(Photo: Shawn Harquail / Flickr)

We’ve created a false dichotomy between food and medicine, Sanho Tree told Free Culture Radio.

“Here, you go to Safeway for food, you go to CVS for medicine. Our ancestors made no such distinction,” Tree said.

He explained that traditional doctors in other parts of the world have thousands of years of recorded use of plants with predictable and useful medicinal purposes without purifying them down to a pill.

“Because Western civilization went around categorizing these things into UN treaties, indigenous peoples are now persecuted for using traditional medicines that their ancestors used very effectively for generations,” Tree said.

He cited ayahuasca as an example of a natural substance that people in the Amazon used for mental health. But because of arbitrary drug laws, Tree said, those people are told they “must seek out a Freudian shrink.”

“That’s so culturally crazy and inappropriate,” Tree said.

Tree said it’s very important to look at drug use from a historical lens to understand how absurd today’s war on drugs is.

Coffee, tobacco, tea, sugar cane, rum —these are the drugs that fueled the colonial development of this hemisphere, Tree explained. Columbus came to America to find spices with exotic properties.

“If you think about what caused humans to migrate and to trade over vast distances, this [use of plants as medicine] permeates human evolution,” Tree said.

Listen to the full interview on KBOO FM.


Sanho Tree directs the Drug Policy program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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