Religious Freedom and Psilocybin


We now have very solid evidence that magic mushrooms – or, more scientifically, mushrooms containing psilocybin – are astonishingly effective in giving humans life-changing mystical experiences. More research is needed – but the National Institute for Drug Abuse won’t cough up the funds. Memo to wealthy libertarians: open your checkbooks. Mark Kleiman makes a further point:

Though psilocybe mushrooms grow wild in much of the country and are fairly easily cultivated, the psilocybin they contain is a Schedule I controlled substance, contraband except for specially-approved research purposes, and therefore so are the mushrooms themselves.

But the Supreme Court recently held (Gonzales v. O Centro) that the use of hallucinogens in religious ceremonies is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and must be permitted unless there is a particularized showing of harm. It is well-established fact that psilocybin is neither addictive nor physically toxic, though it is not without psychological and behavioral risks, especially when used haphazardly.

If taking a dose of psilocybin under controlled conditions has a better-than-even chance of occasioning a full-blown mystical experience, it seems fairly hard to argue that forbidding such use doesn’t interfere with the free exercise of religion. How the courts will deal with those who want to seek out primary religious experience on an individual rather than a congregational basis remains to be seen.

This strikes me as a very basic principle for religious freedom. I look forward to the Christianist movement standing up for the religious freedoms of others. But I don’t have my hopes up.