There is a history of documented chemical experimentation in the U.S.A. that supports entheogen (a.k.a. psychedelics, drugs) facilitated, mental health remediation. Entheogens are chemical substances, typically of plant origin, that are ingested to produce a non-ordinary state of consciousness (religious, spiritual or healing purposes). Yet, the U,S.A. developed a tenuous relationship with these substances in the form of outlawing and vilifying these substances, natural and derived. This was due to the confluence of social, political, and pharmaceutical forces. The many efforts put forth to demonstrate a non-necessity of using these substances were the same efforts that were and are being disproved. Efforts are recently being undertaken to get many of these substances medical approved for treatment purposes or, at least, decriminalized, if not completely legalized.
Discovery of Chemicals –
Various chemical compounds were discovered and isolated during the 20th Century. LSD-25 / 1938, Psilocybin (used indigenously as mushrooms since before Europeans came to the Americas) / 1957, MDMD / 1912, Mescaline (used indigenously as peyote since before Europeans came to the Americas) / 1897. LSD and MDMA were deemed to be non-important substances when they were first synthesized. Experiments were eventually conducted to discover what effects they elicited. The 1950 to the 1970’s saw LSD being studied and used to evaluate behavioral and personality changes, as well as remission of psychiatric symptoms in various disorders. The 1970’s saw MDMA being used as a psychotherapeutic tool to help patients to more willing communicate and participate in the psychotherapy process. The uses of mushrooms and peyote have a long history of safe and efficacious use amongst indigenous populations.
Outlawing of Chemicals
The 1960’s was a turbulent time period in the U.S.A. Society was beginning to morph into a non-traditional state. The norms and customs that had brought about the U.S.A. as was then known, were receiving scrutiny. Many individuals were questioning the way things were. In addition, alliances were being formed. Many of the across racial and ethnographic lines, to the dismay of the status quo establishment. Thus, it was prudent to devise a façade of threat to society that would serve to facilitate the outlawing of substances deemed antithetical to the socio-politico-economic structure of the U.S.A. Here is John Ehrlichman’s synopsis of Nixon’s 1968 Strategy;
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marihuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both HEAVILY, we could disrupt those communities, we could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? . . . OF COURSE WE DID!!!”
Notwithstanding, this strategy went way beyond marihuana and heroin. It included many entheogens.
Forces favoring outlawing chemicals
The forces that went into creating the ‘moral panic against entheogens were just well engineered devices that facilitated them being legally banned. Moral panics have had severe consequences mostly on racial relations and policy. (Cohen, 1972; Mosher & Akins, 2014) Goode purports that the media used “stereotyping, exaggeration, distortion, and sensitization” (536) in order to generate hostility and “moral panic” towards entheogens because they could engender anti-status quo “deviant potential” In addition, the psychiatric community itself was divided on the issue of psychedelic mediated healing modalities. Perhaps some of the more ‘traditional’ specialists were hesitant due to the newness of these therapies. Some people that had used these substances (recreationally?) experienced psychotic episodes: however, many of them had (been diagnosed with) previous mental issues which could have been contributory to said episodes.
The resurgence of interest in these compounds has been tentatively approached but is long overdue. There are still laws on the books that discourage their use, either medically of recreationally. However, a contingent of people are now pressing for decriminalization of plant based, plant derived psychedelics. Organizations such as ‘Decriminalize Nature’ are part of the surge in obtaining the ability and securing the availability of these substances. Also, leeway is being given to the controlled use and study of these substances in medical settings. Much damage was inflicted upon the intelligent application of these substances. Science Magazine, in 1967, published the false claim that LSD damages chromosomes (Goode 539). Because of ostensibly reliable sources framing LSD as a threat to society, the fact it had medical potentials was overlooked. That is now unravelling in the face of expanding the arsenal of viable alternatives to ‘conventional psychiatric medications’.
There are two kinds of science. There is the one that only wants to look at what can easily be measured and ignore everything else . . . Then there is the true science that probes the very frontier of human knowledge . . . and that’s where psychedelic research is right now Dr. Bill Richards, Psychologist