Monday, May 22, 2006

On A "Tonic" Topic

Making up for a sparse blog of late, an epic rant!

As mentioned earlier, in Britain, a new Home Office drugs minister has admitted smoking cannabis. Vernon Coaker said he had indulged while a student at Warwick University. This as our new Home Secretary, John Reid, had cannabis found in his home a couple of weeks back. On Wednesday, a lobby for the medical use of marijuana will be attending parliament - whether they can make any mileage out of this is another matter.

I'll be photographing the event but I won't be totally at ease in pursuit of an issue with such narrow focus. I would be loathe to be overly associated with what might be the "stigma" of urging legislation simply on medical grounds. I rather think that considering "the weed" as a traditional all-round theraputic herbal tonic (homeopathy) is one of the good arguments for removing it from the proscribed substances list and ending the criminality of its use. The real issue is one of freedom to choose and civil rights. It's availability on prescription for example, would be no solution to the greater issue - it might be cheaper or free for those who get it, but the decision would be at the whim of an inconsistant medical profession whose choices are frequently dictated by the pharmaceutical industry and its desire to market ever-increasing quantities of new synthetic chemicals without regard for long-term consequences of their products, let alone the rising problems associated with their "mix and match" (and "swap") approach. On the other hand, it is possible that were Sativex or similar available on prescription to a greater extent, attitudes might change to the extent it becomes available "over-the-counter" like Viagra and countless new purpose-driven drugs aimed at recreational users. Of course, they'd probably then start adulterating it to expand the product range away from its natural origins. A dilemma. Pharmaceutical empires, like other huge corporations, these days both service our needs and create those needs at the same time. Were they to see a market that did not conflict with or adversly effect existing activities they would probably jump on it. They may well have the economic might to force a change of legislation. My worry is that their core business is marketing symptom-specific drugs designed to suppress ailments one by one. They would rather compound our intake of more products rather than offer anything with general all-round curative properties. As a medicine in this system, cannabis may be its own worst enemy. As a recreational product, that would make it a non-starter.

Marijuana prohibition should have been repealed decades ago and one has to wonder about the real reasons it hasn't been. Could it be that for smokers, the 20th century Tobacco market offered easier and better profits that depended on a "inhaling" monopoly? Could it be that the booming pharmaceutical industry sought to suppress natural curative products in favour of it's own new synthetics? Could it be that governments or other power-brokers determined to outlaw anything that might bring about a looser state of mind where the divine authority of church and state might be questioned by a more free-thinking populace? After all, Marijuana has often been accredited for intellectual stimulation. If the latter, although we live in more spirited times, are we not continually seduced by a new breed of technological drugs designed to steer us firmly in a proscribed direction?

There is an irony too in that present day propaganda and contemporary entertainment frequently takes its cue from the media and artistic experiments of the 1960s - an age when "mind-expansion" was the edict of a counter culture, psychedelic art expressed concepts based on hallucinogenic experiences and "multi-media" was born, albeit within the confines of the technology then available. Thinkers saw through the mask of social norms and started to question interaction between both ourselves and the planet itself. Conceptually, creativity and progressive thought came from an optimistic sub-culture for whom use of both mild and more powerful drugs was a driving factor. Yet it was not about drugs that numb the senses - it was about drugs that did the exact opposite. As we passively consume the image and sound edits on television, engage with interactive channels and websites or simply immerse ourselves inside a videogame, we are subscribing to an escapism largely born of drug experiences and now insidiously thrust upon us as a virtual drug in itself.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s the synthetic drug LSD was all the rage. Psychiatrists in particular promclaimed it as the future of mental health treatment. The theory was that, in a state of heightened awareness, clients could clean their brains out, wash away any hang-ups and delusions, then return to normality - refreshed, invigorated and with a clear perspective of reality and their purpose. As with all such acolytes, they themselves failed to perceive that everyone is different and that for each success there would be another case of someone for whom the experience would be a nightmare - greater obsession on problems, the internalisation of thought, paranoia and an inability to cope with the return to reality. LSD suddenly shifted from the medical arena to one of military weapon development with soldiers force-fed it to acclimatise them to a battlefield of chemical bombs. When, later, the drug became illegal, it also became more popular than ever - an icon of the free-thinking culure yet at the mercy of an increasingly inpure "black market". The tales of "acid casualties" from those times bear witness to the greater folly of forcing users into an uncontrolled environment and underground market.

Marijuana cannot be compared with LSD, despite the fact that ironically it remained illegal when the latter was being promoted. It is wholly natural, essentially a herb and has been used for centuries as an all-round tonic. Medicinal, yes - but recreational too. Indeed, it's original prohibition was largely accidental - entangled as it was in the resolution of the opium wars of a century ago. Queen Victoria made frequent use of it - none derided her or suggested she was unfit to rule as a result. It can be taken in a variety of ways and, being non-synthetic and extremely mild, can be consumed in regulated "dosages" rather like (the far more dangerous) alcohol. It can be slightly habit-forming, but unlike alcohol it is not addictive. I have certainly never met a "pot casualty" although I have met some users for whom individually it may not be the best tonic available. The only parallels with LSD are the social disaster of its illegality, the commonality of classification as an illicit substance and the fact that both fall under the category of "mind expanding" drugs.

In the reactionary backlash of today's world, too many people are jumping on obscure and generally biased "studies" that claim cannabis users can suffer long-term mental health damage. For the most part these reports fail to consider that the damage done by alcohol and legal drugs is far greater and that people's mental health can decline naturally with age anyway. Such stories have become the propaganda of opposition with little hard science and none of it irrefutable. Human Beings have always sought escape and release from the daily grind and the race has survived and boomed for thousands of years relying on what nature offered. As creatures who should be living in harmony with the planet and its ecosystem this interaction seems obvious. Alarming then, that those who would presume to engineer modern society seek to do so by dis-connecting us with our natural environment.

The freedom to choose what we use to feed our minds and bodies is a human right. Provided our actions do not adversly affect others, there is no law that can fairly dictate the contrary. With free choice comes some responsibility - but that is for the individual to reconcile. The collective has a right to censure the anti-social where they are confronted with it but no group has the right to dictate to others on matters of no consequence to themselves. In doing so, they risk creating their own problem - one beyond their own power to solve. Such has been the case with the criminalisation of certain drug users. There is a social divide in greater society that goes well beyond rich and poor - it is legislation that creates polarisation. We can't turn back time, but we can tear up the redundant rulebooks and let future time take care of itself. As people, left to their own devices, ultimately will - for that is the way of progress.


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