Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get and interest in Canadian drug policy?
Daniel Greig: My interest is predominantly in the realm of psychedelics. I have, first and foremost, an academic and ethical interest in studying these because they have [a] potential for healing people [that] current medications don’t. So, we should be studying these substances.
I am in Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy on the side [as part of this project]. That’s how I got involved.
Jacobsen: If this is on the side, and now more in the main for you, what are your main set of responsibilities?
Greig: My main responsibility is research on psychedelics.
Jacobsen: What does the main research state on the therapeutic effects of psychedelics?
Greig: For psilocybin, there are a whole bunch of studies. There was one that has earned a lot of press. It finds lasting personality change from the transcendental/mystical experiences.
There s a measurable difference in people’s personalities in the domain of openness after a single use of the substance. The paper that this is in mentions the only comparable finding was 3 months spent meditating in the mountains.
That was the only comparable experimental manipulation to produce a measurable change in personality. It is good compared to other medications, which don’t show [nearly as profound] changes in people’s personality or behaviour.
There are [palliative] medications [that focuses on symptoms]. Psychedelics are not used [in this way and] produce measurable differences, rather than [effectively making people] ‘drugged up’ all of the time. That’s a good thing. People can [heal and] get off them.
Jacobsen: That makes me think. First, that’s remarkable. Second, many Canadians and more Americans don’t believe in evolutionary theory. Of course, evolution happened to produce us. An argument could be made that mind-altering substances could have a co-evolution with human beings.
Maybe, 10,000 years ago with the foundation of the agricultural revolution, even further with the Aboriginal Dreamtime narratives from 40,000 years ‘popping up’.
Could there be a decent argument made from the obvious showcase of changes equivalent to three months of meditation with psilocybin, and that we’re almost ‘wired up’ for these experiences?
Greig: Definitely, the psychedelic experiences are as much a part of the properties of the brain and [our] physiology as [they are of] the drug. People have engaged in ritualistic alterations of consciousness, which have produced similar hallucinations and benefits.
People used psychedelics back in the day. As far as that having some purposeful connection, or humans being wired to take them, you get into a [difficult philosophical problem that isn’t really necessary to consider]. Maybe, it is an interface for human consciousness with the planet, which is a legitimate theory [presented] for co-evolution.
It might be an entailment of [developing] theories, [but] I don’t think that it’s relevant, for or against, the uses of these things in general. The bottom line, they [may] have wonderful effects for the mind.
Jacobsen: What do you consider the core principle or value of CSSDP?
Greig: I will talk about psychedelics first and then the [organization]. It is a new field. There will be more people doing the research in the future. [CSSDP] is good for networking students. It is good for building these longer-lasting networks of [similarly interested] people.
There are a lot of people in the organization like Evan Loster, Gonzo Nieto, Andras Lenart, and Michelle Thiessen. [who are] all interested in psychedelics. It is a good network. We have been able to connect and contribute ideas to each other.
[It is also beneficial to facilitate the advocacy of] youth voice[s] [on issues that effect them]. They are listened to the least.
[When it comes to drug policy], people [often] say, “What about the kids, man?!” Who isn’t for the kids? Advocacy for the youth is another important aspect.
Jacobsen: Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?
Greig: I hope it continues to grow. That more networks happen[ing] with other drug policy groups. [Like] MAPS [a growing number of] harm reduction groups. I hope the branches extend [and] I hope [that] facilitate[s] quicker reform for drug policy [as much is desperately needed]
Jacobsen: Two main philosophies, as theory and practice, come into the conversation, typically. One is punitive or zero tolerance. The other is harm reduction. What is a preferable approach to you, and why?
Greig: Harm reduction, it makes the most sense. Drug use is a “victimless crime.” It doesn’t [intrinsically] hurt anybody or anything. It is only a crime by virtue by being criminal to begin with. There is no independent justification for this to continue being a crime and [for] ‘drug addicts’ to be criminals.
It is arbitrary how different substances are perceived. Addiction rates [are] not high enough to warrant criminalization. Just because somebody [has] a [controlled] substance on them, it doesn’t’ make sense to ruin their lives, put them in jail, and limit their travel at a later time.
There are [often] moral judgments used to talk about drugs and drug use. I don’t consider [this] a [relevant] reflection of people’s characters, [especially not one that could reasonably be used] to justify criminalization. On the other hand, a lot of the harms with drug use are because of them being illegal.
Jacobsen: We have a notion about legality and harmfulness of drugs. The pyramid is inverted. Cigarettes and alcohol are considered benign. Whereas, things like LSD, psilocybin, mushrooms, and marijuana, are less harmful to individuals and collectives, economically and for health.
Any thoughts on the source of this and its continued maintenance as a generalized mythology?
Greig: Largely, society is automatic. It is difficult to change automatic tendencies. It is something people are socialized into – these attitudes, even if they don’t make [rational] sense.
Some substances are talked about, but many are ‘hushed’ in a way. [Changing general attitudes about the relative harms and benefits of drugs that can be used recreationally] is going to be a longer process that will, hopefully, happen in the future. There is a lot of interesting research. There’s a research named Dr. David Nutt,
He was fired [as] one of the [UK] public health ministers by saying, “MDMA was less harmful than horseback riding.” That is, you were less likely to be harmed through horseback riding rather than taking MDMA. [Given that this is a statement made by a researcher based on comparisons of scientific research, it can only reflect an irrational attitude towards the issues of drug legislation that is going to take a little more than science itself to correct. But legislation can be where it starts!]
Jacobsen: Is that statement factually true?
Greig: There’s a small chance of injury in either case. Horseback riding [apparently] has a higher one than MDMA.
Jacobsen: Wow. If we take into account many of the partnerships and events thrown by CSSDP, what do you consider the utility of them to the general movement of non-partisan advocacy for harm reduction policies and youth mentorship regarding drug policy in Canada?
Greig: We do a lot of events. For [example] the conferences coming up, for 9/20, the International Day of Mushroom Awareness is good for networking people and having them in one place, especially those with similar ends.
They can collaborate, go into the world, and utilize these events. We have [more] proactive things like [the] cannabis roundtable for youth voices. It required producing an outcome document an presenting it [to the cannabis legalization task force].
We have a number of petitions. We have lots of different [avenues for creating] changes.
Jacobsen: The much older and the much younger face in different ways, but a rooted and similar problem, which is ageism. CSSDP is a youth run and oriented organization. It might come across that young based ageism. I suspect. Does this reflect personal experience for you – reaching out to other organizations, doing news media contacts, and so on?
Greig: Not too much personally, it might be the position for me. For cannabis, there have been people doing that for a much longer time. On that note, I haven’t gotten into the drug policy [too much, I’m more involved in the] the academic, stuff.
Jacobsen: The position, your status, will buffer it. For those that don’t, it won’t. And that’s a problem, but, maybe, not as heavy a problem as might be assumed (by me). Are there any recommended researchers by you?
Greig: Yes, definitely! Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is doing the research out of the Imperial College, London. He is doing brain imaging or neuroimaging research. It has been acquiring a lot of press. His studies are interesting to read.
He works with Dr. Karl Friston. He writes about the free energy principle, which is a generalized theory of how the brain performs unconscious inference. It is a mathematical system of looking at the brain in a probabilistic way to see how it makes sense of the world. It is independently interesting, if you have an interest in those areas.
Dr. Dan Merkur, he was a professor at the University of Toronto. He wrote books about psychedelics, Gnosticism, and so on. He is not talked about much in psychedelic circles.
His research seems extra relevant to me. I think it can facilitate ideas about the psychedelic state.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Daniel.