Sooner or later, at a certain point in dinner or social conversation, the talk always comes down to drugs--reminiscences of amazing dope trips, nostalgic epiphanies, magical visitations, psychotic casualties. Then the musings turn to more current themes--recent experiences and explorations, new drugs--and they're off! The male scientists whom I love like brothers descend with gusto into the rapids of psychopharmacology--sensory experience, neurology, and chemistry. They start: talking "molecules," and most of the women sigh and head off for another cup of tea. At conferences we dutifully listen as old studies are rehashed (few new ones ever being approved) and then huddle in corners to recount stories of our children's trials with addictions or with the law. We exchange "gardening" lore and begin hesitantly to speak of our relationships to the spirits of plant teachers. The boldest of us amplify the volume on our complaints about "the men's macho attitudes" about psychedelic use and inquiry: taking heroic doses, mixing agents that do not even grow on the same continent, trivializing ethnobotanical lore, and either ignoring the voices of wise women or ghettoizing them onto a single panel such as "Women and Psychedelics."
With rare exceptions, consciousness researchers investigating psychedelic medicines are men with M.D.'s and Ph.D.'s--psychiatrists, medicinal chemists, rat psychologists, and neuroscientists--working to further legitimate use of these agents in a repressive social and legal climate. "Clinical research" today means university affiliation, nonprofit status, legal permission, ethics committees, FDA and DEA control, fund raising, and above all, a specific pathology to treat. Western medicine treats symptoms, and one way to get federal permission is to craft studies for conditions that have no other decent treatment, such as terminal pain, anorexia nervosa, severe obsessive compulsive disease, or heroin or cocaine addiction. Applications to study a new compound (designer drug) that does not have the "baggage" of LSD or "magic mushrooms" tend to be viewed with more sympathy. Herbal brews cannot be standardized for study, so investigators favor isolating, distilling, or creating pure compounds. This systematic approach is important work, and someone has to do it and communicate the results. This is what the men like to focus on. Is it a problem?
My thoughts revolve around the questions of psychedelics in contemporary Western society, psychedelics and the concerns of women and men, women and psychoactive medicine, and medicine women. What does it mean to be a nonindigenous medicine woman today? Is there any gender-specific lore that may be imparted? It is difficult for me to make any sort of linear description of what I wish to say. My thinking is circular, in that at every point where I imagine my commentary beginning I am immediately nudged toward the background of that point. A focus on the background begets more background--as the field emerges it enlarges. There's scant research but much content in story form. You'll find little scholarship here; it is mostly an archetypal perspective. I'll share some observations and my latest favorite notions, beginning on the learning curve of my own...
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