Stairways to Heaven: Drugs in American Religious History

By Robert C. Fuller | Go to book overview
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The Quest for Ecstasy

Humans are a curious species. In addition to being capable of serious rational deliberation, we actively pursue drug-induced intoxication. The UCLA psychopharmacologist Ronald Siegel put this quite clearly when he observed that "throughout our entire history as a species, intoxication has functioned like the basic drives of hunger, thirst, or sex, sometimes overshadowing all other activities in life. Intoxication is the fourth drive.1 Siegel probably overstates the case a bit when he declares the pursuit of intoxication to be a fourth major drive. After all, many persons deliberately avoid intoxication. But he is surely correct in drawing attention to its persistence as a prime motivator of human behavior. One reason for the persistence of this drive is its survival value.2 Intoxication produces sensory and physiological disturbances that can alert individuals to the toxic nature of a plant, even causing ingested items to be regurgitated. Intoxication, then, provides a warning system for detecting the presence of toxic substances and helps protect individuals from more serious harm.

Alerting us to toxic plants is only one of the reasons that this "fourth drive" has had such an extraordinary influence upon human behavior. It would seem that intoxication is a pleasure that many humans seek for its own sake. For example, dizziness is frequently regarded as a pleasurable sensation. Children will spend hours on a merry-go-round or twirl themselves into frenzies of dizziness. Adults will pay large amounts of money for amusement-park rides for the sheer exhilaration of being whirled into a state of disorientation. Not surprisingly, then, humans tend to find that drugs such as marijuana, peyote, alcohol, nitrous oxide, and LSD produce episodes of dizziness that are curiously pleasurable. A good many other pleasurable physical and psychological effects are also associ


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Stairways to Heaven: Drugs in American Religious History


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