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Written by Kellman Heinz
Why Everything is Psychoactive
Eastern wisdom on the psychic properties of everyday foods
Every human is in constant-transaction with the world. Oxygen vents in and CO2 puffs out. The food we eat is turned into the energy that chops down trees and builds houses. Every little transaction is also a change - with each new breath you get to live a moment longer and continue working your will upon the world.
Given that everything we do changes us in some way, what is so special about hallucinogens? Is it the quality, or intensity of the experience?
Hallucinogens have the ability to drastically change our perspective. They make us think in new and foreign ways. They show us visions that we could never have fathomed, often bringing new insight into our day-to-day lives.
But hallucinogens are not unique in this. Many sorts of things can change our way of thinking. Every night we enter a dream state rivaling the wildest psychedelic journey. A stressful event at work can quickly change our outlook for the entire day. The psychological and physiological changes caused by sex surely rival those of hallucinogens (and are far more addicting...)
My argument is that people find hallucinogens fascinating not because of the changes they cause, but because of the dosage and the speed at which those changes occur.
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No-one is surprised when someone comes back from war with a different way of thinking. After 40-days of fasting in the desert, it seems only natural to come back with a prophecy or two.
These changes seem natural because they occur over a long period of time and are accompanied by intense external conditions. What surprises (and scares) people about psychedelics is their ability to induce these same changes in perspective over a much shorter time-span and with no obvious, external conditions! To the casual observer, very little is happening. One has ingested a pill or a piece of a plant, and that's it. There is no dramatic storyline to explain the changes taking place.
If everything that goes on around us can be considered psychoactive, then this is, of course, doubly true for the foods we eat. Every substance that you put into your body will have its own unique effects on your physiology. Some people go so far as to think that garlic will make you feel different than ginger - that a vegetarian will think differently than a meat-eater.
According to an ancient Taoist writer,
“Grain eaters are wise, but short lived.
Meat eaters are brave but cruel”
Chocolate, a supposedly innocuous food, may actually be highly psychoactive. I learned this the hard way when I ate a whole bar of 100% baker's chocolate on an empty stomach. Suffice it to say I thought I was going to be murdered and fell asleep in a ditch. Some research even supports chocolate's brain-modifying effects.
Perhaps you thought of food in terms of edible or not edible, but it's actually a much more complex situation. Some things you can eat by the armful and feel great. Other things will kill you easily. In between those two extremes, there are all sorts of stages. There are things you can eat a little bit of, or that become edible if prepared in certain ways. There are things that are edible but you probably wouldn’t want to eat. There are things that are good, but only in moderation. Some things could be eaten by an adult, but not by a baby. Some things can be eaten in summer, but not in fall. You can eat a brown potato, but not a green one!
Some plants are a little edible, but become very edible after generations of selective breeding.
Compare garden lettuce to wild lettuce, or wild almond to cultivated almond - the wild almond has over 50x more cyanide than the domesticated variety. The potato, the pepper, and the tomato are all members of the Nightshade family, which also has a number of highly poisonous members, such as the sexily named ‘Deadly Nightshade’.
Many people report having sensitivities to foods in this family. Incidentally, for the first 200 years after being imported to Europe, the tomato was considered poisonous and grown only for ornamental purposes.
Food as medicine may seem foreign to us, but in China, the medicinal effects of food are ‘common knowledge’. Everyone knows that when it gets too hot, you can eat Mung beans to keep you cool. On the hottest days, vendors in the park sell mung-bean tea! Green tea and black tea are also cooling, but green tea more so. Green tea is best in the morning and is usually preferred by men. Black tea is best in the afternoon and is better for women.
Ginger and cinnamon will warm you. Seafood cools and moistens. Lotus seed is drying, beef is energizing, lettuce and celery are relaxing. Those are just the more obvious ones. Many Chinese people use this information in a very practical way. Even taking the seasons into account. The subtropical summer is hot and wet, so people eat mainly cooling, drying foods, to counteract the effects of the weather. The autumn is cool and dry, so people eat foods that warm and moisten the body.
Anything that affects the body also affects the brain. Everything that affects the brain also affects the body. But the mind? We like to compartmentalize for the sake of discussion, but it's a pointless compartmentalization. Everything is a drug.
I hope that by understanding this concept we can begin to consider hallucinogens not as a dangerous foreign agent, but as a more potent extension of the "drugs" we consume on a daily basis.
About the Author: Kellman Heinz is a student of human nature and an all-around nice guy. He likes to think about medicine, psychology, botany, and the occasional cloud-formation.
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