The Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP) just put my thesis up online! I’ve been a member of the group since 2011 – extremely active, vocal group full of rigorous academic work on the benefits, drawbacks, and remarkable distinctness of psychoactives and psychoactive experience. The group comes from a wide variety of national and disciplinary backgrounds, and I’m really happy to have the opportunity to get the thesis online with them!
This article makes me terrified and furious at the same time. My research could land me in jail. Legitimate and legal activities performed by researchers in other countries, if they violate US law, could land those researchers in jail.
It is fiscally, logistically – not to mention morally – implausible to continue fighting this so-called “war” on civil liberties and cognitive-spiritual freedom. Certainly there are psychoactive substances that are dangerous. I have a significant amount of personal experience with members of my family and rehab. We need a lot more research and much better education at all levels about what different substances can do, and what they can’t, and where the lines are drawn. But criminalization and prohibition is the most ridiculous answer from a policy perspective that I can imagine. It costs more in raw dollars, lives, and time than it will ever merit back, and incarcerates people who simply need help and rehabilitation, and puts drastic limits on all the good that many of these substances could do. These kind of misguided laws amplify the social harm they seek to prevent through an unconscionable process of misinformation and criminalization.
To extend that kind of policy outward such that treatment facilities and healing centers working in other countries with different ideas about how psychoactive substances can or should be used now act as legal traps for US researchers and therapists working in these fields? Unconscionable.
Update [2011-12-09]: The bill is HR 313. A summary can be found here. To be clear, what I find frustrating is not the ostensible purposes of the bill. While I would argue (with anyone that will listen) that prohibition is an absurd policy stance, what I am frustrated with about the bill is not what I perceive to be the obvious attempt to stop those who are colluding to traffic narcotics outside of, and ultimately into, the US. I understand that the point of the bill is to give the government some kind of leverage so that people guilty of actions outside the country, explicitly designed to break laws in the US, are able to be put within the legal grasp of the justice machinery. I understand that. What I’m frustrated with is two-fold. First, it’s implausible to suspect that we can actually enforce laws like this. Making it a law, from the way I understand what I’ve read of it, seems unlikely to actually lead to a significant number of arrests, and even less actual stymying of the flow of illicit substances across US borders. Second, the way the law is structured (again, if I understand it correctly), it casts such a wide net that researchers working on cannabis in other countries, people working with substances banned in this country but that are being used for medical purposes in other countries (like ayahuasca and addiction, ayahuasca and depression, among many, many others) would be in serious danger of arrest. My own research, which I have intended to orient toward a study of ayahuasca tourism as a form of religious pilgrimage, could be construed as an active attempt to break US drug laws outside of the country. My frustration is that the law may very well cast a net so wide, or at least leave room open for this kind of interpretation, that legitimate research being done outside of the US will be impacted. Our own draconian drug laws are our own problem to fight and work through. But I need to understand this law better, and I very much hope that I’m misunderstanding the ways in which it could be applied.
Bia Labate sent this along, asking if friends would post it to their blogs. I’m doing so! Anyone who’s involved in this kind of research, I know they’d love to have more people show up. I’d go if I could, but I’m unfortunately too busy that week.
Phillipe Lucas, Research Affiliate at the Center for Addictions Research of British Colombia, Brian Anderson, MD Candidate at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Bia Labate, Research Associate at the Institute of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg University, have the privilege to organize a meeting and dialogue of international ayahuasca researchers as a adjunct to the upcoming MAPS conference in Oakland (http://www.maps.org/conference/25/). The meeting will take place at the conference site (Oakland Marriott City Center) on Sunday, Dec. 11th, 2:30-4:30, and is free but will be exclusive to ayahuasca academics. Participants will be invited to share current projects, successes, and challenges, and to discuss the present and the future of the international ayahuasca research. To sign up for this Ayahuasca Researcher Dialogue, please email Phillipe (firstname.lastname@example.org) to express your interest.
The Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness (SAC) has put out their theme for the February conference: Plants and Religion. Given that we’re actively working on establishing a Working Group on Plants and Religion, the timing seems remarkable. I need to start drumming up a good paper topic to submit, yeah?
I’ve just joined NEIP! To quote from their website:
“The NEIP – Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies – was founded in 2001 and is a center for study of psychoactive substances that brings together scholars in the Human Sciences affiliated with various institutions to promote joint reflection on the topic. The NEIP has functioned above all as a space for academic dialogue useful in developing our own research. “
It is headed up by Bia Labate who is one of the preeminent scholars, both in Brazil and internationally, on Ayahuasca. I am extremely honored to be allowed to join, and am very excited about the opportunity. My profile has been put up here, and a PDF of one of my essays on ayahuasca has been published over here!
Very, very exciting stuff!
I’m toying around with this as a potential MA thesis topic. I’m posting it here for possible feedback and thoughts… I’m excited about the ideas, whether they go forward in exactly this form or not!
Update – 2011/10/08 – Minor rewording
The Trees are Human: Psychoactive Plants, the Subjectivity of Nature, and an Engagement with Modernity in the Napo Runa Kichwa Culture of Ecuador
This thesis is an exploration of the intersection of three distinct areas of inquiry: the experience – shamanic, religious, mystical, or ecstatic – of psychoactive plants; worldviews that recognize and affirm subjectivity and agency in the other-than-human-persons of plants, animals, and places; and how such worldviews engage with, resist, integrate, and transform forces of globalization, in terms of neoliberal economic policy, cultural integration of technological change, and democratic forms of government and self-government. In following a set of concepts put forward by Ralph Metzner among others, this work suggests that unique responses to the ecological and psycho-social devastation currently facing the techno-scientific, capitalist-industrialist “modern” world may very well be found in the link between worldviews affirming the subjectivity of nature, and the phenomenology of the experience of psychoactive plants. This is to say that it is possible that affirming the subjectivity of aspects of the “natural” world can act as a means by which ecological factors cease to be understood only as resources for human exploitation. This thesis presents an effort to understand how Napo Runa people are able to engage with the seemingly inherent tensions between the forces of globalization and more traditional ways of understanding the world, without forcing a false dialectical synthesis. By focusing on specific ethnographic research, an effort is made to see these worldviews in context with one another as they are being actively lived and negotiated. This research focuses on understanding and communicating the complexity of lived worldviews through stories, histories, and the relating of experiences of the Napo Runa Kichwa people near Tena, Ecuador. This ethnographic research is done in an attempt to ascertain how psychoactive plants and worldviews that affirm the subjectivity of the other-than-human “natural” world are in dialogue with one another, and thereby mutually informing. Embedded within such an effort is a questioning of whether or not the “tensions” that might be perceived between these worldviews and techno-scientific ones present themselves as such for Runa people, or if such tensions are a product of putatively Western and, perhaps more explicitly, academic, categories. Shaping the aims of this research is the question of how people, both shamans and non-shamans, characterize their experience with psychoactive plants, what they draw from these experiences as personally meaningful, and how these experiences have translated into action in, and understanding of, the world. An effort is made to ensure that the immediate and personal experiences of people stand side by side with discussions of urbanization, neoliberal economic policy, and techno-scientific modernity, such that categorical contrasts are neither ignored nor erected without immediate grounding in lived experience.
This summer, I’ve been given the opportunity to study Kichwa (Quechua) in Ecuador! I’m extremely excited about the opportunity, as Kichwa is spoken in both Peru and Ecuador, which is where I hope to do fieldwork. With many words of the language showing up in the discourses surrounding plants and spirits in vegetalismo, as well as in the icaros sung by ayahuasqueros, Kichwa is particularly apt for the research I want to do, and I couldn’t be more excited or grateful for the chance to go. For anyone who’s interested in more information, the field school’s website is here, and a little bit more about some of the programs can be found here.