If you're interested in psychedelic culture from around the world, you'll love Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, screening on Tuesday nights at 9:20 PM on SBS VICELAND.
Back in January, Greg Kasarik was pleading guilty in the Melbourne Magistrate's Court for LSD possession when he admitted to the judge that he had more tabs his pocket. Immediately, Greg was escorted off the premises, arrested, and charged again. Then earlier this week, he was back in court.
This might sound like an unusual turn of events for a guy who's spent 10 years in the army. Perhaps not though if you consider he left the armed forces to do his honours in psychology. And that's how, in his late 30s, Greg ended up at a party with people doing shrooms. He'd never taken psychedelics in his life. But he decided to join in, the first step on spiritual odyssey from which he's never looked back.
These days, Greg Kasarik has become a public advocates for the legalisation of all "transcendental compounds." His advocacy has included taking LSD on Parliament steps and once going on a 28-day hunger strike. Now he's bogged down in a fight with the Victorian Government—arguing the prohibition of LSD is inconsistent with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006 because the ban impinges upon his rights of freedom and belief.
So VICE sat down for a chat with Greg Kasarik, and ask why he's dedicated his life to opening "the doors of perception" for the greater Australian population.
VICE: Hey Greg, can you take me back to that first time you experimented with psychedelics?
Greg Kasarik: I started with magic mushrooms, but unlike most people who start in their early 20s, I didn't have my first trip until into my late 30s. I grew up in a time when heroin and LSD were bad drugs and, while I'd smoked a bit of weed, I'd never touched LSD or mushrooms because I was convinced they would melt my brain.
I went to a party and there was someone offering mushrooms, so I said, "Why not?" I took a threshold dose, which was something like four mushrooms and I loved it. I finally understood what psychedelic means while I was listening to Pink Floyd. Psychedelia isn't Austin Powers, it isn't 70s fashion—it's an experience.
So you basically decided that psychedelics were great, right then and there?
Well, people need to know that these substances require a great deal of respect. One of the guys at the party asked for a shamanic dose of 14 to 15 mushrooms. He didn't have a good time. The most important thing is the dose, mindset, and setting. The amount you take, the mindset you're in when you take it, and the location you choose to take it in. A party is not a good place for your first time.
They are very powerful mind-altering substances. Used with respect they can levitate you past the gates of heaven and into pure bliss. Totally away from negativity and into the space people refer to as enlightenment.
Do you see psychedelics as providing a door to a religious experience?
No, everything that I've experienced could be just my brain on drugs. But the one thing I'm sure of is the fact I've had several natural mystical experiences. And I'm completely aware that I could be full of shit. I mean, at the end of the day, Richard Dawkins could be right. When I'm dead I could be finished, buried, and that'll be it. But at the very least I have the humility to admit that.
Do you think referring to a trip as "a mystical experience" turns some people off?
Yeah the unfortunate thing is that most people look at me like I'm a fucking idiot. Because I refer to myself as a mystic. A few years ago, when I was protesting in the city this guy came over and started speaking about psychic phenomenon and telekinesis, and I had to stop him and say, "Sorry, I don't believe in that stuff." The reality is I've connected to the infinite, and there are an infinite number of universes that are true, but there are also an infinite number of universes that aren't true.
How did you go from tripping to winding up in front of a Magistrate?
In 2010, I was working in the university sector as a counsellor and eventually I got sick of lying—because I'm fundamentally an honest person. So I came to work one day and everyone was asking what I did over the weekend, so I told them I went on a trip.
The following year, the Australian Federal Government was basically going to ban every plant that contained a psychoactive substance. The problem with that is that DMT exists in a bucketload of Australian plants. Psilocybin are endemic in Victoria. A significant amount of ornamental cacti actually contain mescaline. The would have had to chop down half of Treasury Gardens if this ban went through.
So I transitioned from writing letters to lobbying the government. Telling them I use drugs and that they should arrest me. I ate LSD on Parliament steps on four different occasions and on each occasion I was ignored. I did a 28-day hunger strike in Melbourne and people kept asking me who I was representing and what religion. This one is a post-dogmatic religion. I call it disorganised religion, which is the way spirituality started.
How did you end up in court if the police kept ignoring you?
I took LSD on the steps of Parliament House and I was arrested. In previous years I'd made the same declaration and the Public Service Officer would just walk off. But last year they decided to arrest me. The idea has been to get to the Supreme Court. And I plan to keep getting myself arrested until that happens.
When it went to trial on January 10... the Magistrate wasn't convinced by my argument... In my case on May 4... I overcame the arguments the first Magistrate found to be unconvincing. Effectively the Magistrate did not explicitly say, "I agree with you." But he did say that he had no fault with the argument I put forward. His main reason for not referring it to the Supreme Court was that he thought they wouldn't take it seriously.
But this has been a huge win for me. There's now an argument out there, a valid human rights argument that says the war on drug users is a violation of a fundamental human rights.
Tell me what your logic is here.
It's actually quite easy because, ironically enough, we have Scientologists to thank. Back in 1983, the Scientologists had been rejected in court for various tax breaks from the Victorian Government on the basis that they were not a religion. So they took the matter to the High Court and the High Court basically said it's not their job to determine if someone's religious belief is genuine, or if something is even a religious belief.
So they basically said there there are two primary things to look at. The first is, belief in the supernatural as a principle, and the second is a canon of conduct that brings life to that belief. So in this particular case, I believe in the divine and that the consumption of psychedelic substances can be seen as a canon of conduct.
Hold up, I'm slow to catch on here. What's this got to do with religion?
Basically, I'm saying my use of these substances is religious. I don't know anyone who takes high doses of LSD or mushrooms who doesn't describe their experience in some kind of spiritual terms. A lot of people out there want help in terms of accessing the spiritual aspect.
The spiritual aspect of life is dead. We live in a materialistic culture. We have these overarching dogmas that impose themselves upon us. I think a lot of people are looking for something and these substances democratise spirituality, they allow the individual to partake in the divine experience, personally.
But that sales pitch might not appeal to everyone. Richard Dawkins especially. So if someone like that asked you, "What are some of the benefits of LSD?" How would you answer without sounding like a street preacher?
That's where we look to the scientific research. A friend of mine, Terry Krebs, who is a Norwegian researcher, produced research with a sample size of 20,000 that have used psychedelics. And he found that people who have used psychedelics at some of their life were significantly healthier in terms of mental health on a number of domains.
The thing is that even if you take the spiritual element out of that, LSD introduces you to yourself. It allows you to see the universe and reality in a whole new light. I've got a number of friends who don't describe their experiences as spiritual, but when you talk to them, it's clear what we're differing on is the definition of the word spiritual. Their experiences are very much spiritual to me, it's got more to do with meaning and purpose and things like that.
Why do you think there is such an intense stigma around LSD then?
Purely politics. The reality is, the drug is made illegal as a backlash against the cultural revolution of the 1960s. People like Timothy Leary went out and tried to change the world. They thought that they would put LSD out there and the world would be a much better place. But it doesn't actually work that way. LSD introduces you to yourself, and a lot of people don't like that introduction. They aren't prepared for it.
How can those that are prepared for it, help with your struggle?
The thing is that heaps of people ask me what they can do to help and it's simple. Write to your local politician. Make them aware of the growing number of us out there who benefit from the spiritual aspects of these transcendental compounds. The more we hassle them, the greater the chances are of them realising that this is an issue that affects their wellbeing. The more people that lobby and vocally support what I do, the more the government might find it an attractive agenda.
And just once more: if you're interested in psychedelic culture from around the world, you'll love Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, screening on Tuesday nights at 9:20 PM on SBS VICELAND.