Humankind has, from its very beginnings, been using various substances to alter consciousness and even in the animal kingdom we can find animals eating psychedelic plants or mushrooms. Terence McKenna developed an interesting theory about the emergence of consciousness in the early humanoids. While roaming the savanna grasslands of Africa around 18 000 years ago these pre-humans found psilocybin mushrooms growing in the dung of the animals they were hunting and integrated them into their diet. The psychedelic effect of the mushrooms on the humanoids were according to McKenna the ignition spark for the human intellect to grow and expand. It’s an interesting theory and if you project it into the future it shows the potential for further evolution of human consciousness – judging by the current state of the world, a very desirable event.
While the use of psychedelics seems to have been a constant for millennia in human history we currently live in a world where governments have put a global ban on most psychedelic substances (beginning in 1961 with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs). There is a big discrepancy here: governments that exist for some mere hundred years, prohibit plants that have been around for literally millions of years.
The official logic behind prohibition is to protect people from themselves, implying they would not be able to responsibly use these substances. Do we really need the government to babysit us in that way? In that case why is alcohol not illegal? A highly toxic substance with severe side effects accounting for more than 3 million deaths a year (according to WHO). It seems more likely that governments would rather have us drunk and drugged with prescription drugs (which are highly addictive and have severe side effects) than to have us exploring our consciousness and finding new freedoms. In 1971 Nixon declared drug abuse as the “public enemy number one” and waged the ‘War on Drugs’. It is interesting that he picked the effect and not the cause. He didn’t consider social inequality, poverty or lack of education as the main problems in society but its consequences, drug abuse, to be the root evil. The war on drugs was completely ineffective in eradicating drug use but instead put a war on people, in grand scale, mass incarcerations, especially of already marginalized populations such as African-Americans, creating and fueling drug cartels and provoking crime and hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide.
The base of prohibition is purely moral evaluation and not scientific evidence. Now research, that is finally able to study psychedelics, is finding that they actually hold a lot of potential to heal diseases that we are struggling with in the modern world. Especially in the mental health sector psychedelics show very promising results for people with depression, anxiety, ptsd and various other conditions. Check out for example the Psychedelic Science conference that happened in April 2017 and brought together all of the most cutting edge research in the field.
Interview with Ben de Leonen, Founder and Executive Director of ICCERS