I’m sure you’ve all heard the recent news with respect to Willie Nelson and a few others getting citations for possession of marijuana and “narcotic” mushrooms.
The drug laws in the United States are insane. Far more social harm results from the law than the abuse of the drugs that the law is intended to discourage. This isn’t to say that some drugs aren’t dangerous. It is to say that there has to be a balance between social harm the drug itself causes and social harm that results from drug laws.
Presently, that balance does not exist. We currently have locked up more than 2% of our population, the majority of those are locked up for drug violations. In the land of the free, a higher percentage of our population is locked up than any other country in the world. Those people, while they’re in jail, are not productive, and the rest of us have to pay to support them. In addition, once released from prison they will have a harder time getting a job with a criminal record, and we’ll have to continue to support them. Of coarse, the privatization of the US jail system means that there are major corporate interests making money off of this situation so there is little inclination to change it.
The meaning of “Narcotic” is a drug that induces sleep, generally opium or opium derivatives. For some reason years ago, congress mangled the English language yet again, by legally defining narcotics as any illegal drug.
In the interests of scientific accuracy, mind altering mushrooms are >NOT
In my view, marijuana shouldn’t be illegal, any more so than alcohol or cigarettes, and frankly those drugs have, in my view, far more reason to be illegal.
The LDL50, the dosage at which a drug is lethal of alcohol, is not far above the dosage at which signficant intoxication occurs. Further the damage from alcohol to the brain, liver, and other organs, is cumulative over time. Alcohol also tends to make people agressive. In the old days this mostly meant the occasional broken nose or jaw resulting from a bar fight. These days however, people are quick to pull out a knife or gun and minor disputes quickly become deadly.
When people drive under moderate alcohol intoxification, they tend to drive faster and with less caution than they otherwise would, while at the same time their reaction times are significantly slower. Alcohol, for most people, serves to reduce inhibitions, and on the road inhibitions are often a very good thing.
However, I believe the value of alcohol for many people is that it treats those afflicted with social anxiety, or to put it another way, it emboldens the meek and shy. This is why it’s known as a social lubricant. One sticker I received from a bar supply company read, “Thank Your Local Bartender, Helping Ugly People Get Laid.” Since the majority of us are ugly, I think that pretty much explains why prohibition was a large failure.
People under the influence of marijuana by contrast are mellow. You don’t see much in the way of fights happening from marijuana intoxification. People generally drive much slower under marijuana intoxification, they overcompensate for their reduction in reaction time, and have low accident rates. The LDL50 of marijuana is hugely high compared to the intoxification dosage and as a result there are no deaths known to be related to marijuana poisoning. The LDL50 would require an average adult human being to eat 1.2 kilograms, that’s about 2.6 lbs, of marijuna containing 5% THC for a 50% death rate, and a much larger amount if smoked.
Tobacco, now if there was ever a substance that should be outlawed, that’s it. I don’t have enough digits to count all the people I’ve known who have died from smoking related illnesses, and for essentially zero benefit.
But marijuana and psilocybe mushrooms both have known medical benefits. Marijuana when smoked is of coarse damaging to the lungs, but many people concerned about their health ingest it rather than smoke it to obtain relief of their ailments.
Marijuana has been effective as a treatment for some people with glaucoma that have been unresponsive to prescription drug treatments, including marinol, a synthetic form of the main active ingredient in marijuana. For someone who has a choice between breaking the law and losing their eyesight, there really isn’t a choice.
Marijuana has also been used by many epileptic patients to self-medicate. For many, it relieves siezures, for some it has the opposite effect. People, when it comes to their response to drugs, are individuals. But the same is true for prescription medications. The reason marijuana can provide this relief will become apparent momentarily.
Marijuana can stimulate appetite for cancer or AIDS patients, this can be a life or death issue. It has provided relief to migraine sufferers and people suffering from chronic pain related to cancer and cancer treatments. It also acts to suppress vomiting which is often a problem for those undergoing intensive chemotherapy.
Marijuana can also provide a reduction in social anxiety much in the same way that alcohol can, and for that reason it has become a popular recreational drug, as has alcohol, but it has fewer harmful effects, particularly if ingested rather than smoked.
Studies have shown that smoking marijuana does not increase the likelihood of developing lung cancer, however, smokinig marijuana does increase the likelihood and decrease the age of onset of emphysema. If you can’t breath your just as dead as if cancer had killed you.
Scientists have known that Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, affects the brain by docking with cannabinoid receptors in the neurons. Until recently, the function of these receptors was unknown.
It is now known that the cannabinoid signalling system involves retrograde signalling, that is to say it signals across a synaptic pathway in the direction opposite that normal signalling occurs. It has an inhibitory function on the upstream synaptic sites that in effect tell the upstream neuron, we got the message already, stop sending. This prevents damage to neurons from overstimulation stress.
Knowing that, it is easy to see why marijuana has many of the effects that it does. Since it is acting like the natural endocannibinoids, it is having an inhibitory effect on the brain neurons it affects. Cannibanoid receptors are not present to a significant degree in the autonomic nervous system, those parts of the brain dealing with things like breathing. This is why the LDL50 is so high.
Epileptic seizures involve a situation where a large number of neurons in the brain begin to fire simultaneously. The inhibitory role that the cannibanoids in marijuana provide can, for some people, inhibit this activity. For others, it can make it worse.
Clearly however, there are many medical uses and even used recreationally, it is less harmful than other recreational drugs.
Psilosybin, a chemical compound present in psilosybe mushrooms, is another substance that has been made illegal that in my view, is not deserving of it’s illegal status, and I would also argue that LSD, has, for some people, real material benefits as well.
A recent scientific study published in this months Scientific American Mind magazine, did a blind study in which a group of people were given either psilosybin or ritalin. They were monitored during these trials and neither the test subjects nor the monitors knew which substance they had been given.
While psilocybin did create some short term anxiety, and I’ve got a story about that, but later, in follow up interviews two months later, 79% of those who were given psilocybin stated that it had moderately or greatly enhanced their sense of well being or satisfaction with life. 67% of those who took it in this study reported mystical experiences.
LSD in low doses, on the order of 25-50 micrograms, has been found to increase creativity and productivity. This is 1/4 to 1/2 of the minimal dosage typically used for recreation, and often experienced recreational users will take 20-40 times this amount. It is well known that Silicon Valley lives on LSD, software developers thrive on the substance, and without it productivity would probably decline significantly.
There are two dangers with both psilocybin and LSD, the first is that individuals verging on schizophrenia may, in some cases, be pushed permanently over the edge. It is rare, but it has been known to happen. For this reason, any individual who has any schizophrenic tendencies should not experiement with these substances. The second danger is that, at high doses, the disconnect from reality can become so profound that an individual could harm themselves. To address the latter concern, most people when using these substances will employ a “babysitter”, someone who remains present and drug free during the users experience.
Lower dosages, 25-50 mg of LSD, or smaller amounts of mushrooms, do not cause this major disconnect, but do allow a sort of directed creativity and modification of reality. The directed creativity is very useful to people who must be creative to earn their living, and for that reason these substances, LSD in particular, are popular with many people in fields involving creative endeavors. This is not to say that people can’t be creative without drugs, it is to say it is helpful to some who would otherwise have difficulties. One thing I have heard many people say is that it gets them past writers block.
In my view, the risk/benefit ratio of both of these substances is sufficiently skewed towards the benefit side of the equation that they should be legalized. I think it would not be unreasonable to require people undergo psychological screening for schizophrenic tendencies if they wish to use these substances to eliminate the small element of risk that is present.
In particular, I believe that LSD, if it were readily available in 25 microgram doses, would be both safe and useful in a non-recreational but mind enhancing way. Now, there are people that will take 2000 micrograms at a time and go do extremely stupid things, but I don’t think outlawing substances will ever adequately address the issue of stupidity.
Now with this understanding of these substances, you can understand why a country music star just might have some of these substances aboard his bus. Yes, they are illegal, but could he earn a living making music without them? Would we have the benefit of his productivity?
This is an instance where the social harm caused by the laws far outweighs the social harm of the substances themselves.
I went through a better living through chemistry era myself between about 15 and 25 years of age. When my first child was born, at that point I realized I was responsible for a life other than my own and had to be functional at all times because with kids, particularly young kids, emergencies happen. They slice open lips, break fingers, crack skulls, etc, things that can not wait for you to become functional later and deal with. So when my first child was born, that was the end of my better living through chemistry era.
However, that decade did provide me with some valuable insight. At least I think it’s valuable. First, for me, marijuana was overall not a positive thing. I have asthma, it aggrevated it. It is anti-motivational, and I have a hard time getting motivated under the best of circumstances. And while very early on, initially I did experience some interesting states of mind that gave me some insight as to the nature of the way we interact with reality, that was a very transient effect, later the effect was very much like alcohol is for me, it makes me tired and uncoordinated, except with marijuana you could add “hungry” to that. Marijuana for me was largely a big waste of time and money, and if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t.
I do not feel the same about psilocybe mushrooms however, and to a lesser extent LSD. I never took more than one hit (~100 micrograms) at a time and only a couple of times so my experience with LSD is very limited. For me it jacked anxiety up to the point of really being uncomfortable, was too disorienting, and even at that low dose lasted too long. And while it seemed like some of the experiences were profound, I found myself afterwards knowing that I had experienced something important but couldn’t remember it except for the very surface. For this reason I never tried a higher dose, the type that results in major disconnects, total lose of self, etc. It was just too frightening and a feeling of being out of control. But I am prone to anxiety, for others this isn’t necessarily the case.
Mushrooms on the other hand I liked, they were my favorite drug at the time, but hard to obtain because I didn’t know enough about mushrooms to go hunting them by myself and only occasionally could I get someone to accompany me that did, so mostly I had to buy them from others who would collect them.
Mushrooms were also not popular amoung many of my peers, often because they would get stomach cramping or vomit as a result of their ingestion. They did not affect me this way however (else I wouldn’t have eaten them again as I really don’t like vomiting). I do know people who were into peyote which pretty much involved violent projectile vomiting every time and I just couldn’t understand why anybody would voluntarily subject themselves to that.
I only had one negative experience with mushrooms and it was really pretty mild. One time I decided to eat some while watching the movie “Altered States”. Let me tell you this is absolutely the wrong movie to watch.
There is a scene in the movie where a man starts to grow hair on his arms like an ape that was used in the experiements. When that scene came on, I looked at my arms and they were growing ape hair too. So I got this momentary anxiety jag, but then realized, I’m just imagining this because of the shrooms and the film, so I changed the channel to CNN, where they were talking about nuclear disarmament. Well, this wasn’t a good choice either, because for some reason I became convinced the full nuclear arsenals of the United States and the former Soviet Union, had been launched and would impact in about five minutes. And while I spent 15 seconds or so trying to decide what to do with the last five minutes of my life, very shortly again I realized it was the shrooms and the news, so at this point I shut the news off, put on the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album, and sat on the floor and vegetated for four hours.
Well, it wasn’t complete vegatating. Nope, while I was sitting there, I was looking at the corner of my apartment, where the floor and two walls met, and while I was looking at them they opened up and there was just black empty space. And then after a while I realized I could control this and make things happen. And I spent much of the time off in other places, gardens, tropical paradises, and I would dissolve into them, the distinction between where I ended and the rest of the universe began, that border dissolved and dissappeared, and that was really my first experience of being connected with all that is.
I learned things about the nature of reality, that it is highly maleable, and that the solid nature of our day to day experience is an illusion. And we are part of that great reality, we are not isolated from it except by the mental wall we construct between outside and inside ourselves. What I learned through this experience is very much congruent with what I have learned through scientific channels, but its an experiencial learning which carries with it much more meaning. It’s like the difference between learning to pitch a baseball over the plate and knowing all the physical laws and mathmatics involved. The experiencial knowing is infinitely more valuable. Understanding all the mathmatics and physics involved won’t make you a significantly better pitcher, but practicing actually pitching will. Knowing the physics will help you make adjustments, but it doesn’t substitute for practice.
I have to say though that I think my experience with recreational drugs was atypical because I was not really interested in “feel good” drugs, I was interested in expanding my understanding of the nature of self and the greater reality, the all that is, of which I am a part. I believe this exploration is worthwhile. But it’s not the only route, nor the best route.
After I stopped smoking marijuana, I experienced a lot of anxiety issues for the decade that followed. I think this is part just my genetic nature but I think marijuana use greatly exacerbated it. The reason I believe lies in the inhibitory nature of THC. The human brain is tremendously plastic and adjusts to environmental conditions. If something causes a sustained increase in one neurotransmitter, it tends to reduce the number of receptors for that transmitter to compensate. This can be a slow process for some things and a relatively fast process for other susbtances. In the case of marijuana I think it is quite slow, gradually causing a down regulation of cannibinoid receptors. I don’t have any scientific proof of this, it is just speculation based upon how it seems to have affected me and others. I believe that after I stopped using it, that down regulation now dampened an inhibitory signal that would normally prevent overexcitation and undue stress to neurons. I think that one of the reasons that anxiety gradually damped over the decade that followed is that the brain gradually readjusted to the absence of THC intake. So between this and making asthma worse, it wasn’t worth it, if I had to do again I wouldn’t.
Now with respect to LSD and mushrooms, while in high doses they can both provide profound mystical experiences that can be very useful to the individual, their effect on memory function at those high doses is not good, more so with LSD than mushrooms, which lessens the value of those experiences.
But these were the kinds of things that interested me, I wasn’t interested in substances like cocain, heroin, opium, speed, etc. I did try methamphetamine once and found it to be a profoundly unpleasant experience. I was at a party and after it took effect I was absolutely paranoid, convinced that the cops would be there any minute to haul us all off to jail forever. I don’t understand why it is so addictive for so many people, other people obviously must experience it much differently than I did.
But after this era, initially to try to find ways to combat the anxiety, I learned some meditation techniques, and I found that with regular practice, something I have not been good at lately, I was able to achieve states as profound as those induced by drugs, but then I could retain my memory of the experience much better afterwards, and it was something I could nearly instantly come out of it the physical situation dictated it.
I was able to go to some of the same gardens and tropical paradises I visited with chemical help, and I was able to experience that same dissolution of the boundry between self and all that is, only with much greater clarity and memories of the experience.
I truely believe that if everybody could have these experiences, we would have a much better world, we wouldn’t squabble over various religions because we’d all realize our connectedness. We wouldn’t destroy our environment and other life because we’d realize our connectedness with it. We would focus on the global good of all living things instead of our own selfish wants. I’ll admit that I haven’t done this regularly enough to maintain this focus myself.