Nothin' better to do
Nothin' better to do
A paper on “Hallucinogen Plant and Their Use in Traditional Societies”

“This is a story about Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue
Two young lovers with nothin' better to do
Than sit around the house, get high, and watch the tube…”
-Steve Miller

     This quote from the Steve Miller is an important fact to keep in mind when reading Wade Davis' article entitled Hallucinogenic Plants and Their Use in Traditional Societies.  Throughout his article, Davis shows that drug use in various cultures around the world should be seen as a form of pharmaceutical ingenuity rather than a bunch of bored people getting wasted.  When the drugs were first cultivated, it was a matter of taking minute resources from the environment and managing to extract from them their mind-altering applications.
Davis points out how that while mushrooms, yopo, ebene, and other plants and fungi are psychoactive drugs that distort people's perceptions, there is a higher purpose to them.  Rather than being a way to fill a rainy day in upstate Vermont, drug use is seen as a way of experiencing things beyond the normal realm.  The use of the substances within cultures such as the Amerindan is one of group exploration into the unconscious.  It is not an individualistic task one takes by themselves, but rather, a journey one goes through with their friends and family by way of guidance through a speaker, or shaman.  Drug use in these societies is not a shunned, anti-social event, it is an exploration.  For example, the Huichoi of Mexico take peyote after pilgrimages not to unwind, but to experience what they believe to be the path the departed take to the underworld.  This is in direct contrast to what many Americans believe indigenous people use peyote for.
With all of the wonderful connectivity that drugs seem to create, it should only make sense that in North American culture, people should attempt to reach the same ends through drug use.  Sadly, this is not the case and most likely never will be.  The quote I used at the beginning of this paper is the proof of this; drug use in America is not a means of reaching spiritual gratification.  The use of drugs in our society is a way of alleviating boredom or stress; it is a way of escaping the turmoil of ones own life, even if only for a brief period of time.
Despite this fact, many people would argue that certain drugs should be legalized within our nation.  For example, the debate on the legalization of marijuana is often seen to rage in the public eye.  Saying that it is a “harmless” drug, what would be the downside of legalizing it?  Other societies in the world encourage drug use, why shouldn't the United States?
There are many problems with this argument.  First and foremost, one should examine the context of drug use in the other societies.  In other societies drug use is a way of explaining the unexplainable.  People are not using a drug in order to feel released from social pressure; they are using them to experience what they believe to be the paranormal.  Drug use is seen as a way of escaping to the dream plane in Australia, or the world of the dead in Mexico, it is not merely the time killer it is made out to be in the North America.
A second thing to note would be the potency and connections drug use has in the United States.  While some people may attain drugs from home growers, the vast majority of drugs are imported by cartels and enhanced in laboratories.  As well, there is a frequency of overdoses.  In the other societies where various forms of drugs are used, they are made by medicine men and the people of the society; they are not made for profit.  Furthermore, since the medicine man is the one to administer the drug, it is monitored and the amount of risk is limited.  Within the United States, drug use is a practice of secrecy wherein people will purchase drugs from their dealer and use them in privacy or in select groups.  Without someone to watch over the group, the risk of personal harm is far more prevalent in our own society.     
The fact of the matter is that our society, due to several scientific and technological explanations, has done away with a need to explain the supernatural through drug use.  Most people either hold a religious or scientific belief to explain higher powers or what happens after death.  With this in mind, drug use in our society did not evolve as a manner of explanation, but rather of recreation.  Unlike in other societies, drug use in our society can not be seen to serve any practical purpose.  So, while it may be a necessary part of other cultures to use drugs, it should be seen that such use in our own society is simply a relief for boredom and stress, though there are far more productive ways to accomplish the same thing.  In short, trying to legitimize the use of hallucinogens by comparing to other societies is a moot point.  The situation and use are not the same and cannot be judged as if they were.