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Should Psychedelics be Decriminalized

“Is it not ironic that the things that actually expand your mind are illegal and the things that keep you in the lower chakras and dumb you down have been legal for centuries?” – Aaron Rodgers.

Abstract

It should come as no surprise that so many people struggle to achieve true fulfilment in a world where wordly comfort and pleasure are the only things that matter. Depression in its various forms affects about 280 million people worldwide[1], in order to make ground on such an issue, thinking in ways that are outside presupposed notions of values is essential. In multiple studies, a microdose of psilocybin (a psychedelic) was shown to decrease symptoms of depression significantly more than the placebo. Psilocybin and other psychedelic substances are gradually becoming recognized as having legitimate medical uses, particularly in therapeutic settings. Nonetheless, a wider public continues to be highly skeptical of the drugs’ effectiveness and legal status, on one hand, with Australia having become the first country to legalize psychedelics for medical mental health treatment[2], on another. This paper investigates people’s personal, highly individualized experiences with psychedelic drugs in order to gain an understanding of and knowledge about them that in turn serves the purpose of challenging psychedelics’ collective stigmatized reputation and subsequent classification as unlawful substances across many parts of the world – including India.

Keywords

Psychedelics, Micro dosing, Mental Health Disorders, Decriminalization, Moral Panics, NDPS Act 1985

Introduction

Psychedelics (also known as hallucinogens) are a class of psychoactive substances, which elicit a multitude of experiences (colloquially called “trips”) ranging from profound self-revelation, strong senses of spirituality, highly abstracted emotional breakthroughs, unique experiences of an augmented realities to a bad trip. Common features of a bad trip include: extreme anxiety, feelings of terror and alienation, overwhelming sadness, paranoia, confusion, loss of self identity, and physical discomfort. Some people believe that there are simply “difficult trips” rather than “bad trips,” and that resolving the issues that arise during these trips can offer fantastic chances for development and healing.

Self taking of very minuscule doses of psychedelic drugs with an aim to improve mental well-being and to enhance cognitive function, called as micro dosing, has attracted profound media interest in recent years. Along with it, multiple studies having discovered therapeutical potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin, have made headlines. Recent behavioural and neuroimaging data reveal that psychedelics modify brain networks implicated in mood and affective disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions and can lessen their clinical symptoms to a great extent. In consideration of it all, Psilocybin, a psychedelic, has been decriminalized in many US cities as a result of newer scientific findings on the varied applications of psychedelics, and has even been legalised in Australia for medical purposes.

Amidst all this, Psychedelics still stand illegal under the Indian law – Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985. The question that naturally arises is whether India is missing out on this newly getting discovered scientific wave? The answer to the question posed is YES.

It is now said by some that it is for the betterment of the society. But what good society would wish to put limitations on something which potentially alters it for the better, if that society is not already a perfect one. In fact, any society that creates laws to protect something so abstract and nebulous borders on dictatorship and the persecution of thought crimes.

Research Methodology 

A paper’s research methodology section describes the methods and approaches utilised to collect and process the study’s data. In order to provide a thorough analysis, a mixed-method research technique is used in the study of Should Psychedelics be Decriminalized . A thorough description of the research methods may be found here:

Research Design:

The overarching strategy for carrying out the research is described in the research design. A mixed method research methodology is selected for the study of Should Psychedelics be Decriminalized  in order to integrate qualitative and quantitative approaches. This method enables a more comprehensive study of the subject.

Data Collection:

Obtaining information from a variety of sources, including both primary and secondary data, is known as data collection. The following techniques are applied in the framework of the Should Psychedelics be Decriminalized  research:  

Primary Data

Questionnaires: The purpose of questionnaires is to get quantitative information from participants. These questionnaires can be used in-person or online to collect views and opinions from a wide range of people, including academics, lawyers, practicing psychologists and general masses who have ever consumed psychedelics. The purpose of the survey questions is to gather data about how the criminalization of psychedelics affects society, individual consumption and further research on the same in a country like India.

The questionnaires designed for this research comprised of following questions:

  • What substances and what schedule have you been following?
  • What is your individualized look into the psychedelic experience? (profound self-revelation, strong senses of spirituality, seeing all of your relatives from 15 generations?)
  • Have you ever had a bad trip? Share your experience regarding the same.
  • Do you think Micro doses and High doses are the same or a whole different worlds?
  • What are your opinions on current legal landscape surrounding psychedelics in India. 

Structured Interviews: wide range of people, including academics, lawyers, practicing psychologists and general masses who have ever consumed psychedelics with whom structured interviews are done. To guarantee uniformity and dependability of the data, these interviews adhere to a predefined same set of questions

Secondary Data:

For this discourse analysis, the statements in this corpus originated from various published books on psychedelics and microdosing, laws in place by the government of India, various online journals and two of the most well known subreddit forums on the reddit website: r/LSD (~753k members) and r/shrooms (~681k members), which are communities devoted to particular topics that have a clear connection to psychedelic drugs. A common post type on forums such as these is the “trip report,” in which individuals describe a specific psychedelic experience they had. Trip reports can range in length from a few phrases to several in-depth paragraphs, but they always describe a unique experience using a psychedelic drug and have the ability to express perspectives on the drug that differ from those held by the general public.

Review Of Literature

(Historical Considerations to Contextualize Psychedelics)

Ibogaine, psilocybin, and other naturally occurring psychedelics all hold a significant place in the cultures of multiple indigenous communities.  Oral transmission of knowledge and stories on psychedelic drug usage dates back millennia, even before the first wave of white, western, and colonized research on psychedelics. These stories include therapeutic purposes, spiritual practices, and social rites. These indigenous origins are significant because they demonstrate that the current wave of academic psychedelic research, as well as the earlier academic movement surrounding psychedelics in the mid-1900s in the West, did not discover anything novel about the medical uses of the drugs (apart from the synthesis of LSD).

India has a long history of using psychedelic drugs, which dates back to ancient civilizations when they were revered as holy instruments for achieving enlightenment about consciousness and establishing spiritual connections. The Rigveda, the oldest of the four Vedas, is a collection of hymns and religious texts dating back to around 1500 BCE, and it frequently mentions the ritualistic use of a mysterious thing called Soma in Vedic ceremonies. Soma has a veritably significant place in the religious and artistic history of ancient India. Described as the “king of plants” and the “nectar of the gods,” Soma was consumed in ritualistic ceremonies to invoke divine experiences and connect with higher realms of consciousness. While the exact identity of Soma remains a subject of scholarly debate, some theories suggest that it could probably have been a psychedelic mushroom, the Amanita muscaria, a non-hallucinogen or a concoction of various plant extracts[3]. The ritual consumption of Soma was central to the Vedic sacrifices, known as Yajnas, where priests ingested the sacred substance to facilitate communion with the divine. The effects of Soma were believed to enhance spiritual sapience, promote creativity, and induce a sense of swoon, creating a ground between the material and spiritual worlds.

For thousands of years, psychedelics have also found a place in the rich Indian culinary culture. The first is Cannabis, consumed in form of “Bhang”. Bhang is typically made from the leaves and flowers of the female cannabis plant. it is especially associated with the Hindu festival of Holi and is considered a way to heighten the joy and merriment associated with the festival. In certain Hindu religious traditions, bhang is also consumed as part of religious rituals and ceremonies. Some followers believe that consuming bhang can help connect them with the divine and induce a state of transcendence during worship. While the cultural and religious use of bhang has deep roots in Indian traditions, it’s crucial to note the legal context. Cannabis, including its recreational use, is illegal in many parts of India. However, some regions, like the Indian state of Uttarakhand, have legalized the cultivation of cannabis for industrial and medicinal purposes[4]. In the context of religious and cultural practices, there are exceptions to the legal restrictions on cannabis. For example, the consumption of bhang during Holi is often permitted in certain regions[5], and it is considered a culturally accepted practice during this specific festival. More psychedelics in various forms such as Sarpagandha, Dhatura, nutmeg et cetera have a great significance in Indian History. They are integrated into Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic practices primarily for their purported health benefits and nutritional value. The cultural and historical context in which these substances are used is rooted in traditional medicine and spirituality rather than recreational or psychedelic purposes.

It is true that the idea of objectivity in science cannot be isolated from cultural influences or exist in a vacuum. Therefore, racism, white supremacy, and the colonizer’s worldview are deeply ingrained in western science’s general predisposition to dismiss indigenous and other therapeutic practises as being less legitimate—especially when it comes to psychedelics. The indigenous roots of psychedelic use need to be prioritised and elevated in order to resist the colonisation of psychedelic research and maintain historical accuracy. While the ceremonial uses of psychoactive plants in many indigenous civilizations vary slightly from one another, there are certain universal themes that emerge in diverse interpretations.

Current Laws That Ban Psychedelics in India

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, stands as a comprehensive legal framework in India aimed at regulating and controlling substances deemed as narcotics or psychotropic in nature. Among the substances covered by this legislation are various psychedelics, reflecting a broad prohibition on their production, possession, and use.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, defines and classifies substances into various schedules based on their potential for abuse and therapeutic value. Under the Act, substances like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocybin (found in psychedelic mushrooms), MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), and other hallucinogenic substances are classified as psychotropic substances. The Act aims to curb the production, sale, and consumption of these substances, considering them a threat to public health and societal well-being.

The NDPS Act prescribes severe punishments and penalties for offenses related to psychotropic substances. Offenders may face imprisonment, ranging from a few years to rigorous imprisonment for life, depending on the nature and quantity of the substance involved. Additionally, fines may be imposed[6].

It’s also important to note that the NDPS Act is not the only law in India that regulates psychedelics. There may also be other laws that apply, such as state-level drug control laws and regulations. India’s drug control measures are also influenced by international treaties and conventions, such as the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Analysis of Data Collected

According to a research study published by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Centre, one dose of a mind-altering substance found in hallucinogenic mushrooms, when paired with psychological counselling, greatly reduces the mental suffering of distressed cancer patients for months.[7] According to Jeffrey Guss, MD, a co-investigator on the study, there were no significant side effects experienced by the subjects, such as hospitalization or the development of more severe mental health issues.

In another study, conducted at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Long-term smokers who had made numerous unsuccessful attempts to kick the habit succeeded after using psilocybin, the primary hallucinogenic ingredient in so-called “magic mushrooms,” under close supervision and under strict control as part of a cognitive behavioural therapy treatment plan[8]. After years of smoking, an addictive pattern of thoughts and behaviours may become imprinted; psilocybin may assist break this pattern. Also, the advantages appear to continue when the medication wears off.

Reports from Reddit

Almost all trip reports, when subjected to rigorous thematic classification and analysis, describe the psychedelic experience as either deeply immersive entertainment, spiritually or emotionally enlightening, or a combination of the two.

“I was having crazy intense visuals, but I hardly noticed because the second it hit, it felt like somebody opened a gate inside of me and I finally got to understand myself. I spent 3 hours sitting on the floor of our kitchen with him, talking about everything that goes on in my head that I feel like I can never tell him. I was abused as a kid and have very 30 complicated feelings about my dad as a result, and I’ve never felt like I understood myself so much, or felt like I was allowed to acknowledge these things. Our relationship has changed so much just because of this. He is my favorite person in the world, and after 3 hours of him listening so intently to every word I said and crying along with me the whole time, I don’t think that will ever change” ~ r/shrooms

Psychedelics are primarily presented in this trip report as a tool for emotional processing and understanding, particularly in the context of past traumas. OP used the metaphor of a gate opening from within to explain how this moment of processing trauma came to be. The gate allowed OP to access a previously undiscovered area of their inner universe, and their renewed love for their spouse solidified the trip’s profundity.

“After getting out of the marines eight years ago I was severely depressed and suicidal. I had been for over a decade since around thirteen years old. It was the summer of 2013 and I had figured I wouldn’t make it to next year. A friend bought me and another buddy tickets to see. We tailgated in the parking lot and I was drinking steadily to offset my all too familiar social anxiety and negative thought habits. The show was starting in an hour and a woman from Colorado came up to our tent pitching bud. Some folks bought and I got this idea seemingly out of nowhere to ask if she had any shrooms to sell. Turns out she did. A dude who I’d met that day, and am still friends with now, kindly bought each of us an eighth. I ate the thing in one go which I now consider an amateur move due to the volatility of the come up but thankfully it didn’t go that way. As we were walking toward security I began to feel and notice some stuff I hadn’t experienced in ages. Something so foreign to me it kept taking my breath away. It was wonder. Straight, childlike, unencumbered wonder.  awoke the next morning a person I could scarcely recognize and it was this person that saved a life. I had no more urges to end it. I had no more worry about needing weekly therapy, or wondering if I should go back on antidepressants. I’d found something I never knew I would, happiness and contentment. Psilocybin saved my life. It still does to this day whenever I find myself needing a voyage to the other side of existence. It is so incredible and I am forever grateful toward it for it giving myself back to me.” ~ r/ LSD

“All I’m gonna add is I’ve been depressed for going on a decade now, got into mushroom, and in about a months time I was eating healthier, went and still am going to the gym regularly, have an actual social life with family my age now, and all around am so, so, SO much happier. Anecdotal sure, but like, I’m happy and you can’t take that away from me just because it’s anecdotal” ~ r/futurology

This particular trip further acts an evidence of how psychedelics if administrated properly in a micro dosage, can be life changing and life saving.

“All of a sudden everything was just so clear. I could understand how I was making my loved ones feel, I was super aware of my downward spiraling, and what I needed to do to stay off that thing. It was all so obvious and in front of my face but I was forced to really 33 look at my life. And so I did. Lots of tears were shed and I felt reborn spiritually… More importantly I haven’t had any crazy urges to throw my life away for opiates anymore. I am able to see my addiction for what it was and all of the destruction it caused.” ~ r/LSD

As shown, some revelations are so profound that they can be understood without the use of complex metaphors. The insight obtained from psychedelics can be brutally obvious for trippers battling with addiction, like this person. In this case, that clarity translated into a parallelly lucid report.

Conclusion

It can be said that psychedelic therapy has a lot of promise in terms of treating depression and other conditions. Purpose of micro dosing is not mind bending intoxication, but the enhancement of normal functionality. Psychedelics by themselves won’t heal everyone in a miraculous way. Although they can be of great assistance, the outcome is mostly dependent on the Set and Setting in which they are used. The overwhelming majority of research showing their beneficial effects for PTSD and depression are when they’re given in controlled settings with combined therapy. The research of the same needs to be promoted in our country India. It should absolutely be studied and legalized with heavy regulation. For that, it first demands its decriminalization to a certain extent, if not legalization.

Written by-

Name: Sanan Bansal

University Name: Dr B. R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat


[1] World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression (last visited Nov. 13, 2023)

[2] BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-66072427 (last visited Nov. 13, 2023)

[3] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1970-01-01_3_page004.html (last visited Nov. 13, 2023)

[4] The Hindu BusinessLine, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/cannabis-cultivation-is-now-legal-in-uttarakhand/article24381601.ece, (last visited Nov. 11, 2023)

[5] National Institutes of Health (gov.), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4220341/ (last visited Nov. 12, 2023)

[6] NDPC Act, 1985, § 20, No. 61, Acts of Parliament, 1985 (India).

[7] NYU Langone Health, https://nyulangone.org/news/single-dose-hallucinogenic-drug-psilocybin-relieves-anxiety-depression-patients-advanced-cancer (last visited Nov. 9, 2023)

[8] Johns Hopkins University , https://hub.jhu.edu/2014/09/11/magic-mushrooms-smoking/ (last visited Nov. 13, 2023)

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