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. πŸ˜‰

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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14 Responses to “Happiness in a pill? No, but…”

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Nah, that sounds far too reasonable. It’s always easier to apply a rigid set of rules than to apply one’s mind.

“I think the original hippiesβ€”offshoots of the beatniksβ€”had some good ideas. Should we trust authority JUST because it’s authority?”

Good question. Personally I say no. I guess I am a rebel at heart. Our authority figures are all government figures and I personally don’t see many of them truly caring about “the People”. They just care about themselves and what they can get out of it. To be a true authority figure you need to truly be passionate about caring for others.

I actually meant to watch that show but blogging has taken over my life lately.

I was severely depressed over the last few years. I tried every herbal concoction in the book but nothing worked. I hated to give in and take a pharmaceutical but my family intervened. Even after I got the prescription I didn’t fill it right away. Finally one day I did and two weeks later I was like a new person. My brain chemistry must have been so messed up. I also started therapy. This was all a year ago. I can’t believe what a different outlook I have on life now. I can even deal with the cause of my problems (my son, the drug addict). I guess for me Zoloft turned out to be the magic mushroom.

My view always is:

If the authorities get involved and it doesn’t benefit them – they will ban it, tax it or both. Over my few years on this planet I have become less and less trusting of authority. There were once great men and women who advocated that the individual be free from overzealous government. As this was believed by the citizen the citizen began to trust. That was the biggest mistake the citizen ever made.

The 60s were a time of great change – and, if we really want to take notice, we see that this change has stagnated. We now need great men and women again to lead us out of the mire we are in. Part of an international Constitution should be appendix 1 (one) All protest is legal and can never be put down by any and all government because protest is the voice of the people. No government or authority should ever have the power to stop protest and must always bend to the will of a free people.

Across the western world we need a new 60s!

Oh Muse…wow! I was here earlier and didn’t know what to say.

When I first started reading your site. I thought now there is a “new age” soul. Then as I read longer, I thought there is more to this person than that. Being the internet, you never know who a person really is…but you always wonder. The more I read, I began to form the idea of a very well educated, new age but well educated person interested in the psyche/mind. It was a bit hard to imagine you being a Hippie. But after reading this…LOL!

I think I would be too scared to use a magic mushroom. I like to be in control of myself. As for marijuana, I personally wouldn’t smoke it, but I do think it should be legal. I think it is less harmful than alcohol. And it is natural. Far better than pharm. Just look at the list of side effects! It’s scary. But I do know people on anti-depressants. One in particular who is finally happy and living a normal life after years of turmoil. Obviously Joan has shown us, it can be the right move or the only move. A few others, I worry about. I think it works for some people and others, not so much.

I think society as a whole has played a huge role in why so many people are depressed. Life in today’s world is tough, in so many ways.

As for Will’s comment. I’ve heard you say the constitution should be changed and it made me cringe. I thought if they did, what else would they amend or change? At what point will it turn into something no one can recognize anymore? But I agree with your statement.

I was not in this world for the 60’s. So, bring it on! LOL!

Once again, Muse. Another post that totally blew me away. I think you have experienced more in this life than most people. You never cease to amaze me. Just when you think you know someone….
Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

Indeed, kyknoord.:( What was I thinking? πŸ˜›

Joan, if you click on the highlighted link “Summer of Love” in my post, above, you can watch the entire documentary on your computer if you wish. I recommend it as a very balanced slice-of-life at the time, or at least that’s what I’m told by people who were there (some of them family members…but that’s another story!) πŸ˜‰ As for the antidepressants, I think it’s wonderful that you found what works for you. I have seen them help people enormously. Of course, in the news we hear all the sensationalist headlines, but have to remember those only refer to a small number of people who have been prescribed them. Philosophically, (although I don’t like labels) I’m probably a pragmatic relativist: If something works for you, and it harms no one, go for it, baby! πŸ˜€

I have known many who were on the forefront of the movement, Will, and it seems they were courageous, optimistic, idealistic, and hopeful. There was a feeling that people could really make a difference in society and the world. “Give peace a chance!” sang John Lennon. What a novel idea! “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” was another phrase of the era. We could use some of those qualities in our times. I agree with you about protest as a social right, particularly if it’s confined to making a point without violence or hatred. Those things just breed more of the same. I haven’t heard of an International Constitution other than from you. I don’t know if the world is quite ready for that, yet…definitely something to think about, as much of your commentary is. πŸ™‚

Gosh, BD!!! Now I don’t know what to say! Of course, that shall not keep me from saying it. πŸ˜€ Just to be clear, I am too young to have experienced the original hippie movement first hand, but San Francisco held onto the hippie sensibility and social action for much longer than perhaps other places did. After being educated at my “hippie school” by my “hippie teachers”, I of course wanted to go see the Haight-Ashbury. There were (and are) still “head shops” there, and actual hippie culture museums. The neighborhood was about a 20 minute bus ride from my home. My parents said I couldn’t go there, so of course I did! πŸ˜‰ It was a disappointment, not at all like in the documentary. Still, though, it was living history. Hey, bead, I clicked back to the Hippie Quiz results I mentioned to double check, and YOU tested out as a “total hippie” too!!! πŸ˜€ Hah! I’ve never actually tried magic mushrooms either, and it probably wouldn’t be something I’d rush out to do, even if they were legal…but you never know. πŸ˜‰ I just think natural substances like that ought to be studied rather than vilified. Thanks for being blown away! hehe.

Ha! It may have said I am a total Hippie. But aside from the peace and freedom of speech, I don’t think I am a Hippie.

Maybe if you minus the drugs, communal lifestyle and horrible clothes…LOL!

Or maybe we are all the new breed of Hippie?

I forgot to say that I do agree with you, we live in a consumer world, if people weren’t so busy trying to keep up with what someone else has they would be more content in life.

Bigger, better, more seems to make the world go round now. The problem is, 90% will never get there. For people who base their happiness on material things, they will never be happy, there is always a new product. Everything is “out of date” six months later.

Ok, BD, we’ll be the new breed of Hippie! That fits, ’cause I don’t do those things you mentioned, either…well, except for the horrible clothes! πŸ™‚ C’mon, bead, a nice tie-dye Tshirt and raggedy jeans would do you a world of good! πŸ˜› I appreciate your comments on consumerism; I do feel we all deserve beautiful things, but they can be handmade; crafted well, and still be beautiful as is your beadwork!

I too, like the Bead, was here earlier and was waiting to ponder and absorb some more of this post. When I was 15 we went back to England after 7 years here while my family tried to work out whether to live there or here in Australia. It as 1969 and we stayed in London and saw Carnaby Street and my sister bought a maxi coat [back in fashion again] and my father was horrified by the hippy ratbags as he called them.

When we returned I went back to school and eventually started nursing. I had a sixties fling in the early seventies….it was a rebelling against a strict home life etc etc…which was a bit like the sixties…rebelling against the staid fifties and the hypocrisy everywhere. I tried LSD and obviously marijuana and have to say that just because something is natural does not mean it is good for you. I also largely hold that and a little of something else at that time for being the reason I left nursing…. when one is out of it or on anther level like that there is no motivation to study…no drive I guess. I also only used LSD about four times but it was three times too many and I had flash backs for a few years afterward. So I am wary of those LSD like mushroom effects … the lack of drive and the flashbacks especially do need to be studied as a long term thing.

What this drug talk really reminded me a lot of was something once on Star Trek…you probably know the episode Muse…where a fungus of some kind is on a planet which affects the pleasure centres of the brain and the landing party lose all motivation to eat etc but think everything is fine whereas they are actually nearly dead from starvation….whew need to take a breath!

I do get what you are saying though and I think perhaps we select few are becoming more hippy or Zen like in our values as we age. We have seen the over commercialization and the sheer excess of our society and as we are like minded citizens of planet Earth we are becoming the new hippies,without the psychedelics of course. Fabulous thought provoking post, anything that makes me think of a Star Trek episode is a winner!

Hi MQ, I did what you did when you first read my post! I had to step away and give some thought to your comment. I’m amazed and honored by your level of candor. I thank you for sharing so much of yourself here! My goodness, Carnaby Street. I think people were wearing yellow mini skirts and orange patent leather and things like that there? Are maxi coats really back in fashion? We don’t wear coats very much where I live, I can’t remember the last time I bought one. I certainly agree that just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for us; there are plenty of poisonous plants, after all. It’s just that if something is widely available, and can’t be recreated in a lab, then there often isn’t much research funding available to study it. Also, manufactured drugs can be quite beneficial, as Joan says, above. I know of people whose lives have been transformed. You point out that long term effects, particularly flashbacks, ought to be studied—indeed! I didn’t know that magic mushrooms can cause flashbacks, if so, I hope the people in the study continue to be studied. ❗

I don’t remember an episode where the landing party stops eating and thinks that fine; (now I’m going to have to look that up!!!) I do remember an episode from Red Dwarf called “Better than Life” that was kind of like that, and it could be a real danger with immersive video games, not just drugs. I remember this episode from Star Trek; it’s one of my favorites. (I think I’ve seen them all at least seven times, and most of them are my favorites!) There was also that hippie one called “Eden”. I’m giving some thought to what you say about losing drive on drugs. If you feel that was detrimental, then, of course it’s not desirable. I’m still thinking about it though. I must ask myself “drive to what end?” Many of us assume that the structure of our society must be maintained in certain ways. Perhaps there are ways to remake it to accommodate less “hard work and ambition” and more “kindness and cooperation”. The end of the above referenced Star Trek always got to me when Spock said “For the first time in my life, I was happy”. He needed a substance for that; most of us aren’t Vulcans and can find other ways to be happy and productive also. When Kirk sent a beam down that made everyone fight and be unhappy, I remember the leader of the colony woke up from his spore-induced lethargy and exclaimed “We’ve accomplished nothing here!” Well, perhaps. “But”, I asked myself even when I first saw the episode “why is it so important to accomplish something?” The people were happy, their bodies were very healthy, so the problem was…what again? I know this is somewhat simplistic thinking, but I remain unconvinced that Kirk did these people any favors. Just speculating. Our western societies place so much emphasis upon scientific discovery and progress. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this. I’m just saying we don’t question it. Perhaps we “new hippies” (without the psychedelics!) will find a new way. Thank you so very much for this comment; you’ve gotten me to explore even deeper, here, and I have a feeling I’m not done yet! πŸ™‚

Was that the pleasure planet episode or the spore one? Think it was the spore one…..the one I’m thinking of may have been another Star Trek series or I may be getting mixed up ….mind addled by all the drugs from youth….hahaha or is it too much consumption of Star Trek and utopian and dystopian sci fi over the years?

Speaking of drugs and studies etc I actually know people who from the seventies until the nineties had a great time on dope and thought it was harmless and peace and love and all that and now they have a form of bi polar which is resistant to helpful drugs because the dope either did something to the pathways or just plain killed off the brain cells.So studies in my mind almost need to be generational studies and done on the offspring too! Of course the drug companies cannot wait that long but it is interesting the trade off we may pay between being well now and how it affects us in the future….although this is not what your post is about I know…sorry!

I do know what you mean about drive etc and in a different society I think it would work but we have gone so far beyond that now with cost of living etc….most people are driven these days to work to pay the bills I find not to accumulate although obviously what we call poverty is nothing compared to some countries.

I see we have so many similarities, one being Star Trek …some people just do not get it….its an idealised future and just because it may not happpen does not mean we cannot aspire to the principles of it. It had the very best of the time’s sci fi writers scripting episodes and fitted the whole sixties anti establishment thing really well didn’t it? Do you have the series on DVD’s or video…we are swapping over although that is an expensive luxury which will probably become a neccessity before long.

I think hippies had some pretty good ideas, but I’m not convinced mind altering drugs were one of them. I don’t know, I just think you can’t really simulate emotions like that. It just seems a bit cheap.

All the same, it’s refreshing to hear that “magic mushrooms” are being looked at from a more objective, scientific standpoint. Some people are so jumpy about the very concept of drugs and blow the whole thing out of proportion.

Magik, yes, the spore one. I loved the pleasure planet one, too (called “Shore Leave”. One of my favorites! haha.) That one could also be applicable to this discussion, actually. Really?!? about the bi-polar? I hadn’t heard/read that data, and I thought I paid attention to this subject. You needn’t be sorry, MQ, I do think that’s relevant! The long term inter-generational studies you mention would be quite appropriate. There is just SO much to consider. I do get what you mean about drive; motivation; making ends meet; really I do. I’m just kind of an idealist-dreamer, head-in-the-clouds kind of person. (Where did you say Shangrila was again?) I knew a man once who found a remote beach in Hawaii, and lived off the land for two years. He had tropical fruit trees nearby, planted some legumes, and caught the occasional fish. He spent his time studying and meditating, and slept in a lean-to he constructed out of fallen branches. This is not a lifestyle I would want (where do I plug in my computer?) but there is a simplicity to it that attracts me. Of course it helps to be in a mild, temperate climate like Hawaii. As for the Star Trek series, no I don’t own any of them, they are just perpetually, endlessly, continually on television. πŸ™‚

I appreciate what you are saying, B0bby, and I’m glad you are not interested in altering your already quite amazing and wonderful mind. I’m not at all advocating drug use in this post, and I don’t use illegals myself, but I will just point out that most of us are “under the influence” one way or another a lot of the time. Some will say “I need that first cup of coffee in the morning to get me going.” obviously, coffee=caffeine=drug, and need=addiction (albeit a mild one in most cases). And then there’s alcohol…I’m just advocating research and study. Perhaps small amounts of mind-alterings administered carefully could be useful. I’d just don’t want them dismissed out of hand simply because we have an emotional “hippie psychedelic” reaction. Well, and that’s exactly what you say at the end of your comment; so I’d best stop lecturing. 😳 You do have a quite balanced view, thank you!

Ah, how did I miss this post? I’ll have to let it stew… Lots here to think about. I’ve enjoyed reading the thoughtfulness of every comment and response.

The comments on this have been amazing, thoughtful, and candid. This discussion has altered my perspective. Thank you for “stewing”, C ! πŸ™‚

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