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Widespread Zombification in the 21st Century and the Wars of the Zombie Masters: Drugs: For Kids and the Occasional Interested Parent
by Brian Johnson, MD
Publisher:
Gegensatz Press 
Year:
2009 
ISBN:
978-1-933237-29-9 
Categories:
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Earth Erowid, 7/27/2009

Ghastly Misinformation for Children

When starting this e-book, it was hard to know whether to take the author seriously. The “Zombie” meme (all uses of “Zombie” and “Zombie Masters” are capitalized) suggests a fictionalization and lightheartedness that is not actually present in this hard-edged e-book. In short, Widespread Zombification in the 21st Century and the Wars of the Zombie Masters: Drugs is a strange and poorly conceived attempt at talking down to children to convince them never to try recreational psychoactives themselves and to look down on those who do.

Even if one is looking for a strong “just say no” style anti-drug message for teens, this book is a terrible choice. Although marketed on the expertise of the author on medical and addiction issues, the book uses “Zombies” and “Zombie Masters” as its driving concepts. The author calls anyone who uses the psychoactives covered in the text “Zombies” and anyone who promotes or sells those psychoactives “Zombie Masters”, because they are intentionally trying to “mind control” the Zombies into taking their Zombifying drugs.

Beyond the unsuccessful humorous Zombie premise, factual problems throughout demonstrate a lack of expertise on the topics at hand. While some errors of fact will creep into any work, it seems clear that Johnson did not have a qualified fact-checker edit his writing before publishing it. In addition to errors of fact, what cements this book as unsafe for children is when the author tells some young readers that their parents “don’t really love [them]”. Despite a few positive messages and possibly useful anti-drug content, this book is unsuitable for children until it is rewritten.

The author and publisher contacted Erowid and asked us to review Widespread Zombification in the 21st Century and the Wars of the Zombie Masters. I replied with a discussion of how much I disliked the book, identified some of its worst problems, and told the author that I did not feel the book should be published as-is. Johnson replied asking me to publish my review.

E-Book Badness

On the technical side, the e-book is available both through Kindle (the proprietary e-book hardware from Amazon.com) and in a Mobipocket edition. Although Kindle now has a desktop application one can download, at the time this review was written one had to purchase the Kindle hardware to use a Kindle book. Mobipocket offers a Microsoft Windows-only desktop reader, but if you run Linux or OS X, you will find yourself struggling a bit to get the e-book installed. I tried the Windows desktop client and the Palm OS client. The Windows client is better: it has a search feature, but it doesn’t highlight the found text. The publisher was unwilling to provide this as a PDF or other format more suitable for long-term collections, such as libraries, schools, or personal archives.

No page numbers are given for excerpts quoted below, because the page numbers change depending on the viewed size of the e-book.

Targeting Children

Johnson states in the introduction that “[t]his book is written for kids 12 to 17 because you are the exact group that the Masters are targeting.” I found the writing style, content, and zombie framing more in step with 10-13 year-olds I know. Some of the text in the more technical sections about physiology seems clearly to be above the level of most 10-13 year-olds, but the e-book’s maddening repetition of “Zombie” sets it into a style targeted at a younger audience.

Do You Believe In Evil?

The odd tone is present from its first pages. Despite the expectation that the Zombie meme is designed as a humorous hook, the author repeatedly reveals that he is not being funny.

“But first I have to ask if you believe in evil. If you believe that the world is full of well-meaning, if sometimes misguided people, you can stop reading right now. This book is not for you. Read on only if you believe that while some people can love, others are full of hate. They want to hurt you. They want money any way they can get it—even if it means ruining your brain or killing you. They are hunting you because some of their old Zombies are giving out.”

The use of “evil” comes up repeatedly as the author demands the reader judge the world in the most polarized terms:

“You may be thinking ‘How could cigarettes be in the same group as cocaine? Isn’t cocaine an evil drug that the government outlaws, while cigarettes can be bought everywhere?’ If you think this, then you are not really believing that there is evil in the world. Either you have to stop reading, or you have to think, ‘Well of course, the Zombie Masters buy the government leaders, and the leaders make it possible for the Masters to make Cigarette Zombies.’”

Nicotine Kills?

In the first major section about psychoactives, the focus is on tobacco and nicotine. As an example of the type of problem present throughout the book, the author writes “Nicotine kills 19% of all Americans.” Of course, anyone who knows anything about the topic knows that nicotine itself is not known to be responsible for a large number of deaths. The majority of the deaths mentioned by the author are instead caused by the daily inhalation of tobacco smoke over many years. Since the book is promoted on the basis of the author’s medical bona fides, this type of misstatement is troubling.

In describing the history of tobacco, the Zombie meme leads the author astray. In the “Cigarette Zombies” chapter, when discussing tobacco’s introduction into Europe, he uses bizarre gymnastics to blame Zombie Masters for coming up with the idea of smoking:

“The Masters realized that the best way to get nicotine into the brain was to have their Zombies inhale it. Inhaling smoke brings nicotine through finer and finer pipes in your lungs until the drug hits an exchange surface. [...] The Masters realized that if oxygen can go into the blood through the lungs, then nicotine can go in this way too.”

Evil Zombie Masters Everywhere

In a handful of cases, the characterization of those selling a psychoactive drug as manipulative, shadowy figures is appropriate, such as when discussing cigarette executives in the late 20th century or certain types of organized crime, but otherwise the titular meme distorts the ideas and facts in the book. The author seems bent on trying to convince the reader of clearly absurd facts. If a teen doesn’t know enough to realize how wrong the author is to suggest that smoking was invented by some evil manipulative Master who “realized” that oxygen goes through the lungs and therefore tobacco should be smoked to deliver nicotine more effectively (the first smokers of tobacco in the distant past apparently had a very sophisticated knowledge of physiology), they may come away with a twisted and erroneous impression of the history of humankind. Perhaps it’s meant as very dry humor, but in fact it’s just paranoid and factually incorrect.

The section on “Cocaine Zombies” includes a number of strange statements about cocaine users, such as: “[Cocaine Zombies] are totally into the coke. They could be sitting frozen by the way the coke turns on their muscles and makes them rigid.” Huh? Cocaine users are not exactly known for being rigid or frozen.

Throughout the book, the Zombie framing is off the mark and interferes with the author’s attempt at communicating the problems with recreational drug use.

Problematic Discussion of Risk

One of my biggest complaints about most “anti-drug” educational materials is how they flatten and simplify discussions of risks and risk taking. “Widespread Zombification” oversimplifies health risks as one of its primary messages. Johnson writes: “Zombies do things they know might kill them. Why? Uh—because they are Zombies. They are controlled by Masters. They do dangerous things with drugs because they are being mind-controlled.”

This extremely unhelpful and false statement is a distilled version of an inherent problem with the author’s view that runs throughout the e-book. In fact, sane and rational people make choices every day to do things that “they know might kill them”: driving their cars, walking down stairs, eating bacon. The meaningful distinctions between dangerous activities with addictive psychoactive drugs and other types of dangerous activities are completely lost, and the reader is left only with the message that the problem is personal Zombification and paranoid ideas about mind-controlling Zombie Masters.

The Good Bits

Perhaps the best parts of this book are when the author tells stories about patients he’s seen over the years, depressing stories about addicted, brain-damaged individuals who have clearly hurt themselves and caused their families and communities suffering through their use and abuse of their preferred drugs. There should have been more of these and he should have left out the heavy-handed moralizing around them. Bad drug addiction stories vividly and effectively communicate the message the author means to get across.

He also takes a commendable stab at trying to simplify some of the physiological details. Some of these attempts work, some don’t.

Lack of Perspective

Perhaps the years of working with serious addicts has caused Johnson to lose perspective on the issues he writes about. There’s a quip that’s said about doctors: “To a trauma surgeon, every bike rider looks like a head injury waiting to happen.” From the style and the anecdotes the author shares, it may be that he has no experience interacting with the kinds of people who comprise the vast majority of psychoactive drug users. Most people in the United States try cannabis in their teens and early 20s and then stop using it before they turn 30. Keep in mind that around 80% of US adults in their 40s have tried cannabis in their lifetime.1 But to Johnson, all those who try cannabis are “Downer Zombies” who are one slippery step away from becoming “Garbage Pail” Zombies who “will put anything in their brains that jolts the dopamine up”.

Major Ecstasy Error

“Widespread Zombification” includes a relatively short section about “ecstasy”. Despite the fact that serious dependence or addiction to MDMA and other ecstasy-like drugs is quite rare, the author frames the use of ecstasy using the same Zombies controlled by evil Zombie Masters concept. Sadly, Johnson undermines his position as an authority on the technical issues by making a serious error, stating that ecstasy kills brain cells (it does not). The author writes:

“Sometimes these Zombies start to have brain damage that shows up as depression. They just can’t regenerate some of the neurotransmitter chemicals, because the brain doesn’t want another tidal wave of stimulation. It cuts production and receptors. Some of their neurons die: stimulating neurons that the Zombies need to excite other neurons. The whole brain gets dull. They feel depressed. But they still want to use ecstasy—urgently.”

The lack of cell death is one of the primary features of MDMA toxicity that complicated discussions of ecstasy throughout the 1990s. It is something that a person who writes about the neurotoxicity of MDMA should know if they’ve read any of the basic literature on the subject. It is the type of error people make when they source only news stories. This error also means that the author did not have anyone knowledgeable about MDMA edit this section.

Stupid Cannabis Error

Another error that Johnson should not have made and his editors should have caught is a misstatement of fact about cannabis research:

Kids laugh at the stupid warnings they get in school about marijuana. No one ever died from marijuana, they will say. But the real answer is: Doctors don’t actually know whether or not marijuana kills. [...] In order to find out whether marijuana kills people a doctor would have to find a big group of people who smoke marijuana but not cigarettes, and do experiments to see if they got cancer, emphysema, or heart attacks like Cigarette Zombies. No one has done this study.

There are many unanswered questions about the health impact of frequent cannabis smoking, but the author has chosen to state something that is unequivocally false. Ignoring the inappropriate use of the term “experiments” here, the research he’s describing has indeed been performed using epidemiological and statistical techniques. The most on-topic refutation of Johnson’s misinformation is the work done at UCLA by a research group including Donald Tashkin, who summarizes the research to WebMD by saying: “We know that there are as many or more carcinogens and co-carcinogens in marijuana smoke as in cigarettes, but we did not find any evidence for an increase in cancer risk for even heavy marijuana smoking.”2 Not only has the epidemiological research been done, but the conclusions are exactly the opposite of what Johnson suggests they would be. Is he unaware of this body of research, or does he just ignore it?

Unconscionable Message about Parents

Perhaps the most frightening part of the book is near the end when the author talks to readers about their own parents.

If one or both of your parents are Zombies, keep your distance. The best thing to say is something like, “Mom/Dad, I love you. You are doing X (like smoking cigarettes, losing control of your alcohol drinking, smoking crack). I know you can’t really love me back until you stop your drug.” If they won’t stop, they don’t really love you; they can’t. They are answering to their Master, not loving you.

This has to be in the top ten most awful statements I’ve read in any anti-drug literature. The target audience is specifically children and the author has just told them that their parents do not love them if they won’t stop smoking cigarettes.

The author and publisher should be ashamed. This book should be retracted until it can be rewritten.

Quotes for Flavor

To provide some more of the flavor of this e-book, below are a few selected quotes that struck me as strange.

About benzodiazepines: “Doctors have a license to give them out to nervous people who want to stop thinking about why they are nervous. [...] Mostly they urge you to try the drug, to get the feeling—the feeling of craving.”

About medical problems associated with snorting drugs: “Nothing bad happens to the inside of Zombie noses if they sniff amphetamine or oxycodone. The Zombie nose problem comes from sniffing cocaine.”

About the author’s authority in talking about medical problems: “I am a doctor who has seen a lot of Zombie corpses.”

About why prescribed amphetamines do not create Zombies: “The amphetamines that doctors prescribe to kids for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not addicting. Eating amphetamines means that they are slowly absorbed into the blood, go through the liver, run back to the heart, get pumped through the lungs, and then flow up to the brain. Little molecules of amphetamine gradually touch the neurons and slowly change their functioning a little bit. The dopamine change is too slow to make excitement and craving.”

From the concluding chapter “What Should You Do?”: “One of the basic rules of life is: if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.”

A random fatuous statement: “Once your brain is changed, it doesn’t change back.”

Miscellaneous editing error: “Tobacco grows in Plants. So does cocaine.”

Citations

1. Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, et al. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2004. Vol I. NIDA. 2005.

2. Hashibe M, Morgenstern H, Cui Y, Tashkin DP, Zhang ZF, Cozen W, Mack TM, Greenland S. “Marijuana use and the risk of lung and upper aerodigestive tract cancers: results of a population-based case-control study”. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006;15(10):1829-34. http://www.erowid.org/references/refs_view.php?ID=6754

7 Comments »

  1. 1/2 star? That seems generous for something so horrible. Are there negative stars?

    Comment by kleer001 — 7/27/2009 @ 2:51 pm

  2. i must say that the zombie thing really exists. ive seen people manipulating others through drugs….not smoking but nicotine goes to the brain instead of oxygen and maybe it has consequences. its half true half total bullshit imo

    Comment by pork — 7/27/2009 @ 3:52 pm

  3. Johnson sounds more like a “zombie master” to me _
    spreading lies and ignorance and claiming them as truth to “control” people’s outlook on something so basic as drugs. Sugar is a drug for crying out loud! And to think this man said that medicinally approved amphetamines were perfectly harmless while other amphetamines like ecstacy kills brain cells… So these are the kinds of people that spread ridiculous rumors like “LSD burns holes in your brain” _

    Comment by uziq — 7/29/2009 @ 7:25 pm

  4. I thought this sort of fiction-based anti-drug propoganda died out in the 1950s for God’s sake!! If you’re going to convince kids not to try drugs, at least present them with the real facts (not phoney zombie master crap!!) and let them draw their own conclusions. And give youngsters some credit – I don’t know any teenager who’d swallow even a fraction of this rubbish. Frankly, this bullshit makes me angry and the author should be banned from working with anyone addicted to drugs – he’d probably do them more harm than good if his statement about tobacco-smoking parents not loving their kids is anything to go by. Good work in flagging up this nonsense Earth Erowid, blatant untruths cannot be permitted to be passed off as fact.

    Comment by googsy — 7/30/2009 @ 12:15 pm

  5. Well, i have to agree that there are times where “zombie masters” is an appropriate term, as such with lobby-ers and politicians and corporations. The government really did (does) push cocaine! They give our children all sorts of Add Ocd bi-polar drugs! They (health services) get lots of people hooked or at least interested in opiates. Alcohol, antidepressant,medicinal drugs for things such as your heart (as opposed to eating right or exercising or such. just a loose example), and caffeine (in soda, tea or otherwise)commercials run wild! Chocolate contains theobromine, a relative to caffeine, a addictive stimulant found in many foods, candies, and breakfast cereals for kids.

    If we ever want to become a “drug free nation” (unrealistic)or at least anything nearer to that, and healthier, why dont we put an end to all the legal drugs, that in todays society are actually hard to Avoid

    Comment by Shhspngebob — 8/17/2009 @ 1:46 pm

  6. I just emailed the publisher expressing my concern about the misinformation and lies spread throughout the ‘book’. I suggest you all do the same.

    Comment by Jakerz Smith — 8/25/2009 @ 7:26 pm

  7. Children of addicts do need to protect themselves from their parents. Addicts can’t really love back. The author of the above critique misses the point: Parents are not being unloving because of the child (which is how children THINK); parents are being unloving because they are ADDICTED. Perhaps my childhood friend whose father would come up stairs into her room at night naked when he was drunk could have heard that message. The girl down the street whose father would put his hands around her throat as he forced her upper torso out her upstairs bedroom window could learned from that message. And my own beloved father, who developed paranoid shizophrenia as an adult, could have benefitted from such a message when he had to witness his mother being repeatedly raped by his drunken father, and being beaten trying to help her. Children of addicts need to understand about “zombies” “zombie masters” and how your parents’ mind has been stolen….and to protect themselves.

    Comment by Cythia Carlson — 6/12/2011 @ 7:14 pm

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