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Whitehead and Psychedelics

an open letter to Dr. Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes at the University of Exeter

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

February 27, 2024

ear Dr. Sjöstedt-Hughes

I wanted to write to say that I enjoyed your prerecorded comments on YouTube from the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Center for Process Studies1. I have been recently studying Whitehead and am also excited about the metaphysical implications of his ideas. In "The Concept of Nature," Whitehead himself alludes to some potential metaphysics that might be contemplated based on his views, especially when he quotes the Dean of St Paul's from a speech that he gave before the Aristotelian Society in May of 1919:

"The spiritual world is not a world of unrealised ideals, over against a real world of unspiritual fact. It is, on the contrary, the real world, of which we have a true though very incomplete knowledge, over against a world of common experience which, as a complete whole, is not real, since it is compacted out of miscellaneous data, not all on the same level, by the help of the imagination. There is no world corresponding to the world of our common experience. Nature makes abstractions for us, deciding what range of vibrations we are to see and hear, what things we are to notice and remember.2"

I take it that these are the kinds of insights to which you are referring when you suggest that Whiteheadian metaphysics could be of use in debriefing the psychedelic user after a therapeutic trip.

I find this all fascinating. However, I am deeply troubled by the ongoing quest (now both in the UK and the US) to outlaw even laughing gas3, and frankly I am disappointed that the philosophical community has not stood up and complained in a loud voice, pointing out to politicians that William James himself said that we must study the effects of such substances in order to understand the world.

"No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded." -The Variety of Religious Experiences4

In fact, I wrote individual emails to every single philosopher at Oxford University on this topic (70-plus in number) and did not hear back from any of them5. Nor has James' alma mater, Harvard, complained about the ongoing attempts to outlaw laughing gas. In fact, their main page about James does not even mention nitrous oxide.

In my view, laughing gas should not only remain legal, but it should be packaged in kits for easy use by the suicidal, in the same way that we give epi pens to those with severe allergies6. But we still shock the brains of the severely depressed rather than give them medicines that could cheer them up in real time. We do this based on a metaphysical materialist claim that we have (or should have) a "real" cure for them in the form of a pill - combined with the mad idea that psychoactive drugs can be outlawed for everyone in the world, at every possible dose, for every possible indication, provided merely that white American young people can find a way to misuse the drugs in question.

You correctly point out that LSD was outlawed for political reasons, but I would contend that all drugs are ultimately outlawed for political reasons. If safety were the only issue, then prohibitionists would outlaw horseback riding and car driving as well. We would see documentaries about people whose lives were ruined by such activities. Survivors would traverse the high-school circuit, urging kids to forebear. The fact that they do not badmouth such activities - but only badmouth "drugs" -- can only mean that they deny, a priori, the utility of any psychoactive drug. And this, I believe, has had a disastrously stultifying effect on the field of psychology.

One merely has to look at any issue of Psychology Today to see articles in which the author reckons without the Drug War, in which they pretend that banned psychoactive substances do not exist and so fail to incorporate any topic-related insights that might otherwise have come from users of those substances. Take Science News, for instance, and their series by Laura Sanders on a new kind of shock therapy for the depressed7. Laura muses that depression has proved really hard to beat - but she can only say that by ignoring psychoactive medicine, for as a depressed person myself, I can tell you that depression would not be hard for me to beat in the least if I could occasionally use MDMA, and/or laughing gas, and/or coca, and/or opium.

In short, depression is only hard to beat because politicians have decided that it should be.

In fact, I would suggest that we live in a psychological dark ages due to self-censorship about psychoactive substances. I take the liberty of mentioning this because I see that we have three areas of mutual interest: philosophy, psychology, and psychedelics.

Thanks again for the interesting chat. I wish they had given you longer to speak!


1 Sjöstedt-Hughes, Peter , Process Psychonautics: Whitehead and Psychedelic Research, 2023 (up)
2 Whitehead, Alfred North, The Concept of Nature, (up)
3 Quass, Brian, Why the FDA should not schedule Laughing Gas, 2023 (up)
4 James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Philosophical Library, New York, 1902 (up)
5 Quass, Brian, How the Drug War is Threatening Intellectual Freedom in England, 2023 (up)
6 Quass, Brian, Suicide and the Drug War, 2022 (up)
7 Quass, Brian, Science News Unveils Shock Therapy II, 2023 (up)

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There's a run of addiction movies out there, like "Craving!" wherein they actually personify addiction as a screaming skeleton. Funny, drug warriors never call for a Manhattan Project to end addiction. Addiction is their golden goose.
The DEA rating system is not wrong just because it ranks drugs incorrectly. It's wrong because it ranks drugs at all. All drugs have positive uses. It's absurd to prohibit using them because one demographic might misuse them.
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That's another problem with "following the science." Science downplays personal testimony as subjective. But psychoactive experiences are all ABOUT subjectivity. With such drugs, users are not widgets susceptible to the one-size-fits-all pills of reductionism.
If psychoactive drugs had never been criminalized, science would never have had any reason or excuse for creating SSRIs that muck about unpredictably with brain chemistry. Chewing the coca leaf daily would be one of many readily available "miracle treatments" for depression.
Drug warriors do not seem to see any irony in the fact that their outlawing of opium eventually resulted in an "opioid crisis." The message is clear: people want transcendence. If we don't let them find it safely, they will find it dangerously.
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You have been reading an article entitled, Whitehead and Psychedelics: an open letter to Dr. Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes at the University of Exeter, published on February 27, 2024 on For more information about America's disgraceful drug war, which is anti-patient, anti-minority, anti-scientific, anti-mother nature, imperialistic, the establishment of the Christian Science religion, a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded, and a childish and counterproductive way of looking at the world, one which causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, visit the drug war philosopher, at (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)