As humanity has extended its reach the planet has seemingly shrunk giving rise to the concept of ‘Spaceship Earth’. If you have to go journeying through the cold, black void you really couldn’t really do better then our 6 star vessel. This baby comes equipped not just with the essentials (forests to produce oxygen, fungi to break down dead things etc) but with all manner of lush, decadent add-ons that have snuck into existence.
Creatures like the blue whale, snow leopard, giant salamander and lantern fish reveal the mad exuberance that the life-process is capable of.
From a species perspective, our home is the whole planet and we are nestled within a complex global ecosystem. So it may not come as a surprise that the term ‘ecology’ (coined in 1873 by the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel) is derived from Okologie, from Gk. oikos “house, dwelling place, habitation” + -logia “study of.”
Assuming humans can grow up and stop crapping all over the play pen, our home, Spaceship Earth could provide for our physical needs for 2.3 billion years (until the sun goes red dwarf on our collective asses). This may be enough time to develop intergalactic travel allowing our descendents to go and find fresh pastures. Luckily, there is so much going on aboard our mother ship we are unlikely to get bored over this vast stretch of time. However, in case we do nature abounds with a range of powerful and magical compounds that offer a means to radically change our perspectives. That’s right! Spaceship Earth provides for our mental and spiritual wellbeing as well as physical. Psychedelic compounds are produced by nature in a vast array of forms on every continent.
For millennia indigenous peoples all around the world have ceremonially and recreationally ingested Mother Nature’s finest and reaped a range of benefits. From San Pedro using shamans, Ayahuasca drinkers in the Amazon, the Mazatec who use hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the Huichols who use Peyote; hallucinogenic plants have been used as religious sacrament, healing medicine, and spiritual guides. The Aztecs called them “the flesh of the gods” and Siberian shamans used them to enlighten their path to the spirit world. In Europe the psychedelic experience was extremely common, whole communities would trip out when their crops where infected with Ergot. and Celtic warriors are known to have consumed a psychedelic potion derived from mushrooms before entering into battle.
In the preliterate world entheogenic substances were an important part of everyday reality and were highly respected for their ability to bring forth the divine. Often entire tribes would partake in rites and rituals used as an initiation into adulthood, for healing, to help guide the community in the decision process, and to bring the direct religious experience to anyone seeking it.
The potential of these compounds is broad and mysterious. Shamens who use Ayahuasca in the Amazon report being able to enter new worlds and dimensions beyond our own. In his extraordinary book The Cosmic Serpent Jeremy Narby presents the case that Amazonians’ encyclopedic, specific knowledge of pharmacology derives not from arduous testing of thousands (millions) of species of plants (there may not have been enough time for this to have worked) but from direct communication with the plants themselves whilst in hallucinogenic trance.
A record of ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cults symbiotic relationship with fungi is found in prehistoric rock art in the Sahara Desert dating back to 9000-7000 B.C. However, it is highly likely that humanoids will have used psychedelics for far longer than this. Given the long and illustrious ethno-botanical relationship of humankind with naturally occurring, hallucinogenic compounds the modern taboo and laws against ingesting them seem retrograde at best and at worst a deliberate, self-induced lobotomy on our collective mind. Indeed the industrial decimation of the biosphere, genocide of indigenous tribes and homogenization of culture may be more closely linked to our collective denial of Dream Time then we might think. Terence McKenna, in Whole Earth Review (1989) writes:
“Re-establishing direct channels of communication with the planetary other, the mind behind Nature, through the use of hallucinogenic plants is the last, best hope for dissolving the steep walls of cultural inflexibility that appear to be channeling us toward true ruin. Careful exploration of the plant hallucinogens will probe the most archaic and sensitive levels of the drama of the emergence of consciousness.”
This is in stark contrast to the drugs currently prescribed by contemporary doctors in the US, which are designed precisely to normalize behavior and maintain the ‘walls of cultural inflexibility’. For example, the noisy, impulsive, outspoken (fun) kids in school are labeled as having ADHD and placed on Ritalin. Ritalin aka Methylphenidate’s pharmacological effect on the central nervous system is almost identical to that of cocaine and may prevent free thinking children from asking pesky questions like ‘why are we being taught this bullshit’. Ritalin is currently prescribed to approximately six million people in the US. 75% of these are children, with boys receiving Ritalin about four times more often than girls.
In the United Kingdom the use of antidepressants increased by 234% in the 10 years up to 2002. In the United States a 2005 independent report stated that 11% of women and 5% of men in the non-institutionalized population take antidepressants. For severely depressed people these interventions may be useful. However, for many it may avoid proactively making the changes to their lives which are necessary to improve well being for example, seeking out meaning in life, finding creative outlets and connecting with others on a profound level. Most worryingly of all is the prospect that it is precisely the materialist, atomized dystopia we have created that causes depression which has now led to the new profitable industry of corporations reducing the symptoms with their synthesized chemicals. In this Brave New World the people lulled into their Soma-like druggy happiness will never stand in between an ancient woodland and a JCB saying ‘the line stops here… we don’t need any more roads, malls or car parks’. We can drug ourselves happy while we pave over paradise. It is either nonsensical or purposely repressive to treat natural psychedelics like other drugs. McKenna again:
“The pro-psychedelic plant position is clearly an anti-drug position. Drug dependencies are the result of habitual, unexamined and obsessive behavior; these are precisely the tendencies that the psychedelics mitigate.”
Furthermore, our governments seriously endanger the wellbeing of young people by automatically banning anything non-corporatized and failing to accurately communicate the relative risks. Professor David Nutt was recently sacked as the chairman of the government’s drugs advisory panel for saying that taking E was no more dangerous than riding a horse. This may rankle Middle England but if your child is determined to get high wouldn’t you rather they were taking E then a harmful drug like crack or smack?!
From the paucity of information emerges worrying trends. Kids in the UK are increasingly turning to Ketamine for their high which is cheap and readily available. What these kids do not know is that regular use attacks their bladders and they may end up needing a catheter . Prof David Nutt, suggested that Ketamine should be upgraded from a class C drug due to the harm it can cause users but since the government sacked him this is unlikely to happen. Meanwhile, naturally occurring magic mushrooms are rated as a class A drug whilst being non addictive with widely reported beneficial effects.
It is, of course, an awful irony that the US which leads the world in corporate drug pushing (which is now so out of control that we are seeing widely reported sex reversal in frogs as an effect of drugs in the environment ) also leads the world in the ridiculously named War on Drugs. The War on Drugs seems to exist mainly to mask the U.S. counter-intelligence and paramilitary presence abroad and contribute to the cyclic creation of a permanent underclass. Whilst their government fights an endless war with another fabricated, intangible enemy millions (70 % non-white) of Americans waste their lives incarcerated in dehumanizing prisons.
In the UK some enterprising people found a legal loophole allowing them to sell fresh magic mushrooms.
As recently as 2005 the my friends and I would stroll down Portobello road and visit the Camden Mushroom Company and enjoy regular trips with close friends. These happy, fun times in the park came without a hangover normally accompanied with profound insights and plentiful giggling.
On discovering the legal loophole enabling good citizens to legally trade these highlights of nature’s bounty a dark and evil force was again extended from the government and within 2 years the good times were over. The 2005 Drugs Act labeled mushrooms a class A drug (like crack cocaine and heroin) with a 7 year jail term for possession.
This draconian step feels like a totally disproportionate intrusion into my life. On whose authority do these law makers act? What right do they have to ban us from intimately connecting with nature and extending our own conscious reach? Making something illegal that grows out of the ground is exactly the kind of perverted authoritarian distortion you would expert from leaders who think they can persuade the people you can bomb a country to avoid a war.
Are these law makers the same people who lied to take the nation to war wasting billions of our tax pounds to invade and control a distant sovereign state illegally? Are they the same people have spent all our money bailing out banks in what has been termed the greatest swindle of all time with money that should be paying for the transition to a sustainable society? Are they the same people who finally lost any moral credibility and were been rumbled with their hands in the till ? If so I will defer to my own moral judgments rather then following knee jerk laws written by suited, drab, automatons operating in parliamentarian bubble.
As the human species grows up there will be an ever growing range of narcotics knocking around. Those who seek to control the supply would be better off regulating and raising tax revenue rather then banning with all the subsequent problems of drugs being controlled by the black market and global underworld. Decriminalization and regulation is the only way to control drugs and protect the young. Furthermore, if the government is going to regulate drugs why not do so according to the harm they cause as established by scientists?
Whilst the government sorts out its perverse legislation the good citizens of this country needn’t worry. They can ban but they can’t exterminate. So in the mean time the rest of us can head out to those special patches in the English countryside where our slimy mushroom friends push their pretty heads out of the dark Earth and together celebrate the mad journey us life forms are on. It is a difficult thing for many people to get their heads around, but the fact remains home is a giant spaceship with a rejuvenating supply of psychedelics on board. Let’s enjoy the trip!