The Natural Mind: A Revolutionary Approach to the Drug Problem
Andrew Weil’s book, The Natural Mind: A Revolutionary Approach to the Drug Problem, introduces the reader to an original and different way of thinking about drugs and their uses, as well as other mind/conscious altering activities. Dr. Weil’s innovative ideas regarding these issues force the reader to think “outside the box,” as a means of gaining a better understanding of drug use and mind altering activities. (Weil, 1972)
Dr. Weil’s contends that the consumption of drugs in order to alter one’s state of consciousness is simply a fundamental or inherent drive of all humans in all corners of the globe. For example, he notes that drug use and conscious-altering activities are prevalent in virtually all cultures, across all societies and socioeconomic levels, as well as in most age groups. To back up this claim, Weil cites the casual use of epená snuff as a recreational drug by the Waiká Indians, the ubiquitous consumption of alcohol in nearly every society (outside of traditionally Islamic societies), Harvard professor Timothy Leary’s endorsement of LSD, and the common sight of children at recess continually whirling themselves in circles until they become dizzy. (Weil, 1972)
According to Weil, few issues evoke more emotions than drugs. Throughout history, drugs have been both praised and demonized. Drug consumers have been held in high esteem (the caffeine user in an expensive café) or vilified (the crack smoker in a dark ally). Weil expounds upon such complexities of drug use and the moral fervor and fear often attached to it. (Weil, 1972)
That being said, Dr. Weil brings a fresh and creative approach to the discussion on drugs. He believes that it is no longer useful to view drugs as a scapegoat for all societal woes. Therefore, Weil urges us to reconsider the traditional and often hypocritical convictions surrounding drugs laid down to us by lawmakers, politicians, and other leaders in hopes of developing a more productive solution to the “drug problem.” (Weil, 1972)
In chapter two of his book, Dr. Weil discusses why he believes people choose to alter their consciousness. He points out that drug consumption is just one method that people have employed as a means of altering their consciousness. Weil states that chemical substances are but one way to achieve what many describe as the fascinating realm that is altered consciousness. Most interestingly, people have sought out altered states of consciousness probably since the beginning of mankind. Indeed, much archeological evidence supports this claim. Weil, therefore, considers drug use (as a means to alter consciousness) to be a “basic human appetite” similar to other human compulsion, such as hunger or the drive for sex. (Weil, 1972)
Furthermore, Weil brings to light the deceitful reality of the slogan, “the drug problem.” Although many see the drug problem as a new phenomenon, Dr. Weil argues that what these individuals see as a problem is merely a shift from legal drug use to more frequent illicit drug use in American society. In Weil’s eyes, there is really no difference between illegal drugs and legal drugs. Indeed, from a pharmacological perspective, there is no difference. The only real differences that exist between illicit and licit drugs are, in fact, the various societal and moral constructs that have been invented and attached to them by people. While acknowledging the many negative effects of illegal drug use, he reminds the reader that that legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco have just as many, if not more, detrimental effects on their users. (Weil, 1972) Dr. Weil eloquently sums up the “drug problem” as follows:
We are spending much time, money, and intellectual energy trying to find out why people are taking drugs, but, in fact, what we are doing is trying to find out why some people are taking some drugs that we disapprove of. No useful answers can come out of that sort of inquiry; the question in improperly phrased. (Weil, 1972)
Indeed, there is much social support for the consumption of certain drugs, irregardless of their very negative and often detrimental side effects. For example, the use of alcohol to alter consciousness is far from socially deviant in American in society. One could argue that drinking alcohol is the norm, while those who abstain are, perhaps, more socially deviant or countercultural. (Weil, 1972)
According to Weil, at some point in their lives children learn that alcohol is one way to achieve a “socially-acceptable” state of altered consciousness. They come to understand that if they are patient, they will be allowed to fulfill their desire to experience a state of mind that is outside normal waking consciousness, but also socially acceptable. Until then, as Weil writes, children hide from adults other forms of achieving altered consciousness of which there is much social disapproval. For example, children may choke one another or hyperventilate till the pass out, as well as huff gas or other household chemicals to get high—albeit far from the eyes of doting parents. (Weil, 1972)
Dr. Weil avoids making any sort of personal judgment regarding the use of drugs.
He views drug use as just one means of achieving an altered state of consciousness. Weil believes that the desire to experience altered states occurs as a buildup of tension, much like sexual tension, that people must release. He states that periodically experiencing states other than normal waking consciousness allows individuals to release this tension. Therefore, Weil concludes that such desire is biologically based and, perhaps, an essential part of the evolution of our nervous system. (Weil, 1972)
As I mentioned above, Weil believes that there are multiple ways to achieve an altered state. The daydreamer who loses all sense of himself and time or movie watchers so engrossed in a film that they temporarily forget they are sitting in crowed movie theater, as well as meditating Buddhist monks and other religious experiences are all examples of altered states, according to Weil. Indeed, most religions advocate a loss of sense of self or ego as a means of attaining a greater human experience or, perhaps, to get closer to god. For example, Weil associates this loss of self with the following quote from Jesus: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it.” The loss of sense of self is known as Samadhi to those who practice yoga. (Weil, 1972)
Other experts on drug use agree that there are ways to achieve an altered state of consciousness without the use of drugs. This claim is supported by research that shows that drugs simply stimulate the release or natural chemicals or neurotransmitters that are already present in the brain. For example, athletic competition releases the same neurotransmitters that cocaine and methamphetamines release. (Weil, 1972) In addition, the “runner’s high” occurs when jogging results in the release of endorphins that act on opiate receptors in the brain, much like the action of heroin or prescription pain killers on these same opiate receptors (Inaba & Cohen, 2000). Likewise, Weil advocates the use of meditation as means of releasing certain neurotransmitters to induce altered states of consciousness. (Weil, 1972)
Although Weil acknowledges that drugs may lead to negative consequences, he almost supports the use of some drugs. For example, he believes it would be dangerous to the evolution of our species to thwart mankind’s drive to alter consciousness. As stated above, he believes there are alternatives to drugs; nevertheless, he tends to support drugs as a legitimate means to alter one’s consciousness. (Weil, 1972)
However, many experts believe that recreational drugs use should always be avoided, as it most often leads to further problems in an individual’s life. For example, Agosti and Levin reported that those who use marijuana are more likely to develop psychiatric disorders and abuse other drugs (more often than those who do not use marijuana) (2007). Hamilton also revealed through his study that those who use drugs are more likely to participate in other risky behaviors, such as sexual promiscuity (2005). Those who use drugs tend to become victims of crime, as well. For example, women who use drugs are at a greater risk of becoming victims of sexual assault (Hamilton, 2005). Furthermore, other studies have demonstrated a link between drug use and criminal behavior. That is, those who use drugs are more likely to commit crimes, as well (Haggard-Grann et. al., 2005).
Regardless of how one views drugs, as Weil states, they are here to stay. I agree with this statement. No matter what laws the government makes, and despite the efforts of educators and counselors to reduce the consumption of drugs, they will always be with us. In addition, Weil points out that turning drug users into criminals has had no effect on the so-called drug problem, but only filled our prisons to maximum capacity. (Weil, 1972)
Weil believes that it would be more productive for policy makers to advocate the intelligent use of drugs. (Weil, 1972) Such an idea is a dramatic departure from our culture’s current view on drugs. Indeed, the implementation of such a policy would require an almost complete change in our cultural values regarding drug use. In our culture, policy makers continue to advocate such messages as “this is your brain, and this is your brain on drugs” (quoted from a famous anti-drug commercial). I could not imagine a commercial that told the users “if you want to use drugs, use them cautiously to explore and expand your mind.” Such a commercial is hard to imagine, as it is such a radical departure from our cultural attitudes in regards to drugs. Furthermore, it does not appear that our culture will move towards Weil’s standpoint on drugs anytime soon.
Overall, I agree with Weil’s view on drugs. Drugs have been apart of the human experience probably for as long as people have roamed the earth. We can continue to vilify drugs, throw dealers and users in jail, or even advocate abstinence, but this will continue to be a losing battle.
Although I agree with Weil’s statement that teaching others to use drugs intelligently would be a more productive way of dealing with the drug problem, I do not think that this is a very realistic solution. (Weil, 1972) Even if we advocate the intelligent use of drugs, there will be those who abuse drugs to destructive ends. However, I believe such abuse will always be present regardless of what we do to control the so-called drug problem. As Weil states, the human drive to alter consciousness is as intuitive to eat or have sex. (Weil, 1972)
I believe the lack of love and acceptance, as well as the hostility prevalent in our society are the greatest contributor to abuse of drugs. In other words, we live in a harsh world in which people feel isolated and insecure. In order to cope with such daily pressures and stress, people turn to drugs as means of escaping, or in order to enhance their lives in hopes of living up to our society’s unattainable standards. In short, people are not allowed to be at peace with their own lives and, therefore, use drugs as a coping mechanism.
A society in which people did not use drugs to destructive ends, would be so dramatically different that it would be unrecognizable to us. Such a society would probably resemble a communal, tribal society in which people felt a sense of belonging and acceptance, as well as had all of their basic needs met (i.e., a “social safety net”). Furthermore, such a society would probably not be very materialistic, which would diminish the feelings of inadequacy prevalent in materialistic societies. Materialistic societies teach their citizens that the worth of a person is defined by his or her bank account, not the goodness in his or her heart. As noted by Weil, drug abuse to destructive ends is very uncommon in tribal groups. (Weil, 1972)
Personally, I feel that the standards of American culture our nearly impossible for most people to attain. Our society teaches its citizens that if you are not rich and successful then you are basically worthless. Unfortunately, we define one’s success by his job, but more importantly how much his or her job pays. Furthermore, the individualistic nature of our culture means that one is expected to reach such goals on his or her own. Meanwhile, we are bombarded by advertising that manipulates us into thinking that if we do not have the newest and latest thingamajig, then we are truly inadequate. I believe that such stress and pressure drives many Americans to use drugs to cope with or escape from their lives, which they feel is not worthy enough.
In conclusion, I completely agree with Weil’s view on drugs and drug use. I believe that the drive to alter consciousness is simply apart of being human. Likewise, I believe that altering consciousness by means other than drugs, such as meditation or through sports should be advocated to those recovering from drug addiction. However, with the prevalence of drugs is our society today, I do not see such alternative forms coming into vogue for those who are not currently trying to recover from drug addiction. While Weil’s ideas are interesting, meaningful, and innovative, I believe they are simply too idealistic for our current cultural climate. (Weil, 1972)
Furthermore, I truly feel that there is nothing wrong with using drugs, as long as it is done in moderation. Indeed, I feel that drugs can serve a positive role in helping people alter consciousness and expand their minds. Perhaps, policy makers should focus on advocating moderate drug use, rather than complete abstinence (which is an unlikely goal). In the mean time, substance abuse counselors should not concern themselves with drug policy, but rather focus on helping those who have taken their drug use too far and want help to overcome their addictions.
Agosti, A., & Levin, F.R. (2007). Predictors of cannabis dependence recovery among epidemiological survey respondents in the united states. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 33, 81-88.
Haggard-Grann, U. et al. (2006). The role of alcohol and drugs in triggering criminal violence: A case study. Society for the Study of Addiction, 101, 100-108.
Hamilton, J. (2005). Receiving marijuana and cocaine as gifts and through sharing. Substance Use and Misuse, 40 361-368.
Inaba, D.S., & Cohen, W.E. (2004). Uppers, downers, all arounders. (5th). Medford: CNS Publications, Inc.
Weil, A. (1972). The natural mind: A revolutionary approach to the drug problem. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.