From 19th century novelist, Louisa May Alcott, to Christianity’s savior, Jesus of Nazareth, several persons and cultural movements of historical significance were inspired in part by cannabis or other psychedelic substances. This past Saturday’s “Cannabis Roots” conference In Vancouver featured some of academia’s foremost experts on the role played by psychedelics—particularly cannabis—in the historical record.
Perhaps most notable among the “Cannabis Roots” presentations, was Dr. David Hillman’s, which explored the powerful role of psychedelics in the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman empires. Hillman asserts that modern historical scholars have succumbed to “prudishness” and “timidity” when interpreting ancient historical source texts, often choosing to ignore or discount evidence of the classical world’s robust preoccupation with drug use.
Dr. Hillman’s review of psychedelics in antiquity presents a startling contrast to the era of the modern “drug war.” Hillman’s fact-finding reveals that Western society’s earliest notions of “Freedom” included the unadulterated right of the individual to experiment with any recreational drug of his choosing. If you’d like to learn more, check out Dr. Hillman’s book, The Chemical Muse.
Such rare and ironically sober ventures into the lesser known dimensions of history offer important insight into the modern violence of the drug war. It’s not merely a matter of physical violence— ie the destruction and confiscation of naturally wrought property and the incarceration of non-violent, fair-dealing citizens— but the modern drug war (and drug laws) are also instruments of severe psychological violence, as an abstract collective known as “government” may coerce a free people, injecting itself as an unwanted judge that determines, patronizingly, what products of nature a citizen may explore within the confines of his own body. The Greeks surely understood the societal risks of drug use, but they were wise enough to discern that such harm would be miniscule compared to a destructive, expensive, and unwinnable war waged against the most basic personal freedoms of its citizens.