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Entheogens
May 8, 2003 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Are psychedelic drugs good for you? Taken with proper caution, John Horgan, author of Rational Mysticism, believes they can be.
posted by homunculus (36 comments total)

 
ha ha. Rational Mysticism. Ha ha ha.

Anyway.
posted by xmutex at 1:51 PM on May 8, 2003


Want to know more? I'd recommend Huston Smith's Cleansing the Doors of Perception. Goes into more detail about the Good Friday Project mentioned here, as well as more explanations about entheogens in general.

By the way, maybe my info is outdated, but I thought that the members of the Native American Church currently have rights to ingest Peyote, "The Medicine." This guy seems to think that the New Mexico case he mentions would be a precedent. Too lazy to look into it further...
posted by zekinskia at 1:53 PM on May 8, 2003


Or possibly a cure for addiction.
For centuries the Bwiti tribe of West Africa has used the root for initiation ceremonies and, in smaller amounts, to stay awake during long hunts. The drug's story as an anti-addictive began in 1962, when college dropout and heroin addict Howard Lotsof obtained a dose from a chemist friend. "What happened is indelibly ingrained in my mind," Lotsof says. "I was living with my parents. I felt my feet hit the ground, and I realized I had no desire to use opiates."
posted by cedar at 1:54 PM on May 8, 2003


Cedar, that is backed up by testimony from Native Americans plagued by alcoholism or drug addiction, who after taking "the medicine" felt cleansed, and no longer desired their addictive behavior/substance. It's in the book I mentioned... good stuff.

Unfortunately, and as a side note, I don't think that there's really any academic opposition to legalizing psychedelic drugs. Government, big business, and mass media seem to be the opposers, and quite frankly, they don't give a damn if pot relieves suffering, or if psychedelics can lead to emotional well-being. God Bless 'Merica!
posted by zekinskia at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2003


Nobody needs to take a second acid trip. Once you get the message, hang up the phone.
posted by quercus at 2:04 PM on May 8, 2003


entheogens can serve a spiritual purpose, if used with reverence; after all, mind-altering substances have played an inspirational role in many religions

Ah, yes. Drug-induced religion. Where would we be without it?

So that's the strongest argument for legalization? Look, if it's to be distributed as a medical treatment, under supervision of certified medical specialists, and regulated by the FDA, I'm all for it. But if the best reason this guy come up with for legalizing drugs that "can cause acute and sometimes persistent psychopathology" is just so he can hang out with god in the forest, I daresay I'm underwhelmed.
posted by dilettanti at 2:07 PM on May 8, 2003


John Horgans website is a delight. I particularly enjoyed this encounter with Christian Ratsch who sounds like a wonderful scoundrel, painted in the most masterful colours.

A drug induced mystical experience is an unforgettable thing, whatever your beliefs or lack thereof. After 20 years there's still scarcely a day that I don't think about it.
posted by grahamwell at 2:26 PM on May 8, 2003


Nobody needs to take a second acid trip. Once you get the message, hang up the phone.

My experiences would confer with the basic concept, but not the number 1, necessarilly. After a finite number of acid trips, I found that I had gotten everything out of it that I wanted. But I guess that I am a complete loon, because I am sure that using LSD was an unmitigated positive for me intellectually and in terms of interpersonal relations. A friend once told me that psychadellics can be explained in two words: maybe not.

brrrrrrrfffyyytt!!!!!! i am the shirt of zion's barbershop! ftnuuunuo oni oni ug!
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:42 PM on May 8, 2003


I'm all for pot for cancer patients, and all that. But aside from certain moral convictions of mine, one needs to be in a safe place if one is gonna mess with one's perception.
Been there, done that, always had a babysitter.

Messing with one's brain chemistry is a serious thing. I will always have to wonder if I would have fewer pharmacy bills now if I had stayed away from the fun stuff way back then.
posted by konolia at 3:04 PM on May 8, 2003


"Ah, yes. Drug-induced religion. Where would we be without it?"

Well, we'd be without two of the Big Three monotheistic religions, seeing as how both Judaism and Christianity use wine as a sacrament in religious rituals and holidays--everything from drinking four cups of Manischewitz on Passover and being religiously directed to go get hammered on Simchat Torah and Purim, to the all-important transubstantiation.

Oh, wait, but alcohol's one of those "good" drugs used in religion, and God knows no one's ever gotten their minds or bodies messed up from playing around with too much boozing or boozing under the wrong circumstances or without the right supervision. Uh-huh.

Just because some people experience some of the wonder and awe and profound coolness of God while being aided by psilocybin mushrooms doesn't mean that their experiences are fake or somehow invalid. People use body modification to get in touch with the Divine--or a reasonable facsimile thereof--all the frickin' time. They fast (which drops their blood pressure and makes them lightheaded and not thinking too clearly.) They dance ecstatically (the Whirling Dervishes, the Shakers, the "Holy Rollers" writhing on the church floor). They go through mass suggestion/hypnosis (evangelist revivals with "faith healing"). And yeah, some people take peyote or shrooms or LSD, whether as part of a formal religious process/ritual or not. It's all different paths to the same endpoint.

(See also comments from drug policy maven (and blogger) Mark Kleiman.)
posted by Asparagirl at 4:00 PM on May 8, 2003


"Rational mysticism" is an oxymoron.

Screwing around with your ability to reason - unless it's (for instance) pre-operative anesthesia or otherwise medically necessary - is just wrong and stupid.
posted by davidmsc at 4:57 PM on May 8, 2003


No no no, screwing around with your ability to reason is potentially entertaining and fun. Much better than a coke habit, anyway. I agree, to a certain extent, with quercus, however. These are the sort of drugs that are worth experimenting with once or twice, with a long time between. Definately not for extended use, but don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

It's interesting you mention anesthesia, davidmsc; one of the most profound experiences of my life was when I was put under general anesthetic - my consciousness slipped away so completely and easily, I thought, afterwards, I now know what it will feel like to die. I can think back to and remember the experience, and it makes my hair stand on end.
posted by Jimbob at 5:04 PM on May 8, 2003


Screwing around with your ability to reason - unless it's (for instance) pre-operative anesthesia or otherwise medically necessary - is just wrong and stupid.

Wrong and stupid how? What does "wrong" even mean in this context? How can experiencing a different state of mind for a few hours necessarily be a bad thing? How much "ability to reason" can you alter before it switches from harmless recreation to "wrong and stupid"? Is caffeine OK? Beer? Vodka? Nitrous? Shrooms? LSD?

I simply can't agree with you; I took a pill once that screwed with my ability to reason, and it was one of the rightest and smartest things I've ever done. My life is permanently improved.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:56 PM on May 8, 2003


Let's compare the change in reasoning ability from a wine at church or a cup of coffee with a pill of LSD. Gimme a break. They're entirely different circumstances. An LSD trip and getting drunk might be a more apt analogy, in that in both cases, one's ability to function in society (that is, to take responsibility for one's actions toward others) is lessened. Quite frankly, I don't see how either LSD use or drunkenness could be defendable from an ethical standpoint. Other people are put at danger by your actions.

As for two other arguments brought up for drug use:
"Don't knock it until you've tried it" - does this apply to coke? Heroin? Rape? I'm not saying they're equivalent, but the fact that something hasn't been experienced first-hand doesn't mean that any judgment passed on the action should be dismissed.

The other is about using pot to lessen suffering. I have no doubt that it does. There are tremendous amounts of other substances that also lessen suffering, among them isolated THC. As an example, morphine also lessens suffering, but we don't suggest that you should use that before taking your Tylenol, you know?

And, as noted, "rational mysticism"? Being unable to think clearly improves your ability to understand the universe? LSD, since that's the drug of the day, causes people to be more likely to believe in telepathy (I wish I could find the study; if anyone else is familiar, help me out with the link). That doesn't prove that telepathy exists, it just proves that people lose rational capacity under LSD.

That said, should LSD be legalized? Of course. The biggest problems with LSD and drugs, as Jacob Sullum elegantly argued, involve the illegal market - impurities, lack of safety information (not saying most drugs can always be taken safely, only that they can be taken safer), higher price (leading to robbery among addicts), financial benefits to narcoterrorist groups, inner-city dealing violence, etc. etc. etc.

Should you use LSD? Of course not - it's tremendously reckless, both for yourself and for those around you in society, due to your decreased reasoning. Should you get drunk? No, for the same reason. But both alcohol and LSD should be legal, simply because the problems of illegality outweigh the problems of drunkenness and druggedness.
posted by Kevs at 7:48 PM on May 8, 2003


Uh oh... I thought it would never happen to me, but man, I'm havin' some kind of crazy flashback...

Also: What Ignatius said (except for that zion's barbershop part)
posted by soyjoy at 7:54 PM on May 8, 2003


Kevs, I guess it is fair to say that judgement by someone with a lack of experience shouldn't necessarily be dismissed, but the problem is, they don't have the whole story, particularly in commenting on the effects of drugs like LSD and Psilocybin. Most anti-drug-use people have no notion of what these substances actually do, and simply dismiss the feelings the drug users have out of hand - "Oh they were just high, ignore them, their psychadelic insights into the fluid nature of the universe is irrelevant". The sensations and experiences of psychadelic drug users are scoffed at - but they are real sensations and experiences of the human mind, and as such, are open to analysis and investigation. Given the often blunt refusal of people against drug use to see why people do use these drugs, their opinions seem somehow hollow.
posted by Jimbob at 8:02 PM on May 8, 2003


What Jimbob said. And also, there's no disagreement that being irresponsible (whether it's with alcohol, drugs, cars or lots of other things) isn't good, but denying the fact that the people who do these things responsibly far outnumber those who do them irresponsibly, and then basing your argument on the worst-case scenario (which is what it seems that Kevs is basing his argument on) is just blinkered. Most people who drink, drive (not at the same time) and take LSD and other drugs do so responsibly, the entire practice is not magically rendered "tremendously reckless" simply because a few people aren't responsible.
posted by biscotti at 8:17 PM on May 8, 2003


Kevs said:

"Let's compare the change in reasoning ability from a wine at church or a cup of coffee with a pill of LSD. Gimme a break. They're entirely different circumstances. An LSD trip and getting drunk might be a more apt analogy, in that in both cases, one's ability to function in society (that is, to take responsibility for one's actions toward others) is lessened. Quite frankly, I don't see how either LSD use or drunkenness could be defendable from an ethical standpoint. Other people are put at danger by your actions."

Wrong wrong wrong wrong.

I was never a danger to anyone else when I took LSD. How could a guy giggling on a couch be a danger to anyone?

And while the trip was fun, and I had a great deal of crazy and funny thoughts, I also was always aware that it was only a trip, and I was also very much still in control of my actions. My logic did not suffer. I had many thoughts that I remember as not being expressable in language, but I also had thoughts that were entirely logical and reasonable, like "oh, that was a crazy idea, I must be tripping hard, I should be writing all this down."

And if a drug being dangerous is a reason to outlaw it, then tobacco should be the most illegal drug of all.

But Prohibition didn't work with alcohol, and it's not working with other drugs, so what's the point?
posted by geekhorde at 9:07 PM on May 8, 2003


Exactly, biscotti. Apart from a few bloody stupid teenagers I know who pop acid like bitter housewives pop valium (and who will end up with fried brains), everyone I know who uses these drugs does so responsibly. They think about it. They prepare for it so it's a safe experience. Like the author in the article, most of them understand the potiential of these drugs not as "party drugs" or "every day" drugs, but as drugs to experience altered states of consciousness.
posted by Jimbob at 9:09 PM on May 8, 2003


Well, we'd be without two of the Big Three monotheistic religions

That's exactly what I was trying to hint at. And what a wonderful world this would be...

Oh, wait, but alcohol's one of those "good" drugs used in religion

Half of Horgan's main argument for legalization is that hallucenogens may help people have "sensations of profound awe and self-transcendence." I wonder if that was the reason for the repealing of the 18th amendment? If one were to argue that the public health effects of legalizing LSD and other hallucenogens would be no worse than those associated with alcohol consumption, and that we've tried legalizing alcohol and seem to have things reasonably under control, so that there seems little harm in making our public policy consistent, one might have a reasonable case. Horgan suggested that psychedelics "can be harmless and even beneficial," but the benefits are dubious, the harmlessness has some big caveats—mixing with cheese can cause cardiac irregularities—and the studies to support his claims are just getting underway. My issue is that the "spiritual" phenomena he's so excited about just don't add any strength to his arguments that the drugs should be legalized.

People use body modification to get in touch with the Divine

This sells me neither on body modification nor on religion. Horgan's article fares the same. Tying drug use to spirituality fails to raise either in my esteem. I'm not arguing that hallucenogens shouldn't be legal—I don't know enough about their deleterious consequences to have a strong opinion. All I'm saying is that this part of Horgan's argument isn't terribly compelling. Tell me they don't have any long-term side-effects. Tell me casual users don't actually freak out in public and claw other people's faces off. Dispel myths and misperceptions about their dangers. Tell me that legalization would allow for safe regulation or tax revenue or anything that would suggest that a change in public policy is actually warranted. But when Horgan waxes ecstatic about the grand smell of petroleum pervading throughout, I feel I've wasted some good ol' non-heightened-consciousness time reading a flimsy article that's all style and no, um, substance.
posted by dilettanti at 9:18 PM on May 8, 2003


geekhorde...I don't think LSD should be banned, but I think some of the confusion over my post might come from the fact that I think drunkenness is just as reckless (though I think both it and LSD should be legal).

As far as effects on *others*, tobacco is probably the least negative (again, see Sullum for some pretty good evidence on the true health ramifications of second-hand smoke, beyond simply "I don't like the smell of it"). I think you'd have to be straight up retarded with your health to smoke, but at least you're still mentally in full control.

While your trip may not have put you out of it, I've seen enough people's judgment be so out of wac as to make really bad decisions while on acid (and drunk and high, for that matter) that I think I can be safe that saying rational capacity diminishes while under the influence (that's why they call it under the influence, isn't it?).

Sure, you should be allowed to use LSD. I just don't think, on the personal level, you should do something to your brain that lessens your rational ability. Most people won't do anything reckless, sure. But enough people will...
posted by Kevs at 9:38 PM on May 8, 2003


Let's compare the change in reasoning ability from a wine at church or a cup of coffee with a pill of LSD. Gimme a break. They're entirely different circumstances.

I won't, and they aren't. Obviously caffeine doesn't "get you high" in the same way or to the same degree that LSD does. I wasn't claiming that it did. I was asking, where do you draw this arbitrary line? How much alteration of one's mental state will you accept before you say "that's too much"? And why should your line stand for anyone else?

This is a decision people should make for themselves. It has no place in the law books.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:31 PM on May 8, 2003


It's funny that tossing molecules into your brain makes people believe that everything is spiritual. I dunno. Glad I did it, I guess. Glad I don't do it no more...
posted by crunchburger at 10:50 PM on May 8, 2003


Once you get the message, hang up the phone.
funny, the first message i got told me there were more messages to be told than time and opportunity to hear them...
posted by juv3nal at 3:57 AM on May 9, 2003


Let's compare the change in reasoning ability from a wine at church or a cup of coffee with a pill of LSD.

What, LSD comes in pills now? I'm so behind the times. You kids, get offa my undulating firmament!

Haven't we heard enough of the "drugs reduce rationality" trope? Anyone who's done LSD knows that our normal state of thinking is anything but rational. We also know that we're not rational while we're tripping, but it's only once the effect wears off that we re-embrace the illusion that we're even capable of objective "rationality."

The comparison with alcohol, though it's been covered ad infinitum, still needs to be highlighted. Alcohol is an incredibly dangerous, highly addictive drug. Among its main effects on the mind are reducing thinking of all kinds (rational and non), increasing impulsiveness, and intensifying any violent tendencies. Yet this is legal while non-addictive hallucinogens (whose effects are almost exactly the opposite) are not. Why? Could it be because it serves the power structure to have the common man fuzzed up, dumbed-down and fearful, fighting it out with his neighbor, causing low-grade trouble and reacting to it, rather than stepping back and looking at the big picture and seeing the absurdity of it all?

I apologize to those who've heard this a thousand times, but some people apparently still need to encounter it.
posted by soyjoy at 7:52 AM on May 9, 2003


What does "wrong" even mean in this context? How can experiencing a different state of mind for a few hours necessarily be a bad thing? How much "ability to reason" can you alter before it switches from harmless recreation to "wrong and stupid"?

Because it's dangerous to some people, Mars. And last I checked, people don't come with warning labels as to who will have a bad trip or become psychotic.

I would have thought you would have learned this lesson in March 2001, when I became psychotic and had to be hospitalized. Or has your memory of that day already faded?

I simply can't agree with you; I took a pill once that screwed with my ability to reason, and it was one of the rightest and smartest things I've ever done. My life is permanently improved.

Funny, I took the same pill and had a totally different outcome. Granted, I added another drug and had an undiagnosed underlying psychiatric condition that launched me into delusional psychosis.

I lost my job, my daughter, and my sanity. And thanks to you, I got my heart broken and a nasty case of scabies that tormented me for months with incessant itching.

I guess as long as it turned out okay for you it's all good?

Or do secondary effects not matter?

I'm still rebuilding my life, two years later. Things are improving and I'm on medication. I've ditched the drugs for good. I'm working again, though my job is only temporary.

Be careful people, you never know what will happen when you mess with something as complex and powerful as the human mind. Drugs ruined my life, and I'm still picking up the pieces.
posted by beth at 8:04 AM on May 9, 2003


"it's dangerous to some people"

Again, so is alcohol. Suppose instead of having a bad trip, you had gotten drunk and had a DUI car accident that screwed up your life instead. Should we then ban alcohol because some people just naturally don't react well to it or don't use it responsibly?

"Granted, I added another drug and had an undiagnosed underlying psychiatric condition that launched me into delusional psychosis."

Um, those are not minor caveats.

And it's interesting that you don't mention which drugs, plural, you were mixing. The article is about psychedelics specifically, not dissociatives or opiates or depressants or deliriants or amphetamines, all of which have known physical and mental health risks that, say, two ounces of psilocybin mushrooms don't (or at least haven't been shown to).

I'm sorry you had such a horrible experience; that sounds truly awful. And you're absoluetly right that the medical risks of drug use should not-not-not be papered over. But I don't think that's a good enough reason to continue some drugs' criminalization, or the stigmatizing of the many people who do use them responsibly and for the most part without bad effects.
posted by Asparagirl at 8:49 AM on May 9, 2003


i dont know how to read
i dont know how to do drugs
posted by Satapher at 8:54 AM on May 9, 2003


I'm struck by how the debate hasn't moved on since the 60s. The same voices, making the same arguments pro and con. Given the huge increase in the number of people with experience of psychedelics that seems odd.

Remembering those debates as a cautious teenager I recall that they made no difference to me in the end. The decision to take acid was based purely on respect for those who already had. They seemed to know something important that others did not and I was very curious to find out what it was.
posted by grahamwell at 9:39 AM on May 9, 2003


oh, good heavens, beth; this is hardly the place to argue over our unhappy little breakup. No, I haven't forgotten your experience, but it certainly wasn't anything like normal. As you mentioned yourself:

Granted, I added another drug and had an undiagnosed underlying psychiatric condition that launched me into delusional psychosis.

That makes one hell of a difference. Perhaps things would have gone differently had the drugs been legal, so you could have consulted a doctor first and found out that it was a bad combination. But this is America, and Drugs are Bad, so we just ban everything and damn the consequences, along with those people who are curious enough to peek behind the fences.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:49 AM on May 9, 2003


Haven't we heard enough of the "drugs reduce rationality" trope? Anyone who's done LSD knows that our normal state of thinking is anything but rational. We also know that we're not rational while we're tripping, but it's only once the effect wears off that we re-embrace the illusion that we're even capable of objective "rationality."

If this is the sort of thing you "know" after you've done LSD, it's an excellent argument against ever doing it.
posted by kindall at 10:18 AM on May 9, 2003


Right. Or, more precisely, against never doing it.
posted by soyjoy at 11:06 AM on May 9, 2003


Most of the people I've known who have done psychedelics had positive experiences and are no less rational or unstable than before. Quite the contrary actually, as their experiences increased their curiosity in philosophy and science and led to further learning. But I also knew two people who did far too much and eventually went nuts. Above all these drugs are powerful, and that power should be respected. They can be very rewarding for some and very dangerous for others. I think Horgan has the right idea:

"Risks could be minimized by making these substances available only through licensed therapists, who can screen clients for mental instability and advise them on how to make their experiences as rewarding as possible. Some people might be prescribed entheogens for a specific disorder, such as depression or alcoholism. And just as drugs such as Prozac and Viagra are prescribed not just to heal the ill but also to enhance the lives of the healthy, so might entheogens."

As with other drugs, legalization would provide increased control. If entheogens were generally viewed as the domain of professionals like Grob (though people like him are rare,) I think some of the nightmare scenarios could be avoided. People are always going to take risks, so it's best to guide their behavior rather than try to suppress it.
posted by homunculus at 11:14 AM on May 9, 2003


The same voices, making the same arguments pro and con. Given the huge increase in the number of people with experience of psychedelics that seems odd.

Yep. The pro argument includes more medical evidence now, but the fundamental philosophy behind it hasn't changed. People on the con side aren't going to have their minds changed because the philosophy behind their argument hasn't changed either. Many people on the con side aren't interested in the experiences of those who've taken drugs anyway, unless the experience was a negative one, which bolsters their argument.

And don't forget that the stigma attached to drugs is still very much in place in many places, so even those who've experimented and enjoyed their experiences may be loath to discuss them. Those who are vehemently against drugs can make life difficult for those who aren't in some situations, so in many cases it's best to keep it under your hat.

Drugs of any kind are not completely benign, people need to inform themselves in order to be responsible in their use (and being responsible includes finding out about possible interactions with other drugs, and avoiding the negative ones). I very much doubt that someone combining alcohol and sedatives with ill effect would make a compelling argument for banning either, when it's clear that the problem isn't with either drug, but the combination thereof. The problem isn't with the drugs, but with a lack of information about them.
posted by biscotti at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2003


Here's some common sense on the subject - and a nice conclusion.

... maybe what the cause for an honest discussion of drugs needs, as much as its diligent scholars, is a propagandist team all its own. Perhaps they could put together an ad campaign, paralleling Apple's Think Different line, with images of William James, Stephen Jay Gould, Tom Robbins, and other unapologetic drug users. Maybe they could organize a national coming-out day -- handing out felt marijuana or coca or poppy leaves for people to wear. And maybe for a day, we could all just say what we know.
posted by grahamwell at 12:55 PM on May 9, 2003


It's funny that tossing molecules into your brain makes people believe that everything is spiritual.

Dude, you could seriously use a hit.
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2003


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