Photo: Chris Lewis

Erasmo Calzadilla

[LSD] opened my eyes, made me a better, more honest and tolerant. – Paul McCartney, LIFE Magazine

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 3 — In a previous post I strongly criticized an official document (*) intended to discourage youth from abusing drugs. I criticized it for its moralistic and authoritarian arguments, its rush to demonize these substances associated with “dangers to the fatherland,” and its limited list of the causes that are today leading to an increase in the irresponsible consumption of psychoactive substances in Cuba.

In this post, I will continue the critique but will focus on the mistakes that — from a pharmacological point of view — were made in the brochure when dealing with these substances.

Let’s first look at the definition the handout gives:

“In general, drugs are any substance that are smoked, snorted, injected, or consumed in any way to produce psychic alterations such as pleasant feelings. However these create a pathological relationship with the individual in which they feel increasingly linked to the drug and are less capable of interesting themselves in or getting pleasure from the normal things of life.”

One of the most widely used devices for those who debate without solid arguments is lump all the varying cases into one category: those that excite as well as those that calm, the strong ones with the subtle, those that are dangerous to people’s health together with the relatively innocuous ones. This is precisely what was done by the author of the pamphlet and the specialists who advised him.

To prove that the information provided is false, I will concentrate on the group of psychedelic drugs or entheogens with which I’m most familiar.

It’s possible that some specific drug fits this definition, but in the case of entheogens — specifically LSD — it missed its target almost completely.

I’ll proceed by going step by step examining this definition:

Definition: “Any drug produce psychic alterations, such as pleasant feelings.”

Entheogens are not recreational drugs that are consumed to pass time having fun, to forget pain, ease the tension of socialization or other immediate benefits. They present us with our most delicate dramas in such a way that those who consume these substances usually go through emotionally difficult moments – ones that have nothing to do with fun.

After the catharsis, there usually occurs an engaging fullness, but one must pay a high price for this, something that discourages those who are seeking fun for fun’s sake.

Continuing with the definition: [these substances] “create a pathological relationship within the individual in which they feel increasingly linked to the drug…”

It’s widely documented by science that entheogens do not cause psychic or physical dependence, which is why they are used in medicine to combat dependency on other addictive substances, including alcohol.

Many people remain closely linked to entheogens, but this is due to feelings of gratitude, respect and others that are deeper. Of course, there have been cases of people consuming compulsively, just as there are those who compulsively eat food or watch soap operas.

The definition concludes: [those who consume feel] “less capable of interesting themselves in or getting pleasure from the normal things of life.”

Finally, entheogens do not impede or prevent “getting pleasure from the normal things of life.” On the contrary, these drugs unbridle sensitivity and intelligence. They invite us to move forward into unexplored aspects of our relations with other beings that inhabit the world. They cause us to experience unfamiliar dilemmas that previously appeared too unreachable and remote. In other words, they cause the opposite of what was stated in the definition.

Specifically regarding LSD, the brochure reads: “It is a product highly toxic to human health, especially given the neurological impairment it produces…”

I have reviewed a large number of scientific and non-scientific articles that confirm the very low toxicity of LSD and other psychedelics in the short-term and long-term.

The “margin of safety” is a parameter used in pharmacology to assess the toxicity of a substance in the body. With aspirin, for example, it is low: 1/20. However, with LSD it is lower still: 1/600. In other words, LSD is hundreds of times less lethal than the most popular painkiller in the world.

In the case of “magic mushrooms” (entheogen carriers such as psilocybin mushrooms), a person would have to eat roughly their own weight in fresh mushrooms for these to kill them – meaning they would die of indigestion before they would of intoxication.

Does this mean that entheogens are not dangerous? NO, they are, and complications arising from their use should be clarified and disseminated to potential consumers so they know how to address or minimize the risks, but teaching useful things doesn’t appear to be the intent of the official brochure.

Alleged neurological effects of LSD

Regarding the alleged neurological damage caused by LSD, I have reviewed many articles, documents, web pages, etc. seeking confirmation or denial. I found confirmation only in works with dubious scientific foundations, such as the one to which I’m referring here. Otherwise, the scientific articles do not speak so poorly of this substance.

In the American Journal of Psychiatry, one author considered:

“Our findings are inconclusive regarding the question as to whether LSD ingestion produces known forms of central nervous system damage.” [2]

Wikipedia (in English), based on sources as reliable as the Encyclopedia of Medicine and the Encyclopedia of Drugs and Addictive Substances, mentioned nothing concerning neurological damage.

There are religious communities on our continent that use entheogens in their traditional ceremonies and do not show symptoms of long-term impairment. [7]

Absurd pharmacological findings

In concluding the pharmacological section, the author of this pamphlet states:

“All drugs are harmful, their consumption causes damage to the organs of the body causing problems in the liver, heart, digestive tract, physiological processes, impairment of brain activity, digestion, blood circulation, and mental and emotional health. These cause memory loss and impaired reasoning and contribute to personality disorders. Drugs have led to thousands of deaths from accidents, disease and violence.”

Again, the old trick of lumping all drugs in the same category is an insult to one’s intelligence and to science. The booklet is mined in many other lies and half-truths, but I won’t dwell further on exposing these.

Anti-drug pamphlets like this are very harmful because they tend to create an atmosphere of prohibition around these substances (which makes them attractive to many) while also circulating misinformation: a deadly combination indeed.

Their main objective is ideo-political, and to accomplish this they don’t hesitate to ignore pharmacology and common knowledge.

(*) “Trabajo Preventivo Relacionado con el Uso Indebido de Drogas” (Preventive Work Related to Drug Abuse), Pedro J. Pascual Betancourt, Msc.; 2005.

As this is a complex issue, I am presenting the literature upon which I drew:

1. “Acute Adverse Reactions to LSD in Clinical and Experimental Use in the United Kingdom,” Nicolas Malleson, British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 118, 229-230, 1971.
2. “Chronic Users of LSD: The ‘Acidheads,’” K. H. Blacker, MD, Reese T. Jones, NID, George C. Stone, PhD, Dolf Pfefferbaum, Vol. 125, September 3, 1968, pp. 341-351, American Journal of Psychiatry.
3. Halpern J.H., Pope H.G. Jr., “Do Hallucinogens Cause Residual Neuropsychological Toxicity?” Drug Alcohol Dependency 1999; 53: 247-256.
4. Hollister L.E., “Pharmacology of LSD in Man.” In: Radouco-Thomas C., eds. Pharmacology, Toxicology and Abuse of Psychotominetics. Quebec: Les Presses de l’universite de Laval, 1974, pp. 173-183.
5. “Long Lasting Effects of LSD on Normals,” William McGlothlin, PhD, Sidney Cohen, MD, Marcella S. McGlothlin, PhD, Los Angeles, Arch. gen., Psychiat, 17, 521-532 (1967).
6. “LSD: Side Effects and Complications,” Sydney Cohen, MD, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Volume 130, No. 1, January 1960.
7. “Psychedelic Medicine: Mind Bending, Health Giving,” New Scientist, Date: February 26, 2005.
8. “The Pharmacology of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Review, Neuroscience and Terapeutic,” Torsten Passi, John H. Halpern, Dirk O. Stichtenoth, M. Hinderk Emrich & Annelie Hintzen.
9. Wikipedia (in English). Search term: “LSD.”


Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

3 thoughts on “Cuba and Immoral/Unpatriotic Drugs (part II)

  • Hola Erasmus. Me gustaría contactar contigo para hacerte algunas preguntas puesto que recientemente tuve una experiencia con LSD y me gustaría que me apoyarme en ti para aclararme algunas cosas. Excelente trabajo en el artículo por cierto.

  • Robert my advice to you is do not be an idiot and even think about drugs of any kind while in Cuba, unless you really want big problems with the police. The big set up in Habana is to lure a tourista with the promise of smoking a joint only to find out that your new friend is actually a undercover cop. If you are lucky they will just take the money that you have on you. If not so lucky you just might see the inside of a Cuban prison. These guys do not mess around. If it is pot that you want then i suggest that you go 100 miles south to Jamaica. Cuba has amazing beaches, fine rum, great beer and beautiful women, what else do you need? Just say no thanks…

  • eresmo your writings on drugs are always fun for me to read, my only regret being that my only inernet access is when i am at work and thus unable to be under the influence of any drugs when i read them 🙂 the brief period of prohibition of alcohol here in the states is all the evidence needed proving that drug laws are utterly pointless..

    p.s. how easy is it to find grass in cuba, in case i should happen to travel there again in the near future

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