Archives For marijuana

The Beat Rap Sheet

But yet, but yet, woe, woe unto those who think that the Beat Generation means crime, delinquency, immorality, amorality … woe unto those who attack it on the grounds that they simply don’t understand history and the yearning of human souls … woe in fact unto those who those who make evil movies about the Beat Generation where innocent housewives are raped by beatniks! … woe unto those who spit on the Beat Generation, the wind’ll blow it back. — Jack Kerouac Continue Reading…

Death Within a Chrysalis

At the turn of the 1960s, Jack Kerouac found himself in a profound state of limbo, the climax of an existential crisis that predated his life as a published author. He had been looking for an “answer” to his problems since his early twenties,[1] yet for a variety of reasons his dilemma remained unresolved. Then a 35-year-old Jack became famous in an instant when On the Road was published in the fall of 1957, and this led to the total disruption of his already chaotic life. Normally the restless man would alternate between living at his mother’s East Coast home (which at the time was either in Orlando, Florida, or Northport, Long Island, New York) and a few faraway destinations, most often Mexico City or the San Francisco Bay Area. But suddenly his world became very claustrophobic, as he was pushed into the role of a counter-culture celebrity despite the fact that very few were giving him credit as a legitimate author of American literature.

In his 1962 novel Big Sur, Kerouac reflects on the period: “…I’ve been driven mad for three years by endless telegrams, phonecalls, requests, mail, visitors, reporters, snoopers…”[2] Kerouac wrote that book in October 1961 by fictionalizing events that had happened mainly in the summer of 1960—a trip from New York to California, visiting San Francisco, Big Sur, and San Jose. It was his first lengthy trip in three years, and Big Sur was the first book he completed since writing The Dharma Bums in November 1957. Kerouac’s plan was to pass the summer in solitude so that he could recover his mental balance while checking the publisher galleys for his Book of Dreams.[3] Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose budding City Lights imprint would be publishing the dream book that year, told Kerouac to stay at his cabin in Bixby Canyon, on the Pacific Coast south of Monterrey (technically just north of Big Sur).

On the surface, Big Sur is a record of Kerouac’s battle with “delirium tremens,” the term Jack and the Beats used to describe the peculiar kind of madness that results from severe and prolonged alcohol abuse. Kerouac had long dealt with a drinking problem, and even by age 26 it occurred to him that he should cut back. On March 22, 1948, he wrote in his journal, “I started drinking at eighteen but that’s after eight years of occasional boozing, I can’t physically take it any more, nor mentally. It was at the age of eighteen, too, when melancholy and indecision first came over me—there’s a fair connection there.”[4] Yet his alcoholism reached new extremes after the publication of On the Road. In addition to losing his treasured privacy, Jack was also shocked by Neal Cassady’s arrest for possession of marijuana in 1958, for which Neal served two years in a California prison.[5] After this, despite the fact that Kerouac had purchased their house with royalty money from On the Road, Jack’s mother Gabrielle (also known as “mémêre,” Québécois for “grandma”[6]) banished from their home both Allen Ginsberg (because of his Judaism, homosexuality, and radical poetry) and the drugs Jack commonly used like Benzedrine and marijuana.

But Kerouac didn’t refrain from drug use altogether. In the period surrounding both the events depicted in Big Sur and the writing and editing of the book, Jack actively experimented with certain psychedelic substances that hadn’t yet made a large impression on the American culture: mescaline, ayahuasca, and psilocybin mushrooms. At the start of Big Sur, he mentions some of these substances in a slightly negative manner, as if to suggest that they had worsened his overall mental condition: “. . . ‘One fast move or I’m gone,’ I realize, gone the way of the last three years of drunken hopelessness which is a physical and spiritual and metaphysical hopelessness you cant learn in school no matter how many books on existentialism or pessimism you read, or how many jugs of vision-producing Ayahuasca you drink, or Mescaline take, or Peyote goop up with–––That feeling when you wake up with the delirium tremens with the fear of eerie death dripping from your ears…”[7]

However, this can’t be the whole story, since Kerouac’s letters offer an entirely different view on his psychonautic exploration during this time. Jack first tried mescaline—the psychoactive compound also found naturally in the peyote cactus—in October 1959,[8] and he was apparently most open about it with Ginsberg, to whom he wrote the following on June 20, 1960: “When on mescaline [last fall] I was so bloody high I saw that all our ideas about a ‘beatific’ new gang of worldpeople, and about instantaneous truth being the last truth. etc. etc. I saw them as all perfectly correct and prophesied, as never on drinking or sober I saw it—Like an Angel looking back on life sees that every moment fell right into place and each had flowery meaning…”[9] This kind of clarity must have been cherished by a guy who saw his life as a long chain of rambling misadventures. Kerouac was even moved to create a 5,000-word “Mescaline Report” in order to document his hallucinations and revelations. He said he intended to take mescaline monthly, and he couldn’t wait to test out LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). In the same letter Kerouac mentioned his intention to flee New York, shortly before Ferlinghetti suggested that Jack use his cabin as an escape. The actual trip did last about two months, from mid-July to mid-September 1960.

After returning from California, Kerouac had the opportunity to try ayahuasca on October 7, 1960.[10] Ginsberg had just visited South America and brought back some of the liquid preparation, also known as “yagé” (pronounced “yah-hey,” but they usually misspelled it as “yage”). William S. Burroughs had done the same in the early 1950s, as documented in his fictionalized letters titled “In Search of Yage” (written in ’53 but not published until ’63). Those are presented along with correspondence and journals by Burroughs and Ginsberg in the 2006 book The Yage Letters Redux, originally published in slimmer form as The Yage Letters in 1963. While it wasn’t published in Burroughs’ work, he actually identified the genus of ayahuasca’s key ingredients in June 1953, before anyone from Western civilization had done so publicly.[11]

Kerouac seems to have tasted the real thing, since, according to Ginsberg (writing during the event), Jack remarked, “This is one of the most sublime or tender or lovely moments of all our lives together . . .”[12] That’s not to say the experience was only positive. In June 1963 Jack reflected to Allen that, when he would wander into Manhattan for drinking binges, “I come back [to Long Island] with visions of horror as bad as Ayahuasca vision on the neanderthal million years in caves, the gruesomeness of life!”[13]

In January 1961, a few months after Kerouac’s ayahuasca trip, he ingested capsules containing the extract of what he called “Sacred Mushrooms,”[14] a nickname for psilocybin.[15] Ginsberg had recently visited Timothy Leary at Harvard to participate in Leary’s soon-to-be-controversial psychedelic studies. According to Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain’s book Acid Dreams, when Ginsberg called Kerouac during his psilocybin trial to announce that he was God and demand that Jack come try the mushrooms immediately, Jack replied, “I can’t leave my mother.”[16] Ginsberg brought the capsules back to New York to distribute to various people, and Kerouac went to Allen’s Manhattan apartment to try them for himself.

Kerouac’s reaction to this experience is recorded in a letter he sent to Timothy Leary later that month (which, for unknown reasons, was omitted from Kerouac’s Selected Letters, 1957-1969, the second volume of correspondence edited by Ann Charters). Jack wrote, “Mainly I felt like a floating [Genghis] Kahn on a magic carpet with my interesting lieutenants and gods… some ancient feeling about old geheuls [sic] in the grass, and temples, exactly also like the sensation I got drunk on pulque[17] floating in the Xochimilco gardens on barges laden with flowers and singers… some old Golden Age dream of man, very nice.”[18]

Kerouac’s final experiment of this period came in December 1961 (as least, according to the published literature). It’s fairly evident that on this occasion Kerouac ingested actual dried psilocybin mushrooms instead of capsules. He wrote to Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky (Ginsberg’s lover) that he had just finished transferring the Big Sur manuscript from the teletype roll to standard pages, “all done in ecstasy, in fact (with bennies [Benzedrine])—Also ate 12 SMushrooms in one afternoon and wanted to send telegram to Winston Churchill something about an old Baron crying for his hounds in his ‘weird weild weir,’ thinking, on psilocybin, one baron to another he’d understand—”[19]

During the writing of Big Sur, some of these psychedelic experiences crept into the book despite Kerouac’s initial statement about “metaphysical hopelessness.” Upon awaking from a bizarre dream sequence, “Jack Duluoz” (Kerouac’s fictional projection of himself) reflects on the “millionpieced mental explosions that I remember I thought were so wonderful when I’d first seen them on Peotl and Mescaline…broken in pieces some of them big orchestral and then rainbow explosions of sound and sight mixed.”[20] The “peotl” (or “peyotl,” the indigenous spellings of “peyote”) cactus has long been consumed by tribes in northern Mexico and the American southwest for the mescaline it contains.[21] Kerouac first encountered peyote eight years before his trip to Bixby Canyon, while living with Burroughs in Mexico City in 1952. The two embarked on a fruitful series of peyote trials that Kerouac described in his letters to friends back in the United States.

On March 12 of that year, Jack wrote to John Clellon Holmes about what was possibly his first full-on psychedelic experience, conveying “the wild visions of musical pure truth I got on peotl (talk about your Technicolor visions!)…”[22] Shortly thereafter, on June 5, Kerouac wrote again to Holmes, telling of the time when a few “young American hipsters” gave him and Burroughs some peyote, after which the duo walked around Mexico City at night. In a park Jack found himself “wanting to sit in the grass and stay near the ground all night by moonlight, with the lights of the show and the houses all flashing, flashing in my eyeballs…”[23]

This letter is important for another reason; in it Jack explains the thrill of writing with his new “sketching” style, an early conception of what he would later call “spontaneous prose.” Late in October 1951, Kerouac’s friend Ed White had suggested that Jack try to write as though he was painting a scene.[24] Kerouac told Holmes he was “beginning to discover…something beyond the novel and beyond the arbitrary confines of the story . . . into the realms of revealed Picture . . . revealed whatever . . . revealed prose . . . wild form, man, wild form. Wild form’s the only form holds what I have to say—my mind is exploding to say something about every image and every memory in—I have now an irrational lust to set down everything I know—in narrowing circles…”[25]

The strong parallel between the “rainbow explosions” Kerouac saw on mescaline and peyote, and the feeling that he was “exploding” to describe his thoughts about reality, suggests that Jack’s psychedelic exploration in 1952 had a decisive influence on what would become his trademark prose style.

Kerouac’s first efforts to develop his sketching method resulted in Visions of Cody, written in 1951 and ’52. He further honed the style with Doctor Sax and, in early ‘53, Maggie Cassidy. But in the fall of ‘53, Kerouac wrote The Subterraneans, which was the closest to a prequel of Big Sur that Jack composed during this period when he “discovered” spontaneous prose. It was not only a stylistic precedent, but also a thematic one—specifically the themes of self-sabotaged relationships, nervous breakdowns, and creeping insanity. In both novels Kerouac focuses largely on his own life and “internal monologue” instead of employing a “hero” like Cassady (called “Dean Moriarty” or “Cody Pomeray” in Kerouac’s novels) or Gary Snyder (“Japhy Ryder” of The Dharma Bums) to carry the story. As Kerouac writes halfway through Big Sur, “I’m beginning to go seriously crazy, just like Subterranean Irene went crazy…”[26] This is actually a cryptic clue in which he’s evoking “Mardou Fox” of Subterraneans, the love interest of protagonist “Leo Percepied” (another name for “Jack Duluoz”). “Mardou’s” real name was Alene Lee, but Jack referred to her as “Irene May” in Book of Dreams.

Once again, Big Sur generally depicts Kerouac’s brush with “insanity” as stemming from his alcoholism. There’s hardly a time in the book when “Duluoz” is not holding a bottle of whiskey or wine. But as the story progresses, some of the descriptions seem to fall way outside the scope of what alcohol can do to a person’s mind and one’s perception of reality. For instance, when Jack’s friends try to get him to eat some food, he can’t take more than a bite. He’s too paranoid that they’re trying to poison him, and he’s too distracted by his mental aberrations. “Masks explode before my eyes when I close them, when I look at the moon it waves, moves, when I look at my hands and feet they creep–––Everything is moving, the porch is moving like ooze and mud, the chair trembles under me.”[27] Notice again the mention of “explosions.” Or examine the aforementioned dream sequence, in which Jack sees numerous “Vulture People” copulating in a trash dump. “Their faces are leprous thick with soft yeast but painted with makeup…yellow pizza puke faces, disgusting us…we’ll be taken to the Underground Slimes to walk neck deep in steaming mucks pulling huge groaning wheels (among small forked snakes) so the devil with the long ears can mine his Purple Magenta Square Stone that is the secret of all this Kingdom–––“[28]

Even a glance at Book of Dreams makes it obvious that Kerouac frequently had extraordinary night-visions. But such passages really bring to mind a few specific things: the psychedelic experience, existentialist literature, and the rare cases in which the two are combined. Though Kerouac more often talked of his fondness for Dostoevsky than for later existentialists, Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1938 novel Nausea (not published in English until 1949[29]) is an indubitable precursor to Big Sur. Nausea contains a first-person journal-style account by a French man named Roquentin, who unexpectedly becomes overtaken by mortal horror and bodily uneasiness. As Roquentin says early in the novel, “Then the Nausea seized me, I dropped to a seat, I no longer knew where I was; I saw the colours spin slowly around me, I wanted to vomit. And since that time, the Nausea has not left me, it holds me.”[30]

There’s a deeper connection between the two novels as well. In his 2002 book Breaking Open the Head, Daniel Pinchbeck reports that Sartre tried mescaline in 1935 as a research subject in Paris. Pinchbeck writes that “long after the physical effect of the drug had worn off, Sartre found himself plunged into a lingering nightmare of psychotic dread and paranoia; shoes threatened to turn into insects, stone walls seethed with monsters.”[31] Pinchbeck infers that this influenced the writing of Nausea—but he thought Sartre’s affliction lasted about a week. Actually Sartre experienced hallucinations of shellfish (usually lobsters, but he also called them crabs) for years, according to a 2009 book of conversations between Jean-Paul and John Gerassi, whose parents were close friends with Sartre. Gerassi quotes Sartre saying, “Yeah, after I took mescaline I started seeing crabs around me all the time. They followed me in the streets, into class… I would wake up in the morning and say, ‘Good morning, my little ones, how did you sleep?’” [32]

In 1954, thanks to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, the Western world became much more aware of the potential promise of mescaline as a visionary aid. But interspersed with descriptions of his wondrous hallucinations, Huxley cautioned not to place too much expectation on mescaline for spiritual enlightenment.[33] Still, the book was extremely influential in the literary world, and it paved the way for the psychedelic uprising that Leary and others would lead in the 1960s.

So it’s a bit surprising that someone in Kerouac’s position, writing a book like Big Sur in 1961, wouldn’t emphasize psychedelics more or even try to work them into the plot, if only through a flashback or some similar device. Not only did he largely leave them out of the book, but he even downplayed the way they had guided his own “mysticism”—something that, in retrospect, is clearly evident in books like On the Road (published in 1957), The Dharma Bums (1958), and Visions of Gerard (1963). Kerouac even amended the line about “the mad ones” early in Road that would become his most famous quote, and—perhaps not unexpectedly—the final wording seems influenced by his 1952 peyote experiments. In the 1951 “scroll” version (not published until 2007) it read “burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.”[34] But in the 1957 version, the line went “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop…”[35]

It all seems even more suspicious after learning that mescaline actually renewed Jack’s faith in his unique prose style in 1959, just as peyote seems to have inspired the style initially in 1952. Soon after taking mescaline, Kerouac told Ginsberg that during the trip he’d had “the sensational revelation that I’ve been on the right track with spontaneous never-touch-up poetry of immediate report…”[36] Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” held that writing should be “confessional,” “always honest,” and—the part most tied up with myths about Kerouac—have “no revisions.”[37] We’ve already seen one case where Kerouac revised a work that he claimed to be an entirely spontaneous composition. So one can’t help but wonder—was Kerouac being as honest as he claimed in his prose theory? To begin to understand that, we must descend into Jack’s past.

In the spring of 1943, Kerouac enlisted in the Navy with the intention of serving the U.S. as a pilot in the growing European conflict. However, he failed the pilot exam and ended up in boot camp in Rhode Island.[38] When he refused to participate in the drills one day, he was taken to the Navy’s psychiatric hospital for observation and was soon diagnosed with “dementia praecox,”[39] which today would be called “schizophrenia.”[40] But Jack’s symptoms are more important than the term applied to them, and in his letters to friends he didn’t seem too worried about what he called the “irregularity” of his mind. Writing to childhood friend G.J. Apostolos, Kerouac explained that he had a “normal” side (embodied in G.J.) that loved sports, drinking, and sex—and a “schizoid” side (embodied in another Lowell friend, Sebastian Sampas) marked by introversion, alienation, and eccentricity. But there are hints that this “schizoid” side was actually closer to the core of Jack’s true self, whereas the “normal” side may have been a show he put on to survive with schoolmates, family, and society. “It is the price I pay for having a malleable personality,” Jack wrote from the Navy hospital. “It assumes the necessary shape when in contact with any other personality.”[41]

Had Jack grown up in the second half of the 20th century, he probably would have been diagnosed with “schizoid personality disorder” or “schizotypal personality disorder”—which are both considered “schizophrenia spectrum” conditions. The “schizoid” label corresponds to a preference for solitude, a lack of close relationships outside one’s immediate family, and an inability to express emotions.[42] “Schizotypal” refers to these characteristics, but the person must also exhibit delusions, peculiar beliefs and superstitions, paranoia, and other similar traits.[43]

This was a different time, and Kerouac’s condition was never fully understood by the people in his life. Yet if we’re going to comprehend what happened to him, we have to keep in mind that he undoubtedly fit the “schizotypal” diagnostic criteria. A series of letters that Kerouac wrote to Cassady around New Year’s 1951 help explain why.

When Kerouac was only four years old, a tragedy occurred that would affect him for the rest of his life. His older brother Gerard died of rheumatic fever in 1926 at the age of nine,[44] and throughout life Jack harbored two “peculiar beliefs” that stemmed from Gerard’s passing. One was that he believed his brother Gerard was a saint, an angel, and even Jesus; the other was that he felt responsible—and, therefore, guilty—for Gerard’s death.[45] In the letters, Kerouac claims to remember the events of 1926, despite his young age at the time. Not only that, but he says he remembers his own birth in March 1922. But Kerouac also seems conflicted. He admits to Cassady that some of his “memories” are based on family pictures, and says that he “wouldn’t be able to tell you this now, if everyone [in my family] hadn’t told me a thousand times, and each time I don’t believe it, because I don’t remember a thing…”[46]

More importantly, Kerouac says that he considered dreams and memories to be equivalent. He thought a person’s dreams came “from that part of his brain which has stored up a subconscious vision of an actual experience.”[47] This is basically a Freudian theory of dream analysis, which holds that the elements of conscious experience are repressed into the subconscious mind and then become dream content, sometimes expressing hidden (unconscious) wishes or desires. So when Jack had a dream of himself as a one-year-old baby, he regarded it as a playback of his own memory—though he had no conscious recollection of that time apart from the dream.

In addition to equating dream and memory, Kerouac also believed that “dream and vision are intertwinable with reality and prophecy.”[48] In other words, when the young Jack became aware of Gerard’s inevitable death, that in his mind (even his adult mind) seemed to have been a prophecy of Gerard’s death—which implied that young Jack had actually caused Gerard’s death. It wasn’t just Jack’s awareness of Gerard’s condition that created the guilt, but actually an incident that happened shortly before Gerard passed. Kerouac thought he remembered carelessly knocking down Gerard’s erector set, which inspired Gerard to slap his face and yell harsh words. Burroughs helped Kerouac sort out these memories in 1945, figuring, as Kerouac put it in the letter to Cassady, “that I resented the slap in the face and wished Gerard would die, and he died a few days later.”[49]

But Kerouac still seems confused, because a part of him remembered not really understanding what it meant when he found out Gerard was dead. He says he never cried, probably because he thought (in accordance with Catholic doctrine) that Gerard was at peace in Heaven. As Kerouac put it in 1951, “I knew, as I have never known since, that death does no harm…”[50] One paradox inherent in Catholicism is that the Church instills adherents with a severe horror of death, while simultaneously asking them to believe in a Biblical afterlife. Jack apparently felt fearless again after trying mescaline, which is a common reaction to the psychedelic experience. As he wrote to Ginsberg in October 1959, “I now no longer sad about sadness of birth-and-death scene because all that I had divined about the truth…was SEEN not just divined or known—”[51]

There’s a reason for Kerouac’s confusion: it seems that most of his “memories” from before the age of six are based on stories told to him by his parents, largely his mother.[52] In the letters, Kerouac carefully points out which details are from his own vague memory (e.g., not knowing why his family cried about Gerard), and which are details that his mother vehemently defended as true despite Jack’s inability to remember them. In 1945 Kerouac even told his sister that, in his words, “…I feel as though I don’t have a mind or will of my own.”[53] Therefore, Burroughs was helping Jack decipher mostly Gabrielle’s memories—memories that Jack assumed to be true because, according to his worldview, memories were equivalent to reality. Actually memory is very fallible, partly because every individual perceives the world in a slightly different manner.

Gabrielle’s version of reality was that Gerard had always acted kind and saintly toward Jack—but Jack became jealous of all the attention given to the sickly Gerard, and resented Gerard’s vengeful slap. But Kerouac notes that his mother suffered a “nervous breakdown” when Gerard died, during which all her teeth fell out.[54] He writes to Cassady, “The sight of this holy child slowly dying might have affected her mind at the time, and her stories about him may today be exaggerated…”[55] Yet he considered similar stories from his father and other relatives to be “verification” of Gabrielle’s version. Kerouac was even informed that a priest, neighbors, and business associates “spoke in the same way about Gerard: to the effect that he was the strangest, most angelic gentle child they had ever known.” But Pauline Coffey, a former neighbor of the Kerouac family, had a different impression of Gerard: “There was nothing exceptional about him. He was like any other kid—it was the mother—if you’ve ever lost a child, you would understand.”[56]

When Kerouac reflected on these memories five years after his “confession” to Cassady, while writing Visions of Gerard in January 1956, he omitted all his own personal doubts and stuck to his family’s Myth of Gerard. Charters’ biography offers a perceptive analysis of that novel: “Mémêre’s stories about Gerard were the framework for Jack’s narrative… The world of his experience and the world of his imagination came together in Visions of Gerard as in no other book in the Duluoz Legend.”[57] One of Gabrielle’s stories was key in establishing Gerard as a “saint.” As Kerouac tells it in the novel, Gerard fell asleep in class at their Catholic school and dreamt that the Virgin Mary took him away to Heaven in a “snow-white cart drawn by two lambs, and as he sits in it two white pigeons settle on each of his shoulders…”[58] When Gerard’s teacher woke him, he announced that he had seen the Virgin, and “we’re all in Heaven–––but we dont know it!” Since this was in December 1925, about seven months before Gerard died, it’s implied that the dream was premonition of Gerard’s imminent passing, as well as his Heavenly designation as a saint.

Kerouac didn’t doubt that such a thing happened, which in his mind would have meant that Gerard literally met the Virgin Mary. That’s partly because Kerouac himself remembers experiencing holy visions as a child. He tells Cassady that his life “is filled with superstitions,” and in the Catholic Church “much mysticism is sown broadspread from its ritual mysteries…”[59] Jack then tells of “the statue of St. Therese, whose head is often seen turning by madtranced watchers; whose head I myself saw turning, head-of-stone.” But biographer Paul Maher Jr. explains that Catholic school classes of that time viewed a motion picture in which the statue’s head was made to turn with trick photography.[60] Whether or not the kids were told that it was an illusion, the point—just as with other religious indoctrination—was to convince them that it was actually possible. In that sort of fundamentalist Catholic environment—made even more severe by the delusions of his grieving and mentally unstable mother, who built up the Myth of Gerard to keep Jack in a state of constant inferiority­ and thereby manipulate him like a marionette—it appears that Kerouac felt extreme pressure to have mystical beliefs, superstitions, visions, and fears.

All of this must be taken into account when reading Big Sur, especially the segment towards the end when “Jack Duluoz” experiences visions of a cross. Kerouac writes, “For a moment I see blue Heaven and the Virgin’s white veil…by God I am being taken away my body starts dying and swooning out to the Cross standing in a luminous area of the darkness…”[61] Of course, this is reported during the peak of Jack’s nervous breakdown, when he also allegedly hears voices speaking an indistinguishable language in his ear, senses a flying saucer searching for him in the trees, and mistakes a sleeping young boy for an evil warlock.

Just before then Jack had become increasingly disoriented, repeatedly saying or thinking, “I can’t understand what’s going on–––“[62] He says he wishes that Cassady were around to explain everything in a way that made sense. Actually this is the role that Gabrielle played in Jack’s life more often than anyone else. Just as Jack trusted mémêre’s version of the past, he also trusted her to interpret current events. And during Jack’s three-year imprisonment with his mother from late 1957 to early 1960, their “reality” consisted largely of fear over a supposedly imminent “Communist” uprising—a fear fueled by government officials and compliant mass media during the height of the Cold War. When “Duluoz’s” friends try to feed him in Big Sur, he thinks, “…this secret poisoning society, I know, it’s because I’m a Catholic, it’s a big anti-Catholic scheme, it’s Communists destroying everybody…in the morning you no longer have the same mind–––the drug is invented by Airapatianz, it’s the brainwash drug…”[63]

In reality Kerouac was recalling his experience with Leary’s psilocybin mushroom capsules, which he describes—along with a reference to the “Dear Coach” letter—in his 12/28/1961 missive to Ginsberg: “I incidentally wrote Timothy Leary…that I think this is the Siberian sacred mushroom used by Brainwash-inventor Airapantianz to empty American soldier prisoners in Korean brainwash program—Because if you become so emptied you don’t even care if you’re Kerouac or Ginsberg or Orlovsky, and what that meant to you before, then you’re ready to become anything at all, for any reason, even perhaps an assasin [sic]?”[64]

Unfortunately Kerouac projected any suspicion and anger he felt towards his mother onto other people, whether it was his late brother Gerard or father Leo, living individuals like Ginsberg or Kerouac’s first two wives (Edie Parker and Joan Haverty), or more hypothetical groups (in Kerouac’s immediate experience, that is) like “the Communists.” After mentioning the apparent brainwash potential in the letter to Leary after his January 1961 psilocybin trial, Kerouac wrote that he spent “3 days and 3 nights” talking with his mother while, it seemed to him, the mushrooms were still affecting his mind. The result, in his words: “I learned I loved her more than I thought.”[65] Somehow Kerouac didn’t connect his concerns about brainwash potential with the effect that Mémêre was having on him. One can find examples of these mental slips involving his mother scattered throughout the “Duluoz Legend.”

Later in the letter, Jack included a statement that helps to answer the question of why he would downplay psychedelics in his fiction and public statements. As he told Leary, “It was a definite Satori. Full of psychic clairvoyance (but you must remember that this is not half as good as the peaceful ecstacy [sic] of simple Samadhi trance as I described that in Dharma Bums).” Kerouac intended for The Dharma Bums to be read as a resolution to the existential conflict so visible in earlier books like On the Road and The Subterraneans. He also hoped for it to be a life manual for anyone in a similar situation, because in the mid- to late-1950s he viewed Buddhism as “the answer.” In other words, Kerouac perceived the potential rise of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s as a threat to the usefulness of his own body of work. In turn, his disparagement of psychedelics—and his silence (outside of private letters) about their potential advantages—was propaganda for the Duluoz Legend.

In fact, Kerouac found little use for Buddhism in his personal life by the start of the Big Sur period. His devout Catholic family had been fighting him about it for years. And as he told Carolyn Cassady after writing Big Sur—specifically referring to the end of the book, which describes his mental breakdown—“I realized all my Buddhism had been words—comforting words, indeed—“[66] Despite that, he still made Desolation Angels a sort of sequel to Dharma Bums a few years later, keeping much of the Buddhist terminology in place.

But there was a more personal element to Jack’s spurning of psychedelics. As his own descriptions of chemical experiments attest, psychedelic substances can provide the very sort of “visions” (i.e., hallucinations) that were so cherished in the fundamentalist Catholic worldview. According to the “mysticism” that Jack knew as a child, visionary ability was even a primary criterion for becoming a “saint” (like Kerouac’s beloved St. Therese) or an “angel.” Therefore, if it became public knowledge—or if his mother found out—that his visions didn’t always happen spontaneously, then it would harm his attempts to live up to the Myth of Gerard, the larger-than-life standards that Jack’s mother had held for him since before he could remember. This is likely the reason why, after giving Ginsberg his “Mescaline Report” in early 1960, Jack wrote to Allen from Chicago (en route to San Francisco and Bixby Canyon), “Hold the Mescaline Notes till I get back in Fall—Don’t give em to my mother.”[67] It’s probably also the reason why that “Mescaline Report” has apparently vanished from existence (though it might be in his archives in Lowell, MA, or at the Berg Collection in the New York City Public Library).

This differs substantially from the idea espoused by many of Kerouac’s biographers, who took a line of recorded conversation in the “Dear Coach” letter (“walking on water wasn’t built in a day”) as a sign that Jack saw very limited value in psychedelics. As it turns out, Kerouac’s literary treatment of psychedelics is one of many routes to a rude awakening about the Duluoz Legend, showing that it’s far less “objectively” true than commonly thought. In Big Sur, Kerouac wanted the cause of his mental breakdown to be alcoholism fueled by fame and “mortal existence,” not a spiritual awakening (or re-awakening) inspired by psychedelics, and definitely not his “tyrannical…mother’s sway over me” (as he referred to it once in The Subterraneans [68]). Furthermore, he wanted the cure to be “Christ,” “God,” the “Cross,” and his mother. As Kerouac writes on the last page, “My mother’ll be waiting for me glad–––“[69]

We can deduce all of this by looking at Kerouac’s October 1961 letter to Ferlinghetti, whom Jack actually visited again in San Francisco before returning to the East Coast in September 1960. As Kerouac writes, “…I was going to have lots more at the ‘end’ when I come to your house 706 but suddenly saw the novel should end at the cabin…”[70] So Big Sur ends the way it does because of a literary decision that Kerouac made, not necessarily because it depicts the way the events “objectively” happened.

Kerouac wasn’t only deceiving his readership; he was deceiving himself. His unwillingness—or, since it’s time we start taking his “dementia praecox” diagnosis more seriously, his inability to revise his view of reality and existence according to his own subjective life experience led to his early death in 1969. Just as a butterfly transforms from a caterpillar, he could have emerged from his chrysalis a twice-born being. The story behind Big Sur shows that Kerouac had the opportunity to progress through his existential crisis and live an entirely new life of liberation and prosperity. But his loss need not be our own.


[1] Kerouac, Jack. Windblown World. Ed. by Douglas Brinkley. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. pp. 61-66.

[2] Kerouac, Jack. Big Sur. 1962. New York: Penguin Books, 1992. p. 4.

[3] Kerouac, Jack. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. Ed. by Ann Charters. 1999. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. pp. 296-297.

[4] Kerouac, J. Windblown World. p. 62.

[5] Charters, Ann. Kerouac: A Biography. 1973. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. pp. 303-304.

[6] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. From footnote #1 by Ann Charters. p. 164.

[7] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. pp. 7-8. Long ellipsis was in original; short ellipsis is mine.

[8] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. pp. 252-253.

[9] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 292.

[10] Maher Jr., Paul. Kerouac: His Life and Work. 2004. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2007. p. 414.

[11] Burroughs, William S. and Allen Ginsberg. The Yage Letters Redux. 1963. San Francisco: City Lights, 2006. From the introduction by Oliver Harris. pp. xx-xxii.

[12] Maher Jr., P. Ibid. p. 415. Ellipsis was in original.

[13] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 419.

[14] In both the second volume of Selected Letters and Kerouac: A Biography, Charters writes erroneously that Kerouac took LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in January 1961. In the biography she also mistakenly states that Kerouac went to Cambridge, Mass., to see Leary.

[15] “Psilocybin Mushrooms.” Erowid. Accessed on 6/4/2011.

[16] Lee, Martin A. and Bruce Shlain. Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: the CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond. 1985. New York: Grove Press, 1992. pp. 78-82. Note: they mistook Northport as being in Massachusetts, instead of Long Island, New York.

[17] An alcoholic Mexican drink made of fermented agave. See: “The Spirits of Maguey” by Fire Erowid. Erowid. Nov 2004. Accessed on 6/14/2011.

[18] Kerouac, Jack. “Dear Coach: Jack Kerouac to Timothy Leary.” Acid Dreams Document Gallery. Website for the book Acid Dreams by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain. Ellipses were in original. Accessed on 3/3/2011.

[19] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 363. I added “Benzedrine” in brackets.

[20] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. p. 211.

[21] “Peyote.” Erowid. Accessed on 6/6/2011.

[22] Kerouac, Jack. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. Ed. by Ann Charters. 1995. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. p. 336.

[23] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. pp. 368-369.

[24] Charters, A. Ibid. pp. 139-140.

[25] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 371. Long ellipses were in book; short ellipsis is mine.

[26] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. p. 156.

[27] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. p. 200.

[28] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. pp. 208-210.

[29] “Nausea.” Wikipedia. Accessed on 6/6/2011.

[30] Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. 1938. New York: New Directions, 1964. p. 18-19.

[31] Pinchbeck, Daniel. Breaking Open the Head. New York: Broadway Books, 2002. p. 122.

[32] Allen-Mills, Tony. “Mescaline left Jean-Paul Sartre in the grip of lobster madness.” The Sunday Times of London. 11/22/2009. Ellipsis was in original. Accessed on 10/31/2010.

[33] Huxley, Aldous. The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell. New York: Perennial, 2004. p. 41.

[34] Kerouac, Jack. On the Road: The Original Scroll. New York: Viking, 2007. p. 113.

[35] Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. 1957. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. pp. 5-6.

[36] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 363. pp. 252-253.

[37] Kerouac, Jack. Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” The Portable Beat Reader. Ed. by Ann Charters. New York: Viking, 1992. pp. 57-59. Italics were in original.

[38] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. From editor’s note by Charters. p. 49.

[39] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 56. This citation also goes with “irregularity” quote below.

[40] Korn, Martin L. “Historical Roots of Schizophrenia.” Medscape. Undated. Accessed on 6/9/2011.

[41] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. pp. 61-63.

[42] “Schizoid personality disorder.” BehaveNet. Undated. Accessed on 6/9/2011.

[43] “Schizotypal personality disorder.” BehaveNet. Undated. Accessed on 6/9/2011.

[44] Maher Jr., P. Ibid. pp. 18-20.

[45] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. pp. 246-263, 282.

[46] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 261.

[47] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. pp. 267-268.

[48] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 269.

[49] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 259. Also, p. 87.

[50] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 272.

[51] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 252.

[52] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 249. He writes, “Six years later…I looked about for the first time and realized I was in a world and not just myself.”

[53] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 88.

[54] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 258.

[55] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 253.

[56] Motier, Donald. Gerard: The Influence of Jack Kerouac’s Brother on His Life and Writing. Harrisburg, PA: Beaulieu Street Press, 1991. pp. 4-5. Quoted from Kerouac: His Life and Work by Paul Maher, Jr. p. 19.

[57] Charters, A. Ibid. pp. 254-255.

[58] Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Gerard. 1963. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. pp. 51-55.

[59] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1940-1956. p. 270

[60] Maher Jr., P. Ibid. pp. 22-24.

[61] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. pp. 204-206.

[62] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. pp. 155-159.

[63] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. p. 203.

[64] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 363.

[65] Kerouac, J. “Dear Coach: Jack Kerouac to Timothy Leary.”

[66] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 353.

[67] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 299.

[68] Kerouac, Jack. The Subterraneans. 1958. New York: Grove Press, 1994. p. 47.

[69] Kerouac, J. Big Sur. p. 216.

[70] Kerouac, J. Selected Letters, 1957-1969. p. 358.

From Ganja to God

by Geetanjali Joshi Mishra
Beatdom Issue 9

They are unmistakable: roughly kept beards, unmanageable, unruly and unkempt hair, chillums dangling from the oral cavity, drinking ‘bhang’ and smoking marijuana; add mysticism, reverence and fear and you will have before you the nativity of the Holy Men of India, the ‘Sadhus’. Continue Reading…

Substance Use

A discussion about the use of drink and drugs in literature.

Continue Reading...

Stevia: A Bitter/Sweet Story

Wills, D. and Bisset, K., ‘Stevia: A Bitter/Sweet Story’ in Wills, D., (ed.) Beatdom Vol. 2 (City of Recovery Press: Dundee, 2008)

Stevia: A Bitter/Sweet Story

By Kirsty Bisset and David S Wills

– – – –

Notes from the editors…

– – – –

From Ms. Bisset…

What’s this? Yet another example of corporations wielding their unlimited power to ban substances that threaten their wealth. Why you ask? Of course, they are branded ‘unsafe’.

Is this worse than the conspiracy to outlaw cannabis?

Another to add the heap of injustices left to the public, in order for a corporation to maximise profits.  Hmm, does anyone else feel this might be wrong? If so, why as usual, is so little heard on the matter?

A good example of out of sight, out of mind; nothing much is heard within the confines of mainstream media because it is not within their interests and they are restricted by their loyalties to supporters. The aim of this, and subsequent articles on similar topics is to raise public awareness, and to encourage people to think about everything they are told, to question why they are being sold certain drugs, food products, clothes, values, and to decide for themselves what is right.  Morality and legality seemingly parted ways some time ago. What we are told is wrong is not always the case, but simply corporations using their influence upon ruling bodies to get their own way.

From Mr. Wills…

An aged hippy-poet friend of mine, Mark, and his Anglo-Franco wife, Felicite, invited me to breakfast one day. The three reasons for my visit were: firstly, breakfast, but also to help Felicite get her old laptop online, and to raid Mark’s Ventura-come-library.

I was living on an organic farm in the surprisingly liberal community of San Luis Obispo, Ca., at the time, and had left my entire book collection back home in Scotland, so I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to raid Mark’s books. We sat in the old wagon and rapped poetry back and forth and talked about literature and drugs and life – the usual. I picked out a Blake collection, Danny Sugerman’s Wonderland Avenue, William A. Henry III’s In Defence of Elitism, Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Thomas A Harris’ I’m OK – You’re OK and Bruce Eisner’s ecstasy: The MDMA Story.

After borrowing the books, we all sat down to breakfast. It was Sunday, and we were not working until mid-afternoon. Their place consisted of an eight-by-ten foot ‘barn’ and two ancient campervans, all positioned to create a little garden in the middle, shielded from the life of the farm, and wind, and cornered in by bushes, over the top of which we could see Hollister Peak and several other of the Nine Sisters mountain range, in front of which ran an occasional charge of horses.

Felicite was in her mid-seventies, and had recently taken a bad fall and struggled with mobility, but while Mark and I went a found an old picnic table, and brought it into the middle of the sun-drenched garden, she managed to put together a wonderful breakfast of tea, pancakes, butter, strawberries, goat yoghurt, seven-seed mix and syrup.

“Now,” Felicite said in her quiet, yet somehow motherly voice, which had a strong English accent despite her having spent the last few decades living around America and Southern France, “First you put the butter on the cakes. Then you put the syrup on the butter. Then you put the yoghurt on the syrup. Then you put the strawberries on the yoghurt. That’s the only way to do it. Sometimes Mark and I, we talk with our breakfast and forget, and it’s never quite right if you do it any other way.”

Felicite, quiet though she was, and retiring though she was around others, was pretty bossy with Mark, and fairly straight with me by this stage, having known her for a few weeks. She demanded Mark pour the tea. He did.

We were eating the pancakes and sipping the tea, and talking as usual of thrift stores and bargains and the usual ways to make life better and easier, when Mark suddenly jumped up, that flash of inspiration coming to his eyes like I’d seen on a few occasions, and he ran off to the campervan with the kitchen area. He returned momentarily with a small shaker of white powder.

“Stevia,” he said. “You ever heard of it? It’s a sugar substitute.”

“No it’s not!” Felicite cried.

“Babe, like, it is.”

“No. It’s not a substitute.”

“Babe, it is.”

“No, it’s not, it’s real. It’s like sugar, but different, and better for you.”

“David, like, stevia is a naturally occurring plant, man. You dig? It’s, like, way sweeter than sugar, and it tastes better, but it’s illegal. But it’s good for you.”

“It’s got no calories!” Felicite added. “And it doesn’t harm your teeth.”

“See, the government don’t want us to have it. They shut down stores that sell it, and burn plants when people grow it. They even burned books about stevia that some guy had.”

That breakfast with Mark and Felicite was the first time I ever heard of stevia. I tried it with Honeybush Tea, and I liked it. It was exactly as Mark described – similar to sugar, but way stronger and with a slightly different taste. But I never fully believed what he said. Mark is a great guy, and nobody can deny that, but even he will admit he’s “burned his brain out” with drugs. He has become paranoid and eccentric, though not to great extents. He is a little unusual, but it’s more like a slight exaggeration of characteristics than anything too out there.

So when he told me about stevia, I knew there was truth behind what he said, but I assumed it was more like he’d gotten the wrong end of the stick and taken the idea too far. He often railed against many governmental or corporate conspiracies, and I don’t doubt that he’s often right, but I do doubt how right he is.

Yet I was intrigued enough to go straight home and Google stevia. If nothing else, part of me wondered what I had just taken. I know that the US government is fucked up enough to allow dangerous substances to be legal (cigarettes and booze) while banning safe substances (marijuana). So even if Mark had gotten hold of something legal, who knew what effects it would have? And if it was illegal, maybe it wasn’t as safe as Mark’s strange information would have me believe…

So I Googled “stevia” and, unsurprisingly, was presented with the Wikipedia entry, which is what I wanted – an easy lay explanation of a new topic for learning, with links to more in-depth sources elsewhere. It appeared Mark was right.

– – – –

Stevia: The History

For centuries the Guarani Indians of Paraguay guarded the secret of the plant they called kaa he-he. They used it in medicine, in the drink ‘mate, and for chewing and eating to enjoy the sweet taste. They guarded it for they cherished it and believed it to be of some mystical significance. They documented its existence and popularity in writing that still exists today in the Paraguayan National Archive, in Asuncion.

However, like so many Western stories, the credit for the discovery of kaa he-he lies with a European – the Italian botanist, Dr. Moises Santiago Bertoni. He is said to have heard of the legendary but elusive plant in 1887, twelve years before he actually saw the dried leaves, presented to him in an envelop.

Finally, after searching for the plants in many of the wrong places, over many years, Bertoni was sent a live plant in 1903, by a priest from the village of San Pedro. He studied it intensively, and came to rename it after himself and the scientist that managed to extract its sweetness, a man named Rebaudi. It became known as Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, and in 1905 Bertoni completed and published his study.

Following Bertoni’s studies, the cultivation of stevia spread, and it came to be grown as a crop, rather than simply harvested in the wild. By 1908, one ton of stevia was harvested from cultivated crops, and soon after the questions of export and commercial feasibility were raised.

In 1918, stevia was brought to the attention of the US government by botanists, and three years later, it was brought before the USDA by George S. Brady, who described the plant as safe and non-toxic. He also said that stevia was liable to find a market, and that he wished to see US companies capitalise on its appeal.

However, as early as 1913, German sugar-producers were raising concerns over the impact of stevia upon their own industry. They recognised the superiority of this new product, and sought to stem its use.

In 1931, French scientists managed to isolate steviocide and rebaudiocide, the sweetest natural products yet discovered. They were shown to be between 150 and 300 times sweeter than sucrose, as well as heat and pH stable, and non-fermentable. However, although scientifically significant, doubts were already raised regarding the value of steviocides in day-to-day life. In the US, a government researcher, Dr. Hewitt G. Fletcher, deemed steviocides useless, despite admitting their overwhelming sweetness.

It was during the 1960s that Japan came to ban or impose strict regulations upon the use of chemicals in their food. As a result, they did extensive research into the safety and viability of stevia as a natural sweetener, and found it to be of no danger to humans.

Therefore, in 1970, when stevia was introduced to the Japanese food market by a consortium of investors, it quickly entered everyday use as an additive and tabletop sweetener. By 1990, Japan accounted for forty percent of the global consumption of stevia, with not one single complaint or health concern raised. And in 1988, stevia represented forty-one percent of the Japanese sweetner market.

But use was not only restricted to Japan. Across South America, stevia has always remained popular, and in other parts of Asia, too.

Like marijuana, the use of stevia dates back over hundreds of years, with no documentaed negative effects on human health. Even in massive quantities it has been conclusively proven to be non-toxic, and offers not only a healthier alternative to a market dominated by dangerous products, but actually provides some significant health benefits.

Yet, like marijuana, the US government, and other governments around the world, also dominated and controlled by large corporations with no interest in the welfare of the general public, have banned and restricted the use of stevia. Using massively and embarassingly flawed data and ‘evidence’, the governments of Western nations have outlawed the use of stevia, and then, under pressure from campaigners and organisations acting in the public interest, have revoked their decisions to an extent, choosing to instead block the use of stevia in any capacity perceived to be of threat to profits of the sweetener and sugar industries (including the mighty Coca-Cola and NutraSweet companies).

– – – –

Stevia: The Controversy

There is no reason to ban or restrict the use of stevia. That’s it. That’s all that need be said to an intelligent freethinker. But let’s face it, this is a world dominated by profit-hungry greedheads with no concern for decent folks, and the average human is just ignorant enough to go with the flow and believe the shit. So to change anything, one must be armed with knowledge and a drive to fight injustice. So, with that in mind, let’s continue exploring exactly why this miracle plant is vilified by fucking halfwits…

In 1991, the United States Food and Drug Administration received a complaint from an allegedly anonymous source, concerning the safety of stevia. The source is widely accepted to have been the manufactures of NutraSweet, the aspartame based sweetener. The motivation for the complaint is believed to be stopping the encroachment of stevia upon the sweetener industry. Congressman John Kyl is one of many believers that the FDA acted only as a response to pressure from the sweetener industry. However, despite the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, the FDA has refused to formally announce the origin of the source.

Following the complaint, the FDA labelled stevia an ‘unsafe food additive’ and placed restrictions upon its import into the United States. The reason given for the ban was that no solid evidence could be provided to show stevia was safe, which contravenes FDA regulations stipulating that a substance used since or before 1958 with no history of known ill effects should be ‘Generally Regarded As Safe’ (GRAS).

FDA guidelines also require a product to be proven unsafe through testing in order to be given the label ‘unsafe’, and no testing has been able to conclusively prove any negative health issues arising from the use of stevia.

However, despite these overlooked technicalities, stevia was an entirely banned substance in the United States until the passing of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which forced the FDA to allow stevia to be sold as a dietary supplement, but not as a food additive or commercial sweetener. This shows the FDA labelling stevia as safe and unsafe, depending upon its use, publicly contradicting themselves for the purpose of securing the marketplace for known harmful sweeteners produced by big-pocketed industry bully-boys.

NutraSweet, also known as aspartame, is has been shown to cause migraines, seizures and blindness. It has been the subject of several thousand complaints to the FDA, even FDA testing has linked its usage to brain tumours. However, the overruling of the commissioner of the Administration made sure that nothing so trivial as serious health problems was worth troubling such a major corporation over… And let’s not forget that in hundreds of years of use in South America, and thirty-odd years of use in Japan, not one concern has been raised over the safety of stevia, whereas aspartame alone makes up seventy-five percent of all food additive related complaints in the United States each and every year!

But hell, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the so-called ‘food police’, also went easy on aspartame and MSG. They knew of the dangers, even labelling aspartame: ‘caution, try to avoid’. But that didn’t stop them from serving aspartame containing yoghurts to their own employees in their staff cafeteria… No, money is more important than public health when you’re a crooked organisation with the power to dictate the fate of an entire species.

And perhaps that’s why the FDA and the CSPI have embarrassed themselves constantly since first they thought it wise to bend over and obey the wishes of the mighty NutraSweet-dominated sweetener industry. Surely by trying to blind the public to the truth regarding this ancient plant, whose safety had been known for decades, they were as ignorant as Bertoni when he believed he was the first person to discover stevia growing in the mountains of Paraguay.

These powerful bodies hold themselves to be guardians of American health, yet will go to the lengths of burning books, seizing imported shipments, confiscating stevia-containing products, fabricating evidence, and other CIA-inspired covert ops, just to protect the producers of substances they themselves deem unsafe.

That’s right, in May 1998 the FDA ordered the burning of books on the history, growing and cooking of stevia by a Texas-based distributor, resorting to threatening letters before the condemnation of the public, the media and ACLU resulted in a forced change of heart.

And the CSPI, desperate to back-up their co-conspirators, twisted the statements of two pro-stevia proponents and relied upon discredited, irrelevant and outdated ‘evidence’ in order to put together a ‘case’ against stevia, while ignoring a massive and persuasive body of work that supports the safety of stevia.

The problem with the CSPI’s ‘Stevia: Not Ready For Prime Time’, written by David Schardt, which is nothing more than a piece of childish propaganda, is that firstly it’s based on entirely the wrong substance. The article is based on studies of steviol, a derivative of stevia which cannot be produced within the human body, and which regardless of the impossibility of producing through digestion, is not even proven to be harmful. It is merely a suggestion that steviol may pose some risk, hence repeated use of unclear and speculative language… Vague words, Schardt.

Schardt also references Douglas Kinghorn and Ryan Huxtable, two pro-stevia scientists. He quotes vague and hypothetical statements made by the scientists that show possible counterpoints to their own studies, but which Schardt purports to be evidence of their anti-stevia views.

Kinghorn, a professor or pharmacognosy, is quoted by Schardt as saying ‘The Japanese don’t consume large amounts of stevia,’ and other such racial generalisations. His argument here is supposedly that Americans will take consumption further than the Asians, and therefore are more inclined to encounter new health problems. Perhaps this is an easy thing to believe in these days of rampant anti-Americanism, but it is absurd to suggest that Americans are all stupid enough and fat enough to eat enough stevia to cause greater, and as yet untold, health problems that would be of any significance in comparison with the masses of McDonalds and Coca-Cola related deaths and morbid obesity recorded every year.

And what health problems is stevia meant to cause? It’s a non-calorific, hunger-relieving, diabetes-beating, digestion-aiding, pancreas-nourishing, tooth-friendly fucking plant! Fuck off! Go suck a dick if you believe the propaganda. Americans already eat massive quantities of sugar and sweeteners and other shit that rots their teeth and guts and makes them fat. Yet studies have shown that stevia is harmless even in massive quantities. It even reverses plaque development on teeth, which is all too often caused by eating sugar! Surely it would be better to have some fat bastard eat a plate of stevia-laced ice-cream rather than the same with sugar or aspartame on top… But no, stevia is a natural plant, like marijuana, that could be grown and used by the common man, and so would infringe upon the corporate and government agendas that have resulted in the current health crisis. It’d be harder to tax stevia than sugar, and easier to produce ones own stevia leaves for a cup of tea than to engineer a bowl of aspartame…

But no, there’s hope for stevia yet! We still may see it legal, but only on corporate terms, of course. Rebiana is the name of a sweetener in development by the Coca-Cola Company, whose name and finances will no doubt be enough to push the legality of stevia past the FDA. No need to worry about its infringement upon the sweetener industry now, folks! Just buy a can of Coke-Rebiana and everything’ll be ok. So long as a big ole American company owns the rights to a little Paraguayan plant, you can consume it. That’s all that fucking matters, isn’t it?

But back to science, from which we’ve become distracted… And whereas Kinghorn is quoted by our friends, the CSPI, as arguing against the Japanese experience as proof of stevia’s safety, he is more commonly found arguing in favour of stevia and of the Japanese and their intensive research into stevia…

‘Stevia extracts and/or stevioside (a concentrated extract) have been widely used as sweetening agents in Japan over the last 15 years; . . . no adverse reactions have appeared in the scientific or medical literature during this period, and it may be concluded . . . that these materials do not present a potential toxicity risk to humans.’

‘I don’t think it’s that big a question mark because of the Japanese experience. They’ve been taking it (stevia and stevia extracts) for 20 years now and they’ve had multigenerations of humans using it. (To produce steviol) requires metabolic activation which may or may not happen.’

‘We do have the evidence from the Japanese that stevioside is not carcinogenic.  It hasn’t been resolved whether steviol is produced in animals, let alone in humans.’

Huxtable, too, is normally a proponent of the pro-stevia scientific community, although is a little more reserved in his arguments, saying: ‘there seems little scientific reason for the FDA not to approve the use of stevia extracts in the U.S,’ and ‘There are no studies on humans that show it presents a hazard.’

Of course, both scientists are right. And more than that, these are not necessarily the scientists one would normally list in a study of stevia, as far more qualified scientists have come to value stevia as a healthy footstuff. Rather, they are worth mentioning because they, like most of the scientific community, are in favour of the full legalisation of stevia, but were quoted by the CSPI in their ludicrous drive to validate the outlawing of a harmless plant. This is just another example of major league idiocy marring the attempts of the authorities to ban stevia.

Here’s some more:

–          The FDA using a thirty-two year old fertility study, which was wholly dismissed by its own author.

–          A Brazilian study of mice, which only the FDA considers of any scientific merit, translated by an FDA employee with only a basic understanding of Portuguese.

–          Ignoring a massive body of scientific evidence and historical use that supports the claim that stevia is harmless.

–          The FDA threatening to burn stevia reference books of Sunrider International, and then informing their Director of Operations that ‘if we wanted to make carrots (be) against the law, we could do it.’

These diabolical assholes are even prepared to ignore the studies of the World Health Organisation, who, in 2006 concluded their research into the safety of stevia, by finding that stevia and its derivatives are non-toxic and not carcinogenic. Also, that stevia could prove useful in helping patients suffering from type II diabetes and hypertension, because of its blood-sugar stabilising qualities. These facts were largely known for hundreds of years in Paraguayan culture, and obviously why stevia had been used in medicines across South America. So if the WHO know the truth, and ancient Indian cultures knew the truth, and the scientific community knows the truth, and the common man, through recent media coverage, knows the truth, and indisputable evidence has been provided by Asian experience and testing, to reveal the truth that stevia is utterly harmless… Then what chance is there of the legalisation of yet another innocent victim in the ongoing rampage of corporate dominance over government and public-interest organisations?

Well, two petitions submitted to the FDA, seeking Generally Regarded As Safe status for stevia, were submitted in 1992 and 1995. These petitions included and summarised a huge body of work, detailing the impressive array of health boosting qualities held by stevia, as well as hard evidence of the safety of the plant.

‘Stevia leaf is a natural product that has been used for at least 400 years as a food product, principally as a sweetener or other flavoring agent.  None of this common usage in foods has indicated any evidence of a safety problem.  There are no reports of any government agency in any of the above countries indicating any public health concern whatsoever in connection with the use of stevia in foods.’

Gras affirmation petition submitted on behalf of the American Herbal Products Association, April 23, 1992

‘The petition cites over 120 articles about stevia written before 1958, and over 900 articles published to date. In this well-chronicled history of stevia, no author has ever reported any adverse human health consequences associated with consumption of stevia leaf.’

Supplement to GRAS affirmation petition no. 4G0406, submitted by the Thomas J. Lipton Company February 3, 1995

It hardly seems necessary to summarise this article. The facts speak for themselves, and are almost too numerous to print. Stevia is quite simply a botanical and culinary miracle. In fact, the process of eliminating facts supporting the safety and benefits of stevia took as much time as any part of preparing this article. The sheer volume of work is testament to the injustice of the ban imposed against stevia by governments worldwide at the asking of the sweetener and sugar industries. And it is proof that morality and legality have little connection anymore, and that the governments of this world operate not in the interests of the people, or even themselves, but of those that wield the power to dictate the future of the world – the money-grabbing, immoral, half-wit, greedhead swine that are the heads of their industries. These pigs bring out the evil and ignorance of governments forced to move their hands against their people, and then to look foolish when the media and the intelligent few see what’s going on and call the forces to order. We are lied to and persecuted for nothing more than freedom of thought and expression, and an appreciation of the natural world, simply because what we do contravenes the wishes of those that would sell us dangerous commodities and rob our lands and indoctrinate our minds… Don’t let them get away with it, EAT STEVIA AND SMOKE POT!

Further Reading

For a list of websites on stevia, from cooking to growing to the conspiracy against this miracle plant, just Google the word ‘stevia’. There are hundreds of sites available, but Beatdom reckons is the best.

As for books,

Take a look at The Stevia Story: A Tale of Incredible Sweetness & Intrigue, by Linda and Bill Bonvie and Donna Gates.