Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest contributor Chris Elcock. Elcock is an STS postdoctoral fellow working at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique in Paris, where he is investigating the use of ayahuasca in psychedelics science. His previous work has examined the cultural history of psychedelics and his doctoral dissertation focused on the social history of LSD in New York City.
I recently attended the third World Ayahuasca Conference, which was held in Girona, Catalonia/Spain. Ayahuasca is a brew that combines the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and a DMT-containing plant, usually of the psychotria viridis genus. While it has been used for millennia in ritual settings in the Amazon basin, it has gradually drawn the attention of scores of experimenters across the world and the biomedical sciences are also investigating its psychoactive effects. The conference attracted people from broad horizons: indigenous peoples travelling from the Amazon basin; research teams looking into the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca; anthropologists studying the uses of this fascinating substance; theologians who drink it in syncretic brands of religion; and the many who’ve had their lives changed forever.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canandian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. He adds to our Teaching Points series, on bringing drug history into the classroom.
In an effort to bring to the classroom the debates over global intoxicants, I was given the opportunity to teach an Honors College tutorial at the University of Maine titled “Narcotics in the Construction of Western Civilization.” My objective was to deconstruct stereotypes and build awareness about the long history and culture of drugs in the West, juxtaposing it to the experiences of other cultures that also built intimate relationships with intoxicants of all kinds. The course became a way to connect my past with the present.
I grew up in Colombia during the 1970s and 1980s, experiencing the escalation of the American-led War on Drugs. I had been searched at airports continuously as a child when visiting my family in Texas, and later disenfranchised by the narco-centered stereotypes during my college years in New England. My first exposure to marijuana had taken place in Brownsville, Texas, not so distant from the story told by Domingo Martinez in The Boy Kings of Texas. Since then I always asked myself, why was I exposed to narcotics in the U.S. and not in Colombia, where everybody said drugs were the common denominator? Growing up I was always curious about the nature of the construction of Colombia’s narco-stereotype, knowing first-hand that the cultural desire for all kinds of intoxicants was in the U.S., and the West for that matter, and not in Colombia. As a preceptor in the Honors College, I wanted students to have the unique opportunity to ask similar questions and reflect on their own experiences growing up in the largest global market for intoxicants, where the cultural taboo and the demand-side of intoxicants slept side by side in the same bed.