The Psychedelic Revolution

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The Psychedelic Revolution

Jamaican 'Shrooms Anyone?   

Magic mushrooms (aka., 'shrooms, or psilocybin mushrooms), legal in Jamaica and a few other places in the world, likely will be legalized elsewhere soon. For a couple thousand dollars, one can spend a few days in a legal Jamacain retreat dedicated to altering your mind. The legalization of psilocybin and other psychedelics appears to be borrowing a page from the playbook used by alcohol and marijuana.

Alcohol and Marijuana

The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 was passed to prohibit the import and distribution of drugs derived from opium and coca except when medically necessary. The law did not apply those restrictions to cannabis (marijuana).  

Liquor became more restricted than other mind-altering drugs in 1920. The Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibited the manufacture, transport, or sale of intoxicating liquors in the United States. The Amendment was ratified in 1919 and took effect in 1920. Thus began the 13-year Prohibition during which the country went "dry" (wine used in religious ceremonies was exempted). The original intent of the amendment was to preserve grain to support the war effort during WWI but quickly transformed into a stimulus revitalizing the century-old temperance movement. 

Marijuana appeared in the crosshairs of legislative targets fifteen years later when Harry Anslinger was appointed the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Harry had a history of conflating drugs, race, and music. He was quoted as saying “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” and "...this marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and many others.” He believed jazz music was satanic and kept a file entitled "Marijuana and Musicians" as part of a planned nationwide dragnet of jazz musicians.

To publicize his point, Harry consulted 30 scientists hoping they would agree that cannabis was dangerous. Twenty-nine of the scientists said it was not dangerous. Harry latched onto the statement from the single scientist who agreed with him and announced that science supported the campaign against marijuana. The result was the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act prohibiting the individual possession or sale of marijuana and placing high taxes on any prescribed medical use. 
Green states have decriminalized marijuana but it remains illegal under federal law

Thirty-two years later, in 1969, the Supreme Court overturned the law. Congress responded the following year by passing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which assigns a "schedule" rating to drugs ranging from Schedule I (most restricted, no allowed medical use) through Schedule V (least restricted). The drug schedule remains in effect today although many drugs have been reassigned within, or dropped from, the schedule. Marijuana was, and remains, a Schedule I drug making it illegal nationwide. However, a number of states have since exercised their authority to decriminalize marijuana for recreational and/or medical use. Legalization that would align federal law more closely with state law presently is being debated in congress.

Magic Mushrooms and Other Hallucinogens 

Magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances are borrowing a page from the marijuana legalization playbook. Serious studies of the medicinal benefits of LSD, "magic mushrooms", and other hallucinogens are being conducted in hospitals, commercial research labs, and universities around the world. Of particular interest is psilocybin, the hallucination-inducing chemical found in over 200 species of magic mushrooms. Like marijuana, states and municipalities can decriminalize 'shrooms and certain other Schedule I drugs. A Santa Cruz, California woman unexpectedly just obtained a trademark registration for the brand name Psilocybin. The Santa Cruz City Council will be the first municipality in the nation to formally consider legalizing 'shrooms. 

The world's first psilocybin research center is about to open at the University of West Indies Jamaica. Unlike other research centers studying psychedelics, the Jamaican facility focuses only on psilocybin. The Canadian backers, Field Trip Ventures Inc., chose Jamaica because the magic mushrooms (among other hallucinogenic mushrooms) are sold legally and are readily available without navigating time-consuming regulatory obstacles. 

Psilocybin has profound long-lasting effects on the brain that, when administered in the right setting shows promise in treating alcoholism (and other addictions), PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, OCD, dementia, and has other positive health effects. 

Rewiring The Human Brain 

Psilocybin is attracting the most intense research interest because of its ability to induce new connections between neurons in the brain. Functional MRI (fMRI) research demonstrates psilocybin (and certain other entheogens) can create new pathways expanding the network of interconnected brain neurons, and even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.  

They can also make you hallucinate.
A Visualisation of the brain connections in a person on psilocybin (right)
and in someone given a placebo (left).

Johns Hopkins houses the largest psychedelic research center in the world but, unlike the Jamaican center, studies synthetic versions of hallucinogens. The University of West Indies concentrates on what mushrooms have to offer naturally in hopes of finding undiscovered psychoactive molecules. However, the Jamaican center hopes eventually to patent synthesized versions of therapeutically useful psychedelic drugs.

Other Hallucinogens   

LSD induces significant activity in the brain
Timothy Leary, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, brought LSD into public notice in the 1960s when both psilocybin and LSD were legal. Currently, there is no approved medical use for LSD but in 2016 research showed it had some potential benefits treating depression, anxiety, and drug dependence but remains illegal today.

MDMA (ecstasy)
In addition to Psilocybin, the FDA designated MDMA as having Breakthrough Therapy Designation (BTD). MDMA was shown to have significant advantages over other medications in treating PTSD. It is believed to interact with natural neurochemicals involved in fear extinction.

DMT (Dimitri)

DMT naturally occurs in a number of plants and is used in religious ceremonies in South America. While DMT alone is a Schedule I drug and therefore illegal, plants containing it are not regulated.

The West African plant iboga contains the hallucinogenic drug ibogaine. In small doses, it is a stimulant but is a potent psychodelic drug in larger doses. Ibogaine is regulated as a Schedule I drug. Historically, Gabon Africa boys entering manhood were given large doses of the drug as an initiation right in the Bwiti religion. After "tripping" for a day or two they were considered to be men.

Salvia (Seer's sage)
Salvia divinorum is used in religious and spiritual ceremonies by the Mazatec Shamans in Mexico. The drug induces visual and auditory hallucinations and is illegal in many countries and in many states in the United States. The federal government is considering regulating it as a Schedule I drug (therefore declaring to have no proven medical benefit).

The anesthetic ketamine used by doctors and veterinarians can induce psychedelic effects. Some clinical trials show promise for the treatment of depression. 


A variety of terms are used to describe the legal status of drugs in the United States. Pertinent laws exist at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels of government and are often differentiated using hyphens as in state-legal or federal-legal. At every level, laws are enforced by courts and law enforcement officials employed by the respective jurisdiction. For example, violations of city ordinances often are enforced by local police or traffic authorities and penalties within prescribed limits are determined by a municipal or city court where they exist. 

Generally higher levels of government (e.g., federal) supersede lower levels (e.g., state) but higher jurisdictions may defer, formally or informally, to a lower level. An example of an informal deferral was the 2012 Cole Memorandum that specified eight situations in which federal enforcement of marijuana laws would prevail over state laws (e.g., providing cannabis to a minor). The Cole memo did not carry the force of law but was respected at both state and federal levels. In 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo leaving the 93 US attorneys with greater discretion regarding enforcement. The ambiguous legal status of marijuana has yet to be resolved despite several congressional proposals. 

In practice, individuals and businesses operate according to state and local laws. In San Diego where I live, local marijuana dispensaries openly sell marijuana and edibles containing ratios of cannabis ingredients regulated by California law. Oakland, CA became the second city in the country (following Denver, CO) to decriminalized hallucinogenic fungi including Psilocybin. The steady trend in the US towards deregulating mind-altering drugs that have proven benefits is expected to continue. We can expect suppliers of mind-altering drugs, mentors, spiritual guides, and both profit and nonprofit organizations to proliferate in the future. Psychedelic microdosing is already prevalent in Silicon Valley and the Bay area in California.

Psychedelic Retreats

Image result for psychedelic retreatPsychedelic retreats are becoming a major tourist destination worldwide. Foremost among the retreats are those dedicated to psilocybin. European psilocybin retreats are most prevalent in Amsterdam and Jamaica dominates the western hemisphere closely followed by Mexico (illegal but not enforced). As of January 2020, there are nearly 30 worldwide organizations dedicated to psilocybin experiences. Many travel-oriented websites like Tripadvisor feature travel to legal psychedelic resorts.

Image result for psychedelic legalization

Many mind-altering drugs are increasingly showing medical and psychological benefits attracting investors and other commercial interests. Widespread commercialization of psilocybin and other psychedelics is inevitable. Netflix just launched "The Goop Lab,", a TV series highlighting the movement.

Post Script
After publishing this blog post I addressed the question: "is the recent surge of publicity surrounding the psychological benefits of psychedelic drugs unduly influenced by the pervasive commercial and entertainment appeal of the subject?" 

The answer is, yes, even in typically credible sources there is a tendency to cherry-pick that which sells and entertains while overlooking less dramatic experiences. Rather than tediously list qualifications to the messages in my blog post, an article published by Vice provides a good example of a counterbalancing view of psychedelic resorts and the "Magic" benefit of magic mushrooms. [Note: Vice Media leans slightly left politically but is rated high in factual content.]

The Four Oxen and the Lion

The Four Oxen and the Lion

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A LION used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them, but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

Aesop’s Fables (6th century B.C.)

The now-famous “...United We Stand” quote was first attributed to the Greek storyteller Aesop more than 2500 years ago. It famously surfaced in Patrick Henry’s last speech in 1799 when he stated, “United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs." Patrick Henry joined other Anti-Federalists to oppose the ratification of our Constitution fearing it put too much power in the hands of the federal government at the expense of individuals and states. Pressure from Antifederalists influenced the counterbalancing Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution protecting individual rights and limiting the power of the federal government).

The following year, John Adams stated “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."

In his farewell address, our first president, George Washington, warned that political factions within the government might claim to be fulfilling popular demands or prevent the government from taking actions provided for by the constitution in order to give such powers to corrupt men.

These founding fathers of our country clearly anticipated the very situation we are now experiencing. The fear was not, in my opinion, prophetic, it likely was a recognition of the tribal nature of human beings conflicting with attempts to employ 
a single written constitution to unite dissimilar peoples gathered from many tribes.

Today we face two potential crises. First, the Middle East remains close to the brink of war. Secondly, the recurring phrase "constitutional crisis" suggests we are testing the limits of the ability of our Constitution to fulfill the hopes of our country's founders.

Neither of these pending crises is unprecedented in our nation's history. Both can be attributed to our tribal nature; at times like this, there is a thin veneer separating us from our barbaric ancestors. Here I will only address the second possible crisis and address the more consequential topic of war in a blog post to follow as the Iranian situation becomes more clear.

Our Tribal Nature 

Previously I wrote that the outcome of our most recent national elections in part resulted from the tribal nature of humans. Polls revealed most voters in 2016 didn’t choose elected officials based on the stated policies of their own party. Instead, they voted for a member of their tribe.

Tribes initially evolved to protect resources necessary for safety and survival. Over time, states and nations naturally formed as geographical boundaries fenced together people having similar cultures, languages, religions and other affinities. Tribes coalesce for these very practical reasons but the cohesion of a group is further strengthened by specious behavior. A recent study comingled participants from both Republican and Democratic parties together and allowed them to get to know each other's expertise, education, political affiliation, and other characteristics. They were then encouraged to rely on each other for help performing non-political tasks, e.g., categorizing geometrical shapes. The subjects relied on the judgment of members of their own political party over the other more relevant attributes such as occupation, education, and experience.

Unlike most nations, the core of America (predominantly the Middle Colonies) was formed by members of more divergent tribes than existed elsewhere in the world including English, Dutch, Irish, French, Italians, Germans, Greeks, Swedes, Africans, Native Americans, and others. 

The Constitution was an unprecedented attempt to use pen and paper to unite into a single nation such a disparate collection of peoples. It was a bold effort to codify a set of values and rules we continue to use today to attempt to keep the “American tribe” united.

The US Constitution

The Constitution was not a document that merely codified a preexisting homogeneous culture; it was a document that was to establish a set of values Americans should adopt, and a definition of patriotism, “constitutional patriotism”, to which we were expected to pledge allegiance.

The United States Constitution was drafted to create a nation that could indefinitely: protect individual rights (
the Bill of Rights); 
avoid the concentration and perpetuation of power that England experienced under a single monarch (checks and balances between the co-equal executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government); and balance power between federal and state governance (separating the powers of the state and federal governments)

These principles sought to avoid the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation which allowed the original 13 colonies to print their own money, draft their own constitutions, and otherwise render the federal government impotent. The colonies had begun to function as if they were separate nations.

Constitutional Crisis

Disagreements about political, social, and economic affairs have existed in families, tribes, and communities of all sizes throughout history. Mechanisms ranging from democratic to authoritarian, from peaceful to violent, have historically been used to resolve differences within and between opposing groups. Our country’s founders understood human nature and the history of civilization well enough to create mechanisms that were intended to survive unanticipated advancements in technology and the human environment. 

Yet we are, for the first time in my memory, legally and politically testing the viability of the Constitution and our democracy. Today, the two dominant political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, are divided by disagreement over the same issues that were debated by the colonies.

Republicans leadership feels individuals are excessively regulated, executive power is overly restricted by the other two co-equal branches of government, and states are overextending their authority.

Democratic leadership believes the government should restrict individual behavior for the greater good, presidential power needs to be checked, and states have a right to protect and manage their own social and physical environment. 

But the emotional investment in one's party seems to be more intense and more divisive than during the past few decades due to social, cultural and technological changes not anticipated by our founders. Promoting the discord are a number of issues that didn't exist when the Constitution was written.

Social Media

Technological changes including radio, television, and the Internet has greatly impacted our political and social environments. But I put social media in a different category. The First Amendment guarantees our free speech with a few exceptions (threats, obscenity, inciting violence, perjury, etc.). It does not prohibit making untrue statements or promoting "conspiracy" theories which, unlike media in the past, can instantly spread through social media to millions of people instantaneously. 

Confirmation bias is evident in “echo chambers” that media promotes by disseminating both true and untrue opinions mixed with facts. Readily available tools like photoshopping, copying and editing, and DIY design tools allow the average computer user to create modified versions of otherwise legitimate newspapers, magazine covers, photos, videos, and other public displays. It has become nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction even with ready access to fact-checking services. In the end, it is easy to confirm things one wants to believe and avoid or disregard contrary information.

News Bias

    Media Bias Chart 2018

In the early 1960s when I became eligible to vote and therefore politically aware, journalists developed reputations based on the ability to report factual accounts of important events in a timely manner. I generally accepted the news as true though I was aware of propaganda that might be promoted by our adversaries. That has changed dramatically. A few decades ago previously "legitimate" news outlets began to promote selective information that was designed to appeal to political attitudes of their respective audiences. As with social media, confirmation bias isolated audiences to exclude those who were not of the same persuasion. Today, it is likely that a news consumer rarely sees or hears news that contradicts one’s prior beliefs, nor is opinion clearly separated from fact, and emotionally charged views are more entertaining than plain facts (entertainment has become the money faucet for most media).

Mingling opinion with news has very effectively achieved its goal. According to a recent study, 
75% of the members of the two major parties believe that members of the opposing party assert facts (not just opinions) that are incorrect.

For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y made a joke about cow flatulence polluting the air. After the joke was filtered through Fox News and passed on to Donald Trump, he made a joke at an El Paso rally “...let’s hop a train to California,’ where you're not allowed to own cows anymore!” which was in turn reported by another news outlet that claimed “...Democrats want to ban the ownership of cows.

Liberal news is guilty of spreading misinformation as well. Left-leaning Time magazine erroneously reported in 2017 that Trump had removed the bust of Martin Luther King from the oval office. Other left-oriented news outlets repeated the story as evidence of racial bias. In fact, the story originated from an image of the bust that had been blocked by a reporter standing in front of a photo of the oval office.

Other examples: a recent poll revealed that 51% of Republicans believe Obama was born in Kenya. 
And MSNBC “Hardball” host once erroneously claimed Mitt Romney was a “flat-earther” who denies evolution.

The proliferation of fact-checking sites is a testament to how news has been weaponized in our current political environment. And the “info-weapons” have muddled reality sufficiently to allow absurd “facts” to surface even in election campaigns. One Democratic candidate claimed Trump had posthumously pardoned cult leader Charles Manson., a fake-fact that originated in a publication known for its satire.



The word, gerrymandering, has been around since 1812 when the Governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, signed a bill that created a very partisan voting district in Boston that resembled a salamander. The concept is much older than that and the practice is evident in some form in a couple dozen countries. The practice of gerrymandering in the United States traditionally has been a tool used by political parties to distort the intended effect of the Fifteen Amendment. It draws district lines that fence voters into fragments (called “cracking”) or concentrations (called “packing) that favor one party or the other, often based on differences in voting patterns of various ethnic groups. in state and federal elections. The impact of gerrymandering is to replace individual votes (majority voting) with district representatives. Specifying the populations to be represented is performed following the decennial census based on population changes over the preceding 10 years.

In 2004 the Supreme Court did not agree to take up a case argued by the Democratic Party claiming that the underlying gerrymandering deprived the citizens of the country the one-person, one-vote principle of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution following the 2000 census. Predictably the partisan use of gerrymandering accelerated following the 2010 census causing an emotionally-fueled increase in partisan divisions.

Digital technologies coupled with data shared by social media and sophisticated statistical polling enhanced the surgical precision with which gerrymandering could be weaponized. The level of detail with which small communities of voters can be analyzed and manipulated today is unprecedented. Today, Facebook's Vice President, Andrew Bosworth, acknowledged that Facebook tipped the election to help Trump win, not by manipulating posts but because the GOP made much more effective use of its advertising. 

The Electoral College

Following the 2016 presidential elections, I wrote “All 50 states elect governors based purely on the popular vote. We chose not to do so with our presidential elections. Had we done otherwise, a few federal elections and many state elections would have turned out differently. Why did the founders of our country construct the electoral college to displace the popular vote?” My answer is found here. In summary, I listed three motivations our forefathers eventually accepted: 1) our country would benefit in splitting Congress to balance population (House of Representatives) with geography (Senate); 2) with limited access to information across the nation, the population would not have the knowledge (or intelligence) to make informed decisions; and 3) the sharp division between the north and south over slavery forced a compromise giving slaves a vote less than equal to that of the “regular” folks. The latter two motivations are not relevant in today’s world but the electoral college has been too powerful a partisan tool for either party to abandon.

Partisan Identity

Partisan differences are not new; today’s partisan divide had equally contentious precedents. Historically the hostility between the Federalists (mostly urban dwellers) and Anti-federalists (mostly rural farmers) likely was just as great.

The Anti-federalists, promoted by Thomas Jefferson, vehemently opposed ratifying the Constitution, fearing corruption would allow the president to consolidate power that would lead to a tyrannical government like the one they had just escaped. They further argued that the legislative and judicial branches of government would be vulnerable to an extension of executive power into the courts and legislative process. They also were concerned that the vast rural areas in the west were so remote and sparsely populated that it would be difficult to consolidate political power to combat the more concentrated Federalist power in the heavily populated regions. Their biggest fear, however, was the likely erosion of individual liberties.

The Federalists, promoted by Alexander Hamilton and wealthy bankers in the urban areas, believed only a strong and financially sound federal government could compensate for the perceived weaknesses of democracy. In addition, Federalists favored a constitution open to interpretation to allow the federal government to accommodate changing conditions. When the Federalists lost executive power at the beginning of the 19th century, their judicial power was largely preserved for three decades under Chief Justice John Marshall underscoring the importance of the durability of the appointments to the Supreme Court which persists today.

Slavery and the civil war caused a partisan divide that perhaps was the most emotional and certainly the most violent political divide in our history yet our union survived threats of succession (in 1869 the Supreme Court found that states did not have the right to unilaterally succeed from the United States). The union was mended in part by adding the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) to the United States Constitution.

Some argue that political unrest during the 1960s was at least as great as today ( e.g., civil rights protests, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of President Kennedy). However, others argue that, as a whole, we were less emotionally invested in our differences in the past than we are today; partisan identity seems to many to be more important today than partisan issues. Some social research supports this view (personally, I don’t recall such prevalent splits between friends and family over “inter-party” disputes, for example).

Reasons for Pesimissism

1. Money (particularly campaign financing) speaks louder today and political power is a money faucet turned higher by the Citizens United decision. 

2. Beginning with Ronald Reagan, popular entertainment celebrities and reality TV personalities have become credible political leaders who are adept at using populist rhetoric to manipulate public emotions and deflect substantive criticism.

3. From the Supreme Court down through lower-level state judges, courts are increasingly partisan largely due to both Democrats (2013) and Republicans (2017) implementing the "nuclear option", a gimmick that is now being employed manipulate procedural technicalities to reduce Senate confirmation of federal judges, (and more recently, Supreme court judges) from 
a 60% vote to a 51% vote. 

4. Social and Psychological research affirms a partisan “core” that increasingly unites people in terms of trust, credibility, emotional bonds, respect, and other non-political factors and, like magnets, like cores attract and opposite cores repel).

Collectively, we are families, communities, and a nation united under the guidance of a paper document written 230 years ago. Considering the magnitude of changes in communication and transportation technologies, world population, and boundaries influenced by wars and fluctuating political tides, it’s not surprising that the founding documents designed to unite us as a nation are increasingly corroding with the passage of time and the attendant evolution of civilization

Reasons for Optimism

We have no unambiguous name for our form of government though we frequently describe it with adjectives like democracy and republic, or phrases like "by the people" and "majority rule". Our federal government is not elected by a majority vote of all its qualified voters. Our governmental structure is flexible within the vaguely defined limits of our Constitution and its amendments but has been bent but not broken by stresses like a civil or foreign war, domestic unrest, or blending all races and cultures together on our land. In essence, we are resilient, if not always united, people. We may be experiencing the greatest division in political perspectives in our memory but in the context of our nation's history, it is likely that today's turmoil will take its place alongside other equally divisive periods as a historical footnote.

Our founding fathers initially were united by a single objective: we must not be governed by a monarchy. Our constitution will be amended and reinterpreted, state and federal laws will change, and we each will adapt to changes with which we disagree, but we will not become a monarchy and no dynasty will be perpetuated. We may be experiencing the greatest division in political perspectives in our memory but in the context of our nation's history, it is likely that today's turmoil will take its place alongside other equally divisive periods as a historical footnote.

To accomplish the goals of our Constitution, we must righteously adapt to the changes our forefathers did not anticipate. 1) Rather than restrict or constrain modern tools and technologies, we should employ them scrupulously to debate and promote our respective positions on the issues before us. 2) Regardless of our political affiliation, we must not separate into isolated corners of our pasture and risk losing our government of the people, by the people, and for people