#102 Blurring lines: natural, artificial, legal, illegal
Recently, I spoke with my friend about drug consumption. Let’s call him SW. While he doesn’t take psychoactive drugs himself, he has seen others “getting fucked” on party drugs or has heard about how people take psychedelics to heal themselves. He told me that he understands my approach to drugs better after learning more about my research: to explore these Other Worlds for the sake of exploring. That idea had never crossed his mind. Throughout his life, he has seen drug use degenerate or temporarily change people, including friends and a family member. For SW and many other people, there’s an interwoven trauma that makes up a part of his identity, either directly or indirectly. I think we can define direct trauma as personal use or being on the receiving end of abuse or mistrust by another. Indirect trauma, which might not be actual trauma at all, could look something like SW arranging his life to avoid those kinds of drug situations. The negative drug situation in his past empowers him to stay away from drugs as an adult, which then allows him to live his life more peacefully. We came up with the example of learning from parents’ mistakes: if your parent did X to you or others, and you didn’t like X so much, you can learn from that and choose not to repeat it when you’re an adult or with your own kids. This is kind of where SW is at with drugs, and he simply says no thanks.
Note that I’m not trying to push drugs on him—just my philosophy of psychedelic consumption. Again, I take psychedelics to understand psychedelics, to understand the physics or mechanics of those visionary spaces. But you see, this is where our conversation took off in the first place because he hadn’t even considered that there are some people in this world that take psychedelics – get fucked up, to use his words – to explore what in the hell is going on there. It’s true that psychedelics put me in – sometimes very – intoxicated states depending on dosage. But the best way to study that space is to take these drugs oneself, not to rely on other people’s accounts. SW told me he takes drugs vicariously—he prefers others take various substances on his behalf and tell him what it’s like. Firsthand experience and research aren’t for everyone.
Our conversation strayed down a technology focused path: natural vs. synthetic drugs. He said that synthetic drugs are more manipulable. This is true to an extent, considering they’re constructed by human minds, techniques, and other technologies, and not found in nature. The chemicals can be manipulated; but I think his point was more along the lines of synthetic drugs being capable of manipulating human minds and bodies, or thoughts and actions. That these synthetic drugs were in control, not the human operator. Even though natural drugs like psychedelics can do the same thing as synthetic drugs, there’s something about synthesis that doesn’t sit well with SW. Or perhaps it’s the mode of consumption that SW doesn’t like. For example, we discussed the difference between picking a Psilocybe mushroom and eating it, compared to heroin consumption which might require fire, spoons, and needles, or cocaine which requires many steps of refining the final product for its intranasal endpoint.
I asked him: Where do you draw the line about drugs and psychedelics being illegal, and why? For him, human intervention is the most important determining factor. He stays away from manipulated substances because he can’t know for certain the “shit” or chemicals humans either (i) put into them or (ii) used to create the final product. He conceded the fact that he doesn’t know exactly what’s put into a store-bought cake, for example, but at least he wouldn’t lose his mind eating it. Fair point.
What scares him most is losing control. He experiences the world from the position of seeing a loved one being consumed by degenerative and destructive drugs, whereas I take drugs to explore and then understand them. There really is no way to tease apart this feeling of losing control unless we were God-like, did an experiment, and placed SW in a different family situation where there were no drugs. In such a situation, would SW feel compelled or curious to try psychedelics in the first place, and furthermore, take them the way I take them? We can never know.
Even though he has never tried cannabis, it’s less scary to him partly because he views it as a natural product and there are no visions like with the classic psychedelics. I countered with the question: What is natural? Many people view cannabis as a natural product, but it’s far from natural in my opinion. Not only are cannabis strains stronger than they’ve ever been in history because of humans engaging in artificial selection and selective breeding to create super strains, but then we must also consider the use of pesticides and fertilizers, micro-plastics in our environment, toxic heavy metals in our water and air, exposure to constant artificial lighting, etc. The Anthropocene is here, and humans are affecting psychedelic production, consumption, and perhaps the visions that psychedelics produce. What is natural anymore? since humans are engineering or manipulating all facets of their lives including natural systems that have, until recently, been left to their own ways for billions of years. The lines of natural vs. unnatural and legal vs. illegal are becoming increasingly blurry as humans become more technologically sophisticated and more socially and culturally complex creatures.
SW brought up a good example concerning crystal meth. For him, this is a dirty drug because you can kill yourself making it just as much as taking it, and that’s not natural and that can’t be good. I agree partly with this claim. There are lots of natural things that kill in high doses, including water. His red thread throughout our conversation was to keep things as natural as possible because more natural equates to more of a healthier option than unnatural drugs. And this led me to think about the health factors involved between naturally occurring mushrooms and laboratory grown mushrooms. Keeping in mind reasons already mentioned above, are natural mushrooms or lab grown mushrooms better for you? In a weird way, opting for natural/wild mushrooms or cannabis creates a false sense of security because they might be more toxic than mushrooms or cannabis grown in a controlled setting like a laboratory. Does this mean that the more we meddle with nature, the more we should opt for products produced in controlled labs or factories? What do we lose and what do we gain from natural vs. artificial production, and therefore, consumption?