As it happens, I do know something about addiction, since I am an alcoholic, a grateful one for 21 years of sobriety. I also know something about depression, a condition that has haunted my entire life. Now, sober, I manage my condition, with the help of loving friends and family, as well as targeted medication.
Throughout history, man has relied on natural remedies to maintain physical and mental well-being. The evidence of this is mainly retained in oral tradition, but we have written accounts as well, pertaining to the healing powers of peyote, psylocibin, ayahuasca, cannabis, Amanita , LSD (in the form of ergot), and here in South Africa, kougoed (Sceletium tortuosum). To get an impression of this vast cultural heritage, one simply has to look at Prof Ben-Erik van Wyk’s monumental work: Medicinal plants of the world.*
The evidence is compelling that untreatable depression and addiction can be stopped in its tracks
For many decades, however, driven by fundamentalist views, mind-altering drugs have been a banned by legislation and has become a taboo subject. There was a vicious clampdown in America during the 60’s and 70’s, driven by incomprehension. Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, the icons of the ‘Beat Generation”, with scientific and literary figures, and as well as the titans of pop music, tried to show that there are different ways of existence, different ways of seeing. They were hounded and persecuted.
Now we are in the grips of a merciless pandemic, which has fundamentally changed our entire existence. One of the most solemn consequences of this enforced isolation is the social impact of seclusion – millions of people are suffering, not only of this loneliness, but also of the amplified effects of pre-existing mental health issues. If one should bring chronic pain into this equation, we are on the cusp of a global medical emergency.
But there is hope. A cursory glance at the current medical literature shows a resurgence in the use and application of these natural substances. The evidence is compelling that untreatable depression and addiction can be stopped in its tracks by the judicious and controlled medicinal application of, for instance, ayahuasca. Furthermore, the use of cannabis has become mainstream in many countries.
The South Africa media reported a new study this week, in which cannabis will be scientifically evaluated, especially for chronic pain. What then, is science? Science is simply systematized knowledge, which is self-regulating. This means that science is what we know, and if science was wrong on a particular subject, it will be corrected by peer review. This, unfortunately, does not hold true for dogma and ignorance.
One of the greatest statements on science and the human condition was made by Jacob Bronowski, where outside the gates of Auschwitz he said:
“This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.”
He went on:
“Science is a very human form of knowledge. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken.”
I therefore stand convinced that we should embrace this initiative, in hope. Surely we have nothing to lose