On prohibition and entheogens

I believe that the prohibition of marijuana is wrong bordering on immoral.

The consumption of this naturally occurring product is illegal only because the United States Federal government has declared it so – against the will of numerous states which have approved it for both medical and recreational use, mind you.

They only did so in the 20th century (as any patchouli-reeking hippie will tell you, our Founding Fathers grew hemp, maaaaan) because of an anti-Mexican hysteria that was sweeping through the country at the time. Even today the enforcement of prohibition unfairly targets minority communities which has all sorts of socioecomomic ramifications in addition to the violence and exposure to other criminal elements it produces. Supposing that there were some sort of valid legal, moral or medical basis for prohibition, at this point even it’s most strident proponents must concede that the war on drugs hasn’t been waged very successfully. People from all levels of society imbibe and it’s so readily accessible anyone can score some anytime they want if they’ve got the right connections.

Of course therein lies the fatal flaw of prohibition – those connections are, by definition, people who engage in criminal activity. The only reason that pot is a “gateway drug” is because dealers often have the other stuff on hand or because people try pot, realize everything they’ve been told about it is a lie and figure that the government is lying about the dangers of other drugs too. If we really wanted to stop the spread of actually harmful substances like coke and meth we’d legalize pot and introduce dispensaries operated and overseen by the state, as liquor stores are in many communities.

Indeed the analogy is an appropriate one for there are plenty of perfectly legal substances that have a far greater impact on our health than any tests have shown for even extreme levels of pot consumption – tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, processed sugar, fatty foods, chemical additives and preservatives, etc ad infinitum are all much more dangerous to us, yet no one bats a lash when a person puts those things in their body. Can you imagine the hue and cry if the government decided to shut down all the Starbucks and McDonalds and banned Facebook?

So singling out marijuana in this way is arbitrary and illogical – especially considering its demonstrated medical and psychological benefits like easing pain, nausea and anxiety, increasing appetite among chemo patients and so forth. 

I have immense respect for the law – indeed, Orpheus tells us that Themis and Dike sit enthroned beside Zeus – but law is the immutable order of existence, not the mere whims and dictates of man. When our rules conform with that order they are right, just, noble and good, worthy of defending with our blood and life. But when they stray from that order they carry no weight of acceptance and obligation and if they stray too far I consider it a just act to oppose them, for instance as when German officers during WWII refused to execute their orders to open fire on civilian Jewish populations. Doing so made them guilty of insubordination and treason but preserved them from committing a far greater sin.

And as much as I stress the importance of the collective I fervently believe in the sovereignty of the individual and that our souls are accountable to a higher authority than man. (Or lower, since the seats of Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aiakos are located in the underworld.) Consequently I believe, as a Dionysian, that one of the greatest evils we can do to another human being is to violate the sovereignty of their being. (Consider his myths where he is gentle and persuasive in adversity, to the point where he’ll take more shit from people than any other God would – up to the point where the will of innocents is impigned and then he is unspeakably savage in retaliation.) Which is why I am opposed to rape and murder and monism.

And also why I believe that a person has the right to alter their consciousness in whatever manner they choose to. Laws govern our interactions with our fellows and they have no business touching upon what happens within the sanctity of our skulls. If I choose to take drugs in order to explore the furthest reaches and primordial depths of my soul, to commune with Gods and Spirits, to expand my thoughts and open the floodgates of creativity (not to mention all of the other uses these substances have) that has no bearing on anyone else and therefore should be of no concern to them.

Now, obviously, the moment that I begin interacting with other people I am obligated to behave in a certain manner and should be held accountable for everything I say and do and the impact it has on them regardless of how much I am being influenced by the drugs. Indeed because I made the conscious choice to put myself under their power I believe that I should be even more accountable for my actions since that decision opens up everything that follows from it. I especially must respect the boundaries of others and the choices they make or did not make (such as being exposed to an intoxicated idiot.)

Or to put it in other words if you can’t handle your shit you shouldn’t be doing it and if you fuck up you deserve to have the book thrown at you and then some – but if you can then I don’t see a problem with imbibing.

That said, entheogens aren’t for everyone, especially not as a dedicated path. Even though I think everyone can potentially benefit from them I usually try to dissuade folks because if you’ve got unresolved shit it’s gonna get brought up to the surface and frankly a lot of folks aren’t prepared for dealing with that so directly – which is where bad trips often come from.

Of course, that’s when an experienced guide can be helpful – walking you through it when it gets intense and helping to ease the landing when you come back down. More than that, the guide has built up a relationship with the Spirit in the plant so can usually talk to it and help negotiate the terms of the trip. Consequently I’m not as experienced as a lot of psychonauts since I’ve worked on building up that kind of relationship with my particular plant-allies rather than getting my hands on every exotic chemical combination I can.

I work fairly closely with tobacco, marijuana, amanita muscaria, psilocybin and to a much lesser extent salvia divinorum. Beyond that I’ve tried nymphaia cirulea, kinnikinnick, a couple other mushrooms and herbal mixtures, LSD and one of those alphabet soup designer chemical compounds. [Note: This list has expanded since the post was written.]

I won’t try anything harder or that isn’t a psychoactive and the experience with the alphabet soup swore me off all but the natural stuff. And even there I tend to stick to traditionally Eurasian substances – there’s a couple from Mexico and South America I’d like to try but 1) you’re dealing with a very different type of spirit and 2) most of the experiences begin with massive vomiting and/or explosive diarrhea and there’s a limit to how much I’m going to get out of a trip while hunched over a toilet, ya know?

I cannot stress these three words enough: set and setting. Set and setting. Set and setting.

They’re everything. Basically what it means is before you go into any potentially intense experience – be it drugs, ritual, art or whathaveyou – pay attention to your surroundings and your mental state. This includes things like who’s around you, your sensorium (visuals, tactile, auditory, even scents) and where your head is at. Are you calm, reverent, focused and got all of your shit more or less under control? (And know what areas you don’t.) Do you know what you’re trying to accomplish and hope to get out of the experience (while remaining flexible and open to other things coming up) before going in? Do you have any ritual accoutrements or objects of entertainment easily accessible so you don’t have to search for them while altered?

Paying attention to this stuff ahead of time contributes hugely to the success or failure of any undertaking.

6 thoughts on “On prohibition and entheogens

  1. I’m actually opposed to the legalization of cannabis, because the very premise accepts a dichotomy I reject. Coffee is not “legalized,” nor is it illegal, yet it impacts how we perceive the world and probably shouldn’t be ingested by some. A plant which requires considerably less processing than coffee, cannabis should simply be removed from the forbidden. To do otherwise simply amplifies the desire to monetize and maximize the experience through chemical amplification, as evidenced by those crazy-strong edibles which are out there. This is a case which makes me wish libertarians were real.


    1. I couldn’t agree more. As long as folks are clearly informed about the contents and any potential side-effects I’d allow the sale and consumption of damn near everything across the board, including stuff like cocaine, meth and heroin which I have no interest in trying. To the best of my abilities I’d keep the government and corporations out of it, as they have a knack for turning everything they touch to shit. That said, we currently have the largest incarceration numbers in the world (and possibly in history) so if the process of legalization helps correct that, I’m all for it.

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        1. Yeah, I was the same way with gay marriage. In principle I oppose the government having anything to do with our personal relationships and believe that marriage should be a religious institution only (with the individual religions having all the say regarding what does and does not constitute such a union within their tradition.) Then I read stories of partners not being allowed in hospital rooms, children taken away from the surviving parent and transfolk being buried in the clothing of their birth gender all because the government didn’t formally recognize their status or end of life wishes, and I was like fuck that shit, principles are meaningless in the face of genuine suffering. In the end I think we need to determine what is going to cause the least amount of harm for the greater number of people – and that overwhelmingly translates to less government involvement. Though not always – which is why I don’t determine policy by what fits best on a bumper sticker.

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