Religious Use of Psychedelic Drugs Under Federal Law: A History

For thousands of years, groups of people across the globe have consumed psychedelic (also referred to as entheogenic) plants as part of religious practices. In the twentieth century, many of these religious practices were outlawed by international treaties such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971. These practices were further restricted when signatories to these treaties created domestic laws to implement the treaties, such as the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) in the United States.

Generally speaking, federal law considers psychedelics to be as illegal and as dangerous as heroin and makes even the simple act of researching psychedelics extremely difficult. It may therefore come as a surprise that there is a vast body of legal exemptions to the CSA for users of psychedelics who do so for religious purposes. This post examines the history of religious exemptions to the CSA.

The CSA and Psychedelics

The CSA was signed by Richard Nixon in 1970—at the height of the antiwar and hippie movements when hallucinogenic substances were viewed by the federal government as extremely dangerous. These substances quickly found themselves on the top of the government’s danger list. Psychedelic plants and

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