Imagine being an astronomer in a world where the telescope was banned. This effectively happened in the 1600s when, for over 100 years, the Catholic Church prohibited access to knowledge of the heavens in a vain attempt to stop scientists proving that the earth was not the center of the universe. ‘Surely similar censorship could never happen today,’ I hear you say—but it does in relation to the use of drugs to study the brain. Scientists and doctors are banned from studying many hundreds of drugs because of outdated United Nations charters dating back to the 1960s and 1970s.
The Potential of LSD, Heroin, Marijuana and Other Controlled Substances in Brain Research
The "guardians" of society (sometimes self-appointed, seldom qualified) have not uncommonly been biased by personal dogmatic beliefs, whether those beliefs were religious, political, economic, or something else. In the case of seventeenth-century astronomy, the bias of the "guardians" was religious, a biblical literalism which, however, was not consistent with the Tradition of the Church -- but then again, that Tradition itself is hardly self-referentially consistent, contradicting itself on any number of points. Indeed, as I have mentioned in previous posts here, a worldview colors one's perception of everything, and thus can result in distorted perceptions. In the case of substance research, several different beliefs have resulted in such skewed perspectives. In some cases, the culprit is a political viewpoint, in particular as relates to Philosophy of Law ("crime and punishment" and "protection of society" from perceived threats), without much regard for, or consideration of, the contentions of the medical community that addiction and dependence are medical situations, rather than (inherently) criminal. In other cases, a political viewpoint is again involved, but in a sort of "us versus them" mentality, such that the "guardians" arrive at their conclusions based on opposition to an alternate political viewpoint. In still other cases, economic viewpoints are involved, sometimes with vested interests (since Cannabis, for example, is an herb which can be grown almost anywhere, in widely varying conditions, its manufacture, distribution, and use cannot be effectively controlled -- and it cannot be patented, and thus, profits from Cannabis cannot be reliably restricted to the pharmaceutical industry, which has numerous less effective and potentially more harmful substances from which it wishes to continue to profit, regardless of the consequences for patients). In yet other cases, the bias is again due to a religious viewpoint, whether that be the anti-intellectualism and epistemophobia (fear of knowledge) which is so typical of religious fundamentalists, or a belief that the distribution and use of such substances are somehow contrary to the will of the divine and thus must be prohibited (disregarding any lack of justification for such prohibition on the basis of separation of church and state, ignoring the failures of past efforts at prohibition, and, in the specific case of Christianity, blatantly defying teachings of the religion itself, in particular as regards such teachings as are found in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of the gospel of Matthew and the fourteenth chapter of the epistle to the Romans).
In still yet other cases, addiction and/or dependence, or even a perspective based on an idealized understanding of the psychedelic movement (which may itself have religious dimensions, as suggested by, for example, the writings of Carlos Castaneda, and/or claims made by Dr. Timothy Leary), must be acknowledged as capable of biasing conclusions, with those who wish to have license to use such substances themselves basing their conclusions on that wish.
In spite of the latter possibility, the potential for increased knowledge (both neuroscientific/psychiatric and otherwise medical) from research into these substances is far more relevant and important than the fears of those who have embraced ignorance, superstition, irrationality, and prejudice.