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January 02, 2009

An Untold American Success Story; Part 7

I ended Part 5 with the following statement: Leary's career was so interesting I will be forced to break up what was intended as one entry into two. The next will focus on the psychedelic agents he is most famous for using, some other, generally younger "shamans" of the Sixties and Seventies, and why I think the manifest ignorance of the drug war on the subject of psychedelics in general is such convincing evidence of our policy's intellectual bankruptcy (and our species' craven cowardice).

The 6th installment dealt fairly completely with the intellectual bankruptcy of American drug policy and its legacy of fear, but barely touched on either psychedelics or "shamans," two deficiencies I'll try to remedy, at least briefly, before summarizing, as cohesively as I can, what has evolved into a somewhat rambling narrative.

On the subject of "shamans," I should first point out that I meant latter day European and American "psychonauts;" not the original nameless humans who had studied a variety of New World plants and accumulated knowledge of their remarkable psychoactive properties long before Columbus. Indeed, without them, modern shamans would have had nothing to study.

In terms of those modern shamans and their age relationship to Leary (born in 1920), at least two European centenarians were older; one, Albert Hoffmann, is very famous; the other, Ernst Junger, is famous in Europe, but nearly unknown here. His important influence on Hoffman, as well as Hoffman’s revealing impressions of Leary over several encounters, are well described, in Jonathan Ott’s English translation of Hoffman’s LSD experiences, a book that calls attention to two other circumstances: during the Fifties: just as the Beats were becoming known in North America for their rejection of social norms and their advocacy of marijuana, a parallel development: interest in ethnobotanical agents derived from plants native to the Americas, was taking place in Europe with relatively little American input.

Although American influence on early psychedelic studies was quantitatively less; it was still important, as witnessed by key roles played by Harvard professor Richard Evans Schultes, who collaborated with Hoffman and another whose contributions seemed unlikely at the time because of his gay job, but R. Gordon Wasson became an early contributor to psychedelic knowledge and a member of Hoffman's inner circle. Finally; there is Aldous Huxley, born in Europe, but later a permanent resident of the US. Like Leary, his influence was considerable and still draws mixed reviews.

Perusal of psychedelic literature quickly reveals that both amateur and professional enthusiasts, were interested in all aspects of consciousness and cognition; also that they held opinions (often varied) on the degree to which youth should be exposed to such agents and if so, at what age.

In rather striking contrast, is the lack of recognition in either official or unofficial “anti-drug” writings, of obvious differences in the effects of psychedelics on their users or the equally striking differences in patterns of use that developed once they became popular.

When psychedelics came into prominence in the Sixties as drugs that were also popular with baby boomers, it should have quickly become apparent to those studying drug use in the early days of the drug war that they do not lend themselves to repetitive use on a daily or near-daily basis similar to the heaviest marijuana users, or the compulsive patterns characteristic of most cigarette smokers and people addicted "hard" drugs. Instead; all have been lumped under the rubric applied to users all (illegal) 'Drugs of Abuse," and thus implied to be "addictive."

It's a particularly blatant example of how mere rhetoric can be successfully manipulated in defense of a policy claiming to me "scientific."

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 2, 2009 01:49 AM