Sometimes I feel the need to make sense of our society’s drug policy. For a brief moment in the ’60s (or so I’ve heard, having not made my entrance into this world until 1970) there was a subculture of people experimenting with altered states of consciousness, often induced chemically. But besides that, we have all kinds of factions fighting against each other, none of them going anywhere except to hell in a handbasket: the “cool” drug counterculture, the illegal drug making/selling economy, the drug war economy, the poor souls fighting addiction, the puritan idealism that inevitably adopts a hypocritical position of condemning some chemicals utterly while accepting others without question, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, etc.
Okay, well, the legalized industries are doing fine. But we often excuse their products as harmless, though in the last few decades we have been leaning the other way with alcohol and tobacco.
But we still allow people, including children, to walk around souped up on caffeine and sugar and few of us recognize these effects as altered states. (I don’t know about you, but the most positive and productive I am all day is the hour or so when I’m flying on my morning caffeine fix.) We are only just beginning to see them as powerful. And our inevitable response seems to be to condemn them.
Are we capable of a more intelligent handling of the issue?
No matter where we stand on whatever drug issue, legal or otherwise, we all seem to be operating under the same common assumption: altered states are secretly fun, to some degree dangerous and always carry at least a small stigma of shamefulness. Even with coffee, aren’t we addicts all at least a little sheepish when admitting our fixation? Sobriety is held as the ultimate righteous state.
But might altered consciousness be something humans need? Is it ever beneficial? We might admire a Native American peyote ceremony for the soul searching and mystical insight it provides, but none of us is allowed to do it. How would someone’s reputation change in your eyes if you found out they’d done acid?
We allow, “I was just experimenting in college” and “I didn’t inhale.” We’ve gotten to where we allow people to be reformed users, like George W., for example.
But for someone to be a respected member of mainstream society who proves their worth on a daily basis and is also a known pot smoker? Nope.
We all have understandable fears based on anecdotal evidence of some type of chemical destroying someone we know and/or love. We may even decide to buck the present trend and be against alcohol consumption. But cars and motorcycles maim and kill lots of people, and isn’t that an altered state for a lot of people? The power, speed, independence, road rage, status symbol possession… Most of the time we drive in a fairly sober, utilitarian manner, but who among us doesn’t ever floor it or take that corner just a little faster than necessary? We definitely are not in our natural state, feet on the ground, head surrounded by sky. Our heavy metal boxes put us in a certain frame of mind.
But we would never dream of outlawing them.
Our tv watching puts us in an altered state, a passive, drooling spectatorship. How are the hours wasted and life energy atrophied away any different in front of the tube than passed out with painkillers?
Okay. Granted they are different. I’m just being dramatic in an attempt to make the point that we try to avoid sobriety in many different ways, some of them demonized as too dangerous and others labeled as simply “entertainment” or “transportation” or “java” some other moniker that makes them untouchable.
What would happen if we said, yes, we need to escape. Yes, grownups are going to be allowed to choose their method of altering with no legislating and then they will be held responsible for any consequences of their choices. The pluses and minuses of every method could be discussed freely. We could openly admit that lots of things we do everyday, even something so innocuous as having a drama queen fit, are forays out of our “right minds.” We could talk without shame about what we are looking for outside of our sobriety, about what we find there.
Or should we just continue to behave as though stone cold sobriety were the only way to be, ever. That there is no time or place for getting out of your head or your day to day perspective, unless perhaps you choose Zen meditation, prayer, yogic breathing. Newsflash — these things are seen as a little bit crazy, too. Innocuously so, but nevertheless.
I hope this article did not induce any sort of altering in the reader’s awareness of reality as they’ve always assumed it to be — any effects of change in point of view, feelings of lightheadedness or hallucinations were purely unintentional. Unless you go for that sort of thing. In which case, you’re welcome.