Marijuana Legalization Will Be As Disruptive As Any Emergent Technology

What happens when people regain the right to hack their brain through drugs and technology in equal amounts?

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It is practically a cliche to say technology is changing our world at an ever increasing speeds. Old structures are being destroyed and people are becoming educated like never before. Nearly all of this is thanks to the internet and the other emergent technologies it has spawned. But something else has happened parallel to the explosion of technology. Marijuana is becoming legal and research into psychedelics is starting to ramp up again.

Before he died in 1995, acid-guru and 60s icon Timothy Leary saw the power of the internet and called the PC the LSD of the 1990s. His virtual reality predictions were a few decades too early, but likewise, they don’t sound too far off today. [via Ocean Drive Magazine republished in ecomall]

“[W]hen you think of virtual reality, think of immersive realities in which you can move through the rooms and the halls of an electronic house. You can click on electronic books and open them up. You can click on paintings and you can go through the Louvre. [. . .] within two or three years, your average kid in America or Japan will be designing their own little homes. And you’ll click through telephone, you’ll modem over and you’ll be in the person’s home, and the person will say, ‘Hey, look at this new painting I have!’ Click. Or ‘Hey, I’ve got my friend here Joe from Tokyo.’ Click. ‘Talk to Joe.’”

It wasn’t just that Leary saw the value in computers and the internet. He walked the walk, programming psychedelic experiences with extremely limited technology in his old age. Most people can’t imagine dedicating their life to psychology, psychedelics and counter-culture and then in the final years of their life, tackling a brand new and utterly foreign technology like computer programming. Leary did not just that, but you could arguably say he excelled at it, at least when it comes to creating digital art that couldn’t be done in any other medium.

There was also his friendship with Marshall McLuhan, who is credited with predicting the internet in the 60s and coined the phrase “The medium is the message”. McLuhan is considered the birth of modern technological philosophy, and Timothy Leary is pretty close to that for Psychedelics (although, Aldous Huxley and others have him beat chronologically, Leary was arguably the first to popularize psychedelic philosophy). McLuhan taught Leary how to promote LSD like an advertiser and inspired him to coin his own famous phrase “Turn on, tune in and drop out” that simultaneously excited a young generation and frightened an older one.

Technology and psychedelics connect from the other end as well. It has been well publicized that Steve Jobs experimented with psychedelics it has been said, gave LSD some credit for his unique perspective.

But, the psychedelic revolution of the 60s and early 70s failed. Its light was extinguished by the likes of Richard Nixon, Gordon B. Liddy and Ronald Reagan. Our culture rid itself of its psychedelic influences in the decade of greed. The 80s acted like a detoxification of everything left over from the Psychedelic revolution. Timothy Leary and Abbie Hoffman may have been technically alive, but few people took them seriously on a national level.

Even in the 90s, Another 60s seemed impossible, our society was just too different. We had moved past the greed of the 80s but instead of going back to idealism, we settled on indifference. High minded philosophers peddling consciousness and co-operation among humans aren’t much more appealing in that atmosphere than in a decade dominated by greed. Leary and other surviving leaders from the 60s were seen as curiosities, not dangerous leaders. Their influence seemingly waned. In the 70s Leary spent more than four years in jail on a 100 year sentence, for less than a half ounce of marijuana and a vague alleged conspiracy about the global distribution of LSD. He was released after the fall of he Nixon administration and the public revelations of illegal actions by the FBI against organized groups, but it was the change in culture and not any harassment from law enforcement that killed the movement.

But below the surface, things were building back up in the 90s. The internet was beginning to resemble something usable and it started to open up people’s minds in ways surprisingly similar to psychedelics.

There are a lot of feelings one can have while in the depths of a psychedelic trip. But one that comes up over and over again for people all around the world and across the centuries, is the feeling of being one with the world. Nearly everyone that does enough psychedelics reports feeling their ego dissolve and a connection to every living thing in the world.

The internet is making that a reality, in a sense. Increasingly, we are connected. To each other, to inanimate objects and even to other biological organisms. 3D printing and Bitcoin will make new economic systems that may make new technology-powered iterations of the communal living experiments attempted during the 60s more feasible and scaleable. And virtual reality will bring us to worlds that could only be visited previously by ingesting large amounts of psychedelics, and visit them with friends.

Tim and Marshall
Timothy Leary Discusses Marshall Mcluhan during speech on VR [via Archive.org]
More significant, whereas psychedelics give the illusion or temporary sensation of enlightenment, the internet offers actual enlightenment. It may not be easy to see through the fog of Twitter wars and racist YouTube comments, but the internet offers a world-class education to anyone willing to reach out and grab it. While the knowledge gained through psychedelics are more personal in nature than the knowledge gained from the internet, there are some commonalities in the conclusions reached, for an example, the knowledge that people, across all cultures, are generally the same. That conclusion is often reached after psychedelic trips and message board participation. Not everyone reaches that conclusion but I’d estimate it happens just as often in those two situations as it does when people actually travel.

But how technology is fulfilling the promises of the gurus of the 60s is a different story. What is important about marijuana legalization is how it will bring the experience of psychedelics to the masses and how that will increase the creativity and productiveness of our society.

Middling marijuana users will sometimes contend that the substance is not hallucinogenic. When you smoke it, you don’t hallucinate, at least not in the way the anti-drug propaganda movies of the 70s, 80s and 90s sometimes portrayed it. However, experienced users will tell you that marijuana, when ingested in certain quantity and with a certain mindset, can be very hallucinogenic.

Scientifically, this is backed up. Marijuana is considered a slight hallucinogen. When consumed orally, high doses of Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, can absolutely cause hallucinations, especially those known as CEV (closed-eye visuals). When visual stimulation is cut off, either by sitting in a completely dark room or by simply closing your eyes, your marijuana addled mind makes up the difference and fills in the visuals with some of its own. The cascade of colors, textures, landscapes, characters and geometric objects can be difficult to describe and is unique to every person and every trip, but the effect is undoubtedly powerful.

Marijuana is not on the same level as psychedelic mushrooms or LSD. It is, as a drug, much more apt for unwinding after work or making a shitty comedy movie a little less so. However, as it reaches more people due to the loosening of prohibition and ever lessening stigma, more of them will experiment in a way that triggers these psychedelic experiences. And that, will change, or at least accelerate, our society’s course.

Virtual reality headsets will undoubtedly play a part. 3D audio headphones and high resolution screens displaying just the right amount of visual stimulation will be used to help push along the experience and the secrets of the psychedelic world will be opened up for a new generation in a completely legal (in certain states, on a state level) way.

You only need to listen to Joe Rogan talk about isolation tanks to understand the potential hallucinogenic power of marijuana.

The side effects of marijuana legalization on society won’t be a generation of lazy stoners content to watch cartoons and sit on the couch all day. Rather, the side effects will be a generation of people with a new way of thinking and a new way of solving problems. Psychedelics were both legal and popular for a very short time in the 1950s and 1960s, and that small window of opportunity let in massive changes that still effect our society today.

Will “magic” mushrooms be the next step for the legalization movement? It is, perhaps the most logical one. There are very few coherent arguments that can be made against the legalization of strong psychedelics for adults, but their legalization, even for “natural” ones like Mushrooms, seem impossibly far off. Marijuana legalization is one thing for the mainstream to accept, but a fungus that makes the user trip for six to eight hours is another.

Still, it wasn’t long ago that marijuana legalization looked like a pipe-dream. As more people experiment with the hallucinogenic aspects of marijuana, they will eventually come to the realization that the psychedelic experience is nothing to be scared of and when that happens, psilocybin (the main active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms) legalization might not be far off.

More than that though, the psychedelic experiences encourages people to discard their mental and spiritual crutches. The puritan religion that served as the philosophical basis for many of the 13 original colonies and continues to effect our society today, will undoubtedly be affected by a psychedelic revolution. Tossing aside society-imposed restraints can be very beneficial for creativity. If psychedelics helped Steve Jobs create the personal computer, what will psychedelics plus personal computers, plus the internet, plus virtual reality, plus digital economies result in?

While Psychedelics have been suppressed for decades, research into their effects on our brains were finally restarted in the 90s and the results from the studies that have been done since that time are very encouraging. Critics attacked Leary’s methods during his experiments in Harvard, and many of those criticisms were valid. Today’s studies, however, follow the standard double-blind procedure used in most medical experiments. The results have largely mirrored Leary’s from nearly half a century earlier, it seems that while his methods may not have been perfect, he may have been onto something when he advocated for the use of psychedelics (admittedly, more research still needs to be done.)

According to Leary’s and more recent studies, psychedelics may have numerous beneficial effects for everything from PTSD to addiction to end of life anxiety to long lasting personality improvements. More important from a societal and cultural standpoint, as was demonstrated in the 1960s, they also have the ability to help people see the injustice in their world and that can be very powerful.

Once Marijuana and at least one powerful psychedelic is made readily available to the general public, or those experiences can be replicated with high amounts of marijuana and virtual reality or isolation tanks, the affect it will have on society will be immeasurable. The 60s acid wave gave us the Magical Mystery Tour, environmentalism, yoga, everything “new age”, Freestores (turned into thrift stores) philosophy as celebrity and even things that were seemingly anti-thesis to its culture: pop art and advertising were heavily influenced by that movement. We already mentioned LSD’s effect on technology.

A prolong exposure to psychedelic experiences for the mass consumer without effective government oppression will likely have an even more dramatic effect, especially since this time around, it will be amplified and broadcast by the internet and technology. Today, not only can you feel connected to the world as you trip, you can actually be connected to the world through the internet. Soon, with virtual reality, we will share trips with people from around the world. You may one day drop acid or eat marijuana while sitting in a virtual room with someone whose physical body is half way around the world but consumed the same drugs. You can then share ideas and plans, you could play music together, trip together. Shamans and trip guides, may also become available  to many more people in this way. The movement will grow faster than it ever has before.

The effect this will have on our politics and society aren’t clear. Certainly, fueled by psychedelics, a “New, New Left” is a logical conclusion. More interesting to me is the cascade effect of psychedelics on society rather than the pure political implications. If we have a generation of kids tripping just like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did in their early years, what kind of technology will be invented by the next wave to psychonaughts?

The changes made by those kids, the ones who will follow Leary’s updated moniker from the 90s “turn on, boot up and jack in” not because Timothy Leary told them to, but because it is the standard operating procedure for everyone. When nearly everyone is “tuned in” then we will understand the true potential of not just psychedelics, but the human mind. And there is nothing more disruptive to the status-quo than the human mind working to its full potential.