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Cannabusiness: The healing of the nation?

Casey Hardison | Essay | Thursday, February 25th, 2016

It would take a great deal of hibernation to miss the (r)evolution in cannabis policy, industry and products happening nearly everywhere one looks. A new gold rush is on, and, this time it’s green. As the political landscape changes we are seeing thousands of people attempting to capitalize on the emerging licit market, many of whom were (and still are) part of the waning illegal market in cannabis flowers, oils, tinctures, edibles, and other products. I too am joining this evolution, for here is a place I can employ my hard-earned credentials as a bona fide chemist.

When I left prison in early 2013, after serving nearly ten years for making LSD, 2C-B and DMT, inter alia, I ran for the hills to air out my mind and exercise my body in that purer mountain air. This last summer at the Grateful Dead Fiftieth Anniversary shows in Chicago, I was talking with Rick Doblin of MAPS fame and he asked me: “So, when are you coming out of the wilderness?”

I found Rick’s question unsettling, for I had settled in and I had no plans on emerging from my cocoon. Yet, here I was being called forth; and, by a man I completely respect for his heroic commitment to making this world a safer more empathetic place.

I’ve always wanted to make a difference, that’s why I made psychedelics, yet prison had left me a little shy of raising myself too far above the parapet. I knew I could not make psychedelics anymore: indeed, I thought that I would not find an area of chemistry that I could sink my mind into lawfully, certainly not in the conservative state of Idaho. And, thus, skills I passionately developed for 22 years of my life would wither on the vine.

After pondering Rick’s words for several months and experiencing some beautiful and unexpected life changes I realized that I was no longer a part of the solution. In Timothy’s words “I had dropped out”. But now it was time to “drop in” again. It was time to leave the wilderness and return to action. So, with an aching in my heart for the wide open country I was

leaving behind, I packed my bags and headed to California and the frontiers of the new gold rush, excited for the journey that lay ahead. Thankfully, I didn’t need a Prairie Schooner.

Keep a lab notebook where you record your actions and your fresh observations.

The first thing I noticed about this nascent quasi-legal, nearly unregulated, wild west of medicinal cannabis is the surprising dearth of chemists, botanists or other people of science in the industry. Every Jack and a few Jills are trying their hands at it, and yet most are struggling in the dark without fundamental principles like note-taking, literature searching, a dedication to the rules of evidence and a commitment to fresh observations. It has been mayhem nearly everywhere I look.

This has been a bonus, as suddenly I have had a number of people seeking my assistance. I could stretch my mind again and practice chemistry. I like helping those striving to make quality, organic cannabis products for the “people in their care”. And, I can also be involved at the level of making regulations: I can put the years of legal training I undertook in prison to good use.

*

My my, times have changed. When I went to prison, California was not yet the free-for-all it currently is regarding medical cannabis. Today, I can talk freely with anyone in the industry. Recreationally lawful cannabis is on the horizon. It feels like Cognitive Liberty is being realized with respect to this alleged tree of life. I can consult with individuals striving for good manufacturing practice, good laboratory practice and the creation of quality products for their customers. I can work openly to improve the cannabis industry and not have to look over my shoulder in expectation that the jackboots will knock my door down. And that feels fucking awesome.

Back in a Lab Coat

It feels good to be back in a lab coat w wings!

So while we are all here feeling groovy, I would like to convey to those of you in this industry, especially those of you moving from the illicit to licit market, that moving toward regulation, licensing and compliance with the law will leave you feeling freer. Law is not our enemy, those who enforce and administer it poorly may be, but the law is not. Law is a tool for us to use, just like we did at the turn of the twentieth century with regard to standardizing “medicine”: just like when we overturned alcohol prohibition. Regulation will allow fine products to emerge from the milieu of charlatans, profiteers and corner-cutters (you know who you are): in short, the market and thus the people will decide.

Speaking of the market, it’s not hard to spot the top-down capitalists looking to get in and out of the industry with a huge profit margin. Many of their investors don’t appear to give two hoots for the consumer: they’re in it for the gold-rush. Many of these folks didn’t earn their stripes on the battlefields of the “war on some people who use some drugs”. And many of them will never use the products. I’ve been chased down by a few of these venture capitalist firms and I recognize that they desperately want the info in my head. As a result, I feel pretty darn powerful.

I’ve spent 12 years at laboratory benches and another 9+ thinking about it in prison, where I often imagined I could still walk into my old lab and pick up where I left off. Unfortunately, this would have resulted in more imprisonment, and the lab is now only a memory preserved by evidence photos.

Still, the skills I learned along this psychedelic road—at the side of a former Franciscan nun who headed a Local Emergency Planning Committee; assisting a brilliant theoretical chemist in putting his ideas into action; as the mentee of Darrell Lemaire, a friend and colleague of Sasha Shulgin; and finally on my own as a lone lobo living honestly outside the law—are invaluable.

In short, as a result of solving psychedelic chemistry problems, I’ve been developing my skills. I’ve learned techniques directly applicable to cannabinoid chemistry: extraction, isolation, and purification. In 1999, I wrote a Biochemistry paper on the “Biogenesis of Cannabinoids in Cannabis sp.” I’ve also built six laboratories from scratch.

100mL of Green Gold oil crystal in a 500mL Round-Bottom Flask.

When I showed up in California to get involved I began to systematically chase down the best chemists in this field. I wanted to see their processes. I wanted to confirm some of my intuitions on the way forward. I attended the Emerald Cup, California’s annual Weed-Off, and found what I thought were the best products. And when, to my surprise, the road I was on ran smack into a few of my old psychedelic chemistry friends making their way lawfully in this post-prohibition world, I knew I was back on my path.

Currently, I can’t decide whether to consult for the top-down capitalists, to considerable financial benefit, or to forge my own way one step at a time from the ground up, building on my quasi-folk-hero status in the process. An added bonus of this route: I really enjoy the camaraderie of my friends and associates who have earned their wings the hard way as we walk forward into this newfound freedom.

MMJ-MetanoiaIt feels really special to finally breathe easy on cannabis. Those in the collared shirts have scant experience of this metanoia. They want my experience but a lawyer from one of the firms thought my past “a PR disaster”, rather than the PR boost I’m sure many of you would consider it.

Let’s not forget that it’s mostly the top-downers who will build the rapport and legitimacy with the politicians and local authorities, after-all, money talks and they too understand that prohibition is anti-free-trade. The top-downers will also build the logistics and distribution networks that I will, of course, piggyback on no matter which course I take. Others will build service industries and ancillary products necessary for all our successes.

I believe in the calming power of cannabis, on myself, on my community and on my country. The displacement of alcohol-fueled violence with more laughter and ease, and a little paranoid psychedelicism, will be good for this world. Maybe a few more politicians will get stoned and see that we are all one. Maybe from that perspective the world will become safer for children, safer for me, safer for my friends and family.

In the meantime, our relentless substance race marches on, and I with it.

Eden Labsh CO2 Extraction Equipment Posing with an Eden Labs 20L Hi-Flo 5k CO2 Supercritical Fluid Extractor

Caveat Emptor

Casey Hardison | Essay | Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

A while ago, somewhere, I don’t know when, I began thinking about human motivations as a cascade of habituations competing for the attentional and volitional stage. Paradoxes akin to semiotic (re)cognition and the biotics of rapture linger within. With several million years of direct experience under my belt, I think I may safely assert, if you are alive, and I am, all of our actions from the most grotesque to the most subtle are rooted in molecular habits, strangely encoded thoughts, semiotic patterns etched in a most primitive script of nucleic acids. Our chemical romance and warfare started long ago.

A dopamine rush conjunct a gigantic hit of adrenaline will motivate any of us to action, even if those actions appear no more than movements of the mind. As an example, I assume that each of you reading this has felt that pitter patter and breathlessness of recognizing a prospective mate. Sometimes my balls even pulsate on thinking an erotic thought about my potential prospect: that shit has had me do all sorts of crazy.

*

Neked Pond Skim - Grand Targhee

Neked Pond Skim ’14 – Grand Targhee

In 1993, shortly after taking acid and dropping into college, I was presented with my very own, archaic and very used snowboard. On the top deck was a sticker, which read: “snowboarding, the most fun you can have with your clothes on“. Aside a powerful psychedelic trip and making mad passionate love, be it mental or physical, I can attest to the veracity of that sticker. Snowboarding and the molecular movements within have charmed me unashamedly, my habituation to snowboarding has even had me riding with my clothes off.

Since my release from prison, nearly two years ago, I have snowboarded somewhere near 150 days. I love the freedom, the meditation, the absorption: nothing else matters in that very moment. At those speeds, with obstacles in my trajectory, there is no time to think on a conscious level. I am at one! And when the snow, temperatures, humidity and pressure align with my desired line, I experience an exhilarating gravitational wave: I’m literally surfing a mountain.

Three weeks ago, shortly after experiencing yet another exhilarating wave of fluffy powdered snow, I nearly killed myself. I nearly ran my substance race into the ground. Either I got lucky or more randomness than I care to admit occurred, I don’t know; but, by the grace of physics and my animal habits, somehow, I survived. I am so grateful! It could’ve been much, much worse.

*

The Monday previous to this particular Near Death Experience (NDE), a couple of new friends and I climbed up the South Face of the Middle Teton and surfed down the Glacier Route in a foot of wind buffed fluff. In essence this entails getting up at 3am and preparing for an all day expedition over snow with a vertical climb of more than a mile just so I can surf my magic carpet, my snowboard, back down! This day was fourteen hours of solid effort for a few minutes of exceptional elation.

South Face of the Middle Teton

South Face of the Middle Teton

Climbing a Teton route like this in the winter requires a number a different attachments to my feet. Conveniently, the Saturday before at the Teton Pass Rendezvous, I bought these new-fangled snowboard mountaineering boots called the Fitwell Backcountry: Italian, handmade excellence. The Roman armies ran on their feet and their stomachs. I had both taken care of. The difference between these and my old snowboard boots, the Burton Ions, is manifestly absurd. The Fitwells give me so much more lateral control, a safety essential in these high alpine environs.

This lateral control allows me to sidehill contours of snow and rock on my split snowboard, which is essentially a snowboard split in half with each foot bound to a different board like skiing. Yes, yes, why don’t I just get a pair of skis? You can’t surf the same way on skis! Mounted individually on each foot, with climbing skins on the bottom surface, I can climb at surprisingly steep angles depending on snow conditions.

Lil' me in the steeps!

Lil’ me, climbing the steeps!

Crampons are another contraption often necessary to mount on my feet when climbing, especially as the angles get steeper still and there may be ice beneath the surface of the snow. I carried a pair with me in my 20 year old Dana Design Bombpack, the same backpack I attach my splitboard to if it’s that steep going up. And, as you can see by the photo to the right there, it was.

If there’s little to no firm ice, I use these seriously tight snowshoes called Verts, also attachable to my backpack. This day I was able to use those instead of crampons all the way up this route because my Fitwells facilitated such positive connection. The name was chosen with consummate grace: one in our party never stopped to put any footwear attachments on, he kicked his way all the way up in just his Fitwells, he after all was their rep. And even though they were made in Italy, the tread of the sole is called Teton Vibram: now, isn’t that special?

And so here I was ushering the Fitwell boys up their first big Teton route wearing my fabulous new boots, the same one’s Jeremy Jones wore up the Shangri-La Spinewall in the Himalayas. They’re that good.

My surf down the Middle Teton, that mile or more descent back to the car stirred my passions just so. I was in brand new, stiff, mountaineering boots and I didn’t even get a blister. I was growing very fond of these boots, very fond, I tell you.

I rested Tuesday and got some shiznit done at home. On the Wednesday, I spent the day alone behind Grand Targhee Ski Resort in near total untracked fluffiness, not unlike my purring kitty here. Bliss and peace, indeed.

Mt Glory's Bowl - 12 minutes from my door to the lot!

Mt Glory’s Bowl – 12 minutes from my door to the lot!

The day before my accident, after several weeks of hunting for good snow in the Teton backcountry, out of bounds and without lift access, I rode Grand Targhee again on a bit of a refreshed pow hunt: it had snowed a few inches. I wore my Burton Ion Boots, comparing them to the Fitwells on familiar terrain by doing so. It was my first day in the Burton’s since I had bought the Fitwells. The Burton’s felt like old school Sorel’s, all floppy and shit compared to the insanely stiff Fitwell build.

That night, really Friday morning around 2am, after climbing Mt Glory alone in the full moon, my Fitwells and I dropped into Glory Bowl and found nearly untracked wind-buffed fluff. I wore no headlamp. I had let my eyes adjust. 

Seven hours later, I was back at the Ghee again, after maching groomers super-fast for 4 hours with Will, a twin brother of a different mother, with nobody home but a few locals and a few jerrys, we headed to the Sacajawea lift.

When we get to the top of the lift, I decide to sneak under the lift shack and paste a “Black Foot Riders” sticker just out of view of the lifties, but in full view of everybody on the lift: if you only knew how serious a coup this is.

Peaked Mountain

Peaked Mountain

We then dropped in for a favorite run of mine down to the far southwest boundary of Targhee to Mill Creek. There’s a short hike out but that hides untracked snow from the lazy. So worth the hike.

We got back to the top of Sacajawea lift and Will and I were giddy over the sticker and drunk on snow. The sun was shining, the weather was sweet, and for once in a blue moon, the gate was open at the top by the Patrol shack. Fuck, Yes! This allowed us to hike Peaked Mountain the easy way.

Today, I find a shaded and wide untracked panel of lightly buffed steep pow over baby chutes under a small cornice. We soared to the bottom exhilarated. The Fitwells lock me in at another level. Moving way faster than Will in his old school Driver Xs, I get separated from him in the trees but we *know* we’re headed back around to hike again! Oh, we know! Hallelujah!

So I mached around to the Millcreek Traverse with it’s penchant for stymying the gapers who zig-zag across the 15 foot wide track in fear for their life. I swiftly navigated through about eight of them. The final one before my leap of faith intended, a slight 50ish year old woman hesitated in her turn smack dab in the middle of my trajectory. Wtf?

What was I to do but slam on my brakes and look for an exit? Unfortunately for her skis, I scraped her decks and launched into a hole I perceived in the trees. Despite gravity’s power, it was a mandatory 10 foot air at that velocity. I left the lips, all three of them it seemed, with my back edge sliding out. This rotated me sagittally towards my posterior on an approximately ballistic trajectory. A few feet in the air, the nose of my board hooked a tree and my leg, I was spun 180 and thrown to the ground against another tree, hard.

My L Leg w Titanium Intramedullary Rod

My L Leg w Titanium Intramedullary Rod

The first hit broke my leg, the second reminded me I was alive! Luckily my good and right leg was wedged in the tree below me in a supportive way. My left leg was bent at an obscene angle. I was convinced I was bleeding in my left calf area. I was concerned, very concerned. I had moments to gather my blood or possibly lose my life.

I began screaming for help and graciously I was heard fast. When the guy got to me I was dizzy and faint and I begged him to Tourniquet my left leg as I had not one on me: and I pride myself on forethought. This was a major oversight.

I pleaded with him again as he dicked about asking me irrelevant questions. I blurted out in desperation that I was going to pass out from the lack of blood in my head! His friend, now mine, arrived and complied immediately. The faintness left: imagine that!

*

Now that my brain was working on overdrive, glycogen and oxygen for fuel, I was able in the midst of all that shock to breathe deep and be still within. I so appreciate the humans who served me without want except for my survival. Thank you evolution for this, our altruistic impulse.

*

Boots with Hairy Dude in Hospital Bed

TLEO!

About an hour later, after slowly being ferried downhill on my own clothes over trees and such by a group of big men, I got shuffled via snowsled into an air ambulance, my first helicopter ride. Yippee!

Finally, all doped up on fentanyl, after an “Oh fuck don’t cram my leg in there like that” $19,000 helicopter ride over the insanely gorgeous Tetons to St. Johns Hospital in Jackson, Wyoming, I pleaded:

“I can take the pain, please don’t cut my boot!”

Here, my passion for my boots was persuasive. In pursuit of my biochemical molecular habituations, in pursuit of snowboard ecstasy, I had become so attached to them.

I am in eager anticipation of the day we soar rapturously again.

Oh, how long ’til my next fix!

Teton Aloha, Matty Lake! I’ll live to ride again!

Casey x

If a plant told you to jump off a cliff … would you?

Casey Hardison | Essay | Thursday, November 27th, 2014

World Ayahuasca ConferenceRecently, I attended the 2014 World Ayahuasca Conference in Ibiza, Spain. It was an excellent conference for me, seeing old friends I had not seen since before prison, meeting new and exciting minds on the cutting edge of psychedelic science, and being present for Charlotte Walsh’s clarion call for Cognitive Liberty, the right to think for myself under the influence of whatever psychoactive I see fit. I think this position is more intellectually rigorous for its avoidance of exceptionalism or pharmacochauvanism. Rather than rely on special pleadings claiming how “my” allegedly ‘sacred’ use of “Mama Aya” deserves legal protection whilst “your” non-religious use of psychoactive drugs does not, Cognitive Liberty, as a concept, aims square in the heart of what Jacob Sullum said in Saying Yes, In Defense of Drug Use:

Seeking a medical or religious exemption from drug prohibition amounts to asserting that my use of this substance is important, that it deserves respect in a way that more frivolous uses do not … The urge to offer such excuses is based on the sense that drug use is morally suspect without an elaborate and serious sounding defense … Wine drinkers generally do not feel compelled to proclaim that their beverage was endorsed by God, that it relieves anxiety or reduces their risk of heart disease. They simply say, “I like a nice glass of wine.”

Saying this, I do not deny the anxieties relieved nor the genuine insights produced in moments of awe, reverence and inspiration under the influence of psychoactive drugs like ayahuasca. Having experienced these effects first hand, I can see why one would make appeals for such religious exemptions when pushed into a corner by the State or its agents.

Yet, here in the spiritual home of the Church of Prohibition, these justifications may become untenable as more and more disparate groups use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to seek exemptions from a variety of generally applicable laws. Using the RFRA, corporations can become a law unto themselves. This contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense: it asserts a private right to ignore laws generally applicable to everybody else.

According to the Supreme Court, the RFRA exempts:

  • the Native American and Uniao de Vegetal churches from provisions in the Controlled Substances Act
  • religious institutions from provisions in anti-discrimination laws
  • corporations, like Hobby Lobby, from the birth control provisions in the Affordable Care Act
  • religious congregations from laws prohibiting animal ‘sacrifice’
  • religious medical personnel from providing legal medical services to patients

The RFRA has become an excuse for superstition, sectarianism and bigotry. As it continues to gather public scorn, I predict the RFRA will collapse under it’s own folly.

lockedIn seeking exemptions under the RFRA, religious groups must present a belief system, complete with metaphysical or supernatural ideas, acceptable to the judges. This presents a fundamental conflict, I think that justifying my use of psychoactives to the State, especially by a claim to supernaturals, is unnecessary, counterproductive and suspect. In my opinion, it is way past time for the Cognitive Liberty social movement Ruiz-Sierra called for:

Cognitive liberty as a concept exposes the argument that the drug policy reform movement has conspicuously shied away from making: namely that drug prohibition is untenable because it infringes freedom of thought, the fundamental principle that underlies so many other constitutional guarantees.

In delivering the majority opinion in Palko v Connecticut (1937), US Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cordozo made it clear:

freedom of thought … is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom. With rare aberrations a pervasive recognition of that truth can be traced in our history, political and legal.

When one understands that Cognitive Liberty is antecedent to religion, one recognizes that these ‘sacred’ belief systems, these justifications, each start with thought. So it matters not what you believe, that you consent to alter your own mental functioning with drugs is enough for Cognitive Liberty to trump the absolute prohibitions of the Controlled Substances Act 1970 or other similar legislation.

*

At the Ayahuasca Conference, after listening to umpteen people tell me what “Mama Aya” had told them — she told me this, she told me that — I was struck by more than a few thoughts. Many of these tales were of the more mundane nature of what to eat, who to break up with, who to get together with, what career to pursue, how to handle some tricky inter-personal situation, and so on. But more than a few of these stories were of a fantastical nature, about how the spirit of ayahuasca had facilitated talking with long dead ancestors, how through ayahuasca they had gained access to a higher spiritual plane where they made contact with extra-dimensional beings who acted as guides or healers. I started to wonder if these people had pondered the role their imagination and cultural conditioning may have played in their visions. At times I was reminded of conversations with young children, who often struggle to distinguish between dreams and reality.

In Psychedelic Information Theory – Shamanism in the Age of Reason, James Kent writes:

[E]rroneous psychedelic information claiming species-level importance has negative cultural value and dilutes the overall information marketplace, making psychedelic information almost statistically worthless.

pit-coverAnd in case anyone was confused as to what Kent was aiming at, he included an explanatory note:

The psychedelic community produces a new guru every decade or so, and the cultural contributions of these gurus trends from pseudo-scientific to outright fantastical. It is often difficult to tell if the contributions of psychedelic celebrities outweigh the more nonsensical memes they propagate.

As I experience it, the greatest gift of psychedelics is their ability to free our minds by helping us see the shifting vibrational nature of things; they remove solidity, they remove certainty. So why do so many in the psychedelic community wind up with attachments to off-the-peg, cookie-cutter belief systems, complete with extra-dimensional beings, machine elves, aliens, crop circles, ufos … you get the idea?

In this time of global economic and ecological meltdown, we need great minds working on great thoughts. The last thing we need or want is people using these tools and ending up back in the superstitious world views that rationality escaped from in the enlightenment era.

*

Whilst in prison for disobeying laws based on superstitious ideas of drugs enslaving people or facilitating too much freedom from authority, I was busying myself with writing a book, yet to be properly published. In the process, I was digging into Stan Grof’s Basic Perinatal Matrices and musing about the Abrahamic Genesis myth being a covert description of the birth experience, thrusting each of us, alone and cold, into a meaningless world where we would eventually discover our mortality and terrorize ourselves with that awareness.

In the course of my studies, I stumbled into a phrase and a line of thinking that apparently got Otto Rank kicked out of Freud’s metaphorical garden: “separation anxiety,” from our mother’s womb, from a mystical union with the cosmos, from the human community. A lot of us reading this have taken an assortment of drugs to experience that mystical union and thus salve our very separation anxiety. Rank’s crime was to observe that our inability to cope with these anxieties was the source of our neuroses, not sex as Freud would have it. On this, Rank said:

Life is a ‘mere succession of separations’: beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death — which represents the final separation. At birth, the individual experiences the first shock of separation, which throughout his life he strives to overcome. In the process of adaptation, man persistently separates from his old self, or at least from those segments of his old self that are now outlived. Like a child who has outgrown a toy, he discards the old parts of himself for which he has no further use … The ego continually breaks away from its worn-out parts, which were of value in the past but have no value in the present. The neurotic [… appears] unable to accomplish this normal detachment process … Owing to fear and guilt generated in the assertion of his own autonomy, he is unable to free himself, and instead remains suspended upon some primitive level of his evolution.

Rank Psych of DiffUnlearning necessarily involves separation from one’s self-concept, as it has been culturally conditioned to conform to familial, group, and institutional allegiances. According to Rank, unlearning or breaking out of our shell from the inside is “a separation [that] is so hard, not only because it involves persons and ideas that one reveres, but because the victory is always, at bottom, and in some form, won over a part of one’s ego”.

Pondering this with a headful of medical and religious anthropology, I noted that birth, death, ostracism, scapegoating, loss of self-esteem or status, loss of love in a relationship, even loss of innocence are the general human separation anxieties in need of salvation. In an attempt to salve these anxieties, religions constellate rituals around these universal human experiences.

*

I am firmly of the opinion that the “ego-death” I experienced on psychedelics has helped prepare me for my uncertain but inevitable demise, my separation from the human community. Nevertheless, this has yet to shield me from an occasional terrifying thought: “oh shit, I’m another breath closer to death”. Though I accept that all beings on this planet will cease to exist as the sun envelopes the earth, I am not free from the unconscious and conscious influences my awareness of death has on me.

And so it was that after my release from prison, Charlotte and I decided to watch Flight from Death: a documentary, derived from Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, reporting on the findings of psychologists studying Terror Management Theory (TMT). According to TMT, people suffer cognitive dissonance or anxiety when they are reminded of their mortality. (You may be feeling it now). TMT proposes a basic psychological conflict resulting from having a desire to live but realizing death is inevitable. This conflict produces terror, and is believed to be unique to human beings, as is the solution: culture.

FFD 220px-Ffdposter2TMT holds that cultures are symbolic systems that act to provide life with meaning and value that serve to manage the terror of death. The simplest examples of the cultural management of our death terror appear those that purport to offer literal immortality (e.g. belief in afterlife). Through terror management, individuals are motivated to seek consonant elements – symbols that make sense of mortality and death in satisfactory ways, such as boosting self-esteem, making humans important, and so on.

This is what I believe those who make up stories of the “sacredness” or “divinity” of psychedelics are doing. I know: for many years, I did so too. Rather than taking responsibility for attributing these qualities to the plants, many people assert that psychedelics, particularly ayahuasca, are some sacred intelligence in communion with us. Ultimately, this has us not be alone, adrift in a world of post-modern meaninglessness, and shifts the conversation to some other realm where we are an elite special group that will be safe in the coming apocalypse as we transform to a new level of consciousness.

*

I too struggled with my ayahuasca visions. I had one particularly long messianic journey whereby I was the “one” who could see the entire evolutionary script, past and future, and thus it was my responsibility to save humanity. I was interpreting my visions through some syncretic mixture of millenarianist apocalypse and Judeo-Christian non-sense spurned on by Jose Arguelles’s interpretations of the Mayan calendar conjunct Terence McKenna’s Time Wave Zero. If they would only listen to me …

intentionalI had failed to distinguish my imagination from reality. It took several months for me to separate what happened from what I made up about it, to see my cultural conditioning with its viral memes giving meaning to my visions and thus to me. But having experienced ego transcendence, where my niggling worries dropped away, a sense of bliss and energy flow enveloped me in a unio-mystical type experience. I equated the horrible ruthless love I felt with an unfathomable intelligence permeating all. As I picked up the pieces of my sacred tantraum, I stumbled back into a mortal body with discrete limitations: no-one was listening me as the savior my visions said I was. I had experienced an entheogenesis but the unfathomable intelligence had lied, I was not the all-powerful savior of the world, I had not become God!

Sam Harris recently wrote in his new book Waking Up: a guide to Spirituality Without Religion:

It is quite possible to lose one’s sense of being a separate self and to experience a kind of boundless, open awareness — to feel, in other words, at one with the cosmos. This says a lot about the possibilities of human consciousness, but it says nothing about the universe at large. And it sheds no light at all on the relationship between mind and matter. The fact that it is possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself should be a great finding for the field of psychology, but it lends absolutely no credence to the claim that Jesus was the son of God, or even that God exists. [Or, that I am he.] Nor does it suggest that the “energy” of love somehow pervades the cosmos. These are historical and metaphysical claims that personal experience cannot justify.

Psychedelics are exceptional for unleashing repressed biographical material and working through it, for a therapeutic catharsis, but why did I so want them to be portals to the supernatural? Because as a member of the entheogenea, a race of beings recognizing they’re divinity, I was one of the few who had seen the Holy; and, it gave my life meaning and purpose.

*

Ayahausca in contemporary psychedelic culture starts with a myth: the plant spirits told the shamans to mix them together. (N.B. our astonishment at tribal people working out a two plant combo. This masquerades as lionisation — jaguarisation? — of indigenous cultures. In a different light this can be seen as deeply patronizing … they’re humans, just like us, of course they can work complicated shit out!) I have a new version of this myth requiring no plant spirits doing the talking. It starts with an article I recently received from the “I Fucking Love Science” team about a jaguar caught on film under the influence of the ayahuasca vine Banisteriopsis caapi. If you have studied american shamanism you might recognize the jaguar as the most sacred animal in their cosmologies, it’s also their biggest predator. So imagine this retelling of the great ayahuasca myth:Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 3.20.37 PM

A shaman out on a hunt sees a jaguar apparently writhing in some trance on the ground. (Having visions of humans, I presume). Curious, he wonders what’s up. He gathers some of the leaves and makes a brew or simply just copies the jaguar and eats the leaves right there. He experiences a psychoactive effect, kills the jaguar, skins it, and wears it as he returns to the village having found a new psychoactive and conquered his tribe’s mortal enemy. As he shares his new wares with the tribe he decides to snort some DMT snuff he’d prepared earlier … ayahuasca is born, myth gets lost.

Everything I have written may be wrong. I have of course just made this new myth up. In the face of my mortality it is my tendency to make shit up, to search for certainty. When I was young, I wanted to see entities, I wanted certainty that they were there, that I was not alone, even if some of those entities were malevolent. In my search for certainty, I lost my ability to sit with the mystery of it all. Occasionally, in meditation or under the influence of exogenous psychedelics, I represence the mystery: in that ineffable wonder, I am free.

 

Sasha’s Metanoia

Casey Hardison | Essay | Monday, September 29th, 2014
Sasha in the Burning Man Temple 2014

Sasha’s Memorial in the Burning Man Temple 2014          Photo by Bruce Damer

Recently, I awoke from a dream in which Sasha and I were sitting high up over a shoreline watching the sunset out west of us. It had been a large family gathering and Sasha, though old and frail, was in his usual ebullient mood.

The conversation had left psychedelics and chemistry long ago and we were talking of the psychological transformations that had been or were occurring for him as the sun set on his life. Do psychedelics prepare one for death? This was a question Terence had left me with shortly before he died in the spring of 2000. He had answered it in the affirmative: “And we psychedelic people, if we could secure that death has no sting, we would have done the greatest service to suffering intelligence that can be done.”

Sasha's Ashes at the Temple

Sasha’s Ashes at the Temple

The conversation I was having with Sasha in my dream had no sting for either of us. When I asked him if he still thinks of “next year I’ll do this or that …”, he looked at me and smiled peacefully: he had already forgot the question. He was here and now, in my dream … and then he was gone.

I awoke and shared my dream with Charlotte. It is very rare I talk about dreams at all. There’s too much to focus on in the waking state, too much to piece together here and now than to witter on about shards of broken pottery from a dream. But this dream had echoed something Greg Manning, of Team Shulgin, had said at Sasha’s memorial in Berkeley about the childlike innocence of Sasha’s early dementia. Greg had asked him to repeat something he had just said. Sasha replied: “Oops! Can’t remember.” Greg then asked him “How does that feel, Sasha, to not have all that stuff running around in your brain anymore?” Sasha said, “It’s very freeing. I am in shy amazement of the world in front of me that I haven’t touched yet.”

For me it was this innocence, this wondrous curiosity for discovery, this unabashed shameless pursuit of knowledge, that impressed me most about Sasha, particularly when he applied it to psychedelic chemistry. He put in a solid 50 years at the lab bench. What could motivate a man to such efforts?

Phenethtlamines I Have Known and Loved

Phenethtlamines I Have Known and Loved

Of his first psychedelic experience Sasha said in PiHKAL:

“The most compelling insight of that day was that this awesome recall had been brought about by a fraction of a gram of a white solid, but that in no way whatsoever could it be argued that these memories had been contained within the white solid. Everything I had recognized came from the depths of my memory and my psyche. I understood that our entire universe is contained in the mind and the spirit. We may choose not to find access to it, we may even deny its existence, but it is indeed there inside us, and there are chemicals that can catalyze its availability.”

Upon my arrest, for catalyzing the availability of said chemicals, Sasha’s work, his words and his attitude gave me the courage to stand and fight — without excuse or shame or special pleadings — for what it means to be truly free. Indeed, this was the theme of Sasha’s memorial, that we should follow his lead, as Mariavittoria Mangini so eloquently put it: “if as I suspect is true, our psychedelic experiences have had lifelong implications, not only for our personal growth and our spiritual development, but also for our community involvement and our political activism, we should stand up and claim those experiences as influential in our lives”. We should own it.

Reflecting this, I opened my original defense arguments at trial quoting Sasha from the preface of TiHKAL:

“As in the past, the people who lead us are fueled by the archetype of power, that aspect of the human psyche which drives to structure, control, and formulate rules and systems. The power drive shapes our world, and without it, mankind would have perished long ago. When it is kept in balance with its several complementary energies, it gives us form; it builds civilizations. But when the precarious balance is shifted, and too much energy flows from this archetype, structure becomes constriction, control becomes dictatorship, teaching degenerates into admonition and threat, vision and intuition create dogma, and caution evolves into paranoia. Communication with the loving and nurturing energy within us is lost, and with it the ability to choose wisely, either for ourselves individually or for our species.

Priests and kings, emperors and presidents, and all those who find comfort and safety within the structures maintained by the powerful, tend to be disturbed and angered by the individuals who insist on striking off in new directions, ignoring the guidance of appointed leaders. To those in authority, there is the unconscious threat of chaos, the shattering of what is known, familiar, and safe. The response to this threat can take many forms, from killing the offender (witch-burning) to — at the very least — warning him to keep his knowledge and opinions to himself (as with Galileo), lest they provoke the self-protective anger of the established order and of those who maintain power through it.

This has been the history of human development on this earth, a balance maintained — usually with great difficulty and often with violence — between the urge to control and the need to change and grow. And this is the way it should have been able to continue, but the technological growth-spurt of the past fifty years has put mankind’s hands a body of knowledge that changes the equation. However, just as the nuclear and chemical warfare genies are out of the bottle, never to be put back again, so also will the psychedelic genie be forever amongst us.

Being human means being a soul that chooses — consciously or unconsciously — what it will do and what it will become. For my part, I prefer as much awareness as I can achieve in this lifetime, in order to make my choices wisely”.

Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved

Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved

Instead of claiming I didn’t do it, I stood there before the jury unashamed that I had found awareness, mindfulness, insight, and wisdom through the molecular genies that had escaped his flask and now mine. How could I be but otherwise when so gracious a gentle giant had shown me this way of being in relentless pursuit of knowledge and wisdom?

While I am not sure I can put it faithfully into words, what Alexander T Shulgin became for me — especially upon my arrest — is rooted in his intentionality and integrity. Sasha was a true hero in the Campbellian sense: even after the DEA raided his lab and took away his license to work with controlled substances he gleefully continued to share the knowledge gleaned from these molecules, actively promoting them as tools of insight-wisdom with anybody who would listen and potentially act. He was committed to a more loving and nurturing world and he was convinced that psychedelics were essential tools to accomplish that.

Over and over, like a mantra Sasha would say, “All I am is a tool maker, people use my tools to unlock doors and access rooms full of knowledge and wisdom and spirituality that already exist within them. I am just a tool maker”. Sasha, you were way more than that to me: you were a pioneer of Cognitive Liberty, a shameless promoter of the conscious exploration of what Huxley called the antipodes of the mind, and above all you were my model of a responsible steward of the genies that escaped my flask.

And it was to celebrate this greatness that over a thousand people flocked to Sasha’s memorial: most of us will be lucky to rustle up the requisite pallbearers to carry our coffin. As Earth and Fire Erowid related “in order to stay connected to the world, you need to keep and make friends of all ages … Gatherings at the Shulgin’s home always included an amazing array of students, teachers, professionals, researchers, and policy makers from young to old”. Getting to such an old age and yet still having such a spectrum of admiring celebrants is so rare. As Amanda Feilding said: “So brilliant of Sasha to not only live his life perfectly but also to have a perfect death surrounded by the people he loved … He’s a wonderful example to us all”.

The "Godfather" in his lab 2001

The “Godfather” in his lab 2001

For some, however, especially those whose children have died whilst consuming MDMA or other molecules his flask had first liberated, Dr Shulgin is not seen in such glowing light. As the United Kingdom’s Observer on Sunday reported after his death:

“It was not Shulgin’s intention to launch a global drug culture, nor to have that compound consumed with such abandon by millions of people. But it was his connection with this drug that made him a folk hero for the counterculture, known as the “godfather of ecstasy”, and a folk devil for many outside it.”

In my opinion, it is not fair to lay these unintended consequences at his feet rather than at the feet of those prosecuting a Frankensteinian ‘War on some people who use some Drugs’. For the problems associated with MDMA particularly are most often related to enforcement of that failed policy.

In the UK, in the early 90s, many “Ecstasy” users died from overheating when the police cracked down on the now unlawful outdoor rave scene: the ravers moved indoors, the dance floors blazed, the club-owners shut off the water taps whilst charging outrageous prices for tiny bottles of water, because they weren’t selling enough alcohol. Eventually, the UK Government mandated the provision of free tap water at such indoor venues, yet, ironically, in the heat of the night, the harm reduction message to drink plenty of water would lead to people effectively drowning in their own skin from “hyponatremia (literally “low salt”) also called “water intoxication”.

And then there are the adulterants, how could Sasha be held responsible for the acts of unscrupulous dealers out to make more money? A quick look at EcstasyData.org will inform one of how often the prohibitionist policy leads to adulterated or intentionally mislabeled pills and powders, a problem that would all but disappear with a regulated lawful supply of a drug essential to the coming of age of many. I know MDMA was essential to mine.

Notice: Toolmaking Within

Notice: Toolmaking Within

At Sasha’s memorial, Bob Jesse asked all of us to reflect on an especially influential occasion when we might have ingested one of Sasha’s compounds. Bob then asked “Can you imagine how your life might have unfolded without it? I have no idea, Bob. I could make all sorts of shit up, but, I became a psychedelic chemist because I wanted in some way to be like Sasha. I too wanted to catalyze, with the aid of molecular genies, entheogenesis in others. So, I too became a tool maker.

More important than who I would be without MDMA Sasha’s magic half-dozen, where would whole cultures be? It’s rare to experience an advertisement on the radio, television or internet without the sounds, imagery and emotions of the ‘Rave Culture’ permeating one’s brain: this is your brain on drugs, maybe not by direct ingestion, but by associative suggestion. As the UK Independent newspaper reported in a 2012 article ‘Rave On’, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the zenith of ‘Rave Culture’:

“Rave’s transformation of club culture turned it into a global force that influences just about every other pop genre. It has created a thriving branch of the entertainment industry and helped break down sexual and racial divides. Yet such an outcome would have been hard to predict when the authorities broke up Castlemorton, arresting a motley crew of crustie travellers and pilled-up ravers”.

MAPSAnd then there is MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Would MAPS even exist had Rick Doblin, its founder, not consumed “the Godfather’s” delight? Rick too has the intentionality and integrity I admired in Sasha. With MAPS, Rick knew he would make history, if only in slow-motion. As many of you are aware, in the beginning MAPS sought not only to promote MDMA as a psychotherapeutic medicine but also asked us to envision “a cultural reintegration of psychedelics and the states of mind they engender”. Today, MAPS is known around the world for its successes in turning the first part of that vision into reality: among other things, MDMA is being used lawfully in PTSD therapy, in government-approved research trials. When Rick’s vision comes to full fruit, and I am sure it will, it will have taken 30 plus years of dedicated effort by him and the team he has assembled.

And without Sasha and the financial support of fellow psychonauts worldwide, how would the Erowid Center have come into existence? How would you be reading this? It appears to me that Earth and Fire might have been touched within by one or more of Sasha’s creations and thus motivated, for the last seventeen years, terowid_logo_color_on_white_med_w_erowid_verto illuminate the dearth of information about these molecules, their possibly wondrous benefits and their potential deleterious effects. Today, Erowid receives over 15 million annual unique visitors. Their intentionality and integrity impresses me the most. The Erowid Prospectus states, among other things:

“Erowid Center’s mission is to develop and provide access to accurate information about psychoactive plants, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and technologies in order to educate, improve health, and encourage beneficial cultural reform. […] A great deal of wisdom has developed over the last fifty years about the best ways to integrate the use of psychoactive drugs into a good life. Now is the time to collect and widely disseminate successful models for healthy psychoactive use. … Erowid’s response is the creation of an online hybrid library/research journal … ”

So few of us will dedicate ourselves to such a noble pursuit that we will invest so many years. Most of us will lose sight of the wisdom gleaned from the psychedelic experience to the vicissitudes of the ego in normal waking life. As Scott Bodarky said at the memorial:

“Sasha Shulgin was perhaps the last renaissance man, citizen scientist, working in his shed, out in the yard, fueled by his curiosity, the love of the truth. […] Sasha’s work was about catalyzing the deepest longing of the human heart: to know itself. […] Every human being must undergo ego death, at physical death, if not before. Sasha systematically developed technology dedicated to facilitating this evolution. Perhaps one day, pharmacological self-determination will be a human right”.

Scott, I too pray it will. Is Sasha’s legacy as Nick Saunders said? Is it true that because of Sasha, “psychedelic exploration can never be controlled again”? What started with a curious psychonaut has expanded globally.

As I write this, the Temple burns tonight into the impermanence, to which, we, like Sasha, all must return; thousands of revelers are under the influence of molecules that Sasha either rediscovered, invented or resynthesised. Like the many clandestine chemists and drug geeks who produced the molecules coursing their veins, I too relied on Sasha’s works to make those molecules or to give me ideas on how to make them. And though he is gone, his books, his words, his thoughts, are available online, free and now. Sasha Shulgin has become as immortal as one can. Sasha’s immortality project is complete.

*

In the Denial of Death, Ernest Becker wrote:

“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with. […] The knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual, and animals are spared it. […] But to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one’s dreams and even the most sun-filled days—that’s something else.”

Terence died of brain cancer at 53, the doctors said it wasn’t related to his copious psychedelic use; but, I wondered if they could be right. Sasha was nearly 89, he had taken a lot of psychedelics, he had dementia but it came late. Like a psychedelically influenced ego-death, Sasha’s dementia, as related by Greg above, posits a possible return to wonder. Is it our awareness of our mortality that squelches that innate wonder in so many? Is this what motivates our relentless substance race? Is this why an experience of ego-death appears so essential to taking the sting out of death?

The King is dead but he’s not forgotten!

 

Casey x

Freedom and Our Relentless Substance Race

Casey Hardison | Essay | Thursday, May 29th, 2014

As some of you avid Erowidites may know, I was arrested in Southern England in February 2004 for being “concerned in the manufacture of controlled drugs”. Truly, I was so concerned. But, as has been revealed from time to time, one cannot be made guilty by statute for acts that are intrinsically innocent.

Believing I had principle and human rights on my side, I espoused my motivations to the court through a prism of Cognitive Liberty, the right to think for myself and by extension, and of necessity, to help others catalyze their psychedelic or entheogenic adventures in which they, too, thought for themselves.

Handcuffed with Cognitive Liberty Shirt

Handcuffed with Cognitive Liberty Shirt behind Lewes Crown Court

After about a week of explaining all manner of reasons why I thought that what I did was a noble pursuit of self-evident higher truths, in which no blood or treasure was spilt, I know not why the Judge didn’t just say to me, “You’re right, you are free to go.” Alas, he did not.

You see, ever the optimist, I thought His Honor Judge Anthony Niblett of Lewes Crown Court was on the side of the evolutionaries, on my side. After all, he was presiding over the court at the cradle of American Independence, for Thomas Paine, the (r)evolutionary linguistic samurai, found his political voice there in the republican stronghold of Lewes, the spiritual home of Guy Fawkes Night, and, in its own peculiarly British way, all things Freedom.

Whilst I felt inspired and motivated for action, His Honor apparently didn’t want to slaughter any sacred cows; and, thus, a jury trial ensued in which I was now forbidden by him to raise such “superfluous” cognitions in front of the Jury. Supposedly, the Jury were not to know about my human rights based defense.

Being a mindfully metaprogramming memeticist, however, I managed to squeeze the concept of free thought into nearly every conversation, even if only tangentially, whether as I cross-examined the forensic chemist or the lowly clerk, “Mr. A”, a man afraid to use his real name for fear of harassment by violent animal rights “extremists”. Sigma-Aldrich, the chemical company, had sent him to tell the Jury that I did indeed order those chemicals in my name and with my credit card.

In the opening round of questioning, I persuaded the forensic chemist to talk of how, via Chinese neurotransmitters, the chemistry of the opium wars turned to silver and gold, affording the English Crown the money to build the Court in which I stood accused of what could be perceived of as a thought crime. Similarly, I asked “Mr A” something like “when I ordered those chemicals from you, did you have any notion that I was going to make forbidden thought catalysts with them?”.

Lewes Crown Court - View from the Dock

Lewes Crown Court – View from the Dock

Many times the Judge would remind me I was not supposed to be mentioning such matters and I’d look to the Jury and ask “Why, your honor, do you wish to forbid the Jury the knowledge that I believe my right to freedom of thought is being violated by this prosecution?” or something to that effect. Thus it was, after several reminders, he dismissed the Jury from the Court and chastised me for my forbidden verbiage. Like a spoiled brat he demanded “the law is for me, not the Jury: they are the triers of fact”.

As my father had sent me Spooner’s Trial by Jury, I knew this petulance flowed from a radical change to common law, where previously the Jury tried the facts and the law from which justice was allegedly determined. So I quipped: “as long as they still get to try facts, wasn’t the violation of my rights, my liberties, a fact for them to determine?” Alas, according to Parliament, as Anthony reminded me, the determination of “the fact” of whether one’s human rights were being violated was for the Judges alone. And around we’d go again.

By running my own defense, after the prosecution put their best case forward, the law afforded me the opportunity to speak my mind to the Court and by extension to all who were present in the audience, including local media. Thus, I presented my opening defense statement to the Jury, a few of whom I had thought were on my side by now.

In telling my story to the Jury, I expounded on my motives, on how my personality was crafted by my entheogenic experiences and all the extraordinary reasons I believed that the molecules I produced were essential to the future of humankind and thus ultimately to our survival on this “bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free…dizzy with possibilities”. I summed up this process by duly informing the Jury what the Court would not: they could return a “perverse verdict” as a jury can acquit a defendant for any reason, particularly if they think the law unjust. Surely, they thought the law unjust by now!

Sentencing Statement

Her Majesty’s Pleasure Statement

Alas, they did not; or, if they did, they didn’t say so. And so a sentencing hearing ensued in which I was awarded a 20 year term of imprisonment the same week a terrorist was sentenced to 17 years for making ricin as a chemical weapon with “intent to kill”. Was making psychedelic drugs actually worse than making chemical weapons? I think not.

Nonetheless, in the eyes of those who held me captive, what I thought was now irrelevant, I was serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. So, I did; and, to the best of my ability: in addition to disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed, I read and studied a lot. And, in one of those books, I came across a line by Carl Jung that said, “we stand in need of a reorientation, a metanoia”.  And we do, particularly in relation to this drugged planet.

Conveniently, I just happened to have a new hardbound notebook and a Sharpie marker pen I’d pilfered from the prison education department; so, I wrote:

“METANOIA – diet for a Drugged Planet – A Novel Synthesis”

Alas, no novel has yet been synthesized and thus I thought I’d whip out this cherished koan as the name of my column. Let me break it down:

  • “Metanoia” derives from the ancient Greek words “meta”, meaning beyond or after — I prefer after — and “noeo” meaning perception or understanding or even mind — I prefer perception. As in: after the insight, might it be wise to act on that insight?  For many religious scholars, metanoia means something akin to a spiritual conversion. For Jung, metanoia indicated the psyche’s attempt to heal itself after some extraordinary experience, resonant or dissonant or somewhere inbetwixt. Robert Anton Wilson might have described it as a fresh imprint with its attendant habituations, either aiding life optimization or not. Jack Kornfield formulated it thus:  “After the ecstasy, the laundry”. I needed look no further than my first 5-MeO-DMT experience on the sultry shores of Chan-Kah and the (re)integration that flowed from it to understand what Jung had meant.
  • “Diet for a Drugged Planet” I derived, or more like stole it wholeheartedly, or maybe I just borrowed it liberally, from the name of a book about pesticides first printed in the late ’80s: Diet for a Poisoned Planet. By “drugged planet” I mean it is no mystery that one of the most lucrative and motivated industries for humankind is drugs of all sort, either the ones you obtain from a “drug store” or the ones you might like to. This includes tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate, cannabis, opium, mescaline, ayahuasca, and all manner of synthesized psychedelic substances. In fact, this includes any substance consumed by a human that alters mental functioning. We are awash in drugs, both exogenous and endogenous, and, we love it! By “diet” I mean we all ought to grow up and face an open and frank dialogue about our drugged populace, from the tots on Ritalin to those shuffling off this mortal coil on morphine. This discourse appears to be at the heart of Erowid’s mission. It’s certainly at the heart of mine.
  • By “novel synthesis” I intend to create actionable insights for myself and others through freshly observing a situation stripped as bare as possible of supernatural fluff, linguistic obfuscation, and emotional baggage. By weaving what may appear several disparate threads of thought together in new looms I hope to heed the words of Werner Heisenberg: “It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.”
Original Metanoia Notebook

Original Metanoia Notebook

My prison notebook has many threads, barely developed. Thus, I’d like to employ this column, this forum, to clothe the most salient. Today, I want to meander a bit, see where my mind flows, and begin to weave a few threads: “what is freedom like”, as so many have asked me since release from prison (apparently they have forgotten!); and, the multifaceted concept, borrowed from a beat poem written by that magical being Sinbad Vine: “[Our] Relentless Substance Race”. For over time and with this column I seek to show that we are both in a substance race and are a substance race. And thus, by way of commencement, I segue with a Sinbad snippet:

“… So dependent I can hear it

Calling me day and night

Don’t put up a fight

Talons grip

My chakras trip

A certain kind of hunger

Is always there to linger …”

Weaving this thought as I do, Neil Young’s Thrasher rings true in my heartmind for I have lost several friends to drug overdose since my incarceration:

“I searched out my companions

Who were lost in crystal canyons

When the aimless blade of science

Slashed the pearly gates.”

Each of these lost loved ones, in pursuit of those “pearly gates”, not only found them, but ran their substance race straight into the ground. One way or another, they stormed heaven; or at least they’re being recycled slowly back into the stardust from whence they came.

Like Jung, Young nailed it: the aimless blade of science has brought us many purified, crystalized molecules: something not available extracellularly for but one-hundred-thousandth of one percent of our phylogenetic existence, or less. Thus, beyond killing other animals with said molecules, preparations, or concoctions to establish the LD50, the median lethal dose, we have scant detail on just how powerful these molecules may be in humans. And, thus, many just wing it. I know I have.

Erowid Know Flyer (2000)

Erowid Know Flyer (2000)

Maybe my dead friends were winging it as their “talons gripped and their chakras tripped”. Maybe it was intentional overdose. But these potent substances my friends did consume. Each of them, being well schooled in drugs, did not heed the caveats: know your body, know your mind, know your substance, know your dose, know your source. And thus they flunked the hedonism test as defined by my exquisite wife Charlotte: “hedonists, by definition, love life and want to continue living it”. Maybe my dead friends didn’t really want to, or were reckless as to their possible mortality, and so they pushed the envelope a little too hard and mailed their asses to the undertaker. Was it “a certain kind of hunger, always there to linger” that sent them postal? Do they now know what freedom “is”?

Legal scholars speak of “freedom from” and “freedom to”: negative freedom and positive freedom respectively. Negative freedom is freedom from external interference preventing me from doing what I want, when I want to do it. Positive freedom is the freedom to control and direct my own life. Positive freedom allows me to consciously make my own choices, create my own purpose, and shape my own personality; I act instead of being acted upon.

And so it is with respect to so-called “controlled” drugs: I am not free to do things with certain molecules because I am not free from government regulations as to which molecules I may do things with. I may still do these things but not lawfully; if I do these things I may be subject to executive enforcement of the legislature’s laws.

But here’s a twist: I am free to take any molecule I want, providing I can find it and get it into my body, but I am not free from the molecule’s effects until my body manages to process, assimilate or eliminate all the active molecules and any molecular or enzymatic cascade catalyzed by its interactions with my biochemistry. That’s just the way it works and that’s only if my body manages it. So, please, I beg of thee, be mindful. Or you too may “find the cost of freedom buried in the ground”.

Typical British Prison Cell

Typical British Prison Cell

Not being mindful enough, I found the cost of freedom in a six walled room, a box of concrete not unlike a tomb except for the door and window that might occasionally open with a live body in it: or so I hoped. Arrested as a training target for the drug warriors’ heavy artillery and locked in an itty bitty living space, I experienced phenomenal cosmic power(lessness). I had free thoughts, they had my body. I had no choice, though I pounded hard, at times physically and mentally, I had to wait for the door to open.

At last it did. Here and now, I am alive. I survived these trials by ordeal. And, so, with pleasure, I whisper a secret: “Freedom is a mental attitude, a habit that can be cultivated”. I experienced this before prison, I experienced it more fully while I was in there, and I experience it most fully now. Dennett appears right on this: for me, freedom evolves. Today, my attitude of freedom stands in relation to an awareness that my very thoughts might be determined; although, not by divine appointment or any other such nonsense.

Once we were the plaything of the Gods, then, with an enlightened faith, the “aimless blades of science slashed the pearly gates”. Through our trust in the scientific process and, in particular, the law of causality as currently understood, we lost our free will to a biological and cultural determinism.

We’ve had before, at differing moments of our existence, a perceived untrammeled freedom; but, no longer. And though I still cling to a belief that I may have a pinch of free will to act in accord with my motives, unhindered by external dominations like my prison sentence, I recognize that I am still constrained by the laws of physics. This belief in any residual free will buckles in an uncertainty over how much my motives are determined by the interactions of my genetic and sociocultural conversations in the evolutionary environments in which I have found myself. Crucially, I believe a lack of mindfulness about these genetic, social and cultural conversations, or even the mere possibility of them, is responsible for many common forms of mental slavery.

And whilst one may experience an attitude of mental freedom, this reflects not one iota the challenges people face, nor the sacrifices we each make, in our relentless substance race. Remember, after the ecstasy, the laundry. So it is for me: my laundry is a bit unusual; for the gulag archipelago ripped me out of my timeline, out of my movie, and scattered my possession to the four winds, basically leaving me adrift in an ocean of possibilities. Who do I want to be now? Where do I want to locate myself in the maelstrom of ‘legitimate’ economic activity? Where do I want to locate myself at all? Where is my nexus?

Has anybody seen this bus?

Has anybody seen this bus?

Psychologically, my grandmother Alice’s farm in northern Idaho had been the hub of my existence: I may wander far but I consistently returned. When I set off for the Nepal Entheobotany Conference in 2001, I left the double-decker school bus I had lived in for the last seven years up there by the barn expecting it would be reasonably safe. Upon my arrest, the DEA told my Gran that if the bus was not removed they would seize the farm, for it had been the site of some chemical manipulations of the pharmacological tofu: 2C-D, and other ineffables; further, it held the Tweetio files mentioned in PIHKAL, aka the 2,5-di-EtO files. For the farm, the bus and the files would have to go.

My father, Barefoot Windwalker, aka Barefoot Bob of barefootsworld.net, had been based at the farm for about a decade, taking care of his mother, building his website and coordinating his adventures; but, as the familial school bus massacre went down, with complete dispersal of my belongings, he wasn’t there to rescue any of my shit, had he chosen to and had I requested.

Barefoot Windwalker smokes his peace pipe on the bus

Barefoot Windwalker smokes his peace pipe on the bus

You see, my father was sailing over the North Atlantic to visit me in prison; for with the “proceeds of crime” and as token of my love, gratitude and appreciation for his contributions to my genetic and cognitive endowment, I bought him a 35 foot trimaran sailboat hull and provided the money for him to kit it out with his hi-tech folding mast system and all the essential gear. He named it the “Atha Windwalker” and set sail.

Atha is the Sanskrit word for “Now” and the first word of Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. Aware of the Sanskrit word for it and the brilliance of the word’s construction, I created Atha Research Foundation as the umbrella company for the “custom organic synthesis and phytochemical discovery” operation that bought the boat; and “Windwalker” was my dad’s Native American nom de plume: now, walking on the wind he certainly is.

The Atha Windwalker

The Atha Windwalker

I didn’t know it then but that prison visit summer of 2005 would be the last time I saw my father alive. He died January 2009 (in hospice care accompanied by morphine on demand after nearly 35 years sober in Alcoholics Anonymous) whilst I was in Her Majesty’s Prison. This, for me, is the key sacrifice in my relentless substance race. And although it hurt deeply, and sometimes still does, there was also a sense of psychological liberation. I am the ascendent, the responsibility passed to me to make of his gifts what I will. I’m still making. But a year or so prior to my father’s death, his mother Alice was interred at a care home. She was suffering from dementia and was no longer able to care for herself or be cared for with our family resources on the farm.

I didn’t know it then, but January 2004, when I flew to England, would also be the last time I’d see my grandmother Alice alive. After working my ass off to make certain I was going to get deported prior to her 100th birthday, June 1st 2013, she died a few months shy. Still, with gratitude, I was home May 29th in time for the memorial services and requisite pilgrimage to the old family homestead in the backwoods of Montana.

The Hardison Homestead, Flume Gulch, MT

The Hardison Homestead, Flume Gulch, MT

And here is where this thread returns to freedom and nexus: I just spent the last few months dealing with the final settlement of her assets. What I inherit can’t make up for the lack of an axis mundi: we had to sell the farm. In sum, whilst in prison for thought crimes, I lost my father, my grandmother, the farm, my 1969 International Harvester school bus, and my 1965 4WD Scout; all my possessions. I lost 99% of the evidence of my previous existence. These are the sacrifices of my relentless substance race, of twenty years in pursuit of molecular enlightenment; but, sentimentality has taken a different turn. I can no longer look to the past as my father wrote in “Windwalker Listens”:

“You must find a new focus, a new vision, for this is the day of life for all, a new beginning, a new paradigm, that none has seen before. It has its own problems and its own solutions.”

So, memetically I am in good stead. The memes that flood my mind primarily habituate to upward thoughts. Praise Infinite for my Life: though it may be meaningless, it sure charms my mind.

Charlotter Love!

Charlotter Love!

As does “my Otter”, aka Charlotter Love, my wife, assigned by the English Wife Rehabilitation Program, so she says. We married in prison (I wrote her seeking help with my legal questions): we’d never even so much as walked free together prior to getting on the airplane that ferried this “foreign criminal” to the United States.

We had much to learn about each other; she had much to see and experience about my country. Further, I now had the responsibility of finding a location and a legitimate livelihood for our sustainable development. Where would we find our nexus? To answer this question and more I did the one thing I knew to do: I hit the road, no simple highway.

We hit the ground road-tripping around the eleven, continental, Western States, spiraling our way back into the mountains. I showed her the best of the West, for Jim had said it. All the while I was watching her, seeing what people and places lit her up. As we traveled we experienced connection with the few remaining members of the Hardison clan, the few friends that remain from my early beginnings, and with a few of the serving Entheogenea.

Charlotte and I during our first Summer of Love!

Connectivity fuels me and yet at the same time I want to be around fewer people.Thus, most of our journey this summer of love was spent in the wilderness, in the wide open spaces of the Mountain and Pacific West. We climbed peaks, crossed a wide raging river belly button deep on the edge of the Wilderness of No Return, soaked in hot springs, swam in oceans, and made love under a pink volcano as the full moon rose and Venus set. In short, I experienced the thrill and joy of being alive, physically free and in love.

Last fall as I was zipping past the cultural center of the universe, Victor, Idaho, I stopped into the local temporary autonomous/responsibility zone seeking a place to live. With gratuitous grace, I was provided with a small team of experts working on new and improved ways of being nice to me and a beautiful cabin to rent.

I now find myself out here on the North American Serenghetti of the former Idaho Territories, near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I have open space and fresh air galore. There’s bison, elk and moose, fox, coyote and wolves, eagles, beavers, and otters besides. Sprinkle in a few thousand antelope, dozens of hawks, osprey and eagles, and you begin to get the idea.

An Icicled Freeblood

An Icicled Freeblood

In November, I bought a season pass to Grand Targhee Ski Resort and snowboarded incessantly until the snow stopped flying. The physical challenge of riding the mountain gives me the freedom not to think, quite possibly the best meditation I know of. In those moments, my veins course with molecular brilliance, all I can do is trust my human to deliver me safely to the bottom of the mountain and to the people I love.

This March, I paused in the middle of frozen Jackson Lake, several miles from shore. I was making my way back alone as a porter to Teton Gravity Research‘s Mt Moran Camp on the Skillet glacier tongue. I skinned there on a Jones split snowboard. There were 15 people waiting for promised supplies at camp. It was a pleasure to deliver them; for, on the way there, it was the most distance I had had from other human beings and evidence of their civilization in over a decade. I could look in any direction, even up. I could see no other people. I was alone and all one! The feeling was ineffable.

Snowy Isolated Freedom

Snowy Isolated Freedom in Mt Moran’s shadow

That night, watching the sunset from the glacier tongue, I pondered what a fellow acid chemist said about Leonard Pickard, caught three times making LSD and now serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole, as if one wasn’t enough: “He didn’t get the message”. I am free and intend to stay that way. I cannot return to clandestine chemistry and keep my liberty.  And thus, I am faced with what can, at times, appear daunting to me: the re-creation of myself. As the artist formerly known as Aardvark said to me recently: “Maybe you got too much freedom now!”

-fiat lux!

Sentencing Statement