Many of us pledged to “just say no” to drugs in the D.A.R.E. program during our primary education years. We were brainwashed into thinking all drugs — and all people who use them — are bad. Interestingly, tens of millions of Americans are addicted to or dependent on legal drugs like nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. Giving us a drug-abstinence education only breeds ignorance about drugs that should be legalized, like hallucinogens. Let me correct the record.
To start, not all drugs are equally detrimental to our health. The Controlled Substances Act rates drugs based on their potential for abuse and harm. This scale ranges from Schedule I, like heroin and ecstasy, to Schedule V, like codeine in cough syrup. For unwarranted reasons, hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, peyote and magic mushrooms are listed as Schedule I.
A brief background on common hallucinogens will help clarify. Peyote is one of the oldest known hallucinogenic drugs and was consumed by the Aztecs. When areas of the United States were colonized by foreign powers, peyote was outlawed as a method to suppress the Native American culture. Currently, though, peyote usage is legal in the Native American Church.
The long history of hallucinogens continues: Some believe “magic mushrooms” were first consumed in 9000 B.C. by North African tribes. LSD, although a newcomer to the world of tripping, is a synthetic compound that causes potent hallucinations. It became an important cultural symbol of the 1960s and ’70s, thanks to groups like the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. Like peyote and magic mushrooms, LSD is listed as a Schedule I drug.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I drugs, substances or chemicals “have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision and a high potential for abuse.” I would consider tobacco and alcohol, both widely abused, as drugs that fall under this category. Cigarettes and other nicotine-based products are addictive and known to be carcinogens. Thanks to Juul Labs, high school and college students are becoming the first generation of nicotine vape addicts. Little do they know, tobacco is linked to an estimated 480,000 deaths per year.
Furthermore, alcoholism has plagued this country since Europeans began colonizing it. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, one in 12 adults in the United States suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence and an estimated 88,000 deaths are attributed to alcohol use every year.
Obviously, there is always risk involved with drug use. Deaths from hallucinogens occur from accidents, suicide or eating poisonous plants. Very rarely do hallucinogens cause death because of overdose. It would take 37 pounds of magic mushrooms to kill someone. There are no reports that psilocybin mushrooms are psychologically or physically addictive, and use does not lead to dependence. For LSD, tolerance develops rapidly, though dependence or addiction does not occur. The same can be said for peyote.
Similar to the need for sex ed, high schools and other institutions should educate students about the risks and rewards of drugs used by the youth, whether it be caffeine, tobacco or mushrooms. After all, we can all see that abstinence-only sex education has had great success where it is taught.
Hallucinogens like LSD, magic mushrooms and peyote should be legalized since they are less addictive and carcinogenic than alcohol and tobacco. However, these drugs must be respected for the danger they pose. Users of psilocybin would be wise to consult a mycologist, an expert on fungi, since magic mushrooms look very similar to toxic mushrooms. Similar to alcohol, LSD must be regulated, otherwise dangerous chemicals like 25I-NBOMe can be added.
Next time you’re at a bar at night, annoyed at the obnoxious environment, just think how different the scene would be if everyone was sharing a mystical trip together.
Nicholas Walker is a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering.