BOOK REVIEW / Throwing open the doors of perception: 'Food of the Gods' - Terence McKenna: Rider, 9.99

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The Independent Culture
A generation ago, it was possible for a member of parliament (Christopher Mayhew) to take LSD-25 on television and to describe his ecstatic perceptions to an audience of millions. Doctors advocated adopting this powerful consciousness-

expanding instrument as a cure for alcoholism, while the Woodstock crowds dreamt of a future of peace, love and nomadism. Today, though, despite a recent survey of 776 14- and 15-year-olds which showed that 36 of them had used LSD-25, psychedelic drugs are still proscribed by law, even for research or therapeutic purposes.

Terence McKenna, author of a successful guide to the cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms, has now issued a radical manifesto for the outing of all proscribed drugs. The thrust of his argument is that modern people are as ignorant and superstitious about the addictive substances that drive them (coffee, tea and sugar as well as more exotic potions) as the Victorian middle classes were about sex. The whole sorry business needs to be brought into the open, taxed and regulated, and administered by a new class of medico-spiritual therapists.

Food Of The Gods is no plea for dope supermarkets, or zonked-out free-for-alls. McKenna is a rigorous and biased advocate of a certain class of alkaloids which, he claims, can cure alcoholism, alleviate alienation and heal despair. He argues that various plant hallucinogens that occur all over the world functioned for thousands of years as sacraments of humanity. He even argues that stropharia cubensis, the hallucinogenic psilocybin mushroom which grows on and around livestock dung, is the key to human evolution from homo erectus to homo sapiens, in that it actually triggered language.

With the end of the Cold War, McKenna argues, there is growing pressure for an enhancement of democracy, and the exploration of inner space is a key religious and creative right. How much longer can we tolerate a situation where the government proscribes psilocybin and DMT, preventing poets, doctors and priests from exploring the mind, while allowing the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down to research VX nerve gas, CS gas, shellfish toxins, saxitoxin, EX incapacitator, CR gas, picloram, cacodylic acid and binary nerve gas technology?

No less obnoxious is the fact that, while potentially therapeutic psilocybin and DMT are illegal, a daunting array of little-

understood toxins is being introduced into everyday life. The Health and Safety Commission now classifies 1,400 'more common dangerous substances'. The Royal Chemical Society has published a pamphlet ominously entitled 'Reproductive Risks of Chemicals At Work'. And while beneficial plant alkaloids are banned, a frightening battery of weapons against plant life has been assembled. The herbicide paraquat, for example, which is described as of 'very high toxicity (with) possible systemic effects', causing 'irreversible rapid pulmonary fibrosis' in overdose, is 'a constituent of numerous proprietary herbicides'. Dozens of substances that are entirely legal for spraying over foodstuffs have nasty properties.

McKenna's proposals include a 200 per cent tax on tobacco and sugar, the slashing of subsidies, and warnings on packets and in school curricula. Cannabis-users may recoil at his proposed 200 per cent sales tax on their legalised dope, until they realise that dealers impose a good deal more, making huge untaxed fortunes. McKenna also urges loan boycotts on hard-drug-

producing countries; legalisation of psychedelic therapy; a huge research initiative on mind-altering substances; and, ultimately, the decriminalisation of all drugs.

Food Of The Gods deploys some entertaining learning, and provides an exciting challenge to conventional thinking.