hence the name. The reality is that Red Bull is marketed well and contains a lot of sugar and a whole hell of a lot of caffeine, that when consumed in massive amounts, can cause the same jitters and heart problems as Coke or coffee.

As you can see we pay a high price for our fix that was first given to us as a child.

Our Parents of course encouraged these stimulants and the circle continues as parents after them extol the virtues of a well advertised fizzy, sugary stimulant disguised as a soft drink.

Many donít even know the long-term effects of what being buzzed can do to a person. Let alone a kid.

Everyone claims that it is harmless, but the facts seem to point to problems that come about when something that is meant for good is abused and goes unchecked.

There are times when the buzz needs to take a back seat. That is when we turn to drugs like Nicotine and Alcohol.

Adult use of these drugs is a choice. However, with all of what we have just covered itís a bit dubious to ask the question why teens are binge drinking and smoking.

Take a look at what they are subjected to just by being kids.

When you are a kid jacked on Coffee, Coke, and Red Bull is it any wonder why they need to come down?

Is it any wonder why we hear of teens that die of alcohol poisoning or the continued whining about drunk driving problems?

Alcohol is used in rites of passage. It is the adult thing to do. You always remember when you have your first beer.

Like it or not if you abuse alcohol you are using another potentially lethal substance in your body. You are participating in the use of a drug that once again is not illegal and has the blessing of the United States Government.

If it is used wisely it is enjoyable and pleasant. Itís fun to get drunk. Itís nice to laugh and relax with a glass of wine, or when you pop open a beer.

It also leads to dependency, liver problems, pancreatic disorders, kidney failure, blindness, hepatitis, impaled judgement, mental instability, irritability and irrational behavior.

By pointing this out I am by no means saying that drinkers are bad people.

There are good people who drink and there are good people who smoke cigarettes.

However we are in the middle of a great "Drug war" where the use of Marijuana and the use of other drugs can get you time in jail.

Clearly the laws that we have today are flawed and that they delineate between drugs "nice" people use like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and drugs "nasty" people use like marijuana.

What makes one drug worse that the other?

The right propaganda thatís what.

Take for example the Cigarette. A device that delivers a deadly poison and is legal in the United States.

According to the World Health Organization, every year tobacco kills 3.5-million people directly or indirectly. Alcohol kills another 750,000. How many are killed by marijuana?

None that we are aware of.

According to The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, "there are no confirmed published cases worldwide of human deaths from cannabis poisoning.

The only possible consequence Pot use if it contributes to a traffic accident if a user drives while intoxicated. Then again reports show that people who drive while on Marijuana tend to be more careful and cautious while driving.

Marijuana, moreover, is not addictive and, unlike alcohol, does not promote aggressive behavior.

In a report on the medicinal uses of marijuana commissioned by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Institute of Medicine concluded last year that "except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana are within the range tolerated for other medications.

Cigarette smoking is at an all time high with teenagers and adults puffing away to manage stress. Nicotine however is a deadly poison and yet that does not stop people from putting it into their bodies because of its addictive qualities.

The 440 billion cigarettes consumed each year in the United States contain about 2.2 million gallons of Nicotine. This chemical is so poisonous that less than half an ounce of it, injected into a vein, will kill a person! That is the amount of nicotine in two - and - a half -cigarettes. All the cigarettes used each year in America contain enough Nicotine to provide 176 billion lethal doses! And that is enough to kill, through single doses by vein, one thousand times as many people that live in the United States.

Besides nicotine, cigarette smoke consists of more than 4,700 chemical compounds, including cardiac poisons, cancer causing agents, and industrial solvents, which can cause heart disease, strokes, pulmonary/respiratory diseases, cancer, and birth defects. Lung cancer and heart disease, once considered primarily men's diseases increased sharply in women as more began smoking. Inhaling the hot toxic fumes from burning Tobacco burns the linings of the air passages and reduces the smoker's ability to fight off disease.

The large particles in smoke form a corrosive tar containing many poisonous chemicals. This tar collects in the smoker's lungs, exposing the smoker to these dangerous chemicals, a pregnant woman who smokes passes the toxic chemicals she takes into the developing baby, where the chemicals can cause the baby to have lower birth weight or possible birth defects.

The burning of a cigarette and exposure to the toxins can kill people who choose not to partake of it. Recent studies indicate that approximately 40,000 non-smokers die each year from diseases directly related to the passive inhalation of second-hand smoke.

With all of the studies that show that Cigarettes harm the user and those around him, why is it that Tobacco is not illegal?

There is a very simple reason.

Tobacco has been the product that built the United States.

Our founding fathers grew tobacco. They made their money off of Virginia tobacco fields. Tobacco notes were actually used as currency at one time. In 1727 they were used as units of monetary exchange throughout 18th Century. The notes were more convenient than the actual leaf, which had been in use as money for over a century.

We actually paid our debts with tobacco leafs because they were so valuable.

Many people are unaware that the revolutionary war was not necessarily a war for independence. It was war over tobacco and itís over taxation. The Revolutionary War was variously known as "The Tobacco War." Growers had found themselves perpetually in debt to British merchants; by 1776, growers owed the mercantile houses millions of pounds. British tobacco taxes were a further grievance. Tobacco also helped finance the Revolution by serving, as collateral for the loan that Benjamin Franklin got from the French His collateral was 5 million pounds of Virginia tobacco.

Tobacco is as American as Baseball, Apple Pie, and Mom.

Many attempts have been made to demonize tobacco and nicotine, however there really doesnít seem to be an all out push to have it banned or outlawed even though it has been proven to destroy lives and families.

Smoking Kills People.

It harms innocent bystanders and of course heritage will keep it from ever really leaving us.

Say all you want about Joe Camel. Believe all you will about Tobacco companies concerned about Teen smoking and lung cancers, the proof is in the body count, we have allowed a lethal substance to be grown, marketed and sold to consumers and all with the blessing of the U.S, Government.

Now, granted we try to contain the ill effects of alcohol and tobacco by public education, labeling requirements, strict quality control, restricting access to minors, and other safeguards.

We have found ways to use these substances wisely and yet we tend to shudder at the thought of doing the same thing with Marijuana.

Does this make any sense?

Ten years ago the United States spent over 5 billion dollars on the drug war and yet we see no progress. So, we spend another 16 billion last year. From our overzealousness in protecting our citizens from the harmful and nasty drug Marijuana 60 percent of convicts serving time in federal prisons are there on drug charges.

Two percent of the prisoners that are there are in jail for violent crime. That is a higher percentage of federal prisoners than Russia when it was communist or in South Africa during apartheid.

While in prison those serving time still have problems with drugs and alcohol.

It is obvious that jail time is not a deterrent.

Decriminalizing Marijuana and taking away the myths surrounding it is important so that we can treat those who abuse drugs. Not jail those who experiment with them.

Why is it so important for the police to chase down and incarcerate those who produce and consume something no more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco? 50 million people in the United States use Marijuana. In the last 20 years we have spent 250 billion dollars on a war that doesnít seem to be ending.

If they canít scare you with Marijuana horror stories, they develop new ones about other drugs like Ecstasy and Cocaine. The spin-doctors will tell you that kids use these drugs after they try marijuana.

They claim that Marijuana is the gateway drug. I think that I have demonstrated the contrary.

It all starts with your first taste of fizzy, caramel colored sugar water laced with caffeine.

You see dear friends; the war on drugs begins not with your first toke on a pipe or a bong.

It begins with the war between Coke and Pepsi.

We are all slaves to the American Compulsion and we cover it up with apathy and denial. No one is above suspicion. The war is right at your doorstep.

Donít buy into the mythology and bigotry.

Stop the drug war. No one is without guilt.

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