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Legal Tripping
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The Fight To Reopen Research On Hallucinogens

By James Donahue

Scientific research on the benefits of psychedelics like the psilocybin mushroom, peyote and even the synthetic discovery of LSD were snapped to an abrupt halt in the 1960s after President Richard M. Nixon scooped up these agents and marijuana along with amphetamine, cocaine and heroin as prohibited “narcotics” in his declared war on drugs.

This happened after Dr. Timothy Leary, a trained psychologist, promoted the use of hallucinogens for the treatment of various mental disorders and proved his claims in experiments using psilocybin and LSD on volunteers. Leary claimed that the experiments, under controlled conditions, significantly reduced recidivism rates among prisoners and helped people overcome bad habits and addictions.

In his books on the subject, Leary claimed that he found psychedelics to be a useful tool in helping reprogram human personality disorders and turn people away from certain anti-social behavior to becoming productive citizens.

Now, nearly half a century later scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens and putting pressure on legislators to relax narcotics laws and allow new research in this field. Researchers from around the world recently gathered for a conference on psychedelic science in San Jose, California. They came to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Using rigorous protocols and safeguards in conducting their experiments, many scientists have won permission to study the potential of these drugs for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.

Among the first research studies of this kind in the United States has been conducted by Dr. Ronald Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University.

Scientists say they have noticed similarities between hallucinogenic experiences and the life-changing revelations reported by religious mystics and people who meditate and practice yoga techniques. Griffiths said the research in this field is only in the beginning stages although “there is good reason to believe that similar mechanisms are at work during profound religious experiences.”

Griffiths noted in one published interview that when administered under controlled conditions, psychedelics are not dangerous. “Unlike drugs of abuse such as alcohol and cocaine, the classic hallucinogens are not known to be physically toxic and they are virtually non-addictive.

“The primary effect of psilocybin, in medium to large doses, is strong alteration of consciousness. It is possible that such experiences can trigger latent schizophrenia in susceptible individuals. Thus in our study we disqualified potential volunteers who personal or family psychiatric histories indicate that they may be at increased risk of that disorder,” he said.

It is obvious that Dr. Griffiths is walking on eggs when he issues even this much of a concern about the use of psilocybin. It is well known that this fungi, known to many as the “magic mushroom,” can be found all over the world, it comes in many varieties, and is widely used not only among the aboriginal people for religious reasons, but also among many purely for recreational purposes.

The same can be said about LSD. During the years that Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead were on the entertainment circuit across the land, they were always accompanied by The Merry Pranksters, a group that made sure the audience was well supplied with this powerful psychedelic. My wife and I had the grand experience of attending a Grateful Dead concert while Garcia was still alive. While police were circling the place, thousands of people in the audience were openly consuming LSD or smoking marijuana. The auditorium reeked of it. Unlike a crowded bar room on a Saturday night, there was no misbehavior or violence during that concert. Everybody was of one accord, thoroughly enjoying the music while in a higher state of consciousness.

It has been said that Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD, used the drug throughout the rest of his life without experiencing any ill effects. He recently died at the age of 102.

My wife and I lived for a while with a peyote medicine man and his wife on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. We witnessed first-hand the extensive use of this mushroom by the Navajo people who gathered for all-night religious services with this amazing mystic.

While it may be possible that these experiences might trigger episodes of schizophrenia in people already suffering from this disease, we never saw this happen on the reservation. We suspect schizophrenia already is present in the minds of such individuals before they became involved in such behavior.

What we observed in those Navajo tent meetings were such things as healings, spiritual awakenings, and a restoration of love and happiness among those in attendance. Many who had issues with one another mentally “connected” while under the influence of peyote and restored old friendships and trusts.

While my wife and I did not participate, the priest at these functions, Raymond Begay, told us that there were no secrets among the people in the tent during his worship gatherings. In a sense, what he was saying, is that they were all of one mind.

From what we have experienced and observed while among people openly experiencing the effects of these substances, we found no reason for authorities to have ever determined them to be in any way dangerous, toxic, addictive or illegal. If anything, they may even be beneficial when used for spiritual attainment.

Lawyer Richard Glen Boire, founder of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE), appears to agree with us on this. Boire has been a leading and authoritative voice in the growing debate over the rights to autonomy over one’s own neurochemistry.

There are many areas of debate in this field, including the rights of Native Americans to use peyote and other substances during ancient spiritual rituals to freedom from criminal prohibition of cognitive enhancement or the experience of “any mental state.”

Among the guiding principles of the CCLE: “Self-determination over one’s own cognition is central to free will. Decisions concerning whether or how to change a person’s thought processes must remain the province of the individual as opposed to government or industry.”

This is a movement that has been long overdue.