So much of what we’re told about “drugs” when we’re young is misleading, misinformed, and completely misguided. The fact that marijuana, psilocybin, and peyote are listed as Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is not only a disservice to the American public, but is also disrespectful to nature and humankind as a whole. These three naturally occurring psychoactive compounds have been utilized therapeutically, recreationally, and religiously by humans for thousands of years. Though there are dangers to using these substances in the wrong context or for the wrong reasons, and they can certainly lead to problems with abuse, they are definitely not as dangerous as most of the other legitimately illicit drugs outlawed by the CSA.
Often, it seems that efforts to educate children about drug use begin with a very simplistic “just say no” kind of attitude. This was my experience, growing up in the eighties during the Nancy Reagan and D.A.R.E. campaigns that attempted to educate youth about the dangers of drugs. Although I was too young to really understand exactly what the purpose of this mental programming was, I do remember feeling strangely skeptical about it, even though I had no real experience with any substances other than alcohol and tobacco. These short-sighted attempts at prevention did very little to inform my own decision making later in life either, when I would actually encounter drugs. By the time I was presented with an opportunity to try anything of the sort, it was alcohol that was the “gateway drug” for me. However, I was never taught (at school or at home) that there was a use for any of these substances, legal or illegal, other than the recreational purpose of becoming intoxicated. Essentially, the message I received as a child was “Legal drugs are for adults, and illegal ones are evil!”
I often wonder if I had been taught that there were legitimate reasons for using psychedelics in particular, if I would have had a greater respect for psychedelics, or if I would have been either more or less curious about them. All I was really encouraged to think when I was an adolescent, was that drugs should be avoided and feared, but by the time I reached puberty I knew there was nothing to be scared of. I grew up watching many adults around me drink and smoke cigarettes and pot without seeming to give it any thought. The only times I ever felt afraid or threatened were times when I was around someone who was excessively intoxicated by alcohol or on some kind of hard drugs. Marijuana only ever seemed to make adults appear silly, lazy, or just happy. So, by the time I began experimenting, alcohol was obviously the first choice because it was easiest to get, but marijuana was a close second, and it opened up an entirely different world that I had never known even existed.
The euphoria one first experiences when under the influence of marijuana, psilocybin, or peyote can be described as somewhat of a religious experience. They each have their own accompanying side effects and unique qualities, but the general feeling is quite unmistakable. Any given substance will affect different people in different ways, and obviously, not everyone has pleasant experiences with psychedelics. I hardly remember the very first time I actually got “high,” but I do know that at some point, I realized cannabis was something that made me relax, become more introspective, and think more deeply about my life, and my relationship to nature, music, art, and all things beautiful, lovely and interesting. Later on, in my twenties, I came to find that psilocybin and peyote each had a similar effect, but were of greater intensity and each had a psychologically healing quality that helped me come to terms with struggles I was having at different points during those years, and made me feel more in tune with my own self, as well as the whole rest of the earth. Then I finally began discovering literature which eventually brought me to the understanding that these entheogenic plants are sacred helpers, not to be feared; but rather, used wisely.
Traditional use of a cannabis infused drink called bhang in India has persisted in the North Indian religious celebration of Holi from around 1000 BC, even to this day. This spring festival is a time for adults and children to run around and be playful, as we all should be doing more regularly! Most are also aware that the Rastafari spiritual tradition has a central tenet involving cannabis use, and various other religions throughout time have utilized it as a sacrament as well. The Hash, Marihuana, & Hemp Museum of Amsterdam also has this to say about its sacramental use:
“The use of cannabis a religious sacrament predates written history and evidence of its place as a sacred plant can be found in most ancient religions, including Shintoism, Buddhism, and Sufism; and among the Bantu, Pygmy, Zulu and Hottentot tribes of Africa. Several modern religions still practice the ceremonial consumption of psychoactive cannabis, for example Rastafari, while others consider it holy due to its many other properties, revering it as a symbol of strength, purity or wellness.”
The ancient Aztecs and other Mesoamerican and Central American indigenous cultures employed the use of psychedelic mushrooms for sacramental purposes, as well as the peyote cactus. Today, the Native American Church is well known for being exempted from federal law regarding their practice of ingesting peyote for religious purposes. There is even a “non-sectarian, multicultural, experiential, Peyotist organization” called the Peyote Way Church of God, which accepts people of all races, religions, and creeds in order to provide a way for everyone to experience the sacred “Spirit Walk” of the seeker who wants to legally partake of the holy sacrament.
Fortunately, almost half of our states have begun enacting medical marijuana laws, and a couple have even fully legalized the recreational use of cannabis, but as we all know, federal policy still maintains an absolute prohibition. It seems we are finally moving in the direction of legalizing marijuana nationally, and hopefully the federal government will also someday reschedule it, as even science has now confirmed that it does have medicinal and therapeutic value. But I hope for the sake of our society, and for the health and wellness of all humanity, even that of our entire earth, we not only move toward more sensible drug policies, but also start accepting that there are spiritual reasons for respectfully partaking in all the psychoactive substances nature has provided. Perhaps we will one day become a psychedelic society.