On Safety and Inebrients

by Barbara Murdoch

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Curious animals seek inebriants. Humans have been a most curious species. Over a few millennia, humans identified the uses of hundreds of plant inebriants for sacred and healing purposes. Of the many botanical substances that produce an altered state, only tobacco, coffee and alcohol are sanctioned by authority and glorified by advertising. The rest, even some yet undiscovered, are vilified by the pharmaceutical inquisition.

Some of the more visionary plant substances and molecules help the human mind to make conceptual and emotional discoveries. These discoveries are often integrated and applied to a spiritual or personal evolution. Consider MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, and 2CB; their use in the world of psychotherapy has many enthusiastic advocates. Diaries and journals of personal and healing experiences will become valuable. Indeed, valuable as historical documents and indispensable for the careful research which will ensue when these powerful materials become legal and accepted by the medical community.

Medical uses of marijuana have become apparent, as apparent as the dangers of tobacco and alcohol. The paradox of the War on (some) Drugs gives youngsters a jaded view of institutional authority by the time they learn to question.

A plant substance that commonly occurs in cacti is known to increase empathy and a sense of the divine within. How fortunate such a food would exist! Social change has been ponderous in the past and yet, the rate of change accelerates. Under the haze of advertising, masses of humanoids are stuck with old ideas like war, profit and social Darwinism. The wide dissemination of entheogens might be a fast ticket to planetary healing if they can teach us to love one another and live mindfully.

 The undamaged mind; that is, one unshackled by fear and paranoia, craves meaning, rightful work, authentic experiences and original thought. Some altered states can lead us to the higher mind. What is a normal state of consciousness? Subject to our own body rhythms and emotions, our consciousness varies normally. It's just possible that humans have a curiosity about this; the inner mind and what it is to "expand" consciousness. The psychiatrist, Humphry Osmond, working in Saskatchewan, coined the term "psychedelic," meaning mind-manifesting, in the 1950's, to describe psychedelic plant-derived molecules that could alter states of consciousness and enhance acuity of the senses.

 Through spiritual craving or empty spiritual practices, how do we begin to name what is sacred? Some look to nature, to contemplation or relationships, some to given cosmologies, but the pro-active agent of her own life can look within and "know" what has moved her.

 Public health and safety becomes a pre-eminent concern in the U.S. inspired, globally spread, War on (some) Drugs, yet I keep meeting people who live full and successful lives, who are willing to admit that psychedelics were of great value to them in getting their lives together. I see the police state below us sending their children to jail, to treatment facilities, stunning their school children with Ritalin, their workers with Prozac and I wonder. "Treatment" is often the replacement of a desired substance with another undesired substance.

 Though the doomed DARE program never got a strong hold in Canada, Canadian children are taught to abstain from all inebrients until they are "of age," when the most heavily marketed ones become an automatic rite of passage. Twenty million dollars was spent last year to promote Labatt's beer. The death toll for alcohol related accidents is high among North American young males. Were they invited to try a rather dangerous inebriant? Where did they get the idea that a fun party had to have beer? Acid and ayahuasca have the potential to cure alcohol addiction. Cannibis and MDMA enhance sensual acuity providing a sense of euphoria and calm. Not always to all people. We find our plant allies as we gain experience. Not always, but often enough, the illegal substances are healers and the legal ones are killers. Some inebriants help us to build moral fibre. Some just don't.

 One September I went whitewater rafting with an internet friend from Colorado. He had gone to fight in the Vietnam War, a stable American boy. While there, he observed soldiers off duty, about half of whom would regularly zone out with alcohol, the other half on reefers. Invariably, the drinkers broke out in loud fights and accidents. The smokers giggled, talked, got lost in music or eating. His behavioural observations amuse me yet. A reasonable man, he placed no value in either intoxicant. Characteristically, he wanted to be "in control" like he is on whitewater rapids.

 Terence McKenna, famed ethnobotanist and author of "Food of the Gods", theorizes that monkeys came down from the canopies of the African savannah to taste grubs and mushrooms from ungulate droppings. They may have learned to recognize psilocybin as a kind of Manna from Heaven, for it gave them a sense of well being, a sharpened visual acuity, a greater enjoyment of sexuality and maybe even a concept of what is divine. A mid-range dose enabled savannah monkeys to bond and survive longer than we have, in partnership mode. for there is mushroom art in some of the earliest North African caves and burial grounds. The hunting and gathering of dried mushrooms, the making of blue honey, was common among our forbears, before patriarchy, before grainaries, property and the concept of hoarded wealth.

As the drug war continues, it will be difficult for the individual to build an objective view of plant pharmaceuticals. Research during this inquisition has been scant. Some products, such as beer, wine, coffee and Prozac, are easily distributed. Others are condemned. Tobacco, oddly enough, is subject to both "Kool points" and debasement. It is how we see these powerful tools that matters. Mayan shamans of the Laconda used nicotinia rustica for every ceremony, but never inhaled it or kept a smoke all to themselves.

I have no knowledge of the scary drugs that breed violence, addiction and greed, but neither do I see young folk of the Kootenays very interested in the drugs of oblivion.

I applaud the drinking and driving counterattack program for its emphasis on responsibility and self knowledge. It is a positive value of drug education to emphasize set and setting. There are right places and right doses for inebriation which can be learned without cost.

It makes sense to do a bioassay of our Selves each day and night, to know what enhances or reduces our capacities. Just say 'Know' about what we put into our skins, our minds, our sensibilities and relationships...

 Barbara Murdoch
Pass Creek, B.C. Canada

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