Pubdate: Fri, 23 Feb 2007
Source: Daily Reveille (LA Edu)
Copyright: 2007, Daily Reveille
Author: Joseph Ruchalski
Bookmark: (entheogen)
Bookmark: (Spiritual or Sacramental)
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


Revelers' beer bingeing episodes on Fat Tuesday and somber Catholic 
masses on Ash Wednesday are traditionally viewed as far removed from 
each other.

One day is filled with an excess of food, drink and hedonistic 
pleasure seeking.

The other is a day when the devout begin to cleanse themselves with 
an ashen mark of the cross on the forehead and forego those bad 
habits - well at least for 40 days. The mood may be different, but 
religion, drugs, drug users and the devout share a kinship in their 
experiences, attitudes and behavior.

Religion and drugs are inextricably linked, from spacey cults to 
Christianity. Each owes their history and perhaps their ultimate 
origin to these ethnogens.

In Exodus 16:14, Moses introduces his followers to what appears to be 
Psyclibon Mushrooms, small circular objects sprouting from the moist ground.

They ground up the substance using mortar and pestel, finding 
otherwise it would stink and breed worms if left unattended. Moses 
implored his followers to preserve this "manna" for future 
generations. In the New Testament, Jesus sings the praises of using 
wine in moderation for religious ceremonies and celebrations. Native 
American religions involve the use of peyote as a means for 
self-exploration and tobacco as a means to send prayers to ancestors.

Some squirm at the notion that drug experiences are on the same level 
of "true" religious experiences. If manifestations of religious or 
spiritual experiences are simply the result of firing synapses in the 
brain, it would severely undercut the idea of an objective existence 
of "God." Dr. Andrew Newberg, an associate professor at the 
University of Pennsylvania, has pioneered neuroimaging techniques of 
both believers and non-believers alike.

He found certain areas in the temporal lobe were excited during 
prayer or meditation, this is where the brain rates the significance 
of events which are then strongly internalized.

Moving from the temporal lobe into the pineal gland of the brain, Dr. 
Rick Strassman published his findings on Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in 
his book "DMT: The Spirit Molecule." Produced naturally in the brain, 
DMT may be responsible for hallucinations involved in "near death 
experiences," dreaming and other mystical states, Strassman 
speculated. The "trip reports" in the book according to the research 
subjects, uniformly reported some kind of "otherworldly" living 
entity as a dominant element in their experiences.

Being "high" on Christ and life seems take on a whole new meaning.

What about the devout and other deeply religious people, are they 
addicted? It's certainly possible.

John Bradshaw, a former cocaine addict and now self-help guru and 
evangelical, equated the two experiences' effect on dopamine levels.

Dopamine, a chemical produced naturally in the body, plays a key role 
in pleasure, mood and addiction to other foreign drugs. Cocaine and 
nicotine employ it to encourage the user to continue use, and now 
prayer and meditation have been found to raise dopamine levels. 
Calling out the devout as "addicts" may seem extreme, but when taking 
into account their commitment to their faith, reliance on scripture 
and a compelling urge to continue to partake in religious ceremonies, 
it certainly is not a far leap.

Of course, being "addicted" to religion is not necessarily a bad 
thing in itself.

Many use the crutch to avoid other drugs or correct destructive behavior.

Here again, this religious transformation owes itself to what many 
experience in taking substances such as the popular lysergic acid 
diethylamide (LSD) and Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in 
controlled environments. Prior to its criminalization, 
psychotherapists used MDMA to treat anxiety disorders and help 
patients cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Currently 
there is new research involving MDMA and sufferers of PTSD, 
especially veterans.

Admittedly, research into these drugs has been ambiguous, given the 
unique nature of LSD, MDMA and other psychotropic substances and how 
they interact with individual subjects, their environments, current 
drug policies and the DEA's apprehension of granting special licenses 
to researchers. But they have demonstrated very real life-altering 
experiences in their subjects, just more compressed compared to the 
traditional religious journey involving prayer and Scripture.

As neuroscience and philosophy plod forward, we can comprehend more 
of the human condition and its willingness to accept the spiritual. 
Neuroscience may never totally discredit or credit the existence of 
God or transcendental experiences. That is outside the scope of 
neuroscience and ultimately a small question compared to the 
possibilities of drugs and evangelism solving tangible problems today.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom