The use of drugs by “primitive” or traditional societies was generally restricted to religious purposes. Often this religious use was restricted to the shaman, priests, chiefs, kings and other persons of power and prestige. The drugs used ranged from tobacco to peyote, and pslocybe to alcohol. The purpose was to induce an altered state of consciousness wherein the user could meet the supernatural. While use for religious purposes continues today (peyote in the Native American Church and incense in the Catholic Church (see below)), use of drugs in western society is typically limited to medicine and recreation. Rampant addiction to caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol is not uncommon in western culture and drug use is typically not for the purpose of a religious practice; it is for the purpose of escape.
With the growing complexity of western culture individuals are increasingly fearful and anxious. They are stressed by being pigeon-holed into a role that does not recognize them for “who they are”. They are often associated with either their past or their potential, not the individual they are in this moment. This creates great stress, which they seek to relieve through the use of drugs, whether they are medically prescribed (valium, lexapro, and oxycodone) or legally or illegally obtained (alcohol, nicotine, ecstasy, and cocaine). Young people seeking their own identity in a rapidly changing society participate in group drug use and the induction of altered states of consciousness at gatherings called “raves”. Addicts retreat into a world outside of “normal” society, huddling on subway grates to stay warm.
Certainly, the goals and values espoused by American society are questioned by many, me included. “Work hard”, get rich, and conform. The pursuit of these goals often leads to heart attack, fatigue, and mental breakdown. Forgotten are the wonders of nature and relaxation; qualities often found in drug induced states. Drug use in America has now become big business. Millions of dollars are spent on advertising drugs for new diseases like restless leg syndrome. Illegal drug dealers become millionaires. And always the demand increases as we struggle to cope with this reality we have created through fear and conformity. Drugs have become a symbol much different than the symbol they represent to primitive society. Drug use in America has become a religion unto itself and its members include the executive with his martinis, the hypochondriac and her oxycodone, and the homeless with his syringes.
Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080520110415.htm