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Tony Takes a Trip - With a Little Help from a Cactus


You didn't think I would let a week go by without commenting on Tony Soprano's peyote trip in Las Vegas, the latest twist in The Sopranos, did you? Peyote is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic plant material derived from a cactus native to the US southwest and Mexico. Indigenous people have been using it on this country for centuries in elaborate prayer and vision quest ceremonies. Use of it under these controlled circumstances was legalized in the US in 1995. Possession of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms is also legal in the US, but selling them is not.

To prepare for a vision quest, peyeteros submit to ritual confession and purification ceremonies. The cactus button is eaten as a medico-religious sacrament. Healing is prayed for and tutelary visions and teachings are anticipated. Clearly, recreational use of hallucinogens is a popular past time. Ecstasy (MDMA) is a synthetic and popular club drug. Fans of the TV show know that Soprano is a lucky guy. He had a good trip and an epiphany at sunrise, despite the fact that his preparatory rituals involved a questionable "mercy" killing of his own nephew and intimate play dates with a beautiful girl his son's age, "stripping her way through college."

Our society is really conflicted about drug use. I was working on a project here at Healthline and had to come up with a definition for Cannabis intoxication. The definition is something like the effects include mild euphoria, relaxation and sleepiness. That doesn't sound so bad, in fact, it sounds like a billion dollar pharmaceutical industry for medications like anti-anxiety drugs. In fact, marijuana has been used for thousands of years by humans to treat pain and a variety of other ailments. It is illegal in most of the US, except Oakland, CA. Medical marijuana is used today to treat cancer patients and Harvard researcher John Halpern, MD has been studying the health benefits of psychedelics.

Dr. Halpern has received FDA permission to give Ecstasy to end-stage cancer patients. Dr. Andrew Sewell is exploring the use of LSD as a treatment for cluster headaches. Clinical trials are being planned to explore using hallucinogens to treat anxiety and alcoholism. Respected researcher Richard Doblin warns that personality deterioration occurs with repeated ingestion (greater than 50 episodes). Nevertheless, Dr. Charles Grob has secured approval to study the effects of psilocybin mushrooms in the terminally ill.

It just may be that in the next decade or so we will all find, like Tony, that taking a trip and a change of scenery may be good for our mental health.

Thank you nashnazzy for use of photo Peyote in Paradise.
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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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