entheogens and the mind of society, Part 2
The Truth Behind Prohibition and the Potential of Entheogens
The invisible bars of domestication in civilized society manifest as thought patterns that function like computer viruses. They hinder self-awareness, emotional maturity, and the capacity to see through the mesmerism of big-media culture. They leave us fighting, even killing each other, over trivial matters hyperbolized by their opposition to our embedded social identities. When we look into recent history, we see that it was freedom from these bars that entheogens (specifically LSD) began to awaken through the hippie-culture movement of the 60’s, eventually catalyzing the push for their prohibition.
Young people were ‘dropping acid’ and all of a sudden leaving their jobs in the city to return to nature and start farms or communes, making claims against the war in Vietnam, and speaking heresy like “we are all one race: human”, “there is no ‘They’”, and “make love, not war”. They were being deconditioned from the prevailing civic, remapping their personal and social identities, and opening to the consideration of dramatically different paradigms. This blatantly threatened the norms of the puritanical, military-industrial, anti-communist, cold war, pro-draft political era.
In order to create the cultural push for criminalizing these deconditioning agents, to justify prohibition, a massive media campaign was started to strike fear in the hearts of the unacidified. This was a desperate attempt to maintain slipping control over the mind of the youth and thus the mind of future society.
Of course, there was danger involved with the acid-abundant hippie movement. The unbarred and excessive use of these substances, like the use promoted by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, can create such a profound disconnection from the structures of society that one may become psychologically unable to return. The imaginative realms of the psychedelic mind can become more real than the waking state consensus through which most of us typically interface with each other. This warrants concern as it can enable the malevolent manipulation of peoples’ minds. Examples of this include the actions and social dynamics of Charles Manson and the Manson Family, and the experiments run by the CIA-funded mind-control program known as Project MKUltra. However, these potential dangers are hardly just reason to criminalize ALL known psychedelic substances under Schedule 1 in the United States, having ‘no medical value’ as set out in the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. (In Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act of 1996 placed LSD among other tryptamine psychedelics such as DMT and Psilocybin under Schedule iii. This may seem less intense than US Schedule 1 as it implies there may be medical value, but the level of control around their research and the punishment for possessing substances under Schedule iii is still rather high.)
The choice to schedule these substances as having no medical value flew in the face of 20 years of academic research showing huge promise for their psychotherapeutic potential. Before Tim Leary’s dismissal from Harvard, the ‘Hippie’ movement, and the acid waves of the late 60’s, LSD was considered to be for psychotherapy what the telescope was for astronomy (a comparison introduced by Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, M.D.). In fact, the very science of chemical intervention in contemporary psychiatry, e.g. SSRI antidepressants, was born in the academic study of psychedelics. Furthermore, the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA by Francis Crick and the era of the personal computer via Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both huge advances in science and technology, have been attributed to their use of LSD. And this is not all; a whole world of psychotherapeutic and cultural potential was opening through psychedelic research, both academic and otherwise. With their classification as Schedule 1 came not only public prohibition, but also a complete ban on their academic study, debilitating the potential for entheogens to better human life, as in the healing of serious mental illness.
When we look at the history of the Western prohibition of entheogens from this angle, it seems clear that the intentions around their criminalization resemble a book burning more than a public safety movement. Our approach has not changed much since then. The aforementioned style of public manipulation (media-driven fear induction) justifies the criminalization of various entheogen and other psychoactive substances. This negative approach to their use in ‘civilized’ culture prevails as the dominant pattern in sociopolitical policy.
Along with the legal consequences of use and possession, the media (style and content) perpetuates an operant conditioning which drapes the veil of ignorance across our eyes. It also continues to be the primary factor influencing public discourse on the subject -- from LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, to MDMA, ketamine, and the explosion of so-called ‘research chemicals’ in the contemporary era.
Of course, drugs of a potentially abusive nature deserve to be contemplated and studied, and appropriate actions must be taken to protect from their destructive or ignorant use among the populace. But instead, these substances are being increasingly buried under bureaucratic red tape, legal punishment, and socially-embedded fear and ignorance before the artists, spiritualists, philosophers, scientists, or anyone else is invited to ask questions about what they may have to offer the human race. And if we are not free to ask questions, regardless of what those questions are about, then how free are we?
Thankfully, 35 years since the near-complete barring of these substances, there is a resurgence in psychedelic research amongst the academic world. This research is gathering momentum and evidence for entheogens as vitally important tools in psychotherapy and normal human psychological health. These widely prohibited and feared psychedelics may help to effectively heal the mental disorders that plague our society at this time – depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and existential alienation – while engendering a more open, healthy, happy, and creative experience of life in general.
It is not just academia that is being affected by this resurgence. Its momentum is creeping into the mainstream as we see the results of this research alongside a strong revival of interest into indigenous cosmology and philosophy creeping into the mainstream culture.
With this academic progression and swelling cultural interest have come the evidential and experiential realization that psychedelic substances – entheogens – have been used since the dawn of humankind, in controlled or ceremonial settings, to treat mental-emotional instability, engender tribal togetherness, mark one’s entry into adulthood, and awaken a sense of unity with nature and, for lack of better terms, ‘God’ or ‘Spirit’. With these possibilities brought to light, entheogens become an important topic for us to engage with privately and publicly.
If we are not free to ask questions, regardless of what those questions are about, then how free are we? The public deserves to be informed of the truth, not the sensationalism. As a species of self-awareness and creativity, we deserve the respect of this truth. We each deserve the right to make informed choices and to ask questions without reprimand. If we begin to ask ourselves questions about the taboo entheogens, what comes into light? Looking at their history of use, the contemporary research, and the current state of civilization, a logical correlation becomes clear.
Civilization is plagued by neurosis, depression, mental and emotional instability, deep individualization, addiction, and broad-sweeping abstraction from nature, amongst other awful expressions of human anti-potential, and this creates behaviors informed by this instability, such as rampant materialism, destruction of the natural ecology, cultural and religious wars, and diet and lifestyle choices that further damage our bodies and minds;
And these anti-potentials are the result of a disconnect from the very attributes that define us as human: creativity, ingenuity, the capacity to work together, problem solving, verbal language connoting and denoting abstract concepts, self-reflexive awareness, and a conscious sense of connection with each other and the essence of life;
And the transmutation of anti-potentials into a healthy expression of our innate and extraordinary human attributes seems to be the very thing the healthy use of entheogens encourages in us;
And the emergence of these extraordinary attributes can been found alongside the use of entheogens in the history of almost every culture that has existed since the dawn of our species 200,000 years ago, except for the current Western domesticated civilization;
Maybe the removal of entheogens is directly correlated with our descent into domestication and the resulting anti-potentials that plague us. This would logically lead us to consider that the reintroduction of them in practice and in discourse may very well be an essential tool for breaking the invisible bars of the ‘civilized’ mind and rewilding ourselves into extraordinary humans. The results of such a change on the expression of human culture and society would be profound.
This if/then conclusion may seem simply stated, because it is. There are many more complexities involved here. But when we look deeper into those complexities, into the experimental and experiential history of entheogens, we find evidence for the expressed ‘then’ conclusion through their effects on:
- our capacity for creativity,
- movements of art and culture, historically and in the present,
- neurological organization, such as the cultivation of neuroplasticity,
- psychological processes, like chronic fear, depression, openness, social identity, and mental-emotional stability,
- meditation and self-awareness,
- spirituality and religion.
Again, each of us deserves the right to make informed choices and ask questions without reprimand. Thankfully, a growing wealth of intelligent discussion on entheogens is now available to help guide those questions.
With earnest investigation, we can inform ourselves about the truth, break the ignorance with which we have been inundated, engage in lucid discourse on entheogens, and just maybe create a cultural change opening us up to the personal and social potentials we can create for ourselves with the help of these substances, and in turn, the personal and social potentials we can create for each other.