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Prohibition of Psychedelics

Marijuana became increasingly popular throughout the 1930s. During that period, newspapers published headlines such as “Murder Weed Found Up and Down Coast—Deadly Marihuana Dope Plane Ready for Harvest Means Enslavement of California Children.” The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was founded in 1930, and Henry Anslinger, the first commissioner thereof, “depicted marijuana as a sinister substance that made Mexican and African American men lust after white women” (Smoke Signals, 2012). Anslinger avoided using the word “cannabis” because mainstream America was generally unaware that the “weed that some blacks and Chicanos were smoking was merely a weaker version of… cannabis medicines.” In 1937, cannabis—from the 2,500-year-old Greek word kannabis—was banned in thirty-five states, and the Marihuana Tax Act made possession federally illegal. At the congressional hearing for the act, which Anslinger co-drafter, the commissioner stated that “[n]ot long ago… a fifteen-year-old boy went insane because… the boy was smoking marijuana cigarettes.” Anslinger remained in charge of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics until retiring in 1962. Over the next several years, the bureau merged with other enforcement agencies to eventually become the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1973. Since then, the DEA has continued the historical trend of information-distortion, and multiple commissioners have testified to Congress that “marihuana frequently leads to insanity.”

But why all this misinformation by the United States government? Dan Baum explained in his 2016 article titled “Legalize It All,” that the fight against narcotics is primarily motivated by politics, not humanitarian health concerns. The Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under Richard Nixon said: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people… We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with psychedelics and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 categorized “drugs, substances, or chemicals” into five schedules. Under that regime, all drugs with psychedelic or hallucinogenic qualities were placed under schedule I; meaning that the substances have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Of the eleven examples of Schedule I drugs posted on the DEA website in 2019—such as heroin, Marijuana, LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, etc.—six are psychoactive substances. In contrast, stimulants such as crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine are considered schedule II under the federal guidelines. By listing predominantly psychedelic compounds under schedule I, the DEA seems to be strongly conveying that psychoactive compounds are among the most useless and destructive class of drugs. None of the Schedule IV substances (those with “low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence”) are psychedelic, growable, or natural; and every drug listed under Schedule IV has been developed and sold exclusively by corporations. Interestingly, the DEA lists schedule IV substances, such as Xanax, Soma, Valium, Ambien, and Tramadol, under their promotional brand names. And of the nine listed examples on the DEA website, seven Schedule IV substances are either opioids or benzodiazepines. The New York Times reported that 43,982 overdose deaths occurred in 2013: 22,767 deaths involved prescription drugs, 23,208 deaths involved opioids or benzodiazepines, and absolutely zero deaths involved psilocybin, DMT, LSD, or cannabis.

Psychedelics are illegal as a result of discrete political subterfuge and overt corporate influence. The pharmaceutical industry earns approximately $440 billion in revenue annually from United States markets, and the global legal-drug trade generates revenue exceeding $1 trillion annually. And these corporations would lose billions if psychoactive compounds were to be used to treat the panoply of maladies that psychedelics have be clinically proven to treat. Additionally, the military intelligence project MKUltra, which existed under various names from 1950 to 1972, tested the effects of LSD at forty-four universities and twelve hospitals/clinics. The results of these trials suggested that LSD was not dangerous, and had a profound capacity for positive changes in cognition and emotional well-being. In the words of Terence McKenna: “psychedelics are illegal not because the government wants to protect us… but because [psychedelics] catalyze intellectual dissent.”

Psychedelics for Medicine and Meditation

Using psychoactive substances to induce an altered state of consciousness is as old as history, and cultures around the globe have utilized native plants to transcend the mundane and to witness reality from a more cosmic perspective. Archaeological analysis suggests that Marijuana has been cultivated in India since at least 4,000 BCE. And the use of psychoactive fungus and other plants has been a cultural practice in Mesoamerica for millennia. For example, in the Amazon, various native cultures regularly ingest ayahuasca, an admixture of several plants containing dimethyltryptamine, in order to cultivate divination and spiritual transformation. In contrast, Europe lacks a strong tradition of psychedelic use due in part to the fact that the only psychoactive plants that grow in that area, such as mandrake, henbane, and Datura, are highly toxic. Consequently, the fermentation of plants to create alcohol became the primary method of mind alteration among European cultures. And today, alcohol kills approximately 8,000 people annually in the United Kingdom.

Psychedelics offer the possibility of transforming the consciousness of the user. Research into the medical benefits of psychedelics has been explored extensively since the 1960s. The psychological effects of enhancing perspective, relieving depression, and dissolving egoism have been associated with psychedelics; and these findings have been clinically tested, recorded, and published by reputable research institutes such as John Hopkins University. Psychedelics have been used to treat a myriad of maladies including depression, anxiety, PTSD, drug and alcohol addiction, and even autism. Psychedelics are a gateway into consciousness that simply is not available during normal cognitive states. Consequently, the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung would regularly dose his clients in his clinical practice in order to allow the patient to detach from their ego and more objectively analyze their psyche. While most governments still regard these substances with suspicion, the mainstream medical community has long since concurred on the benefits of these compounds. In sum, psychedelics are ancient and powerful medicines that enhance the mind and heal the psyche.

Craig R. Chlarson