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Kevin Spacey Is the Latest Pot-Puffing Shrink to Hit the Movie Screens -- Why Is This a Trend?

Hollywood shrink characters increasingly take mind-expanding drugs; a reflection of the growing use of psychedelics in medical research.
 
 
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There's quite a bit of smoke blowing over the title in the trailer for the movie Shrink, starring Kevin Spacey as a "pothead" psychologist to the stars, which opens on July 24 in selected theaters.

Spacey, most will remember, played a middle-age man who rediscovers life after smoking marijuana in 1999's American Beauty. His pot-smoking shrink is one of a series of mass-media psychotherapists who smoke the leaves of the Tree of Knowledge.

In last year's The Wackness, Ben Kingsley lights a bong and has his own midlife renewal while trading his psychoanalyst services to Luke Shapiro for pot. (Kingsley also puffed a hookah as the Indian major/caterpillar in a 1999 version of Alice in Wonderland.)

In a 2006 episode of Showtime's erstwhile series Huff, Angelica Houston passes a joint to her BMW-driving psychotherapist colleague (Hank Azaria), before guiding him on an Ecstasy trip/therapy session. (That intelligent series was canceled in favor of the unenlightened Weeds.)

Bette Midler imbibed pot in shamanic style as Mel Gibson's therapist in What Women Want (2000), but you won't see that part of the scene on TNT, where it is censored. Midler returns to turn Meg Ryan on to pot in The Women (2008), but you'll have to watch the deleted scenes on the DVD to hear Ryan say, "I'm really stoned." After this scene, her character finds her way to her center. ( The Women was based on a 1939 Clare Booth Luce play; Luce took LSD and liked it but didn't think it was for the masses.)

All of this begs the question: Is it fundamentally human to alter one's consciousness in order to gain insight into the nature of man? And if so, can people be happy without that experience?

Psychedelics have been used since the dawn of mankind, in adolescent initiation ceremonies and religious gatherings like the ancient Greek Eleusinian mysteries.

Getting a glimpse of the other side of reality can be a profound, life-changing experience. Oftentimes, the shaman would be the one imbibing, and then sharing his or her insight with the patient. The Oracle of Delphi inhaled sacred fumes before she divined the future. But the Romans closed all that down after the Adam-and-Eve myth made munching anything mind-expanding a sin.

Dr. William C. Woodward of the American Medical Association testified at the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act hearings that cannabis hemp could unlock past memories, doubtlessly helpful in psychotherapy. Despite Woodward's objections, the U.S. made marijuana (and hemp) illegal, driving underground a potentially useful psychiatric tool and ending most meaningful research into its uses.

In 1955, Drs. Timothy Leary and Frank Barron collaborated on a study of 150 psychoneurotic patients presenting themselves for treatment. About one-third of those in therapy got better, one-third saw no change and one-third got worse: the same ratio as those who had no therapy at all. Then Leary discovered psychedelics, conducted the Harvard Divinity School experiments (which proved entheogens can cause profound spiritual awakenings) and reduced prison recidivism and alcoholism through LSD therapy.

Thanks to the hard work of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, clinical trials are now taking place on the use of MDMA (aka Ecstasy) for post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life anxiety. But MAPS failed to win approval for U.S. researchers to study cannabis that isn't the schwag grown by the government in Mississippi. Instead, European researchers are making remarkable findings about cannabinoids, finding they can halt the progression of illnesses such Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's disease) and cancer.

By unanimous vote in November 2007, the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association approved a statement supporting legal protection for patients using medical marijuana and calling for more research on the topic. Studies out of Britain have reinforced a possible link between cannabis use and schizophrenia, although the question of whether the condition preceded the use remains open. But what can we say about cannabis use for relatively healthy people looking for a spiritual side to life in a world gone mad?