in the form of an open letter to author Daniel Pinchbeck:
Thanks for "When Plants Dream," Daniel. It presents an enjoyable and well-rounded introduction to ayahuasca and the many issues that surround its use. That said, however, I'm afraid that, like most Western authors these days, you write under the subconscious influence of a number of Drug War assumptions that are either flat-out wrong or, at best, mere half-truths. I think that this sometimes skews your conclusions or unnecessarily limits their application.
You imply when writing about cocaine that it has nothing but bad effects when used in Western society. This is Drug War dogma, of course, but why do we believe it? Why do we think that cocaine has no good uses in the West? How would we even know?
In a Drug War society, no one dares to write about the positive uses of cocaine, especially in newspapers (or in academia, for that matter) - and so we hush up the story of how cocaine helped Sigmund Freud achieve self-actualization (by "pushing him on" to enormous productivity) or stimulated insight in the Richard Feynmans of the world. But if all we're allowed to learn about cocaine is its negative effects, then we are being subject to a propaganda campaign in the West, not to objective scientific information. This is (or should be) very relevant to your book because these one-sided Drug War assumptions are what undergird and perpetuate the criminalization of desperately needed therapeutic plants such as ayahuasca.
But if indigenous people have used coca leaves advisedly for centuries (for visions, insight and/or mental focus), the obvious question is, why can't those benefits be transferred to the West? It may be that Westerners are just not mature enough to use the plant wisely.* But we should not make this assumption hastily in a country where we're only allowed to hear bad things about cocaine use -- and so Freud's use, for instance, is expunged from the psychology textbooks. This is a glaring omission for it keeps psychologists from confronting the $64,000 question: Why did Freud treat his patients based on theories and yet insist on improving his own life with cocaine? If Freud was having trouble getting out of bed, he did not turn to his own psychotherapy. He demanded the real politik of cocaine. Psychology ignores this fact and continues to insist that all psychological patients be treated according to the latest theory and that any use of a psychoactive plant is somehow a "cop-out" -- unless, of course, that plant is synthesized and packaged in such a way that Big Pharma gets its cut.
You're never too young to oppress your fellow Americans. Tell your kids about the FDWA, Future Drug Warriors of America. In our summer camps, we teach them how to kick down doors and throw elderly citizens and children on the ground while shouting at them and calling them scumbags for using Mother Nature's plants to gain psychological healing and insight.
*SPOILER ALERT: Of course, the real problem is capitalist exploitation. The profit motive, it turns out, has no place when it comes to encouraging the use of psychoactive plants.
Freud's hypocritical use of cocaine reminds me of the liberal who argues vehemently in favor of public schools but ultimately sends his or her own child to a private school. Theoretical benefits are all well and good, but at some point, success-oriented people demand REAL solutions.
Like virtually all other authors who write about psychedelic therapy, you fail to state one of the main arguments in favor of that new paradigm: namely, the fact that more than 1 in 8 Americans (1 in 4 women, according to psychiatrist Julie Holland) are currently addicted to modern antidepressants, which were never even trialed for long-term use, some of which are harder to quit than heroin. I myself am addicted to Effexor - which I'm told I can NEVER get off of. Indeed, that is the conclusion of my own psychiatrist. He told me that there is a 95% recidivism rate (according to the NIH itself) for those who attempt to quit Effexor. This is on par with heroin - but I have yet to read any author who is outraged on MY behalf. To the contrary, most authors on these topics are still lecturing me about the supposed "evils" of cocaine and opium, advice that I find laughable in its ignorance and/or hypocrisy.
(To add insult to injury, modern antidepressants are contraindicated for those taking psychedelics. So we have an as-yet unrecognized irony: psychedelics can cure many addictions, but they cannot be used to cure the great addiction of our time: the addiction to SSRI antidepressants.)
When it became clear several decades ago that SSRIs were addictive, psychiatrists merely made a virtue of necessity and began telling their patients that they had to "take their meds for life" (thereby absolving psychiatrists from lawsuits and putting them in the position of the scientific "good guy"). These are the medicines, Daniel, that were promoted based on the erroneous notion that they fixed a chemical imbalance in the brain, whereas subsequent research (see Robert Whitaker) revealed that SSRIs actually CAUSE the imbalances that they purport to fix.
This mass addiction cries out for a remedy, and psychedelics are the obvious solution, since they provide self-insight, grow new neurons, and are non-addictive. (This compares favorably with SSRIs, which in my experience have been fiercely addictive, fog my mind, and conduce to long-term anhedonia.) By ignoring this politically correct addiction (as Drug Warriors dutifully do), your case for psychedelic therapy is far weaker than it need be. As you mention, there are, indeed, potential "down sides" to ayahuasca use, but these rare problems would be dwarfed if contrasted with the actual damage being done by SSRIs today.
This ignorance of the status quo is a feature of today's Drug War. The Drug Warrior has to hush up this legal addiction situation, lest we draw the obvious conclusion: that addiction is not bad, as long as the drugs in question are forthcoming. If that's true, why am I not allowed to use opium occasionally to increase my creativity and give me, as a chronic depressive, something to look forward to in life: namely, times of increased enjoyment of the world around me?
I think you correctly suspect the Judeo-Christian outlook of scorning psychoactive plant remedies, but your analysis here does not go far enough. The fact is that the original Drug Warrior was none other than the founder of the Catholic Church, Emperor Theodosius, who, in 392 CE, outlawed the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian mysteries as a threat to Christianity. This ceremony had been ongoing annually for almost two-thousand years, and was reported by many attendees to be the highlight of their entire lives, in passages that could easily be mistaken for journal entries of an ayahuasca enthusiast. These entries speak of great revelations about the true nature of reality. But since such non-Christian revelation was anathema to the Emperor, he launched the Drug War to outlaw all insights that do not come from "the true religion," i.e. Christianity.
Thus we can see that today's Drug War is nothing but the enforcement of Christian Science with respect to mental states: the metaphysical idea (or belief) that it is somehow wrong to use substances to improve one's mental outlook. Of course, this Christian Science is hypocritical, in that it supports psychoactive therapies - even addictive ones - provided that they do not seem to render a user "high" - something that is anathema to the puritan sensibilities of the Christian Scientists.
This Christian Science approach to drug law is aided and abetted by modern materialists, who have a dogmatic disdain for consciousness itself and so refuse to countenance any therapeutic solution that cannot be reduced to so-called "natural causes." Thus the Drug War makes strange bedfellows indeed, as materialist atheists find common ground with intolerant Christians.
I hope these three examples have proven my thesis, Daniel: that even the most progressive writers on the subject of "drugs" are subconsciously biased by the erroneous beliefs of the Drug War and that this bias skews or limits the conclusions that they draw. In short, your case for ayahuasca therapy is compelling in itself, but it could win far more converts if you compared your proposal to the ugly nature of the addictive status quo.
Of course, this may be easier said than done. There is, after all, a "kids glove" attitude toward SSRIs based on decades of Big Pharma-financed proselytizing on their behalf. During this time, the APA has been in league with the pharmaceutical companies to make SSRIs look like lamb's milk on shows like Oprah and Today. The result has been the creation of an American myth, according to which these drugs "fix" a chemical imbalance. This is just plain false, but it apparently has been drilled into Americans so successfully via a full-court media press that few people dare acknowledge its falsehood today.
(The proof is extant: I am as depressed today as I was 40 years ago, after taking legal antidepressants every single day of my life. If modern antidepressants are some kind of silver bullet, my brain chemicals never got the memo.)
Viewed in this light, I guess it's little wonder that writers like yourself fail to point out this corrupt status quo, since it is so thoroughly believed by the public that it no doubt demands a separate book to address the issues in question.
At their best SSRIs make life livable - which would be fine if that's all we had. But why should we settle for an addictive drug that simply makes life bearable when we could use a non-addictive one that can truly make life worth living?
What we need, I believe, is to replace psychiatry with shamanism, but only in a world in which the shaman is allowed to learn about and use any plant in the world - rather than a handful of addictive drugs that enrich the Fortune 500 while limiting users both financially and emotionally.
I fear this won't happen, however, until Americans recognize the folly of outlawing Mother Nature in the first place.
PS When pushed, psychiatrists may claim that SSRIs and SNRIs are not addictive, that they only cause "chemical dependence." But there is little difference from the point of view of a user. If I stopped using Effexor, I would go through hell. Just see the online testimony describing the many horrific but futile attempts to get off the drug.
Author's Follow-up: July 14, 2022
Bear in mind, I wrote this three years ago, when I was still basically a kid. Couldn't have been more than 59, 60 tops. I freely admit I may have been a loose cannon back then, impatient of acknowledging the full nuances of my seeming opponents' positions before firing at them broadside. If so, a thousand pardons to Dan. (Now if only I had an online presence that permitted Daniel to both learn of this slight and to at least partially forgive it based on this admittedly somewhat quirky appendix that I'm adding here.)
I would add, however, that there is one drug-war lie that has kept the average American's mind-improving arsenal empty, forcing them to rely solely on the dependence-causing meds of Big Pharma: that is the idea that substances can be characterized as bad, in and of themselves, without regard for how, why, when or where they are used. Even crack cocaine and morphine can be used non-addictively in a regime designed for that purpose.
Once we free ourselves of the anti-scientific Drug War ideology of substance demonization, we can envision an empathic shaman using all substances freely in an attempt to cajole and instruct a person in life, without getting them addicted insofaras the patient does not even have to know with what substances he or she is being treated.
We can teach this non-addictive strategy to all human beings -- but with honesty, telling them about how Big Pharma meds cause lifetime chemical dependence, not as a possible side effect but as an actual feature.
This is a truth that corporate America and moneyed interests can't tolerate. They want our knowledge of "drugs" to be based on expensive TV ads designed to associate substances with warm fuzzy feelings. They want us to be children when it comes to psychoactive substances. This is why we demonize drugs, because drugs that expand the mind and inspire new religions have no place in a capitalist society that values the individual only insofar as they are a good consumer of products. That's why thought control via substance prohibition is just another step in capitalism uber alles.
When the police pull you over, they are really the "thought police," searching to find drugs in order to prove that you are conspiring to think more and/or differently than the capitalist status quo allows.
Let us know what you think. Send your comments to me, Brian Quass, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks! Please be sure to mention the title of the essay to which you are responding.
*"Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist." -- Heather Ann Thompson, The Atlantic, 2014.
The above numbers may represent undercounts since some of these totals were compiled in late 2021.
The news media just doesn't get it -- or doesn't want to get it. Most stories about the deaths of blacks in inner cities never mention the drug war, as if the fact that prohibition led to armed gangs had nothing to do with the skyrocketing gun deaths that they're reporting on today. For a case in point, check out the article by Micaela A Watts in CommercialAppeal with the headline: "Following 346 homicides in Memphis in 2021, officials consider what's driving the violence."
Yes, that's a real poser, Micaela. The city fathers must really be scratching their heads!
The author notes three major theories for the violence, all of which have nothing to do with the drug war: "Lack of conflict resolution skills," a lack of "fair wages," and (get this) poor mental health.
Looks like the city officials failed to ask themselves why city residents were armed to the teeth in the first place. Hello? That was due to the drugs warriors' substance prohibition which incentivized the poor and poorly educated young people to get into the fantastically profitable business of selling drugs!!!
Substance prohibition created drug gangs and cartels just as surely as liquor prohibition created the Mafia.
Yes, drug warrior, YOU are responsible for these deaths. You! It's a natural result of your ban on medical godsends, some of which have inspired entire religions and have the potential for treating (if not curing) such diverse conditions as Alzheimer's, autism, and depression.
Drug War Victim of the Day
killed in Prince Georges County, Maryland on August 15, 2022
Southeast Washington DC remains a no-go zone, even for UPS drivers, as this latest shooting incident points out, which is 1 in 6 shootings that have taken place in the last week, two of them fatal. If this were happening in Hollywood, California, it would be a scandal. But movie stars are people, and victims of the drug war, especially when poor and black, are what Noam Chomsky calls 'unpeople.'
Yes, even the director of "Bamboozled" is bamboozled about drugs. He agrees with the drug warrior lie that there are psychoactive substances in nature that have no positive uses whatsoever, in any place, any time, any context. This superstitious way of thinking has forced me to go without godsend medicine my entire life. Thanks, Spike. Why do you want people to become drug-hating Christian Scientists, exactly? These things that you call "drugs" have inspired entire religions. The conservatives are laughing as they rush to the polls to elect fascists, because they have bamboozled Spike Lee himself to sign off on the drug war which brings death and incarceration to inner city blacks. Throw away that "just say no" teddy bear with which you were bribed in childhood, Spike, and open your eyes.
Mangual is the author of 'Cities got deadlier in 2020: What's behind the spike in homicides?' in which he never once mentioned the drug war!
Here's my letter to his website:
Hi, Rafael. Just wanted to suggest that you start holding the drug war responsible for inner-city violence -- since substance prohibition incentivized 'dealing' in poor neighborhoods and the guns soon followed. Because no one mentions this 64,000-pound Gorilla, Trump is able to blame the deaths on Democrats, so that, rather than ending the violence-causing drug war, he can begin executing the blacks that drug warriors were previously happy with merely incarcerating.
The Secret World: A History of Intelligence.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.
All warfare is based on deception, said Sun Tzu. Yes, but what is all deception based on? A mistrust of one's fellows. And how do you combat that, Chris? With empathogens like MDMA and psilocybin.
London: East India Publishing Company, 2021.
Pious drug warriors have usually thought of Marcus Aurelius as the perfect replacement for bad evil drugs -- but Marcus had his cake and ate it too. He philosophized under the influence of opium (but don't tell the kids!)
Alice in Wonderland: The Original 1865 Edition With Complete Illustrations By Sir John Tenniel.
New York: Amazon, 2021.
Alice's shroom-powered adventures are a standing reproach to glum-faced drug warriors, who closely resemble the Queen of Hearts, shouting: "Off with their heads, for using godsend medicines of which I disapprove!"
De Quincey, Thomas.
Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
New York: Dover, 1995.
During De Quincey's informed opium use, he "partook" only weekly in order to better enjoy the opera, making his weekday life happier as well, however, thanks to anticipation of use, a benefit of which materialist science takes no account.
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner .
New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
A stark reminder that the world is living under a nuclear sword of Damocles. And why? Because it demonizes all the godsend medicines (like MDMA and shrooms) that could bring humanity together in universal harmony.
The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys .
New York: Park Street Press, 2011.
First-hand accounts of psychological breakthroughs achieved with the guided use of entheogens, suggesting that one-time givens like "character" and "human nature" are far more susceptible to improvement than we thought.
A Disease in the Public Mind: Why We Fought the Civil War.
New York: Da Capo Press, 2014.
The late historian Fleming cites the popular mob-led public "diseases" of Witch-Hunting, Liquor Prohibition, and Communism -- yet says nothing about the Drug War, which was the great disease in the public mind of his own time!!!
Liberalism and Its Discontents.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022.
Great bipartisan insights, BUT... Francis reckons without the drug war, so, like a good drug warrior, he blames all the ills caused by prohibition on the politically created boogieman called "drugs."
The Dream of Enlightenment: the Rise of Modern Philosophy.
New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016.
The author seems unaware of the increasingly clear ability of empathogens like MDMA and shrooms to improve the very human nature which grumps like Hobbes portray as being so irrevocably fixed.
Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics.
New York: HarperWave, 2020.
Julie claims that Nixon criminalized psychedelics for health reasons. What? That's not the Nixon I know. He said himself that Leary was enemy #1. He was removing "users" from the voting rolls, not protecting them.
The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell.
New York: Penguin Books, 1970.
Huxley's speculations about perception jibe with modern science, which finds that human beings see what is presumably useful to them, not necessarily what is "really there" in the sensory-rich physical world.
The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead .
New York: University Books, 1964.
Americans have been primed by the drug-war zeitgeist to consider everything Leary writes as nonsense. But he was the first one to announce loudly and clearly that what's really nonsensical is to outlaw plant medicine.
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
New York: Del Rey Books, 1970.
Lovecraft's work is full of opiate imagery that drug warriors want to render impossible for artists to feel: "I would often drift in opiate peace through the valley and the shadowy groves..." (Ex-Oblivione)
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.
Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009.
Gabriel moralizes "addiction." Addiction, however, is a political term. One can use psychoactive Big Pharma meds every day and be a good patient -- use heroin every day, however, and you're just escaping "inner pain." What?
Maupassant, Guy de.
Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques - Guy de Maupassant: Les classiques du fantastique .
Paris: , 2019.
In "La Horla," Maupassant anticipates Huxley by speculating that our perceptual habits blind us to a world of wonders. Many of today's demonized drugs, it appears, can at least partially open our eyes to that world.
Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution .
New York: Bantam, 1992.
This was the book that reminded me of what I already vaguely knew: that it is tyrannical insanity for a government to outlaw plants. McKenna's philosophical speculations on why we criminalize inspired me to create abolishthedea.com.
Miller, Richard Louis.
Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca Kindle .
New York: Park Street Press, 2017.
Informative interviews with movers-and-shakers in the field, including Rick Doblin, Stanislav Grof, James Fadiman, David Nichols and Robert Whitaker. Packed with eye-opening one-liners about godsend meds.
Out of our Heads.
New York: HiII&Wang,, 2010.
Noe reveals how patients with "locked-in" syndrome have reported being supremely aware of their surroundings during their supposedly brain-dead coma, a fact that puts in question our materialist assumptions about consciousness.
When Plants Dream.
New York: Watkins Publishing, 2019.
I find philosophical problems with most of the books that I read on the subject of psychoactive medicine, but Daniel Pinchbeck is one of the few authors who could teach me a few things on this topic.
Poe, Edgar Allan.
The Essential Poe.
New York: Warbler Classics, 2020.
Because drug warriors never mention the good side of "drugs," we must turn to Poe to learn, for instance, that morphine can bring a surreal appreciation of Mother Nature (see "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains").
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence .
New York: Penguin Books, 2018.
Pollan has yet to realize that the very term "drugs" is just a modern pejorative epithet for "plant medicine of which botanically clueless politicians disapprove. "
Reynolds, David S..
Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville .
New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Exhaustively researched account of the 19th-century zeitgeist, and yet the word "drugs" (as defined, or rather derided, by today's drug warrior) is never even used. Last century's boogieman was liquor, it seems, not "drugs."
Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences Hardcover.
New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.
The psychedelic experience was once characterized as pharmacologically induced madness. Richards shows how the properly guided experience can lead to sanity instead -- and a way of life that is not self-destructive.
Diary of a Dirty Little War: The Spanish-American War of 1898 .
Connecticut: Praeger, 2000.
The war took place 16 years before anti-Chinese Drug Warriors criminalized the poppy plant, and yet opium is only mentioned with regard to a group of unimaginative volunteers who smoked some and "couldn't see the point."
Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered.
New York: Arlington House, 1967.
Burke was a conservative in a sense, but he would not recognize America's Republican party of today. He would surely have seen that prohibition causes all the problems we ascribe to "drugs," and then some.
Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.
New York: Penguin, 2014.
In 1980, the Air Force nearly blew up Arkansas and irradiated half the country. When Reagan took office the next year, what was his priority? Outlawing plant medicine that could make our species less warlike.
Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S. .
New York: Pocket Star, 2006.
On March 7, 1968, a rogue Soviet submarine nearly blew up Pearl Harbor with a thermonuclear bomb. Instead of launching a war on nukes, then-President Nixon launched a war on medicines that could inspire peace, love and understanding.
The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler.
New York: RosettaBooks, 2011.
Paraphrase from book: "No one who has not lived for years in a DRUG WAR SOCIETY can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime's calculated and incessant propaganda."
Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds.
Back Bay Books: Boston, 2019.
Despite griping about the weight she's put on from taking her daily 'meds,' Slater gives Big Pharma a big fat mulligan for consigning 1 in 4 American women like herself to a lifetime of chemical dependency on SSRI antidepressants.
DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences .
New York: Park Street Press, 2001.
Rick doubts DMT's therapeutic usefulness, but common sense psychology suggests that any break from full-on introspection would be a treat, notwithstanding materialists who aren't even sure that laughing gas could help the depressed!!!
Ceremonial Chemistry: the ritual persecution of drugs, addicts, and pushers.
New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974.
Filled with inconvenient truths that critics ignore rather than refute, including how politicized science tells us a la God: "Eat of the fruit and you shall die," ignoring the fact that education tells us how to eat of that fruit safely.
Our Right to Drugs: The case for a free market.
New York: Praeger, 1992.
Chock-a-block with all-too-rare common sense: "Doctors, lawyers and politicians started the War on Drugs and continue to wage it, and they are its real beneficiaries -- the drug war's ostensible beneficiaries... are its victims."
Tyler, George R..
Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System.
Michigan: Pegasus Books, 2016.
Doesn't mention drugs, but illustrates how drug reform can be stymied by just 3% of the public: namely, those holding stock in Big Pharma, etc., especially when these elites can bribe politicians to retain the status quo.
Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America .
New York: Crown, 2010.
Prohibition has facilitated the creation of a psychiatric pill mill upon which 1 in 4 American women are dependent for life. Moreover, these pills cause the chemical imbalances that they purport to fix.
Zuboff , Shoshana.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.
New York: Public Affairs, 2019.
Surveillance capitalists and drug warriors share the same goal: to keep human beings predictable: one by rendering us more robot-like and the other by denying us the mind-improving blessings of psychoactive medicine
There are an absolute LEGION of online articles and newspaper stories that get it wrong about so-called drugs. Even those in favor of drug law reform have been subject to drug war propaganda from childhood (and they probably have a DARE teddy bear to prove it!) so speak truth to nonsense and comment on the articles that get it wrong.
Bloody disgusting fact: The Drug War brought almost 800 deaths to Chicago in 2021 by incentivizing the hugely profitable sale of psychoactive medicine in poor communities. And now Trump and his fellow fascist drug warriors want to use that violence as an excuse to KILL drug dealers via execution! Any community leaders supporting the drug war are complicit in this genocide. For as Heather Ann Thompson wrote in The Atlantic in 2014: "Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist."
How America can end inner-city homicides overnight in three easy steps:
Re-legalize Mother Nature's plant medicines
Treat substance abuse as a health problem
Buy back inner-city guns at double their purchase price (even triple the price would be a huge bargain in the long run)
This will, of course, be a huge sacrifice for everyday Americans, who do love their drug war, bless them.