The (Secular) God of the (Psychedelic) Gaps

by | May 21, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

With the moves to reduce the harms of drugs and mind-altering substances on the general public in several nations around the world, there have been active decriminalization efforts, as in Portugal, or calls for decriminalization by the (late) former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon, and current Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres, even a joint call by the UN and the World Health Organization.

In line with this, Canadian health authorities in several major cities have made similar calls. Some of the downstream effects come to the notions of what some deem god or the experiences labelled encounters with such an entity.

According to Vice, some may feel closer to this entity in an existential-phenomenological (maybe, epi-phenomenological) way. There is a move towards more humane drug policies within Canadian society.

With the nudge from Health Canada, several religious groups have been granted permission to import ayahuasca. There, apparently, is a tourist industry devoted to trips to South America to intake ayahuasca and enter into an altered state of consciousness.

However, there is a ban on the hallucinogenic or psychedelic compound in the United States and Canada with only the recent exemptions permitted for (some) religious groups.

Ayahuasca has been banned by Canadian authorities due to the containment of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and harmaline.

In following the recommendations of the international community (leadership and organizations) and the trend with the decriminalization of cannabis, these exemptions for some religious groups in some of Canada relate to harm reduction methodologies leaning the country further away from punitive approaches seen in the Philippines under the leadership of Duterte and in the United States with the ramp-up since the “War on Drugs.”

Based on some reportage in April of 2018, there were two Montreal religious organizations that were permitted exemptions from the aforementioned illegality stipulations about the two particular active ingredients – DMT and harmaline – in ayahuasca.

This restrictions related to the ban on the importation of psychedelic tea. The vice president of one of the organizations, Céu do Montreal, at the time stated, “Our legal counsel warned us of the unintended negative consequences of participating in interviews that could jeopardize our continued exemption by Health Canada.”

Psychedelics, harm reduction, and the like, continue to remain sensitive areas of the general public and, in particular, the authorities of Canada.

As reported, “Psychedelic drugs’ criminalization in Canada remains an issue that has sparked a movement for more humane drug policies, specifically targeting the legalization of psychedelics—following the legalization of weed this past October. It’s been widely reported that psychedelic drugs can help with mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder and helping relieve people from the stress of being on the verge of death. It remains difficult to research the drug’s benefits while it is still being criminalized.”

According to Céu do Montreal, in the April 2018 reportage, the ability to practice “our religion” became an integral part of the want of an exemption to the blanket ban on the single psychedelic at the time.

For many individuals, it can become a means by which to commune with what they deem the transcendent, where many secular individuals in Canadian society may not have this privilege of a religious exemption while still seeing value in the use of psychedelic substances.

Perhaps, a future right will become a right to the alteration of one’s consciousness as one deems fit with further scientific comprehension of the mechanisms undergirding specific interactions of some substances and the activity of the mind.

The difficulty for all intrigued may remain in the harshness of the restrictions. The trenchant privilege for the religious seen in the exemptions becomes an additional barrier for the secular who sit within some of the interested (non-)religious parties in these endeavours.

“The latest exemptions were granted to religious groups Ceu da Divina Luz do Montreal, the Église Santo Daime Céu do Vale de Vida in Val-David, Que. and the Ceu de Toronto. The exemptions last for two years and are renewable,” Vice said, “A Health Canada spokesperson told Global News that the exemptions will provide members of the exempted groups with permission to possess, provide, transport, import, administer and destroy the tea, as long as it is being used within a religious setting.”

Indigenous groups use the substances for spiritual and other purposes within their framework of seeing the substances and the traditions in communities. For those with formal religious status, these Canadian religious peoples worked for 15 years for the exemptions. Thus, the barriers were substantial and there nonetheless, and remain extant for many other religions and, especially, the secular in Canada.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

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