Tag Archives: mind altered states

A better tomorrow with drugs

Today’s repressive drug laws are at a dead end. The war on drugs harms society and citizens in a multitude of ways, of which I listed some in yesterdays blog post. Ironically it also prevents effective treatments for such things as addiction. But where can we go from here? Let’s imagine that all substances are legal. How can we organize the community to limit the damage and help addicts?

Legalizing all drugs would of course not mean that you could buy them next to the sweets at your local supermarket. And everything doesn’t just fall into place because they come under government control. There would probably need to be a combination of solutions, some of which already exist and others that don’t. Here are some possible parts to such a system.

State control.

hug me by jo marshall on Flickr
hug me by jo marshall on Flickr

In the current situation the entire drug trade is a black economy that is largely controlled by criminal organizations. If all substances were legalized they would become part of the regular economy, where it becomes possible to set up rules for manufacturing and quality control products. The substances would be provided with a table of content, just like any other commodity. The goods may additionally be provided with other labels, such as organic and fair trade.

Those working in the trade would have the same rights as other workers, would have the support of existing labor laws, would have the right to organize themselves into unions and would become tax payers.

Sales could take place within established models, such as the state control (pharmacies/tobacco sales) or as a state monopoly (in Sweden all alcohol is sold by the state run Systembolaget). Age limits could be imposed on substances and they could also be differentiated, so that one would have to be older to purchase some of the more potent compounds.

Taxing substances.

When drugs come under government control it is possible to steer people away from more harmful substances by levying heavier taxes on them. It’s would be easy to see which substances are economically costly for society and adjust the taxes accordingly.

Possibility to withdraw the right to use certain substances.

People should be able to lose their right to use certain substances if they commit crimes or harm themselves or others when they use them. I think it is strange that those who repeatedly get into fights drunk, drive intoxicated or get wasted on the verge of dying, still have the right to buy as much liquor as they can pay for.

When one shows that they aren’t able to handle a certain substance, it should be possible to revoke that person’s right to do so, in the same manner that one can lose ones driving license or license to practice medicine.

The possibility to exclude oneself from certain substances.

40+30 Tutorial by bark on Flickr
40+30 Tutorial by bark on Flickr

Many people are very aware of which substances they should not take. For example I know many who say they have no problem drinking beer, but go berserk if they drink hard liquor. It’s the same with all substances. What is pure bliss for one, can be hell for another. What one is able to take a couple of times a year without developing a craving for, another becomes addicted to after just a few doses.

But then again, many people know perfectly well what substances are dangerous for them. It could be made easy for them to take responsibility with the choice to voluntarily waive the right to use certain substances. They could also be able to set limits for themselves, by specifying how much of a substance they may purchase during a certain time period.

Many addicts will arrive at the point where they want to break free from their habit. During a certain period the window of change is open. The problem is often that they relapse because the substance will continue to be available to them. If they can exclude themselves from the right to buy certain substances, such as if an alcoholic does not allow him/herself to buy liquor, it would effectively help in the recovery process.

Licenses to handle certain substances.

With some particularly heavy drugs such as heroin, it would be possible to introduce a license allowing an educated person to handle the substance. For most substances it would probably be enough with basic education in school and a little everyday common sense, but with substances that carry serious consequences, it is important to be sure that those who use them have proper knowledge about risks and safety. The education for such a license may contain things like responsible management, how to use in a safe manner to prevent spread of infection, and how to deal with accidental overdoses. Such a license may be revoked if the person is irresponsible and for example sells substances to other people or uses them in an unsafe manner.

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In addition to the distribution itself – what can we do to get control of the situation regarding different substances?

Universal education in dealing with drugs and addiction.

I often wonder how drug education in schools can be allowed to be so absolutely worthless. The “education” is basically designed solely to scare people not to try anything. As a teenager I was an exchange student in the United States and the school that I went to worked in exactly the same way when it came to sex education. There was no information about STDs, contraception or sex. The whole message was only “you should not have sex until you get married”, and it was really crammed down the teenagers throats. It is a dangerous kind of indoctrination that creates ignorant and bigoted citizens, while increasing the actual risks.

Instead we should have a proper drug education, which includes such themes as:
∙ What is an altered state of mind and how you can you work with it?
∙ How to use drugs safely.
∙ What to do if you or someone else feels bad under the influence.
∙ How to manage an overdose.
∙ How to identify and get rid of substance abuse.

Use tax revenues for addiction treatment and prevention.

Libby hugging Tomoko by Loren Kerns on Flickr
Libby hugging Tomoko by Loren Kerns on Flickr

A legalization would generate tax revenue that I think primarily should go to addiction treatment and prevention. Even more money is now being spent on hunting, harassing and punishing people.

If we add a substantial part of those resources to create good addiction treatment, we will soon have the best addiction treatment the world has ever seen. Health care should be accessible and able to quickly help addicts who express a desire to receive care. Addiction is a disease and addicts should be treated as patients, not criminals.

There will always be addicts, but it is my firm belief that the addiction is to be found in the person – not in substance. People flee into abuse because they are fleeing from themselves, from the traumas they try to forget or from situations that are unbearable. Good prevention work builds on this understanding and aims to help people face themselves, help them process past trauma and to make their lives bearable. It helps them to stop fleeing and encourages them to take responsibility for their own lives. Much of today’s preventive work lacks this basic understanding.

Make substances available for scientific research, therapists, health care workers and healers.

There are many substances that are currently incorrectly classified as drugs with no medical value. This applies above all to psychedelics that are proven to be extremely effective in curing such things as addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress, empathy disorders and death anxiety. There are lots of stories about absolutely miraculous healing taking place with these substances, and they are at the same time very safe when used correctly.

Another substance that is being discussed greatly right now is cannabis and not only in its mind-altering form, but also as tinctures without the mind-altering properties. It is used with good results for such things as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, depression and end of life care. There seems to be some evidence that it also has cancer fighting properties.

These substances need to be made available to those who need the help and for the professionals who are working on this – from therapists, to regular health care workers, and also in alternative treatments. Today there are plenty of alternative therapists and traditional healers such as shamans, who have the knowledge and who have been passing it on for thousands of years. Here are exciting cross over’s to be made, when traditional methods of healing meet western medicine. Such work is already taking place. To fully take advantage of this scientific research needs to get started as soon as possible.

Making up for abuse committed by the state.

While the intention has probably been good, many people have been abused and badly treated under the current legislation. The current drug laws have stigmatized people, forced them into alienation, punished them, led people into a criminal lifestyle, actively withheld health care for sick addicts and has also led to many unnecessary deaths.

There is a need for redress and reconciliation. The very least the government should do is to apologize for the abuse that occurred under the current legislation.

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This blog post has been inspired by, among other things:
∙ A challenge from a friend who is a politician to show how legalization could work.
∙ The TEDx talk by James Leitzel that does just that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_Px4nYbJoQ
∙ Organisations and initiatives such as Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (http://www.maps.org/) and Transform (http://www.tdpf.org.uk/).

Main photo: Love by Nicola Romagna on Flickr

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“Why this need to be intoxicated?”

Why do people feel the need to be intoxicated?

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This is a question that I sometimes get from people who do not understand why others want to get involved with “drugs”. The question itself is revealing, because it is obvious that the person has alcohol as a reference, which limits their understanding of other substances. It is rarely clear in everyday conversation that “drugs” can have other uses than intoxication.

Intoxication is only one of several states that alcohol and drugs are used to achieve. To broaden the subject, I would rather use the phrase mind altered states. Why do people want to achieve altered states of mind? By changing the words I hope that it will be clearer that substances may have more to them than only intoxication.

But let’s still begin with the state of intoxication. Alcohol is the typical example of an intoxicating drug, because it has few other purposes. In small or moderate use it can work well as a social lubricant or as relaxation. At high consumption it is an excellent escape drug, which explains its high potential for abuse. There are a large number of drugs with similar characteristics, or that are at least used in similar ways – as intoxication, social lubricant or as an escape. Opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, some prescription drugs and cannabis, to name a few.

But what other altered states of mind are people who take different substances looking for? Speaking of cannabis, there has long been talk about the plants medicinal properties. Some medicinal properties can certainly be isolated so that you can get the medical effect without the altered state of mind, but in other cases the altered state is strongly linked to the medical effect. Cannabis is used to relieve chronic pain and difficulty coping with stress, to name just a couple of uses.

Another group of substances that is much more mind altering is psychedelics, also called hallucinogens or entheogens. With these I have experienced everything from extreme confusion to total clarity, but I have never felt intoxication to be a valid word for my experiences. From a Western medical perspective, these substances can be used as therapeutic tools. They might give me the opportunity to become aware of and release that which is restricting me, help me heal past trauma, give me insight into who I am, give me a sense of purpose and my place in the world. The question of why I choose to intoxicate myself becomes very strange, because I am working therapeutically with the substance in order to heal and grow. The abuse potential of these substances are remarkably low, since they typically raise your awareness in a manner which makes you want to quit any substance abuse.

Another place where virtually all cultures seek altered states of consciousness is in the spiritual. Some achieve it through prolonged meditation, others in intense dance, through drumming, singing, beating themselves, with yoga, in prayer, in ceremonies, sweat lodges, through sex, separated from the world, or in close, intimate contact with it. One of mankind’s oldest ways to connect with the higher divine is by plants, which is a tradition that we know is more than twice as old as the Bible, and probably many times older yet. There are a few scenarios where it might be relevant to talk about intoxication, but in most spiritual contexts the word intoxication is extremely inappropriate, as the goal is rather to open up to other realities, for example so one can be able to speak with nature, spirits, ancestors, angels and the highest divine.

I understand that I have not given an answer to the original question. I have rather tried to explain that there are several other reasons to take drugs than just to get intoxicated. If we seriously want to answer the question of why people want to get intoxicated, we first need to take a step back and make these distinctions. Otherwise there is the risk that we confuse abuse with use, medical use or spiritual exploration. It is not helpful if we actually want to understand why people get intoxicated.

In conclusion I should probably have a go at answering the actual question. I think of the word intoxication as being connected to the word escape, which in turn connects to the word abuse. Intoxication is a very narrow and limited way to use a substance; a way that suggests that the person is out of balance. People are trying to escape themselves for many reasons, but what these people seem to have in common is that they often lack the tools and/or the driving force to handle the situation differently. People who live their lives in a haze do so because they don’t understand how it could be done differently. To unlock the mechanism that makes people want to escape through intoxication, we first need to identify what the person is trying to escape from and then confront and come to terms with it. When the reason we want to escape is healed, we no longer have the urge to do so.

Main photo: Self portrait – Me and my right hand man by MattysFlicks on Flickr

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