In Psychedelics We Trust!

 

If we look at any of Pink Floyd’s live performances, the act presents us with more than just the music. The surreal sounds often in the background of their songs and the strange symbolic imagery projected have always been central elements to their shows; the music itself is hardly half the act. The psychedelic rock scene emerged in a time when a mind-altering experience became available in the western world, outside the context of shamans and sacred rituals, and it shaped the 1960s; Timothy Leary, an assistant professor at Harvard, was conducting series of experiments using psilocybin –the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms-, which later became known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. A few years after Leary’s arrest, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters began holding the Acid Tests in Kesey’s house; series of parties where LSD was given for free, and by 1968, LSD was a street drug and an icon of the hippie movement. It is no surprise that bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson or the Grateful Dead were quite popular during this period, the whole premise of psychedelic rock (or any psychedelic art) was to simulate some aspect of a psychedelic experience.

Psychedelic substances, particularly psilocybin, were first brought to the public eye in 1957, after the publication of Gordon Wasson’s article Seeking the Magic Mushroom in Life magazine. What distinguishes, say mushrooms or acid from other drugs is their impact on consciousness and perception. In the spring of 1953, Aldous Huxley took four-tenths of a gram of mescalin dissolved in half a glass of water and documented his experience into what later became The Doors of Perception. An hour and a half after taking the ‘drug’, he sat down for a moment in his study, and kept staring at vase of flowers, when somebody asked him “is it agreeable?” he replied “neither agreeable nor disagreeable, it just is.”

What Huxley described is quite familiar to almost anyone who had taken a psychedelic drug before. Often referred to as “ego-loss” or “complete transcendence”; a radical loss of self-consciousness occurring in the first phase of a psychedelic trip. This sudden realization is similar to getting out of the cave in Plato’s allegory, and experiencing the world unfiltered, or “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation –the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence”, i.e. a flower, a musical piece, a movie or just a view is experienced not as one is constructed to, socially, culturally or even psychologically; the experience becomes free of all the prejudices and beyond any constructed notion of either the self or the other; what Huxley called the “Is-ness” of reality. But behind the technical terms lies a really simple notion; things are weirder than they seem, we usually see only what we are constructed to see, and psychedelics allow to see things as simple as they ‘actually’ are.

This notion was no mystery to the ancient people. Psychedelics, for most of history, weren’t used outside a religious context and in rituals to commune with gods and spirits. Peyote, a cactus from which mescaline is extracted, is an integral element of many Native American tribes’ spiritual pharmacopeia, Mazatec tribes have been using magic mushrooms in healing rituals for as early as 5000 B.C. in some tribes it is believed that they only grow where the blood or saliva of Christ fell, Yage, or ayahuasca, is used as sacrament in many shamanic traditions and is important in strengthening spiritual relationships.

Humphry Osmond coined the term ‘Psychedelic’ in 1956, meaning ‘mind manifesting’. But he is also known for a study he conducted in the late 1950s in which he attempted to treat alcoholics by replicating an episode of delirium tremens using large doses of LSD, this came to be known later as the psychedelic treatment model. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the scientific circles were big on psychedelics, testing them on prison convicts, people with ADHD, post-traumatic stress, end-of-life crisis, for therapeutic then later on artists and scientists in order to explore creativity, in other words, almost anyone who has seen a doctor; we may not know the extent of psychedelics. In 1970, scientific researches on psychedelics came to halt, after being put on Schedule 1 by the Controlled Substances Act. 40 years later, they are back.

In April 2016, researchers from Imperial College London published pictures of the first brain scan of LSD effects. The study focused on the two known aspects of a psychedelics trip; the hallucinations and shift in consciousness. Under LSD, the different regions in the brain communicate, when they don’t normally do, in particular with the visual cortex, correlated with reduced blood flow in the ‘default mode’ neuronal network; which causes disintegration in the sense of self; ego-loss. “Before the 1960s, LSD was studied for its potential therapeutic uses, as were other hallucinogens” stated David Nutt –one of the study’s lead researchers- in an interview with Nature (International weekly journal of science), “for brain researchers, studying how psychedelic drugs such as LSD alter the normal brain state is a way to study the biological phenomenon that is consciousness.”

This study is one of many being conducted in universities across North America and Europe. Psychedelics are now getting serious attention and not taken lightly. A ‘psychedelic renaissance’ is echoing from columns in Psychology Today to a story in The New Yorker. In a video by WeAreChange, filmed at the 2015 Free Your Mind conference, Dennis McKenna –a ethnopharmocologist and trusted voice in the psychedelic subculture- said, in reply to whether he believes that there had been a progressing understanding of psychedelics: “there is a psychedelic renaissance right now, and I think that’s happening in part, because people sense we are in crisis, and they sense maybe ayahuasca or other psychedelics are the answer to this, in the sense that they help change hearts and minds.”

The usefulness of psychedelics is beyond just an interesting subject for scientific research, or simply as a religious sacrament. A psychedelic trip reminds us somehow that what we think we are or what we know is not the only thing there is, and that we are all, in a sense, part of the same thing. Mystical concepts like the Third Eye or higher consciousness, though reoccurring in the psychedelia subculture, are taken with a pinch of salt. In a sense, the whole concept of spirituality is reinvented in nonreligious terms by detaching the ideas from the beliefs surrounding them, into their raw form. Some may even argue that with the falling impact of religion, psychedelics might just be the next moral guidance. This is not to say that we may have finally found something we can excess without being harmed. We are at a relatively early stage in the discovery of both the human mind and the extent of psychedelics, and these substances have potential as tools to guide us in a whole new ocean that we know very little about.

Send Nudes! – The unbearable aporia of seduction

By the time I was 21, I had been exposed to several seduction modi operandi, regardless of gender or sexuality, each with specific characteristics, rules and notions, in some regards, I’d consider them schools. At that period, I thought seduction became degrading in the sense that it reduced part of the human experience to ‘simple telepathic dialogues of hidden messages’. It has always seemed to me that people, or at least most of them, however different, respond and act according to a certain code of seduction, fashioned for the type of personality they fit in. Seduction itself, though it may hardly seem like a pressing issue, is quite revealing and kaleidoscopic, and as I came to realize it later, it was beyond any notion of good and evil.

Nowadays, choice of romantic, or sexual, partner has become much more complicated than it was in the past. Standards of attraction have changed immensely, and by time extended to include, much more than just physical appearances, personality traits, manners, gestures, and even profiles, and with that, our seduction patterns developed as well. It doesn’t seem crucial that some people are more preferable than others, but when examined closely, we may realize that almost all of our attraction patterns are more or less riddled.

Although seduction and beauty standards differ from culture to culture and even from person to person, one can tell with a certain assurance that attractive, hot, or seductive, can be used to describe anyone either from Frank Sinatra to Eddie Vedder, or from Jayne Mansfield to Charlize Theron, but not necessarily Simone de Beauvoir or Gandhi. It couldn’t be that some people are simply attractive by nature, than because they are generally agreed to be so. The emergence of Western culture to global mainstream from the late 1950s up until now had the major influence on the way we look at seduction, love, sex, and even romantic acquaintance. As worldwide communication became possible, not only political thoughts, and cultural values, but also standards of attraction were communicated, and some even universally agreed upon; many people would argue today that pop culture, to a certain extent, defines what is ‘beautiful’ or ‘cool’. The impact of pop culture on our seduction patterns can be sensed in the way male and female beauty standards changed throughout the latter half of the 20th century. On a longer term, not only could beauty standards include only the seductive-labeled profiles, as portrayed by pop culture, but people may not even be able to identify themselves as anything outside the personality types seen in television or any other media outlet. Eventually, individuals will be arranged in a social hierarchy in which they are ranked not according to status or income, but based on their seduction abilities, which are often controlled by factors not vulnerable to their control.

Any moral judgment on seduction will then be based primarily on the act’s long term consequences, for seduction itself is only means to an end; according to which standards and strategies differ. These strategies are defined as ‘evolved solutions to adaptive problems’, but, people hardly think in terms of ‘strategy’ when attempting to seduce someone, either sexually or romantically. The approach comes off almost out of spontaneity, and often rendered useless if one fits the beauty standards. In this regard, seduction, with its prejudices and idiosyncrasies, may seem in essence just another way to approach people, with a specific aim, simply put; a social behavior.

One seduction school that really fascinated me is what we can simply refer to as the “Don’t Try” school. Its only approach is simple; in order to seduce a partner, you don’t try to seduce, you let things be. What I found very fascinating about it is its care-free attitude, its belief that things, however chaotic they may seem, are still guided by some unknown force or nature, and somehow the universe maintains its balance. Its premise is that we will be naturally drawn to someone with whom seduction methods would be rendered useless. This school, although it seems to be based on the belief that not showing interest is one way to show interest, or is one way to entice a prospect partner’s interest, thereby working as a psychological loophole, is nevertheless a negation of seduction, and furthermore a negation of its intent.

Another thing to take into consideration when examining our seduction approaches is one’s perception of this intent, i.e. love, sex and relationships. Many people agree that love and sex are related, others believe that they have nothing to do with one another, yet, they each believe that their conception of love is the actual definition of the concept. It is obviously a matter of universal confusion; the meaning of love, in both the general and the narrow sense of the word, is different from historical period, culture and person to another, some people may not even believe in love, and in many parts of the world, people are not even open to the concept. Here, the expression ‘to make love’ remains a dangerous way to signify sex. For one thing, human beings are naturally hardwired to seek out sex, and we can’t reconcile any definition of real, passionate Eros love with casual sex, at most, it can be described simply as sexual love, or making love out of necessity.

It is generally believed that love for someone will only be fulfilled in a relationship, even though people may hardly be able to clearly define the way they feel for one another, or even for love. We can say that love is in general taken seriously, and at certain extents deemed a need and even a purpose. But no matter how committed people are in relationships, some still cheat, regret a relationship or marriage, and their love life eventually becomes dull, and others maintain a healthy relationship, passionate both physically and emotionally, despite old age or differences. This, if anything, questions whether a romantic relationship is a one size that fits all, or if feelings cannot be defined in a social relations.

The ‘Don’t Try’ school works as a negation of seduction in the way it rises above any conception of love or attraction. It is a realization that when attempting to seduce someone, we may hardly know what we want or what to expect, the one thing we are sure of is that we want a certain person, the intent of the act itself is not defined, but one follows an invisible force, impulse or gut feeling. Its renown ‘just be yourself’ tip distracts the seducer into doing something else, thereby involuntarily arriving at the desired, yet unclear, aim.

The parable of human seduction is an ironic one. Our seductive approaches feed upon our (mis)conceptions and what becomes of them. Once examined, it seems an unnecessary process for such a simple and natural aim. But as a social behavior, seduction became not just a sly way to get around to one’s purpose, but the norm to get to this purpose; to entice a partner is to seduce. It would be wrong to say that one seduction method works for all, but not entirely so to say that to each, there is an adequate seduction technique, but needs to be discovered.

Everything is legal in Morocco – A holy shit kind of thing.

When I come to think of it, I take it for granted that my stoner experience was, in large, a conventional one; at first, I couldn’t imagine cannabis outside a ‘lowlife’ and degenerate context, but by and by, it became a matter of usualness, and furthermore a political entity, after the proposal of a draft law by the PAM (Party of Authenticity and Modernity) in 2014. Although it wasn’t until a few years ago that legalization of cannabis farms became a topic in Morocco, there is no denying that cannabis itself has always been a thing here, and despite being branded as a drug and prohibited after the independence, there is an unspoken consensus amongst Moroccan that it makes a large sum of the country’s economy and cultural landscape.

When it comes to cannabis, there seems to be something very fake, or at least ambiguous, about where Moroccans stand.

This is a country that, according to the legend, produces half of the cannabis in the world, and approximately 70% of the Hash in Europe. Looking back at history, it was introduced sometime between the seventh and the fifteenth century, during the Arab Invasion of the Maghreb. By the 16th century, cannabis was legally cultivated nationwide, in small orchards and gardens for personal use; only to become a trade in 1890 after the Sultan Hassan I had granted cannabis cultivation privileges to several Rif tribes only.

Following the Moroccan independence in 1956, King Mohammed V prohibited cannabis; Rif tribes nevertheless preserved their cultivation rights, thereby making the Rif region in the north a monopole of the hash industry. So far goes the saga, then Hash became international. In the late 1960’s, at the spread of the hippie movement, many young western tourists became interested in Morocco, and eventually hash, and with big rise in demands by smugglers, many cultivators adopted large scale techniques to produce larger quantities, earning Morocco a reputation as a utopia for hash smokers.

The experience itself is still ambivalent, as the ethos surrounding cannabis has changed throughout the centuries. Josep Mateo Dieste’s book, Health and Ritual in Morocco, describes the local culture surrounding, among other substances, cannabis prior to the 1950s. Due to the tolerance of its cultivation in northern Morocco, the region is an area of large scale cannabis production, mostly for the European market. It was consumed in many forms; pipes (sebsi), Maajoun (which is traditional edible made of cannabis, honey and spices), mixed food and tea in ceremonies as a ceremonial treat. Cannabis was also a popular product in small cafés, used by almost anyone, even in Sufi rituals; the Heddawa brotherhood of Bani Arus had a hut which was used only for smoking. Nowadays if you asked anyone smoking a joint in the street, if they aren’t afraid of being arrested, they would jokingly say that everything is legal in Morocco. Asserting that cannabis is quite popular in Morocco may not be enough, as a Moroccan, this goes without saying.

When I look at the majority of my friends and people I know, if not all, they are, in one way or another, stoners. Cannabis, or particularly hash, was no longer the favorite of juvenile delinquents and hooligans only; the experience extended to include almost everyone, and eventually became a part of daily life. At some point, the public, or at least segments of it, were flirting with the notion that hash was a symbol of the ‘cool young post-Arab Spring Morocco’. The ambivalence of the experience made everything more mystical than it actually is; hash was a symbol of resistance, a poet’s muse, and at times, a mere sedative. Cannabis use was no longer constraint to some age category or social class, it became everyman’s game ,young musicians, political activists, romantics, artists, philosophy enthusiasts, working men and just plain people from here and there. It was no longer the experience of one man telling us what’s what; the experience extended to include almost everyone, and at some level, everyone accepted that. In other words, if you smoke hash, then you are part of a subculture, which doesn’t realize itself as such.

In May 2009, Fouad Ali El Himma called for national debate regarding cannabis farms, and to re-brand cannabis as a traditional herbal palliative, rather than a dangerous drug. He received major support from different political parties, including the Islamist PJD (Party of Justice and Development). Later in 2014, the PAM (Party of Authenticity and Modernity) proposed a draft law which would keep the recreational use of cannabis illegal but license growing for medicinal and industrial products, the sale of which the state would monopolize.

However is cannabis presented, in people’s daily talks, among people smoking hash, old men smoking Kif, among musicians, political activists, and artists, in social media, talk shows, and even parliament, such moves to legalization (or at the very least legalization debate), shows acknowledgement of the fact that Moroccan drug-policy, if its aim was to limit the number of users, it has so far failed. In spite of that, legal (or at the very least, tolerated) cannabis is not really at hand.

Cannabis, in Morocco, Afghanistan, Lebanon or anywhere else, is not the only drug with cultural significance. It comes in a long line of substances, sedatives, or drugs, which have been used in a cultural context, sometimes almost religious, throughout history in Central America, west central Africa, India and everywhere else. Drug use, for lack of a better term, is universal and perhaps, even natural This is hardly news, as almost every human society has honored this statement; use of opium and hallucinogens date back to as early as the mid-sixth millennium B.C., magic mushrooms were central components in many Central American cults for as early as 900 B.C.

Legal status comes much later in a process, the early phase of which is our attitude towards what we call ‘drugs’. Beyond the fact that cannabis remains illegal in most parts of the country (cannabis cultivation is tolerated is the northern region) and still branded as a drug, although we are aware of how prevalent it is, and its economic significance, but what ties us to it today is merely necessity. Simply put, cannabis is part culture, but unlike Vodka for Russians, and Bourbon for Southerners, cannabis doesn’t come in the same line as Couscous or mint tea. This attitude is how the experience became ambivalent; it comes down to a moral crisis; the collision of what we think our nature is like, and how we think we should be.