The use of mind-altering substances have been part of human culture for several millennia. This desire to alter one’s perception of reality has also been observed in a multitude of animals. Indigenous people of South America have been known to use Peyote and Ayahuasca, their respective active ingredients being Mescaline, and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), in coming-of-age rituals. We can still observe this in Peru, where these rituals are legal and boys become men as they – after extensive puking and dry-heaving – delve into the innermost part of their psyche and as a result learn to live in harmony with nature and their tribe. The Psychedelics did not find their way to Europe and North America until 1943, when Albert Hoffman synthesized LSD – Lisergic Acid Diethylamide. The use of psychedelics, most notably Psylocibin and LSD, surged in popularity as their use in teenage curiosity turned to hippie counterculture that peaked in the 60s, and then abruptly stopped when the American government banned them in 1967. However in its years of legality many clinical studies were done on the effects of LSD on various conditions ranging from alcoholism to schizophrenia. In 1967 this research was discontinued and not picked up again until quite recently, as MAPS and other organizations have gained the rights to use them in research under a special license. “A few institutions still have the necessary licenses; but lack of money, restrictive rules, and public and professional hostility have made it almost impossible to continue the work. In rejecting the absurd notion that psychedelic drugs are a panacea, we have chosen to treat them as entirely worthless and extraordinarily dangerous.“ Collectively, we must stop being afraid of drugs. We owe it to ourselves to accurately teach about drugs in our schools. We owe it to ourselves to extensively study their functions and benefits, and we owe it to ourselves to replace our baseless fear with an empowering freedom that rekindles self-exploration and love through regulated recreational use of any drug.
The ultimate goal is the freedom of the individual to consume whatever it is they desire, given that it does not negatively impact others. The road there lies within clinical studies and administration. This ethical dilemma is very much the same as, and in fact also includes, the use of cannabis. The public perception of ‘Reefer Madness‘ as a result of Government propaganda, and its transition to the current successes of Marijuana legalization in Colorado mirrors that of other illicit drugs (namely Psychedelics and Entheogens). Like with cannabis, the next step is to show undeniable proof through research studies that these drugs have beneficial uses, and that when used responsibly, their negative effects are minimal. The good thing is that we’ve been slowly moving in the correct direction for a little while now. In the 60s and in many more recent studies we have seen that LSD is highly successful in treating alcoholism. It is even commonly known that Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous wanted to include LSD as the last step in the program. LSD has also been shown to help with anxiety and depression. Many similar studies have been done on other Psychedelics, and it is no coincidence these substances are regarded so highly in indigenous tribes. As for Entheogens, MDMA has had a success rate towards 80% in treating PTSD and is being used to treat various other psychological distresses.
In response to my desire to legalize these substances for regulated recreational use, many may refer to: the health dangers that come with these drugs, that one time their friend had serotonin syndrome, or when they themselves had a ‘bad trip’.
The risk of use and nearly all negative health effects disappear through proper usage and regulation of drugs. Most deaths or ills happen as a result of either irresponsible use, or the user receiving something else than what they buy. The road to responsible drug usage is long, but we can do better than we do now through having readily available information and a regulated distribution. A drug dealer has little incentive to care for his buyers’ health and it is therefore common that they distribute laced drugs in order to make more money with less risk. Being able to go to a pharmacy or a dispensary would guarantee you that you have what you intend to take, and they would be able to give you necessary information or perhaps require you to take classes before consumption. Currently, the only ways to know that MDMA and MAOi’s (common depression medicines) causes Serotonin Syndrome is through anecdotal stories, or underground websites like TripSit or Erowid. As for bad trips, they are real and present a problem, but they are not inherently bad, that all lies in interpretation, as we can learn a lot from these extremely powerful experiences. This hurdle can be overcome in various ways, but it is problematic when it comes to irresponsible recreational use. It is important that we learn to handle these difficult situations when they happen.
Ultimately, my argument lies with my belief that we must maximize the freedom of the individual. Although in this avenue it can be a rocky road, through the steps I laid out (and many, many more) we can reap the benefits that come with rejecting fear for progressive understanding.