What Might Have Been

Have you noticed that mushrooms are suddenly everywhere?

No, I’m not talking about they’re growing everywhere. (Although they may very well be.)

Instead, it seems like mushrooms have recently been showing up as ingredients in coffee and drinking chocolate. They’re the fear-inducing specter in HBO’s The Last Of Us and played a role in Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers. They’re being cast as villian, hero, or monster just about every time I turn around in nearly everything I read and watch.

That’s partly due to discoveries about how plentiful fungal networks are as well as their role in replacing red meat in a number of dishes. The more we learn about any given species or group of related lifeforms, the more they make their way into the zeitgeist.

The aspect of mushrooms that caught my attention the most is how they and other psychedlics were discussed in Netflix’s How to Change Your Mind. It’s a documentary based on Michael Pollan’s book of the same name.

I watched the Netflix series on my therapist’s recommendation a couple of months ago. And, I’m still angry about it. Let me unpack that a bit.

In the 4-part series on Netflix, Michael Pollan talks about four psychedics: LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline.

When the chemical compounds in these four first came to light, scientists were researching them to see if they might have any medical use. But, all four were quickly caught up in the American puritanical “War on Drugs” that started in the 1950s and then went into overdrive during the free-love 1960s. Those four chemical compounds being listed as “restricted” and branded as having no research or medicinal value meant that all research stopped on all four chemical compounds.

That might not have been too terrible, except the U.S. government then exported our fear of drugs around the globe, encouraging other nations to also crack down lest they lose access to funds and support from our government.

Why does that matter to me?

I’m a lifelong migraine sufferer. And, writing that phrase comes absolutely nowhere close to explaining how often my daily activities or future plans were derailed by migraine attacks. That was particularly true when I was a child, teen, and young adult.

When I first started getting migraines, my mother took me to doctors who were all convinced that children didn’t get migraines. I was in second grade, I think, at that time. I went through multiple eye exams and hearing tests because doctors wouldn’t take my mother’s word that I had migraines.

She also had migraines, as does my sister, her daughter, and her son; my brother and his daughter; and now some of my grandnieces and grandnephews.

In fact, the only person in my immediate family who didn’t get them was my dad, who believed we all were faking it. (And, I think I just sprained my ocular nerve with the force of that eyeroll.)

I had migraines so bad in school that I’d have to sleep the afternoon away at my desk, sleep the whole way home on the bus, and then be violently sick as soon as it felt “safe” to so I could walk home and sleep some more.

I had migraines so painful in college that I beat my head against a brick wall, half-hoping I would knock myself unconscious and never wake up again.

In the 1980s and 1990s, very few medications were available for migraine sufferers. At the time, most doctors remained convinced that they were caused by food allergies. I tracked my diet, my menstrual cyle, my sleep patterns, and every damned other thing trying to find the magic trigger or triggers that caused my migraines so I could avoid it. Nothing helped.

At times, I truly believed that my migraines should have been classified as a debilitating or chronic health condition because I had times when those headaches put my school work or employment in jeopardy.

Over the years, my headaches got better as I started dealing with anxiety, depression, and what was later diagnosed as PTSD.

Watching the Netflix special on psychedelics, I learned that researchers in Europe and some parts of the U.S. have long thought that psychedelics might be a possible treatment for migraines, anxiety, PTSD, and other issues.

Had the U.S. not forced other countries to adopt our puritanical views on these substances and prevent any research into their possible efficacy as a therapeutic treatment, that research might be further along than it is now.

Presently, studies in other countries suggest that the chemical compounds making up LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA could potentially help migraine sufferers and those with PTSD change their brain chemistry to reduce the effect those conditions have on the person’s activities.

Had that research been available when my migraines were bad enough that I wanted to die, I’d have likely jumped at the chance to participate. Even though I was an uptight, puritanical little busybody back then, I’d have damned near done anything to stop those headaches that flattened me multiple times each month.

Watching the Netflix special made me wonder what other misguided, puritanical, frightened reactions today are robbing us of possible treatments for conditions that someone really needs.

Perhaps age will bring wisdom, and government officials will realize that the only thing bans do is make more people interested in the forbidden. Given our recent shift toward autocracy, a return to enforcement of existing bans, and the new bans being placed on various “vices”, I’m assuming we’re still refusing to learn from history.

I just wish we’d stop hurting people because we disapprove of their choices. Particularly when so many more pressing issues need our attention.

Photo by Irina Iacob on Unsplash

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