“When our remote ancestors moved out of the trees and on to the grasslands, they increasingly encountered hooved beasts who ate vegetation. These beasts became a major source of potential sustenance. Our ancestors also encountered the manure of these same wild cattle and the mushrooms that grow in it. Several of these grassland mushrooms contain psilocybin… the familiar “magic mushroom” now grown by enthusiasts worldwide.” – Food of the Gods, Terence McKenna, page 37
Our first interdependence with other species, those domesticated so long ago that their wild forms no longer exist, may have been formed via the medium of a drug. No culture created by man failed to enshrine and include at least one psychoactive drug in its beginnings, though the later “dominator cultures” came to rely entirely on a toxic mix of alcohol, sugar, caffeine and increasingly powerful artificial compounds. The colonization of the Americas and Africa was fueled by this mix, and some historians, notably Howard Zinn, claim it motivated slavery, genocide, and war.
The founding fathers of America grew hemp/marijuana and Queen Victoria smoked it for menstrual cramps, and almost every educated person of the 19th century tried some form of cocaine. Not to mention all Coca-Cola drinkers. It may be no coincidence that Britain ruled so much with so few, and that the United States still disavowed imperialism itself, up until the time of suppression of these drugs in the early 20th century.
According to McKenna and Gordon Wasson, “the presence of a hallucinogen indicates that shamanism is authentic and alive; the late, decadent phase of shamanism is characterized by elaborate rituals, ordeals and reliance on pathological personalities.” One could reasonably argue this is the case in America today.
McKenna continues: “Where these phenomena are central, shamanism is well on its way to becoming simply “religion”. At its fullest, shamanism is not merely religion, it is a dynamic connection into the totality of life on the planet… a transformation of information from one species to another… Where plant hallucinogens do not occur, cultural innovation occurs very slowly, if at all, but we have seen that in the presence of hallucinogens a culture is regularly introduced to ever more novel information, sensory input, and behavior and thus is moved to higher and higher states of self-reflection. The shamans are the vanguard of this creative advance.” – both quotes from page 61
If correct, bans on hallucinogens do nothing but attempt to preserve stagnant dying cultures at their peak, long past the time when they should have evolved into new forms. From this perspective, the drug trends of the 1960s can be reasonably seen as a direct parallel to the political change demanded by revolutionaries of that era. The politics of the hippies and their drug, LSD, were suppressed at the same time and by the same administration. According to McKenna that is no coincidence.
History aside, the case for bans on psychoactive drugs invariably comes down to the lack of predictability of an individual’s reaction, especially when using it alone:
“…the psychoactive amines, alkaloids, pheromones and hallucinogens… can interact with any of the senses ranging from taste and smell to vision and hearing and combinations of all of these. The acquisition of a taste for these compounds, the acquisition of a behaviourally and physiologically reinforced habit, is what defines the basic chemical addiction syndrome. These compounds have the remarkable ability to remind us of both our frailty and our capacity for the magnificent. Drugs, like reality, seem destined to confound those who seek clear boundaries and an easy division of the world into black and white. How we meet the challenge of defining our future relationships to these compounds and to the dimensions of risk and opportunity they offer may say the final word about our survival and evolution as a concious species.” – page 29-30
If so, then treating drugs merely as a route to frailty not creativity or insight is a strategy doomed to fail. Continued bans can only enable the most powerful forces for stagnation in civilization, criminal syndicates and cliques. McKenna argues that governments have always colluded in drug trade, either openly or not, since it serves their social control purposes. Just because they forbid it to legal parties doesn’t mean, for instance, that the CIA didn’t distribute heroin to ghettoes in the 1960s to smother political dissent. Governments simply monopolize drugs as weapons and use them against their own populations, hiding behind criminal proxies for denial for the most heinous, authorizing “prescribed” usage of the less well known.
In doing so, they violate freedom of religion, especially of those religions that involve use of psilocybin, marijuana, peyote, which are not coincidentally those of colonized peoples. The dominators and colonizers, invariably, were all alcoholics.
If we would break the monopoly on violence of alcoholics and wife beaters and other fellow travellers of dominator colonialism, we would have to legalize the drugs of the opposition: of the shamans, of the hippies, of the Rastas, of the aboriginals.
Can anyone doubt that the North American culture, at least, is in need of creativity and evolution towards partnership with other species, rather than extincting them ?
We have already lost 90 per cent of our wild honeybees. It would be nice to be able to ask them why. Even if only a few understood their answer. Were the millenia the Native Americans spent communicating with coyote, raven, fox, rabbit, all futile? A wise person cannot answer, and so, cannot forbid them the means to ask someone else.