Read: The mushrooms are slowly taking effect
Here Kleiman, a committed empiricist whose group blog calls itself “the Reality-Based Community,” revealed a certain capacity for poetry. He noted that a large fraction of trippers had life-changing, and often life-affirming, experiences—ones that vanquished fear of death, inspired creativity and compassion for others, and improved moods and depressive tendencies for months after a single dose. If Prozac had the effects observed in the best current studies on psychedelics, withholding it from the depressed or dying would be considered a human-rights violation as serious as failing, out of spite, to set a broken leg.
And that is how Kleiman suggested we think about legalizing hallucinogens: as a change in policy that was less about the weighing of a policy’s pluses and minuses than about the dignity and rights of human beings and citizens. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, Kleiman said, and by any objective standard the experiences of many who take hallucinogens are religious. Seeing God after eating shrooms is subjectively indistinguishable from seeing God by reading Rumi or meditating and eating nothing but bitter herbs in a cave for a few weeks. That LSD is associated with dirty hippies should not give the government license to deprive everyone of (to use William James’s phrase) a variety of religious experience.
Read: How mushrooms became magic
The psychologist Robert Gable relates the experience of a man dying of cancer who, aided by a pharmaceutical cocktail, slipped into a hallucinatory state. Gable asked him the next day whether he found the state pleasurable, and the man teared up. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “But I am too sick to do this now. Why didn’t somebody tell me about this?” “I took his bony hand and held it in mine,” Gable says, “because I didn’t have an answer.” Neither did Kleiman (who, according to his New York Times obituary, “had not been averse to using psychedelic drugs”).
Religious experiences have inspired destructive behavior, and putting LSD in the water supply of Gotham would have roughly the effects predicted in the Batman movies. Kleiman was fond of quoting Timothy Leary: Hitting golf balls is a harmless activity, but you have to do it in certain designated areas, under the supervision of golf pros. You can’t just go to Central Park and yell “Fore!” Similarly, the few people eager to drop acid or take shrooms should do so in special facilities, staffed by psychedelic professionals trained to keep them from freaking out if things turn unpleasant. The facilities should have environments conducive to safe, rewarding trips, and would more resemble meditation retreats than hospitals.
The city of Denver recently moved to decriminalize possession of magic mushrooms (psilocybes), among the most benign of this benign class of drugs. Amsterdam, though better known for its weed, allows discreet sale of mushrooms. The wider availability of these substances ranked low on Kleiman’s list of priorities—as criminal-justice policies go, he thought taxing alcohol, emptying prisons, and lead abatement were all more urgent—but it would be a transcendent pleasure to see this other cause added to the agenda.