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Alexander and Ann Shulgin

book Against ExcessThe cost of drug abuse to the taxpayer is a point he brings up.

Alexander: Well if someone has a drug abuse problem and he requires medical treatment, is that worse than having a drug abuse problem and being in prison, which also puts as strain on the tax-system? One of the reasons you can’t rationally pin-point harm reduction is because you cannot measure harm. What is the harm of a person using a drug which is not approved of by society? To one person – trivial, to another person who’s son has just died from an over-dose, immense.

So you can’t put a quantitative value on harm. Also, if you want to reduce harm (and this is the argument for the Drug War) you can’t put a number on the reduction. Lastly, the thing you do to reduce harm, itself does harm. If you remove drug laws you have ten thousand unemployed law-enforcement people -and they are going to see that in an entirely different light. On the other hand, they passed a law in Florida that if you’re on welfare and you go into pre-natal care and test positive for illegal drugs in your urine, you may suffer the confiscation of your child. A woman, instead of facing the possible loss of her child, just won’t go in for the pre-natal exam. What’s the harm? You can’t calculate it.

What would be the damage to society from changing the drug laws? If you look at it through one lens you can see that it’s going to be horrendous, and if you look through another lens you can see that it’s going to be a lifesaver.

Rebecca: I was in a hardware store and there was this big sign up which read, “We ensure that our employees are tested for drugs.” A strong 1984 feeling came over me. What do you think about urine tests?

Alexander: It’s intolerable! There’s no basis for a urine test unless there’s a reason to believe that a person’s incompetent in some way.

David: Even then you should measure their performance nott heir urine.

Alexander: Exactly. If you run a bus into a group of pedestrians and you stagger off the bus and go into the nearest bar for a drink, there may possibly be reason for a urine test. If a person is going to fly an airplane and before he boards the plane you take a sample of his urine and send it off to Florida for analysis it doesn’t protect the people on that flight atall!

You have no protection even today for the presumption of innocence. That doesn’t exist in the constitution. Taking of a urine sample is a presumption of guilt.

Rebecca: The drug laws haven’t changed anything in the constitution, so why are we all getting this nasty feeling that our constitutional rights are being eaten away?

Alexander: It’s how they are being interpreted. The perversion of the laws which were written with good intent but which have been allowed to be eroded is something which the constitution can’t even touch. I can show you the original writings of the social security law which says that your social security number should remain private.

The original laws of income tax documents say that your submission of an income tax form to the federal government shall be a private correspondence. Needless to say that has been scrapped. You now have to get a fingerprint to obtain a driver’s license, but California State Law states that a fingerprint serves one function only – to identify a person in the conjunction with a criminal charge. The measures which they can go to is frightening.

Rebecca: You talked in Pihkal about how racism has been one of the root causes of prejudice against various drugs.

Alexander: Right. The connection between racism and drugs started in the public consciousness with the building of the Trans-Continental Railway. To save on labor costs we hired Chinese immigrants and they brought with them the practice of opium-use. More and more regulations were put into place to limit and control access to opium which was soon considered a social evil. The marijuana laws were put into effect to control Mexicans coming over the border and cocaine is nowadays very much associated with blacks in the inner cities.

Rebecca: What benefits have you both received from taking psychedelic substances?

Alexander: I think I’ve learned about myself a little more thoroughly from the inside out and I’ve learned to take myself a little less seriously. I’ve also learned not to take anything I hear as gospel – even if I say it myself! (laughter)

Ann: Psychedelics have allowed me not only to explore myself and my own levels of consciousness to an extraordinary extent, but by doing so I feel that I’m beginning to understand what the human consciousness is. I also have a compulsion to understand what the universal consciousness is – let’s aim as high as we can! (laughter) The exploration is never dull.

There are so many kinds of knowing, and the kinds of knowing that have the most impact are unexplainable. But I like to try to put into words the incomprehensible things that I find. These same experiences are in everybody’s psyche, so if I find the right words I may be able to elicit some sort of response from the unconscious of the reader and perhaps encourage people to b eless afraid of understanding themselves.

Rebecca: What would you say to someone who suggested that drug use was simply a form of escapism?

Ann: It is amazing to me that people use the term `escape’ in association with psychedelics. I’ve found them to be the most incredibly hard work and I’ve never escaped with any psychedelic experience.

Alexander: The same thing could be said about going to a symphony orchestra and listening to concerts or going to church. These could also be looked upon as escape.

Ann: The fact that we use the word escape that way implies that everybody in this culture regards what they call reality as a grim and miserable thing.

Alexander: `Eu’ as a prefix means normal. Euthyroid means you have a normal thyroid function. The word euphoria means that this is the way you should feel. If you don’t feel the way you should feel that would be dysphoric.

Ann: This culture regards a state of euphoria as something abnormal!

Rebecca: Have either of you had to face the problem of addiction?

Alexander: I have with nicotine but not with any of the other substances I’ve used.

Ann: The whole idea of using psychedelics is to train yourself to a different kind of perception which you should be able to use without drugs. Most spiritual teachers say that you should develop the altered states in a `natural’ way and not use drugs to do it. Sasha says that is the equivalent of saying you should never go to a symphony or listen to a recording. You should produce the music yourself and you should not use any other tools besides your own body.

Well heck! Life is made interesting by giving yourself different forms. Yes it’s wonderful to sing and play the flute yourself but it’s also wonderful to go to a symphony.

Rebecca: You do need to be disciplined and motivated to reproduce that state when you’re not on the drug.

Ann: Right. You must have an incentive to develop your own abilities. Insight is something which I’ve found can be learned. You can learn to observe your own thoughts. You begin to get a different relationship to time and to yourself and to the mayfly. These things don’t need drugs, but drugs can show you where you can go.

Rebecca: Although you both believe strongly in legalization, you do think that some guidelines must be established for drug use?

Alexander: Absolutely. Giving a drug to a person who is not developed enough to use it in the opinion of people who have worked with it, giving a drug without consent, giving out false information about a drug – all these need to be controlled.

Ann: I’d like to make the rather obvious comparison of psychedelics with sex. Nobody in their right mind would say that sex is bad for us, but no one would advise someone under a certain age to try it! There is a certain stage of growth you need to go through before you’re ready for either.

David: Terence McKenna claims that there is a spirit or a conscious intelligence that dwells within certain psychedelic plants. In Pihkal, you discuss how at times you’ve felt the presence of some entity or force guiding your work. Do you see this as being related to what Terence has claimed and how do you explain this phenomena?

Alexander: I think this is like the intuitive going through a darkroom without lights on and being able to find the door. You don’t see in the dark and yet you know there’s a door there. As you get more and more experienced at working with plants or working in the laboratory and designing new structures, you get more of a feel for why they are and what they are.

One of the beauties of organic chemistry is that you cannot make a relationship between a continuing change here and a continuing result there. You cannot extrapolate from one molecule to another with any more confidence than you can extrapolate from one plant to another. So you begin to assign

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