Psychedelics Lawyer: Darknet Markets are the New Frontier of ‘Cognitive Liberty’

Websites like Silk Road have made psychedelic drugs safer and more accessible, she says.

Kari Paul

Kari Paul

Ayahuasca being prepared. Photo: Jairo Galvis Henao/Flickr

Being able to use psychedelic drugs is a human right, according to Charlotte Walsh, a lawyer and lecturer at University of Leicester, and darknet markets are making it harder than ever for governments to take it away.

Speaking at psychedelic drug forum Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics, Walsh said websites like online drug market Silk Road have set off an unstoppable movement around "the idea we should be able to consume what we can afford."

"The creation of online drug markets can best be viewed as yet another example of unconstrained underground movements helping society to progress," she said. "These developments can also be seen perhaps as the death knell of prohibition."

Walsh believes drug prohibition is at odds with the fundamental right of "cognitive liberty"—the freedom to control our own mental processes, cognition, and consciousness. While many exceptions to drug laws for psychedelics center around their use for religious ceremonies, she argues the drugs should be available to everyone as part of their right to control their own consciousness.

"Like the mythical hydra, every time a head is cut off, another one grows."

Quoting from journalist Mike Power's book Drugs Unlimited, she said the architects of Silk Road made great strides in the mission against oppressive drug laws.

"In just under two years, the Silk Road administrators have used technology and ingenuity to achieve what thousands of campaigners have toiled since the 1960s to achieve: the right to buy and sell natural and artificial chemicals that affect their consciousness in ways they choose without interference from the state," she said. "It is a paradigm shift that cannot easily be reversed."

She said Silk Road introduced harm reduction strategies that made the consumption of psychedelic drugs more accessible and less dangerous—an argument the judge in the case rejected completely, sentencing Ulbricht to life in prison.

Walsh said despite the shuttering of Silk Road, the chain reaction its creation set off is now unstoppable.

"Despite Ulbricht paying the price with his freedom, websites like Silk Road continue to proliferate on the deep web," she said. "Like the mythical hydra, every time a head is cut off, another one grows. There is always a new one ready to replace those that are shut down—and from a radical rights based perspective, this can be viewed as a good thing."

Walsh's views are backed up by data. Figures from the Global Drug Survey 2015 showed more people purchased drugs on the darknet after Silk Road was shut down in 2013. She said the proliferation of these markets will ultimately force governments to reconsider drug laws and "the reaches of state control of our cognitive liberty."

As a member of non-profit International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research & Service (ICEERS), Walsh works to protect that "liberty," helping with legal defense for cases related to 'ethnobotanicals' like ayahuasca and peyote. She said she sometimes defends the use of drugs from a freedom of religion standpoint, despite her belief that anyone should be able to use these substances regardless of belief.

"We have to work with the system that we have and move forward slowly, because realistically, prohibition isn't going to collapse in one go, it's going to collapse step by step," she said.