Psychedelic drug reform is not only about policy change – It’s a social movement too

Current drug control policies in the UK not only stifle research into psychedelic drugs, they also infringe users liberties to do as they wish with their minds and bodies. The proposed New Psychoactive Substances bill that is coming towards us is only going to make the situation much worse. Yet, many people consider using psychedelics as a civil right and one worth fighting for.

Stephen Reid, director and founder of The Psychedelic Society. The collective provides a safe space to contribute their insights and learn about psychedelics. Photo credit: The Psychedelic Society

Stephen Reid, director and founder of The Psychedelic Society. The collective provides a safe space to contribute their insights and learn about psychedelics. Photo credit: The Psychedelic Society

Going along to one of the first meetings hosted by The Psychedelic Society was a truly refreshing experience. A room full of people from all walks of life, engaging in friendly, bustling conversations about their psychedelic experiences, washed down with wine, hummus and breadsticks. On the other side of the room, a photographer captured others dipping their hands into their choice of fluorescent paint, then fist pumping the air in declaration that they are a psychedelic drug user, and proud of it.

Events like these are great platforms for like-minded people to rally together and exchange ideas on how to challenge the mind-set of others. Conversations bounce between the remarkable holistic effects psychedelic drugs can have on people, as well as the science and medical research that is taking the discussion on legalisation to new heights. But one of the main messages that resonate throughout, from academics to users, is that taking psychedelics is a matter of personal choice and civil liberty.

For millions of people worldwide, drug taking is an important part of life and learning. Some regard their experiences on drugs like LSD, DMT, and magic mushrooms as divine, religious, or sacred. Others find escapism, creativity, or a lasting positive outlook on life that they never had before. Even though some countries have thawed to the decriminalisation of some drugs like cannabis, the UK is still lagging behind regardless.

“Psychedelic experiences are often some of the most important and meaningful experiences of a person’s life, even when they have a difficult time,” proclaims Dave King, co-director of Breaking Convention, a 3-day conference that presented cutting-edge contemporary studies on psychedelics to a wide audience in London.

“They are remarkable tools for medical, personal and cultural development. This year’s convention presented research on the clinical use of psychedelics to treat autism, bipolar disorder, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, addictions and much else.”

But what’s most striking about these events are the volumes of people who come out in force to take part. Hundreds of people all gathered together, not to rave or get high, but to hear from the pioneers in drugs research and contemplate the insights of other psychonauts, who have set out to use these drugs to explore the depths of the human psyche.

The lasting deep and profound effects these drugs have on people, connects them to one another: bonds and unites them. And it’s at these events they can share their experiences without judgement, and delve into the deeper meanings of what it is to trip. Even comedian Russell Brand joined in the conversation at Breaking Convention.

But, does the Government’s suppression of psychedelics drugs equate to, what some would call, a ‘war on consciousness’? “[Psychedelics] can be of vital importance to human society: to our health and well-being, to our freedom and human rights, to our understanding of ecology and environment, to our acceptance and celebration of other cultures, even to the way we live on a day-to-day basis and, ultimately, the way we deal with death,” explains King.

The media storm Stephen Reid, the director and founder of The Psychedelic Society, created by staging a nitrous oxide protest outside Parliament to the tune of “my mind, my choice”, could only be considered a positive step in raising awareness on the much needed revision of drug policies. But it also brought attention to the social movement coming up fast behind it.

The protest staged by The Psychedelic Society outside Parliament, brought much media attention to the drug debate, and enabled campaigners to highlight that users need to be free to make their own choices. Photo credit: Vice

The protest staged by The Psychedelic Society outside Parliament, brought much media attention to the drug debate, and enabled campaigners to highlight that users need to be free to make their own choices. Photo credit: Vice

“The prohibition of psychedelics is one of the biggest injustices in our society,” states Reid. “I don’t think it’s right that the state should be able tell us what we can and can’t put in our own bodies, particularly in the case of psychedelics because they can be so beneficial.”

And this social movement is taking a particular shape: one that has gone down in history before. “There are clearly some interesting parallels between social rights, the gay rights movements and the psychedelic rights movement,” explains Reid.

“There’s a great quote from Ethan Nadelmann, the director of Drugs Policy Alliance in the United States: “People should be free to put whatever they want in their bodies, whether it’s a joint or a cock.” That quite neatly, if crudely, summarises the parallels that these are our bodies, and we should be free to do what we want to do with them. I think we can stand on the shoulders of the gay rights movement, the success they have been having, and employ some similar arguments in similar ways.”

But what will it take to get this movement into full swing? Professor David Nutt, one of the pioneer scientists researching the potential of psychedelics as medicines, suggests that motivating the psychedelic community plays a key part. “Getting together with people who feel the same way is very empowering. The psychedelic community need to communicate broadly in a rational way, present the evidence, present the safety. If they are young people, they need to persuade their parents to vote for the right parties that are sensible about drugs.

“[They’ve] also got to keep demanding of the media and of politicians that they don’t lie about drugs: that they tell the truth about drugs, and eventually the truth will mean that policy gets changed.”

Professor Nutt also feels that we are at a turning point, and that in 10 years time the use of drugs like psilocybin and LSD will be commonplace in many different aspects. With this in mind, the fight is on.

Reshma Biring

Reshma Biring is a London-based media professional who specialises in TV, film, youth media, journalism, radio and print press. She currently works as a Project Manager and Show Coordinator for London360: a half hour topical news and magazine TV show that unearths hidden community stories about London. The show is broadcast on Community Channel and London Live. Reshma is also a media trainer for Media Trust’s Do Something Brilliant initiative and for youth-led London radio station, Reprezent. Previously, Reshma has freelanced as a broadcast journalist for BBC 1Xtra, and as a radio specialist for Sky TV’s Reach for The Sky community scheme. She was also the Executive Producer of India Unplugged, a three-part series about international aid in India, broadcast on Community Channel. Her passion for charities, global issues and young people, has also lead her into a diverse career creating media and film projects with a twist: both at home and abroad. Her writing is inspired by stories that shine a light on taboo subjects, the weird and wonderful, or whatever else she finds fascinating. Reshma is a keen traveller, loves music, and dabbles in production as One Black Wing: https://soundcloud.com/one-black-wing

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