Posts Tagged ‘magic mushrooms’
Redelijke mensen, vreest met grote vreze: het lang aangekondigde drugsdebat in de Tweede Kamer is aan de gang. Hét moment waarop alle leugenachtige rechtse politici hun op angst en onwaarheden gestoelde praatjes kunnen debiteren in hun queeste Nederland tot een land te maken waar één drug getolereerd is (de meest schadelijke van alle): alcohol, en de rest vanuit een vaag, ongemotiveerd en subjectief gevoel van burgermansonveiligheid VERBOTEN wordt.
Er is geen enkel ander beleidsterrein waarop conservatieve politiek zó door de mand valt als het drugsbeleid. Rechtse Kamerleden en hun aanhangers verliezen het vermogen na te denken – hun hersens te gebruiken – als het over dit onderwerp gaat. Hun meest recente wapenfeit, het paddoverbod van 2008, was een ongekend staaltje populistische emotiepolitiek waar geen empirisch feit aan te pas kwam. Hoewel het simpelweg niet waar was dat de incidenten van destijds aan paddo’s te wijten waren – GGD en rechters hebben dit ontkracht – werden deze aangegrepen om tegen adviesorganen in tot een totaalverbod van een schadeloze en in de natuur voorkomende schimmel te komen. Had dat intelligenter gekund? Ja, natuurlijk, maar daar doen VVD en CDA het niet voor.
Hetzelfde patroon is nu te ontwaren rondom hasj, en uiteindelijk rondom alle “drugs” (behalve alcohol uiteraard): VVD en CDA zijn op weg naar een totaalverbod. Prohibition, drooglegging. Dit tegen alle globale trends in, in de wereld, in Europa en in de Verenigde Staten. Ze doen dit geleidelijk, maar met een duidelijk zichtbaar pad. Begonnen met het paddoverbod, met vervolgens de volstrekt idiote regel dat coffeeshops niet een paar honderd meter bij scholen vandaan mogen staan (leidend tot sluiting van de meerderheid van coffeeshops in Nederland), tot het verbod op zwaardere marihuana, het quatverbod, tot nu het hasjverbod. En tot, uiteindelijk, het is erop wachten: de afkondiging in Nederland door de rechtse partijen van een Totaalverbod op Alle Drugs, behalve die met koolzuur en waar “Heineken” op staat. Ik gok 2013 of 2014.
De feiten: er is inmiddels stapels wetenschappelijk onderzoek waaruit blijkt dat middelen als marihuana, hasj, xtc en paddo’s veel minder schadelijk zijn voor het individu en de maatschappij dan alcohol. In de V.S. is medicinale marihuana wijd en zijd verkrijgbaar. Aan topuniversiteiten over de hele wereld wordt onderzoek verricht naar de positieve en therapeutische effecten van middelen als lsd, xtc en paddo’s, met positieve resultaten. In Groot-Brittannië roepen voormalige hoofden van MI5, het Openbaar Ministerie, Hogerhuisleden, zorgorganisaties en wetenschappers op tot matiging van het repressiebeleid. Idem dito op wereldschaal, waar mensen als Javier Solana, Kofi Annan, George Schultz, Paul Volcker zich verenigd hebben in hun oproep aan Westerse politici hun antidrugsbeleid te herzien. In Portugal en Tsjechië is drugsbezit al meer dan tien jaar gedecriminaliseerd, met zeer positieve resultaten zowel in termen van dalend drugsgebruik als in aanpak van criminaliteit. De globale War on Drugs, daarentegen, waar VVD en CDA Nederland bij aan willen doen sluiten, kost miljarden, verwoest honderdduizenden mensenlevens, en is contra-effectief.
Dit zijn de FEITEN. Maar rechtse politici, en hun aanhangers, geven niet om feiten. Waar ze om geven is gehoor geven aan de veronderstelde wens van de angstige burger – die wel bier zuipt, de openbare ruimte vernielt en z’n vrouw slaat – tot een “cleane”, naar zijn subjectieve normen conformerende maatschappij. Daarbij schrikken ze er niet voor terug om leugens te gebruiken. Lees bijvoorbeeld dit stuk in De Groene, waaruit blijkt dat Opsteltens elitecorps de Taskforce Georganiseerde Hennepteelt cijfers over de export van cannabis naar het buitenland uit haar duim zuigt om de beeldvorming te manipuleren. Dit volgens het Trimbos Instituut, dat net als het ministerie van Volksgezondheid langzaam haar greep op het drugsbeleid aan het verliezen is. Een zelfde gemankeerde argumentatie vinden we rondom hasj, waarvan beweerd wordt dat criminele organisaties in Afghanistan en Marokko (hoe! eng!) ervan profiteren. Tell you what: in Marokko en Afghanistan rookt iederéén hasj! Dat is daar al eeuwenlang normaler dan alcohol. En dan nog: waar zijn de cijfers? En kan het wel als we het in Nederland telen?
Nederland heeft al veertig jaar een succesvol en pragmatisch drugsbeleid. De Nederlandse cijfers qua drugsgebruik liggen nu nog lager dan in andere landen (wat betreft alcohol liggen die overigens veel hoger!). Waar er een miljoen alcoholisten zijn, gaat de Nederlandse drugsgebruiker over het algemeen verstandig om met zijn middelen, die hij of zij met matiging en na testen gebruikt. Waar een groep over de schreef gaat, wordt ingegrepen met behulp van preventie en voorlichting, in de sfeer van volksgezondheid. Dát is rationeel beleid, en het wordt nu over de hele wereld gekopieerd. Met een thuisteler, en met een kleine coffeeshop, waar een volwassen persoon naar believen een middel van zijn keuze kan genieten (dat minder destructief is dan het overal gepromootte alcohol), is niets mis. Natuurlijk, echte criminaliteit moet worden aangepakt, maar dat doe je door juist de achterdeur te reguleren, en niet door een onhandhaafbaar, peperduur, hypocriet en immoreel totaalverbod. Dat bovendien nooit zal werken, omdat ongecontroleerde, ongereguleerde middelen de markt zullen overspoelen. Desalniettemin is dat waar rechts naartoe gaat. En waarom? God knows. Ik begrijp die mensen niet.
‘The freedom to explore your own consciousness’, dat is waar het om draait. Dit is tegengesteld aan mensen willen vormen en modelleren in een op particularistische, subjectieve normen gebaseerde mal, waar het in ieder geval de religieus-conservatieven van het CDA uiteindelijk om te doen is. Die vrijheid is een recht dat op een ongevaarlijke, onbedreigende manier uitgeoefend kan worden, met verantwoordelijkheid over eigen lichaam, met zorg en informatie, zonder dat daar groteske leugens of ideologisch gekleurd beleid op hoeven te worden losgelaten. Of zonder dat je productie en distributie in handen geeft van de criminaliteit. Het zou voor dit land een zegen zijn als dit kabinet, dat op allerlei terreinen maar vooral op deze, regressieve ideologie laat prevaleren boven op feiten en rede gebaseerde politiek, voortijdig ten val zou komen. Laten we behouden en uitbouwen wat we hebben, in plaats van het voor niets om zeep te helpen.
- Edit: Hier een mooi stuk op DeJaap over het hasjverbod.
- Edit 2: Boris van der Ham (D66) over het drugsbeleid: “Wij waarschuwen voor deze blinde ideologische benadering van drugs, die praktische oplossingen in de weg staat.”
The Light Sound Dimension crew wishes you a merry Christmas -- or happy Hanukkah, happy Yuletide, happy holidays, or whatever -- and, perhaps, one of these indispensable items under your tree.
- Edit: Ah, this fits in too neatly to not blog here. Boing Boing has a wacky YouTube song about the psychedelic origins of Santa Claus and Christmas in general. It’s based on this article by Dana Larsen.
Although most people see Christmas as a Christian holiday, many of the symbols and icons we associate with Christmas celebrations are actually derived from the shamanistic traditions of the tribal peoples of pre-Christian Northern Europe.
The sacred mushroom of these people was the red and white amanita muscaria mushroom, also known as “fly agaric.” These mushrooms are now commonly seen in books of fairy tales, and are usually associated with magic and fairies. This is because they contain potent hallucinogenic compounds, and were used by ancient peoples for insight and transcendental experiences.
Most of the major elements of the modern Christmas celebration, such as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, magical reindeer and the giving of gifts, are originally based upon the traditions surrounding the harvest and consumption of these most sacred mushrooms.
These ancient peoples, including the Lapps of modern-day Finland, and the Koyak tribes of the central Russian steppes, believed in the idea of a World Tree. The World Tree was seen as a kind of cosmic axis, onto which the planes of the universe are fixed. The roots of the World Tree stretch down into the underworld, its trunk is the “middle earth” of everyday existence, and its branches reach upwards into the heavenly realm.
The North Star was also considered sacred, since all other stars in the sky revolved around its fixed point. They associated this “Pole Star” with the World Tree and the central axis of the universe. The top of the World Tree touched the North Star, and the spirit of the shaman would climb the metaphorical tree, thereby passing into the realm of the gods. This is the true meaning of the star on top of the modern Christmas tree, and also the reason that the super-shaman Santa makes his home at the North Pole.
The amanita muscaria mushrooms grow only under certain types of trees, mostly firs and evergreens. The mushroom caps are the fruit of the larger mycelium beneath the soil which exists in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the tree. To ancient people, these mushrooms were literally “the fruit of the tree.”
Ancient peoples were amazed at how these magical mushrooms sprang from the earth without any visible seed. They considered this “virgin birth” to have been the result of the morning dew, which was seen as the semen of the deity. The silver tinsel we drape onto our modern Christmas tree represents this divine fluid.
The active ingredients of the amanita mushrooms are not metabolized by the body, and so they remain active in the urine. In fact, it is safer to drink the urine of one who has consumed the mushrooms than to eat the mushrooms directly, as many of the toxic compounds are processed and eliminated on the first pass through the body.
It was common practice among ancient people to recycle the potent effects of the mushroom by drinking each other’s urine. The amanita’s ingredients can remain potent even after six passes through the human body. Some scholars argue that this is the origin of the phrase “to get pissed,” as this urine-drinking activity preceded alcohol by thousands of years.
Reindeer were the sacred animals of these semi-nomadic people, as the reindeer provided food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. Reindeer are also fond of eating the amanita mushrooms; they will seek them out, then prance about while under their influence. Often the urine of tripped-out reindeer would be consumed for its psychedelic effects.
This effect goes the other way too, as reindeer also enjoy the urine of a human, especially one who has consumed the mushrooms. In fact, reindeer will seek out human urine to drink, and some tribesmen carry sealskin containers of their own collected piss, which they use to attract stray reindeer back into the herd.
The effects of the amanita mushroom usually include sensations of size distortion and flying. The feeling of flying could account for the legends of flying reindeer, and legends of shamanic journeys included stories of winged reindeer, transporting their riders up to the highest branches of the World Tree.
Although the modern image of Santa Claus was created at least in part by the advertising department of Coca-Cola, in truth his appearance, clothing, mannerisms and companions all mark him as the reincarnation of these ancient mushroom-gathering shamans.
One of the side effects of eating amanita mushrooms is that the skin and facial features take on a flushed, ruddy glow. This is why Santa is always shown with glowing red cheeks and nose. Even Santa’s jolly “Ho, ho, ho!” is the euphoric laugh of one who has indulged in the magic fungus.
Santa also dresses like a mushroom gatherer. When it was time to go out and harvest the magical mushrooms, the ancient shamans would dress much like Santa, wearing red and white fur-trimmed coats and long black boots.
And so forth. Happy psychedelic Christmas!
Here’s one interesting facet highlighted of the broad studies currently being undertaken at some prominent US universities into the effects of psychedelics on depression treatment: lasting personality change. See our earlier post The return of psychedelic research in medical science for more background.
Both Discover Magazine and the science blog LabSpaces report about one result from the clinical experiments done at John Hopkins University with prescription of the hallucinogen psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms). Sixty percent of the 51 participants in the study (pdf) show a measurable lasting personality change, in the part of personality known as ‘openness’ – defined as openness to new ideas and experiences and an ‘awareness of self and others’. The openness trait in people includes traits related to creativity, imagination, feelings, aesthetics and general broad-mindedness.
Measured on a model of personality features used in psychology, consisting of the character traits neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness, only the latter was shown to have increased even a year later. This is significant, as lasting personality change usually doesn’t occur that much in adults.
Very noteworthy: all participants report feeling the better for it.
So in short, even one psychedelic experience may make you more open and creative. There’s a couple of caveats though, but for that you gotta read the articles.
A single high dose of the hallucinogen psilocybin, the active ingredient in so-called “magic mushrooms,” was enough to bring about a measureable personality change lasting at least a year in nearly 60 percent of the 51 participants in a new study, according to the Johns Hopkins researchers who conducted it.
Lasting change was found in the part of the personality known as openness, which includes traits related to imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness. Changes in these traits, measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, were larger in magnitude than changes typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experiences, the scientists say. Researchers in the field say that after the age of 30, personality doesn’t usually change significantly.
Personality was assessed at screening, one to two months after each drug session and approximately 14 months after the last drug session. Griffiths says he believes the personality changes found in this study are likely permanent since they were sustained for over a year by many.
Nearly all of the participants in the new study considered themselves spiritually active (participating regularly in religious services, prayer or meditation). More than half had postgraduate degrees. The sessions with the otherwise illegal hallucinogen were closely monitored and volunteers were considered to be psychologically healthy.
“We don’t know whether the findings can be generalized to the larger population,” Griffiths says.
As a word of caution, Griffiths also notes that some of the study participants reported strong fear or anxiety for a portion of their daylong psilocybin sessions, although none reported any lingering harmful effects. He cautions, however, that if hallucinogens are used in less well supervised settings, the possible fear or anxiety responses could lead to harmful behaviors.
Griffiths says lasting personality change is rarely looked at as a function of a single discrete experience in the laboratory. In the study, the change occurred specifically in those volunteers who had undergone a “mystical experience,” as validated on a questionnaire developed by early hallucinogen researchers and refined by Griffiths for use at Hopkins. He defines “mystical experience” as among other things, “a sense of interconnectedness with all people and things accompanied by a sense of sacredness and reverence.”
Personality was measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, which covers openness and the other four broad domains that psychologists consider the makeup of personality: neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Only openness changed during the course of the study.
Griffiths says he believes psilocybin may have therapeutic uses. He is currently studying whether the hallucinogen has a use in helping cancer patients handle the depression and anxiety that comes along with a diagnosis, and whether it can help longtime cigarette smokers overcome their addiction.
Discover Magazine (which also has some good sceptical notes):
A recent study found that most people treated with a single high dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychoactive mushrooms, showed a long-lasting change in personality—namely, an increase in openness. One of five broad measures of temperament used by psychologists, this quality is generally defined as openness to new ideas or experiences, awareness of feelings in the self and others, and is strongly tied to creativity and aesthetic appreciation. This is one of the first studies to link a single treatment with a drug in a laboratory setting to a long-lasting change in personality.
Although it might seem hard to believe, given the vagaries of spiritual experience, psychologists have a relatively well-defined and established definition for a “complete mystical experience:” one in which a person experiences a sense of unity with the world and other people; feelings of blessedness and sacredness; a sense of inner presence or divine force; and the feeling that what is perceived is “more real” than ordinary reality, among other qualities. Results by the lead author of this study, Johns Hopkins University researcher Roland Griffiths, have shown this can come about by taking psilocybin. But similar (or indistinguishable) experiences can occur through non-drug means, such as through prayer, fasting, sex, sensory-deprivation, etc.
People who had a “complete mystical experience” during their psilocybin trip scored significantly higher on measures of “openness” more than a year afterward. Those who didn’t have a complete mystical experience did not score significantly higher on these same measures.
Qualitative and quantitive research has shown that personality traits tend to remain relatively stable in adults, although certain life-changing events have been linked to major changes in core measures of temperament. Changes brought about by single treatments with drugs tend to be short-lived.
Researchers say that the mystical experience brought about by drugs like psilocybin is likely responsible for the long-lasting change in openness, which the researchers say they think is permanent.
Spiritual experiences and personality traits are hard to measure. The link between psilocybin, mystical experiences, and changes in personality are also poorly understood. The results shouldn’t be taken as definitive proof that psilocybin causes permanent changes in personality.
Psilocybin can be dangerous, especially in people with underlying mental conditions, and the researchers don’t advise anybody to try this at home. Even in a carefully controlled setting, about one-third of the participants in the study experienced high levels of anxiety after taking the drug. But through the help of the study “guides” and the calming atmosphere of the controlled trial, everyone overcame the anxiety and not a single participant reported lasting ill effects from the experience
We’ve devoted attention to the subject on this blog ever since we started it, but here is once again an article from a high-profile online magazine about the renaissance in scientific research on the beneficial effects of psychedelic drugs on the state of mind of people diagnosed with illnesses such as terminal and recurrent cancer. Salon has a must-read story about the uptick on studies into this matter across top-notch universities.
If you still think subjects like psychedelic drugs are for hippies living in the 1960s, think again. As previously written about in, among many others, the New York Times, The Globe and Mail and TIME, and reported about on CNN and BBC, psychedelic research is currently in its second big phase, with medical scientists and psychotherapists from Harvard, NYU, John Hopkins, Berkeley and several European universities running research programs on it. Psychedelic drug conferences are also increasingly being convened.
This Salon article describes research projects at John Hopkins, NYU and UCLA attempting to pinpoint how psychedelics alleviate fear and anxiety in patients. In controlled settings, lsd and psilocybin are administered in order to provide consciousness-expanding experiences. Patients report very existential experiences, and come down from the trip feeling better equipped mentally to deal with sickness and death. This is, therefore, a subset of the field of palliative care.
For people interested in it, the article also provides some historical background featuring such drug luminaries, writers and philosophers as William James (The Variety of Religious Experiences), Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Brave New World, Island), and Timothy Leary. But the point to drive home is that unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, psychedelic research is currently conducted with a twenty-first century scientific focus, with a rather circumscribed goal. The goal no longer is to reform society, but to help people through appliance of medical science.
What for me was new in this piece was the info on how the current research programs on psychedelic drugs came about. Either way, I highly recommend this article if you want to know more about this highly interesting subject.
Kristof Kossut arrived at an unlikely address for his first psychedelic experience. The 60-year-old New Yorker and professional yachtsman opened the door not to an after-hours techno party, but to the bright reception room at the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research, a large spa-like space occupying the second floor of New York University’s College of Dentistry. Kossut was among the first subjects of an NYU investigation into the question: Can the mystical states of mind occasioned by psychedelic drugs help alleviate anxiety and depression in people with terminal and recurrent cancer?
Shortly before Kossut’s arrival on the morning of his session, two clinic employees entered a high-security storage room, which just happens to face a painting of a white rabbit. From a massive steel combination safe they removed a bottle containing one gram of synthesized psilocybin, the psychoactive agent animating the 200-member fungus family commonly known as “magic mushrooms.” The duo carefully measured the small container against the previous day’s weight, as if securing a store of weapons-grade plutonium. They then pill-pressed an amount of powder containing 20 milligrams of the molecule, first identified in 1958 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, most famous for his other psychedelic synthesis, LSD-25.
They delivered the pill to a converted exam room gutted of its dental chair and refitted for comfort with holistic panache: plush pillow-strewn sofa, Persian carpet, Buddha statuettes, books on spirituality and mysticism, a high-performance sound system. Only the ceiling lighting track betrays the former identity of New York City’s federally sanctioned psilocybin room.
Receiving the pill is Dr. Stephen Ross, a 40-year-old assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical School and the cancer study’s principal investigator. Ross has a precise scientific manner softened by an upbringing in Southern California, where his mother (also a doctor) took him to hospice centers as a child, sparking an interest in end-of-life issues. Now director of the addiction division at Bellevue, Ross is among the youngest of a new generation of psychedelic researchers. With his cancer study still two years away from publishing results, he is already looking ahead to testing psychedelic treatments for drug addiction and alcoholism.
For now, Ross is fully focused on treating existential anxiety in people like Kossut, who lies on the couch, ready for his initiation into the psychedelic mysteries. In the research jargon, Kossut is “psychedelic naive.” After swallowing the pill Ross presents — in the cap of a ceremonial ceramic mushroom — all he can do is close his eyes, lose himself in the preselected tabla drum and sitar music, and try to remember the advice to not fight it, to move ever deeper into the light, to let go …
“It was absolutely incredible,” remembers Kossut. “The first rush was a little scary as I realized it wasn’t the placebo. That passed and next I was crossing boundaries of time and space and reality. I felt this weightlessness, this sense of being close to an unspeakable beauty that was unlike anything in my experience. For the first time since my diagnosis, I was not afraid of anything. The wall of depression that was building up day by day, the fear that I was going to die soon, that my daughter is only 8 — all those things disappeared. I wanted to stay there. I wanted it to last longer.”
It did. More than one year after his psilocybin session, Kossut reports greatly improved states of emotional and psychological well-being. “I walked out of the session happy, unafraid of death,” he says. “I don’t know why, but a transformation took place after being in that peaceful place. I relaxed. I started enjoying food again and was able to gain weight. The session taught me to be fully in the present. I’m optimistic. Mentally and physically, just better.”
This glowing report — based on a single dose of a naturally occurring, non-addictive, low-toxicity substance — sounds impossible. Surely one pill can’t succeed where months of traditional psychotherapy and antidepressants usually fail. According to science, that’s not how drugs work. It’s foreign to the model. But high success rates in ongoing concurrent studies at NYU and Johns Hopkins strongly suggest that Kossut’s psilocybin-assisted psychological rebound is no fluke. So do the findings of a pilot project conducted by Dr. Charles Grob at UCLA. Between 2004 and 2008, Grob administered psilocybin to 12 cancer patients suffering fear, anxiety and depression. His data, published last year in the Archives of General Psychiatry, showed long-term diminished anxiety and improved mood in every subject. The NYU and Johns Hopkins studies build on Grob’s pilot program with more subjects and higher doses. Midway through the research, their results are just as strong, signaling larger, multi-site trials to come.
This is the subdued, clinical language of a psychedelic science renaissance quietly entering its third decade. If its practitioners and advocates avoid the utopian claims and liberationist rhetoric that defined the LSD gospel of the 1960s, this is no accident. A new generation of psychedelic researchers understands that public and official support depends on exorcising the ghost of Timothy Leary, whose democratic acid crusade grew out of and ultimately helped destroy the first wave of psychedelic science in the 1950s and ’60s. Their goal is not to promote the legalization of these drugs or tout their value for everyone, but to revive the once-great and now largely forgotten promise of psychedelic science. And that just might, among other things, change the way we confront and think about death.
It’s not the first time: sanity from Great Britain in the drugs debate. The Liberal Democrat party – currently in government – is expected to pass a motion calling for an independent inquiry into the decriminalization of drug possession at its fall conference. This is supported by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The motion is based on Portuguese drug reforms (blogged about those here and here) enacted a decade ago, which through decriminalization have succesfully pushed back problematic drug use, whilst leaving alone unproblematic users. Drugs are considered a health issue instead of a criminal one, except in the case of big-time dealers.
There are by now a lot of people in the British establishment calling for drug decriminalization: former heads of MI5, the Crown Prosecution Service, the BBC, the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council, Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords (including Conservatives), the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt and the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, including a large number of scientific experts.
That is not to mention the Global Commission on Drug Policy, consisting of the former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, former UN Secretary Kofi Annan, former EU High Representative Javier Solana, former US Secretary of State George Shultz, Richard Branson and former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, among others. It’s noteworthy that a lot of politicians come out in favor of drug decriminalization after their tenure.
It has by now been established that lsd and xtc are less dangerous in pretty much every respect than alcohol. The international War on Drugs is an absurdly costly and harmful affair that has led absolutely nowhere (except for the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people). It’s seriously time to start considering an end to Prohibition.
The Liberal Democrats are showing the way.
Drug reform advocates could be about to secure a significant victory in their campaign to liberalise the law after a Liberal Democrat motion for full decriminalisation was submitted.
The party is likely to overwhelmingly back the motion to establish a panel to urgently consider the decriminalisation of personal drug use at its conference this autumn.
The move would likely prompt friction with the Lib Dems’ Conservative coalition partners, whose rank-and-file membership are strongly opposed to any change to drug laws. The party would need Conservative support before the panel could be established.
David Cameron’s record as a backbencher was distinctly liberal when it came to drug reform. He called for heroin ‘shooting rooms’ and a public health approach to drug use before taking the leadership.
Drug liberalisation views are surprisingly popular in Westminster circles, but it has been considered politically impossible for several years, mostly due to fear of the tabloid reaction and the views of ‘middle-England’ voters.
Former defence secretary Bob Ainsworth quickly came out against the “disaster” of drug regulation after leaving his front bench position.
Nick Clegg is understood to be distinctly relaxed about the motion, however, suggesting the Lib Dem leadership will not back down in the event of a yes vote.
There is “increasing evidence that the UK’s drugs policy is not only ineffective and not cost-effective but actually harmful, impacting particularly severely on the poor and marginalised”, the motion reads.
“Individuals, especially young people, can be damaged both by the imposition of criminal records and by a drug habit, and… the priority for those addicted to all substances must be healthcare, education and rehabilitation, not punishment.
“One of the key barriers to developing better drugs policy has been the previous Labour government’s persistent refusal to take on board scientific advice, and the absence of an overall evaluative framework of the UK’s drugs strategy.”
The demand comes amid unparalleled change internationally on drug laws, with several highly-respected figures and institutions calling for a more liberal policy on narcotics.
The Global Commission on Drugs Policy, headed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan recently called for world governments to consider regulating the drug trade.
Under decriminalisation, people caught with drugs would no longer be given fines or jail sentences but rather treatment and counselling. Dealers would still face the current legal penalties, however.
A similar policy was recently adopted in Portugal, and led to surprising results, with some sources suggesting cannabis use has decreased by 50%.
The Lib Dems have a long track record of an evidence-based policy on drugs and called for the legalisation of cannabis in 2002. But with the party now in power, their vote is likely to play a much more significant role in the public debate.
The motion will be put forward by Ewan Hoyle, founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, and backed by Lib Dem MEP Sir Graham Watson
In the 1970′s philosopher Terence McKenna developed the “Stoned Ape Theory”of human evolution. McKenna argued that the evolution from Home erectus to Homo sapiens was facilitated by the addition of the mushroom psilocybe cubensis (magic mushroom) to the diet of our ancestors. According to McKenna the improved visual acuity caused by the mushrooms gave an evolutionary advantage to Home erectus. It also helped developed linguistic thinking among humans, he explained.
Will Carsola and Duncan Trussell were inspired by McKenna and created a “trailer” for an animations series called Thunderbrain, based on the “Stoned Ape Theory. Can’t wait for this series to air!:
Check out this vintage ”narcotics and dangerous drugs identification kit” from the 1960s, used at American schools for purposes of education.
Really looks more like a candy box than anything else…
The Dangerous Drugs—Identification Kit contains harmless facsimiles of the more commonly abused dangerous drugs. The Kit was designed to be used primarily as an instructional aid in educational and training programs directed toward combating the existing narcotics and dangerous drugs problem. It consists of a plastic container which is transparent and durable. Plainly visible within the container are facsimiles of amphetamines and barbituates, reproduced with exacting fidelity in terms of color, size, shape, and other distinguising characteristics.
We wrote about Portugal’s succesful drug decriminalization experiment before, and a couple of days ago this success was once again confirmed. At the press conference marking the tenth anniversary of the law, Portuguese health experts have shown that drug addiction has hugely declined, that drug-related infections have declined, and that drug-related crimes have declined.
The facts: the number of frequent hard drug users has declined from 100,000 in the early 1990s to 50,000 now. The reduction in numbers of infections and crimes is deemed “spectacular”.
In short, along almost every conceivable line, decriminalizing drugs has been a success. It should be stressed that Portugal’s policy does not consist of decriminalization alone: the core is treating drug use as a health problem instead of a crime. People getting caught with a sufficient amount of banned substances have to appear before special addiction panels rather than a criminal court. Here, it is determined whether a person is a casual user or an addict. Personal possession was decriminalized, allowing police authorities to focus on large-scale drug trafficking.
Conservative politicians need to recognize this objective, measurable success. The facts are clear for all to see: drug criminalization does. not. work. It just doesn’t. Battling drug use through criminal law alone only results in stigmatization, unnecessary financial costs, people’s lives wasted in jail and a neglect of the health problem. Moreover, it fails to distinguish between casual users who are no problem to society at all, and addicts.
Health experts in Portugal said Friday that Portugal’s decision 10 years ago to decriminalise drug use and treat addicts rather than punishing them is an experiment that has worked.
“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.
The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.
Other factors had also played their part however, Goulao, a medical doctor added.
“This development can not only be attributed to decriminalisation but to a confluence of treatment and risk reduction policies.”
Portugal’s holistic approach had also led to a “spectacular” reduction in the number of infections among intravenous users and a significant drop in drug-related crimes, he added.
A law that became active on July 1, 2001 did not legalise drug use, but forced users caught with banned substances to appear in front of special addiction panels rather than in a criminal court.
The panels composed of psychologists, judges and social workers recommended action based on the specifics of each case.
Since then, government panels have recommended a response based largely on whether the individual is an occasional drug user or an addict.
Of the nearly 40,000 people currently being treated, “the vast majority of problematic users are today supported by a system that does not treat them as delinquents but as sick people,” Goulao said.
In a report published last week, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said Portugal had dealt with this issue “in a pragmatic and innovative way.”
Drug use statistics in Portugal are generally “below the European average and much lower than its only European neighbour, Spain,” the report also said.
“The changes that were made in Portugal provide an interesting before-and-after study on the possible effects of decriminalisation,” EMCDDA said.
E.D. Kain at the Forbes blog comments:
Many of these innovative treatment procedures would not have emerged if addicts had continued to be arrested and locked up rather than treated by medical experts and psychologists. Currently 40,000 people in Portugal are being treated for drug abuse. This is a far cheaper, far more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge at the same time. None of this is possible when waging a war.
As the conclusion to Greenwald’s report has it:
The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.
And finally, one last reference to the recent report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which has come to the same conclusions.
The Awl has a very cool and interesting interview with Eddie Einbinder, author of the book How to Have Fun and Not Die, about responsible drug use, which won the New York Book Festival’s grand prize in 2008. At the release of the second edition in May, Einbinder will also debut a related documentary.
For his book, Einbinder travelled across the US exploring various party scenes. He’s an advocate of drug use, but in an adult and responsible way: that is, measured, and one at a time (that is, never in combinations). How to Have Fun and Not Die is therefore full of tips and tricks for the ‘safe’ use (between brackets because to some extent it’s never safe) of several drugs, including the most tricky ones.
Einbinder does this proceeding from a public health perspective – you can’t prevent drug use, so you better make it safe (while of course not encouraging the use of the really dangerous stuff). For similar, older endeavours in Dutch, by the way, check out veteran psychonauts Gerben Hellinga’s and Hans Plomp’s voluminous website Uitjebol.net; and of course there are test centers in the Netherlands, which are lacking in the US, hence the need for such a book.
The interview with Einbinder is pretty entertaining, so here it is:
Tell me about this trip you just got back from.
I was in upstate New Hampshire, somewhere really rural, for six days at a gathering for people to just, well, do drugs in peace. There was a lot of DMT, MDA, acid, mescaline…
What are DMT and MDA?
DMT is as serious a hallucinogen as acid, but it only lasts ten to 15 minutes. MDA—also known as “sass rocks”—is like MDMA, but less emotional and more hallucinogenic and stimulating.
It’s hard to draw the line sometimes, you know, between work and play for me.
I can imagine. So did you do a little bit of everything while you were there?
No, no, no. I was watching a lot of people doing things. I did try Ether for the first time. Ether gives you a horrible headache. It’s useless. Don’t do it. Oh, and I numbed my gums with some sass rocks. Other than that, I was just drinking, getting high on hash, and playing dominoes a lot.
How old were you when you had your first drug experience?
That’s oddly not a common question. I tried cigarettes the summer I was 11. That was probably one of the more emotional drug experiences I’ve had. My 12-year-old girlfriend introduced them to me. That year I also started dipping. I was in that palace in the woods kids make for themselves as a retreat to hook up, do drugs, and eat deli sandwiches, when I packed a lip for the first time. I probably weighed 90 pounds and I was given no guidance, so I kept it in way too long—30 minutes maybe—and I passed out. I was totally unconscious. I woke up and thought, I’m definitely never dipping again.
Did you ever dip again?
Yeah. In the summer of 2003. There were 80 of us living in the woods in conjunction with a minor in Environmental Studies in the Northwest.
How’d take two go?
I remembered why I don’t like dipping much.
What other memorable drug initiation experiences come to mind?
Trying acid for the first time at 19 was a big deal. I tried coke at 20 in college at Lehigh. I have a pretty mindful approach to trying things. I believe in moderation, and knowing your limits. And doing something with a purpose rather than out of habit, or to get a fix.
Can pleasure be a purpose?
Sure. It’s about having good relationships with drugs.
So what inspired you to pursue your special brand of drug education?
It was on that trip to the woods in 2003 I mentioned that I realized that my friends and I were not putting the necessary amount of thought into our drug use. I thought to myself, why haven’t I Googled “most common ways kids are going to die today,” and put it up on my fridge? I was right that there are some blanket rules that can seriously up your odds of surviving. If you can take one sentence from the lecture I give, it should be that the vast majority of overdoses result from two or more substances at once in your body. That right there, on top of keeping in mind that what’s billed as either heroin or coke or ecstasy includes multiple substances—whatever they’re cut with for profit—is key. When people do a drug respectfully, in the way it’s meant to be done, they rarely die.
What have been the best resources for researching the new book and making the movie?
ER doctors are great. I realized that in 2006 when a girl I dated ended up hospitalized. She’d been doing a lot of coke that summer, as well as Ambien, and Valium. And drinking. I’ve since developed several relationships with ER doctors who keep me informed about what kids are overdosing on. Watching drug use firsthand is important, too. Oh, and dentists. You should talk to your dentist about meth mouth. They have the most horrible stories.
Are you ever treated like an outsider by the kids you observe?
Nope. I only ever get to observe because I’m welcomed in the first place. The participants are people who understand that my message is to educate.
And these people want to be on camera taking drugs?
They sign contracts six weeks prior to filming, when sober. This is not Girls Gone Wild. No one’s face will be fuzzy.
Are you ever an active participant during filming?
No, not while filming. Things would veer off track. It’s a more structured setting.
What do your parents think about what you do?
As long as I’m working hard, they’re fans. They realize—like most rational teachers and doctors and people I speak to—that this is absolutely necessary. I’m trying to promote honest, open health education. They understand that.
What are your thoughts on addiction?
I feel lucky I’ve never been addicted to anything. I think it’s probably genetic. Only 1.3% of Americans are addicted, though. It’s the minority. Most people are just casual drug users who might accidentally overdose, which is what we’re trying to prevent.
Do you get any backlash? If so, where from?
Institutions. It’s one of the most upsetting issues to me. Colleges are running businesses. They’re trying to ensure the safety of the school’s reputation more than the welfare of their student body by refusing to acknowledge that drugs are being done and refusing to educate kids on the safest ways to handle drugs.
Do you think people are naive to the differences between black market and prescription drugs?
People think prescription drugs are much safer. Though the misuse of prescription drugs is black market. There’s a dealer at most high schools nowadays. And kids steal them from their parents. Prescription pills have replaced weed in a lot of areas because they’re so accessible and there’s nothing easier than swallowing a pill. It’s like vitamins! It’s everywhere, and it’s causing a lot of problems. I talk a lot about how marijuana is not at all a transitional drug. People like to label weed as “the gateway” drug, but that’s a farce. I think it’s actually prescription pills that make for a smooth transition to other drugs. Adderall to coke. Oxycontin to heroin.
If you were charged with designing an effective drug awareness campaign, what would it look like?
It certainly wouldn’t have an awful, misleading slogan like “Hugs not drugs” or “Drugs are bad.” Those messages don’t work for the same reason abstinence sex-ed is ineffective. You have to be open and honest. Educate. I’d create a mandatory year-long course based on the lecture I give with a textbook version of my book. And I’d show my film, which depicts real situations supplemented with dialogue about safety measures. It also incorporates commentary from lawyers and doctors about legal and medical ramifications. We’re looking to get some interviews with people in positions of extreme opposition, too.
Like the dude who prosecuted Paris Hilton for cocaine possession and was then caught purchasing crack?
At what age would you educate your own kids about drugs?
Most professionals say by middle school it’s advisable, so at least by then. I don’t think I can say without knowing my child. It will have more to do with his or her behavior and level of curiosity.
What’s your favorite drug?
Alcohol’s the easiest thing to continuously have fun on and not get too crazy.
How about other than alcohol? Weed?
No. I’m useless on weed. Hash is a favorite. It’s an incredibly chill high and I’m still able to have a good time and be social. On the other extreme of alcohol, I think LSD can be one of the more rewarding experiences one can have.
How about uppers?
I’ve been into them before.
Is there a drug you haven’t tried?
Me neither! Want to do it together when we’re 75?
Maybe 90. After nicotine, heroin is the drug with the most potential to become addictive. And who wants to trust themselves injecting something?
So when’s the last time you purchased a drug?
Truthfully, since I’ve gotten into this work more formally, I haven’t purchased a drug.
Are they given to you?
If I am doing something, it’s because I’m going with the flow. So yeah, it’s usually given to me.
So you’re not a frequent drug user?
If you leave me alone to write for a week, the only thing I’d do is tea. I’m really into tea these days.
[Laughs] You’re mocking, but tea is a drug. And it’s a good one.
What do you think compels a person to try a drug?
Boredom, and because it’s the cool thing to do.
What’s the coolest drug to do right now? What’s trending on college campuses?
Alcohol will probably always be the biggest problem on college campuses because of its social acceptance. As I was traveling west in 2009, I heard more and more about Salvia and DMT. But your traditional popular drugs are still prevalent, like cocaine, mushrooms, and acid. And weed is absolutely everywhere.
One of the strategies you suggest to marketing representatives hired to sell your book at schools is to throw a Celebrity Overdose party where people dress up as dead celebrities. Who would you dress up as at such an event?
I’m pretty sure it’s never happened. But I think John Belushi would be the most fun to portray.
Cause he was a party animal. I’m just picturing Animal House.
Do you think you’ll encounter a problem continuing this work as you age?
I’m able to do whatever the fuck I want right now, which works well. But I’m well aware that as I get older, I might not be able to blend into the college crowds as much. I’ll figure it out. There’s a lot to be done.
Who funds your work?
The work funds the work. Speaking fees. The book. There are some private investors in the film.
Any parting words?
Yeah. I think cocaine’s a bigger issue for 20-somethings in finance than it is on college campuses. The social scene surrounding finance in general lends itself to those drugs more than any other environment I’ve witnessed. Like certain religions use psychedelics. Oh, and the people trying to pass legislature for random drug testing on campuses in New York state are moronic.
So say a group of prominent British public figures, including former heads of MI5, the Crown Prosecution Service, the BBC, the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council. The group also includes Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords, including Conservatives. Together they have formed an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, which calls for new drug policies in the United Kingdom based on scientific evidence.
We’ve heard sane sounds coming from the UK before, particularly from Professor David Nutt, who got sacked by the former Labour government for saying that ecstasy and lsd are less dangerous than alcohol, the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and Nutt’s Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.
Since Britain’s prisons, like those in the United States, are overcrowded and full of people convicted on (small) drug charges, it’s possible that the parliamentary group’s calls will receive a ‘sympathetic audience’ in Whitehall, where the government is trying to cut the numbers and costs of the prison population.
In that respect, they can look to Portugal, where a rather succesful experiment with decriminalization of drug possession has reached its tenth year. Here, there has been a 63 percent increase in drug users getting treatment, and a 499 percent increase in amount of drugs seized (by focusing on the big fish).
Either way, present UK (and US) policy – the full criminalization of drug possession and use – is a very costly disaster. A big societal issue that some people should finally start to think rationally, rather than ideologically about.
Leading peers – including prominent Tories – say that despite governments worldwide drawing up tough laws against dealers and users over the past 50 years, illegal drugs have become more accessible.
Vast amounts of money have been wasted on unsuccessful crackdowns, while criminals have made fortunes importing drugs into this country.
The increasing use of the most harmful drugs such as heroin has also led to “enormous health problems”, according to the group.
The MPs and members of the House of Lords, who have formed a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, are calling for new policies to be drawn up on the basis of scientific evidence.
It could lead to calls for the British government to decriminalise drugs, or at least for the police and Crown Prosecution Service not to jail people for possession of small amounts of banned substances.
Their intervention could receive a sympathetic audience in Whitehall, where ministers and civil servants are trying to cut the numbers and cost of the prison population. The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has already announced plans to help offenders kick drug habits rather than keeping them behind bars.
The former Labour government changed its mind repeatedly on the risks posed by cannabis use and was criticised for sacking its chief drug adviser, Prof David Nutt, when he claimed that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.
The chairman of the new group, Baroness Meacher – who is also chairman of an NHS trust – told The Daily Telegraph: “Criminalising drug users has been an expensive catastrophe for individuals and communities.
“In the UK the time has come for a review of our 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. I call on our Government to heed the advice of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that drug addiction should be recognised as a health problem and not punished.
“We have the example of other countries to follow. The best is Portugal which has decriminalised drug use for 10 years. Portugal still has one of the lowest drug addiction rates in Europe, the trend of Young people’s drug addiction is falling in Portugal against an upward trend in the surrounding countries, and the Portuguese prison population has fallen over time.”
Lord Lawson, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1983 and 1989, said: “I have no doubt that the present policy is a disaster.
“This is an important issue, which I have thought about for many years. But I still don’t know what the right answer is – I have joined the APPG in the hope that it may help us to find the right answer.”
Other high-profile figures in the group include Baroness Manningham-Buller, who served as Director General of MI5, the security service, between 2002 and 2007; Lord Birt, the former Director-General of the BBC who went on to become a “blue-sky thinker” for Tony Blair; Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, until recently the Director of Public Prosecutions; and Lord Walton of Detchant, a former president of the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council.
Current MPs on the group include Peter Bottomley, who served as a junior minister under Margaret Thatcher; Mike Weatherley, the newly elected Tory MP for Hove and Portslade; and Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.
The peers and MPs say that despite governments “pouring vast resources” into the attempt to control drug markets, availability and use has increased, with up to 250 million people worldwide using narcotics such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin in 2008.
They believe the trade in illegal drugs makes more than £200 billion a year for criminals and terrorists, as well as destabilising entire nations such as Afghanistan and Mexico.
As a result, the all-party group is working with the Beckley Foundation, a charitable trust, to review current policies and scientific evidence in order to draw up proposed new ways to deal with the problem.
The Netherlands’ drug policy is often perceived to be the most liberal in Europe. Not only is that not true in the sense that the Netherlands is getting increasingly regressive; it’s also not true in the sense that there are other European countries with more liberal drug policies. In the Czech Republic, for example, since 2009 possession of small amounts of marihuana and mushrooms, as well as some hard drugs is only a misdemeanour. And in Portugal, possession of all drugs has been decriminalized since 2000.
The Boston Globe has an interesting article on the effects of this policy on Portugal’s public health and crime rate. Here, ten years ago politicians decided to decriminalize personal possession, in order to allow police authorities to focus full-time on distribution and trafficking. The overarching goal was to treat drug use as a public health concern. And it seems to have paid off! There has been a 63 percent increase in Portuguese drug users getting treatment, and a 499 percent increase in amount of drugs seized. Portuguese society has not collapsed because of drug decriminalization; instead, drug addicts, not having to fear going to jail anymore, are getting treatment.
To be clear: this is not a solution I advocate. I’m in favour of a complete legalization of relatively innocent drugs, such as marihuana, hashish, mushrooms, xtc and lsd, and a continuing ban on hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Legalization allows for regulation, bringing for example the thc level of weed down and getting clean xtc on the market, and making it available strictly to over-18s (I think that should go for alcohol too, by the way). For psychologically more difficult stuff, like shrooms or lsd, I’d advocate some sort of permit, or examination, to prepare people for the experience. But then on hard drugs that are dangerous to the individual and society, I’m still in favour of treating possession, distribution and trafficking as a criminal matter.
But anyway, here’s the article on Portugal’s experiences:
Faced with both a public health crisis and a public relations disaster, Portugal’s elected officials took a bold step. They decided to decriminalize the possession of all illicit drugs — from marijuana to heroin — but continue to impose criminal sanctions on distribution and trafficking. The goal: easing the burden on the nation’s criminal justice system and improving the people’s overall health by treating addiction as an illness, not a crime.
As the sweeping reforms went into effect nine years ago, some in Portugal prepared themselves for the worst. They worried that the country would become a junkie nirvana, that many neighborhoods would soon resemble Casal Ventoso, and that tourists would come to Portugal for one reason only: to get high. “We promise sun, beaches, and any drug you like,” complained one fearful politician at the time.
But nearly a decade later, there’s evidence that Portugal’s great drug experiment not only didn’t blow up in its face; it may have actually worked. More addicts are in treatment. Drug use among youths has declined in recent years. Life in Casal Ventoso, Lisbon’s troubled neighborhood, has improved. And new research, published in the British Journal of Criminology, documents just how much things have changed in Portugal. Coauthors Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes and Alex Stevens report a 63 percent increase in the number of Portuguese drug users in treatment and, shortly after the reforms took hold, a 499 percent increase in the amount of drugs seized — indications, the authors argue, that police officers, freed up from focusing on small-time possession, have been able to target big-time traffickers while drug addicts, no longer in danger of going to prison, have been able to get the help they need.
“Often, there are lot of fears, misconceptions, and mythology around decriminalization and what might be the consequences,” Hughes said. “This reform has shown that it is possible to decriminalize illicit drugs…without necessarily increasingly drug-related harm, without increasing the burden on the criminal justice system, and without increasing drug use.”
The total number of people who have ever used drugs, though, has increased. The article evaluates that as ‘not positive’. I don’t see it as a problem, as long, as said above, it’s the relatively innocent stuff. But for that, you need to regulate.
But the numbers aren’t all positive. According to the latest report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the number of Portuguese aged 15 to 64 who have ever tried illegal drugs has climbed from 7.8 percent in 2001 to 12 percent in 2007. The percentage of people who have tried cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, ecstasy, and LSD all increased in that time frame. Cannabis use, according to the drug report, has gone up from 7.6 to 11.7 percent. Heroin use jumped from 0.7 to 1.1 percent, and cocaine use nearly doubled — from 0.9 to 1.9 percent. In other words, said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, the changes in Portugal have had a somewhat expected outcome: More people are trying drugs.
Over at Andrew Sullivan, the conservative and Catholic blogger has recently compiled a nice little book composed of readers’ submissions about their marihuana use. The goal is to, in a country (the US) in which smoking pot is still frowned upon by large segments of society, show that marihuana use is actually way more mainstream than people think. The stories in the book, appropriately called The Cannabis Closet, are all about (middle class) people smoking weed to gain insight, to relax, to enjoy music or a social setting, or of course to cure pain. Frequenty in family settings, or with traditional events like Christmas. And why not?
The book is a compilation of first-person pot use testimonials, from top executives to responsible parents, from entrepreneurs to A-students, from unwinding suburbanites to the very sick. In more than 120 personal stories, it demolishes every hoary “stoner” stereotype of the regular pot-user. It doesn’t glide over the downsides of pot-use, but it does explain more graphically and powerfully how marijuana-use has become as American as, er, brownies and milk. It shows how responsible pot-use is already compatible with middle-class life and its obligations. Browse and buy it here.
Sullivan advocates – and I wholeheartedly agree with him – that marihuana be no longer seen as either ‘stoner’ or cool or semi-underground, or as despicable, dangerous and wrong. It is just a natural product that has downsides and upsides, and deserves no special status alongside other drugs like alcohol and cafeine (although like them it requires regulation). In the US, and in the Netherlands too, a large section of the public, under the influence of the mainstream media, is still too prejudiced to see this.
But anyway, now that this praiseworthy book has been compiled, Sullivan’s readers are also sending in stories of experiences with other drugs. Mushrooms, for example. And this is another department than weed. Way stronger, but with the potential to gain much more insight from it. Read this, for example:
Shortly after my first marijuana experience, I tried LSD and mushrooms. I skipped class a couple of times to day-trip (4/20 anyone?), but in contrast to pot, the most endearing quality of these hallucinogens is what I once heard called “the progress-checker.” While I now love the occasional joint for relaxation, it took me far too long to realize that I shouldn’t make decisions while high. The opposite is true of hallucinogens. Trips were the most lucid and honest evaluations of my life during those two years. In fact, I can attribute at least in part my eventual modest success in college to the times I realized with horror while tripping how badly I was screwing up my life. Pot is for checking out; hallucinogens are for checking in. Way in. I was forced to think about school, about family, about my life. It was terrifying, but in the way I imagine therapy can be.
Your contributor mentioned the journey. During a (good) trip, the vastness and beauty of the individual journey is simply staggering. Acid is the only time I have actually wept with joy; it is also the only time I was convinced I was about to die and accepted my fate. They helped me through the existential muck – I made peace with impermanence and insignificance. Hallucinogens helped make me who I am: They opened my eyes to the intricate depths and fantastic surrealism of nature (psilocybin while hiking the Zion Narrows – I’m an atheist but that’s the closest I’ve been to god); they’ve helped forge deep, permanent friendships through shared, unique and utterly insane experiences.
Not to mention the staggeringly beautiful visuals. I will never forget a young Sean Connery speaking plainly to me from his James Bond poster on the wall, or a brick wall flapping in the breeze.
Sometimes I think the world would be a better place if everybody would trip hard just once.
Or read this reader’s submission:
I’ve done psychedelics a handful of times. Each time, I have come to know myself better. I’ve come to understand a lot about where I view myself in terms of humanity, the world, and the universe. I finally was able to come around to understanding, for example, that the debate I’d been having with myself for a long time – whether or not I believe in God – was less important than what I think of the life that exists either because or in spite of God. I know that sounds like old stoner claptrap, but these are insights I either couldn’t comprehend formerly or had spent most of my life fighting.
Honestly, the reader’s worry about “wisdom” achieved through drug use is well-founded; there is no substitute for gaining knowledge through experiences. Neither is there a shortcut around mediation or healthy living. Psychedelics, I believe, should never be used as such. To me, a trip is more a chance to reorient oneself – to gain a specific kind of perspective while having a ridiculously wild ride. But let’s be honest about it, too: taking mushrooms or acid a few times a year is very, very different than holing oneself up in a bedroom for a week and devouring a double hit ever twelve hours.
I think we should have more of this. Hopefully, The Mushroom Closet is next.
A very informative article in The Globe and Mail, that ties into a recurring theme on this blog: unfair mainstream media reporting on, and general hypocrisy regarding drug use. But also how this slowly might be subject to change. A while ago, we blogged about a NYT article on the increasing study of hallucinogens like lsd for medical use. Similar reporting by CNN aired a few weeks later. Also see this somewhat older article in TIME magazine on the benefits and downsides of xtc, and finally this BBC Horizon documentary (and a host of scientific studies) about how alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than xtc and lsd.
This Globe and Mail article relates how hallucinogens - mushrooms, lsd and ayahuasca - as well as mdma (the active ingredient of xtc) are actively being used again in academic research programs on, for instance, post-traumatic stress relief, cancer-related anxiety, quitting smoking, and depression. This with the approval of drug regulators. But also, how they’re “restoring a sense of the sacred” in a materialistic Western society.
For four decades, the possession of LSD, psilocybin and other hallucinogens has been illegal in most of the Western world, the topic itself socially and scientifically taboo. More than half the U.S. prison population of 2.3 million is incarcerated because of drug manufacture, distribution and related crimes. Churches routinely inveigh against this alternate route to transcendence.
Taking users outside conventional time and space, psychedelics – almost by definition – challenge the hallowed ground of Western materialism. Lying beyond rationalism, they’ve been banned and pathologized.
To suggest that these substances might actually be good for us is heresy of the first order. Yet that’s exactly what these psychologists, pharmacologists and social workers maintain – that they are good for the treatment of rampant drug addictions, for post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorders and for end-of-life, cancer-related and other depressions.
Not to mention, dare I say, to restore our rapidly fading sense of the sacred.
Something is happening here, the stirrings of a psychedelic renaissance. On a scale that could scarcely have been imagined a decade ago, the pharmacopeia of hallucinogens is slowly reclaiming a legitimate place in the West’s cultural discourse. And it’s doing so in the name of our highest secular god – science.
Psilocybin, for example, the psychoactive ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, is being used at New York University for cancer-related anxiety and at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins to help people quit smoking. A Harvard team is developing trial protocols for treating cluster-headache patients with LSD or psilocybin.
The non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is giving MDMA (ecstasy) to victims of PTSD in the U.S., Switzerland and Israel. Similar studies will begin next year in Jordan and in Vancouver.
In effect, drug regulators are now reviewing psychotropic substances as they would any drug seeking approval. They’re testing safety, feasibility and efficacy through rigorous, double-blind, crossover clinical trials.
This needs to be said: There are no Timothy Learys here. No one is advocating a return to the reckless hedonism that often marked LSD voyages of the 1960s, and that helped to invite the statutory crackdown.
Today’s most ardent proselytizers of psychedelics as therapy acknowledge its risks.
Nevertheless, a renewed interest in the creative, healing, spirit-awakening potential of the psychedelic medicine cabinet doesn’t appear ex nihilo.
Maybe it’s a harbinger of the notion that, at some level, we’re trying to repair the mind-body disconnect – the materialist, Cartesian worldview – that has governed Western life for centuries.
Maybe, in short, we are beginning to wake up. High time, indeed.
Read more (especially for details regarding the studies currently being undertaken).
According to some, notably Aldous Huxley, the psychedelic experience (eating a shroom or taking lsd) is like experiencing the world as a baby. The alteration of the chemical balance in your brain results in the reduced functioning of those processes that induce rationality – the ability to filter experiences, separate important from non-important impulses, in short, everything you need to survive as a living being in the world – while opening you up for the “non-filtered” experience of the world. While this of course for the time being impairs your ability to function as an adult, it does enable one to experience and explore the world from angles never thought possible before.
This also has philosophical implications: if one’s experience of the world can differ so much, if one’s “normal” experience of the world is merely the one that we have been pushed and trained in, then what is reality? Or better: how can reality be known? What is “normal”?
Anyways, new research has come out that relates to these considerations. According to a paper by three researchers in Psychological Science, babies experience the world like a lantern. That is, instead of being able to focus their attention on something specific, they experience everything that happens around them, like a lantern that diffuses light in all directions around it. This thesis, by the way, was already put forward by developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik in her book The Philosophical Baby.
And it’s true, I think: have you ever seen the look on a baby’s face? The way it gazes into the world with open mouth and big eyes, staring at everything? Wonder what that’s like.
We all know what attention is. William James said it best:
Attention is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.
James is describing the spotlight model of attention: If the world is a vast stage, then we only notice things that fall within the narrow circle of illumination. Everything outside the spotlight remains invisible. This is because, as James pointed out, the act of attention is intertwined with the act of withdrawal; to concentrate on one thing is to ignore everything else.
And this brings me to my question: How do babies pay attention? What is it like to look at the world like an infant? The question is particularly interesting because the ability to pay attention, focusing that spotlight on a thin slice of the stage, depends on the frontal cortex, that lobe of brain behind the forehead. Alas, the frontal cortex isn’t fully formed until late adolescence – ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny – which means that it’s just beginning to solidify in babies. The end result is that little kids struggle to focus.
This has led the UC-Berkeley developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik – I’m a huge fan of her latest book, The Philosophical Baby – to suggest that babies don’t have a spotlight of attention: They have a lantern. If attention is like a focused beam in adults, then it’s more like a glowing bulb in babies, casting a diffuse radiance across the world. This crucial difference in attention has been demonstrated indirectly in a variety of experiments. For instance, when preschoolers are shown a photograph of someone – let’s call her Jane— looking at a picture, and asked questions about what Jane is paying attention to, the weirdness of their attention becomes clear. Not surprisingly, the kids agree that Jane is thinking about the picture she’s staring at. But they also insist that she’s thinking about the picture frame, and the wall behind the picture, and the chair lurking in her peripheral vision. In other words, they believe that Jane is attending to whatever she can see.
And now there’s a brand new paper in Psychological Science by Faraz Farzin, Susan Rivera and David Whitney that provides some of the best evidence yet for the lantern hypothesis. The experiment itself involved tracking the eye movements of infants between 6 and 15 months of age. The researchers used a special stimuli known as a Mooney face. What makes these images useful is that they can’t be perceived using bottom-up sensory processes. Instead, the only way to see the shadowed faces is to stare straight at them – unless we pay attention the faces remain incomprehensible, just a mass of black and white splotches. In this experiment, however, the babies were able to perceive the faces even when they were located in the periphery of their visual field. (Trust me: You can’t do this.) Because their lantern was so diffuse, they were able to notice stimuli on a much vaster sensory stage. In subsequent experiments, the researchers found that this lantern of attention came with a tradeoff. While babies notice more, they see with less precision. In fact, the “effective spatial resolution” of infants’ visual perception was only half that of adults, although it steadily increased with age.
Note: Sometimes, of course, it’s helpful for adults to engage in lantern-like attention. See, for instance, this recent post on latent inhibition and creativity.
Jep, het is definitief, de voorkeursstemmen zijn geteld, en dus kunnen we melden dat Light Sound Dimension’s favoriete “person we love to hate” niet terugkeert in de Tweede Kamer: CDA-drugswoordvoerster Cisca Joldersma!
Cisca Joldersma onderscheidde zich sinds 2002 door moralistische, compromisloze oppositie tegen elke vorm van gezond verstand inzake drugsbeleid. Catchphrases als ”de mythe van de onschuld” rondom wiet, “op naar de nul coffeeshops” en “het gedoogbeleid is failliet” werden door haar gretig gedebiteerd. Dit deed zij vergezeld gaan van een triomfalistisch, betweterig toontje dat ieder greintje sympathie voor deze mevrouw deed smelten als sneeuw voor de zon.
Daarbij sprak ze het woord “drugs” uit op een manier zoals alleen een christelijk-conservatieve trien uit het achterland dat kan: met alle letters overdreven gepronuncieerd voorin de mond, klinkend als DRUX.
Haar grootste overwinning behaalde ze in december 2008, toen het paddoverbod van kracht werd. Dit volledig onterechte en misplaatste stuk wetgeving werd door haar onthaald als ware het de stenen tafelen zelve.
Enfin, we zijn blij dat onder het snoeimes dat het CDA ten deel is gevallen, zich ook Cisca Joldersma bevindt. Tot nooit meer ziens! Hier nog enige video’s om te kijken hoe erg ze ook alweer was.
Joldersma bij Pauw & Witteman in debat met Job Cohen, waarin men zonder succes probeert haar enige redelijkheid aan het verstand te brengen:
En tenslotte de legendarische aflevering van Buitenhof, waarin Cisca in debat gaat met Boris van der Ham, die volledig de vloer met haar aanveegt. Helaas niet te embedden, maar hier te bekijken. Mazzel!
Participants in those studies described their use of psychedelics as a “profound spiritual experience”, ranking it among ”the most meaningful events” of their life.
Now CNN is covering these medical studies as well. And, lo and behold, not even in a biased, narrow-minded manner, like mainstream media usually do!
In this clip, reporters visit the conference on psychedelic science held recently in San Jose, and talk with Harvard and University of California experts. Also there’s a good discussion between two researchers at the end. Very worthwhile watching!
Again, I’m really amazed at the openness of CNN. Will there finally be some common sense regarding this subject?
Wow, I didn’t know this. According to a front page article in The New York Times, hallucinogens are apparently being researched again by medical scientists for their use in treating depressions and other psychological illnesses. This goes voor psilocybin (the active ingredient in mushrooms and lsd), as well as other psychedelics. Unlike in Ken Kesey’s 1960s, however, this time there are strict rules and regulations.
Note how the 65-year old clinical psychologist cited in the article (picture above) calls his psilocybin use one of “the most meaningful events of his life”.
And note how scientists working on this seem especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences, and religious-mystic or meditative experiences. According to one study, experimental participants described a “profound spiritual experience” with lasting positive effects for most of them.
Interviewees report having felt themselves part of one large consciousness, as well as reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.
Interesting! Read the whole story.
As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.
Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.
Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.
After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.
“All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating,” he recalled. “Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water’s gone. And then you’re gone.”
Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.
Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.
The results so far are encouraging but also preliminary, and researchers caution against reading too much into these small-scale studies. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s, when some scientists-turned-evangelists exaggerated their understanding of the drugs’ risks and benefits.
Because reactions to hallucinogens can vary so much depending on the setting, experimenters and review boards have developed guidelines to set up a comfortable environment with expert monitors in the room to deal with adverse reactions. They have established standard protocols so that the drugs’ effects can be gauged more accurately, and they have also directly observed the drugs’ effects by scanning the brains of people under the influence of hallucinogens.
Scientists are especially intrigued by the similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported throughout history by religious mystics and those who meditate. These similarities have been identified in neural imaging studies conducted by Swiss researchers and in experiments led by Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins.
In one of Dr. Griffiths’s first studies, involving 36 people with no serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a profound spiritual experience with lasting positive effects for most of them. None had had any previous experience with hallucinogens, and none were even sure what drug was being administered.
To make the experiment double-blind, neither the subjects nor the two experts monitoring them knew whether the subjects were receiving a placebo, psilocybin or another drug like Ritalin, nicotine, caffeine or an amphetamine. Although veterans of the ’60s psychedelic culture may have a hard time believing it, Dr. Griffiths said that even the monitors sometimes could not tell from the reactions whether the person had taken psilocybin or Ritalin.
The monitors sometimes had to console people through periods of anxiety, Dr. Griffiths said, but these were generally short-lived, and none of the people reported any serious negative effects. In a survey conducted two months later, the people who received psilocybin reported significantly more improvements in their general feelings and behavior than did the members of the control group.
The findings were repeated in another follow-up survey, taken 14 months after the experiment. At that point most of the psilocybin subjects once again expressed more satisfaction with their lives and rated the experience as one of the five most meaningful events of their lives.
Since that study, which was published in 2008, Dr. Griffiths and his colleagues have gone on to give psilocybin to people dealing with cancer and depression, like Dr. Martin, the retired psychologist from Vancouver. Dr. Martin’s experience is fairly typical, Dr. Griffiths said: an improved outlook on life after an experience in which the boundaries between the self and others disappear.
In interviews, Dr. Martin and other subjects described their egos and bodies vanishing as they felt part of some larger state of consciousness in which their personal worries and insecurities vanished. They found themselves reviewing past relationships with lovers and relatives with a new sense of empathy.
“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Dr. Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.”
The subjects’ reports mirrored so closely the accounts of religious mystical experiences, Dr. Griffiths said, that it seems likely the human brain is wired to undergo these “unitive” experiences, perhaps because of some evolutionary advantage.
“This feeling that we’re all in it together may have benefited communities by encouraging reciprocal generosity,” Dr. Griffiths said. “On the other hand, universal love isn’t always adaptive, either.”
Although federal regulators have resumed granting approval for controlled experiments with psychedelics, there has been little public money granted for the research, which is being conducted at Hopkins, the University of Arizona; Harvard; New York University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and other places.
“There’s this coming together of science and spirituality,” said Rick Doblin, the executive director of MAPS. “We’re hoping that the mainstream and the psychedelic community can meet in the middle and avoid another culture war. Thanks to changes over the last 40 years in the social acceptance of the hospice movement and yoga and meditation, our culture is much more receptive now, and we’re showing that these drugs can provide benefits that current treatments can’t.”
Researchers are reporting preliminary success in using psilocybin to ease the anxiety of patients with terminal illnesses. Dr. Charles S. Grob, a psychiatrist who is involved in an experiment at U.C.L.A., describes it as “existential medicine” that helps dying people overcome fear, panic and depression.
“Under the influences of hallucinogens,” Dr. Grob writes, “individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change.”