Given the jacket cover emblazoned with dayglo euphemisms for getting altered and the obligatory chortling review quotes from numerous lad mags, youd be forgiven for wondering at first glance if Stuart Waltons book is a paragon of research sobriety. But rather than being another cheap cash-in on the still-burgeoning UK drug scene, Out Of It proves to be a radical and challenging rethink to current day perceptions about drugs and their usage, whether legal or not.
Instead of making any sort of pretense towards argumentative objectivity, Walton firmly states his case early on by declaring his own experience and interest in taking drugs and his contention that becoming intoxicated is a fundamental human drive rather than an optional experience, as strong as the primal needs for food, water and sex. Indeed, Out Of It is partly written in reaction to the censure from government and medical establishments which continually attempt to restrict the populaces intake of anything which might bring them pleasure.
This is a refreshingly honest approach to a subject about which most writers have pretended they have no first hand knowledge, and Waltons narrative feels similarly unfettered. There is a distinct academic rigour at work in the structure of the book, but Out Of It remains eminently readable whilst drawing on a huge range of sources, both historical and contemporary, for and against, to indicate the lengths (and depths) to which humans have always been impelled to find ways to change their reality and the fallout of doing so. Indeed, it becomes difficult to argue with Waltons thesis that we are impelled towards intoxication, however much society might attempt to stop us. Or maybe thats just the predelictions of this particular writer.
The numerous political and practical arguments concerning the hypocrisy and ultimate failure of the War On Drugs are well-rehearsed and well-rehearsed here, but the half-baked theories of drug culture luminaries such as Terence McKenna and Aldous Huxley do not get an easy ride either. While being convinced of the intoxication imperative is one thing, whether the reader will go along with Walton’s advocacy of legalisation for all drugs is a different matter, because the fallout of doing so is so difficult to predict.
From the literary point of view, Walton delivers a fascinating chapter discussing the hoary old argument that drugs increase creativity, taking in Coleridge, De Quincey, the Beats and an excellent analysis of Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano.
In short, Out Of It is something of a vital contribution to the literature both of and about drugs – it makes its points effectively without becoming polemical and shows up many drug-related arguments, both for and against, to be simply vacuous. Out Of It does a neat job of clearing a path to let a real debate about intoxicants and their place in society begin.