Rewards for the individual

It is inherently unlikely that chemicals could be central to a constructive culture and no convincing support for the assertion has yet been produced. (That chemicals might be central to a destructive culture is another matter.) Certainly, like-minded people practising what are often illegal activities will gather into closely knit subgroups for mutual support, and will feel a sense of community, but that is hardly a 'culture'. Even when drug-using subgroups are accepted as representing a subculture, it may be doubted if drugs are sufficiently central to their ideology to justify using 'drug' in the title. But claims for value to the individual and to society of drug experience must surely be tested by the criterion of fruitfulness for both, and the judgement of the individual concerned alone is insufficient; it must be agreed by others. The results of both legal and illegal drug use do not give encouragement to press for a large-scale experiment in this field.

It is claimed that drugs provide mystical experience and that this has valid religious content. Mystical experience may be defined as a combination of feelings of unity (oneness with nature and/or God), ineffability (experience beyond the subject's power to express), joy (peace, sacredness), knowledge (insight into truths of life and values, illuminations), and transcendence (of space and time).

When such states do occur there remains the question whether they tell us something about a reality outside the individual or merely something about the mind of the person having the experience. Mystical experience is not a normal dose-related pharmacodynamic effect of any drug, its occurrence depends on many factors such as the subject's personality, mood, environment, conditioning. The drug facilitates rather than induces the experience; and drugs can facilitate unpleasant as well as pleasant experiences. It is not surprising that mystical experience can occur with a wide range of drugs that alter consciousness:

.. .1 seemed at first in a state of utter blankness ... with a keen vision of what was going on in the room around me, but no sensation of touch. I thought that I was near death; when, suddenly, my soul became aware of God, who was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so to speak, in an intense personal, present reality ... I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt.3

This experience occurred in the 19th century with chloroform; a general anaesthetic obsolete because of cardiac depression and hepatotoxicity.

There is no good evidence that drugs can produce experience that passes the test of results, i.e. fruitfulness to the individual and to society. Plainly there is a risk of the experience becoming an end in itself rather than a means of development.

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