Carl Hart’s most recent book, Drugs for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, talks about the role of drugs in the lives of responsible adults and why we should decriminalize all drugs. Hart is an expert on this subject matter, a well-regarded neuroscientist and researcher on drugs’ effects on our daily lives. He is also a fierce advocate for upholding constitutional rights when it comes to consuming any substance. So long as you do not interfere with others in your pursuit of happiness, the government should have no say in what you choose to consume. However, it’s important to note that Hart was not raised in an environment that supported these theories. He followed a path that led him to these beliefs through science.
Following a career in academic research, Hart’s mission is to educate the public on the truth about drugs. With science at the forefront of all of his lectures, Hart logically and biologically explains how drugs affect us while debunking the myths around addiction. Hart is a brilliant educator, groundbreaking researcher, and recreational drug user, a frontrunner in the fight for humane drug policies and decriminalization.
Who is Carl Hart
Dr. Carl Hart is the Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University. He is also the Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology (in Psychiatry). Furthermore, he has published many scientific papers and articles on neuropsychopharmacology, which is the study of how drugs affect the mind. His book High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society won the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award in 2014.
In addition to his acclaimed writing, Hart is featured on several podcasts, radio, television shows, documentaries, and many popular publications. He is a husband and father of three. As Hart’s recent book review in the New York Times states: “when getting high is a hobby, not a habit,” Hart embodies this sentiment perfectly. Hart aims to destigmatize drug use among responsible adults and set an example that shows you can be a highly educated human that likes to get high.
Becoming Dr. Carl Hart
Born in an impoverished Miami neighborhood in 1966, Hart experienced firsthand what is still so relevant today as a hardwired line of thinking – that drugs are the root cause of poverty, violence, and crime. His mother left his abusive father when he was six. He witnessed his sister get injured in a drive-by shooting when he was 12. Hart participated in crimes like petty theft and using and selling drugs. He admittedly even carried a gun periodically. He fathered a child in his teens, though he didn’t know this until that child was a teenager himself. His life’s work is now devoted to proving drugs alone are not the cause of these societal dysfunctions but instead, many complicated and misunderstood social maladies coming together to create a perfect storm of poverty and lack of opportunity.
When Hart didn’t receive the basketball scholarship he was hoping for after high school, he decided to join the Air Force. He considered his time in the military as an opportunity to “atone for his sins” in a way since his youth was full of what society would call deviant behavior. While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Hart smoked weed with his friends for entertainment and relaxation in a somewhat dull environment. The decision to take college courses was a contingency plan in the event he was caught smoking weed and kicked out of the military.
Going to college because of cannabis is a somewhat ironic predictor of what he ended up studying. Believing that if he studied neurobiology and crack cocaine, he could use this education to help solve some of his community’s problems. This was the 80s, at the height of what America called the ‘crack epidemic’. But as he continued to study, he learned that it wasn’t the drugs causing these problems. They were “bigger problems: poverty, unemployment, mainstream society not caring about poor people, the works.” Hart touches more on this in the Netflix documentary Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy.
Hart earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from the University of Maryland. He attended UNC Wilmington, where he worked with Robert Hakan, an expert in pharmacology and neuroscience. Following his time in North Carolina, Hart went on to earn his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Wyoming. Passionate about education, Hart became an educator at one of the country’s most prestigious ivy league universities.
Dr. Carl Hart is the first tenured African American professor of sciences at Columbia University. He is the Chair of the Department of Psychology and the Dirk Ziff Professor of Psychology (in Psychiatry) at Columbia. His laboratory research specifically focuses on investigating the behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans. Hart aims to understand the factors that lead up to a person’s decision to self-administer drugs. With this information, he hopes for drug policy and destigmatizing drug use, with evidence from lab-based research as the backbone of his advocacy.
Hart speaks at many conferences, holds interviews with everyone from the Washington Post to the New York Times, and is featured on popular media such as Joe Rogan and Bill O’Reilly and multiple documentaries. He is a progressive educator and puts himself at the forefront of his advocacy. By acknowledging that he is a drug user, including cocaine, heroin, and MDMA, among others, Hart hopes to show the masses that we are misled when it comes to the behaviors and habits of the typical drug user. Hart’s research shows that somewhere near 80% of drug users are not addicts. However, many drug users are closeted for fear of being lumped into a category of lazy degenerates, inciting crime and violence.
His commitment is to “the people who are sick and tired of seeing their tax dollars being used to fund unethical people and corporations, which ultimately perpetuates social inequality and does not lead to effective drug policy.” For Hart, it all comes down to empirical evidence. If you are unwilling to listen to science, you will not be able to shift your perspective. Since we’ve been lied to about drugs, our drug policies are ineffective and harmful. Hart believes decriminalization for all drugs is the only way to have an effective criminal justice policy, which will improve society overall.
From Hart’s perspective – knowledge is power when it comes to drug use. We need realistic education to use drugs responsibly. For example, it’s not that methamphetamine in itself is an evil substance. But a person needs to understand what the drug will do to them biologically to mitigate any harmful effects. You might not want to do methamphetamine in the evening, or you may not be able to sleep. This is also assuming that we are talking about responsible, mature adults with the intention of using clean, tested drugs at an appropriate dose.
Hart’s research is the scientific basis for his global presentations, with a robust argument for all drugs’ decriminalization. He often refers to the criminalization of crack cocaine (often associated with Black communities), even though statistically, there is a much higher usage rate of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine by white people. This is a massive social problem, furthered by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This law called for the same mandatory minimum sentence for five grams of crack and 500 grams of cocaine. To be clear – there are no pharmacological differences between the two drugs.
Hart’s research is rooted in the science of neuropharmacology, and it’s the behavioral, social, and psychological factors influencing drug use that he is hyper-focused on. With these scientific facts, society must reconsider what is believed to be true about drug users, drug crimes, and what describes addiction. It’s all in the data.
“Predictors of Drug Use in Prison Among Incarcerated Black Men”
Hart co-published this piece of research in 2012. The study is based on drug use within US prisons, with the foundational fact that 13.6% of the population is Black, yet 37.8% of prisoners are Black, and 79% of people who are incarcerated for using crack are also Black. The study examined 134 randomly selected Black men in maximum security prisons. Using the ASI (Addiction Severity Index), Hart and his fellow researchers studied the history of drug use among these men and the extent to which they were still using drugs while incarcerated.
Of the 134 participants, 75% reported a history of using drugs. Of that 75%, nearly 25% reported using drugs during their time in prison. The studies also showed that the men with long histories of drug use and longer prison sentences were more likely to use drugs while incarcerated.
These results are significant because they suggest prisoners may benefit from drug treatment therapies and education in harm reduction while they are imprisoned. Specifically, drug treatment programs geared towards long-standing addictions would be beneficial for prisoners with lengthy sentences. Coping mechanisms to help manage addiction and prevent relapse must be considered as part of rehabilitation within all prison systems.
“Developing Pharmacotherapies for Cannabis and Cocaine Use Disorders”
In this study, Hart partners with Wendy L. Lynch to explore the variety of treatments offered for cannabinoid and cocaine addiction. While many treatments were found to be quite useful for reducing cannabinoid withdrawal in lab animals, treatment for cocaine addiction was less successful. More people seek rehabilitation for cannabinoid addictions than any other drug. However, it’s important to note that while the withdrawal treatments are successful with lab animals, it has not been replicated in humans. Furthermore, the lab animals responded to the medications, but no medicine has proven to alter the behavior that causes a human to self-administer or consume cannabis.
Similarly, after decades of research, there is still no approved cocaine pharmacotherapy, despite numerous attempts to find a successful medication. However, some evidence shows a demonstrated ability for medication to work within some subpopulations of individuals with cocaine addiction. This suggests that perhaps treatment must be tailored to meet the unique needs of the individual. Hart argues that these varied results further prove that addiction is a disease, not a crime.
Carl Hart Quotes
“Let’s think about it like driving. You go on a two-lane highway, cars going in each direction. You’re driving towards the oncoming traffic. You have to stay in your lane; that person has to stay in their lane. So we know that there are irresponsible people on the road, but yet we still get on the road with cars. We have police to help remind people what the rules are, like when they speed too fast. We have seatbelts, we have other safety requirements, like an age requirement. You have to pass an exam before you can drive. So you have all these safety points put in. Safety measures can do the same thing with drugs. You put in safety measures.”
“I discovered that the predominant effects produced by the drugs discussed in this book are positive…It didn’t matter whether the drug in question was cannabis, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine or psilocybin.”
“I have to make sure I don’t engage in conversations with people who don’t abide by the rules of evidence.”
“In the mainstream, I’m suspect because I’m Black. I have dreadlocks, I have a goatee. I mean, I’m just suspect. In my classroom and at Columbia, I’m not as suspect because it’s clear I know what I’m doing, but I am still suspect.”
“If politicians did care about their constituents, they would work harder to seek out people like me. They don’t.”
“I strongly discourage any intellectuals, regardless of race, from speaking on matters for which they have limited or no expertise.”
“Too often, ill-informed rhetoric has led to emotional hysteria that obfuscates solid evidence regarding the real problems faced by poor people and, in overwhelmingly great proportions, by black people.”
“Science should be driving our drug policies, even if it makes us uncomfortable.”
“What kind of man would I be if I didn’t stand up for liberty for all?”
“I certainly engaged in petty crime, but it had nothing to do with drug addiction. It was about money and status. In other words, if you take drugs out of the equation, poverty and crime still exist.”
“I think people are curious at some level, and they want to alter their current state of being. I mean, that could be from curiosity, that could be from stress, that can be from some other sort of ailments or problem that they are experiencing or could just be from boredom, but humans have always attempted to alter their consciousness.”
Dr. Carl Hart was recently on Delic Radio. Listen to Delic founder, Jackee Stang speak to Dr Hart about drug use for adults, demystifying drugs, and more.
Awards and Honors
Hart has received multiple awards, including:
- Columbia University Presidential Teaching Award
- Humanitarian Award from Mothers Against Teen Violence
- PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society
- 2021 – Drugs for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear
- 2018 – Drugs, Society and Human Behavior (co-authored with Charles Ksir)
- 2013 – High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society
- 2020 New York Times – We Know How George Floyd Died. It Wasn’t From Drugs.
- 2020 Neuron – Exaggerating Harmful Drug Effects on the Brain Is Killing Black People
- 2018 IDPC – We need to offer safety drugs testing to users across society, not just at festivals and nightclubs
- 2014 The Nation – How the Myth of the ‘Negro Cocaine Fiend’ Helped Shape American Drug Policy
- 2021 Joe Rogan #1593 – The History of Cocaine and Why It’s Illegal
- 2015 Nobel Conference 51 – Why Drug Related Research is Biased
- 2014 Bill O’Reilly – Dr. Carl Hart Challenges Bill O’Reilly
- 2014 TEDMED – Let’s Quit Abusing The Drug User
- 2013 Talks@Google – High Price
RS Contributing Author: Holly Crawford
Holly is a lover of the written word. She enjoys using language to tell stories about people, products, and ideas. With her roots deeply entrenched in the cannabis industry, she gravitates towards all things psychedelic with open-minded curiosity. If she isn’t musing in one of her journals, you can find her talking to her plants, studying business and spirituality, and performing all kinds of kitchen witchery. Holly lives in Oregon with her husband and their three dogs and two cats. You can follow her on Instagram @m_sungreen.