By EDMUND BROWN
In 2012, Imperial College London conducted a study that helped confirm the startling effectiveness of a new anti-depressant medication. Unfortunately, the medication is illegal. Commonly called “magic mushrooms,” these fungi are Schedule I controlled substances, considered by the law to have a high potential for abuse and no medical potential, despite an increasing number of scientific studies to the contrary. Scientists have defied the taboo against studying illegal drugs in 2012, pointing to important medical uses such as Ibogaine for Heroin addiction, LSD for alcoholism, ecstasy for PTSD and now mushrooms for depression.
But the state governments continue to maintain and sometimes strengthen their archaic drug laws, and the federal government plans to spend $26 billion funding the War on Drugs, a war waged in the face of multiple scientific reports exonerating cannabis and other substances. Federal prisons hold more than half of prison inmates for drug crimes and authorities incarcerate one million people per year for drug offenses. The problem clearly isn’t being solved. The War on Drugs has failed and continues to burden our economy. A new attitude towards drugs and policies based in facts and aimed at harm reduction should be sought.
This idea, which may sound like fantasy, was instituted in Portugal in 2001. Petty drug possession was decriminalized and the majority of drug offenses resulted in psychological therapy or fines, not prison time. Eleven years later, Portugal has seen their total seizure of illegal drugs rise and drug use among adolescents fall. It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement.
Scientific research suffers in an environment where the substances in question are illegal and only a handful of scientists have published findings. Johns Hopkins University in Maryland published two of these studies, finding mushrooms occasion spiritual experiences, the positive effects of which last up to 14 months. By continuing to repress further research in this field in any way, we suppress a wealth of potential for personal betterment and health.
Late Apple genius Steve Jobs serves as a testament to this personal betterment, calling LSD the second or third most important thing he did in his life. Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, spoke of LSD aiding in his research as has Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis. These substances hold the potential to accelerate scientific discoveries and better the human condition.
With medical marijuana legal in only 16 states and D.C., the movement toward an open and rational forum is meeting resistance. Society has accepted the use of alcohol and tobacco, despite the devastating consequences of misuse of alcohol or frequent use of tobacco. Tobacco claims 400,000 lives annually while 100,000 deaths per year are alcohol-related, and still we defend the right for people to accept the risk and choose to use these drugs. Rejecting substances with proven effectiveness at lowering the suffering caused by tobacco and alcohol defies reason.
By ignoring new facts about drugs, we accept the old commitment to eradicating any substance challenging the traditional world view, even when the enforcement of these policies leads to economic and personal destruction. Legislating social norms bodes disaster for our future. These laws could justifiably decree pre-marital sex illegal, as they have sodomy and gay marriage. Society must access all available political channels and prevent any one moral code from becoming law. Diversity of ideas and culture can only exist in a free society more interested in preventing harm than preventing change.