The following excerpt is the introduction to my new, self published book of poetry called "Poetry I Wrote on Drugs." The language used has been edited slightly from its original version in order to grammatically fit the format of this Medium story.
Believe it or not, I went through many other title iterations for my newly published book instead of it’s current title; “Poetry I Wrote on Drugs.”
Admittedly, at least for me, there’s a certain uneasiness that has always undulated throughout my body when labeling substances like marijuana, ecstasy, LSD, mushrooms and salvia as “illegal drugs.” Maybe it’s because my experiences on these various substances have led to mostly creative (and sometimes healing) experiences. Please don’t misconstrue, I understand the logic behind the Merriam Webster definition, as well as the clinical definitions of said substances, often referred to as that which changes the chemistry of an individual’s body in some way.
But, there’s just something about the word “drugs” that gives me pause. I think it’s because it has become an all too common practice that, once something is labeled as a "drug," let alone one of the illicit/illegal variety, it becomes easy for many to dismiss them as substances that have no medicinal value.
I guess part of why I find this practice unsettling is due to the dichotomy of my experiences on these, and other drugs, versus the negative connotations created through outdated DARE programs (among other school assemblies) and ill-infomercials (my own term for ill-informed infomercials). I’m not gonna lie, I enjoyed some of the music and iconography of the anti-drug messages. Some of the tunes were catchy. Hell, I even remember buying the DARE T-shirt in middle school because I thought the red letters on the black cloth looked cool. But I also remember a classmate of mine bought the T-shirt more as an ironic trophy. It wasn’t until much later did I discover why everyone giggled and chuckled around him whenever he wore the shirt. SPOILER ALERT: he most definitely did not eschew the “Just say no to drugs” lifestyle. I think most people today would have a similar reaction if I decided to wear a DARE t-shirt. However, it should be noted that times have changed, and apparently the DARE program has since shifted it’s attention away from drugs to focus on bullying and healthy-decision making.
Despite the shift, it should come as no surprise that these programs were created as a fear-mongering tool to potentially scare myself and others away from trying drugs. At that time, before the majority of folks had the internet, students like me were not privy to more information. So in a sense, every year my classmates and I were essentially forced to sit through a carnival of sketches and/or songs presenting a one-sided argument about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Fun times.
It also doesn’t help that, as it turns out, the impetus for these programs are probably a result of the inherently racist beginnings of the “War on Drugs.” (Granted, it should be noted that some historians disagree about this portrayal of the drug program’s origins.)
However, one of the most puzzling aspects of this so-called “War on Drugs” is how arbitrary the labeling and classification of “drugs” became. Like, all of a sudden, some drugs (pharmaceuticals) were considered “good drugs,” meaning they had medical value, while other substances (often ones with varying degrees of psychoactive side effects) are considered “bad drugs,” meaning they supposedly have no medical value. This is according to the federal laws of the United States as described in The Controlled Substances Act. This law classifies substances like marijuana, ecstasy, LSD and mushrooms in the same category as heroin, all “schedule 1 drugs” ascribed as “[having] no medical value with a high potential for abuse,” unlike cocaine or meth, which are considered schedule 2 drugs.
It’s strange because, America’s history seems to have already told this story once, though the substance of scorn was slightly different and mostly singular. From 1920 - 1933 the public’s focus was essentially a “war on alcohol.” Last I checked, it’s fairly evident how that story turned out. Granted, alcohol doesn’t have quite the same effects as psychedelics and marijuana, but one assumes you’re picking up what I’m throwing down.
And just as with alcohol prohibition, today people are still trying various psychedelics and marijuana strains. Despite their illegality on the federal level in the United States; in 2013, it was around 30 million people in the U.S. That’s close to 10% of the population. As of 2017, that number grew slightly, to around 40.9 million individuals, which is roughly 15.3% of the population. These are the numbers of people who have tried psychedelics. I’m one of them.
The numbers of people who have admitted to smoking marijuana are also high, pardon the pun. As of 2017, between roughly 14% and 22% of the American population say they are either current or regular marijuana smokers. In Canada, that number is even larger. I’m one of them, having had the privilege of smoking marijuana in both the United States and Canada. I have continued to smoke marijuana on and off since my senior year of high school.
Granted, I acknowledge statistical research on this subject is either prone to a certain amount of bias or an over-representation of people willing to tell researchers they’ve tried drugs. But again, you get what I’m saying.
Regardless, I share these numbers merely to illustrate that I’m not the only one who has ingested certain substances deemed illegal in various parts of the world. I tried my best to include global statistics because my personal experience has shown me that people all over the world are "doing drugs." My first experience with ecstasy was when I was living in Egypt. While I never got into this scene, I have met several traveling Shamen in or around Canada who provided Ayahuasca ceremonies for people looking to heal and purge themselves from old habits. But, I can guarantee that those who have tried Ayahuasca in Canada, others who have enjoyed ecstasy in Egypt and friends who’ve smoked marijuana in my Maryland hometown of Eldersburg, consider these drugs more than just substances with no medical or medicinal value.
Part of what separates these psychoactive substances is the fact that many people, including myself, have a sense that these substances have some sort of a healing effect on our beings; be it mental, spiritual or something else entirely. These perceived healing effects are another reason why I’m hesitant to simply call these substances "drugs." That is unless these substances are being spoken of in the same context as other "drugs" like Valium (for epilepsy) or lithium (for manic-depressives). I think it’s easy to understand my misgivings about dubbing substances like marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy, and salvia as “illegal drugs." But even if these so-called drugs were considered legal, that wouldn’t change the stigma many have of the word "drugs" itself. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my grandparents and Uncle decry many purported "drugs" that had been approved by FDA standards. It would not have been uncommon to hear my Uncle, sometimes my mother or other relatives, say that they didn’t fully trust those drugs that were even approved by pharmacists, let alone psychotropic substances like marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy or salvia that one could purchase from a dealer. I acknowledge there are some people, even a few within my own family who would decry that both pharmaceutical and "illicit drugs" would make one imbalanced because they "messed with the brain," among other school program propaganda talking points they may have learned in school or from very ill-infomercials like "This is your brain on drugs…" or everyone’s favorite midnight cult movie, Reefer Madness.
Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on how you look at it), after trying and reading about substances like marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy or salvia, I found those claims, at least for my own being, to be categorically untrue. For many, besides myself, these aforementioned substances have a certain healing, and sometimes, even a chemically balancing effect on the brain.
As it turns out, I’m hardly the only person who feels this way about psychoactive substances. According to an article on iflscience.com, it might actually be a myth that psychoactive substances cause any type of mental health problems.
“As reported in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, after adjusting for things like race, education, other drug use and depression during childhood, the researchers failed to find any link between the use of classical psychedelics and the risk of developing mental health problems. Conversely, they actually find that on some measures, their use was associated with fewer mental health problems. They found that use of classical psychedelics was associated with a reduced likelihood of psychological distress, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. Taken together, the researchers suggest that these substances could be a promising treatment avenue for suicide prevention, and once again they argue that their legal status should be revised so that clinical studies can be conducted on them.”
Yes, you read that right. Hate to break it to anyone who feels that psychedelic and marijuana substances offer no value in a person’s life, but that couldn’t be less true. Try telling that to people contemplating suicide, veterans (and others) with PTSD, abusive partners, and those suffering from epilepsy or alcoholism. Hell, psychedelics may even make people less likely to commit crimes!
However, for the purposes of my new book, and mostly due to the fact that the word “drug” is still popular nomenclature throughout the world, I decided on the current title. That, and titling the book “Poetry I Wrote on A Variety of Mostly Psychoactive Substances and Also Alcohol” felt like too much of a mouthful.
Regardless of the title, I also want to make something else especially clear. While I consider myself fortunate and grateful that opportunities to travel to other parts of the world and around the U.S have definitively shaped certain parts of myself, I am equally if not much more fortunate and gracious to have met those who introduced me to various psychoactive substances at different times throughout my life. These include mushrooms, LSD, peyote, salvia, DMT, ecstasy and marijuana.
Despite the notable differences between each of these substances in terms of how they react with the body, there are several things these substances have taught me about myself that, while I possibly could have learned in time, I am fortunate to have learned through them so that I can live a more full and present life now.
But before getting into what these substances have taught me, I thought it was important to qualify these lessons by, for lack of a better term, dismissing some of the more frivolous claims others have made about these substances.
The first, while potentially controversial, is that when it comes to psychedelics, the hallucinations/ visuals themselves are actually the least important part. I think some people who use psychoactive substances become excited and want to share what they saw, focusing on the hallucinations instead of the overall experience. It’s understandable though, considering these substances can sometimes feel like visiting another planet, or create a profound feeling of oneness. However, while the hallucinations, also called visuals, are a guide to great learning and understanding, they are, in my opinion, extremely personalized and tailored to each person’s psyche, therefore their meanings are dependent entirely on each individuals interpretation of them. It’s a lot like dream interpretation, where I would be highly skeptical if some new-age book or whatever claims to be able to interpret dreams, yet not understanding I’m going to react differently when I see my mother in a dream versus another person who sees their mother, or maybe even my mother. Hey, I don’t know what everyone dreams about.
In addition, I don’t think the reasons why myself, or anyone ingesting mushrooms, LSD, peyote, salvia, ecstasy or other psychedelic substances are important. Some could argue that the motivation behind these head trips can potentially set the foundation for the trip itself, which is a valid point. However, I’ve talked to enough folks and read about people who’ve gone into their head trips with various expectations and intentions, only to learn/come away with something different to what they were expecting. But some of that could potentially be because of their setting. The setting and being around people one trusts can totally enhance the experience, but in the end, the hallucinations themselves and the motivations of those trying said substances are not the most important features of using psychedelics.
Personally, I think the most important aspect of ingesting any psychoactive compound is the learning, which therefore leads to healing. The learning that happens after a trip, also dubbed integration, is above and beyond the most important. Why? Because it’s the hours and days after having gone through some kind of experience during the trip (be it a simulated life and death trip, subconscious thoughts or feelings laid bare, inter-dimensional traveling, etc) that will either help us form newer (and ideally healthier) patterns or we just go back to doing the same old same old.
When I tried ecstasy in Egypt with a group of people I didn’t know too well, and also when I imbibed mushrooms in a Canadian forest with a small group of tight knit friends, I came to understand how connected all of us are to all life, from the trees to the stars. It was extremely humbling and also euphorically heart opening. I could see &/or feel these connections like ripples in water radiating rainbows of colorful lines between everyone and everything.
In turn, this interconnectedness made me see even more beauty within nature, and also helped me appreciate the beauty within everyone around me, whether I knew them well or not.
I’ll never forget the first moments after the ecstasy kicked in, as I was talking to the dude who supplied it for our apartment party in Giza. He must have seen my pupils react, or maybe it was the look on my face. Either way, he simply grinned and then gave me a huge embrace after shouting “Welcome to the real world man!”
In addition to re-learning about our interconnectedness to all things, there is also another major revelation that materialized while I was high on mushrooms for the first time, with these awesome friends from Canada. I saw how easy life could be if I just got out of my own fucking way, meaning life tends to flow easier (and be much less stressful) when I stop second guessing or set my ego aside and just roll when it feels right or speak up when it doesn’t.
When I had my first healthy dose of LSD in New York, I discovered how persistent some memories and trauma can linger in the mind. I saw that it was my choice to either keep holding on to such pain or laugh at past foibles and let them go.
To a lesser extent, on every trip or high I’ve had, there is a recurring lesson encouraging and reminding me to not take life too seriously. I’ve probably laughed more on LSD, mushrooms, salvia and weed than I have in the entirety of my life up until this point in time. And that’s saying something considering how much stand-up comedy I regularly consume.
Marijuana, while not the same type of psychoactive substance as these other entheogens, has also taught me a few lessons as well. Namely, marijuana offers a continuous reminder to chill out but keep focus. I know pot gets a bad wrap in that some say it makes people lazy, but my experience tells me that’s highly dependent on the strain consumed. Fortunately, the vast majority of strains I’ve come into contact with have actually enabled me to keep my eye on whatever prize I was focused on and just not worry too much about the stuff outside my control.
Having said all this, it must be stated that in no way do I condone anyone of any age ingesting any of the drugs mentioned within the pages of this book, especially those under the age of 21. After all, it is against the law in the U.S.
It must also be stated that while I can understand where some people might get the idea that my poetry book could potentially encourage others to take drugs and write poetry (or engage in other artistic endeavors while under the influence), is not the case in any form or suggestion, nor should it be misconstrued that am I attempting to glorify these substances either. I understand that substances like these, as well as alcohol have the potential for addiction. I should know. For a good 2.5 years I was a functional alcoholic.
Speaking of, I also recognize and acknowledge that it might seem odd (or even a bit cliché) to include poetry written under the influence of various alcoholic drinks. Just as with the title of the book. I debated including these poems. If you want to understand why I am including several poems I wrote in a drunken haze, you’ll have to check out the alcohol section in the book. But again, in no way am I endorsing or encouraging substance abuse, especially alcohol, as I acknowledge the dangers behind alcohol consumption.
I cannot speak for others who have ingested these various herbal and pharmacological substances, nor can I begin to understand the actions of others while under the influence of the substances mentioned in this book. I can only speak for myself and my actions during these head trips, often times which was to express thoughts, feelings, senses, dimensions and visions through some form of poetry.
It should also be known that research surrounding the beneficial effects of various psychedelic and psychotropic drugs continues to occur.
While I myself am not privy to all the details and all the studies happening (only the ones that have been published and widely publicized), I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I consider this book of poetry to be, in and of itself, a form of informal research, much in the same way Bryan Lewis Saunders decided to paint various self portraits of himself under the influence of dozens of substances. However, the difference here being I’ve only limited myself to psychedelics, marijuana and alcohol. To my knowledge, various psychedelic substances have actually been responsible for an exceptional amount of creativity within the human psyche. Funny how those DARE programs and other uninformed PSA’s kinda skip over how psychedelic and psychoactive drugs have influenced and inspired great thinkers like Steve Jobs or Kerry Mullis, funny minds like Bill Hicks or Joe Rogan, notable thespians like Cary Grant or Jack Nicholson, musical masters like Jimi Hendrix or The Underachievers, even athletic stars like Dock Ellis and Mike Tyson.
It is because of the creativity and the stretching of perceptions that I decided to share these poems in the first place. All I hope for is that this book can serve as a way to help end the stigma of psychedelic and marijuana use. Ideally, I'd like this book to create a kind of inspiration and celebration of these so called “drugs,” not because of the trips they send people on, but because of their tendency toward inciting creative thinking and problem solving, not to mention their seemingly limitless potential for healing both physical and mental maladies.