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بخش 07

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Once the acute effects wore off, Hofmann felt the “afterglow” that frequently follows a psychedelic experience, the exact opposite of a hangover. When he walked out into his garden after a spring rain, “everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created.” We’ve since learned that the experience of psychedelics is powerfully influenced by one’s expectation; no other class of drugs are more suggestible in their effects. Because Hofmann’s experiences with LSD are the only ones we have that are uncontaminated by previous accounts, it’s interesting to note they exhibit neither the Eastern nor the Christian flavorings that would soon become conventions of the genre. However, his experience of familiar objects coming to life and the world “as if newly created”—the same rapturous Adamic moment that Aldous Huxley would describe so vividly a decade later in The Doors of Perception—would become commonplaces of the psychedelic experience.

Hofmann came back from his trip convinced, first, that LSD had somehow found him rather than the other way around and, second, that LSD would someday be of great value to medicine and especially psychiatry, possibly by offering researchers a model of schizophrenia. It never occurred to him that his “problem child,” as he eventually would regard LSD, would also become a “pleasure drug” and a drug of abuse.

Yet Hofmann also came to regard the youth culture’s adoption of LSD in the 1960s as an understandable response to the emptiness of what he described as a materialist, industrialized, and spiritually impoverished society that had lost its connection to nature. This master of chemistry—perhaps the most materialist of all disciplines—emerged from his experience with LSD-25 convinced the molecule offered civilization not only a potential therapeutic but also a spiritual balm—by opening a crack “in the edifice of materialist rationality.” (In the words of his friend and translator, Jonathan Ott.)

Like so many who followed after him, the brilliant chemist became something of a mystic, preaching a gospel of spiritual renewal and reconnection with nature. Presented with a bouquet of roses that 2006 day in Basel, the scientist told the assembled that “the feeling of co-creatureliness with all things alive should enter our consciousness more fully and counterbalance the materialistic and nonsensical technological developments in order to enable us to return to the roses, to the flowers, to nature, where we belong.” The audience erupted in applause.

A skeptical witness to the event would not be entirely wrong to regard the little man on the stage as the founder of a new religion and the audience as his congregation. But if this is a religion, it’s one with a significant difference. Typically, only the founder of a religion and perhaps a few early acolytes can lay claim to the kind of authority that flows from a direct experience of the sacred. For everyone coming after, there is the comparatively thin gruel of the stories, the symbolism of the sacrament, and faith. History attenuates the original power of it all, which now must be mediated by the priests. But the extraordinary promise on offer in the Church of Psychedelics is that anyone at any time may gain access to the primary religious experience by means of the sacrament, which happens to be a psychoactive molecule. Faith is rendered superfluous.

Running alongside the celebration’s spiritual undercurrent, however, there also, perhaps somewhat incongruously, came science. During the weekend symposium following the observation of Hofmann’s birthday, researchers from a variety of disciplines—including neuroscience, psychiatry, pharmacology, and consciousness studies, as well as the arts—explored the impact of Hofmann’s invention on society and culture and its potential for expanding our understanding of consciousness and treating several intractable mental disorders. A handful of research projects, studying the effects of psychedelics on humans, had been approved or were under way in Switzerland and the United States, and scientists at the symposium voiced their hope that the long hiatus in psychedelic research might finally be coming to an end. Irrational exuberance seems to be an occupational hazard among people working in this area, but in 2006 there was good reason to think the weather might actually be turning.

• • • THE SECOND WATERSHED EVENT of 2006 came only five weeks later when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision written by the new chief justice, John G. Roberts Jr., ruled that the UDV, a tiny religious sect that uses a hallucinogenic tea called ayahuasca as its sacrament, could import the drink to the United States, even though it contains the schedule 1 substance dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. The ruling was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which had sought to clarify the right (under the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause) of Native Americans to use peyote in their ceremonies, as they have done for generations. The 1993 law says that only if the government has a “compelling interest” can it interfere with one’s practice of religion. In the UDV case, the Bush administration had argued that only Native Americans, because of their “unique relationship” to the government, had the right to use psychedelics as part of their worship, and even in their case this right could be abridged by the state.

The Court soundly rejected the government’s argument, interpreting the 1993 law to mean that, absent a compelling state interest, the federal government cannot prohibit a recognized religious group from using psychedelic substances in their observances. Evidently, this includes relatively new and tiny religious groups specifically organized around a psychedelic sacrament, or “plant medicine,” as the ayahuasqueros call their tea. The UDV is a Christian spiritist sect founded in 1961 in Brazil by José Gabriel da Costa, a rubber tapper inspired by revelations he experienced after receiving ayahuasca from an Amazonian shaman two years before. The church claims 17,000 members in six countries, but at the time of the ruling there were only 130 American members of the UDV. (The initials stand for União do Vegetal, or Union of the Plants, because ayahuasca is made by brewing together two Amazonian plant species, Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis.)

The Court’s decision inspired something of a religious awakening around ayahuasca in America. Today there are close to 525 American members of the church, with communities in nine locations. To supply them, the UDV has begun growing the plants needed to make the tea in Hawaii and shipping it to groups on the mainland without interference. But the number of Americans participating in ayahuasca ceremonies outside the UDV has also mushroomed in the years since, and any given night there are probably dozens if not hundreds of ceremonies taking place somewhere in America (with concentrations in the San Francisco Bay Area and Brooklyn). Federal prosecutions for possession or importation of ayahuasca appear to have stopped, at least for the time being.

With its 2006 decision, the Supreme Court seems to have opened up a religious path—narrow, perhaps, but firmly rooted in the Bill of Rights—to the legal recognition of psychedelic drugs, at least when they’re being used as a sacrament by a religious community. It remains to be seen how wide or well trod that path will become, but it does make you wonder what the government, and the Court, will do when an American José Gabriel da Costa steps forward and attempts to turn his or her own psychedelic revelations into a new religion intent on using a psychoactive chemical as its sacrament. The jurisprudence of “cognitive liberty,” as some in the psychedelic community call it, is still scant and limited (to religion), but now it had been affirmed, opening a new crack in the edifice of the drug war.

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