By Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman
Is there such a thing as a 'good' drug vs. a 'bad' one from a spiritual perspective, or is the interpretation primarily political?
"We are so much the victims of abstraction that with the Earth in flames we can barely rouse ourselves to wander across the room and look at the thermostat."
- Terrence McKenna
Timothy Leary. Alexander Shulgin. Terrence McKenna. Albert Hoffman. Ram Dass. These are only a few of the pioneers of esoteric researchers who either catalyzed, formulated or experimented with psychotropic drugs as not merely an escapist recreational pastime but a legitimate gateway to enlightenment, a practice that was once initiated and even supported by our government before the great hysteria and war on drugs condemned them along with any and all scientific queries relevant to the subject.
Using external agents such as herbs, plants or alchemical concoctions as a gateway to other worlds and enlightenment is as old as mankind. From Opiates to the Indian 'Soma', recorded by ancient Hindus, drugs have longed played a part in the spiritual history of nearly every religion, and until this century remained largely untouched by the political deux ex machina.
We now live in a culture that has taken great pains against the right for humans to not only choose how they care to feel, but which has further prohibited experimentation with most substances capable of doing so, at least from a natural perspective, which begs the question: How does one truly determine a 'good' drug from a 'bad' one?
Certainly pharmaceutical companies are making great strides and profits with hosts of new drugs created every day for even newer ailments. Therefore, for the intent and purpose of this article, we will assume 'bad' drugs to be those which are currently considered to be illegal to possess, and 'good' drugs those that harbor no criminal liability and fall within the jurisdiction of the law.
At first glimpse, whether or not a drug can kill you would seem to be one obvious criteria for its prohibition; however most entheogenic drugs are not deadly, and many are in fact safer than over the counter medications. Clearly mortality plays very little part in jurisdicting whether or not a drug is labeled as 'bad'.
One important question that remains unanswered when conceding this logic: When a drug such as Vioxx or Propulsid is pulled off the market because of a proved mortality rate in consumers, it is merely shelved, but not made criminal to possess it.
The conclusion then is that actual mortality rate, or a substance's propensity to kill, has little effect on criminalization.
Addiction is an extremely grey area as regards the logic of criminalization because of the nature of addiction itself. As an uncontrollable compulsion, virtually anything can be considered addictive in and of itself. Were addiction the only criteria, food, shopping and some people would be classified as illegal.
Years ago, addiction was a term that applied only to pharmacology referring to a substances ability to create tolerance in the user. Not long to follow, the term made its way into the common vernacular and was used to indicate the habit of using substances beyond ones best interest. This latter definition is almost unilaterally accepted by the medical community as a disease.
The quandary then becomes a Catch-22: If the drug is criminalized because of its addictive potential, yet addiction itself is the problem at which root lies disease, how can it possibly indicate criminal behaviour?
This would be akin to arresting someone for buying cough syrup because they had a cold.
Another key factor in whether or not a drug is criminalized would seem to be its ability to intoxicate the user. However alcohol and caffeine are only two examples of legal drugs with this characteristic, so the reasoning is flawed at best.
Rhetorical questions aside, it's no great argument that the war on drugs has proved a dismal failure in our culture. Questions as to who the war is truly against are rife, for it remains nearly impossible to wage war against inanimate objects.
A Historical Who's Who of Substances Used Within a Proven Spiritual Context
* Cannabis/Marijuana - Sula Benet was one of the first researchers to question a connection between terms used in the Old Testament and Cannabis, producing evidence that the term 'kaneh-bosm' had been mistranslated as Calamus but was initially intended to represent Cannabis.
* Wine - The more obvious substance correlating to the blood of Christ in Christian ceremony and ritual.
* Peyote - Indigenous tribes such as the Huichol and the Navajo have used Peyote in religious ritual with written records attesting to its use dating over 20,000 years.
* Hashish - has been historically associated with the Sufis, who considered its consumption an 'act of worship'.
The Convention on Psychotropic Substances
Established in 1971, a collection of plenipotentiaries gathered in Vienna and signed a treaty which effectively banned any and all conceivable 'mind-altering' substances. By 1976, the Convention was in full force, veritably regulating anything and everything that could be considered psychotropic.
Today, 175 countries are party to this ineffective treaty, with several additional conventions and acts having followed after. Countless resources and dollars have been dedicated to this cause, to no avail, and the dilemma is not expected to be solved anytime soon, as long as there remain spiritually and otherwise curious individuals and plants that exist to appease their wonderment.
For better or worse.