Something vs Nothing

Why does something exist, rather than nothing?

The question of existence is a vexing one and lies at the heart of a myriad of other conundrums, such as meaning, destiny and purpose.

 

Taken Under the  Wing  of the Small Magellanic Cloud

 

Despite its seeming simplicity, this conundrum and variations on it, has probably confounded philosophers, theologians and the ordinary person since our species first became able to contemplate its own existence.

While many might otherwise disagree, I am firmly of the opinion that the answers to this question will lie forever beyond our reach and the only “solutions” are speculation. While others may claim to know the “Truth”, the Divine Principle teaches us that we can never have the answers, because we can never be certain of anything beyond our own existence.

The question of existence takes on additional importance, as its answer relates directly to our own existence, meaning and purpose. With the capacity to fear death, and the terror that the thought of our own oblivion produces, we desperately ask ourselves if “this is it”? Is there more beyond this often vicious existence, is there a god and ultimately and perhaps most importantly, do I live on after death?

Despite having been granted this amazing and wonderful gift of sentience, the often world speaks to us of randomness and pain. As we seek meaning, we inevitably wonder if it is all nothing but chance? Will everything that we have ever stood for – our hopes, dreams, fears, goals and desires – amount to naught? Could it be that there is more to existence than meets the eye? Does nihilism inevitably beckon?

Traditionally, religions have sought to answer this problem through the evocation of a variety of creation myths. The most famous of these, of course is that found in The Book of Genesis, which is held sacred by over two-thirds of the world’s population. Despite this, few have ever noticed the bait and switch contained within its opening sentence, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”.

The astute reader will note that this isn’t telling us about the “Beginning”, because if it were it would be telling us about how God came into being. Instead Genesis seeks to answer the much less interesting question of how our particular reality came to be.

In all fairness, this bait and switch isn’t the fault of the original writers, but that of those who followed centuries later and who failed to understand the important context of those immortal opening words. It is doubtful that the writer of Genesis was attempting to explain the basic question of existence as I have expressed it and the very question may have been entirely beyond his conception.

Instead, like many of his contemporaries in the ancient Middle East, he believed that the world had been formed out of a void, chaos or some other pre-existing substance and that his gods had been the ones to bring order and to create the world along with the plants, animals and people within it.

The origin of his god isn’t addressed within the myth and it isn’t hard to understand why. This story most likely originated out of the verbal mythologies told by nomadic herdsmen as they followed their flocks. They were illiterate, and lay at the dawn of the golden ages of thought that have given us greats such as Socrates, Descartes and Kant. What many would regard as the “final version” of their myth, captured so beautifully in the King James Bible lay more than 2,500 years distant.  The writers sought to explain the world around them and their place within it and given the difficulty of even imagining a time when there was “Nothing” it made sense to propose a “void” from which the world as they knew it emerged.

Intriguingly, despite being isolated in their own bubble, through the absence of any knowledge of history, few early cultures seem to have taken the apparently reasonable position that everything was as it always had been and that there was no need for anything to have been created in the first place. The closest that many traditions came to this idea was the concept of Eternal Recurrence, which (according to Wikipedia) “is a concept that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space.”

Perhaps because of our own immersion within our timestream and our almost instinctive desire to imagine causality even when there is none (for example with superstition), the universe having a start made more sense than it not.

Modern science now apparently supports this view, with the Big Bang Theory seeming to point to a definite moment in time when everything began. But the Big Bang can only provide an explanation for how this particular universe exists. In our search for an explanation for existence we still need to ask, “What caused the Big Bang?” Even if this were explained, we would still be left asking ourselves what caused the thing that caused the Big Bang, followed by what caused the thing that caused the thing that caused the thing, ad nauseam, all the way to eternity. Infinite regress seems unavoidable.

The problem is that we are locked within a mind that cannot divorce itself from notions of time and causality. Even if universe’s origins didn’t lie within an inaccessible metaphysical realm, our experience and “common sense” ideas about the world make it difficult to put aside our psychological need for causation.

Existence is the most binary of concepts. Something either exists or it doesn’t. But what do I mean when I talk about “Nothing” or “non-existence”? A state of non-existence is a state which is completely devoid of any information content. Nothing whatsoever exists, including time, space and abstract objects, such as numbers. It is pure and absolute state of Not-Being.

In this state, only does Nothing exist, but non-existence precludes existence; they are mutually exclusive states.

Given a state of non-existence, nothing could ever exist. As Parmenides pointed out so astutely in the fifth century BCE, “nothing comes from nothing”.

It is impossible for something to arise out of the state of nothingness. If it were, this would imply that it the state of non-existence actually contained within it the possibility of something existing. But possibility is in fact itself “something”, if only an information state that recognises potential. Possibility itself describes potential within time, and time does not exist within the non-existent state.

Just as something cannot be birthed by nothingness, so to can something not give way to nothingness. For this to occur would require that the “something” never existed in the first place.

For example, while it is certainly possible that our universe might cease to exist, this cessation of existence is merely how we would perceive an encounter with one of its boundaries in time. Its cessation could never undo the fact of its previous existence and it would remain a fact that our universe had certain properties of existence within a certain space-time.

In order to understand this, we would need to picture our universe as a single unit of spacetime. Because of the nature of our consciousness, we perceive only the present, but once the present becomes past it doesn’t cease to ever have existed. Rather it exists in a place that we cannot access. Similarly, the future can be said to exist, even if the only way that we can access it is to wait for it to manifest itself as the present.

An entity residing outside of our timeline and able to view the universe as a whole, would see its entire history simultaneously from beginning to end, just as I can currently see my whole garden from beginning to end. If we imagine my puppy walking from one side of the garden to the other, we can imagine how a particular sentient experiences time within a particular universe.

Time can be perceived as beginning, just as Saasha starts to walk from one fence. Similarly, time can be perceived as ending, just as she gets to the other side. However, the garden is still there and hasn’t ceased to exist simply because we have arrived at a boundary. Thus, it can be seen that while our perception of universe might cease to exist, the actual universe itself would still exist in a very real sense.

Because something can not arise from nothing, the mutual exclusivity between existence and nonexistence and the very obvious fact that something (ie you the reader) exists, it is clear that something has always existed and done so without cause.

While this is certainly counter intuitive to the point that many will reject it outright, this is only because we inhabit minds that are unable to divorce themselves from the concept of time, and the “common sense” impositions that it places upon us. But the very fact of existence precludes that of non-existence and within this context it no more needs a cause than non-existence would: Existence simply is.

Don’t ask me why.

Existence also exists in its entirety. As time is a state of existence, it cannot be thought of as being a relevant determinant of what exists and what doesn’t. Just as the garden exists even when the puppy isn’t there, so do the past and future also exist, even when we are not “there”. Time is the mechanism by which sentence uses to navigate its way around the universe. But just as we don’t believe that the universe is created and destroyed by our movement through space, so to would it be incorrect for us to imagine that the universe was somehow being created or lost as we move through time.

This is not to say that we live in a completely deterministic universe, where we are fated, or doomed to a particular future. While it is the case that the future exists, there is nothing to suppose that only one future exists. Indeed, I see no reason why an infinite array of possible futures (and pasts) could not exist, with our sentience simply navigating its way through one of a potentially infinite number of possible timelines.

For example, if one imagines Saasha the puppy walking across the garden, she could take any one of a potentially infinite number of routes. Some of these might involve going around the pond, others might involve going through the pond. But whether or not she even interacts with the pond, it still exists as a feature of the garden and as a very real alternative path. Similarly, if we observe her sitting in the middle of the pond (after all, she is a Golden Retriever), we can imagine an infinite number of paths (or pasts) that she could have taken to get there.

The possibility that we inhabit an Infiniverse containing a potentially Infinite range of possibilities, raises the question as to whether there might exist a fundamental “unit” of existence, or if any of the various gods that humanity worships might have had anything to do with it.

With respect to fundamental “units” of existence, I would suggest that we would be looking for something that can exist without seeming to require a universe, or metaphysical foundation for its existence. While many would disagree, it seems to me that the only thing that can fit that particular bill are numbers and mathematics.

The debate as to whether mathematics is discovered, or invented and even whether numbers even exist, is far from being decided. However, it seems to me that mathematical (and by extension, logical) truths are true irrespective of whether there is a universe to contain them or not. Numbers represent certain concepts, independently of language, culture, or anything else. Remove the universe, and the number one will still be the number one and it is an intriguing possibility that it is this numerical independence is the fundamental aspect that both precludes non-existence and forms the foundation from which the rest of our existence “emerged”.

How one gets from numbers and mathematics to a universe as complex, wonderful and amazing as ours is of course pure speculation and far beyond my imagining. How mathematics can produce sentient creatures with apparent free will is even more out of our reach (although it would be delightful if advanced mathematics and computing eventually stumbled upon the mathematical equivalent of free will).

While it could be argued that the all-pervading mathematical elegance that we have discovered within our own universe adds weight to such a theory, this should not be considered the case. Even if it were that mathematics is somehow the basis upon which our universe is built, it does not follow that mathematics should be so easily accessible to our senses and that the underlying algorithm should be so simple that a slightly more intelligent monkey should be able to grasp it.

Within this framework, all creation arises out of sophisticated algorithms made real. Somehow, we are the product of mathematical manipulations beyond our ken. And yes, this way of stating the problem begs the question as to who or what is doing the manipulation, but I would suggest that rather than being a result of “mathematical manipulation” in a strict sense, we are instead an emergent property of the very existence of mathematics itself.

Obviously, speculating that mathematics is the fundamental unit of reality is just that: Speculation. Speculating that we are an emergent property of mathematics is speculation upon speculation. It hardly answers the question definitively and for many it will seem like a dodge designed to avoid getting to the crux of the issue. But given that I’ve already conceded that the very issue of the “how” of existence is entirely out of our understanding, I hope readers will understand my mathematical musings for what they are: Speculation!

The interesting thing with respect to the possibility of mathematics forming the framework of the Infiniverse, is that it by their very nature, numbers are infinite. A universe based on mathematics would contain within it an infinite potential and it is highly likely that existence is in fact “complete”: Everything that is mathematically and logically possible to exist does in fact exist.

Not only this, but a mathematical sentience is potentially an infinite sentience (there will always be another possibility to explore), for which death would be just an illusion.

This takes us back to the first lines of the Genesis myth. As discussed this myth starts with a Divine being that already has existence. It ignores the really interesting question of why is there something, rather than nothing in favour of a more mundane one: How did this particular universe come into being? The reason that this is a more mundane question is that it can be answered in an infinite number of ways, ranging from god, to Hamsters and even pure chance. The answer to the question of how our particular universe came into existence is dependent on the metaphysics from which our universe emerged and just as our puppy could have an infinite number of paths into the pond, so to can we have an infinite number of paths (or metaphysical realities) into our universe.

If nothing can come from nothing, it follows that if God exists, such a being cannot be the source of all existence, because God Himself (or perhaps Herself, given that the feminine aspect of the Divine is most closely tied into the creation of Life), is something that exists. Within this context it is certainly possible that a “God” could exist, but rather than being the creator God of the monotheistic religions, such a being would be an emergent property of existence itself.

At best, He is the sentience which entails all others (as demanded by Omniscience), or perhaps even the Ultimate Sentience of the Infiniverse itself, but He can only be considered an emergent property of “creation”, rather than its point of origin, or source.

Policy Reasons for Regulation of Transcendent Compounds.

Policy that ignores the real world and the findings of science is bad policy. Any drug policy that fails to recognise that humans seem to have used mind altering substances for tens of thousands of years is doomed to failure and is by definition “bad policy”.

Drug policy will only be successful when it accounts for the very real benefits of drug use, rather than simply focusing on the downsides.

Peyote_Cactus

Peyote Cactus
(Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Many of the Hallucinogens, or Psychedelics that are now classed as “Transcendent Compounds”, were banned out of fear in the late 60’s, but even at this time, there was considerable, medical, academic and intellectual interest in their properties.

Practitioners realised early on that the dose a person took, along with their mindset (set) and the environment in which the substance was taken (setting) were all important determinants of a person’s experience. Both psilocybin and LSD were used very successfully for psychological therapy and while there were some research abuses (most notably unethical projects like MKULTRA were run by governments giving it to unsuspecting people in the hope that they could be used as weapons of war) the compounds were acknowledged as being safe, although few advocated widespread use.

Indeed, LSD was recognised as being so psychologically safe that Aldous Huxley famously took a 100 micrograms of LSD on his deathbed.

It was only after Timothy Leary had popularised the use of LSD, and after Owsley “Bear” Stanley began to manufacture literally millions of doses that uncontrolled, unsupervised and ignorant consumption of these compounds began. in 1966, two years after Owlsley commenced manufacture, they were illegal in the US. In following suit, governments around the world proceeded to throw the baby out with the bath water. Finally, in 1971, Richard Nixon’s futile and now seemingly eternal, “War on Drugs”, compounded the problem by institutionalising and then internationalising a war that can never be won. Ironically enough, even when people and countries recognise the need for change, and attempt to act within the auspices of the United Nations, “they remain shackled to an inflexible policy of prohibition and threatened by treaty directives that sometimes seem contradictory, ambiguous or even in conflict with other U.N. charters.”

Now, after nearly five decades, governments around the world are trapped into dysfunctional drugs policies that they feel powerless to escape. The lies and propaganda that has fed this travesty of justice has taken on a life of its own and they have become prisoners of their own deceit. Irrespective of their own conscience, each new politician, media identity, police officer and bureaucrat is inducted and co-opted by the machine, because to stand apart would be to end one’s career before it had even commenced.

The result? Trillions of dollars wasted demonising and prosecuting a war against the right to make decisions about what one does with their own consciousness, often while lauding the real demon: alcohol. Australia spends an estimated 1.1 billion dollars each year on this futile exercise.

Entirely as expected, the fallout of prohibitionist drug policy has mirrored the US experience with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s.

It is Economics 101 that where there is a demand for a product, there will be supply and that market will generate profits for someone. Right now, the black market for illicit drugs around the world is estimated to be in excess of 320 billion dollars annually. The profits from this trade aren’t taxed and don’t contribute to anyone’s superannuation plan. Instead, It is no secret that most of the profits from illegal drugs goes straight to criminals who inhabit an often vicious, violent underworld that in turn corrupts police and infects the wider community.

So great is this recognition, that in 2011, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who had been a staunch supporter of draconian drugs laws, suggested that the US “should seek market alternatives in order to cancel the criminals’ stratospheric profits”. Sadly, it took at least 60,000 deaths (and counting) in the Mexican Drug War, for Mexico’s President to join those particular dots.

(Note: Transcendent Compounds, such as psilocybin, mescaline, DMT and Salvinorin A are all available in the wild and in Australian gardens and so don’t tend to feed the criminal classes, even under prohibition.)

As can be expected, prohibition and the failure to regulate production leads to a variety of entirely preventable problems. These include:

On top of this, the War on Drugs has led to an almost complete halt of research into drugs that have highly promising futures in medicine. Earlier, I mentioned the impact on LSD research (see here for a discussion on recent advances) and these days most people are familiar with stalled research into medical cannabis, but many other potentially valuable medicines have been impacted as well.

For example, prior to being first made illegal in the United States, MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, was highly regarded by a number of psychiatrists as having beneficial therapeutic use. When, more than twenty years after it was made illegal, human trials were conducted into MDMA assisted therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were finally conducted, it was discovered that the drug had an enormous potential for helping people suffering from this debilitating condition.

As a result of this lack of access to medicines that might significantly help people with major medical and psychological conditions, it is certain that doctors are prescribing far more dangerous and addictive drugs. For example, they prescribe opiate and other potentially dangerous painkillers, (instead of cannabis) and benzodiazepines and antidepressants (instead of MDMA, hallucinogens, or cannabis) for anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders. Subsequently, doctors are most likely killing far more people than they’d ever care to acknowledge. So much for the Hippocratic Oath!

Add to these the millions of people, who are simply receiving sub standard treatment, such as Veterans suffering from PTSD, who are unable to access the MDMA assisted therapy, or people suffering from cluster headaches, who are unable to access LSD, or psilocybin.

Perhaps one of the most insidious negative impacts of prohibitionist drug policy, is that it grants monopoly status to the most dangerous drug on the planet: Alcohol.

In 2014 the United Nations published its, “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health”. It reported that:

alcohol consumption has been identified as a component
cause for more than 200 health conditions covered by ICD-10 disease and injury codes. (p 11)

and

Overall, about 3.3 million deaths in 2012 are estimated to have been caused by alcohol consumption. This corresponds to 5.9% of all deaths, or one in every twenty deaths in the world (7.6% for men, 4.0% for women). (p 48).

In other words, incalculable harm is being done, not by the drugs that people aren’t able to take, but by the one drug that they are legally allowed to take if they wish to achieve a significantly mind altered state. (I don’t include coffee, or tobacco here, because few people take them at doses that achieve majorly altered states of consciousness.)

Despite this raft of measurable, real life adverse consequences, politicians have routinely demonstrated no interest in any sort of drug law reform.

The merest mention of being “soft on drugs” is enough to send most politicians scurrying in fear for more, and harsher anti-drugs legislation. Given that at least a third of all Australian politicians would have tried illegal drugs of one sort or another and at least 10% would have used them in the last twelve months (unless they are “unrepresentative swill”), the prevailing attitude has been one of hypocrisy.

But the tide has changed. Eminent, mainstream magazines, such as The Economist and New Scientist along with organisations such as the Global Commission on Drugs Policy now openly support a more sensible approach. The lessons from Portugal, which has decriminalised most drugs and thereby reduced much drug related harm are filtering through.

Most people are beginning to wake up to the lie that they have been told about cannabis. In 1996, California, the world’s 8th largest economy, became the first US state to legalise medical cannabis. As of this writing (early 2015), medical cannabis is either legal, or pending legalisation in at least 27 US states and the United States Federal Government has introduced legislation to make medical cannabis legal at the Federal level in states that allow it. Even more dramatically, full recreational use is now legal in four states (with at least one more pending) and several more are contemplating the introduction of full legalisation.

Internationally, cannabis is either legal, or effectively so in Uruguay, Jamaica and The Netherlands, while medical cannabis is now legal in Canada, the Czech Republic and Israel. Ironically, the crazy-mad, totalitarian dictatorship of North Korea is one of those countries in which cannabis use appears to be completely legal, or at least not frowned upon.

Within Australia, the momentum for change has been delayed, but is gathering steam. In 2012, Australia 21 produced two excellent reports (here and here), decrying the failure of current policies, while legal and medical professional associations are calling for change.

Until recently, the state of drug law reform in the Australian state of Victoria had been a tragically ironic replay of the follies of the last century. The previous conservative Liberal Government, continued the never-ending, futile game of “whack a mole” against emergent drugs (aka “legal highs”). This demonstrated the depressingly knee jerk reaction to mind altering substances that puts politics and fear of the media above leadership and good public policy. Similarly, a ban on the sale of bongs, was a pointless exercise that did nothing to stop people smoking cannabis (joints anyone?) and everything to make the government seem out of touch and irrelevant on the issue.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Liberal government was voted out after a single, uninspiring term in office, in which it seemed to struggle to communicate its message and convince voters of its basic competency.

In its place the left leaning Labor Party was elected on a platform of providing medical cannabis “to treat people with terminal illnesses or life-threatening conditions”. Daniel Andrews, the new Victorian Premier said “This is the right thing to do because we have to drag this law into the 21st century”. Sadly, during the election campaign, he demonstrated either gross ignorance about the drug, or a typical lack of courage when he stated,  “This is not about smoking anything. This is not about illicit drugs or recreational drugs. This is not about wrecking lives.”

It is indeed ironic that before long, it will be legal to give some Victorian children cannabis, but illegal for adults to make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to use a drug that is immeasurably safer than the monopoly drug alcohol.

Perhaps the best news to come out of the 2014 Victorian State election was the election of Fiona Patten from the Australian Sex Party. Uniquely, among all of the political parties vying for the election, the Sex Party was the only one whose drug policy acknowledged the validity and history of the spiritual use of mind altering substances, saying:

In line with secular values, those (18+) who take a psychoactive substance as part of a religious ceremony and those who take a psychoactive substance in a responsible and ethical setting for personal mystical/spiritual experience ought to be free to do so.

In her maiden speech to the Victorian Parliament, Fiona also stated forthrightly:

“I am also here to officially declare that the war on drugs has been lost in Victoria, and I intend to write a peace plan over the next year and submit it to Parliament.”

While it is perhaps far too optimistic to hope that Fiona represents a new breed of politician, the gradual recognition of a need for drug law reform seems to be taking root around the country.

Suddenly, all sorts of politicians have been telling voters that just perhaps, cannabis isn’t the evil drug it has been made out to be. Even Tony Abbott, the much derided and unpopular Australian Prime Minister has acknowledged that medical cannabis should be made available.

While nobody has the courage to state it plainly, it is now clear that the population are waking up about the truth of cannabis and beginning to realise that much of what they have been taught about cannabis have been nothing but propaganda and lies.

But while there is movement in regard to cannabis, there is nothing but the usual stupid, failed, “war on drugs” mantra, when it comes to other drugs. The new Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews demonstrated this more than amply when, during the 2014 election campaign, he promised to introduce pointlessly harmful and vindictive legislation that would jail dealers of “ice” for 20-25 years. While decrying the production and addiction to the drug as a problem “”got away from all of us”. Of course, no such measures were offered in the battle to tackle the biggest drug issue: alcohol.

I understand the logic of these moves. Politics, is above all, the art of the possible. Over the years, I have spoken to members of parliament and staffers who agree that current drugs policies are not working, but acknowledge that nothing can be done because of the media and the irrational fear of “drugs” that decades of propaganda and misinformation have instilled in our citizens.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” 

And increasingly, when it comes to the issue of Drug Policy, prohibitionists are running out of fools. It is undeniable that the tide is changing. Every day, more and more people are coming to realise that prohibition has been an abject, deadly failure and that it is only through the adoption of evidence based, scientifically informed policies that we are going to achieve anything resembling a healthy and productive relationship mind altering substances.

What is needed is a circuit breaker. I believe that the spiritual and religious use of Transcendent Compounds could be exactly the circuit breaker required. Any Victorian government introducing these changes could do so with impeccable justification:

1. They are non-toxic, non-addictive and psychologically safe.

2. They will be only available within a regulated framework for spiritual purposes.

3. Their availability within this context is an indication of the Government’s commitment to the principle of religious freedom in general and its legal obligations, as laid out in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006).

(Note: this applies equally to legislation that uses the same wording as the Charter. Examples include the Australian Capital Territory and the Canadian Constitution. South Africa’s Constitution also contains similar language.)

 4. They are legal (with the admitted exception of LSD) in other parts of the world – particularly the US – for this purpose.

A circuit breaker such as this could allow the wider community to engage in a more nuanced and thoughtful debate on the wider implications of our current drugs policies and how these can be improved.

One important policy implication of the provision of regulated access for Transcendent Compounds for spiritual and religious use is that it has the potential to reshape the conversation away from “drug harms” and towards, “drug benefits”. Our current conversation is framed almost entirely in “harm  minimisation“, rather than “benefit maximisation”, but the reality of most drug users is that their use occurs occurs within the context of attempts to maximise the whatever benefit the drug might have.

The idea of benefit maximisation runs through much of the literature about the spiritual use of all kinds of drugs.  Whether it is Aldous Huxley’s groundbreaking “Doors of Perception“, Timothy Leary’s classic “The Psychedelic Experience”, or more recent offerings such as, Rick Strassman’s “The Spirit Molecule”, or Robert Forte et al’s “Entheogens and the Future of Religion” a common theme has been how the respectful use of drugs regarded as “Sacred” can lead humanity into a better tomorrow.

While few would expect an overnight revolution in the way humanity perceives itself, it is not beyond the bounds of expectation, and fully within the bounds of science, that more widespread use of Transcendent Compounds, could have a significantly beneficial impact on our society and ourselves.

Once the public had adapted to the idea that these currently terrifying drugs were routinely available and the sky hadn’t fallen, governments would be more easily able to implement better drugs policies by pointing to the program’s success. Similarly, they would be better equipped to fend off media allegations of being “soft on drugs”, because the arguments for regulated access to these drugs are based on decades of solid, peer-reviewed research and based on fundamental human rights.

None of this is meant to attempt to preempt, or assume what drugs policy should ultimately look like. While I certainly have my own ideas, there are a multitude of other voices to be heard. and this is a discussion for the people.

But at the very least any sensible drug policy should be based on the best available scientific evidence (and be flexible enough to encompass new findings) and it should recognise the basic legitimacy of claims to religious freedom and contain allowances for the use of Transcendent Compounds and other safe drugs for spiritual purposes.

It is impossible to say if the recent thaw on drug law and the emergence of common sense, at least with respect to cannabis, are here to stay. But, given the gradual, worldwide reorientation in drug policy perceptions that we have witnessed over the last decade, I would anticipate that forward-looking politicians should seek to lay the groundwork for a reimagining of drug policy, rather than painting themselves into an outdated, unresponsive and potentially career ending corner.

Today, perhaps for the first time in more than a century, good drug policy is also good drug politics.

What is “Religion” and to whom does “Religious Freedom” apply?

Despite the fact that the vast majority of the world’s population subscribe to one form of religion, or another, religion has proven itself very difficult to define. Over the years, many different legal, sociological and anthropological definitions have emerged.

Because of this, it is important to clarify that what I mean when I use the word “religion” and why it is that I use that word.

religious_freedom

 

Perhaps the biggest problem with the word “religion” is that it carries significant baggage for many people, especially those who have suffered at the hands of any one of the various religious movements, both mainstream and emergent that are all too frequently more about exerting control than any real spiritual truths.

When these people hear the word “religion”, they assume I mean “organised religion” and believe incorrectly that it is my intent to set myself up as some sort of gatekeeper for the legal access of Transcendent Compounds.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This campaign is about ensuring that all people can access these compounds for religious and spiritual purposes, not about placing myself in a position of power over those who would wish to do so.

Indeed, anyone familiar with mysticism should realise that mysticism is, in many ways, the antithesis of organised religion. Where organised religion is mostly about obeying authorities who claim to speak on behalf of the Divine, mysticism is about connecting directly with the Divine and understanding it without need for mediation by a potentially corruptive class of priests, imams, or other rent seekers.

This isn’t to say that mystics don’t attempt to force their views on others, nor is it to say that many of the various priests, imams and gurus aren’t genuine but there is a difference between a person who assists others in understanding the Divine on their own terms (which is certainly something I aspire to) and one who imposes a singular fragment of the Infinite upon everyone else (which is entirely alien to my intent).

Within the context of our campaign for regulated access to Transcendent Compounds for “religious purposes”, religion can be thought of as including all types of spiritual practice and belief. But as this campaign is also about forcing the Victorian Government to comply with their legal obligations under The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006), a legal definition is also required.

Thankfully, The High Court of Australia, in its 1983 decision,“Church of the New Faith v Commissioner for Pay-Roll Tax (Vic)” has provided a workable definition of religion saying that it requires two essential elements: 

“First, belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief”.

The community of people using Transcendent Compounds for religious and spiritual purposes is simply too diverse to even attempt a summary of the various ways in which they conform to the “belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing, or Principle”, but within the framework of these varying beliefs, it can be held that the use of Transcendent Compounds is in itself a “cannon of conduct” that gives “effect to that belief”.

Within this context, it can be seen that the concept of “religion” encompasses much more than simply those beliefs that fall under the rubric of “organised religion”. Indeed, Section 14.1 (b) of the Victorian Charter grants:

“the freedom to demonstrate his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either individually or as part of a community, in public or in private.”

In other words, Victorian Law explicitly acknowledges that protected religious practice can occur at the individual level and that there is no particular threshold number of people, or any requirement that it occur within the confines of an established religious organisation.

Therefore, it can be seen that a very wide range of belief systems will be classified as “religious” under the Victorian and Australian legal frameworks. As such, the campaign “to obtain regulated access to Transcendent Compounds for spiritual and religious purposes” is applicable to people using these compounds individually, or within informal networks as it is for those doing so within more established traditions, such as Santo Daime, União do Vegetal, or the Native American Church.

While not currently recognised under any of Australia’s various drug laws, your right to use Transcendent Compounds as part of your spiritual practice is entailed by the very concept of religious freedom.

Certainly there is no need to believe anything that I (or anyone else) says about the Divine, or requirement to conform to my way of doing things.

Nor should there be.

Transcendent Compounds and Science.

Transcendent Compounds are without doubt the safest mind altering substances known to humanity. They are non-toxic, non-addictive and psychologically safe in an appropriate dose, set and setting.

While it is understand that many may doubt my claims on this the science behind these claims is as about as definite as can be. In this post, I will be looking at some of the science and highlighting what research has to say about Transcendent Compounds.

Two_small_test_tubes_held_in_spring_clamps

 

After over seventy years of research, the science  is quite clear. There are two excellent reviews of the literature that anybody can read. The first is by David E. Nichols who previously held the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology at Purdue University and is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on hallucinogens.

I discuss his excellent 2004 review of the literature, “Hallucinogens” elsewhere and use it to provide my own introductory primer on the subject.

Nichols is a well respected scientist and not an apologist, or activist for the use of these compounds and this is reflected in the quality of his work. In his paper, he addresses the possible harms posed by the use of these compounds, including the potential for mental illness and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).

With respect to the mental illness, he reports that:

“these drugs do not appear to produce illness denovo in otherwise emotionally healthy persons, but these problems seem to be precipitated in predisposed individuals”.

While with respect to HPPD, he indicates that: “the incidence of HPPD appears to be very small”.

Whether you call them Transcendent Compounds, Entheogens, Hallucinogens, or Psychedelics, the great fear since the scaremongering of the 1960s is that the use of these substances will create a population of people who are mentally unstable and a danger to the community. The urban myth website Snopes.com dismisses some of the sillier stories here, here, here and here.

Two very recent studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants have not only demonstrated this concern to be unfounded, but provided compelling evidence that the use of hallucinogens may significantly improve people’s mental health.

In the first study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers examined the data from over 190,000 adult Americans responding to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health during the years 2008 to 2012. They found:

Lifetime classic psychedelic use was associated with a significantly reduced odds of past month psychological distress, past year suicidal thinking, past year suicidal planning (, and past year suicide attempt, whereas lifetime illicit use of other drugs was largely associated with an increased likelihood of these outcomes. These findings indicate that classic psychedelics may hold promise in the prevention of suicide.

This is an important finding, especially, given that suicide is one of Australia’s biggest killers and how intractable it has been to effectively manage. (Personal note: Elsewhere, I discuss how the use of Transcendent Compounds helped me turn my life around during a time in which I was suicidal.)

As if this weren’t enough, recent research involving over 130,000 people by two researchers at the The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) discovered (once again), that not only is the use of Hallucinogens not linked to mental health problems, but it its use positively correlates with a variety of positive mental health outcomes. Their results state:

21,967 respondents (13.4% weighted) reported lifetime psychedelic use. There were no significant associations between lifetime use of any psychedelics, lifetime use of specific psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, peyote), or past year use of LSD and increased rate of any of the mental health outcomes. Rather, in several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems.

In a followup study, the researchers once more examined any potential links between the use of psychedelics and negative mental health outcomes. Their abstract is worth reproducing in full:

A recent large population study of 130,000 adults in the United States failed to find evidence for a link between psychedelic use (lysergic acid diethylamide, psilocybin or mescaline) and mental health problems. Using a new data set consisting of 135,095 randomly selected United States adults, including 19,299 psychedelic users, we examine the associations between psychedelic use and mental health. After adjusting for sociodemographics, other drug use and childhood depression, we found no significant associations between lifetime use of psychedelics and increased likelihood of past year serious psychological distress, mental health treatment, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicide attempt, depression and anxiety. We failed to find evidence that psychedelic use is an independent risk factor for mental health problems. Psychedelics are not known to harm the brain or other body organs or to cause addiction or compulsive use; serious adverse events involving psychedelics are extremely rare. Overall, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure.

Given these positive mental health outcomes reported for people who have used Hallucinogens at some stage of their lives, and the undeniably mystical nature of many of these experiences, it is perhaps unsurprising that research has also shown that the administration of LSD to terminally ill patients can result in a significant decrease in symptoms of psychological distress.

In fact, research published in 2014 only confirmed the psychological safety of LSD, with the very first human trials in 40 years revealing that contrary to the scare lore, LSD can actually reduce anxiety associated with life threatening disease. Researchers Rick Doblin, David Nichols and John Halpern are interviewed about the research here.

The Council on Spiritual Practices also has quite a bit of information on Entheogens, including links to recent psilocybin studies that highlight the mystical experiences that people can experience in conjunction with these compounds.

While there is ample scientific research to demonstrate their psychological safety, research has also shown that these compounds can be of significant benefit to persons suffering from a variety of diagnosed medical conditions:

Cluster headaches are reported to be one of the most painful conditions known and there are no reliable treatments. However, both LSD and psilocybin have been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for this condition. From the abstract:

The authors interviewed 53 cluster headache patients who had used psilocybin or lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) to treat their condition. Twenty-two of 26 psilocybin users reported that psilocybin aborted attacks; 25 of 48 psilocybin users and 7 of 8 LSD users reported cluster period termination; 18 of 19 psilocybin users and 4 of 5 LSD users reported remission period extension. Research on the effects of psilocybin and LSD on cluster headache may be warranted.

Recent research has also linked the administration of psilocybin with a significant reduction in the core symptoms of several Obsessive Compulsive Disorder patients.

Whereas most of this research involves the classical Hallucinogens,  (LSD, Psilocybin and Mescaline), A recent editorial from the International Journal of Drug Policy, entitled a “Statement on Ayahusaca“, focuses exclusively on the South African brew in which DMT is the main psychoactive ingredient. In this Editorial, the journal’s editorial board and as well as a number of high profile scientists come out forcefully in support of the right to use the brew for religious and cultural purposes.

Furthermore, in 2012, the American Anthropological Association released a special Ayahuasca edition of their journal “Anthropology of Consciousness”. While most of the articles are hidden behind a firewall, there is an excellent article available freely called “Ayahuasca as Antidepressant? Psychedelics and Styles of Reasoning in Psychiatry”. From the abstract:

This article analyzes the academic literature on ayahuasca’s psychological effects to determine how this style of reasoning is shaping formal scientific discourse on ayahuasca’s therapeutic potential as a treatment for depression and anxiety.

 

Conclusion

Over seven decades of peer reviewed research clearly demonstrate that Transcendent Compounds are not only non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe, but are also of great benefit, both in terms of general psychological well being, but also with respect to a number of very real and very serious medical conditions.

Few would argue that they are perfectly safe (nothing is), but any dangers are certainly within the acceptable limits for an educated and aware population. As I have previously discussed elsewhere, any risk certainly lies within the limits that are already accepted in many of our daily activities.

Irrespective of issues of religious freedom, I would suggest that in a sensible, democratic, well-functioning society, non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe compounds are precisely the sort that we should be promoting as an alternative to the highly toxic, addictive and violence inducing legal alternative: alcohol.

In allowing the use of safe mind altering substances, in controlled environments, governments will be doing more to effectively tackle the scourge of alcohol abuse in this country than any government thus far. While there is some research suggestive of LSD being an effective treatment for alcohol addiction, a person is highly unlikely to use Transcendent Compounds and alcohol simultaneously, especially if using them within a religious and spiritual framework.

In allowing citizens to reduce their exposure to alcohol, by accessing safer compounds, we allow them a greater chance of resisting its addictive and toxic impacts and the severe social and medical harms entailed by its use.

Not only are there no scientific reasons for prohibiting Transcendent Compounds for spiritual and religious purposes, there is abundant scientific evidence that regulated access would be highly beneficial to our community.

Note: I have sourced several of these papers from the excellent Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) website, and one can find quite a few other peer reviewed papers available there.

David E Nichols and a Primer on Hallucinogens

David E Nichols previously held the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology at Purdue University and is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on hallucinogens. His excellent 2004 review of the literature, “Hallucinogens”, discusses a breadth of topics, including history, pharmacology, toxicity, addictiveness and psychological outcomes.

Tulpa1_detail1

Tulpa
Courtesy Mario Martinez (aka MARS-1)

However, it is a long paper and many may struggle with its scientific content. Because of this, what follows is a short primer designed to introduce readers to some of the key concepts contained within this paper. Please be aware that this is simply a commentary on Nichols’ work and he has not authorised my interpretation, or had anything to do with its preparation.

This primer was initially written to be sent to Victorian politicians in support of the campaign to obtain regulated access for spiritual and religious purposes. Because of this, there are a number of references to this type of use within.

It is important to note that rather than address all hallucinogens (aka psychedelics), Nichols focuses on the three classical hallucinogens (which also happen to be Transcendent Compounds): LSD, Psilocybin and Mescaline.

“Hallucinogens, for the purposes of this review, will mean only substances with psychopharmacology resembling that of the natural products mescaline and psilocybin and the semisynthetic substance known as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25).” (p 132)

One of the issues that often confounds people unfamiliar with the safety of these compounds is the obvious fact that they have been rendered illegal the world over. Surely, this must mean that there is something wrong with them? Nichols addresses the discrepancy between the safety of these compounds and the reactions to them by government and law enforcement saying:

“Despite their high degree of physiological safety and lack of dependence liability, hallucinogens have been branded by law enforcement officials as among the most dangerous drugs that exist, being placed into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Depending on the locale, especially in the United States, punishments for using or distributing drugs like LSD are often more draconian than if the user had committed a violent crime.” (p 133)

Furthermore, when faced with the question of “What is it, exactly, that makes these pharmacological curiosities so fearsome?” Nichols surmises that:

“The answer lies, in large measure, beyond hard science and within a complex sociological and political agenda that surround psychedelics” (p 133)

At the risk of putting words into the mouth of such an esteemed researcher, I would suggest that this translates to the assertion that it is politics, rather than science that is responsible for these compounds being treated as they are. That if only the politicians and bureaucrats paid attention to the science, these “pharmacological curiosities” would assume a far less fearsome aspect and could be treated with the respect they deserve and that legislation and regulation would reflect them as they are, rather than the demons that some wish them to be.

But what of the “hard science”? What does it actually have to say?
With respect to the toxicity of these compounds, Nichols is quite clear when he says:

“Hallucinogens are generally considered to be physiologically safe molecules whose principal effects are on consciousness. That is, hallucinogens are powerful in producing altered states of consciousness (ASC), but they do so at doses that are not toxic to mammalian organ systems. There is no evidence that any of the hallucinogens, even the very powerful semisynthetic LSD, causes damage to any human body organ.” (p 134)

Furthermore, with respect to long-term adverse physiological effects arising from their use, he notes that:

“Strassman (1984) and Halpern and Pope (1999) have analyzed the published reports on adverse reactions and negative long-term sequelae following hallucinogen use. Halpern and Pope reached a conclusion similar to Strassman’s earlier analysis that concerning repeated use of psychedelic drugs the results were controversial, but if any long-term adverse effect did occur it was ‘‘subtle or nonsignificant.’’ It should be noted, however, that in both studies their conclusions were specifically developed based on reviews of supervised clinical research with hallucinogens.” (p 134)

While Nichols qualifies his statement by indicating that these conclusions were based on supervised clinical research, I should note that I am not aware of any research indicating problematic sequelae for populations that have used this compound outside of supervised clinical research (Indeed recent research has shown quite the reverse). This apparent safety is a highly important observation, given that there exists an entire cohort within the community who have been using this compound for in excess of fifty years and who would be easily identifiable as being burdened with Hallucinogen induced disease if it actually existed.

Moving onto the issue of addiction he says:

“In contrast to many other abused drugs, hallucinogens do not engender drug dependence or addiction and are not considered to be reinforcing substances” (p 134);

“There are no literature reports of successful attempts to train animals to self-administer classical hallucinogens, an animal model predictive of abuse liability, indicating that these substances do not possess the necessary pharmacology to either initiate or maintain dependence.” (p 134);

“hallucinogens do not produce the type of reinforcing effects that occur after use of substances such as cocaine or amphetamine” (p 138)

Nichols also notes that because these compounds do not produce the cravings associated with other drugs, their usage pattern is markedly different:

“It must be kept in mind that hallucinogen use is generally not compulsive and long lasting and that these substances do not produce dependence. Their use is more often episodic, and most people do not continue to use hallucinogens on a long-term basis after some initial experimentation. Surveys have shown that hallucinogen use is most likely to occur in the late teens and into the early 20s but does not usually continue after users reach their late 20s (Chilcoat & Schutz, 1996). Chronic use of hallucinogens is unusual (Henderson, 1994; Chilcoat & Schutz, 1996). This use pattern is in distinct contrast to the compulsive abuse that is often seen with rewarding drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, or the opiates, which produce craving.” (p 138)

This pattern of usage matches the observations of myself and others within the broader Australian “Entheogenic” community. It is not uncommon for people to move into the community for a couple of years, obtain what gifts they feel the compounds had to offer, before moving back out into the normal community and rarely if ever using these compounds again.

But while chronic (i.e. long-term) use might be comparatively rare, it is these users, such as myself, who form the backbone of the longer term community of users and provide continuity, depth and wisdom that is arguably lacking among most other subcultures of substance users. Certainly my motivations for use, along with many others, whom it is my privilege to know, would agree with the following statement:

“When asked why they use hallucinogens, individuals who take doses with significant psychological effects often say that they use them for personal or spiritual development and increased understanding and self-discovery, that their use seems important to them, and that often they feel they gain important personal, religious, or philosophical insights.” (p 138)

Nichols is not afraid to address the potential negatives of the use of hallucinogens.

One of the more commonly stated concerns with the use of these compounds is the phenomena known as “flashbacks”. Nichols addresses this by saying:

“One adverse consequence of hallucinogen use is known as ‘‘flashbacks.’’ Flashbacks were widely discussed in the press, particularly in earlier decades, as one of the most common adverse effects of hallucinogens; their occurrence was emphasized as a deterrent to recreational use. A flashback essentially consists of the re-experiencing of one or more of the perceptual effects that were induced by hallucinogens but occurring after the effect of the drug has worn off or at some later time in the complete absence of the drug. Flashbacks most often appear as visual symptoms and can persist for months or in some cases years, and there appears to be no relationship between frequency of hallucinogen use and rate of occurrence.” (p 135)

and:

“Based on the millions of people who have taken hallucinogens, the incidence of HPPD appears to be very small, and there is presently no effective treatment.” (p 135).

I would make two observations here. Firstly, while it is unfortunate that there are a “very small” number of people who experience difficulty with flashbacks, it is doubtful whether the fact that there are potential dangers inherent to an activity is grounds for making that activity illegal. If that were the case, we’d be banning origami on the basis of paper cuts. Secondly, even while acknowledging the risks inherent in the phenomenon of flashbacks, a reasonable person is still going to be forced to conclude that these compounds are immeasurably safer than the only current legal alternative, alcohol. The UN reports that 5.9% of all deaths (3.3 million) in 2012 were attributable to alcohol so it isn’t hard to imagine why the adoption of hallucinogen use in preference to alcohol  would be beneficial to the wider community.

Importantly, with respect to the aims of the current paper, Nichols points out that research indicated that:

“when LSD was used in a therapeutic or research setting, HPPD appeared less frequently than when it was used recreationally.” (p 135)

This is important, as very few people are arguing for wide-ranging and unregulated access to the compounds, but rather to ensure their availability for religious, sacramental and safe recreational use.

Within the context of my own campaign for regulated access for religious and spiritual purposes, I would suggest that usage would be expected to fall somewhere in-between those of purely recreational and purely therapeutic users. As such, the already “very small” incidence of flashbacks would be reduced even further within a population using these compounds for religious purposes.

Nichols also addresses the issue of physical danger arising from the use of these compounds, particularly in unsupervised settings.

“There are, however, real and significant dangers that can accompany recreational use of these substances. Although LSD or other classical hallucinogens have not directly caused overdose death… (p 135)

Nichols is perhaps incorrect when he says that “hallucinogens have not directly caused overdose death”. There has been precisely one journal article describing the death of a person by LSD overdose. The 1985 article “A Fatal Overdose With LSD”, provides toxicology results for a man who died 16 hours after being admitted to hospital and whose death was determined by the coroner to be due to “LSD poisoning”.

This paper is significantly flawed as it contains no indication of the amount initially consumed, or the time between consumption and eventual death. While there is no data that might allow the calculation of precisely how much LSD might be required for an overdose, the amount is generally held to be at least 1000 times the active dose, which compares well to 10 times the active dose for alcohol.

In any case, a single fatal overdose involving classical hallucinogens after more than 70 years of use by millions of people is a tribute to the inherent safety of the compound. Only the most devious or dishonest could characterise it as being “deadly” in any meaningful sense.

Nichols continues:

…fatal accidents during LSD intoxication have occurred (Jaffe, 1985). This danger is significant, particularly when these drugs are used recreationally in unsupervised settings. Belief that one has superhuman powers while judgment is impaired by hallucinogens can lead to injury or death when an unsupervised user carries out dangerous activities such as walking out on a freeway or attempting to fly (see, e.g., Reynolds & Jindrich, 1985). (p 135)

Accidents will happen, irrespective of whether people are using mind altering substances, or not. Undoubtedly accidents are more frequent when mind altering substances of any sort are consumed. However, insisting that Transcendent Compounds alone are banned on the strength of this argument is untenable, especially given the overwhelming number of alcohol induced accidents and the lack of concern and action that this has generated in government circles.

Although not mentioned by Nichols, the potential for drug driving is a legitimate and real concern, but again is mirrored by the scourge that alcohol has been on our roads even since the days of the horse and buggy. While it can be regarded as certain that an increase in availability of Transcendent Compounds would result in an increase in motor accidents as a result of their inappropriate use, Any government putting this forward as a reason for maintaining full prohibition, while not similarly legislating to ban alcohol is at the very least acting in a duplicitous and hypocritical manner.

Within the context of spiritual and religious use, one could perhaps expect usage within a more controlled environment and it would be expected that this would greatly curtail the potential for drug driving.

It is intriguing that Nichols mentions people “attempting to fly” while on LSD. This has been a recurrent theme among LSD scare-mongers ever since the death of Diane Linkletter in October of 1969 and can arguably be traced back to a scene in the now infamous 1938 anti-cannabis movie “Reefer Madness”. Fortunately, it seems that this particular concern is one that has been greatly blown out of proportion. This story can be considered to have been well debunked by the highly regarded “urban myth” web site, snopes.com, where they not only point out that the girl was certainly not on LSD at the time of her death, but that there was never any evidence beyond hearsay to say that she had ever taken the compound.

The Reynolds & Jindrich article referenced by Nichols is one that I have yet to get my hands on, but it apparently describes a person who ran off a cliff and fell to their death under the influence of Mescaline. While it might be the case that this person believed that he might be able to fly while under the influence of this compound, a single incident is hardly indicative of a wider tendency. It can be argued that people believe all sorts of silly things while under the influence of all sorts of drugs, and one should not discount the possibility of people believing that they can fly while using hallucinogens. But given the breadth of use, it is disappointing when isolated incidences are presented as if they are global trends towards self-destruction.

“Less serious but still very substantial injuries can occur in unusual ways. For example, severe and irreversible ocular damage has resulted from prolonged staring at the sun by individuals under the influence of LSD (Schatz & Mendelblatt, 1973; Fuller, 1976).” (p 135)

We can see a similar situation in when discussing the supposed phenomena of people looking into the sun while under the influence of LSD. Once again, snopes.com has debunked this particular myth, which they describe as being, “one of the 1960s most ubiquitous pieces of drug scarelore”.

While I was unable to obtain the Schatz & Mendelblatt article referenced by Nichols, examining Fuller (1976) is quite educational. It includes the case studies of two patients, both of whom appear to have been suffering from significant mental health issues, with the first patient being formally diagnosed as suffering from “paranoid schizophrenia”.

The situation with the second patient is in itself quite intriguing and deserves to be quoted directly:

“Case 2, a 15-year-old Caucasian female, heard a lecture at her public high school warning of the harmful effects of the illicit use of drugs. The lecturer told the audience that one could sustain a retinal burn with loss of vision if one gazed at the sun while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. The patient thought that “it would be a neat thing to burn out my retinas”. She then proceeded to take LSD, having taken it “a few times before”, and stared at the sun for an unknown length of time.”

Rather than a mishap caused by the consumption of LSD, this appears to be a classic example of the self-fulfilling prophecy. With tragic irony, she was subjected to a lecture on the dangers of drugs that included the scarelore myth that people burn their eyes out by staring into the sun while on LSD. As a result of this lecture, she proceeded to take LSD with that specific intention in mind, because she thought that “it would be a neat thing to burn out my retinas”. Rather than being an example of people doing silly things on LSD, this would be more accurately viewed as a classic case of teenage self harm, albeit by very unusual means.

While hardly being an expert on solar retinopathy, I would suggest that its incidence would be comparatively high among people with mental health issues and particularly high among those suffering from schizophrenia and that these cases would be better viewed as the result of mental illness, rather than the consumption of LSD.

My review of the literature was unable to uncover any other incidents of people looking into the sun and damaging their eyes while on LSD, or any of the other Transcendent Compounds. Once again, isolated, if spectacular and attention grabbing incidents are hardly indicative of widespread dangers to either users, or the wider community.

If either attempting to fly, or staring into the sun were a common result from the consumption of classical hallucinogens, there would be far more than a literal handful of cases after decades of ongoing and unsupervised use by perhaps hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Justifying a ban on these compounds because of these incredibly rare kinds of occurrences is akin to banning houses because planes fall on them.

Nichols also addresses the very real concern that these compounds might produce psychosis in individuals. Once again, it is instructive to quote him in detail on this issue.

“The most significant dangers of psychedelics, however, appear to lie principally in their psychological effects. LSD can induce disturbances of experience, otherwise observed only in psychoses, such as alteration of cognitive functions, and depersonalization. Hallucinogens can catalyze the onset of psychosis or depression, which has sometimes led to suicide, and Cohen (1960) has estimated the incidence of LSD-related psychosis to be about 8 per 10,000 subjects. In another study, one case of psychosis was reported in a survey of 247 LSD users (McGlothlin & Arnold, 1971). Fortunately, however, these drugs do not appear to produce illness de novo in otherwise emotionally healthy persons, but these problems seem to be precipitated in predisposed individuals”

One should never arbitrarily discount the potential for harm arising from the use of any compound and it appears that there is the very real risk of psychological harm resulting from the use of these compounds. However, in recognising this and making allowances for it within our legislative frameworks, it should be noted that the occurrence of these negative events is significantly less than one percent and seems to occur only among individuals who are predisposed.

I would suggest that while recognising the dangers is important, so too is recognising that the overwhelmingly vast majority of people using these substances will not encounter these difficulties and that a significant number of people who do will do so regardless of whether their experience is initially bought on by the use of a Transcendent Compound.

If people are going to be using these compounds, then doing so within a religious and spiritual setting, where support networks can more easily be erected around potentially vulnerable people, would be the best way to ensure that those who do suffer adverse impacts from their use and are best able to receive the treatment which they need.

I would also point out that alcohol, which is the only currently legal mind altering substance (I don’t include tobacco, coffee and others, which, while legal aren’t taken to achieve massively mind altered states of consciousness)  has a far worse track record with respect to the mental health of those who use it, with an estimated 10% of users experiencing difficulties with its use and with significant production of illness among people who would have experienced no psychological issues had they refrained from consumption.

While Nichols doesn’t frame his conclusions in these terms, his 2004 peer-reviewed paper “Hallucinogens” makes it quite clear that these substances are non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe. Given this, there can really be no excuse for prohibiting their use for religious and spiritual purposes within the State of Victoria.

The Legal Argument for Spiritual use of Transcendent Compounds

There is a very good argument to say that the prohibition of Transcendent Compounds for Spiritual Purposes is illegal within the State of Victoria, the ACT, Canada and other jurisdictions like South Africa, that have strong, modern Human Rights protections.*

supreme-court-of-victoria

The Supreme Court of Victoria

Drug Law Reform Objectives and Definitions

When compared to the broader issue of drug law reform, my objectives are quite limited:

“Regulated access to Transcendent Compounds for religious purposes, as required under sections 7 and 14 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006)”.

It is not my intent to upend drugs law as we know it, although this would almost be inevitable once the general public come to understand that the Emperor has no clothes!

Those unfamiliar with my writings may not have heard of “Transcendent Compounds” . Briefly, Transcendent Compounds are those Entheogens which are non-toxic, non-addictive, and psychologically safe in an appropriate dose, set and setting. It includes DMT, Psilocybin, Mescaline and LSD, but excludes others, as cannabis and ketamine.

This reflects the philosophy that a substance isn’t really getting you into good spiritual territory if it controls your soul (is addictive), or is likely to harm, or even kill you (which seems to be getting a bit too close to spiritual truth for comfort).

It also reflects the simple fact that this campaign for religious freedom is difficult enough without continually getting sidetracked on issues of toxicity, addiction and psychological harm. After more than four decades of increasingly strident and unhinged propaganda, many people are viscerally afraid of these substances and “non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe” is a soothing mantra that can easily be repeated until the message finally sinks in.

 

Illicit Drugs and Australian Law

Under the Australian Constitution, drugs law is a state, not federal issue and as such, Victorian, not Federal law is relevant in this case.

The right to Religious Freedom an ancient concept and its protection is often considered to be an essential characteristic of a modern well functioning democratic state. The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006) provides extensive legal protections for the exercise of religious freedom in this state.
Section 14 of the Charter provides extensive protections for religious belief and practice, while Section 7 delineates the circumstances in which a right may lawfully be limited.

Section 14 grants the following rights with respect to religion:

(1) Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, including-

(a) the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his or her choice; and

(b) the freedom to demonstrate his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either individually or as part of a community, in public or in private.

(2) A person must not be coerced or restrained in a way that limits his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.

 

From this it can be clearly seen that not only does every Victorian enjoy significant legal rights to practice their religion, but they retain this right, irrespective of whether they are part of an organised religious establishment. Nobody needs to join “my”, or anybody else’s religion in order to have their religious freedoms recognised under law.

 

Section 7.2 is the section of most relevance when it comes to the Government’s obligation to respect religious practices and to not impinge upon them unnecessarily:

A human right may be subject under law only to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, and taking into account all relevant factors including-

(a) the nature of the right; and

(b) the importance of the purpose of the limitation; and

(c) the nature and extent of the limitation; and

(d) the relationship between the limitation and its purpose; and

(e) any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose that the limitation seeks to achieve.

A key phrase here is “can be demonstrably justified”, as it is clear that this puts the justification for any restriction, on a right contained within the Charter, onto the Government. It is the Government which has to justify maintaining a ban, not I for breaking it.

Not only this, but any justification needs to be “demonstrable”, which in this case I take to mean that the Government would need to justify their prohibition using science (and again and again and again), rather than the usual resort to distortion, lies and logical fallacies which are the main justification for the never ending War on Drugs.

To date, the Victorian Government’s official response to my campaign to achieve regulated access to Transcendent Compounds for religious and spiritual purposes has been that the compounds are illegal because of “community health and safety”.

There are two factors which make this position untenable. The first is the fact that by definition, Transcendent Compounds are “non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe”. In other words, they are the gold standard of “community health and safety”.

The contrast is stark: Alcohol – the current benchmark for allowable substance harm in the community – is highly addictive, highly toxic (it is a disinfectant!) and psychologically dangerous, being reliably linked to aggressive and anti social behaviours, including nearly half of all Australian murders and possibly hundreds of thousands of assaults each year. In Victoria alone, it is responsible for over 25,000 hospital admissions. Furthermore, it kills an estimated 3000 Australians each year. Frankly, any move away from alcohol and towards Transcendent Compounds should be encouraged and applauded by any sane society.

The second untenable aspect of the Government’s position relates to the fact that the current ban is black and white and does not acknowledge the legitimate religious uses of these substances. It confuses “use” with “abuse” and in doing so fails to conform to section 7.2(e), which requires that the Government adopt “any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose that the limitation seeks to achieve”.

My lobbying of the Government has been specifically aimed at obtaining regulated access to these compounds for religious purposes. I have no intention of arguing for these compounds to be legal in the same way as alcohol or tobacco, nor do I believe that they should be legal in the way that these are .

Even if one were to agree that there were legitimate reasons for a complete ban on the recreational use of non-addictive, non-toxic and psychologically safe compounds, it does not follow that a less restrictive regulatory regime that recognises their religious importance should be simply ignored.

One could debate whether a specific substance is in fact worthy of being regarded as a “Transcendent Compound”, but if the Government wishes to make the case that the substances that I have identified as “Transcendent Compounds” are not as safe as I have claimed, they need to do so using peer-reviewed research and scientifically valid data. This is highly unlikely, given that decades of research have consistently demonstrated that these compounds are safe, especially when consumed within regulated frameworks.

As such, it is clear that in maintaining a prohibition against the use of Transcendent Compounds, the Victorian Government is in fact in breach of its own laws, and needs to be held accountable for this in Victoria’s courts.

Caveat: This Law is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Sections 29, 32 and 36 of the Charter make it abundantly clear that the provisions of the Charter do not in themselves render Victorian Law invalid.

As such, until the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act (1981) is explicitly altered by the Victorian Government, it will remain a crime to use Transcendent Compounds for any purpose.

The benefit of the Charter is to provide a way to force the Victorian Government to acknowledge in a court of law that they do not have any “demonstrably justifiable” reasons for impinging on the religious and spiritual freedoms of Victorians.

Success in the Victorian Supreme Court will result in that court issuing a “Declaration of Inconsistent Interpretation”, which will inform the Victorian Attorney-General of the discrepancy between the law and the provisions of the Charter. Even if such a declaration is made it is important to note that Section 36 states:

5)     A declaration of inconsistent interpretation does not—

        (a)     affect in any way the validity, operation or enforcement of the statutory provision in respect of which the declaration was made; or

        (b)     create in any person any legal right or give rise to any civil cause of action.

This means that even if a Declaration of Inconsistent Interpretation is handed down by the Victorian Supreme Court, the person charged may very well still be found guilty, and sentenced according to the penalties laid out in the law.

Furthermore, Section 37 of the Charter provides six months from the receipt of the Declaration for the relevant Minister to issue their written response to the Declaration.

At any stage, the Victorian Parliament would be well within the law to simply use the “Override Declaration” powers contained within Section 31 to simply exclude the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act (1981) from the Charter, thereby maintain the status quo. Doing so in order to get around an adverse finding in the courts would be embarrassing for the Government, it might be considered politically expedient.

It is important to note that this legal defence is not the sort of thing that just anybody can use after they have been charged with drug offences.

Unless a person is able to demonstrate a history of the spiritual use of Transcendent Compounds they will likely just be regarded as a recreational user and subject to the full force of the law, irrespective of what claims they might seek to make regarding religious, or spiritual use. In this situation, under Section 33 of the Charter, the case is unlikely to even make it to the Victorian Supreme Court in the first place.

As an aside, I and perhaps the whole Entheogenic community would be really annoyed if some random were to attempt to use this defence, make a mess of it and ruin things for everybody else.

 

 

*My discussion here relates specifically to the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act, but applies equally to legislation that uses the same wording, such as that found within the Australian Capital Territory and the Canadian Constitution. South Africa’s Constitution also contains similar language, and I expect that many jurisdictions will find that they have similar responsibilities under their own laws. 

Entheogens and Transcendent Compounds.

Entheogens are chemical substances which allow people to experience the “Divine Within”.

Generally classified as “Hallucinogens”, they have been used by many religious traditions for thousands of years and are an integral part of the religious practice of tens of thousands of people today.

Mars-1-NatureofTime_905

Nature of Time
Courtesy Mario Martinez (aka MARS-1)

While the word “Entheogen” is over three decades old, it is hardly known outside the “Entheogenic community” of people who use these substances. In addition, there is considerable debate regarding what an “Entheogen” actually is, with some people arguing that it includes any substance that has had a sacred use at any stage, while others believe that it should refer to substances that create the subjective experience of communion with the Divine.

Given the original intent of the people who coined the word and its roots in Ancient Greek, which stands for “God inside us” (en εν- “in, within,” theo θεος- “god, divine,” -gen γενος “creates, generates”), I hold to the second camp.

For a while I advocated a more limited meaning of the word, one that would suit my own personal view of these compounds. However, while some in the community had sympathy for my position, few felt that it was true to the original intent of the word.

Accordingly, I have chosen to coin yet another term, “Transcendent Compound”, (so you won’t find it in Wikipedia until a few more people start using it!), in order to refer to the compounds that are both spiritually valuable and undeniably safe.

A Transcendent Compound is as substance that:

1. Reliably allows a person to touch the Divine Mind.

2. Is non-toxic.

3. Is non addictive.

4. Is psychologically safe, within an appropriate dose, set and setting.

This reflects the philosophy that a substance isn’t really getting you into good spiritual territory if it controls your soul (is addictive), or is likely to harm, or even kill you (which seems to be getting a bit too close to spiritual truth for comfort).

While there are quite a number of substances that might to fall into this category, the main ones used in Australia are as follows:

Mescaline: The psychoactive compound found in certain types of cactus. It is used legally by the Native American Church, who consume it through the peyote cactus.

Psilocybin: The Psychoactive compound found in sacred, or “magic” mushrooms that have been used traditionally by the Mexicans. These mushrooms are also endemic to Victoria and grow throughout Melbourne, although I am not aware of any record of their traditional use by the local aboriginal populations.

LSD: A synthetic compound with effects very similar to both Mescaline and Psilocybin. Despite its dangerous reputation, it is perhaps the safest mind altering compound known to humanity, with an estimated lethal dose well in excess of 2000 times the active dose (compared to ten for alcohol) and only a single overdose death ever recorded in peer-reviewed medical literature.

DMT: Known as the “Spirit Molecule”, this is found in the South American Ayahuasca Brew. It is also found within numerous grasses and wattles that are native to Australia. Brews using these are sometimes referred to as “wattlehuasca”.

Salvinorin A: Found in Salvia Divinorum, which is also called “Diviner’s Sage” it is used by the Mazatec Shamans of South America.

This listing is borne out by the results obtained in unpublished research by Dr David Caldicott (2007, unpublished). In this survey of over 100 members of the Australian Entheogenic community only two Mind Altering Substances were reliably identified as being used for “Enlightenment”. These were:

Magic Mushrooms (ie psilocybin): 92%

LSD: 91%

Given its importance to the Entheogenic community, DMT, which was accidentally left off the survey, would expect a similarly high response.

Similarly, Mescaline with very similar effects to both LSD and Psilocybin is also be considered a Transcendent Compound and is widely used within the Entheogenic community.

Interestingly only, four other substances, cannabis (50%), Ecstasy (MDMA) (31%), Ketamine (39%) and Nitrous Oxide (40%) scored higher than 30%, but none of these exceeded 50%.

Ketamine, which was reportedly used by 39% of the sample is an example of an Entheogen which doesn’t rate as a Transcendent Compound. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, it is highly addictive and secondly it can, with prolonged use (often inevitable with highly addictive substances), cause potentially irreversible damage to the bladder.

Only three percent of the respondents reported using alcohol for “Enlightenment”. This should not surprise anyone, especially those in the community services sector, who have had to deal with the fallout from the anti-social behaviour, violence and aggression that it often causes. Alcohol isn’t the sort of substance that assists people to achieve a connection with the Divine. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Intriguingly, it has recently been revealed that Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous wished to use LSD as part of the AA program, but that this idea was rejected by more conservative members, who felt that using one drug to treat another was somehow bad. Some research in the 1950s and 60s hinted that LSD could be a viable treatment for alcoholism, but this research was never validated and efforts to do so came to a close with the halt to all LSD research when it was made illegal.

As with all psychoactive compounds the use of Transcendent Compounds may entail some risk. For example, Cohen (1960, cited Nichols, 2004) estimated that the incidence of LSD related psychosis was perhaps 8 per 10,000 people. However, given that life entails risk (a plane could hit you as you are reading this…) this shouldn’t worry people unduly, especially as the risks of toxicity and overdose are absent.

Indeed, when compared to other activities, the use of these compounds compares quite favourably. For example, the New South Wales Injury Management Centre’s “Sports Injury Report” dated September 2006, identifies that motor sports sustained 11.3 serious injuries, or deaths and 94 hospitalisations per 10,000 participants.

So while they can’t be regarded as perfectly safe (nothing can), decades of research clearly show that they fall within the acceptable limits of safety when compared with other activities that are legal within our communities.

Each of the Transcendent Compounds can be considered psychologically safe to use, assuming an appropriate “dose, set and setting. If any of these are an issue, a negative experience may emerge at some point of the “trip”.

“Dose” refers to the amount taken and as with any activity, sensible people will approach dose cautiously, starting with threshold amounts, before scaling up to more “shamanic” doses.

This is important, because different people respond differently to the same dose. For example, I know many people who never take more than half a tab of LSD, while others wouldn’t experience anything meaningful at that dose.

As one becomes more experienced, the dosage can be increased. My first experience with Transcendent Compounds was four mushrooms, which was a great introduction. Had I taken significantly more I almost certainly would have had a horrible time and never gone near them again.

In many ways, dose can be thought of as riding a motorcycle. Only a fool would jump straight onto a 1100cc racing bike and expect to not get hurt.  Smart learners will stick with a low powered bike, that will take them where they need to go, but not be uncontrollable.

“Set” refers to a person’s mindset at the time that they are taking the compound. Just because something is wrong, in your life, it doesn’t therefore follow that a negative experience will be felt. For example, I know of a person who took a low dose of LSD at his father’s funeral, and he described it as one of the most meaningful, beautiful and profound experiences of his life. Similarly, when in 2012, I was diagnosed with cancer, I took a large dose of magic mushrooms, which allowed me to put the disease and my life back in perspective.

“Setting” refers to the physical environment that you are in and people around you. Especially at the outset, it is important to only go on these journeys surrounded by people who you trust and in a peaceful environment without undue distractions.

Parties are perhaps the worst place for inexperienced people to start taking any hallucinogen.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to take adequate precautions, such as learning about what to expect prior to the experience and having an experienced, trusted sitter present. If you take the time to educate yourself and know what is to expect and there is almost no chance of something going wrong.

Click here for my Beginners Guide to Safe Tripping.

THC – The Spiritual Compound (AKA Cannabis)

Because of its addictive potential, marijuana cannot be included as a Transcendent Compound. However, despite this, it is still the most widely used Entheogen in the world and rightly deserves its place in the sun.

Many, including myself, have found this compound to be very useful for spiritual exploration. Even scientists, such as Susan Blackmore have reported that they use it for its capacity to help the creative processes. Cannabis has safely been used as an Entheogen for thousands of years and despite being illegal in most countries is still consumed by millions of people annually, although few realise its true potential as a Spiritual Compound.

A personal example of this was my realisation that “god can never know if god is God”. I initially discovered this truth while engaged in deep thought under the influence of cannabis. However, it was not until six months later, when I returned to the concept, again under the influence of cannabis that I realised how important and devastating this realisation is to the fundamental assumptions of traditional monotheistic religious belief.

While not Entheogenic in the same manner as LSD, or DMT, cannabis has considerable potential for the mystic who wishes to explore the deeper realms of reality and consciousness.

Unlike alcohol, marijuana is non toxic and nobody has ever overdosed on it. This is unsurprising given that a person would need to consume over 550 kg of the plant within 15 minutes before you even had a chance at overdose. Try to smoke that much and you’d asphyxiate first!

Similarly, while it can produce short-term psychosis (that is after all one of the reasons that people take it), there have decades of research have been unable to draw any clear links between it and long-term psychosis. Even the much vaunted link between the use of this plant and schizophrenia doesn’t hold up once one looks at all the evidence available and remembers that correlation does not equal causation. Over the years I have known a number of people with schizophrenia who reported using cannabis because it moderated their condition and made life easier to handle. Several have told me that if it weren’t for their use of cannabis, they probably would have committed suicide.

Unfortunately, THC has some potential for addiction. Research shows that this potential is less than that found in compounds such as alcohol, or heroin and is comparatively easy to manage. Prolonged and intensive use can still mess you around quite a bit, but there appear to be no significant long-term adverse affects from its use.

NOTE – Cannabis is not one of the compounds that I have been lobbying the Government to provide regulated access to. While it is useful, I only use it rarely, and it will be made legal quick smart, when the half a million (OMFG!) Victorians who use it each year get of their bums and tell the Government that they want it made legal, “or else”.