Saturday, March 16, 2013

Marijuana is not a Gateway Drug

It is about time we debunked this idea that Marijuana is a GATEWAY drug.  This is the War on Drug's favorite talking point when it comes to scaring the bejesus out of people who might want to think about Marijuana in any objective way.  The idea here is that using Marijuana is inevitably going to lead us to use other drugs, harder drugs, addictive drugs, drugs that will ruin your life and the lives of those around you.

To this idea I have to say BULLPUCKY.  This is a much researched idea, one which the War on Drugs has invested a great deal of cash to promote.  In nearly every study I have read on this subject not one has ever looked at how the subjects in the study acquired their drugs.  They just report that subject A used marijuana and then subsequently used Drug B, Drug C, Drug D and so on and on and on.  Ergo, Marijuana was obviously causing the users to progress to harder drugs.

Here's the thing.  How do people acquire an illegal drug?  Because the drug is illegal they are forced to find a criminal pusher who is willing to sell the illegal drug to them.  Now this criminal pusher is a businessman. He is risking a lot to acquire the illegal drugs and make them available to his clients.  He has a variety of products he would like to sell his clients.  Whenever possible, it is in his interest to see if he can interest his clients in some of his other products, especially products that are more expensive and more addictive.  The more addictive products will bring the client back to him more frequently, more eager to purchase and willing to pay higher prices, obviously.

So it is in his interest to sell his clients marijuana that is laced with other products. So he may offer Buddah which is marijuana laced with opium, or Chips which is a joint laced with angel dust or PCP. They also offer Atom Bombs which are joints laced with heroin or Basuco which is a joint laced with cocaine.

Sometimes they won't even tell their clients that the joints they are selling are  . . . well . . . augmented.  Not that we have ever seen anything like that before in American marketing.  No telling what cigarettes were laced with all those years the addiction cartel was at our throats; or for that matter how nearly every food product is now laced with high fructose corn syrup.

If marijuana were sold in grocery stores like tobacco it would certainly be less a gateway drug. Or if there were marijuana boutique shops like those that are now selling medical marijuana all over the West Coast, it would likely be less Gateway-esque.   How one develops access to a product has a lot to do with how it will be used, how it will be imagined and shared.

No less a leading light in illicit drug literature, Timothy Leary, came up with the idea of Set and Setting when thinking about how a drug affects the user.

"Of course the drug does not produce the transcendent experience.  It merely acts as a chemical key--it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. The nature of the experience depends almost entirely on the set and setting.  Set denotes the preparation of the individual including his personality and mood at the time.  Setting is physical--the weather, the room's temperature the social--feelings of persons present towards one another and cultural--prevailing views as to what is real.  It is for this reason that manuals and guide books are necessary. Their purpose is to enable a person to understand the new realities of the expanded consciousness to serve as road maps for the new interior territories which modern science has made accessible."

Now this interest of Leary's in altered states of consciousness is pretty far afield from this discussion.  I am interested here in how the set of ideas surrounding marijuana as an illegal drug changes the user's perception of the drug and how it is to be used, where it is to be used, what the consequences of using it might be, and with whom it should be used.  Compare that to the set of ideas surrounding tobacco as a legal drug: what it is, how it is to be used, where it is to be used, what the consequences of using it might be and with whom it should be used.

Now consider the social setting, the feelings of people with whom one is using the illegal drug and how they think about the illegal drugs in general.  Here is how the experimental regimes used so often in the "Gateway Drug" studies have failed.  I'd be willing to wager that if the marijuana was offered to the user as if it were a legal drug, if the marijuana were used with people who perceive it as a legal drug, it would not be a Gateway Drug at all.

The trouble with all this is that we have made a herb that has been used medicinally for millennia into a Schedule One illegal drug.  We have created a culture of illegality and criminality to surround an herb that has been a mild herbal remedy for literally ages.

Of all the substances on this list of proscribed drugs I find it interesting that three are plants whole and entire: Marijuana (Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica) , Peyote,and  Psilocybin. The rest require significant chemist intervention to produce them.
1) aMT alpha-methyltryptamine
2) BZP benzylpiperazine
3) Cathinone
4) DMT dimethyltryptmine
5) GHB
6) Heroin
7) LSD
8) Marijuana
9) MDMA ecstasy
10) Mescaline
11) Methaqualone
12) Peyote
13) Psilocybin

So what does it say about who we are as a modern Christian culture that we have identified an annual plant, a cactus and a mushroom to be so potent that we have to outlaw them?

Is it perhaps of interest that these plants have been used by indigenous peoples as part of their religious practices, practices which we as Christians have declared to be Pagan, the religious ceremonies of heathens?

Cannabis has a long history across China, India and Europe as a substance used in religious observance. Similarly peyote has long been part of religious use by American Native Peoples for at last 5,000 years.  Psilocybin is a drug metabolized by the human body when it ingests one of over 200 varieties of mushroom of the Psilocybin family of fungi. It has been central to many religions most notably the Aztec religion and has been known to be part of religious observance for over 11,000 years.

Is it possible that in these three plants Christians have identified a tradition they hold to be an anathema and so have declared them to be a threat to the kind of Standard Western mode of consciousness upon which we have built our modern science-based culture?  Is this prohibition therefore based on the need to police the standards of consciousness we believe are "healthy?"

A fourth drug from this list of Schedule One Illegal Substances, DMT, follows this pattern precisely.  DMT is a drug metabolized by the body when it ingests a brew of plants created by the shaman of the Amazon Jungles.  Called ayahuasca; this drink has become the sacrament of the newly recognized religion Uniao do Vegetal. and as a result the UDV has received qn exemption from this Schedule One prohibition to use DMTon the grounds of religious freedom.

It seems to me then that there is a great irony here.  Perhaps all these are Gateway Drugs of another sort.

Historically, many of these drugs were labeled psychedelics, that is to say a playful drug to be used recreationally by the Counter Culture of the '60s.   One of the greatest authors on psychedelics was Terrance McKenna, an ethnobotonist who brought us an enormous wisdom as he studied how these plants were used by native peoples.

The brutal Nixonian drug laws, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control act of 1972, were created primarily as a way to attack the members of the Counter Culture, the Hippies, the Yippies, the feminists, the Black Panthers, the Civil Rights workers all of whom were involved in the extraordinary protests against the VietNam War.

These new laws created the terminology Hallucinogens, which shattered the recreational terminology imposing on it instead a threatening terminology of disease and sickness.  These laws allowed the government to invade the homes and lives of these protesters, charge them with crimes, ruin their lives and lock them away.  These laws were enormously successful in destroying the Counter Culture and to repress the political causes its members were devoted to.  A greater example of how drug laws have been used to oppress people can hardly be imagined.

In the '80s then, Psychiatrists and other health care workers shed that terminology in favor of the term Psychoactives by which they meant drugs that had a significant impact on the neurology of the human mind. This included a larger set of drugs than just those earlier included in the category Hallucinogens.

Now we are ready for a new term, a true Gateway term: Enthogens.  An enthogen is a drug that brings the divine into the life of the user.  These plants, Marijuana, Peyote and Psilocybin have always been used as Gateway drugs, a gateway to spirituality and the perception of the divine in the world around us.  We have created a set and setting to surround these plants to deny them their true Gateway effect.  The time approaches when we will need to embrace this Entheogenic effect, and celebrate the revolution it offers. The time approaches when we will have to recognize that our approach to these drugs is primarily repressive designed to oppress native peoples and their traditions.  When will be come to our senses and realize that we have created this monster and that the War on Drugs is a war upon ourselves?

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