© 2014

Prohibition, Religious Freedom, and Human Rights: Regulating Traditional Drug Use

  • Beatriz Caiuby Labate
  • Clancy Cavnar

About this book


This book addresses the use and regulation of traditional drugs such as peyote, ayahuasca, coca leaf, cannabis, khat and Salvia divinorum. The uses of these substances can often be found at the intersection of diverse areas of life, including politics, medicine, shamanism, religion, aesthetics, knowledge transmission, socialization, and celebration. The collection analyzes how some of these psychoactive plants have been progressively incorporated and regulated in developed Western societies by both national legislation and by the United Nations Drug Conventions. It focuses mainly, but not only, on the debates in court cases around the world involving the claim of religious use and the legal definitions of “religion.” It further touches upon issues of human rights and cognitive liberty as they relate to the consumption of drugs. While this collection emphasizes certain uses of psychoactive substances in different cultures and historical periods, it is also useful for thinking about the consumption of drugs in general in contemporary societies. The cultural and informal controls discussed here represent alternatives to the current merely prohibitionist policies, which are linked to the spread of illicit and violent markets. By addressing the disputes involved in the regulation of traditional drug use, this volume reflects on notions such as origin, place, authenticity, and tradition, thereby relating drug policy to broader social science debates.


Human Rights Religious Drug Use Religious Freedom Traditional Drug Use UN Drug Conventions

Editors and affiliations

  • Beatriz Caiuby Labate
    • 1
  • Clancy Cavnar
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Economic Research And EducationAguascalientesMexico
  2. 2.Nucleurs for Interdisciplinary Studies of PsychoactivesSan FranciscoUSA

About the editors

Beatriz Caiuby Labate has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil. Her main areas of interest are the study of psychoactive substances, drug policy, shamanism, ritual, and religion. She is Visiting Professor at the Drug Policy Program of the Center for Economic Research and Education (CIDE) in Aguascalientes, Mexico. She is also Research Associate at the Institute of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg University, co-founder of the Nucleus for Interdisciplinary Studies of Psychoactives (NEIP), and editor of NEIP’s website ( She is author, co-author, and co-editor of twelve books, one special-edition journal, and several peer-reviewed articles. For more information, see:


Clancy Cavnar, Psy.D., is currently completing her postdoctoral hours in clinical psychology at the Marin Treatment Center, a methadone clinic in San Rafael, California. In 2011, she received a doctorate in clinical psychology (PsyD) from John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, California, with a dissertation on gay and lesbian people's experiences with ayahuasca. She attended New College of the University of South Florida and completed an undergraduate degree in liberal arts in 1982. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute and graduated with a Master of Fine Art in painting in 1985. In 1993, she received a certificate in substance abuse counseling from the extension program of the University of California at Berkeley and, in 1997, she graduated with a master's in counseling from San Francisco State University. In that same year, she got in touch with the Santo Daime in the USA, and has traveled several times to Brazil since then. She is Research Associate of the Nucleus for Interdisciplinary Studies of Psychoactives (NEIP), and co-editor, with Beatriz Caiuby Labate, of three books: The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca (Springer, 2014); Prohibition, Religious Freedom, and Human Rights: Regulating Traditional Drug Use (Springer, 2014) and Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon and Beyond (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Bibliographic information


"The meaning of drugs is changing, with the twentieth-century language of 'drug abuse' and policy of a 'war on drugs' breaking down. Global trade and the internet are eroding the regime of prohibition, and at the same time the resilience and recovery of traditional forms of drug use are pointing towards new strategies for the integration of drug use into modern societies. These vivid portraits of long-established drug cultures and their collisions with the blunt instrument of criminal law expose the contradictions of current drug politics and illuminate the alternatives." (Mike Jay, author, High Society: mind-altering drugs in history and culture)

"This informative and much-needed volume has a comparative and international perspective, focusing on the interaction of drug policies with human rights and religious freedom. The book covers controversies from around the world involving peyote, cannabis, ayahuasca, coca leaf, khat, and other drugs. It will be useful not only researchers and scholars in many disciplines, but also policy makers." (James T. Richardson, J.D., Ph.D, Foundation Professor of Sociology and Judicial Studies, University of Nevada, Reno)

"This fascinating interdisciplinary collection offers a timely contribution to the increasingly energetic debate on drug policy reform. Its focus on how traditional uses of certain psychotropic substances have become ‘controlled’ through inclusion within national and United Nations legal frameworks usefully highlights growing tensions between imposed, predominantly ‘Western’, norms and embedded cultural practices; a dynamic often played out in terms of religious use and human rights. Through examination of a range of substances and contexts, the authors ably demonstrate how a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with drug consumption frequently generates a range of harms and make a compelling case for ‘more reasoned, humane and compassionate drug policies’. A thoughtful and provocative book, Prohibition, Religious Freedom and Human Rights: Regulating Traditional Drug Use deserves widespread attention." (Prof. David R Bewley-Taylor, Director, Global Drug Policy Observatory, Swansea University, UK and author International Drug Control: Consensus Fractured)

"This book is essential reading for anyone working at the blind intersection of religion, drugs, and modern culture. I welcome this new publication." (Richard Glen Boire, Attorney, RGB Law Group and co-creator of the term "cognitive liberty.)