Posts

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.

I happened to walk past this bar this morning

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.

Camera Shy Hidden

If I decide to ingest a psychedelic substance, such as LSD or psilocybin, I am committing a criminal action and risk being punished by law: But why?

  • Are these substances actually dangerous?
  • Is their prohibition to protect the public?
  • Are these laws just?
  • And do they benefit society?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is no, and that current laws which deem psychedelics illegal to be a transgression of freedom. These might sound like big claims, but I’m going to back them up with some help from our trusty friends science and logic. So, I believe a good place to start is to ask…

question mark

Why Are Psychedelic Substances Illegal?

The official answer, from those who created and enforce the law, (the government), goes like this;

“Current drug laws are there to protect citizens. Harmful, dangerous, and highly addictive substances are restricted by law to protect the public. Certain substances are illegal to prevent people from harming themselves and others.”

Sounds pretty logical, right? But if drug laws really exist to protect the public then it would logically follow that the most harmful substances carry the harshest punishments – and the least harmful would be legal. An assessment of harm will be useful here.

Assessing Harm: How Dangerous Are Psychedelics?

Let’s take a look at this chart which shows the results of a 2010 study in which drug-harm experts ranked 20 illegal and legal drugs on 16 measures of harm to both the user and wider society.

Drug Harm Chart

Source: David Nutt, Leslie King, Lawrence Phillips, “Drug Harms in the UK: A Multicriteria Decision Analysis,” The Lancet, Nov. 1, 2010

A more detailed breakdown of the harm analysis can be seen here:

detailed breakdown drug harms chart

The two psychedelics in the list, mushrooms (which contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin) and LSD are two of the least harmful substances. This list may be surprising or even shocking, but just take a moment to consider how our perception of drugs is influenced by hearsay and cultural norms as opposed to actual experience or valid scientific data. An amusing article which illustrates this point can be read on Vox here – Imagine If The Media Covered Alcohol Like Other Drugs

Making The Distinction: Psychedelics Are Their Own Class

If you’ve grown up in the Western world like me then you’ve probably been led to instinctively lump most illegal drugs into the same category – ‘dangerous and to be avoided’. But the truth is that there is an enormous difference between the effects and potential dangers of different illegal drugs. I’m sure you’d agree that heroin is more dangerous than weed, for example.

Psychedelics – like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT, and ayahuasca – also known as hallucinogens, are their own class and shouldn’t be confused or lumped in with other categories of drugs. Making this distinction is crucial when considering their harms and understanding the argument for their legalization. Here’s a chart which shows potential for dependence and the active/lethal dose ratio (how close the active dose of a drug is to its lethal dose).

active lethal dose dependence chart drugs

Source: Gable, R. S. (2006). Acute toxicity of drugs versus regulatory status.

Drug Law is Irrational

With all this in mind, it’s clear that the prohibition of psychedelic substances is not based on their potential for harm. The laws that prohibit them are not based on any scientific or logical analysis, and seen in this light can be considered irrational, contradictory, and massively biased towards users of legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.

So should our governments make alcohol and tobacco illegal, and put the punishment for their use in line with their potential for harm? I don’t think so, seeing as prohibition didn’t and still doesn’t work. Even if it did, this would be the stuff of a nanny state, interfering unduly with personal choice and treating its adult citizens like irresponsible children incapable of making such decisions for themselves.

The fair and logical way forward is to legalize psychedelics – in the interests of good sense and individual freedom. And this is what I believe is at the heart of this debate; freedom.

Psychedelic substances must be legalized in the name of freedom.

That may sound hyperbolic, but hear me out.

Freedom

braveheart freedom

FREEDOM!! But Braveheart jokes aside, current drug policy boils down to this:

I am not free to put what I want in my own body.

That’s it. I do not enjoy freedom over my own body. Think about it. Current law dictates that I should be thrown into a cage for the choices that I make about what I put inside it. The laws that prohibit me from making these personal choices undermine the whole notion of freedom that is fundamental to our sense of what is right and just in the West. I mean, we call ourselves the free world! And this is about more than just the body. It’s also about something just as, if not more, sacrosanct to who I am, an area that I as a free citizen must surely enjoy full sovereignty over: my mind.

Cognitive Liberty

LSD placebo brain scan images

Images showing brain scans from a 2016 study

Psychedelics alter the activity and chemistry of the brain and in doing so they alter consciousness. In other words, they change how we perceive reality at the most basic level. Their outlaw effectively means that we are not free to explore other modes of awareness or perception – we are not permitted to explore the altered states which psychedelics facilitate; states that enable us to plumb the depths of our own minds.

How can it be that we are not allowed to explore a domain so personal to ourselves? And in doing so face persecution, financial penalty and physical restriction? To me this is a crazy situation. These laws fly in the face of any idea that we are truly free. If we are to enjoy genuine freedom then we must be able to make our own reasoned choice as to what we put into our own bodies and in doing so, how we may choose to alter our perception of the world. Without this freedom of choice, we are not in fact free. Fundamentally, if you support freedom, you support the legalization of psychedelic substances.

Statue of Liberty

So where did these repressive laws come from? Surely they made sense at one time, at least when they were created…

The Origin Of The Law

The first country to outlaw psychedelics was the USA. Nixon signed the controlled substances act in 1970 which put most psychedelics on Schedule 1, prohibiting their use for any purpose. The decision to outlaw psychedelic substances was a move by the US government to stifle the anti-war and civil rights movements of the time, with the laws used to persecute, arrest, and make examples of leading figures of counter-cultural protest movements which growing use of LSD was linked with. It was a move the government made to ensure stability, or increase control – whichever way you choose to look at it.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. […] We could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
– John Ehrlichman, Former domestic policy chief and adviser to Nixon

Nixon launched the war on drugs and the appropriate government propaganda was spread to assure the public that these substances are dangerous and that it’s in society’s best interest that they be made illegal. Governments all around the world followed suit and psychedelics have been illegal and demonized in the Western world since. Nearly 50 years later we are still left with these laws, along with the fear and hysteria that surrounds them.

The Law Harms

As I said earlier, prohibition didn’t and doesn’t work, people continue to take drugs because it’s a natural human (and animal) urge to want to change our consciousness. By making psychedelics illegal we are actually making them more dangerous as there is no regulation or quality control of the substances and no designated establishments for safe or supervised use.

pub public house scotland

A pub – a licensed premises and designated space for enjoying a beer or other alcoholic drink

Bad experiences may also be influenced by a level of paranoia that might come when involved with a taboo and illegal activity. The creation of these black markets also means that all revenue from their sale is untaxed – money which could be going to drug education.

The Importance Of Education & Information

Education is a fundamental aspect of harm reduction when it comes to any potentially dangerous activity, not just drugs. This is why we have to get a driving license before we can take a car on the road, or have health and safety briefs or training for adventure activities like scuba diving, bungee jumping or skydiving. By and large, more education means safer. This is true of psychedelic experiences too.

Bungee jumping

Difficult or overwhelming experiences occur largely because someone is unprepared for what they experience or because they’ve taken it in an inappropriate setting. Rather than being a problem inherent to the substance, it’s because most people just don’t know any better.

Consider your own education of psychedelics, at school or otherwise. Now if you were to take LSD, how would you approach the experience? If you weren’t sure, would you feel comfortable asking a family member or work colleague for advice? How would you feel about searching online for advice if you were on a computer in a shared office or where someone might access your browser history? The stigma around the subject is a hindrance to the passing of information on the topic as it means that discussion is hidden and only talked about behind closed doors. You might even have friends or family members who have their own experiences and could offer advice – but as a taboo subject, you might not dare bring it up. The fact of their illegality only adds to the stigma and even those who take these substances will be afraid to share their experiences and knowledge.

Camera Shy Hidden

Psychedelics’ illegality and stigma stifle honest and open discussion of them – an informal education that not only reduces harm but can help to maximize the potential benefits of these substances.

Positive Potential Of Psychedelics

Psychedelics show incredible medicinal potential and are currently being studied in research settings for a wide range of treatments including addiction, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and also as a tool for psychotherapy. Early results are very promising. For example, in studies with psilocybin on terminal cancer patients suffering from depression and anxiety, 83% of participants reported increases in well-being or life satisfaction.

John Hopkins Psilocybin Study

Research setting for a study into the effects of psilocybin to treat depression and acute anxiety in cancer patients. John Hopkins University.

As well, psychedelics have served as inspiration for some of the greatest minds in history, be they writers, musicians, or nobel-prize winning scientists. The list of psychedelic users who have had a profoundly positive impact on society and the progress of humanity is extensive (link), and many have even credited their creativity and greatest discoveries to psychedelic use.

steve jobs iphone lsd

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life.” Steve Jobs

“What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR? I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
Biochemist Kary Mullis on his nobel-prize
  • Read more about the positive applications of psychedelic use here

Considering all the possible applications of psychedelics and their potential to improve lives and benefit society, we might even go so far as to consider that their prohibition is a serious hindrance to the progress of humanity.

The Law On Psychedelics Is An Important Issue

I understand that this is a contentious issue but its something I think needs to be talked about. I sincerely believe that it is not only with the interests of harm reduction and justice that this class of substances be decriminalized, but that it is fundamentally an issue of freedom. If you have made it this far and still believe there is good reason for psychedelics to be illegal, please get in touch, letting me know your thoughts and the reasons for your opinion. I’m open to new information and would like to be made aware of any arguments or points of view that I might’ve missed. I genuinely welcome the discussion and would like to believe that I would be willing to reassess my stance if I see that I’ve made a mistake.

If you’re not convinced either way or feel some resistance to the ideas that I’ve presented here, I ask that you consider at least some of what I’ve said might be true, and to then make your own investigation into the matter. There is increasing amounts of information about these substances online, including recent scientific research, their medical applications, and also the wider discussion of drug policy and reform. I’m not going to feed you any more sources, I’m sure you know how to do a google search 🙂

That’s it! Thanks for reading.

thumbs up

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

If you have enjoyed reading this please share with friends or people you think it may be of interest to. You can do so with the share buttons found below.

ai weiwei finger
ai weiwei finger

Courtesy the artist © 2015 Ai Weiwei

“What? You dont know about [insert x here]?! Have you been living under a rock?”

This is a response I’m sure you’re familiar with and has probably at one time or another led to some blushing or embarrassment on your part. And that’s what it was intended to do, subconsciously or not; to belittle you, to make you feel beneath the now outraged person, and for you to realise that on some level they are a better person than you because they are more informed about the matter at hand. In an attempt to avoid a repeat blushing in future interactions, you’ll then spend time getting up to date on whatever the trivial matter is. But let’s be honest, most of the time, from where you’re standing – it is trivial, and it isn’t fundamental to your own path.

“One of the most powerful things you can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media world is say: ‘I don’t know.’ Or, more provocatively: ‘I don’t care.’ Most of society seems to have taken it as a commandment that one must know about every single current event, watch every episode of every critically acclaimed television series, follow the news religiously, and present themselves to others as an informed and worldly individual.

But where is the evidence that this is actually necessary? Is the obligation enforced by the police? Or is it that you’re afraid of seeming silly at a dinner party? Yes, you owe it to your country and your family to know generally about events that may directly affect them, but that’s about all.

How much more time, energy, and pure brainpower would you have available if you drastically cut your media consumption? How much more rested and present would you feel if you were no longer excited and outraged by every scandal, breaking story, and potential crisis (many of which never come to pass anyway)?”

– Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman
from The Daily Stoic

  • P.S. Love this book, but more on that another time.

Let’s look at the bigger picture for a minute: our time on earth is limited. How do you want to use your time? Now, are you spending your time doing that?

Follow Your Bliss

“Follow your bliss and the world will open doors for you where there were only walls”
– Joseph Campbell

san jose del pacifico sunset mexico

Travel, with incredible views like this, is one of my sources of bliss. Photo taken last year in San Jose Del Pacifico, Mexico.

Do you have any dreams or ambitions in life? Perhaps you want to learn a second language? Run a marathon? Write a novel? Travel the world? Read the Greek classics? Become the best athlete that you can be? By constantly keeping up with mainstream media and culture, you’re continually spending precious time that could be used pursuing those goals, or doing and learning about things that you enjoy and really interest you; things that will lead to a more deeply gratifying life. (Or even just taking more time out for yourself to chill and recharge).

Fuck The News

“To a philosopher all news is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Think again before feeling guilty for not keeping up with current events. Science has proven that exposing yourself to a lot of news will cause you more stress and anxiety. ‘You are what you eat’ – this is true of your media consumption too. Is the information you are receiving nourishing you, making you feel more positive about your life and the world you live in? Or is it going to leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of your day, or even your week? Media has a significant effect on our mental and emotional health, so be mindful of what you consume.

Fuck Society

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti

Are you carving out a life that you yourself want to live? Or are you being pressured into doing what society expects you to do? A model citizen trapped in the circus of mainstream culture and media due to some unexamined fear of not being accepted by others and society? The very same society that has led us to the point where the world’s 8 richest people have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion? Where there’s a perpetual state of war? Where there are enough resources to shelter, clothe and feed everyone, yet half the world live in poverty? Where almost everyone knows that world leaders and politicians are crooks and the foundations of society are riddled with corruption? A consumer culture that tries to convince us that more money and things will eventually lead to happiness? Do you really want to be accepted by a society like this? Society is bullshit and so is anyone who mindlessly subscribes to the rules of the game. Don’t be a conformist! Carve your own path!

Live YOUR Life

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remember, your life is your life, so don’t give it over endlessly trying to please and be accepted by others. Find your own truth, and if you pursue what you are interested in, you will find the others. Your time on this planet is incredibly precious, use it wisely!