Monday, March 23, 2015

Drugs or Culture?

          After an entire day of sitting in one room listening to lectures, the last thing you want to hear is that there is a lecture scheduled for after dinner as well. And yet that was exactly what our schedule looked like on our second day at the Las Cruces Biological Station. That evening, as we filed back into the classroom after dinner, the thought running through everyone's heads was simple: let's hope this is quick so we can finally relax. Moments after entering, however, that exhaustion slipped away and was replaced by curiosity mixed with excitement and a little bit of trepidation. The first slide was titled “Psychoactive plant use” and filled with colors in a manner which can only be described as trippy. The lecture proceeded to define words I've only ever heard thrown around colloquially, such as psychoactive, hallucinogenic, and psychedelic, and to discuss a variety of plants, their properties, and their current and historical uses. We learned how Shamans in the Amazon believe that Ayahuasca allows users to see the plant spirits coming alive in the forest. We learned how Iboga in Africa causes a frightening hallucination that is believed to connect users to their ancestors. And we learned how the Spanish conquistadors outlawed the peyote cactus to break the connection between the indigenous peoples and their gods.

         Drugs, in our time and especially in our place in life, are something which we are going to have to face. As an American college student, it is inevitable that I will encounter people who use and abuse drugs. But I've never considered them in the context of spiritual gateways or as ways to connect with a deity. The connotations around these substances in our society are clear. Adolescents may choose to experiment with illicit substances, but under no circumstances are they beneficial or important aspects of a cultural worldview.

         This stigma against hallucinogenic plants and drugs in general causes a dangerous lack of research into these important topics. I can feel this stigma just writing this blog post and knowing that there are people who are going to judge me for choosing to use my free writing to talk about drugs. But in our day in age I think we need to work past this stigma. Drugs are becoming increasingly dangerous because current regulation systems aren't stopping their use and are only serving to push them underground where the practices surrounding them are dangerous. At the very least we need research into the effects of these substances so that we can speak educatedly about them instead of just speaking from our fears and culturally engrained beliefs. Hallucinogens have been around forever. It's unrealistic to believe they are going to disappear now, so we might as well accept it and work with the system instead of against it.

Krcmar, Rachel

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