by Tunku Muhammad
Drugs have a bad rep. They are seen as agents of society’s decay, but attitudes are increasingly changing in the West. Educators such as Hamilton Morris and PsychedSubstance’s Adam have been working towards de-stigmatising drugs by highlighting the cultural significances of drugs that are endemic to certain places.
In his series, ‘Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia’, Morris visits places such as Mexico and traces down the cultural roots of some of the world’s most commercialised and mainstream drugs such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms). He views drugs with lenses that respect its origin and history, demystifying the bad rep that commercialised drugs have received.
One can say that capitalism has ruined many things– and of the many things it has ruined, drugs happen to be one of the things. When you view drugs as an element of culture, there is a shift in your perspective. Just how each culture possesses their own symbols and language, each culture also has their own adaptation of psychedelics.
A prime hallucinogen that has been used for thousands of year is a species of ‘Psilocybin’ mushroom called Psilocybe Mexicana. In the era of the Aztecs, the coronation of Mozteczume II came with a celebration like never before, a ritual with sacrifices. Shamans would gather and provide the concoction of grounded up Psilocybe mexicana with cacao. These rituals were for the worshiping of their new leader and to feel one with nature. Morris in one of his case studies found a shaman to guide him through the experience of ingesting ‘psilocybin’ mushrooms. During his experience, he felt tingly throughout his body and slowly the visual hallucinations came. He was in awe with the hallucinations, the shaman took him by the hand and started dancing with him. Hamilton truly felt peace during his dance. It was eye opening to see something that had been ridiculed by the Spanish Inquisition be awe-inspiring and profound for the one people who experience it.
I wonder what drug our Malay ancestors used. Unlike other cultures where there were hallucinogenic plants in the forest and jungles, our Malay ancestors settled on a different class of drug entirely, stimulants. A plant that grew wildly in the jungles of Thailand and Malaysia, kratom was used for many hundred years in the history of Malaya. Kratom is a Thai word, our locals call it daun ketum. In low doses, kratom is a stimulant and has been used by the locals during their repetitive hard labour of rubber tapping. They would pick leaves from the kratom plant and start chewing. The prolonged contact of the mucous membrane in our mouth causes a fast flow of the stimulatory effects, giving them energy to do more work. Though in high doses, it can cause lethargy.
In Malaysia, kratom is illegal while Thailand recently legalised it. Kratom works on the opiod receptors of the brain even though it isn’t an opiate. This is a good thing for those who are addicted to opiods such as morphine or heroin. Thailand used to have a opiod crisis, too many of their citizens were abusing heroin but the purchase of this drug financed Thailand with a lot of money. The citizens slowly moved towards kratom as a substitute, this loss of money made the Thailand government to prohibit the use of kratom during 1960s. Now they have opened their eyes to allow opium addicts to substitute their heroin with kratom, they legalised medical marijuana and kratom in 2018. A good move from an Asian country, opening the eyes of the youth of the possibility that this drug can help many addicts around the world.
Drugs aren’t all bad, they’ve grown and integrated into our cultures. The world would be a totally different place without these natural stimulants and hallucinogens lying around in our forest and jungles. If we treated it with respect like our ancestors did, we would not have any problems in the world. There’s a new world of potential with these traditional medicines that have been too long under fire by everyone. It is time to see it in a different light, a light that only show it’s potential to reintegrate itself in our society and help more people that are going through addiction. A substitute like Kratom for opiod addiction or a psilocybin mushroom to cure depression and anxiety. One day, I hope the world will see its’ many wondrous possibilities that can cure more than just addiction.