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Cognitive Liberty UK

It’s a class-A drug with some of the lowest risks/harms when compared to other drugs. It’s a class-A drug which therapists want to use to treat alcoholism, opiate-addiction and depression. Research has indicated again and again that it can be of great help to those dealing with the fear and anxiety of terminal illnesses. It’s most well-known effects are to encourage feelings of unity and love in relation to fellow man, to encourage religiosity and spirituality.

When we look at the motives people have for taking LSD, it should seem obvious that imprisoning them is a perversion of justice. People take LSD for spiritual revelation and healing, to bring about positive transformation in their lives. Whether or not this is a sensible approach to reaching those goals is an open question: but it should be clear that they have committed no moral wrong.

We are taking mystics and locking them up…

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Cognitive Liberty UK

Where the placebo effect refers to a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition that results from a simulated medical intervention, the nocebo effect refers to the opposite.

The nocebo effect shows us that, even when no real drug or cause for harm is present, negative beliefs and expectations can lead to negative physiological, behavioural, emotional, and/or cognitive consequences. It demonstrates the very real effects of conditioning and negative suggestions.

The general consensus amongst clinical psychologists is that psychedelic drugs can cause damage when the user undergoes an extremely emotionally negative or traumatic experience as a result of them.

The purpose of this article is to suggest that the dominant discourses around psychedelics in the both drugs education and the mass-media condition individuals to have negative experiences whilst using them where they otherwise might not.

Both the mass media and the prevailing approaches to drugs education emphasise the risks of using the substances…

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censorship censored government logo icon sign state movie film book drugs policy prohibition

“A government that is permitted to set punishments for drug ‘offences’ in which a person has done nothing more than grow, manufacture, distribute, or use, the psychoactive agents which have been denoted as “controlled substances,” participates in an even more pernicious form of censorship – a censorship of consciousness itself – by choosing to punish people for no other crime than choosing to experience or enable particular states of mind.”

–  Richard Glen Boire

What is censorship? Censorship is any attempt to control the circulation of ideas or information within a given society. Given that psychedelic drugs can manipulate psychological states, and some of these states have a propensity to cause people to “learn valuable lessons” and “gain meaningful insights”, some drugs can be understood as ‘information communicators’ in themselves.

If this holds, then it must follow that any attempt to control such compounds is a form of censorship. Whether or not censorship is the primary aim is an open question, but in the case of LSD there are clear indications (see here) that the early attempts at controlling the substance were motivated by the desire to control certain political dynamics that were emerging (in part, because of LSD?) in America at the time.

Whatever LSD showed people, it seemed to encourage “dropping out” on some fundamental level from the mainstream of society. Many of the clichés of the hippy movement signify fundamental value changes: “free love”, “peace”, “going with the flow” etc. I have heard it said that when LSD was tested on soldiers, the thing that worried the army superiors the most was that the subjects didn’t want to go and kill people any more.

In this day and age we are quite wary of censorship, whatever its form, and whether or not it is merely tacit. Censorship is an explicit attempt to control the minds and actions of a population, it is the invisible propaganda. As Boire says, the war on drugs is “the censorship of consciousness itself”, or, in plain speaking, mind-control.

Censorship is seen by most of us as inherently sinister: paternalistic at “best”. When we look at governments of decades past and their attempts at film and book censorship they always seem so quaint and puritanical, and we should note that any attempt at censorship usually caused an increase of exposure to whatever book or film it was.

When a book or a film is censored it is, in its simplest terms, a censorship of certain experiences. Are psychedelic drugs different?

Cognitive Liberty UK

Drug laws attempt to control what you can do with your mind and what experiences you are allowed access to. Drug laws are, quite literally, attempts at mind control.

Cognitive libery is much more than freedom of thought. To believe in cognitive liberty is to believe that the individual is absolute sovereign over their own consciousness. It is an extension of the concepts of freedom of thought and self-ownership. It is a reaction against the prevailing assumption that other people have the right to tell you what you can do with your mind and body in situations that carry only a personal-risk.

Terence McKenna writes:

“We’re playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate that the cardinals of government and science should dictate where human curiosity can legitimately send its attention and where it can not. It’s a preposterous situation. It is essentially a civil rights issue…

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In the last few weeks we saw the parliamentary commission on drug policy come to a close. The commission concluded that a Royal Commission should be started to investigate the most sensible route forward on the matter: a more lengthy and rigorous public enquiry which would wield far greater power.

David Cameron was quick to dismiss the advice of the think-tank that had been dedicated to investigating the issue for the last year. This being a man who has (according to this BBC news article) used drugs in the past, who in 2002, when HE HIMSELF was a member of  Parliamentary Commission on the same issue suggested that ecstasy should be down-graded from class A, and cannabis to class C, stating:

“Drugs policy in this country has been failing for decades. Drug abuse has increased massively, the number of drug-related deaths has risen substantially and drug-related crime accounts for up to half of all acquisitive crime. I hope that our report will encourage fresh thinking and a new approach. We need to get away from entrenched positions and try to reduce the harm that drugs do both to users and society at large.”

Here’s betting that Cameron, a decade or two from now, will join the long list of ex-prime-ministers, presidents and politicians who, only after they have lost their power, decide that that drugs should be decriminalised.

Of course, the new enquiry focussed on the same old issues: the dangers, the legal highs, drugs in prison. As with so many things though: the most interesting things are what weren’t said, what was ignored, and issues the commission chose not to linger with for too long.

It seems that a parliamentary commission can only go so deep, there are boundaries to work within and certain rules you have to stick by. In the case of this recent parliamentary commission the main boundary, the main rule, was the question of the fundamental legitimacy of drug prohibition. Really the purpose was to investigate drug policy whilst holding to a tacit assumption that recreational drugs must remain illegal.

The commission itself, as well as the inevitable tide of mediocre media analysis on the issue, failed to go to the real heart of the issue. The criminalisation of recreational drugs is a civil liberty issue, a ‘cognitive liberty’ issue: it is about no less than the state’s control over the minds and experiences of the population, over the freedom of the individual.

Nobody asks, nobody cares, about the question: “What gives those people the right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my own mind?”. People have used myriad means to alter consciousness for millennia, we have come to take it for granted that there should be ‘some one there to tell us what we aren’t free to do’.

Another ‘little thing’ about the issue didn’t really make it to the commission or the press. Whilst discussing all of the harms, the issue of the benefits of drugs didn’t seem to get quite so much attention. For some reason, discussing the statistically tenuous links between cannabis and schizophrenia (cannabis being a drug which has become more dangerous precisely because of its illegality) is infinitely more important than discussing the medicinal benefits of the drug. Likewise, calls for psychedelics to be integrated into the psychiatrists arsenal of controlled psychoactive medications, or at least for research into the medicinal benefits of the drugs to be allowed, weren’t given much time at the commission.

Then there’s the other great taboo, and this is the true elephant in the room: America. We all know that every time a British Prime Minister EVER speaks with a US President the words “special relationship” must be uttered at least once. Is drug prohibition, essentially, a diplomatic price we have to pay to maintain this “special relationship?”. We all know that if there’s one thing America doesn’t like, it’s for one of it’s submissive allies to start asserting too much autonomy.

If you look at the history of our drug policy, you will see that in every stage of its development it was following in the footsteps of America’s dug policy. If you look a little closer you’ll see America, every step of the way, holding the hands of British politicians and leading them into ‘the war on drugs’.

‘The war on drugs’ – a puritanical American moral crusade- the UN Convention is simply how America imposes it on the rest of the world. Imposing an unending war on the world, and in so doing, allowing its power and influence to permeate into the governments of all nations: it really is quite clever!

The truth is, fellow Brits: our government IS NOT IN A POSITION to back out of the war on drugs, they do not have the power to do it, they are not allowed. America wouldn’t like it, so it’s not going to happen: it’s a diplomatic thing more than anything else, it ‘might seem rude’ to our allies if we start thinking for ourselves. Drug prohibition is a poisonous policy: it needlessly sets the state against its citizenry. It is totalitarian, interfering with the personal choices of the individual, removing freedoms long-enjoyed by our predecessors.

Now that a couple of US states have decriminalised cannabis for recreational use, a double-standard is starting to exist: with all these things there comes to be a tipping point. Once enough countries or states legalise it, we think the other countries will be forced to do the same for reasons of sheer economics.

The Psychedelic Community as a New Religious Movement:

The word psychedelic was coined by Humphry Osmond in 1957, its etymological root is meant to indicate the ‘spirit-revealing’ or ‘soul-manifesting’ nature of the chemicals concerned.

We know, beyond all doubt, that many of the users of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, DMT, Mescaline and Magic Mushrooms claim that these chemicals cause them to have experiences they describe as spiritually significant: usually in terms of allowing new spiritual insights about the nature of their being and its relationship to experience and the world, or in terms of some kind of spiritual healing effect.

Many, if not most, individuals who repeatedly use psychedelics do so with a primary motivation to explore the spiritual benefits of psychedelics: it is therefore, a part of their spiritual lives. Many of those individuals feel that the drugs themselves are sacred gifts, they use drugs like LSD to bring about experiences and states of being that are somehow “spiritual”,  “mystical” and “divine”.

All around the world, right now, there are individuals who are using psychedelic drugs. Not just individuals though, there is an increasingly cohesive and open community of psychedelic users: all united by the shared belief that they have been benefited by, and will continue to benefit from, psychedelic drugs.

Is it not conceivable that this community of individuals, who use the same sacraments, share similar spiritual motivations, and hold similar core beliefs represent a new religious or spiritual movement? 

Illustrating the unique aesthetic of psychedelic art.

It is, essentially, a ‘New Religious Movement’ (NRM) that is not allowed to become an organised religion. It cannot be given a name, nor can its places of communal gathering be made to explicit. It includes a great variety of belief and practice: but then the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, even Christianity all show a great variety of forms and expressions also. It has it’s own set of texts, but none are adopted as dogma, there is no cannon: but then many of the historical forms of human spirituality did not have a cannon either. It even has its own unique forms of artistic expression and aesthetic style, rife with themes of transcendence and spiritual discovery.

In Europe, especially in the summer, there are certain festivals attended primarily by the psychedelic community. At these festivals, an obvious form of neo-shamanism manifests itself: complete with music, dancing, and mind-altering chemicals, components of many shamanic traditions from all over the world. In fact, these festivals are becoming increasingly popular all over the world.

One of the implications of the continued growth of psychedelic festival culture is that the community of psychedelic users is becoming, with the help of the internet, more organised and more cohesive. Furthermore, now this ‘spiritual movement’ has community meeting spaces, with their own rituals, traditions, codes and conventions. At these gatherings there is a very strong sense of this community – people care for one another and help one another to have an enjoyable time, there is a sense of shared purpose and unity that is enjoyed by many when the psychedelic community meet.

Some might say “this isn’t spirituality, it is just hedonism’. Verily there are some who attend psychedelic festivals ‘just to have fun’, but there are others who feel, nonetheless, that psychedelic chemicals are an important aspect of their spiritual lives. Furthermore, who is to say that spirituality cannot be fun? Mystical texts from all world religions, including the bible, speak of ecstatic and joyous experiences that are encountered on the spiritual path: the Old Testament even describes singing and dancing as a result of spiritual attainment.

The Psychedelic Community has its own Places of Worship

When I walk down the street of Oxford on a Saturday night I see fighting, I see people throwing up, I hear glass smashing: people become rude, inconsiderate, violent. I have never seen a fight at a psychedelic music festival, I don’t see people stumbling around and throwing up, what I do see is people having the time of their lives and forming lasting bonds with people in the process.

Returning to the issue though, the psychedelic community needs to consider how it can go about becoming recognised for the legitimate spiritual movement that it is so that it can enjoy the same acceptance and according protections that are afforded to other religious communities.

In the mean time, psychedelic spiritualists will continue to be a persecuted and oppressed minority religious group. For walking their spiritual path, they face imprisonment, with all the hardships and consequences-on-life that are entailed by it. Let’s have a brief look at how this persecution came about.

Christian Puritanism & Moral Panics: ‘The War on Drugs’ as Hysteria

We must recognise that for the last thousand years (and then some) the population of Europe has had its native religious/spiritual practices oppressed by the ‘dominator religion’ that is Christianity. Wherever Christianity went it systematically destroyed any competing forms of spirituality: often through violence. In the background, that force is still an undercurrent of our society.

Think about it. The American political system is still so obviously fixated on the values of Puritanical Christianity: that kind of ‘good christian wholesomeness’ that is expected of any presidential candidate, the obsession with ‘sexual misconduct’ on the part those in the public sphere, and wariness of the many other things deemed viceful within the puritanical Christian tradition. Is it a coincidence that this moral panic, this ‘war on drugs’, has come from a country whose dominant spiritual power is a form Christian puritanism?

Like the witch-trials, the ‘War on Drugs’ is another hysterical moral panic: something is judged as evil, all ‘the good people’ respond with unspeakable inhumanity.

A moral panic, and not the first. Can we think of some other examples from history where the Christian majority have deemed something to be ‘evil’ or ‘morally wrong’ and responded with unspeakable violence? The witch-hunts, for example, which also took on a distinctive ferocity midst the North American puritans. The Inquisition, a few hundred years of torture, persecution, inhumanity: based on a response to what is perceived to be an evil.

Perhaps you think the comparison extreme? It’s not like we’re burning people at the stake or torturing them, right? But we do lock people up: vast swathes of people (usually the most socially disadvantaged) all in response to the supposed ‘evil’ of drug-use. As in the inquisition, we interrogate people, we use fear and intimidation to make them betrays other human beings: is it not torture to go through a judicial system and be locked away for decades of your life?

The ‘War on Drugs’ is just another inquisition. The ‘Holy/Good people’ exercising hegemonic domination over ‘the evil people’, and in the process performing unspeakable evils themselves.

Is it not an evil thing to do this to an individual? It is a harmful action after all, to lock them in a prison for years on end. Is the act of imprisoning some one for using psychedelics not, in fact, more evil than that individuals ‘offence’ of using psychedelics?

When an activity carries risks only to oneself, does that make it unethical? If so, are horse-riding and mountain climbing unethical to? Clearly then the idea that drug use is morally wrong cannot be based on the risks associated with their use. If it is not a moral wrong, then to punish people for it is not just, and is unethical.

The ‘War on Drugs’ will be viewed by historians as just another silly moral panic, a hysteria that got carried away with itself, but a hysteria like never before. A hysteria fueled by new mass-media technologies, a hysteria on an unprecedented scale, and one which does an unprecedented amount of harm.

It is interesting to consider the extent to which Puritanical Christianity has been embraced by, what some might consider to be ‘the new dominator religion’, Capitalism; and the extent to which spiritual movements which are perceived to be a threat to capitalism are marginalised, and in this case, forbidden.

Conclusion:

The psychedelic community, as it stands, is a new religious/spiritual movement. Its members are subject to persecution and oppression, as they have been for the last fifty years.

Much of modern drug culture is simply an extension of much older spiritual traditions. Modern Britain has new sacraments now, and its tribal dances are to dubstep from massive sound-systems

This ‘war on drugs’ is just a part of a millenia-old pattern of ‘organised religion’ dominating more spontaneous & experiential forms of spirituality. It manifests the values of the puritanical religious fanaticism which has come to dominate American political culture.

If our Right to Religious & Spiritual Freedom is to mean anything, then it must accommodate entheogenic  and psychedelic compounds , which are an important component to many forms of spirituality.

One source of hope is the increasing unity of the psychedelic community around the world.

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