The information below was compiled by Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D., and is presented here with his permission. Since receiving his Ph.D. from Stanford University, he has been a professor of educational psychology at Northern Illinois University, now finishing his 33rd year. Since 1979 he has taught a course "Psychedelic Mindview," originally called "Psychedelic Research." He is the compiler of Psychoactive Sacramentals: Essays on Entheogens and Religion, published by the Council on Spiritual Practices. His long-term, ongoing project is building CSP's online reference/resource "Psychoactive Sacraments: An Entheogen Chrestomathy."
Grob, Charles S.(Editor)(2002). Hallucinogens: A Reader
New York, NY: Penguin Putnam Inc.
Description: Paperback, 298 pages, 24 cm. x 16 cm. x 2.3 cm.
Contents: Acknowledgments; Introduction; 15 chapters; Appendix A: The Psychology of Ayahuasca; Appendix B: Deconstructing Ecstasy: The Politics of MDMA Research; Appendix C: Psychiatric Research with Hallucinogens: What Have We Learned?; Recommended Books; Sources and Permissions; Contributors.
Contributors: Lawrence Bush, Gary Fisher, Albert Hofmann, Terence McKenna, Ralph Metzner, Jeremy Narby, Thomas Riedlinger, Glenn Shepard, Huston Smith, Myron Stolaroff, Rick Strassman, Donald Topping, Roger Walsh, Andrew Weil.
The following excerpts from Charles Grob's book Hallucinogens: A Reader have been compiled by Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. I have expanded the coverage in certain areas, and have enclosed my inserts in brackets: [ ].
Editor, Albert Hofmann Foundation Website
Introduction: Hallucinogens Revisited
by Charles S. Grob
During my visit to Manaus, I acquired an appreciation of the life-transforming experiences these subjects had undergone. Many of the men, before joining the ayahuasca church, had severe drug and alcohol disorders, but since their involvement had maintained absolute sobriety for all substances other than ayahuasca, which was used under the strict sacramental rules of the church. In fact, many displayed exemplary conduct in family, social and work contexts. These men, at one time inhabiting a rather low level in the social hierarchy had become pillars of the community achieving positions of prominence and respect. No doubt, impressive conversion experiences also occur within religious environments that do not use hallucinogens, but the question remains: What might the value be of having a pharmacologically active catalyst, in this case one with an extensive history of safe use by the indigenous peoples of South America? Could a person with a serious drug addiction or who engages in antisocial behaviors be "transformed" through a drug-induced mystical experience? There are many sociological, anthropological and psychological studies suggesting that certain drugs — primarily hallucinogens — when taken in a properly structured context (be it a religious group or a psychotherapeutic environment) can promote healing and positive changes in a person’s life.
In 1987, the Brazilian government declared ayahuasca a legal substance when used within the context of religious practice, thus becoming the first modern nation to allow the spiritual use of plant hallucinogens by its non-indigenous inhabitants. This extraordinary precedent may allow other countries to reconsider the rich potentials that hallucinogens may hold. (page 9)
An alternative plan we chose was to compile a collection of some of the best writing on the issue of hallucinogens published over the last ten years. In spite of the veil of silence that has fallen over the topic during the last quarter-century a modest but steady stream of excellent essays has been published in the lay literature, attesting to the persistence of serious thought and discussion of the issue. Consequently, selections were chosen from the most engaging articles published in the decade of the nineties, addressing a broad range of perspectives. This anthology contains sixteen essays by leading investigators and theorists in the fields of science, medicine, psychology, anthropology and religious studies. They have been selected in order to illustrate the many dimensions of the hallucinogen experience and their implications in the future development of society. From personal memoirs to sophisticated research, these essays will hopefully encourage further study and more careful reflection regarding the uses and abuses of these remarkable drugs. (page 13)
Chapter 1. A Conversation with Albert Hofmann
by Charles S. Grob
[Albert Hofmann] This is a very, very deep problem of our time in that we no longer have a religious basis in our lives. Even with religion, with the churches, they are no longer convincing with their dogma. And people need a deep spiritual foundation for their lives. In older times it was religion, with their dogmas, which people believed in, but today those dogmas no longer work. We cannot believe things which we know are not possible, that are not real. We must go on the basis of what we know, that everybody can experience. On this basis, you must find the entrance to the spiritual world. Because many young people are looking for meaningful experiences, they are looking for this thing which is the opposite of the material world. Not all young people are looking for money and power. Some are looking for a happiness and satisfaction which is of the spiritual world, not the materialistic world. They are looking, but there are no sanctioned paths. And, of course, one of the ways young people are using is with psychedelic drugs. (page 18)
… It is important that we realize this enormous difference between these two sides of our lives. The material world is the world of our body, but the material world is also where man has made all of these scientific and technological discoveries. We must see, then, that science and technology are based on natural laws. But we must also accept that the material world is only the manifestation of the spiritual world. And if we attempt to manifest something, we will have to make use of the material world. For you and I to speak with one another, we must have tongues, we must have air and so forth. All of this is of the material world. If we were to read about spiritual things, it is only words. We must have the experience directly. And the experience occurs only by opening the mind, and opening all of our senses. Those doors of perception must be cleansed. And if the experience does not come spontaneously, on its own, then we may make use of what Huxley calls a gratuitous grace. This may take the form of psychedelic drugs, or perhaps without drugs through a discipline like yoga. But what is of greatest importance, is that we have personal experience. Not words, not beliefs, but experience. (page 20)
Chapter 2. The Role of Psychoactive Plant Medicines
by Ralph Metzner
Having an insight is not the same as being able to apply that insight. There is no inherent connection between a mystical experience of oneness and the expression or manifestation of that oneness in the affairs of everyday life. This point is perhaps obvious, and yet it is frequently overlooked by those who argue, on principle, that a drug cannot induce a genuine mystical experience or play any role in spiritual life. The internal factors of set, including preparation, expectation, and intention, are the determinants of whether a given experience is authentically religious. Equally, intention is crucial to the question of whether an altered state results in any lasting personality changes. Intention is the bridge from the ordinary or "consensus reality" state to the state of heightened consciousness; and it also provides a bridge from that heightened state back to ordinary reality.
This model allows us to understand how the same drug(s) could be claimed by some to lead to nirvana or religious vision and in others (for example, Charles Manson) could lead to perverse and sadistic violence. The drug is only a tool, a catalyst, to attain certain altered states; which altered states depend on the intention. … (page 30)
Furthermore, it is clear that the visions and insights of the individuals who pursue these paths are visions and insights for the present and the future and not just of historical or anthropological interest. This has always been the pattern: the individual seeks a vision to understand his or her place, or destiny, as a member of the community. The knowledge derived from expanded states of consciousness has been, can be, and needs to be applied to the solution of the staggering problems that confront our species. This is why the discoveries of the mystical chemists and ethnobotanists have immense importance — for the understanding of our past, the awareness of our presence, and the safeguarding of our future./ (page 37)
Chapter 3. Psychedelic Society
by Terence McKenna
A prominent scholar over the past two decades on the phenomenology of the hallucinogen experience has been ethnobotanist Terence McKenna. Together with his brother Dennis, with whom he made valuable contributions to our understanding of psychoactive plants native to the remote Amazon, Terence McKenna has provided challenging perspectives on the implications of the core hallucinogen experience to our fundamental conception of reality. Examining the potential of these substances to act as deconditioning agents, McKenna in this provocative article envisions the transformation of human society.
I want to talk tonight about the notion of a psychedelic society. When I spoke in Santa Barbara at a psychedelics conference my contact lenses failed me at a critical point in my lecture and I simply had to wing it. Later when I played this tape back I heard the phrase "psychedelic society". I never used it before consciously in a lecture. But because I had said it, and because there had been a ripple of resonance to it from the people there, I began to think about it and this evening I will generally assess what it might mean for us. (pages 38 – 39)
Freudian and Jungian models of the psychedelic experience see it as a stripping away of resistance revealing hidden and complex emotions, motives, and belief systems. This notion has been replaced in the last five to ten years by the shamanic model of hallucinogenic experience. This model holds that archaic peoples have deputized special members of society to probe hidden information domains using psychedelic drugs. The information extracted from these domains is then used to guide and direct the society. (page 40)
Chapter 4. Two Classic Trips: Jean-Paul Sartre and Adelle Davis
by Thomas Riedlinger
Although awareness of the use of hallucinogens by prominent individuals in society is generally restricted to the period of the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, these compounds were available earlier in the twentieth century. Jean-Paul Sartre, renowned French philosopher and a founder of Existentialism, had a single mescaline experience in 1935. He encountered a nightmarish vision, which clung to him for months after and became the inspiration for his acclaimed novel Nausea. In this article, writer Thomas Riedlinger examines this poorly appreciated historical phenomenon. And, in contrast to Sartre’s descent into psychochemical hell, Riedlinger also describes the exalted experiences of nutrition pioneer Adelle Davis in the late 1950s and early 1960s, catalyzed by LSD. From the terror of Sartre’s Nausea to the religious epiphanies of Davis’s "chemical Christianity," Riedlinger’s description provides a glimpse into the profound impact these compounds have often had on influential figures of the last century. (page 47)
In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake wrote that the acids he used to etch poems and art work on printing plates were "salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid." Modern users of a different kind of "acid," LSD, as well as other psychedelics, report a similar effect on human consciousness. These substances, they claim, can melt away the surface dross of daily life and manifest hidden dimensions of the spirit, or at least of the human unconscious.
Some find the experience positive, miraculous, a visionary rocket ride to heaven. For many, it’s a terrifying plunge into the darkest depths of hell. Others experience both extremes, transcending the dichotomy by recognizing in it a dynamic union of sacred and profane. But one thing shared by most who brave the journey is a compelling urge to talk about it afterward. As Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar note in their book Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered, "it is as though words are never more necessary than when we approach the limits of language."
Not surprisingly then, a review of recent catalogues from booksellers who specialize in
drug-related literature discloses dozens of personal narratives describing the effects of psychedelics. Most of these works are mediocre; some are simply terrible. But scattered among them, like diamonds in clay are a few undeniable classics of the genre, such as Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Alan Watts’ Joyous Cosmology; and Timothy Leary’s High Priest.
On the other side of the coin, at least a few of the genre’s classics aren’t recognized as such. Among them are two representing, respectively, the hellish and heavenly potential of these substances. One is Nausea, Jean Paul Sartre’s 1938 existentialist novel that incorporates stark descriptions of the distorted perceptions and grueling emotions he suffered when he took mescaline in 1935. In his 1964 autobiography The Words, Sartre called himself "a chronicler of Hell" for having written it. The other work is Exploring Inner Space (1961), by "Jane Dunlap," a pseudonym for the nutritionist Adelle Davis, who took LSD five times in 1959 and 1960 in a quest for spiritual enlightenment, or, as she playfully put it, to get "chemical Christianity." The following looks at both books.
Though still not widely recognized as such, Sartre’s Nausea is unquestionably one of the greatest works of psychedelic literature. Insofar as it helped him win the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature (which he refused), it is also the first truly world-class novel that reflects an author’s personal experience with a hallucinogen other than cannabinols. (pages 47 – 49)
With a great surge of joy, Davis grasps that all these positive emotions that exist in human beings are actually manifestations of God, and that her visions therefore represent "the very evolution of the soul." She comprehends that God, "Whom I had so long sought and, with the aid of LSD, had so quickly found, was the whole of this paradise which lay deep within each person." (page 57).
In the fourth session, nineteen days later (February 8, 1960), on 150 micrograms of LSD, Davis finds herself transformed into a giant, luminous cobra that becomes at once her persona and her instructor. She starts in ancient India, observing the young Buddha in his father’s royal garden, then travels through time and the world to see Jesus at the age of ten and Muhammad as a boy in Mecca. As she watches their various destinies unfold, she concludes that "the teachings of these three great religious leaders were amazingly similar" and that each embraced the same God.
Suddenly, the cobra orders Davis to confront buried feelings of fear that she’d rather avoid. It castigates her cowardice for failing to accept God’s love and for seeking fulfillment instead in human love, material comforts, and her career. Each of these errors in turn is manifest symbolically as stoniness, coldness, and darkness. (pages 59 – 60)
Chapter 5. The Good Friday Experiment
by Huston Smith
The experiment was powerful for me, and it left a permanent mark on my experienced worldview. (I say "experienced worldview" to distinguish it from what I think and believe the world is like.) For as long as I can remember I have believed in God, and I have experienced his presence both within the world and when the world was transcendentally eclipsed. But until the Good Friday Experiment, I had had no direct personal encounter with God of the sort that bhakti yogis, Pentecostals, and born-again Christians describe. The Good Friday Experiment changed that, presumably because the service focused on God as incarnate in Christ. ( page 66)
Only the gratitude I feel toward Wally for having mounted the experiment — as you know, it’s a poignant gratitude for he died nine years later in a tragic scuba diving accident. I have explained how it enlarged my understanding of God by affording me the only powerful experience I have had of his personal nature. I had known and firmly believed that God is love and that none of love’s nuances could be absent from his infinite nature; but that God loves me, and I him, in the concrete way that human beings love individuals, each most wanting from the other what the other most wants to give and with everything that might distract from that holy relationship excluded from view — that relation with God I had never before had. It’s the theistic mode that doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have to say for it that its carryover topped those of my other entheogenic epiphanies. … (page 70)
Chapter 6. Chemical and Contemplative Ecstasy: Similarities and Differences
by Roger Walsh
States and Stages: Stabilizing Mystical Experiences
For those people who are graced with a mystical experience — whether spontaneous, contemplative, or chemical — the crucial question is what to do with it. It can be allowed to fade, be ignored, or even dismissed, or perhaps clung to as a psychological/spiritual trophy. On the other hand, it can be consciously used as a source of inspiration and guidance to direct one’s life along more beneficial and beneficent directions.
One such direction, indeed the direction recommended by the great mystics, is to undertake the necessary contemplative training of life and mind so as to be able to reenter and extend the mystical state. The aim is to extend a single peak experience to a recurring plateau experience, to stabilize a state of consciousness into a stage of development, to change an altered state into an altered trait, or as Huston Smith put it so eloquently, to transform flashes of illumination into abiding light.
The method for this stabilization is spiritual practice. Authentic spiritual disciplines — ones capable of producing transpersonal development — are essential for stabilizing deep insights and transformations. Without them there is little chance that deep experiences will fulfill their remarkable potential for psychological and spiritual health, well-being, maturation, and contribution to others.
Authentic spiritual disciplines contain at best seven central practices and produce seven corresponding benefits. These practices are 1) redirecting motivation away from mundane obsessions to self-transcending goals; 2) transforming emotions, by weakening destructive emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy and strengthening beneficent ones such as love, joy, and compassion; 3) living ethically; 4) fostering concentration; 5) refining awareness; 6) cultivating wisdom, and 7) developing generosity and altruism. These constitute the seven central and essential perennial practices at the heart of the great religions. (pages 80 – 81)
Chapter 7. Drugs and Jewish Spirituality: That Was Then, This is Now
by Lawrence Bush
… Today, however, I do know more than one rabbi and Jewish professional who either postponed or extended the baby-boomer rite of drug experimentation to a time when Jewish metaphors came naturally to them. Their psychedelic experiences thus became tightly interwoven with their Judaism and deeply influenced their professional practice.
Rabbi C., for example, never took LSD during the Sixties heyday, but waited until he was in his late forties. With his own rabbi serving as his (drug-free) "guide," C. spent some six hours rapturously experiencing the Revelation at Sinai. He had an overpowering sense of devekut, oceanic union with God; be could "see" the entire cosmos, micro and macro, and experienced what he calls "an unbearable feeling" of having his own boundaries stretched to encompass it all. This piercing perception of the infinitesimal yet infinite nature of his individual identity was accompanied by an overpowering infusion of faith, a certainty about there being meaning in the universe and interconnection among all life. This mystical encounter served as the bedrock of Rabbi C.’s creative theology for the next eighteen years. "What I experienced and felt," he reports, "was not unreal or less real but more real than my daily perception of reality. I’ve never felt any other way about it." (page 84)
Chapter 8. Using Psychedelics Wisely
by Myron Stolaroff
For the serious spiritual seeker, or for that matter anyone seeking knowledge, the single most important characteristic is honesty. This means the courage to look at whatever is presented by the deep mind, the ability to admit ones shortcomings when they become apparent, and the determination to change ones behavior in line with the truth one has experienced. (page 98)
… To operate most effectively, the observer must have developed the ability to hold his mind steady so he can watch the process develop. Large doses can push one so hard that it is most difficult to do this. Therefore the best results are achieved by a "trained user"— a person who has learned to manage a high dose of psychedelics, or who has learned to hold his mind steady enough to observe his inner process competently. As a user clears up his "inner stuff," he gains more freedom in directing his experience. At this stage, higher doses can be profitably used to penetrate deeper into the nature of Reality.
Interestingly, this concept of the trained user does not appear in the literature. But it is precisely the trained user who can best take advantage of the unfathomed range of wisdom and understanding contained in the far reaches of the mind. There seems to be no limit to the dimensions of understanding that can be experienced by the explorer who has the courage, integrity, and skill to navigate them. With integrity, and with the support of appropriate disciplines and friends, one can bring back a great deal for the betterment of oneself and mankind. (page 102)
Chapter 9. Successful Outcome of a Single LSD Treatment in a Chronically Dysfunctional Man
by Gary Fisher
[In the 1960's I was conducting an LSD research project at a West Coast medical center. . . the head of the Department of Psychiatry asked me if I thought it possible to "work in" an LSD treatment for the son of a CEO of a major corporation in the city. I met with the father and he told me that his son had had extensive and prolonged psychiatric treatment. He had been hospitalized at two of the country's most prestigious private psychiatric institutions but after eleven years of hospitalization and intensive psychoanalytic work no changes had occurred . . . The son was twenty-nine years old at the time, and had been in the psychiatric world for over fifteen years. He had never finished high school, never had a job and never had any friends . . . He never improved from any treatments . . . and had run out of options. . . He spent his day in a darkened room constantly accompanied by a male psychiatric nurse. His activities were restricted to listening to the radio, watching TV, some reading, playing cards, and eating. The father requested that I see him at their home as the son refused to leave the house. . . After meeting with him I assessed him as "the most untreatable psychiatric patient in the world."] (pages 104 - 106)
… Two other experienced sitters attended the session. The session was conducted in private quarters in a closed psychiatric ward of a large urban hospital. The format of the session was that developed by Hubbard and the Saskatchewan group with the key concepts of "set and setting," the focus of the endeavor being that the individual experience a transcendental state of consciousness. Sherwood, Stolaroff and Harman precisely describe this process:
The concept underlying this approach is that an individual can have a single experience which is so profound and impressive that his life experiences in the months and years that follow become a continuing growth process . . .
There appears to emerge a universal central perception, apparently independent of subjects’ previous philosophical or theological inclinations, which plays a dominant role in the healing process. This central perception, apparently of all who penetrate deeply in their explorations, is that behind the apparent multiplicity of things in the world of science and common sense there is a single reality, in speaking of which it seems appropriate to use such words as infinite and eternal. All beings are seen to be united in this Being . . .
Much of the "psychotherapeutic" changes are seen to occur as a process of the following kind of experience:
The individual’s conviction that he is, in essence, an imperishable self rather than a destructible ego, brings about the most profound reorientation at the deeper levels of personality. He perceives illimitable worth in this essential self, and it becomes easier to accept the previously known self as an imperfect reflection of this. The many conflicts which are rooted in lack of self-acceptance are cut off at the source, and the associated neurotic behavior patterns die away.
The session begins
Since he was so resistant to change, I felt he needed full dosage: 600 micrograms of LSD. I suggested he lie down, relax, close his eyes and go with the music. . . (pages 106 – 107)
[After about 30 minutes he began to look stressed. I asked him what he was beginning to experience, explaining that it would be helpful to communicate the changes he was experiencing, so that I could give him some hints about how to uses these changes. He pulled himself together and quickly said "Nothing's happening.". . . He squirmed, trembled, sweated profusely, his eyes bugged out, he turned blotchy red, hyperventilated, and looked like he was going to explode. To any of my gentle inquiries he responded with a firm "Nothing's happening." . . . This was turning out to be one of the most heart-wrenching LSD sessions I had ever sat through. We knew there was nothing we could do but wait for him. We waited ten hours and his position never shifted. For the complete time, he never appeared to have any respite from this intense agony. . . after ten hours, all he could mutter was, "I guess this drug doesn't work with some people". . . Both sitters and I agreed we had seldom experienced such an exhausting session. (pages 107 - 108)
In about three days I called his house and his mother answered. David was out . . . this was the first time he had gone out in several years. . . I called in about a week . . . She answered again and reported that he was gone a good part of every day. . .
David Moves Out
After a couple of months of this he moved out of his parents' home to his own apartment and started to do volunteer work in a library. . . His father called me . . .saying that one LSD treatment had produced more results than the previous fifteen years of psychotherapy. To his parents, LSD was a miracle drug. ] (pages 109 - 110)
The purpose in reporting this case study has been to give testimony to the fact that psychedelics are powerful tools for an individual to use in accessing those forces in his psyche which determine the course of his life. In the revelations that occur in these states of expanded consciousness, one had the opportunity to explore and understand what is needed to be known in order to acknowledge the essential worth of the self and to discover the humanistic-spiritual existential "laws." (page 112)
Chapter 10. Sitting for Sessions: Dharma & DMT Research
by Rick J. Strassman
There are other reasons to study psychedelic drugs. Although less "medical," they do relate to health and well-being. Primary among them is the overlap between psychedelic and religious states. I was impressed by the "psychedelic" descriptions of intensive meditation practice within some Buddhist traditions. Because their scriptures did not mention drugs, and the states sounded similar to those resulting from psychedelic drug use, I suspected there might be a naturally occurring psychedelic molecule in the brain that was triggered by deep meditation.
I was led to the pineal gland as a possible source of psychedelic compounds produced under certain unusual mental or physical states. These conditions would include near-death, birth, high fever, prolonged meditation, starvation, and sensory deprivation. This tiny organ, the "seat of the soul" or "third eye" of the ancients, might produce DMT or similar substances by simple chemical alterations of the well-known pineal hormone melatonin, or of the important brain chemical serotonin. Perhaps it is DMT, released by the pineal, that opens the mind’s eye to spiritual, or nonphysical, realities.
The pineal gland also held a fascination for me because it first becomes visible in the human fetus at forty-nine days after conception. This is also when the gender of the fetus is clearly discernible. Forty-nine days, according to several Buddhist texts, is how long it takes the life force of one who has died to enter into its next incarnation. Perhaps the life-force of a human enters the fetus at forty-nine days through the pineal. And it may leave the body at death, through the pineal. This coming and going would be marked by the release of DMT by the pineal, mediating awareness of these awesome events.
In addition to the scientific puzzle presented by the similarities between psychedelic and mystical consciousness, there were issues of healing that also drew me to both. The sense of there being "something greater" resulting from major psychedelic episodes led me to think that psychedelics might be helpful to people with psychological, physical, or spiritual problems. It seemed crucial to avoid the narrowness that often spoiled claims for the drugs’ usefulness or dangers, and to hold a broad view. My emerging worldview resembled a tripod supported by biological (brain), psychoanalytic (individual psychology), and Eastern religious (consciousness and spirituality) legs. The first two legs were important in my decision to attend medical school. The third pushed me deeper into Buddhism. (pages 115 – 116)
However, dedicated Buddhist practitioners with little success in their meditation, but well along in moral and intellectual development, might benefit from a carefully timed, prepared, supervised, and followed-up psychedelic session to accelerate their practice. Psychedelics, if anything, provide a view that — to one so inclined — can inspire the long hard work required to make that view a living reality. (page 121)
Chapter 11. The Psychedelic Vision at the Turn of the Millennium: Discussion with Andrew Weil
That reminds me of one other thing. I was interviewed very extensively in the past few months by a New York Times reporter, who was publishing some long feature, she is a woman in her mid-thirties who is a Harvard graduate, the daughter of two Harvard psychiatrists. I liked her very much and she is very thoughtful, very interesting and she wanted to read my whole body of work and asked lots of questions. She started asking me about the drug stuff and I said, "You really should read The Natural Mind first and then come back and talk to me." So she started The Natural Mind and she called up and said that she found it such a curious book; she said it seems so dated. I said, "What do you mean by dated?" and she said, "Well, it just seems like it is a product of another time." I said that, well, it was, but I said, "What do you mean by that?" She said, "Well, it is so optimistic." As I began talking to her about that actually I felt quite sad. She said that in her peers, her generation, going through college ... the sense that you could change the world, is completely foreign to her; that it is so strange to read. In a sense, this makes me feel very sad and yet again I think that that optimism is something that for me derived from the psychedelic vision. I don’t know whether her generation has not had that, but if younger people find that a dated view of reality I feel very sorry for them. I think my sense of optimism is very much confirmed by what I see actually happening out there. (pages 129 – 130)
Chapter 12. Making Friends with Cancer and Ayahuasca
by Donald M. Topping
[. . . Donald Topping, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii, shares his story of how his metastatic colon cancer went into remission following several encounters with the Amazonian plan hallucinogen concoction, ayahuasca. Dr. Topping's remarkable experience with the legendary medicine of the tropical rain forest provides tantalizing clues of what we may have yet to learn from the extraordinary pharmacopoeia provided by Nature.]
All went well until September 1996, when a routine physical exam revealed that my CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) count — an indicator of carcinogen activity — was up. Another blood test shortly thereafter showed the CEA count going up rapidly. Further exams were conducted, during which two suspicious-looking dark shadows were seen on the right lobe of my liver. A biopsy was soon performed on the tissue taken from the shadowed area. The verdict from the pathologist was "the Big C." (pages 139 – 140)
[On November 26, 1996, I entered the hospital and my surgeon (aptly named Dr. Payne) removed the right half of my liver. During the following five days, I was attached to several catheters, one of which shot morphine directly into my spine. It was not until I was discharged from the hospital that I realized how badly my body had been assaulted, not just by the surgeon's knife but also by a mixture of drugs whose effects are considered unavoidable collateral damage of the invasive surgery. The thought of further assaulting my body with chemotherapy was frightening. . . . ] (page 141)
[ [[After a number of fruitful experiences with ayahuasca]] . . .the original diagnosis that I had liver cancer was made in September 1996. Three years later, I am still healthy and the cancer appears to be in complete remission. And as I approach my seventieth year, I can honestly say that I have never felt better, aside from a couple of aching joints, reminders of my rough and tumble days. People often comment that I look particularly healthy and ask what I am doing to look that way. (page 148)
Illuminating the Spiritual Realm
The spiritual aspects of my ayahuasca experiences are even more difficult to describe and define. Not having been a spiritual type since my adolescent disillusionment with Christianity, I did not approach ayahuasca with any spiritual expectations. My sole mission had been to restore my physical health, which I naively believed to exist independently of my spiritual self. Ayahuasca persuaded me that I was wrong. How did this come to pass?
During ayahuasca-induced visions, I saw and head some astonishing things that have changed my perceptions and understanding of the forces at work in my universe. Plants often morphed into animals, and vice versa. In the dim shadows of the forest at night, the surrounding plants became vigorously alive, gently pulsating and moving toward me as though to join together with me. While there was nothing that suggested a singular deity, there was an unmistakable presence of a force that permeated the entire experience, linking my body with my inner self and with my entire surroundings: the others in the group, the plants, the air, and the stars and beyond.
At the onset of my visions, I have experienced waves of varicolored light separating into twisting, undulating ribbons of energy, at times resembling serpentine creatures, switching back and forth from plant to animal form, all the while emitting sounds that I can only describe as a rapid sequence of high-pitched chirps. Once, I tried to follow these upward-spiraling ribbons of light to see how far they would lead me into the infinite darkness. I soared upward, as though riding a comet’s tail, until the ribbons split off, forming arcs that veered off in a trajectory that circled back to begin the cycle again. I began to see these ribbons as the energy force that unites everything — the life force, or spirit, of the living and dead — past, present and future. (page 150)
[Perhaps the most obvious aspect of ayahuasca work on the organic level is the purge. . . The vine seems to need more time with me to do its cleanup work, gathering the detritus and bring it to the trash bin. When the cleanup job is done, the vine presses the release button and the garbage gets dumped, or vomited, out. . . The purge seems to be the vine's way of eliminating physical as well as psychic toxins that don't belong inside a healthy body or mind. Although the act of purging is not pleasant, the remarkable cleansing effect can be felt immediately, and it often lingers for days or even weeks. I have come to view the purge as a rite of purification. . . (page 152 - 153) I am convinced that my affair with the vine is largely responsible for my current state of good health. (page 154) ]
Chapter 13. An Ethnobotanist’s Dream
by Glenn H. Shepard
Ethnobotanist Glenn Shepard has spent years working with Machiguenga shamans in the Peruvian Amazon, and studying their knowledge about plants. Here, he describes a dream he had under the influence of a tobacco paste prepared by a shaman. Highly concentrated with banisteriopsis, the powerful plant catalyst used in preparing ayahuasca brews, the Machiguenga tobacco paste takes Shepard on a fantastic journey to the future of Amazonian ethnobotany. (page 156)
Chapter 14. Shamans and Scientists
by Jeremy Narby
In 1999, three molecular biologists traveled to the Peruvian Amazon to see whether they could obtain biomolecular information in ceremonial ayahuasca sessions conducted by an indigenous shaman. Swiss-Canadian anthropologist Jeremy Narby reports on their experiences and the responses they received to their research questions. This unusual perspective on ethnopharmacology attest to the value of modern scientists and indigenous healers alike learning from the traditions of others. (page 159)
[In interviews conducted in their respective laboratories four months after the Amazonian experience, the three biologists agreed on a number of points. All three said the experience of ayahuasca shamanism changed their way of looking at themselves and at the world, as well as their appreciation of the capacities of the human mind. They all expressed great respect for the shaman's skill and knowledge. They all received information and advice about paths of research they were on.] (page 181)
Chapter 15. Ritual Approaches to Working with Sacred Medicine Plants: An Interview with Ralph Metzner conducted by Timothy White
[Ralph Metzner] I sometimes ponder what might happen if the three ayahuasca religions of Brazil were to become the three big world religions of the twenty-first century. Some people laugh when I suggest that, but Daime has already become a popular folk religion in Germany and Holland. It is a genuine "religious revitalization" movement. I’ve heard individuals practicing Daime songs while they are driving in their cars.
Moreover, quite apart from the growth of Daime, the shamanic use of ayahuasca is increasing dramatically. There are many people taking tours to Brazil and Peru, and there are ayahuasca shamans coming up to the U.S. That is bound to have an accumulative cultural effect.
Two thousand years ago, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all evolved from the same roots within the same ecosystem — the desert. In his book Nature and Madness, Paul Sheppard has written about how the desert environment may have shaped the obsessive monotheistic traditions that evolved there. If Daime, UDV, and Barquinia were to become major world religions, we would have a very different worldview. They have evolved out of a very different environment, involving river and rainforest energy which is all about flowing and growing.
Brazilian culture is very open and accepting of diversity. I think that the spread of ayahuasca ceremonies could also contribute to a much-needed diffusion of Brazilian consciousness into our Western Anglo-Protestant culture. Brazilians don’t seem to have any ideological qualms about investigating concepts such as reincarnation, spirit possession, or paranormal phenomena. They take it all in stride. Our culture could certainly benefit from an infusion of flexibility diversity and tolerance. (page 184)
Appendix A. The Psychology of Ayahuasca
by Charles S. Grob
7. Changes in Meaning or Significance. While in a powerful altered state of consciousness, some individuals manifest a propensity to attach special meaning or significance to their subjective experiences, ideas or perceptions. An experience of great insight or profound sense of meaning may occur; their significance ranging from genuine wisdom to self-imposed delusion. (page 198)
3. The sense of contact with supernatural realms. Visions are experienced of deities and/or demons, consistent with the shamanic belief systems of native voyagers. For native Indians influenced by the entreaties of missionary Christianity yet who have maintained their traditions of ritual ayahuasca use, visitations to heaven and the realms of hell are reported. (page 200)
The study of ayahuasca represents a challenge to mainstream culture through the phenomenon of new and novel forms of religious practice, exemplified by the ayahuasca churches of Brazil which have lately spread to North America and Europe. As with the case of other plant hallucinogens employed as religious sacraments, in particular the use of peyote by the Native American Church, vital questions regarding freedom of religious practice will have to be addressed. … Only then, as ancient technologies of transcendence are embedded within modern research methodologies, will we discover what true value this mysterious vine of the soul may have to us and our descendants. (page 212)
Appendix B. Deconstructing Ecstasy: The Politics of MDMA Research
by Charles S. Grob
What is Ecstasy? Defined by the New Webster’s Dictionary as a state of intense overpowering emotion, a condition of exultation or mental rapture induced by beauty, music, artistic creation or the contemplation of the divine, ecstasy derives etymologically from the ancient Greek ekstasis, which means flight of the soul from the body. The anthropologist, Mircea Eliade, who explored the roots of religious experience in his book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy; has described the function of this intense state of mind among aboriginal peoples. Select individuals are called to become shamans, a role specializing in inducing ecstatic states of trance where the soul is believed to leave the body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld. The shaman is thus considered a "technician of the sacred," having been initiated through a process of isolation, ritual solitude, suffering and the imminence of death. Such initiation into the function of ecstatic states of consciousness, always accompanied by comprehensive tutelage from tribal elders, allows the shaman to assume for his tribal group the vital role of intermediary or conduit, between the profane world of everyday existence and the sacred domains of alternative reality. (pages 217 – 218)
[Editor's Note: the remainder of this chapter is a thorough presentation of the various controversies surrounding MDMA. I have inserted a variety of excerpts to indicate the flavor of the material covered in this appendix:
. . . Meeting together in the hundreds and the thousands, large groups of young people have congregated to engage in collective trance dances or raves, often fueled by the ingestion of a synthetic psychoactive substance, known as Ecstasy. . .In spite of substantial media coverage, along with millions of federal dollars for basic research on neural mechanisms for possible brain injury caused by Ecstasy, however, full understanding of both its medical consequences and cultural impact have remained elusive. . .
Even within the current social context of harsh Drug War era legal penalties, Ecstasy use has climbed sharply among young people. A vast and unanticipated social experiment has occurred, with millions of adolescents and young adults worldwide consuming a drug which has eluded definitive understanding and over which societal and medical controversies persist. .. (page 218)
Early scientific investigators, though without formal psychological schooling, were struck by MDMA's capacity to help people open up and talk honestly about themselves and their relationships, without defensive conditioning intervening. For several hours anxiety and fear appeared o melt away, even in subjects who were chronically constricted and apprehensive. By the late 1970s, a small number of mental health professionals had been introduced to the drug's range of psychoactive effects. Particularly impressed by MDMA's capacity to induce profound states of empathy, one of the strongest predictors of positive psychotherapeutic outcome, these first psychologists and psychiatrists who encountered the drug believed they had come across a valuable new treatment. First called Adam, to signify "the condition of primal innocence and unity with all life," MDMA-augmented therapy functioned by reducing defensive barriers, while enhancing communication and intimacy. Hailed as a "penicillin for the soul," MDMA was said to be useful in treating a wide strange of conditions, including post-traumatic stress, phobias, psychosomatic disorders, depression suicidality, drug addiction, relationship difficulties and the psychological distress of terminal illness. . . MDMA's advantages over the better-known hallucinogens as a putative psychotherapeutic adjunct were also noted. Compared to LSD, the prototype hallucinogen of the twentieth century, MDMA was a relatively mild, short-acting drug capable of facilitating heightened states of introspection and intimacy along with temporary freedom from anxiety and depression, yet without distracting alterations in perception, body image and sense of self. . . (pages 219 - 220)
The days of MDMA being the singular tool among an underground of informed psychiatrists were over. Now popularly known as Ecstasy, MDMA had been appropriated by the youth culture for use as a recreational drug. . . (page 221)
In the spring of 1985, a series of scheduling hearings on MDMA were conducted by the DEA in several U.S. cities where a collective of physicians, psychologists, researchers and lawyers gave testimony that MDMA's healing potential should not be lost to the therapeutic community. After hearing the dueling sentiments expressed by federal regulators and by those opposed to controls, the DEA administrative law judge presiding over the hearings determined on the weight of the evidence presented that there was in fact sufficient indication for the safe utilization of MDMA under medical supervision and recommended Schedule III status. Not obliged to follow the recommendations of his administrative law judge, however, and expressing grave concerns that MDMA's growing abuse liability posed a serious threat to public health and safety, the DEA director overruled the advisement and ordered that MDMA be placed in the most restrictive category, Schedule I. . .(page 222)
As Ecstasy culture continued to grow in the nineties, youthful adherents were deprived of accurate information about the chemical catalysts they were ingesting. . . a number of myths remained in general circulation among young ravers, ranging from beliefs that their coveted drug of choice was entirely safe to other convictions that Ecstasy could induce horrific nervous system damage, including the draining of spinal fluid. . . a lack of clarity and understanding of the drug's true effects pervaded the youth scene. (Page 225)
The preferred mode of Ecstasy experience, the dance club setting, also appeared to heighten the risk for young ravers. Gathered closely together in crowded environments, often with poor ventilation and high ambient temperatures, large numbers of young people would dance exuberantly long into the night. By the 1990's, reports of individuals dying of heat stroke during raves began to surface. (page 226)
. . . At the center of the controversy over the central nervous system effects of MDMA has been researcher George Ricaurte, who while still a student was the lead author of the 1985 paper on MDMA that played such a pivotal role in the DEA scheduling decision. For the following fifteen years, first at Stanford Medical School and then at Johns Hopkins-Bayview Medical Center, Ricaurte has built one of the influential and well-funded MDMA neurotoxicity research programs. Reluctant to support investigations designed to study MDMA's therapeutic efficacy and safety, Ricaurte has steadfastly contended that "even one dose of MDMA can lead to permanent brain damage" in humans. (page 232) [[Editor's note: I took MDMA over 100 times covering a 10 year period when MDMA was legal. Ricaurte has maintained that brain damage would show up in 20 years. I started taking it 26 years ago. At age 77, I was given an MRI brainscan. The presiding physician stated my brain was remarkably clear for my age, equivalent to a person 20 years younger (I am now 82).]]
. . . Interestingly, fenfluramine has also been known for years to have virtually identical long-term effects as MDMA on serotonin neurochemistry and neuronal architecture . . .fenfluramine had a long history of general use as an appetite suppressant, having been taken by over 25,000,000 people worldwide for more than three decades . . . and yet no clinical syndrome of fenfluramine neurotoxicity has ever been described. (pages 233 - 234)
. . . human studies have often failed to shed much light on critical questions of MDMA's effects on health and safety. Indeed, to a regrettable degree, discrepancies between how studies were actually conducted and how they were reported in the literature have further clouded an already murky situation. . . (page 240)
. . . Although the investigators report that there were no significant differences on memory testing between the 24 Ecstasy users and the 24 controls, they nevertheless concluded that "the extent of memory impairment correlates with degree of MDMA exposure." To reach such a conclusion, however, the investigators appear to have used a data chart that was surprisingly excluded from the published report. . . (page 244)
. . .The implications to millions of youth world-wide frequently self-administering these powerful psychoactive drugs remain unclear. . . After 15 years, however, the case has yet to be made. Although long-term alterations of neuronal architecture in animals ranging from rats to non-human primates have been consistently demonstrated, the functional consequences have remained obscure. . . more objective appraisal of risk for the long neglected low-dose MDMA treatment model needs to be examined. (pages 249 - 250)
. . . Clearly, new models for assessing the unique properties of MDMA, both positive and negative, are called for. . . The long-neglected treatment model of MDMA-augmented psychotherapy has to date neither been disproven nor proven. Particularly in patients with severe refractory conditions, including the psychological distress associated with end-stage cancer and the spectrum of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, rigorous and well-controlled research assessment of safety and efficacy deserves investigation. (pages 251 - 252)
Appendix C. Psychiatric Research with Hallucinogens: What Have We Learned?
by Charles S. Grob
… Although until recently faced with unrelenting political repression by the U.S. government, the Native American Church, a syncretistic church combining elements of traditional Indian religion and Christianity and utilizing peyote as its ritual sacrament, has been recognized by anthropologists and psychiatrists as being the only effective treatment for endemic alcoholism. Karl Meninger, a revered figure in the development of American Psychiatry in the 20th Century has stated: "Peyote is not harmful to these people; it is beneficial, comforting, inspiring, and appears to be spiritually nourishing. It is a better antidote to alcohol than anything the missionaries, the white man, the American Medical Association, and the public health services have come up with."
Integral to the positive treatment outcome with peyote has been its sacramental utilization within the ritual context of mystical-religious experience. The Native American Church is a clear contemporary example of the successful application of the shamanic model to the treatment of severe, refractory illness. Although the Native American Church applies to a circumscribed and relatively’ homogenous population, it provides a valuable lesson on the importance of the shamanic model and the need for attentiveness to set and setting, intention, preparation and integration, as well as group identification. If we are to develop optimal research designs for evaluating the therapeutic utility of hallucinogens, it will not be sufficient to adhere to strict standards of scientific methodology alone. We must also pay heed to the examples provided us by such successful applications of the shamanic paradigm. It will only be then, when we have wedded our state of the art research designs to the wisdom accrued from the past, that we will adequately appreciate what role hallucinogens may have in our future. (pages 285 – 286)
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