Something I find very interesting is how perspectives change on a collective and societal level. At our current point of incredible and accelerating global change, many societal shifts are underway, and this is happening with attitudes towards different types of drugs too.
Very taboo ones, like psychedelics, are becoming more accepted, championed even, and party drugs like MDMA and ketamine are gaining respect as therapeutic treatments.
Perhaps the most obvious example of how quickly a collective attitude towards a drug can shift from negative to positive is that of marijuana. Not so long ago it had fairly firm connotations of lazy people and potheads, and now in the States, it is a legitimate and respected medicine prescribed by doctors, with that reputation making its way worldwide.
In the other direction, older ones that have long been accepted like alcohol are dying down. Many people are cutting back, or quitting altogether, and the young generation are not drinking nearly as much as those gone before, even as recent as the youth of 20 years ago. A great example of this trend is the rise in alcohol free beers.
Sugar is another one that seems to be on the decline, something that people seem to be more conscious of in their use. The fact that many people now even view sugar as a drug is notable and this is something I think we will continue to see.
Another one which is beginning to be viewed more as a drug is caffeine. More and more people seem to be cutting back on coffee and keeping an eye on their caffeine intake. The idea that people have coffee addictions would have seemed very strange to me just 10 years ago. Now it seems totally normal, and also totally understandable due to the jitters and anxiety that a high intake can bring. I myself am currently doing a 30 day coffee break this month (yes another 30 day challenge, I know ).
What is Shifting Awareness and Social Acceptability of Drugs?
Awareness around mental and physical health is growing in general, as can be seen by the rise in the term ‘wellness’ which is at least in part as a response to rising rates of mental health problems. Also a big contributing factor is lots of good science and solid data, combined with thoughtful researchers and writers.
Recent examples that spring to mind are Michael Pollan’s best seller How To Change Your Mind, and The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. Pollan’s book tells us before we even begin, through its subtitle, that psychedelics have something to teach us across a wide variety of topics, and Taubes title sets the tone, with the book basically concluding that sugar should be a controlled substance.
New Categories Of Drugs
Another type of drug which is on the rise, and whose category bleeds into that of enhancer or supplement, is the nootropic. Nootropics are riding the wave of the rising trend of human performance and optimisation, and is linked to health as well as productivity. The category of nootropics is not that specific and could generally be termed as cognitive enhancers. As such it is wide ranging and includes things like medicinal mushrooms supplements, vitamin pills, and ‘study drugs’, such as modafinil. Because of its wide ranging term, it also includes drugs from other categories, such as coffee and microdoses of psychedelics.
What’s The Difference Between Drugs and Food?
An interesting discussion point made by both Terence McKenna and Michael Pollan is that of the distinction between food and drugs. Both affect our neurochemistry, our mood, health, energy, and sense of wellbeing. Both are consumed, as an external item into the body (this is where you would exclude exercise, for example, as a drug). Previously, one might have said that what is made in a lab is a drug and what is grown on land is food but the lines are blurring.
Some examples to consider the distinction:
- Magic mushrooms
- Processed food. Factory farmed meat.
- The very idea of ‘organic’ food
Are mushrooms food or drug? If they have a psychoactive effect, do they stop being a food? If diet affects mood and how our mindbody organism operates, is food a drug? If standard coffee is a drug, is decaffeinated coffee not? If our food is created in a lab or factory, is it still a food?
I find this to be a very interesting topic and I think the changing attitudes to drugs are intertwined with changing trends and increased focus on nutrition and diet. This can be seen with the huge rise in veganism, and also in new ideas of diets, such as gluten free, lactose free, paleo, keto etc. In general we are paying much more attention to what we are putting in to our bodies and the impact it has on us.
Where will be in 20 years?
I think that psychedelics will continue to rise, as both a means of self exploration and a science backed response to the mental health crisis, and I’d also suggest that veganism will continue to rise, as awareness rises of the appalling conditions of exploited animals, and seeing as the environmental problems we are facing don’t seem to be going away any time soon.
As for the others, I really am not sure. Perhaps nootropics will usher us towards the next stage of our evolution and we will merge with tech in an transhuman stage of life on earth. Really, its anyone’s guess.