Further information: Brian F. O’Donnell:  Psychoactive Drugs, the Mind and Society

Expanded Description:  The United States has experienced a long and polarizing debate regarding the harms vs. benefits of psychoactive drug use.  Additionally, criminalization of the use of some drugs has resulted in a staggering increase in incarceration, coupled with a paradoxical increase in illicit drug use. We will try to examine the complex issues involved in drug use with fresh eyes and base our discussions on evidence from historical, scientific, legal and clinical sources. 

The required text for the course is Michael Pollan’s This is Your Mind on Plants (bookfinder.com—new or used $14-$22), which will serve as a starting point to evaluate three types of drugs: opium (a depressant and analgesic), caffeine (a stimulant) and mescaline (a hallucinogen or psychedelic).  The Pollan text will be supplemented by additional short readings, podcasts and videos provided by the instructor electronically as a pdf or as a link.  There will be about 50 to 100 pages of reading for each class meeting.  We will also examine the effects of cannabis-related compounds.

Course Schedule:

Pre-course meeting (week prior to start of course): Brief introductions and a few ground rules for successfully communicating in a Zoom environment. Expect an invitation as soon as the class list is available.

Week 1 – Overview:  I was so high.  This American Life, May 2, 2014.  Podcast at:https://www.thisamericanlife.org/524/i-was-so-high.  Pleasure, poison, prescription, prayer: The worlds of mind-altering substances.  Exhibit brochure, Hearst Museum of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, 2019.  Porter, E.  Numbers Tell of Failure in Drug War.  New York Times, July 3, 2012.

Week 2 – Cannabis:  Siff S. The illegalization of marijuana.  Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspectives. Vol 7, issue 8, 2014 at https://origins.osu.edu/article/illegalization-marijuana-brief-history.  Pollan, M.  Cannabis, forgetting and the botany of desire. UC Berkeley: Townsend Center for the Humanities. 2003, pp. 1-19 at https://townsendcenter.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/publications/OP27_Pollan.pdf.

Week 3 – Cannabis:  Sohn E.  Balancing act: Weighing the dangers of cannabis.  Nature 2019: 572, S16-S18 (2019).  Summary: The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research.  The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2017, Summary, 4-33,34.

Week 4 – Stimulants:  Pollan: Caffeine, pp. 89 – 159

Week 5 – Psychedelics:  Pollan: Mescaline, pp. 161-252.  Sam S.B. Shonkoff, SB. What the Study of Religion Can Teach Us About Psychedelics.  Harvard Law School, Petrie-Flom Center, Bill of Health, Nov 4, 2020 at https://blog.petrieflom.law.harvard.edu/tag/spirituality/.

Week 6 – Psychedelics:  Alvord, L. ‘The Healing Properties of Navajo Ceremonies’  Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community, Arizona State University, Oct. 22, 2015.  Video (begin at 12 minutes into the recording)  at: https://english.asu.edu/content/video-lori-alvord-healing-properties-navajo-ceremonies.    Pollan, M.  My adventures with the trip doctors.  NYT, May 15, 2018

Week 7 – Opioids:  DeWeerdt, S. Tracing the US opioid crisis to its roots.  Nature, 2019: 573, S10-S12; Moore MH & Kleiman AR at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02686-2.  The Police and Drugs.  Perspectives on Policing, No. 11, publication of the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, September, 1989 https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/117447.pdf.

Week 8 – Opioid addictions and drug policy:  Rich et al.  Medicine and the Epidemic of Incarceration in the United StatesNew England Journal of Medicine, 2011: 2081-2083.  Hart, C.  Viewing addiction as a brain disease promotes social injustice. Nature Human Behavior, 2017: 1(3), 0055 at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0055.  Breithaupt, D.  The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs: An Interview with Johann Hari. Los Angeles Review of Books, March 31, 2016 at https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-first-and-last-days-of-the-war-on-drugs-an-interview-with-johann-hari/.