Psychedelics: A Historical Account of Use and Rejection

Dane Larsen | @_danebailey

Decriminalization of historically denounced psychedelic drugs, which alter the state of consciousness, is more prevalent than the public often sees. This ties back to religious and transcendental experiences that played a role in human evolution. The scope goes as far back as 7,000 years ago to the first ideas of “Big Gods” and anything of that nature, as Ishmael Apud, Professor at Universidad de la República de Uruguay, analyzes. It occurs in primary documents of the ancient civilizations and modern scientific studies alike.

From the research, it is clear that psychedelics have had a prominent place in society for thousands of years. In fact, only the arbitrary regulations of governments of the Church have barred the use of such drugs. Governments have taken this position to save citizens from themselves. However, the history of psychedelics presents evidence of beneficial effects on the body, individual, and society.

Psychedelics: Ancient History

Nobody can deny the history of psychedelic use since archaic times. Without a doubt, countless individuals have used these products as a form of opening up the mind to another reality. Ancient accounts on the global scale, as analyzed by Dr. Monnica J. Williams, a researcher at UConn, describes experiences with psychedelics as an unearthly way of connecting with the inner consciousness.

Beyond recreational use, psychedelics were also associated with religion as a key aspect of their prevalence in society, as this will be their downfall in the future. Shamanism was and still is a form of faith in the world that took a hold on early civilizations. It gave them senses of hope and belonging. This religion expressed itself as a crossover to the spiritual world, to pay dues to ancestors or deceased relatives.

In northern Algeria, there are scriptures on the insides of caves depicting Shamans, the renowned leaders at the time, taking psilocybin mushrooms (“shrooms” as many know them by today), and crossing over to an alternative spiritual world. Moving further along in history, holy texts related to Hinduism, known as the Vedas, contain a book of hymns, known as the “Rig Vedas” that communicate their passion to the God(s) through worship. In particular hymns, we see mention of a psychedelic drink “Soma”. It appears to be very sacred in the practice of religious ceremonies honoring the god(s).

Heaven and Hell

Furthermore, the use of psychedelic drugs could have inspired the concepts of heaven and hell in ancient societies, particularly personified by the “Siberian Birch Tree” coupled with the “Amanita Muscaria Mushrooms”. Like Jerry Brown, Ph.D., leader of the American Behavioral Studies Institute, states, in early Zoroastrian, Jewish, and even Christian roots, the idea of good vs evil was a big part of the belief systems, and the symbiotic relationship of the plants could have sparked this dualism.

One, the psychedelic mushroom, connected users to a feeling of heaven and eternal bliss by finding their true selves (resembled by the colorful figure and small, but powerful nature). The other was the birch tree. It matched the eternal suffering towering over subjects in the Middle East with its tall, black and white stature. While one was detrimental and one was not, Mother Nature kept the balance of the two, as religious philosophers noticed at the time, implementing the dualism into the forms of faith.

Rejection from the Church and State

These products of life prevailed in almost every early society as a component of religion. Yet, the time of innocence and religious sanctimony eventually came to an end. This occurred when psychedelics made contact with the beast-like combination of the Church and state. At this time, there were global feelings of xenophobia and a rejection of foreign products or ideas. These were especially prominent in the Holy Roman Empire and European states. The latter all enforced Christianity as their one and only religion, often barring non-Christian substances.

Psychedelic substances were initially common in the Arabic (now Muslim) civilizations of the Middle East, societies in Africa, and kingdoms of India. Rulers of Europe strongly disapproved of the psychedelics, seeing them as a threat to their power. Such influence from other portions of the world could convert the Church’s subjects to other forms of faith. As a result, Church leaders systematically banned psychedelic products on territory that the States ruled. The religion clashes with the main draws of psychedelic drugs because the Church resembles order in the Western world as an overarching power over its subjects. Psychedelic products are the complete opposite, producing intellectual chaos. At the time, many Christians resented this because their superiors told them so.

Recent Disapproval

In recent times, the regulation of psychedelics stands as an opt-out of the free market. Instead, businesses receive special favors. According to a Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies report, the ten largest companies in the pharmaceutical industries (publicly-owned) earned $440 billion in 2014.

At the same time, global revenue reached the highest levels on record, exceeding $1 trillion. In the long run of a world where psychedelics became legal, the companies would lose tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars, as people in the country could obtain the products that provide results “cheaply, effectively, and sustainably” (Emerson). This would provide an alternative to the market that big corporations lobby in Washington to monopolize.

Modern History

Since the prohibition of psychedelics in the modern world, top scientists have released research showing that the criminalization of said products has caused despair in communities and is counterproductive for the people of our country. R. Carhart-Harris describes an experiment he conducted on patients with previous mood disorders and addiction to detrimental substances on the human body who regain control of their mind under LSD. The conclusions are drawn layout enhancement of control on the users’ bodies that they did not have before the psychotherapy. This leaves an increase in suggestibility not clouded further by previous disorders.

Lyndsy Pexler conducted another experiment on the use of MDMA, a psychedelic substance that has proven itself an effective alternative in the scientific eye to other substances, as a healer for trauma-related disorders. With PTSD at the forefront, the use of psychedelic products, primarily MDMA, has shown promise in the past. Research shows it can continue to make progress as the substances evolve. Although, as Alan Davis and Harold Rosenburg find, extensive use of psychedelics may lead to a minority of users developing a dependency and/or addiction to the substances. Transpersonal relationships and Authentic Movement are ways of use for psychedelic therapy, as the article further describes. New findings have shown that the line drawn on determining what psychedelics are and are not legal is completely arbitrary.


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