Psychoactive Is Worth The Trip
A review of the Psychoactive Podcast for Great Pods
First, a little background.
Ethan Nadelmann is the founder of The Drug Policy Alliance (full disclosure, I am a donor to this awesome org. and raised over $12,000 for them during my birthday fundraiser in 2020) and he’s a legend in the drug policy space. A few years ago, he “retired” and handed off the Executive Director role to serve in a more advisory space.
But Ethan isn’t the kind of guy to simply sit on his hands or spend his days fishing. So he started Psychoactive, hosted by iHeart, to interview some of the amazing people he worked with over the years. Guests have included heads of state, policy makers, authors, and the occasional activist (more on this in a minute). And in each episode, the combined intelligence on the topics of drugs, policy, addiction etc. is enormous.
What you’re going to get when you listen to this show is education. It’s not… entertaining if you don’t care about these topics. There’s no storytelling or true crime-level breakdowns. No giggling or dishing about their favorite drugs (although Ethan does occasionally talk about his own use, and guests join in from time to time.) Instead, it’s serious policy wonk discussions that will truly help you understand these topics better from an educated viewpoint.
I’ll also say this as a guy who has multiple shows of my own in this space and listens to numerous other shows on these topics; only a year or so in, Psychoactive is already one of the best shows in the drug use and policy space. And that’s entirely because of Ethan and the incredible weight of his knowledge.
So what’s the downside? Well, I identify two.
1: Ethan is, again, a VET in this work. He’s spent years making policy change, he’s a drug user himself who has lived it etc. And his work cannot be minimized nor can we thank him enough for all he did during his run at the Drug Policy Alliance. However, he’s older now and occasionally there’s a bit of the “old man yelling at clouds” that comes into play with that scenario. When I agree with him, and he’s pushing someone like Sam Quinones, a truly talented writer who simply refuses to use his talents for anything other than being a mouthpiece for law enforcement, I applaud Ethan and yell with him. But when it’s a point based on outdated thinking, or he’s using language that was ok years ago but now isn’t accepted, it can be tough to listen to. For example, I was lucky enough to interview Ethan for my show, and he used the word junkie a few times in passing which is like… dude come on.
2: The other downside is activists are underrepresented on his show. He recently had Garth Mullins of Crackdown (which I reviewed recently, and who I also interviewed recently) but guys like Garth are few and far between. So we don’t hear enough about what’s happening on the street level. Which can skew the show at times to lofty discussions of policy. And not infrequently it gets a tad too far away from actual real-world implications and actions. So as a listener and lover of his show, I’m hoping for more street-level activist guests in the future.
Overall, Ethan is killing it and I admire the hell out of him for it. I’m an avid listener of this show and recommend episodes to people frequently. For example, I’d check out this episode with my hero Carl Hart (who is an old friend of Ethan’s) or this one with David Simon, the creator of The Wire.
Even though the show isn’t perfect, it’s pretty damn good and one of the better podcasts in the drug use and policy space. I give it a 9/10!