Jay Z's viral 'War on Drugs' video gets two key things right about the science of addiction

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In less than five minutes in a new viral video, Jay Z sums up all the ways the US war on drugs has been what he calls an "epic fail."

The musician, who teamed up with visual artist Molly Crabapple to make the 4-minute video, which appeared online at The New York Times, gets two key things right about the science of drugs and addiction.

1. Addiction is not a moral failing.

In his description of the beginnings of the drug war in the 1980s, Jay Z says, "No one wanted to talk about Reaganomics and the ending of social safety nets. The defunding of schools and the loss of jobs in cities across America." Instead, he continues, "Young men like me who hustled became the sole villain and drug addicts lacked moral fortitude."

This perception of drug addiction as a moral failing continues to pervade discussions of addiction, but it's not aligned with the science.

Numerous neuroscientific studies reveal that addiction is a learned behavior — a "disease of learning," as Harvard neurobiologist Steven Hyman has called it — that results in measurable changes to the brain. As such, young people learn to use and abuse drugs and alcohol, perhaps as a coping mechanism, and this results in fundamental brain changes that continue to affect them as they grow and develop. "Repeated drug use leads to long-lasting changes in the brain that undermine voluntary control," write the authors of a 2004 study in the journal Nature.

Addiction "is a form of pathologic learning," Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist and the author of the book "Unbroken Brain," recently told Business Insider. "With addiction, overwhelming changes occur in the brain region involving areas that evolved for things like love and sex and feeding."

See photos of Jay-Z and his family through the years:

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INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: (L-R) Blue Ivy Carter, recording artists Jay Z and Beyonce speak onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by MTV/MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV)
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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Recording artists Rihanna attends The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Beyonce Knowles and Blue Ivy Carter are seen in Midtown on November 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/GC Images)
Happy Valentine's Day 🐝🐝💋💋
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Beyonce Knowles and Blue Ivy Carter are seen in Midtown on November 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Beyonce and Blue Ivy Carter are seen on November 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/GC Images)
Thank you San Fran! Your city is beautiful. It was the perfect place to complete the best tour of my life! Thank you to all the fans that supported our show. God bless🐝
Beyonce accepts the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Inglewood, Calif. Looking on from left is Blue Ivy and Jay-Z. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Beyonce accepts the Video Vanguard Award with Blue Ivy and Jay-Z at left during the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Inglewood, Calif. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Beyonce on stage with Jay Z and their daughter Blue Ivy as she accepts the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Inglewood, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014 file photo, Beyonce on stage hugs Jay Z and their daughter Blue Ivy as she accepts the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum, in Inglewood, Calif. BET has suspended a producer after a joke about Blue Ivy’s hair aired Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, on the network’s music video countdown show, “106 & Park.” A source at the network, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not allowed to discuss the matter publicly, said the producer was suspended after the ill-fitting joke about Beyonce and Jay Z’s two-year-old daughter aired. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, file)
Beyonce on stage with Jay Z and their daughter Blue Ivy as she accepts the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Inglewood, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Beyonce smiles on stage with Jay Z and their daughter Blue Ivy as she accepts the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Inglewood, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07: Beyonce Knowles, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy are seen on December 7, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by NCP/Star Max/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Beyonce Knowles and Blue Ivy Carter are seen in Midtown on November 4, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/GC Images)
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: (L-R) Blue Ivy Carter, recording artists Jay Z and Beyonce speak onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by MTV/MTV1415/Getty Images for MTV)
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z in the audience watching Beyonce perform during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/MTV1415/WireImage)
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z in the audience watching Beyonce perform during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/MTV1415/WireImage)
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: (L-R) Blue Ivy Carter, recording artists Jay Z, and Beyoncé performs onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/MTV1415/FilmMagic)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 04: Jay Z and his baby Blue Ivy Carter arrive at the 'MEURICE' hotel on June 4, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - APRIL 12: Beyonce leaves her Midtown Manhattan office carrying her daughter Blue Ivy on April 12, 2012 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 27: Beyonce Knowles and her daughter Blue Ivy Carter seen on the streets of Manhattan on March 27, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
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Singer Beyonce, right, and Jay-Z leave after watching the second half of an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 123-84. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Beyonce poses with her three Grammys in the press room during the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California on February 8, 2015. Beyonce won for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance with 'Drunk In Love,' her tale of marital bliss sung with her husband Jay-Z, as well as for the more technical Best Surround Sound Album. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 8: Jay-Z and Beyonce during The 57th Annual Grammy Awards, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 (8:00-11:30 PM, live ET/delayed PT) at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Francis Specker/CBS via Getty Images)
Beyonce poses with her three Grammys in the press room during the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California on February 8, 2015. Beyonce won for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance with 'Drunk In Love,' her tale of marital bliss sung with her husband Jay-Z, as well as for the more technical Best Surround Sound Album. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Recording artists Jay-Z (L) and Beyonce during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 07: (Exclusive Coverage) Willow Smith, Beyonce and Jay Z attend the Roc Nation and Three Six Zero Pre-GRAMMY Brunch at Private Residence on February 7, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Roc Nation)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Recording artists Jay-Z, Beyonce (front) and Rita Ora (back R) during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 07: (Exclusive Coverage) Beyonce and Jay Z attend the Roc Nation and Three Six Zero Pre-GRAMMY Brunch at Private Residence on February 7, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Roc Nation)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 22: Recording artists Beyonce and Jay-Z attend a game between the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers on January 22, 2014 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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2. Powder cocaine and crack cocaine are the same drug, but they do have slightly different effects.

Towards the middle of the video, Jay Z says "... the Feds made distinctions between people who sold powder cocaine and crack cocaine even though they were the same drug."

"The only difference," he says, "is how you take it."

That's largely true. Powder cocaine is usually snorted, but it can also be dissolved in water or melted and injected, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). A powder cocaine "high" from snorting the drug typically hits the user in a matter of minutes, while its effects peak at around 15 minutes. Overall, the high lasts roughly 30 minutes.

Crack cocaine, on the other hand, refers to powder cocaine that's been processed with a base, like baking soda. This allows the body to absorb it very rapidly when it's smoked. A "high" from inhaled crack cocaine can hit the user in seconds, and its effects peak in 3-5 minutes. The high lasts roughly 10 minutes.

Powder cocaine can also be injected, and this method typically "speeds up" the high, making it almost identical to the effects of crack cocaine, the NIDA reports.

In spite of all that, penalties for the possession of crack cocaine were historically much more severe. "The sentencing laws appear to unfairly target the poor," NYU researcher Joseph J. Palamar told Vocativ. "Blacks ultimately [experienced] high incarceration rates as a result."

It's because of these two misconceptions, says Jay Z, that the war on drugs has been what he calls "an epic fail."

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