Psychedelic sacraments

I read with great interest the material at concerning a Colombian ayahuasca healer who was arrested in Houston for possession of the substance. It got me thinking about one of the alternative paradigms of psychedelics. (Thanks to Ben for bringing it to my attention.)

We are all familiar with the model of psychedelics use as a form of substance abuse.

One alternative model is the medical/therapeutic use of psychedelics, which basically tracks the medical model that governs psychoactive substance use: if the criteria for socially-condoned use is “medical” utility, then show there’s a medical use. That’s basically the MAPS model.

Another model, however, is the sacramental model, which we see in the context of ayahuasca, peyote, psilocybin, and iboga, among others. (Of course there is also a contingent of cannabis users who have argued for sacramental status; my understanding is that argument has not fared well in the courts.)

One potentially interesting point of contact is the question of whether there is necessarily a conflict between the idea of a sacrament and the idea of a therapeutic agent. Perhaps there could be a sacramental aspect to a therapeutic agent.

It seems to me that this inquiry comes back to the question of supply-side regulation. I believe that the critical conceptual inquiry – in general – is the nature of the supply side: who can participate, what are the barriers to entry, who determines that someone else may no longer participate in the market (e.g. by losing a license), and so on.

Regulating a medicine is a fairly straightforward matter for post-Enlightenment society.
The only question in the context of psychedelics is whether the psychedelic can be a medicine.

However regulating a sacrament may be a little more tricky.

What would happen if psychedelics were to be redesignated as sacraments?
Who is qualified to determine whether use of a psychedelic is sacramental or abusive?
Only the congregation? Only the “Church Elders”?
Someone else?

Just wondering.



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