Six problems with Mike Wise’s Anti-psychedelic Memoir of the Sixties

In response to “The 60’s Tore My Family Apart,” published November 14th in the Washington Post.

According to the title of Mike’s memoir, the ‘60s tore his family apart. But a more accurate title would have been, “psychedelics tore my family apart,” as the author seems determined to put the blame for his unhappy childhood on his parents’ drug use, and particularly on the LSD with which they experimented at the time.

True, Mike’s memoir begins by doffing the hat to modern psychedelic research and its potential use as therapy, but the memoir makes it clear that the author has nothing but the Christian Scientist’s disdain for such approaches, which is to say that his true sympathies lie with the drug war – that war that is stealing American elections even as we speak by locking up the numerically decisive voting block that would otherwise vote the drug warriors out of office (locking them up and charging them with drug war felonies, thereby conveniently removing them from the voting rolls).

America’s Drug War Colonialism

As one of the victims of that drug war (just one of the billions worldwide who suffer unnecessarily today thanks to the government’s outlawing of Mother Nature’s plants, a suffering that’s gone global thanks to America’s Drug War Colonialism), I feel called upon to answer Mike’s stealth attack on psychedelics by pointing out some inconvenient truths of which the author does not appear to be aware.

1. His memoir implies that the ‘60s experience has told us all that we need to know about psychedelics: namely, that they’re bad — or, to be precise, that they split up families like Mike’s. But even if we grant the dubious assumption that Mike’s family would have been The Cleavers in the absence of LSD, the ‘60s experience is an anomaly when it comes to the western world’s encounters with psychedelics. Those who say otherwise are ignoring almost 2,000 consecutive years of history, during which a who’s who of ancient Greeks and Romans partook of the psychedelic kykeon at Eleusis, many of them later guardedly describing the highly secretive ceremony as the most important experience of their lives.

And so, if there was a problem with psychedelic use in the ‘60s, we need not condemn psychedelics per se, but merely the manner in which they were used in that particularly “turbulent decade.” But this is a distinction to which Mike Wise pays short shrift, as can be seen by his disdain for his father’s latter-day use of LSD. The father says, “I forgot how it broadened my mind in ways I couldn’t imagine.” But this only makes Mike “sick,” since he sees his father’s purportedly therapeutic experience through the jaundiced eyes of Mike’s own apparently unhappy childhood.

Has it ever occurred to Mike that the LSD actually did broaden the father’s mind? Mike gives us no reason to believe that his father is a liar, after all. Still, Mike seems to dismiss that possibility out of hand, focused as he is on LSD’s association in his mind with that unhappy childhood of his. His disdain for the drug is clear from his pejorative use of the term “acid” to describe it. (He thereby follows the drug warrior’s example of villainizing a substance rather than reserving censure for the specific contexts in which a substance is used.)

2. The problem is not that Mike lies, but that, like most autobiographers, he blithely extrapolates from his own experience in order to give the world his implicit prescription for sanity, assuming that what’s sauce for his goose must be sauce for society’s gander.

I shudder to think what Mike’s actual prescription for society might be, however, based on his own particular childhood experience. He can’t be saying that LSD should have been made illegal in his childhood, since it WAS already illegal back then. Is Mike thereby implying that martial law was called for in the late 1960’s in order to stomp out psychedelic use entirely, by any means necessary?

Is he implying that 21st century politicians should “double down” on a drug war that has already spawned a whole new movie genre of violence and turned inner-city America into a shooting gallery? Speaking of the drug war movie genre, is Mike unmoved by the fact that the producers of such films actively encourage us to sympathize with DEA agents who torture and murder unindicted suspects who dare traffic in Mother Nature’s plants?

3. Mike also chastises some baby boomers for “toying” recklessly with their brain chemistry, and there are indeed irresponsible people in every era. But again Mike misses the larger picture entirely.

The fact is that Big Pharma has been toying recklessly with American brain chemistry for the last 40+ years, while falsely claiming that their heavily promoted pills fix a “chemical imbalance” in the brain that causes depression. As authors like Robert Whitaker have demonstrated, however, Big Pharma’s addictive nostrums actually CAUSE the imbalances that they’re supposed to cure.

Worse still, they turn that imbalance into a distorted new chemical baseline that needs to be maintained by continued use of the SSRI in question, thereby making the user chemically dependent on the so-called wonder drug for life (as at least 1 in 10 Americans are at this very moment).

For those who doubt these damning conclusions, I will gladly offer my personal testimony that the Effexor that I have been forced to take for the last 25 years has never “cured” my depression.

To the contrary, it has complicated my therapeutic efforts by rendering me ineligible for most psychedelic trials, given that, generally speaking, psychedelic substances are contraindicated for those taking modern antidepressants.

4. Mike seems almost proud of the fact that he has not used anything “harder” than marijuana in HIS life, but the very word “harder” is problematic here. What does Mike mean by it? Presumably he means that psychedelics are more dangerous than marijuana, but that is a political conclusion of the drug war, not a scientific fact.

The DEA may schedule substances as they please, but their verdicts have zero scientific credibility: first because it’s in their interests to criminalize as many substances as possible, as harshly as possible, and second because the DEA has been lying about psychedelics for the last 40 years, brazenly maintaining that psychedelics are of no therapeutic value whatsoever (in the face of modern research and historic practices that say otherwise).

If we put aside drug-war prejudices and merely compare the responsible use of the two substances, marijuana might even be found to be the “harder” of the two drug choices, if only because effective psychological therapy can be obtained from a mere handful of psychedelic drug experiences, whereas marijuana users are sometimes known for daily consumption of that plant. Those who wish to begrudge that latter indulgence might well classify marijuana as the hard drug, not psychedelics.

“We paid a price for all that indulgence and experimentation”

5. Ostensibly, Mike is telling us how the ‘60s tore his family apart, but what he’s really telling us is how psychedelics, at least in Mike’s opinion, brought about that dystopia. This is typical drug-warrior strategy, whether Mike realizes it or not: to vilify plants, fungi, and other substances rather than merely denouncing the contexts in which those substances are used.

It’s this kind of superstitious thinking (that substances can somehow be good or evil in and of themselves) that has caused untold suffering in the world, for it has inspired seemingly rational people in seemingly democratic countries to outlaw Mother Nature’s psychologically useful plants and to greenlight anti-constitutional measures in enforcing that prohibition, all under the naïve assumption that evil will be conquered if we only destroy the plants in which we superstitiously believe it to reside.

But evil does not reside in plants, it resides in people – people who make bad choices for themselves, such as Mike’s parents, and those who make bad choices for their countries, such as Richard Nixon.

6. Speaking of Nixon, Mike does not even mention him in this ‘60s memoir — except to suggest that drug use during that time was nothing but a childish reaction to that presidential authority figure.

This is odd, since you’d think that someone who’s denouncing irresponsible drug use would start by denouncing Richard Nixon first and foremost: after all, it was Richard Nixon who outlawed all responsible use of LSD in 1968 by closing down all the clinics that were carefully using it to cure alcoholism and reach otherwise unreachable patients.

But like most drug warriors, Mike ignores the needs of the depressed and psychologically needy by demonizing the substances that could provide them with a new lease on life. He holds “drugs” responsible for evil, not people and policies.

And as a lifelong depressive myself, this bothers me, since such viewpoints have resulted in legislation that has deprived me of thousands of valuable non-addictive medicines, freely available from Mother Nature, forcing me instead to waste my life subsidizing Big Pharma with the daily purchase of their handful of inadequate, expensive and addictive “wonder drugs.”