Ethneogens: Finding enlightenment through plants

Pollan M. 2002. The Botany of Desire. Random House. Toronto, Canada. 113-179p.

Somewhere in the middle on the gradient between food and poison there exists a plant entity that encompasses both other functions, and more. This is the domain of the intoxicant: plants that alter our perception of pain, pleasure, time, and space. In chapter three of Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire”, he examines humanity’s complex relationship with these intoxicant plants, and how they have altered much more than just the activity of the human brain. Throughout the reading Pollan explores the usage of these plants, namely Cannabis sativa, and how this plant and others help humans alter their thought patterns to achieve modified states of consciousness.

Hallucinogens (or ethneogens) have been active components of numerous societies for literally millennia. From the Greek and Roman philosophers using Ergot and wine to improve their philosophical intuition to the Scythian populations using THC to relax their psyche and loosen their creative ability, humans have been using these plants to change their outlook on the human condition and contemplate reality on a different psychological level. The usage of such plants was rampant (but regulated somewhat) in times past, but it apparently helped both artists and academics and philosophers speculate on the nature of reality and helped them perform their jobs with “fresh eyes” every day. To think that such mind-opening concepts would be held in such contempt in this modern, progressive era that is the 21st century. Pollan comments that religion and culture create these blocks against intoxicant usage. Each society likes to draw the line for as to where a plant is poison or medicine or ethneogen at a different spot on that intangible “good plant-bad plant” gradient.

Makes me wonder why there is such a taboo around intoxicants in the western world today. Is it due to our fear of the unknown, of how society today fears changes in opinion or alternate views? Could it be that the medical systems worry for societies health, and that the intoxicants and hallucinogens that are consumed will harm both the user and those around them? Or is it a vestigial remnant of our religious heritage, from the Protestant fundamentalism that abolished all non-pure activities as sinful and wrong?

That brings up the other question, should we as a society move past these issues with intoxicants? Currently, most of the psychoactive plants presently used by people are completely illegal and banned for sale and consumption. By making them completely illegal, people relinquish their ability to regulate the products that people buy. This leaves people to purchase the compounds and intoxicants from more questionable sources, or from people that are only looking for profit rather than to assist in the accentuation of the creative psyche. If these plants were legalized and standardized, dosages would be more controlled, and it could be that users would be less likely to be damaged by their inaccurate use.



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