June 29, 2019
Mycologists as DEA Collaboratorsby Ballard Quass
In response to "Drugged, Castrated, Eager to Mate: the Lives of Fungi-Infected Cicadas", by JoAnna Klein, in the June 28, 2019, edition of The New York Times.
Your article about the cicadas was simultaneously fascinating and depressing. Am I the only one who finds it sad that the DEA has to be consulted by a scientist before he or she can even investigate certain kinds of mushrooms and their byproducts? The fungi in question are grown by Mother Nature after all, not by Pablo Escobar: and when does the government draw its moral right to criminalize the freely offered bounty of Mother Nature?
The government's interference in mycology must steer a lot of scientists away from that field. What scientist would want the government looking over their back on every mushroom-hunting foray? I can't help but feel, therefore, that many of those who remain in the field are complacent about government interference in science and may actually take pride in being DEA collaborators first and mushroom hunters second.
Dr. Kasson himself seems to be in thrall to the Drug War based on his use of terminology. He twice refers to mushrooms as "narcotics," when from a scientific standpoint, this is just plain false. Psilocybin is a psychedelic, not a soporific agent. But in our society, "narcotic" is a drug-war pejorative, and so Kasson's use of the term suggests an unconscious desire to libel those substances of which the DEA does not approve, thereby making a patriotic virtue out of a government-imposed necessity.
As strange as the cicada story sounds, Kasson would not be so flummoxed by it had he read the book by Giorgio Samorini entitled "Animals and Psychedelics: The Natural World and the Instinct to Alter Consciousness." That's a politically incorrect book par excellence, because it demonstrates that the desire to alter consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the animal kingdom, not some evil impulse limited to 20th-century hippies and 21st-century ravers. (As Samorini points out: moths get drunk on the nectar of the datura flower, caribou trip on fly-agaric mushrooms, and cows have such a penchant for locoweed that it caused an agricultural crisis in Kansas in 1883.)
English Biologist JBS Haldane once said (a la Werner Heisenberg's comments about the universe): "Nature is not only odder than we think, but odder than we CAN think." This is no doubt especially true for those who expect the animal kingdom to respect our modern drug-war sensibilities about psychoactive plants.