The War On Nature

Holland is now considering banning mushrooms that grow in the ground, and Kansas is now moving to ban a plant, salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic herb. Note the rigrous standard of evidence in both cases for restricting a basic human freedom to enjoy the natural products of God’s green earth:

Tom Stanton, president of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, said he became interested after hearing about the Delaware suicide and seeing videos on the Internet of teenagers under the drug’s influence.

Stanton said he didn’t have any statistics to show how widespread the drug’s use is, but he said the Internet videos were enough for him to determine its use needed to be controlled.

No studies, no data, no honest or open inquiry into how such plants and shrooms might actually expand our consciousness and provide insights or help deepen an individual’s experience of life. Just one disturbed teenager, and the entire thing becomes illegal for everyone. Update: they’re trying to ban it in Massachusetts too!

God’s Medicine

The latest installment of the ground-breaking study on the effects of psilocybin, aka magic mushrooms, brings more interesting news:

The experiment was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The results were published online Tuesday by the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Fourteen months after taking the drug, 64 percent of the volunteers said they still felt at least a moderate increase in well-being or life satisfaction, in terms of things like feeling more creative, self-confident, flexible and optimistic. And 61 percent reported at least a moderate behavior change in what they considered positive ways.

That second question didn’t ask for details, but elsewhere the questionnaire answers indicated lasting gains in traits like being more sensitive, tolerant, loving and compassionate.

And yet this completely non-toxic naturally occurring substance is still illegal in the US. We don’t know whether psilocybin could be integrated into existing mental health treatments, or simply become a recreational spiritual resource for responsible adults.

A Journey, Not An Escape

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

Long time reader, first time writer. Forgive the somewhat trite pseudonym, as I’m writing from a dead-drop e-mail account that’s not linked to my real identity. I’m sure you understand, given the somewhat more controversial nature of writing about psychedelic mushrooms than smoking the occasional joint.

Like many who went to college in Central California, I ate mushrooms a handful of times. Nearly every time, I either learned something new about myself or had some core principle of my consciousness upheld. The first time I shroomed, I was moved to tears watching a spider weave its web, perfectly framed between two swaying redwood trees. This renewed my appreciation for the everyday miracles of nature. To this day, I’ll often stand on the sidewalk of my busy DC-area street and watch a leaf drop to the ground with a similar sense of wonder – something that no doubt vexes hurried commuters.

Perhaps my most profound experience came during a trip that was by all accounts transcendental.

I was walking along a path in my favorite stretch of forest, and as I broke out into a meadow, all of the trees seemed to bloom simultaneously. I wondered if this is what Heaven was supposed to be like. That led to another thought: what if I was already dead, and that this was my paradise? I began to think of how I hoped my life had meant something, and that I’d gotten to say what I wanted to say to my friends, family and loved ones before I passed. I then began to think of what exactly I would say to  these people if I knew my death was imminent. Far from being a negative or morose experience, I made peace with my eventual death, and I often revisit those thoughts.

I used shrooms two weeks before 6423235_c04495719e_bundergoing major reconstructive surgery after a skiing accident, steeling myself for the pain and rehab as I stood on a beach and watched the pounding waves from a winter storm. I used them after my recovery was complete, relishing being able to run, jump, climb and roll around on a secluded, sandy beach on a early fall afternoon. I used them to come to terms with ending a relationship, and another time, to begin a new one.

Not every trip was a good one, but even the bad ones taught me things. I learned I’ve got the psychological stamina to turn around severe fear. I once was nearly bitten by a black widow spider after finding myself covered in ticks after my sober buddy (don’t trip solo!) convinced me that crawling through a dense thicket was the best way back to a trail.

It wasn’t all just feel-good hippy stuff, either. Shrooms helped steer me on my current career path. Some thoughts I had during a trip compelled me to check out all the books my university library had on Middle Eastern politics and history, which informed my decision to study the M.E. in graduate school and spend another year traveling through several Arab and Muslim countries while studying Arabic and gaining a first-hand appreciation for the region and its culture. In turn, I’m now employed in a position that pays me to read, write and study the Middle East, and I couldn’t be happier.

It’s been over six years since my last trip, and I don’t know if another one’s in the future. Professional considerations make it unlikely, and I honestly don’t know if I have the right mindset for it anymore. At the time when I used them, it was right for me. Psilocybin is a powerful and potent thing that can’t just be abused whenever you’re looking to escape. I made that mistake a couple of times, and I didn’t gain the profound lessons that my more memorable trips gave me.

If used with caution and an open mind, psilocybin can show you things about yourself and the world that you’d never considered. I’d never say that EVERYONE must try it at some point in their life. But if it’s something you’re curious about it, try it and see where it takes you. You’ll always remember the journey.

(Photo by Flickrite underbunny)

A Journey, Not An Escape, Ctd

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

I'm happy to see the debut of the (yet-to-be-named?) "Mushrooms Closet." I was an avid reader of "The Cannabis Closet" and bought the book, mostly to show my support. This kind of reality-based dialogue is invaluable for the cause of sanity during this pivotal moment in the drug war.

I hope I'm not being nongermane, but for me to write about psilocybin, I also need to write about LSD, because they are inextricably linked for me. I realize LSD isn't natural like mushrooms, but save for that one facet: the way these two drugs fit into my experience (and, frankly, society) is very similar. I'll try to spare you my life story, but my formative years were key to my later drug use.

I grew up in a tiny Nebraska town, and although there was pot there, I never had the opportunity to try it. (I probably could have gotten ahold of meth more easily.) Instead I spent high school engrossed in every activity I could possibly squeeze in: band, drama, sports, speech, and relentlessly preparing for college — getting ready for "the real world."

Well, in college, shit got real. On the first day, my new roommate pulled out his little wooden box. We spent the night giggling and I was hooked. I know they say pot's not addictive, and generally I agree, but for the next year and a half I got stoned several times daily, choosing it over class, studying, exercise, family, activities, and worst of all, my girlfriend. I lost her and my full-ride scholarship, I went on academic probation and nearly flunked out, and I almost had a nervous breakdown.

Is this because of marijuana? Of course not. These were my own decisions, caused by naiveté, laziness and fear. Pot simply helped me not think about them.

Shortly after my first marijuana experience, I tried LSD and mushrooms. I skipped class a couple of times to day-trip (4/20 anyone?), but in contrast to pot, the most endearing quality of these hallucinogens is what I once heard called "the progress-checker." While I now love the occasional joint for relaxation, it took me far too long to realize that I shouldn't make decisions while high. The opposite is true of hallucinogens. Trips were the most lucid and honest evaluations of my life during those two years. In fact, I can attribute at least in part my eventual modest success in college to the times I realized with horror while tripping how badly I was screwing up my life. Pot is for checking out; hallucinogens are for checking in. Way in. I was forced to think about school, about family, about my life. It was terrifying, but in the way I imagine therapy can be.

Your contributor mentioned the journey. During a (good) trip, the vastness and beauty of the individual journey is simply staggering. Acid is the only time I have actually wept with joy; it is also the only time I was convinced I was about to die and accepted my fate. They helped me through the existential muck – I made peace with impermanence and insignificance. Hallucinogens helped make me who I am: They opened my eyes to the intricate depths and fantastic surrealism of nature (psilocybin while hiking the Zion Narrows – I'm an atheist but that's the closest I've been to god); they've helped forge deep, permanent friendships through shared, unique and utterly insane experiences.

Not to mention the staggeringly beautiful visuals. I will never forget a young Sean Connery speaking plainly to me from his James Bond poster on the wall, or a brick wall flapping in the breeze.

Sometimes I think the world would be a better place if everybody would trip hard just once.

Dissent Of The Day

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

I used to take psychedelics often, and I understand the appeal of them. I’d probably still be using them if I knew anyone who sold them. But the pro-drug posts on the Dish, with the exception of the marijuana posts, feel like they were written people who don’t have that much experience with drugs. While it’s true that most people just have fun and move on, it’s also true that a lot of people get into pretty serious trouble. Most people who have spent time around drugs know people who have had their lives ruined, or who have been turned into really awful shells of their former selves.

What that means, as a practical matter, is that when I read pro-drug posts, I think of a cocaine addict I used to know who would fly into violent rages at the drop of a hat, or the heroin addict who got hepatitis, or even just the drunk who looked 70 when he died at 50. I’m not saying that those people’s stories ought to drive policy for everyone. Again, most people don’t end up in those places. But if you really know about drugs, you know those people. And since their stories never seem to inform your posts, I wonder where you guys are coming from.

Andrew always says the same thing – people who hate drugs are anti-pleasure. He never addresses any real arguments against drugs – the damage they often do to people.

I love acid. If I had some, I’d take some and hole up this weekend, watching old movies on TV. But the idea that it gives you some deep insight into the world is bogus. It *feels* like it gives you deep insights into the world, but it’s very hard to bring anything back to your day to day life. It’s sort of like after you’ve had a vivid dream, as you are waking up you can feel the events of the dream slip away. People who do real work — who pray or meditate over extended periods of time — have an aura about them. They seem calm, centered. You don’t really get that same feeling from acid heads.

And the idea that you can take drugs and grab ahold of some easy wisdom is really misleading. Maybe I sound like a Puritan, offended by someone finding a shortcut. That’s not where I’m coming from, though. I really wish it were true. But wisdom is hard to come by. it takes effort, and time. People wrestle with their faith their entire lives, in good times and bad. It’s hard, but it makes them deep. The idea that some molecule is going to give that to you over a weekend is similar to the idea that the right penny stock will make you rich, or that some pill will let you lose 50 lbs without exercising or dieting.

I agree with you guys that if you look at our prison population, or at what’s going on in Mexico, or in Afghanistan, our drug policy is really messed up. And it’s not just sub-optimal in some abstract sense. It’s ruining lives and communities, and in some cases, nations. It’s really wrong, and it has to be changed.

But if you’re going to have a real debate about it, you have to get all of the various perspectives to sit down together and hash it out. Simply ignoring all of the negative stuff, and talking about how much fun it is to take ecstasy, or how medical marijuana really helps people, and wow we’d really be living in the age of Aquarius if only those uptight people would take the sticks out of their asses, isn’t going to convince anyone. It’s such an unconvincing (and self-satisfied) argument that it makes people think you don’t have a good argument at your disposal. If you did, why would you deploy such a weak one instead?

If you talk about medical marijuana, and you don’t talk about the rampant fraud among people who lie about symptoms to get prescriptions, then you’re not having a realistic discussion. Some people are helped, there’s no doubt about that. Sometimes the help is life changing. But there’s a lot of fraud out there as well. It’s all part of the bigger story. And it all has to be balanced out.

For the record, the Dish has run a long series of posts on the horrors of crystal meth – here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for instance. We’ve also aired many dissents over marijuana use – here, here, here, here, and here, for instance.