I was poking around an old external drive and found this article that I wrote back in 1998. It is good stuff about psychotropic substances and their place in a spiritual life.
There are three obligations that life asks of us. They are:
1) Show compassion to ourselves and others.
2) Find joy/contentment in the moment
3) Seek the mystical
The first, showing compassion to ourselves and others, is a recipe that covers any number of commandments or redes that one may embrace in life. During the true exercise of compassion, one "knows" when the path is strayed from. The key here is that compassion is not something we reserve for the holidays, fund drives, or special occasions. Compassion is the focus of every moment, every action. When compassion is pursued, there are no winners or losers. There are only full participants in this game called life.
The second point, finding joy/contentment in the moment, grounds us in a point that feels no obligation to the past or future. The state of our life just IS. Joy is not the same word as happiness. Joy is the middle ground. When one defines their satisfaction life in terms of happiness, there will be non-satisfaction when happiness decreases, and becomes sorrow. The two must exist if one is assumed to exist. When one says "I am happy today", a recipe for manic cycles is insured. The cycles feed each other, and a sense of non-control is established. When one says "I find joy today", the cycles still exist, but one lives separate from them. As one practices the first obligation of life: compassion to ourselves and others, the cycles are less extreme. Ideally, one sees no cycles in their life, and only fully appreciates what each moment brings.
At this point the Western mind says: "that is nice, but this means that I can sit and contemplate my belly-button, and practice the first two obligations". This is where the somewhat paradoxical third obligation becomes important. When one seeks the mystical, contemplating the belly-button is not enough. That is, unless the belly-button is the center of our mystic exploration at the moment. When I speak of the "mystical", I do not mean those things that we deem to be unusual or potentially unobtainable. The mystical is not the out of body experience, or the visit by a spirit guide. Well, it is these, but it is also your boss asking for the report ahead of schedule, the fender bender one is in, the butterfly that one sees, your antagonist voicing yet another irritable e-mail message, and our morning coffee.
That is to say, the mundane and supernatural experiences of the mystical are one in the same. We should seek and embrace all of them for what they are: spice and change in our lives. To seek all things as the same, a different sense of "reality" must be embraced. It is a reality in which we do not place expectations on things, but instead welcome the unexpected. The first and second obligations are the lodestone of the mystical is compassion, and the ground of the mystical is joy.
So what does this have to do with psychotropic substances? I've read several comments that I would like to apply the above thoughts to. I do not claim that I am at all correct in what I say, I only present these to create some mysticism in your life.
1) Psychotropic substances remove control from the spiritual/mystical experience.
The three obligations offer an answer to this. Compassion for ourselves and others asks that we protect ourselves and others. Somebody to watch over us, and others, is a valid fulfillment of this obligation. If a substance is truly dangerous, compassion for ourselves should keep us from partaking in it Once this is done, the obligation of finding joy in the moment then removes the need for control. If a substance fulfills the third obligation, revelation of the mystical, the finding of joy in the moment asks us to put control aside. Control assumes obligation to the past or future, and neither are present in the present. Psychotropic substances aside, loss of "control" in the mystical experience, be it astral travel or dealing with the police at a traffic accident, does not remove our ability to find joy in the present.
2) Those under the "influence" should not participate in ritual.
Some have said that the exception to this is those on a "maintenance of influence". That is, one that must take a substance that alters their state of mind to be different from the "average", and this must be done to function "normally". Do you see the irony in this? How are they different from a person who drops acid, eats peyote, or smokes a joint before or during ritual? Is the difference in the frequency or level of effect? Does this rule apply to those who are under the influence of 'negative feelings'? If someone is depressed, should they not participate? Common sense says 'yes'. What if it is known that the person is constantly mildly depressed. Do we say this is their 'normal' frame of mind, and allow them to participate when the person having a bad day cannot? The answer may be that one is showing compassion to another by not allowing them to participate. Be very sure that you are being integritous in your application of compassion.
3) If I ask "why should substances not be part of ritual?", and the answer is "because".
The answer of "because" is very common today. It is normally expressed as "because we have always done it this way", "because the results are unpredictable", or "because I said so". Does strict structure in ritual/worship leave us open to the third obligation, the seeking of the mystical? If one knows that ritual will involve opening the Circle, praise for the God and Goddess, and closing of the Circle, where is the quest for the mystical? Is the statement "I'm all ritualled out" a sign that a spark, the influence of the mystical, is missing? If limited use of psychotropic substances could offer some a spark of the mystical, why do we banish them from possibility?
4) The unspoken words "I'm afraid what will happen. Psychotropic substances will open doors I am not ready for".
This is an unspoken statement that people have for all types of mystical experiences. I know of too many people who do not wish to read tarot because it will reveal more than they wish to see. Knowledge of the "future" and "hidden" scares the paints off of many people. Mystical experiences shine lights in dark corners, and opens previously closed doors. One is very correct in assuming that once the corner is lit, and the door open, it cannot be made dark or closed again. This is understandable. Our persistence in maintaining a "personal history" of control and self importance also puts blinders on our eyes. When these blinders spill over to your search for the mystical, ritual and dogma stop becoming vehicles of exploration, and instead become a the cage of our own self creation.
I do not promote the use of psychotropic substances. Compassionate, joy, mystical exploration can be obtained without them. I offer the thoughts above not as any amount of truth. Take them as you will.