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The Argument for Legalizing Psychedelics - Part 1: Cognitive Liberty and Creativity

Hank Pellissier

Ethical Technology

May 25, 2015

Marijuana is increasingly being legalized; there are presently ten nations that have either decriminalized cannabis, or are moving rapidly in this direction.

Will psychedelics - psilocybin, LSD, peyote, ayahuasca - soon follow?

Multiple arguments exist for legalization; this essay will examine two via an interview with Dale Bewan, author of Dropping Acid: A Beginner’s Guide to the Responsible Use of LSD for Self-Discovery and essays, such as Sex Drugs and Rock n Roll: The Many Faces of LSD Research Dale lives in Hannover, Germany with his wife and two young children.

Why do you believe psychedelics should be legalized?

Dale Bewan: For me, the biggest argument is that of cognitive liberty.  A person should be free to alter their consciousness in any way they see fit and for any reason.

Personally, I like to use psychedelics to work through problems, to inspire myself, and to just enjoy the altered state in and of itself. 

What about safety?

Dale Bewan: People enjoy doing dangerous things. Jumping out of a plane with a parachute that might fail is dangerous.  Traveling at high speed down the side of a mountain with a board strapped to your feet is dangerous.  Climbing cliffs without climbing gear is dangerous.  But none of these things are illegal, because if you screw up, the only person you harm (directly) is yourself.  The safety profile of most psychedelics is much better than these activities, yet traditionally, the argument against all recreational drugs - psychedelics included - is that the danger is the reason they’re illegal.  This makes absolutely no sense.

What are the benefits of psychedelics, in your experience? 

Dale Bewan: Psychedelics provide the user with an altered perspective of themselves and the universe.  One of the main effects is to reduce the “sense of self”, opening the mind up to perceive aspects of themselves from a ‘third person’ point of view; objectively analyze situations in themselves and their lives; and - conversely - place themselves in a different subjective view in these same situations. 

The many “side effects” of this are increased wisdom through the additional viewpoints; increased self-knowledge through objectivity; a sense of unity through the reduced sense of self; and peace of mind through a better understanding of stressors in the person’s life.

Creativity has been objectively measured to be improved with psychedelics, as shown by the work of Dr James Fadiman and others.  I personally find that the elements of creativity that psychedelics help me most with are those where I need “a fresh perspective”.  I am a software developer, and if you were to ask me to write code while on 200µg of LSD, I’d probably produce some very poor results.  However when I think about the larger picture with the structure of the application and how the components all interact with each other, I can often optimize or improve on my existing designs

For me, the most useful results in creativity and problem solving come from LSD.  This is mostly because I find myself the most ‘clear headed’ on LSD compared to other psychedelics.  I personally find psilocybin to have a level of confusion that I don’t get as much with LSD. That said, I hear reports from others that they find LSD to be ‘confusing’ while for them psilocybin is clearer.  I would say it’s perhaps a matter of personal preferences and brain chemistry.

I personally believe psychedelics hold one of the greatest potentials for human improvement.  This is simply because in most endeavors the person holding us back the most is usually ourselves.  Psychedelics… can give us the insights necessary to let us achieve our potentials in life.

What nations do you think are next to legalize drugs? 

Dale Bewan: I feel we’re at a tipping point in our global society and that things will start to ‘snowball’ soon. New Zealand’s psychoactive substances act is very interesting… even quite conservative countries such as Germany are beginning to talk more about marijuana legalization. 

Portugal’s model is very nice from a public health perspective as well as a peace of mind perspective for users.  Treating drugs as a health problem rather than a criminal problem helps everyone in the long run.  I don’t believe however that it’s a step towards legalization in any meaningful sense.  They are essentially saying that these substance are and should remain “not acceptable” from a societal standpoint, and are drastically improving their handling of it. 

The Netherlands model - while it has many flaws - seems better to me in that it’s a societally more accepted model.  I can walk in to my favorite smart shop in Amsterdam and pick up 25g of psilocybin truffles, take them, and walk around enjoying the beauty and majesty of that beautiful city without ever having to worry about being looked down on by the society as a whole (of course, some individuals still will; but that is true of nearly any activity).

Why do governments fear drug usage? 

Dale Bewan: As Hanlon’s Razor goes, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.  I honestly believe that most governments aren’t evil, they’re just horribly misinformed.  These people have spent their lives hearing nothing but bad things about drugs and drug users and their views have been shaped accordingly.  Any time an individual tries to speak up, they are shouted down by the staunch believers in the misinformation; or occasionally even by those who do have other interests at heart (sometimes, stupidity isn’t a valid explanation and thus malice is back on the cards). 

Should a variety of recreational drugs be legalized, there are several large organizations with significant influence to the government that stand to lose a lot.  The alcohol industry, the pharmaceutical industry (most recreational drugs’ patents expired long ago), and even police forces and private prisons stand to lose income and standing from the legalization of recreational drugs.

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


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