Archive for July 22nd, 2008

Happiness in a pill? No, but…

Posted on July 22, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Health, Musings, Philosophy, Science |

I was astonished to read a mainstream media article about psilocybin mushrooms the other day. Astonished because the pendulum seems to be swinging back (from the over-reaction of the 60’s and 70’s, when many “recreational” drugs were made illegal) to an honest investigation of the qualities and benefits some drugs may have. The mushrooms have long been used in religious ceremonies by certain indigenous peoples.

This post is partly a continuation of the topic of yesterday’s, “Happiness“, along with some political and social implications of a “contented society”.

I recently watched a television documentary, The Summer of Love, about the San Fransisco Hippie movement in 1967. (Hard to believe that was over 40 years ago!) I’m a native San Franciscan, and I grew up with that legacy. For three years, I attended a private school run by people who came of age during the Hippie and Civil Rights movements. Some of my relatives till refer to it as “that hippie school you went to”. I was failing miserably in public school; I didn’t have the attention span nor the interest in being a cog-in-the-wheel they were looking for there; so friends of my parents recommended this school. Apparently I still am a Hippie, as my quiz results show. 😉

The first part of the documentary portrays, very well, I thought, the the innocence, joy and hope of the early hippie movement. We got to see Timothy Leary intoning his famous “Tune in; Turn on; Drop out!” speech. There was free food! (People would gather up leftovers from local restaurants and markets, and distribute it in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.) There was free clothing and free furniture at the Free Store! Free medical care at the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. (Still going, by the way. It’s a phenomenal place.) The older people were scandalized that the younger people did not want to work. I can relate to not wanting to work! Work is great if it’s fulfilling and engaging and makes a contribution. So much of our work today, though, contributes directly to consumerism instead of sustenance.

So, what did these young people do if they didn’t work? They ate their free food. They hung out and played music. They helped each other find a place to sleep. They might have had sex with a random stranger (“Make Love, Not War!”) or even with their own boyfriend or girlfriend. AND, they used drugs; mostly marijuana in the beginning; harder, scarier drugs later on.

Whatever you may think of the morality of all this, ultimately the community became too large and unwieldy to sustain itself. As the documentary shows, by the time the “Summer of Love” actually came to pass, most of the original “happy hippies” had left. Remaining were young, homeless runaways, and older hopeless drug addicts. These remnants were NOT what the movement was about.

I think the original hippies—offshoots of the beatniks—had some good ideas. Should we trust authority JUST because it’s authority? What’s wrong with feeling good?

In discussing the psilocybin article with my friend, we were struck by the apparent sustained benefits people found months and years after ONE dose of the substance in a controlled environment. Most of the experimental subjects reported continued well-being and greater contentment long after the study concluded. My friend asked how our economy would sustain itself if we all were as content as that? We might not want/need the shiny new car/house/TV/fill in the blank_______. After all, many of the things we purchase go beyond fulfilling our basic needs.

I’m not saying we should worship at the altar of frugality; we all deserve a comfortable life filled with beauty. But, beyond that, it seems that what sells is a vision of filling a perceived void in our lives. If that sense of emptiness could be lessened with one dose of a “magic mushroom” so that we’d spend our time valuing people more than things, who’s to say we wouldn’t be allowing our world to be better, more joyful, and more abundant in what truly matters?

I don’t know. I’m not advocating drug use as a panacea. Certainly there are harsh realities involved with substance abuse. But I do believe that in our panic over losing control of our “youth” in the 60’s and 70’s we over-reacted; labeling all drugs (not controlled by pharma) as “bad”, and “destroyers of society”. Perhaps, with this new study and others looking into the benefits of THC from marijuana, for instance, we can sort out panic from helpfulness in an enlightened way.

For the record, I do not currently use any prescription OR illegal drugs, and have no plans to change that in the near future.
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