Hallucinogens reborn

Acid-tripping artist’s rendition/Wikimedia Commons

Hallucinogenic drugs – once the target of a large and well-organized disinformation campaign started by the government and supported by the country’s mainstream media – are continuing to make a comeback as a potential treatment for various mental health issues.

DMT, a cousin of LSD, is the latest of these drugs to be identified as useful in helping battle depression.

London-based Small Pharma this week reported the first placebo-controlled study of the drug showed a “rapid and durable response” in treating depression with a statistically significant, 7.4 point advantage over placebo with no serious “drug-related serious adverse events reported. All adverse events related to treatment were considered mild or moderate.”

DMT, commonly known on the black market as fantasia or the businessman’s acid, was mainly known as “a widely popular party drug due to its short-lasting effects and out-of-body experiences,” the Healing Maps website reported in 2021.

The drug, it noted, “falls under the same tryptamine family, acting as serotonin and inhibiting those receptors in the brain,” but differs from LSD as the latter “is also a rave drug for long-lasting parties with acid trips lasting as long as 12 hours.”

Once portrayed as a gene-altering drug that would produce birth defects in the children of those who used it, which led to its being banned by the government, LSD is also back under study as a valid, medical treatment. The genetic claims were largely debunked by the late 1970s, but the government’s virtual ban hung on for decades after.

Research into the use of hallucinogens in medicine was considered all but impossible for more than 50 years. That didn’t begin to change until 2018 when  the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it was “streamlining” the process for permitting medical research into the use of “Schedule I drugs…defined as drugs, substances, or chemicals with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, such as ecstasy or LSD.”

Dr. Timothy Leary had 56 years earlier made a strong case that there were sound medical uses for LSD and similar drugs only to be crucified by a national media then dominated by the press. Buffalo State College professor Jessica Bracco in 2019 wrote a history of the Leary years aptly titled “The United States Print Media and its War on Psychedelic Research in the 1960s.”

It’s a cautionary tale about the confluence of media, medicine and government, as well as a warning about listening to scientists conspiring to play the media like a harp.

Moral panic

The mainstream media in the 1960s was a key to igniting the “moral panic” that led to passage of the “Dangerous Drugs Act” which made it a felony to take, sell, possess, or manufacture so-called “psychedelic drugs.”

“Moral panics,” as the University of Southern California’s Karen Sternheimer has described them, “are widespread fears or concerns that something – or some people – pose a grave threat to the moral fiber of a society. These fears are fanned by crusaders who work extensively to raise public awareness about the threat. Sociologist Howard S. Becker called these crusaders “moral entrepreneurs”; while crusaders may not necessarily profit from the advancement of their cause, it often consumes much of the crusader’s time and energy.”

The propaganda war waged against alcohol in the U.S. in the “Progressive Era” was at the heart the country’s most famous moral panic.  It resulted in a constitutional amendment banning alcohol and the beginning of what came to be called Prohibition. Prohibition lasted from 1920 until it was overturned by a vote of the people in 1933. It is now considered to be one of the biggest, manmade disasters in American history.

As the filmmaker Ken Burns would come to describe the Prohibition era in a documentary for PBS, Prohibition supporters did not expect the cascade of ill events that followed their well-meaning success in outlawing the devil rum.

“When the law went into effect, they expected sales of clothing and household goods to skyrocket. Real estate developers and landlords expected rents to rise as saloons closed and neighborhoods improved. Chewing gum, grape juice, and soft drink companies all expected growth. Theater producers expected new crowds as Americans looked for new ways to entertain themselves without alcohol. None of it came to pass.

“Instead, the unintended consequences proved to be a decline in amusement and entertainment industries across the board. Restaurants failed, as they could no longer make a profit without legal liquor sales. Theater revenues declined rather than increase, and few of the other economic benefits that had been predicted came to pass.

“On the whole, the initial economic effects of Prohibition were largely negative. The closing of breweries, distilleries and saloons led to the elimination of thousands of jobs, and in turn thousands more jobs were eliminated for barrel makers, truckers, waiters, and other related trades.

‘The unintended economic consequences of Prohibition didn’t stop there. One of the most profound effects of Prohibition was on government tax revenues. Before Prohibition, many states relied heavily on excise taxes in liquor sales to fund their budgets. In New York, almost 75 percent of the state’s revenue was derived from liquor taxes. With Prohibition in effect, that revenue was immediately lost. At the national level, Prohibition cost the federal government a total of $11 billion in lost tax revenue, while costing over $300 million to enforce. The most lasting consequence was that many states and the federal government would come to rely on income tax revenue to fund their budgets going forward.”

The disaster of Prohibition would not, however, and did not stop social warriors and the media from trying to launch other moral panics. Prohibition hadn’t even ended when a campaign was begun against the “evil weed” marijuana.

“Mother Sacrifices Children, Home, Reputation for Dope,” the San Fransisco Examiner headlined on Feb. 27, 1930 above a story that began with the claim “it’s the old story over again, a woman of position and reputation, sinking into the mire of Dope Slavery. A good home, a good husband, two lovely children, a fine circle of devoted friends, all thrown aside like so much rubbish just for the sake of “Dope.” This time the scene of the tragedy is Oakland, California. A year or so the very same thing happened in New England, and everybody in Chicago of any consequence knew the two highly educated club women who went through the same hideous torment and died in disgrace.”

More such reportage would follow as journalists did what they sometimes seem to do best: run like a pack of wild dogs.

The now infamous film “Reefer Madness,” portraying marijuana as an entry drug that leads young people into crime, arrived in movie theaters in 1936, and in 1937 the Marihuana (sic) Tax Act, effectively made that drug illegal across the United States. The act was held unconstitutional 32 years later but the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 promptly declared marijuana again illegal.

Another propaganda war – America’s War on Drugs – was just then beginning and continues to this day though it has been shown to be little more effective than Prohibition. On the 50th anniversary of this war in 2021, CNBC reported that the country had spent more than $1 trillion on the war; stuffed U.S. prisons with drug-law offenders, most of them black men; and done little or nothing to stem the tide of illegal drug usage.

Drug overdose deaths set a U.S. record in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control, having “risen fivefold over the past two decades.”

Despite the pattern of failure, the media everywhere, including in Alaska, continues to essentially promote every big drug bust as a victory in much the same way the vast majority of media parrotted government “body counts” of enemy dead as a measure of success in the Vietnam War up until the Tet Offensive of  1968.

Fingers on the keys

Journalism’s role in influencing the American populace – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse – in all of this cannot be ignored.

Brittanica – the website for the encyclopedia that was the Google of its day – put the finger squarely on an ” eager news media” for the 1937 ban on marijuana. It was the same story in Vietnam right up until it wasn’t.

As Henry Rhodes, an educator involved with the  Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. has observed of his high school years, there was a time when he  “started to notice articles in the local paper concerning the Vietnam War. The articles portrayed the U. S. (the good guys) fighting to stop communism (the bad guys) in Vietnam. I never once questioned the writer’s objectivity or whether or not the facts that were reported were accurate. My perception, values, and attitudes about the Vietnam War were being based on what I read in the local paper and saw on television.

“As the war came to an end and the truth about Vietnam started to emerge, the anger and mistrust I felt towards the American government was unbelievable. I felt as though I had been betrayed by the American press, whose integrity and objectivity I had thought was beyond reproach.”

It isn’t. The media is often led around by the nose and regularly tries to initiate moral panics, as the Anchorage Daily News has several times tried to do with alcohol, or as some might argue the entire national media did with masking at the peak of the pandemic.

There was never any real evidence to support the idea that mandatory public masking everywhere would slow the spread of the disease, but the mainstream media was quick to gloom on to the CDC’s pitch that “masking is a critical public health tool and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask.”

The highly respected  Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota was warning against this policy almost from the beginning, and largely just taking heat for its stand that “laboratory studies…indicate cloth masks or face coverings offer very low filter collection efficiency for the smaller inhalable particles we believe are largely responsible for transmission,”

Those small particles – so-called “aerosols” – were for more than a year dismissed as carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a favor of larger particles called “droplets,” which could be captured in dramatic photographs. Aerosol transmission has since come to be widely accepted. It helps to explain why bars and restaurants became hotspots for infection at the height of the pandemic. 

Almost wholly ignored by the mainstream media at the height of masking mandates was a study done by the University of Vermont concluding that masking actually increased the likelihood of infection by encouraging people to socialize when they should be avoiding socialization due to high transmission rates of SARS-CoV-2 in their neighborhoods or communities.

Most media was instead happy to unquestioningly parrot government views as it often does these days.

Seemingly lost in time is the waring of founding father Thomas Jefferson that  “it is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press, that as yet we have found it better to trust the public judgment, rather than the magistrate, with the discrimination between truth and falsehood.”

Jefferson was a big believer in the ability of the common man to sort things out eventually:

“In every country where man is free to think and to speak, differences of opinion will arise from difference of perception, and the imperfection of reason,” he onced observed. “But these differences, when permitted, as in this happy country, to purify themselves by free discussion, are but as passing clouds overshadowing our land transiently, and leaving our horizon more bright and serene. That love of order and obedience to the laws, which so considerably characterizes the citizens of the United States, are sure pledges of internal tranquility, and the elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a constitution dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people. that will is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect it free expression should be our first object.”

The mainstream media of today is not a big fan of Jefferson’s theory of democracy, believing instead that the “truth” must be rolled downhill to the masses, and thus there has been an explosion of media “fact checking,” which sometimes comes across as inaccurate as the information it is checking given the fluidity and changing nature of that thing called “knowledge.”

In many ways, despite arguments the media is more messed up than ever, little has changed since the press of the 1960s, aided by government officials, cherry-picked the science and the scientists in order to convince itself that psychedelics were the devil’s poison.

“Little has been written by historians regarding the media’s portrayal of psychedelics in the 1960s and how it agreed with the government despite little or no scientific basis,” Bracco wrote. “This article will discuss this use of propaganda to frighten the white American middle class to turn against a drug that had shown promise when used in the practice of psychotherapy.

“This resulted in psychedelics being criminalized and halted whatever progress had been made in discovering if they could provide help with combatting mental illnesses. They also actively worked to persuade the American people that these drugs were untestable and damaging, not only to people’s brains but also to middle-class society.”

Flash forward

And now much of the media of today wonders why some in the country, most especially Americans who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, are skeptical of the mainstream pushing new agendas. There is, unfortunately, a history that encourages skepticism.

Given that history, it is to be expected that older Americans especially might be vaccine-hesitant, though the vaccines appear both safe and effective in helping to prevent deaths if not infections. Some in a country where everything is politicized these days overlook age as an element of this hesitancy and blame “conservative and Republican political preference and conservative religious beliefs” and argue that  “results confirm that attitudes toward COVID-19 are politically and religiously conditioned, and are especially a product of conservative political preference.

But age cannot be overlooked. For one thing, older voters lean more toward Republican/conservative views. For another, one of the most outspoken leaders of the country’s anti-vaccination movement is a Democrat – Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the 69-year-old son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Emory University historian Elena Conis offered a pretty good take on this vaccination battle years before SARS-CoV-2 first emerged in China.

“The vaccination skepticism of today is rooted in the social movements of the postwar era, which prompted a new generation of parents (and their children) to question environmental contaminants, drugs, doctors, and authority in general,” she argued in 2015. “Moreover, today’s vaccination skepticism is an understandable response to late-twentieth-century trends in childrearing, a steadily growing mandatory vaccination schedule, and continually expanding rationales for vaccinating against disease.”

She conceded vaccine hesitancy existed long before that time, but it increased as ever more vaccines appeared on the scene. She cites the mumps vaccine as marking an important pivotal point, observing that “doctors and health officials considered the disease a ‘mild’ one when its vaccine was released in 1967. As a result, the medical community was split over how the new vaccine should be used. Some believed all children should be vaccinated.

“The introduction of the new vaccine, however, inspired greater scrutiny of the disease, and as scientists at the federal Center for Disease Control ramped up investigations of mumps, they found more and more reasons to vaccinate. The more closely they studied the disease, that is, the more serious it seemed. Eventually, a federal advisory committee, created in 1964 to streamline the nation’s vaccination policies, recommended in 1977 that all children get vaccinated against mumps as a matter of convenience (since school laws meant children were already getting vaccinated against measles, polio, and more) and to ensure the disease would pose no threat to adults (primarily men) at risk of the disease.”

That decision did not sit well with all Americans, she added, at a time when the country was witnessing “an upsurge of social movements that encouraged Americans to question authority and traditional sources of expertise. Women pushed back against patriarchy. Environmentalists pushed back against industry. Patients pushed back against doctors. And as the vaccine schedule and its enforcement expanded, a growing number of parents informed by the social movements of the day pushed back against required vaccines.”

Then came the 1982 television airing of NBC’s “DPT: Vaccine Roulette,” an hour-long report on the hazards of a new, combination vaccine for protection against diphtheria, whopping cough and tetanus.

“The broadcast,” as Conis describes the history “drove home the idea of a paternalistic medical profession and revealed a critical loss of popular faith in authority. Mothers of vaccine-damaged children complained that their doctors hadn’t listened to them; dissident doctors testified that the vaccine was no longer necessary” and government scientists suggested federal agencies had ignored and suppressed data implicating the vaccine in causing harm.

“At the end of the broadcast, a top vaccine scientist appeared on screen and said that convulsions were not a contraindication against DPT vaccination. The camera then cut to a reporter, who read directly from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ official warning against administering the shot to children who had previously suffered convulsions.

Vaccine Roulette led a group of parents to form an organization, Dissatisfied Parents Together, to advocate for safer vaccines, greater government oversight over vaccination, and federal compensation for the families of children harmed by vaccines.”

For years after, there was considerable pushback against mandatory vaccines, but “in time, other factors quieted the issue,” Conis wrote. “In the face of war, or a new epidemic, or new cultural and economic preoccupations of the middle class, vaccination consensus often came easily. But, eventually, the issue always came back to the forefront.

“Americans’ reasons for resisting specific vaccines have always reflected the norms and anxieties of a particular moment in time; our national dispute about how much power government should exercise in enforcing vaccination, however, has been with us since the dawn of vaccination and shows no promise of permanent resolution.”

And so the vaccine arguments are back again, arguably as they should be given the history of government-media-medical collusion in the U.S. The arguments against regular Covid-19 vaccinations, especially for older Americans and those with compromised immune systems, at this time appear extremely weak, but that doesn’t mean the issue of who should and shouldn’t get vaccinated goes undiscussed.

Science, as the history of hallucinogens illustrates, is not always black and white. It more often many of gray. And in such situations, determinations of public policy really ought to revert to that messy business that in a democracy is called politics. Vaccinations to help protect against Covid-19 clearly make sense for some people, but there are valid questions as to whether they make sense for all people and thus should be mandated.

The pandemic is in a different place now than it was in the fall of 2021 when the American Civil Liberties Union declared that “far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties. They protect the most vulnerable among us, including people with disabilities and fragile immune systems, children too young to be vaccinated and communities of color hit hard by the disease.”

The belief then was that vaccinations would stop the spread of the disease. We now know that while vaccination might reduce the spread to some degree; it certainly doesn’t stop it. On the other hand, vaccination does appear to significantly reduce the symptoms of those who are infected and the number of deaths, but it might not be necessary for everyone.

The data clearly shows that SARS-CoV-2 poses little danger to young, fit people.

Given this, Dr. Paul Offitt, one of the country’s top authorities on vaccines, took to the New England Journal of Medicine early in the month to question the continued boosting of everyone in the country.

“…Booster dosing is probably best reserved for the people most likely to need protection against severe disease – specifically, older adults, people with multiple coexisting conditions that put them at high risk for serious illness, and those who are immunocompromised,” he wrote. “In the meantime, I believe we should stop trying to prevent all symptomatic infections in healthy, young people by boosting them with vaccines containing mRNA from strains (of SARS-CoV-2) that might disappear a few months later.”

Not everyone in the medical community agrees with Offitt, but serious discussions of how to deal with SARS-CoV-2 as an endemic disease, like the flu, going forward. Knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, is something that is constantly evolving and needs space in which to evolve.

Covid vaccines might be considered the anti-LSD of the ’60s and ’70s; instead of being the root of all evil, they are the root of all good.  But things are hardly ever that simple in a world constantly looking for new ways to kill us because that is how the natural order on this planet works.





5 replies »

  1. A few other moral panics driven by the media include school shootings, the end of the world due to anthropogenic global warming, police murdering innocent black men, and AIDS.

    School shootings were on the decline and a statistical anomaly before the media drove the panic.

    The end of the world due to anthropogenic global warming predictions haven’t come true even with all the continued panic driven by media.

    Police murdering innocent people is extremely rare, police murdering black men is even more rare. The majority of people killed by police are not innocent and the majority are white males. The continued panic being driven by the media will one day be recognized for what it is, a failure in race relations that pits one group against another with incorrect and racially skewed data.

    When AIDS was first discovered people were needlessly demonized water fountains and silverware were suspected to spread the disease. The experts knew early on that certain sexual activities and certain drug use, higher risk activities led to higher transmission rates. The the media, however played a large part in the panic surrounding AIDS as well.

    There are a few good documentaries out about LSD, magic mushrooms, and MDMA use in treating PTSD, OCD, those with terminal cancer, and alcoholics. These E-vile drugs, when used in therapeutic treatment, are showing excellent results with low dosage and only a few treatments. Hallucinogens and Evolution, or the so called “Stoned Ape Hypothesis” on human evolution is certainly an interesting concept.

  2. Surprised you are not writing about the Halibut Cove incident last fall involving boat vs floatplane? Usually these “tragedy of the commons” stories are right up your alley… whatever happened to that female boat captain that rammed another fishing boat a few years ago? Seems like these wealthy folks can get away with a lot in AK.

    • The latter got off with a slap on the wrist. Wealthy folks can get away with a lot anywhere. But you know that. The legal system is in the business of selling expertise. The better the expertise you can afford to buy, the better your chances in court. It’s capitalism’s dark side.

      • Thanks for the reply…I was thinking she got off with no serious penalty.
        Thinking the same will happen in the cove case…after a few lawyers make out well with the process.

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