Category Archives: Religion

Putting drug policy on Trial after LSD arrest

Last week, on 19th April, 2016, I was arrested for the possession of LSD as I went to celebrate Bicycle Day, by taking a single tab of LSD on the steps of the Victorian Parliament House, much as I have done on four previous occasions. As always, the intent of the protest is “to achieve regulated access to Transcendent Compounds for spiritual and religious use” and my actions are in protest of the Victorian Government’s continued denial of fundamental Human Rights that are available to Victorians of fairly much every other spiritual and religious belief.

 

Saasha after Greg Kasarik's Arrest for LSD possession

Greg Kasarik’s Golden Retriever, Saasha waits patiently for his return after his arrest for LSD possession. In the background is the sign he bought with him on the day, which is titled, “Tripping on the Steps with LSD”

Now that I have been arrested myself and other members of Community of Infinite Colour (Australia) Incorporated along with other supporters will be using it as an opportunity to put the Victorian Government’s drug policies on trial!

Given our past experiences, none of us expected me to be arrested and initially, there was some fluffing about by the Protective Service Officers, as they seemed unsure as to whether the best course of action. I made it clear that I was cool if they arrested me, but I would rather take my tab, make our protest and enjoy and afternoon of sunshine, chilled music and chatting with people.

This came to an immediate end, once a uniformed Police Sergeant came on the scene and was informed of my intention to take LSD, at which point he made an immediate, unhesitating decision to arrest and my fate, was sealed!

I was in possession of two tabs of LSD. One which I have been carrying around with me for the last several years, so that if the politicians ever got off their arses I could be arrested at any stage.

This was also the tab that I carried into police stations on three separate occasions, in 2013, when I sought to inform the police of what I did and to invite them to arrest me if they so wished.  On each occasion, the police made it clear that they had better things to worry about than someone who is actually admitting to a crime!

Not that anyone can really blame them. LSD is not a nasty drug like alcohol and doesn’t have the same disastrous impacts on emergency service members, as they strive to keep our citizens and communities safe and well.

The second tab of LSD was carried in a book called “Why Good Things Happen to Good People“, by Dr Stephen Post.* More specifically, it was at the beginning of Chapter 6, which discusses “The Way of Courage: Speak Up, Speak Out”.  Hopefully, in deliberately getting arrested, when I could have simply stayed home, I have shown some small degree of courage.

After my arrest, I was taken to the police precinct in Docklands, interviewed, fingerprinted and released on bail, with a court date of 28 September 2016.

All in all, I couldn’t have been more impressed with the courtesy, respect and good humour demonstrated by the police during my time in custody. Although I suspect that they were more than a bit bemused the circumstances of it all and grateful for my own willing participation in their processes.

I should also express thanks to the PSOs, who looked after my wonderful dog, Saasha and my friend Nick Wallis from Enpsychedelia, and a certain gent by the name of Adam, who took her under their care until I could pick her up.

Upon release from court, I was in contact with members of the scientific and Alcohol and Other Drug research community who were happy to let me know that I had their support and that they’d make sure that when I face the supreme court, I have the appropriate expert witnesses on my side.

At the international level, I have been in touch with the founder of one of the world’s leading research organisation and informed that we have his “full support!!” (for clarity, the exclamations are his!!)

As I’ve made clear in a number of previous posts, the scientific consensus regarding Transcendent Compounds, is clear. And getting clearer by the day!

With the scientific research community expressing support, from here, we will be looking at obtaining competent legal advice. Prior to my arrest, I was in contact with a couple of high profile lawyers, but they have expressed concerns as to whether I would be successful in obtaining a referral to the Supreme Court on religious, or spiritual grounds. However, if needs be I will defend myself in court, as the facts of the matter are both straightforward and uncontestable.

We will be using the legal argument that I have developed over the last five years and it is our intention to make full use of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights Act (2006) and its protections of:

the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, including- … 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.”

Personally, I believe that we will have no issues with allaying the concerns of the lawyers. The spiritual and religious use of Transcendent Compounds is an ancient practice that predates the Government’s “War on Drug Users” by thousands of years and will, if we have any say in the matter, still be a crucial aspect of religious practice tens of thousands of years after the small minded, bigoted instigators of this useless, intolerant “war” (and myself for that matter) are all forgotten in the dust of archeology.

During my interview with the police, I specifically requested that the police prosecutor on the day of my appearance at the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court support referring the case to the Victorian Supreme Court, because if I am merely convicted and sentenced on that day, then on the very next day, I (and possibly others) will be back on the steps for a rinse and repeat and will keep it up until such a time as I am able to get to the Victorian Supreme Court and put the Victorian Government’s discriminatory drug policies on trial!

Fact is having being arrested once, its a bit of “been there, done that” and any further arrests will be more of a nuisance than anything.

We will be keeping everyone up to date on developments both here at kasarik.com and through social media and whatever other outlets we can.

However, one exciting bit of news is that in the coming months, the religious not-for-profit, “Community of Infinite Colour (Australia) Incorporated” will be opening its doors to the public in the Melbourne suburb of Bayswater.

While it is our intent to offer the kinds of counselling and pastoral services found in any religious organisation, we’ll also be conducting happiness workshops and helping people to discover their own special niche within the Infiniverse!

As a post-dogmatic religion and based on the “Principles” Community’s role isn’t to tell you what to believe, but rather to help you discover what most makes sense to you and to help you become the most fulfilled, compassionate and joyous person that you can be.

We also don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is why my official title (as spiritual leader) within the group is “Herder of Cats“. Which actually describes what I try to do quite well indeed! 🙂

However, one of our purposes states that we will:

“Promote, foster and facilitate the safe use of Transcendent and Sacred Compounds as individually valid, although not communally necessary, expressions of spiritual practice and Divine connection”.

So, despite the fact that we won’t be distributing Transcendent Compounds on the premises, it probably won’t be terribly long before the whole “psychedelic religion” thing gets picked up by the media and things get interesting once more! 🙂

Stay tuned for more! 🙂

*NOTE: Not sure if Dr Stephen Post will appreciate the sublimity surrounding his inclusion in the days festivities.

I encourage everyone to buy and read his book, which is all about how being generous is, in and of itself, a huge contributor to the health and wellbeing of generous people.

Light, Darkness and Terrorism in Paris.

I think that it is appropriate that we keep things in perspective when it comes to thinking about the November attacks in Paris.

Yes, they are horrible and a real tragedy, both for France and for those involved, but despite their best efforts, the attackers managed a death toll that equals about two weeks of fatalities on France’s roads.

Symbol of Life - French Flag

Symbol of Life with French Flag Overlay Courtesy of Facebook.

 

 

3250 people died on France’s roads in 2013, but nobody batted an eyelid. A curfew wasn’t imposed, French people weren’t advised to remain indoors (or stop driving cars), and the country’s borders weren’t closed.

The difference of course, is that we have evolved to seek out meaningful, yet unfamiliar cues, perhaps because these are likely to be augurs of change and disruption. When we see something like the French attacks, we are drawn to them, like moths to a flame and if we aren’t careful, we risk getting burnt.

But there is more to it than that. As of today, there have been a reported 129 deaths (although this will surely rise, as some of those who survived succumb to their injuries), but a little over a month ago, 99 people died in the Ankara bombings in Turkey. I doubt many people in the West, even noticed. Similarly, on August 14, 2013, the Egyptian security forces massacred at least 817 (and likely more than 1,000) protesters in Rabaa Square.

These victims didn’t warrant a Facebook filter and their deaths seemed to be regarded by Westerners as “business as usual”, rather than tragedies for those countries.

Our responses to these attacks say something significant about ourselves and the comparative value that we place on the lives of people from a Christian, European country, compared to those who are “over there” and separated from us by culture, history and religion.

Perhaps one could say, “out of mind, out of sight”.

Irrespective of this, by giving ourselves over to histrionics and fear, we are allowing 8 or so Parisian terrorists to achieve exactly what they wanted: To instill fear and to force us into rash and self-destructive behaviours, such as the knee jerk rush to drop yet more bombs on the Middle East, despite the fact that yet more death will most likely only feed the narrative that sustains the toxic ideology behind these attacks.

Rather, we should recognise that while ISIS has claimed responsibility for this attack, the attackers (with the probable exception of one who was found with a forged Syrian passport) they appear to be French (or perhaps Belgian) nationals and as such are perhaps more indicative of French policy towards its Muslim minority, rather than any threat posed by ISIS to the West.

While 10% of French people are Muslim, French policy towards its Muslim population has been less than stellar, with many living in virtual slums, known as banlieues, where they are marginalised and face significant barriers to both education and employment. Despite its famous revolution of 1789, France is still run by an entrenched elite, with graduates from its Grandes écoles (Grand Schools), finding an easy path to the heights of political and civil service. Needless to say, the children of blue-collar workers, or minorities are very poorly represented within these schools.

Of course, I don’t say this to provide some sort of excuse for the terrorists. What they did was abhorrent and repulsive and if there is any justice in the Infiniverse, they will answer for their actions. But if we are ever going to be able to succeed in ending these sort of attacks, we need to understand the context in which they arise, lest, in our ignorance, we become their enablers.

To conflate these terrorists with Muslims as a whole, or Syrian refugees specifically (as has been done in the US presidential campaign, where Republican candidates have been quick to call for the complete exclusion of Syrian refugees from the US), is to create yet another divide between “Us” and “Them” that will only perpetuate everyone’s misery.

Indeed, Muslims are just as horrified by these attacks as anyone else. Waleed Aly, an Australian Muslim academic and media presenter, put it extraordinarily well when in a segment on The Project, when he said:

“We are all feeling a million raging emotions right now. I am angry at these terrorists. I am sickened by the violence and I am crushed for the families that have been left behind, but, you know what, I will not be manipulated.

“We all need to come together. I know how that sounds. I know it is a cliche, but it is also true because it is exactly what ISIL doesn’t want.”

Certainly, there are problems within modern Islam, just as there have historically been problems within all religions. But this does not mean that there is a problem within every Muslim.

So, rather than focusing on “Islam”, “Christianity”, “Buddhism”, “Atheism”, or whatever, I would suggest that instead, we focus on the choice between “Light” and “Dark”.

Light represents the forces of creation, growth, love, compassion, hope, optimism, honesty and forgiveness (among others). Darkness represents death, greed, selfishness, power, lies, destruction and the very negation of existence (among others).

One is Life affirming, the other is Life denying and although they exist in opposition, their relationship to each other and ourselves is far more complex than it might initially appear and these terms are not necessarily synonymous with “good” and “evil”.

Once we start to think in this way and assuming that we are not entirely blinkered, we can see that both Light and Dark exist not only within every society, but within every person. Once we understand this, we can more easily recognise that each of us have a choice, but that our choice isn’t about what we believe, but about whether we choose the path of Light, the path of Darkness, or decide to fluff about in the middle.

Most of us (including those terrorists) mindlessly believe that we have chosen the path of Light, but such a commitment requires that we be perfectly honest with ourselves about our own failures and the Darkness within. Failure to engage honestly with our own weakness, temptation and failure will lead us into Darkness because dishonesty and lies are by definition, the negation of truth.

Honesty also requires that we admit that while we may have chosen the path of Light, none on this planet (without exception!) are, or ever have been, worthy of claiming to be Beings, or Avatars of Light. Whether we talk about, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, all the prophets, saints, or ourselves, we are all flawed and in committing to a path, we are merely starting on our journey, not arriving at our destination. Thinking otherwise is hubris.

Having made a commitment to Light, we are now in a position to reach out to others who have chosen our path, rather than blindly including, or excluding people simply because of what they profess to believe. Similarly, by committing ourselves to a path of Light, we can understand that what we happen to believe about the nature of the Divine is less important than how we chose to act and behave towards others.

Frankly, beliefs are only important to the extent that they drive behaviour. It matters little if one believes in a god, gods, or no god. What’s important is how we act towards others and whether we leave a trail of healing, or disaster in our wake. Do we build, or do we destroy? Do we forgive, or do we hold onto every grievance? Do we give generously, or do we take selfishly? Do we make war, or do we make peace?

By focusing on a paradigm of Light and Darkness (notice I say “Light and Darkness”, not “Light vs Darkness” – for reasons I will tackle in a later blog post) we can circumvent the silliness of painting particular groups (who are inevitably outsiders) as being somehow inherently “evil”, while others (ie. US!) are necessarily “good”. Instead of mindless stereotypes we can acknowledge that just because others are different from us, or don’t share our values, it does not therefore follow that they are bad.

In doing so, we can open our hearts and minds to the truth that while we are all different in many ways, we share a common humanity. It is this sense of shared humanity that will allow us to reach out to others and embrace them with their differences, so that we may survive and prosper in a world in which we are sorely tempted to cleave to our own and turn our faces away from the suffering of those outside our tribe, while arrogantly ignoring the festering Darkness within.

Sura 4:34 and Domestic Violence in Islam.

This article arose from discussion with a female Islamic friend, who was experiencing a crisis of faith with respect to the nature of her belief.

One area of concern was the conflict that she felt between following her own dreams and aspirations and following the dictates demanded by her religion’s dogmas and behavioural expectations for women. In particular, she was concerned that her family regarded her as having no ultimate say in her destiny, based on their understanding of Sura 4:34 of the Quran.

 

Domestic Violence Poster 1ALERT: Please scroll to the bottom if you are looking for Domestic Violence Support Service contact details.

In responding to her, I located an article online that defended the Sura and then addressed the points raised by that author, who far from being horrified that his holy book authorises domestic violence, claims that the relevant verse is instead the cure for domestic violence.

This kind of repugnant denial of the reality of spousal abuse demonstrates the lengths that people will go to in order to defend their religious belief and to avoid having to confront a range of assorted, multicoloured elephants tap-dancing in their living rooms. It should serve as a wakeup call to all of us to make sure that we aren’t similarly justifying the inexcusable within our own religious traditions.

 

The Sura, or Verse and its translation

The “Wife Beating Sura” is contained within the  fourth Sura of the Quran known in Arabic as “An-Nisa”, or “women”. It gains its name from the many references to women made in it. Having said this, the Sura is not simply about women, as it discusses issues of inheritance, orphans, children and marriage laws among others.

It is generally regarded as a “Medinan Sura” and therefore of being one of the later chapters to be revealed, most likely after Mohammed and his followers had been forced to migrate to Medina after fleeing persecution in Mecca.

The Sura itself is 4:34

[4:34] The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities, and made them the bread earners. The righteous women will cheerfully accept this arrangement, since it is GOD’s commandment, and honor their husbands during their absence. If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.

A fairly typical article in defence of it (written by a Muslim) can be found here.

I have used his preferred translation of the verse, but at the outset, I would point out that this is a very generous translation of the Sura. And despite this, the author has felt it necessary to include additional qualifiers that aren’t in the original text in brackets.

Thankfully, for us who don’t read Arabic, the Wikipedia entry on that verse contains alternate translations, none of which agree on the qualifiers and two which don’t include them at all. This demonstrates that making insertions aimed at changing the basic thrust of controversial texts is a common tactic of modern Islamic scholars, who want to make the Quran seem less threatening.

Interestingly enough, as I understand it, Islam generally holds that making modifications to the Holy Quran is blasphemy, but obviously not if it advances your argument.

In any case, these qualifiers are absent from the original Arabic text as are any indications that Allah is laying out a progression of events, rather than merely listing things to do to a rebellious wife in order of seriousness. For example M.K. Shakir translates the important section as “…those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in their sleeping places and beat them.” As can be seen, there is no hint of any stepped approach to the administration of punishment. It is simply a list of things to do.

 

The Submission of Women to Men in Islam

The first thing to note, is that the Sura relies on the assumption that a woman is the property and chattel of a man and that he can effectively tell her what to do and that she is required to submit to his decisions. If she fails to do so, she is being “rebellious” and Allah decrees that she may be punished for her transgression.

While this passage includes the expected submission of women to their husbands, the initial verse makes it clear that the submission required is much broader than that. Women are expected to submit to men as a category, not just to their husbands as individuals. Men are considered, “responsible” for women, in a way that treats them as if they were children.

This typifies the traditional patriarchal notion that women are inferior to men and not to be trusted with independent decision-making, or allowed to have any independent control over their lives.

Of course, in the 150 years since Western societies started actually letting women demonstrate their capabilities they have demonstrated exactly the opposite. While physically different, women are just as capable as men in every area that they set their minds to. Indeed over 100 years of psychological research has failed to find any evidence to suggest women are reliably inferior to men in any area. For a clear example of their ability one need to go no further than university graduations, were women consistently outperform men.

This last point is vital, as if god had ordained women to be inferior to men, science would have demonstrated this and proven it beyond doubt. Certainly, men and women are different, but neither is necessarily inferior to the other and thus the initial verse of the Sura is clearly wrong.

 

Domestic Violence: Where the Quran gets it wrong.

Irrespective of what the Quran says, spousal abuse is never acceptable. Regardless of the justification, beating any sentient, whether it be a person, or animal is wrong. Any god who claims otherwise, merely demonstrates that they lack the supposed attribute of being “good”. Even if the husband were to walk in on his wife cheating on him, he still does not have the right to attack, or physically abuse anyone. Certainly one could argue that doing so in such cases, would be understandable, but this doesn’t make it either moral, or virtuous behaviour.

The author of the article is overjoyed that “Abuse of a wife will not happen if the man learns to follow the clear commandments of God in this verse and in the order decreed. Abuse will only happen when a man does not follow these commandments, and thus fails to cool off and reason with himself or with his wife”.

Frankly this is a crock. As anyone with experience in DV will confirm, spousal abuse can occur without either partner laying a finger on the other. Psychological abuse is just as dangerous and immoral as physical abuse and perhaps even more so, because it is often not regarded as “abuse”. So, based on the fact that wives should not be rebellious, Sura 4:34 gives the husband a free hand to psychologically abuse his wife, as all he will be doing is “talking” to her.

Another reason that this is a crock, is that the threatened or implied threat of a beating is just as immoral as a beating itself. Intimidation, such as standing over the wife, slamming doors, throwing things and the like all are designed to remind the victim that failure to comply with the demands of the aggressor will result in these things happening to the victim, rather than the furniture. It isn’t subtle, but Sura 4:34 allows it, and indeed the reworked translation above encourages it in spades.

The author states that the “The theme of this Sura is to defend women’s rights, and countering injustice and oppression of women. Thus, any interpretation of verses in Sura 4 must be in favour of the women, not the other way around”. Sadly that is the author’s opinion and not contained within the Sura. Honestly read, Sura 4 puts women firmly under the control of the men with no way of breaking that control without going against the will of god. They either do what they are told, or face the punishment that Allah has ordained.

Even if one accepts the author’s argument that it gave women “rights that were first available to western women only a few decades ago, and some that still aren’t” (What that last is referring to I have no idea. I’ve read the Sura and can’t come up with anything), it still places women on the end of the male leash and a dog is still a dog, irrespective of how big the leash might be. The fact that Christianity and other religions, or cultures, have routinely supported the abuse of women is hardly a defence in favour of Islam also doing so.

The whole point of recognising the equality of women was to remove the leash, not merely make it longer.

 

Sura 4:34 vs the Ethical Principle

Clearly the author’s justifications of this text are a woefully poor excuse for the ongoing abuse of women. Even sillier it relies on the claim that a “believing” couple would never have any issues (conveniently ignoring non-physical abuse, as above) and that somehow this makes Islam somehow better than the alternatives.

But it doesn’t. In fact it merely demonstrates how its morality is in fact inferior to the Ethical Principle, “Act with Empathy”. If partners in marriage seek to understand the other, and treat them as they wish to be treated, domestic violence would not occur, as the partner doing the beating would have too much empathy for the suffering of his victim. To act with Empathy, one must accept the unstated premise that all people are equal and that none has any implicit, or arbitrary right to be considered superior to others.

Of course, a little empathy will probably reveal that most women would love to be banished from the bed of an obnoxious, violent partner. I can hear them screaming “punish me, punish me” all the way to the couch, where they settle in for a good night’s sleep free of fear and snoring.

Does anyone seriously believe that a Sura so lacking in basic empathy and compassion for the victims of abuse was dictated by a being even remotely worthy of being called god?

 

Obey me and my god, or go to hell!

Also, it is interesting to note that in an article addressing domestic violence, the author leaves us with a quite unsubtle threat:

We have to know that we are not in this world to protect unrighteous behavior. We are in this world to be given a last chance to make the right choice and submit to God alone. Making the wrong choices will have consequences for all of us, both in this world and in the eternal Hereafter, for women and men equally.”

In other words, obey me and my god, or you will go to hell for eternity!

I address the pointlessness of hell and explain why worship of the Hell God is a significant character flaw elsewhere.

For now, let me just say that this is one of the oldest, most insidious, and most effective weapons in the religious zealot’s arsenal, particularly once you entertain even the slightest possibility that it might be true.

Once you are hooked on this, fear will dominate your every waking moment and nothing they ask of you can be considered immoral. Every natural defence against acting unethically, your conscience, integrity, personal morality and even common sense, becomes overwhelmed by the pervasive threat of eternal agony and damnation. Even independent thought becomes immoral, and those who choose to Act with Empathy become the agents of Satan, or perhaps even Satan himself.

Of course, in a typically hypocritical manner the threat is followed by the clearly contradictory reminder that:

“God is the Most Just, the Most Merciful”.

 

Let me state things clearly: If Allah allows the subjugation and beating of wives by their brutish, ignorant and often far stupider husbands, he is far less just, far less good and far less merciful than even I and not worthy of any kind of worship.

 

Are you a victim of Domestic Violence?

Are you, or is someone you know suffering from Domestic Violence, or abuse? Are you, or is someone you know perpetrating Domestic Violence? If so, do not hesitate to contact one of the excellent support services available.

For Australians The Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria has an excellent and up to date list of contacts who can help.

For New Zealanders, the New Zealand Family Violence Clearing House lists contact numbers.

Safe Place Services also lists support line and website details for people in Australia and New Zealand

For people in the USA contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

For readers in the United Kingdom, Women’s Aid  support a network of over 500 domestic and sexual violence services across the UK

For people in other parts of the world, the Australian Domestic Violence Clearing House lists a whole raft of services both within Australia and Internationally.

Thin Skinned, Obnoxious Militants

LOL!!

It is always intriguing how insecure so many militant believers actually are. They are so happy to abuse and condemn others, but can’t handle anybody taking them to task for their inaccuracies, or routine obnoxiousness.

jesus-says-meme-generator-no-really-get-the-fuck-out-of-here-4090cfIf this is your immediate response to even mild criticism, then maybe you need to take a hard look in the mirror of life. 

 

A while ago, I was invited to a closed group of atheists on Facebook, run by one of these people. Despite not being an atheist (at least not by a definition that they would accept), I accepted the invite, because there is often some good discussion in these groups.

Turned out that I was wrong!

Today, the group’s Rather Obsessed Founder (ROF) posted a link hostile to Islam, which was commented on by someone who was obviously a Muslim (don’t know how he managed to get in!), to which ROF immediately posted an obnoxious reply to the effect that Mohammed was a pedophile and a terrorist.

Ironically, I had just posted my own reply to our Muslim friend, pointing out that while Mohammed was a pretty cool guy for his time, his “model society” was still significantly flawed, especially in its treatment of women.

So, I am hardly an apologist for Islam! I replied to ROF calling him out for being both needlessly rude and factually incorrect. Firstly, while Mohammed did consummate his relationship with his nine-year old wife, there is no evidence that he met the DSM-V definition for pedophilia, which requires “a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger.”

Secondly, while Mohammed engaged in the sorts of raids and warfare that is typical of tribal societies, he demonstrated considerable reluctance to go to war and sought to spare captives where possible. For example, when he entered and captured Mecca he did so at the head of a band of unarmed followers. There was nothing to stop his enemies slaughtering him, but he took the chance and in doing so avoided considerable bloodshed.

ROF then sought to tell me that he “calls it like it is” and is “brutally honest”, before posting a rather unimaginative picture of Jesus telling me to “get the fuck out of here” (see above).

I responded by calling him out yet once again, and pointing out that every ignorant, anti-social jerk hides behind the “call it like it is” and “brutally honest” catchphrases. I also pointed out that I wasn’t going anywhere, and if he was that insecure that he couldn’t cope with people disagreeing with him, he should simply eject me from his closed-group, nightmare utopia.

Which he promptly did! To add insult to injury (his not mine) he then proceeded to block me entirely from his Facebook experience.

It just goes to show that what is important isn’t what people believe, but how they behave. Here you have a guy who is so convinced that he is right and that everyone else is wrong, that he sees no problem in hurling his anger, frustration and abuse at perfect strangers, while demonstrating that he is incapable of handling the gentlest of criticism.

In all honesty, I don’t see any difference between people like ROF and many of the fundamentalist theists that he opposes and attacks. In both cases, these people have not only already made up their minds, but tied their entire self-worth into an external identification, whether it be as an atheist, Christian, Muslim, or whatever.

Apply even the smallest of challenges to this worldview and the result is an overwhelming attack and/or rejection, as the person feels the very core of their being come under attack. God help us if these people ever achieve political power.

Once again, I find myself wishing to express the sentiment that I believe that all people of goodwill can and should work together in order to achieve a win-win solution to the problems that plague our world.

People are people, irrespective of were you find them, or what they believe. Good and bad exists in every person and in every culture (although I do believe that some cultures are better than others, because they do more to promote values of tolerance, understanding and compassion) and our job needs to be to reach out to people who are prepared to work with us towards a better world, irrespective of what they happen to believe about the nature of ultimate reality.

While I routinely criticise the belief structures of others, when it comes down to it, I know that nothing I write is likely to change your mind and don’t really care what you believe, unless those beliefs are antithetical to my wellbeing, or the wellbeing of others. If your beliefs tell you to persecute, condemn and kill people who are doing no harm to others, then I have to say that I don’t regard you as a person of good will.

If you think it is OK to be an obnoxious jerk, or violent towards those who disagree with you, it matters little to me if you are an atheist, agnostic, or theist, because if you believe this, then you are the problem, not the solution.

Today’s experience was with someone who honestly seems to believe that he is the solution. I’m guessing that despite his thin skin and possible self-esteem issues, his self-image is of being on the “right side” and probably even a “good person” for standing up for “Truth”. Despite this, all he is actually doing is making the world a more hostile, angry and antagonistic place for us all.

Time for us all to recognise that our beliefs don’t define whether we are agents of Light, or Dark. None of us holds reality in the palm of our hands and we need to learn to work together and play nice with the other children if we are ever going to bring peace to our world.

Jesus, Ego, Truth and Compassion.

Today, I’ve decided to respond to some of the ideas inherent in an article posted to the ABC’s excellent “Religion and Ethics” page. The astute reader will notice that I am not really responding to the stated thesis of “What’s Love Got to do with It? The Politics of the Cross” by Stanley Hauerwas, but more to the the underlying assumptions. These are often shared by dogmatic religious types irrespective of whether they are Christian, Islamic, or something else entirely. Indeed, one could easily extend this analysis to all sorts of secular “isms” and insanities.

 

Christ on the Cross

Christ on the Cross by Rembrandt
(Image courtesy of The Louvre)

The crux of Hauerwas’ argument is probably as follows: “Is it any wonder that Jesus was despised and rejected? Is it any wonder when the church is faithful to Christ that she finds herself persecuted and condemned? Yet if such a church does not exist, the world has no alternative to the violence hidden in our fear of one another.”

Jesus and the Church are not one and the same. If one reads the Gospels properly, it can be seen that Jesus was a failed human being, much like the rest of us. He lost his temper and he got violent (John 2:14-17). He lied (John 7:6-10). He cursed – literally (Mark 11:12-25)! He made false prophecy (Matthew 16:28). He was intensely resentful of those who didn’t believe his message (Matthew 11:20-24). He arguably invented the “thought crime” (Matthew 5:27-28). He never claimed to be “100% God and 100% man”.

Like many mystics before and after (including myself), Jesus was aware of his own Divinity and aware that there was another way, but found it difficult to live the life to which he was called. It is simply impossible to translate all of the nuances, subtleties and contradictions of Transcendent Experience into the mundane reality of the “monkey suit”.

By way of example, the Church is often a controlling, secretive, dogmatic organisation that has, since its creation by Roman Emperors sought to wield political influence of the most sordid sort. Its history is less about “an alternative to the violence” and more about the exercise of brutal, aggressive power and sometimes farcical zero sum politics. It is condemned, not because it is “faithful to Christ”, but because it is anything but faithful to the highest ideals to which he aspired.

The modern Catholic Church continues to protect child molesters within its ranks and avoid taking responsibility for the great evil it has committed. With a celibate (although clearly not chaste) clergy, it is obsessed by the sexual choices of others. Until the recent arrival of Pope Francis, its main focus has been on two issues that Jesus never even mentioned: Homosexuality and abortion. Other Christian Churches are rarely any better than the Roman variety.

Hauerwas’ essay is evidence enough of the failure of both Jesus and the Churches that have hijacked his life and teaching for their own purposes. The writer finds himself incapable of letting go of the rigidity of Dogma and the zero-sum thinking of religious absolutism and so has to shoehorn the life of Jesus into the story he wishes to create. I can’t help but suspect that only a person of great insecurity, or lack of imagination would need to posit that “the world has no alternative” to his view of reality and that only his prophet is a true representation of an Infinite Divine. As if the Infinite contained only one path, or had only one story to tell!

Blessed (or perhaps cursed) with visions of Infinite Divinity beyond normal comprehension, it is far too easy for the mystic to become trapped in grandiosity and ego. When Jesus claims that “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”, Pilate rightly retorts, “What is Truth?” (John 18:36-38). In doing so, he is engaging not with cynicism, but with a question that is fundamental to any understanding of reality and one which the Church and other spruikers of dogmatic certainty would rather you simply didn’t ask.

Jesus accepts his mystical understanding as truth and lacks the wisdom to question that “truth”. He fails to understand that it is a truth for him alone and that it is impossible to communicate a genuinely spiritual experience to another: The first Disciple, is always the first Heretic. 2000 years later, the real Jesus is well and truly lost in time, while modern revisionists claim to know his very thoughts and to be able to divine his ultimate purpose!

The truth is that an honest examination of the whole life of Jesus, as described in the Gospels, represents a conundrum only to those who imagine him to be something he wasn’t. Yes, he was Divine, but only to the extent that we are all Divine. More importantly, for both good and ill, he was as human as us and the greatest lessons that we can learn from his life are lost if we forget this.

Matthew tells us that his last words on the cross were “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46), clearly demonstrating that rather than being “100% God”, this was a man who was experiencing the disillusionment and loss of faith as his mystical ideas and imaginings clashed with the brutal, painful, terrifying reality of his impending death. Those words were not spoken by a god about to realise his grand plan, but by a frightened man faced with the real possibility of oblivion and the collapse of everything that he had held dear in his life.

Jesus’ last words on the cross, his failed prophecies and his frequent demonstrations of hubris, should give a warning to those of us who share his mystical journey: The “Truth” that we glimpse within the heart of Transcendent Experience, is often not literal truth and we should resist the urge to impose our reality on those around us, lest reality bites back.

If we pretend that Jesus was God, then we are forced to deny his human failings and waste time and energy on apologetics that deny the plain truth of the Gospels. If we recognise that Jesus was only human, we are freed to accept him as he was. We can open our eyes and our hearts to the truth of his story and realise that history has been replete with mystical voices who have called us to a better way. Even more exciting, we can see the life of Jesus as an invitation to engage with our own Mystical journey and to connect with the Divine Reality that lies within the heart of each of us.

The ideals of compassion, mercy, love, justice, tolerance, sacrifice and courage (among others) are all present within the story of Jesus. But so too are they present within the lives of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius and thousands of other people throughout the ages. When we attempt to impose our reality on others, we inevitably destroy these very virtues, because when we believe ourselves right, and all others as wrong, we stop listening and deny empathy to the “other”; we become incapable of expressing the values we claim our God represents to any but our own.

Rather than working to prove our God’s “Truth” above all others, we should be working to connect with those who share our values and who share our vision of a better world irrespective of how their culture might happen to have packaged those truths.

I firmly believe that people of good will can find a win-win solution to the ills of our world and create a future of peace and harmony. But nothing sabotages good will and creates evil so quickly as the belief that everyone must conform to our view of reality and that people are evil and beholden to Darkness, simply because they believe differently.

The struggle between Light and Dark occurs both within and across cultures.

It is only by letting go of our own rigidity and by empathetically embracing the Divinity of others that we will ever be able to achieve the peace and prosperity that the people of our planet so rightly deserve.

PS: Happy Easter!

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.

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.