Clabault: Let’s legalize pot, and “magic mushrooms” while we’re at it

By Benjamin Clabault

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Last Wednesday, presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders told Jimmy Kimmel that the United States must end the ¨war on drugs.¨ Sanders also said that we must look at what’s going on in Colorado, and described himself as ¨”not unfavorably disposed to moving toward the legalization of marijuana.¨ He tied this in with the issue of mass incarceration, reminding the audience that America  has more people in prison than any other country in the world.

This two-minute chat nicely summarized what an end to the war on drugs would look like.  People should not be going to jail for doing drugs; that much seems clear. The harmful effects of mass incarceration are obvious and manifold. From a cold, financial standpoint, valuable money and resources are wasted. From a human perspective, precious lives are ruined.

People doing drugs tend to fall into two categories. Some are addicted, or abusing drugs in a harmful way that will likely lead to addiction. They have a problem. They don´t need jail time – they need help.

Others do drugs recreationally. They don´t need jail time – they need to be left alone.

And while it may seem impossible to separate these two categories, my argument here is that it really isn’t so hard. Some drugs have been proven to be harmful and addictive. Cocaine, meth, heroin, and, ironically, legal painkillers like OxyContin are recognized for their tendency to get people hooked while ravaging their bodies. They should remain ¨illegal¨ in a certain sense, but with ¨perpetrators¨ sent to seek treatment, not incarcerated.

Other drugs are not especially addictive, and provide a form of generally harmless recreation.  Many people choose to use them, and the government has no business saying that they can´t.  We’ve already placed marijuana in that category, with an April poll from the Pew Research Center indicating 53 percent of Americans now support legalization. I think it’s about time that we added another: psilocybin mushrooms.

Reports of death from mushrooms are virtually nonexistent. A Brown University report only mentions death as a possible outcome in the case of misidentifying the type of mushroom, a problem that would be largely mitigated by legalization and regulation.

While we fail to see significant health problems from mushrooms, researchers have found a number of psychological benefits. According to a King’s College Study, psilocybin, the chemical that causes the famous ¨trippy¨ effect, increases connectivity in the brain, resulting in a dreamy state.

But this state is not just a temporary high, it has permanent positive effects. Drugs like cocaine and MDMA are powerful chemical stimulants that can harm the brain and leave users in an agitated, depressed state for days after usage. Mushrooms seem to do quite the opposite.

A 2011 study by Johns Hopkins University found that even a single usage of mushrooms can lead to a genuine personality change: an increased sense of openness. This means marked increases in areas like ¨imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness.¨ In a country marked by a dogged conservatism and resistance to new ideas, even in an increasingly dynamic world, this openness seems like something we could use a lot more of.

So why, then, are ¨magic mushrooms¨ illegal?  Could it be that a society built on order, efficiency, and acceptance of the current structure that fears this ¨openness¨ as a potential disruptive force (cue the eerie conspiracy music)? I don’t know, but I do know that in a supposedly ¨free¨ society the government has absolutely no business threatening jail time to anyone who chooses to engage in a harmless and generally constructive activity.

Benjamin Clabault is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]