Thursday, August 27, 2015

Legal Aspects of Entheogen Use in the US: Part One

While I still have not spoken with a lawyer about the legal aspects of raising children in the US while participating in a spiritual path that employs the use of (currently illegal) entheogenic medicines, I want to begin the discussion of this very complex and important topic today with a review of some of the information available online.  I have found a number of valuable online resources from the Council on Spiritual Practices (CSP) (1) and the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE) Entheogens and Drug Policy Project (2).  Numerous other writers have added their perspectives in journals and blogs.

The prevalent attitude on this topic can be summed up as follows: "Unfortunately, the courts and law enforcement in the United States are rarely sympathetic toward the use of psychoactive sacraments."(3)

Questions to answer
1.  What are the existing laws around the religious use of entheogens?
2.  What are the exceptions to these laws - legal churches that use entheogens as sacraments? 
3.  What commonalities do the existing legal churches share?
4.  What do the courts have to say and what is the current legal climate?
5.  What are the legal rights of parents in terms of being able to participate in the religious use of entheogens as part of their First Amendment rights within - or without - the context of these churches? 
6.  What are the legal precedents in terms of children being able to be present at these religious ceremonies?  In terms of children being able to choose to consume the sacraments at their parents' church?
7.  What is the history of legal proceedings against parents who have made religious entheogen use the basis of their spirituality, in particular in terms of custody battles, incarceration, and Child Protective Services?  Are there parents who have (legally) fought for the right to include their children in these traditions?

As you can see there is a lot of territory to cover!
1.  Existing laws around the use of entheogens

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” - First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

As has been mentioned elsewhere in this blog,  the following entheogenic substances - ayahuasca, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, ibogaine, and wachuma - contain ingredients that are illegal to possess or consume (wachuma is legal to own but not to ingest) unless you are part of an organized entheogen-based church.  Specifically, the illegal compounds are DMT,  ibogaine, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and psilocybin (there are more but for the purposes of this book I am sticking to these few).  (For a discussion about other entheogenic substances, see or  These are Schedule One controlled substances, meaning:
(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision. (4)
2. Exceptions (that I know about - still looking into this topic)
These churches have fought legal battles to protect their religious rights to use entheogenic sacraments: the Santo Daime Church and the Unaio de Vegetal Church (both ayahuasca churches), and the Native American Church (NAC), which uses peyote.  Current law requires members of the NAC to have at least 25% American Indian ancestry, although some churches allow Caucasians to become members. (5)  (Note: I am part of a legal church in the US that uses yagé as a sacrament, but as I have mentioned before, as requested by my elders, the name and members of this church will remain private.)  I also have a local friend who has a church group dedicated to the sacramental use of wachuma, which operates as an official church through the NAC.

3.  Commonalities
In order to become a church that employs the use of an illegal entheogen as a sacrament, in the past, an organization had to prove that the use of the sacrament in question was "...fundamental to the practice of their faith,"(6) and that they were a "REAL" church and not just an excuse for a bunch of people to get together and get high.  This was done in a variety of ways, including proving their use of the sacrament came from a long-standing tradition, with elders and a lineage; condemning the use of their sacrament outside of the confines of their particular tradition (leading to a fairly conservative or fundamentalist perspective); and proving to the satisfaction of the court that the use of the entheogen/sacrament is "...THE CENTRAL practice in the religious life of the group." (6)  This has proven quite difficult to prove, hence the very few numbers of organizations who have done so.

4.  In the Courts:
I am not going to review all of the religious freedom court cases here.  If you are interested in that topic please see The Entheogen Law Reporter -; or The Hoasca case -; or the countless other references available with the help of google!

However, the Supreme Court ruling in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), where two employees - also members of the NAC - were denied unemployment benefits after being fired for testing positive for mescaline (peyote) deserves special mention.  This case left the religious freedom of entheogenic use in serious question.  From the decision: "Although states have the power to accommodate otherwise illegal acts done in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so."  Basically the argument was that a person was not legally able to use their religious motivation to use peyote to defy the state of Oregon's neutral laws against possession of peyote.

This case precipitated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed by Congress in response to the needs of the NAC, as an attempt by the courts to restore the meaning of the First Amendment rights that had previously been held up by the courts. (See for a succinct summary of this act).    This law reinstated the "Sherbert Test," the 'strict scrutiny' litmus for whether or not the free exercise clause guaranteeing a person's religious freedom had been violated.  Interestingly, the RFRA was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, who said it is not "... a proper exercise of Congress's enforcement power." (7) As a result, twenty states have also passed State Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, to localize legislation.

My friend over at Psychedelic Parenting ( makes a really good point about all this: that while, for example, a born-again Christin can prove their faith by simply affirming that they have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and talking about prayer, it is exceedingly difficult for someone to prove that their use of entheogens IS their religion.  As he writes, "...those Americans who subscribe to a personal spirituality involving entheogenic plants often fear to even pass on those values to their own children, for fear that the kids will tell the wrong teacher or friend, and the family will be divided, parents in prison, children in foster care.  Should they wish to have the protection of the law to express their religious and spiritual beliefs, they must first be arrested, and then “prove” to a judge that they are, in fact a 'real religion'." "(Parents) have failed to pass on to their kids the source of their peacefulness, the sacrament that brings them understanding, the font of their joy, simply because they have been rightly afraid of the wedge that the law has put between them and their children."(6)   The prevalent attitude is that people take these 'drugs' to get high.  Period... and despite all evidence to the contrary!  Even 'spiritual' people doubt the use of entheogens as a valid religious path, somehow thinking that people who become more enlightened using 'substances' are somehow cheating the process. 

To close for the day, on the topic of the political climate of the use of entheogens, and in response to many of my friends' genuine concern in regards to my using my own name on this project (and their fear of repercussions), here is a quote from Martin Ball (see also  I couldn't have said it better myself:

“The State has the power to destroy your life. There’s absolutely no question about that, and so the state is incredibly dangerous in that sense. And it’s vindictive, it’s misguided, it’s built on illusion upon illusion upon illusion. The problem is that these illusions can still come to get you, even if they’re illusions. It’s a difficult call that ultimately people have to judge for themselves. But the other side of that is this: If no one stands up, nothing’s going to change. Someone’s got to do it. Personally, reality is more important than anything I might want to protect, such as my own personal well-being or comfort, so I’m not going to hide myself in any way. Although there are certain details I’ll avoid discussing on podcasts. But if they really wanted me, the data is all right there. I’m all-in at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and the last thing I want would be to be separated from them, and although prison would profoundly suck, I’m not going to edit myself in order to avoid something that I don’t have any real certainty is actually going to happen. Reality will always win, eventually.” (8)

I will be posting more, sooner than next week, I hope (I mean... I intend!).

(3) Stuart, R.  "Entheogenic Sects and Psychedelic Religions."
(6) "Religious Freedom in a Post - "Burwell v. Hobby Lobby" World."
(8) Interview with Martin Ball.  Psychedelic Parenting.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Movie Reviews and more...

I have decided to organize some of my 'offline' research that is currently filling many notebooks here in my office, starting with the reams of notes I have taken from relevant movies.  This information has been baffling me in terms of how to synthesize and distill the important bits while letting the rest go, kind of like panning for gold dust in a very muddy river.. Anyway here goes! My comments are going to be kept in parentheses, to distinguish them from the information I am reporting from the films.  

Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines, (2013): directed by Oliver Hockenhull
(Through a series of interview with leading experts in their respective fields, this film discusses five medicines of interest to psychedelic research:  LSD, Cannabis, Psylocybin, MDMA, and Ayahuasca.)

" The film explores these socially taboo substances as adjuncts to psychotherapy, as crucial but neglected medicines, and as technologies of consciousness. ""...Neurons to Nirvana looks into why our society has created such a social and political bias against even allowing research to continue the exploration of any possible positive effects they can present in treating some of today's most challenging afflictions."(synopses both written by anonymous) (1)

"This film does not endorse, intentionally or otherwise, the use of any medicine of substance outside of legal, traditional and bona fide therapeutic contexts."

"In the popular press, hallucinogenics have been portrayed as a recreation, an escape, or as a dangerous invitation for abuse, but there is another side to the story... The truth is that more people die from taking simple pain relievers than from all illegal drugs combined, ...and almost none are due to psychedelics."

In the 50's, there was great hope that LSD might revolutionize psychiatric care.   After it became popular among young people, the feeling in the 60's was that things were getting out of control, and there was a need to 'put the genie back in the bottle,' to restore social control which seemed to be on the verge of breaking down.  "You do see out of the box with LSD," and so people started questioning the war in Vietnam (and other societal 'norms' having to do with racism, sexism, etc).

One researcher, Dr. David Healy, said, " ban a (medicine) you have to paint it as having extreme dangers linked to it."  (This is the essence of the societal taboos we see in place against anything that alters consciousness in unpredictable ways.  Alcohol, tobacco and coffee all alter our consciousness, but they are accepted because their effects are known - even though people can get hooked on these.  The main danger of these substances was the (unfounded and completely unscientific) fear that people would get hooked or addicted to them.  Secondly, the media hyped up fear that taking these substances would lead to people completely losing control and going insane.  This campaign of fear worked, and laws and restrictions started being imposed on this entire category of substances, leading to a complete ban on all research.)

How does LSD work?
Serotonin is part of the neurotransmitter system which modulates or regulates all other systems.  All senses except smell go through the thalamus, the gateway to the cortex, which is what puts your reality together.  LSD resembles serotonin in its effects on this system, and psychedelics stimulate connections between the emotional and the behavioral aspects of the brain, leading to understandings, insights, epiphanies, shifts in awareness, unitive states: these are all due to the serotonic connections.  In addition, the part of the brain that regulates information uptake - or the screening out of so much of what we experience - this is turned off.  Psychedelics are psych-integrators.  They change serotonin inhibition so that you 'get it all,' (all of the sensory data available to the brain instead of the censored version.)  As Ram Dass says (about unity states), "There is no other.  It is all one."

Psilocybin Mushrooms
Another researcher, Dr Steven Ross, MD, from NYU, is using mushroom therapy in the treatment of cancer.  He has found that in both the short term and over time, people with cancer who have undergone therapy with psilocybin mushrooms have experienced a lessening of anxiety.   People who came to the study were normal people looking to get through the suffering they were experiencing.  

Rick Doblin, PhD helped create the Good Friday experiment, which aimed to answer the question "Can (using) psilocybin catalyze a religious/mystical experience?"  The answer?  Unequivocally yes!  Here are a few quotes: "The experience that day demonstrated to me the reality of God's presence in all the world... I would say yeah, it did change my life."  "When you have this unitive mystical experience, because it's unitive, you identify with people who you might normally not... there is this core element that binds us together."   (It helps us to identify with "other" deeper than all the limiting/defining terms - gender, race, age, sexual orientation, nationality.)  Roland Grifftihs, PhD, reported that "...the experience at it's core is more real, and more true, than everyday waking consciousness."  "Most people are still endorsing that this experience is among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their entire lives." 

This mystical/transcendent/transpersonal experience can now be studied, scientifically.  (Dennis McKenna).  "We are just relearning how to let it be OK to call these kinds of experiences real," says Kathleen Harrison, MA, director of Botanical Dimensions.


(MDMA, street named Ecstacy, was a legal drug until the 80's.  Today one of the main issues with it is that kids get it off the black (illegal) market - they are going to use it regardless of its legality - but black market ecstasy is often very impure, cut with heroin, speed, and other substances.  And kids don't learn about using these substances in a safe way due to prohibition (and the mentality that teaching abstinence is the only proper approach to these substances.  In my opinion that's about as rational as telling a bunch of horny teenagers not to have sex.  A few might listen - but most of them are going to ignore you and think of you as an old prude - and then go and do what they want without any kind of supervision or instruction from their elders.)

MDMA is not an hallucinogen.  It floods the brain with serotonin and decreases anxiety, making it a good catalyst for psychotherapy.   Most scientists in the field insist that more and immediate clinical research is needed!  One such researcher says, "There is no other drug like this one.  It floods the brain with serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, making it an immediate acting depression and anti-anxiety drug.  There is no other known immediate acting, non-sedating, anxiallytic (reliever of anxiety).   This substance has been helpful in the treatment of PTSD, where the normal problem is too much anxiety or too much emotional numbing.  MDMA helps people revisit the trauma in a therapeutic way, and face their fears without being overwhelmed, while t the same time maintaining an emotional connection.  MDMA also enhances oxytocin, which is involved in bonding and empathy."

We need to be able to do clinical research on this in order to fully understand the risks and benefits. 

(This medicine has been known to reduce anxiety, promote sleep, and help with Parkinsons, Alzheimer's, nausea, arthritis, cancer, glaucoma, and childbirth.  Marijuana IS medicine - and yet it is still regulated as a Schedule One Controlled Substance, which means there is no scientific evidence that it has medical benefits. This is FALSE.  Requests to conduct studies determining its medical benefits have been denied - and then the government claims that there are no studies proving any health benefits!) "It's beyond hypocrisy..." says one researcher.

"Tobacco is the only substance that we sell in the US that when used as directed causes death.  Shouldn't we be incorporating tobacco into our drug policies?"

Some people feel that the reason these medicines are villainized is that they constitute the ultimate threat: they have the ability to 'break consensus trance' (under which our culture lives).  "It's not marijuana, the mildly mind-altering substance.  It's marijuana, the antithesis of the state..."

"It's a tragedy that our youth can only get that type of marijuana (high THC).  It can be a real problem for kids taking these substances without the proper set and setting.  There's a lot of learned knowledge that can be more readily be passed on in a regulated system.  On one hand we decry the scourge of drugs, then on the other hand we medicate the kids instead of dealing with their bad behavior, to control them,  instead of parenting, etc, basically teaching them to turn to drugs for every problem.  Then they find out that the drugs that are prohibited are much more effective than the prescription ones, so of course they use them!"  (This is a paraphrase)

Kathleen Harrison, from Botanical Dimensions, says, "Not all the rules are here to protect us."

To sum it up: "We fund studies on harm - we don't fund studies on benefit."  (In other words, studies showing the negative effects of these substances would probably be funded - studies showing the positive benefits are not even considered.  I remember reading about a doctor in England who carelessly remarked that more people have died from tobacco and alcohol use in one year than from marijuana in the entire record of human history - and he was ridiculed and threatened with the ruin of his reputation, just for speaking his truth!)


Jeremy Narbe talks about how the knowledge of these sacred plants came from the hallucinations of their shamans.  Dr Gabon Mate (accents on the a and e) talks about plants as teachers.  "Plants have substituted biosynthesis for behavior. They can be used to form a symbiosis between humans and plants." (Dennis McKenna) 

Ayahuasca has become popular in the Western world, but it is definitely not a party drug.  It is not anything you would do lightly.   No one uses this medicine frivolously (since it can make you suffer from extreme nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and can cause you to have to look at the darkest aspects of your psyche). Many people agree that this medicine has to be used respectfully, in a safe set and setting.   "But after it happens there's a kind of a clarity and lightness that's powerful, because what 's being purged are psychic contents you've been holding onto.  You're purging anger; you're purging pain; you're purging some false story about the self." Dr. Mate.

SSRI's - (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) - feel good drugs.
(These were included here to show the difference between taking a medicine like ayahuasca and a drug like Prozac.)
"The idea that we can medicate ourselves into a state of happiness encourages drug dependence and also people not to examine the foundations of the problems that make them feel bad in the first place because you can simply mask the symptoms."  Companies are not interested in something that can be given one or two times with huge (beneficial) effects.  "All these substances (peyote, LSD, marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA, etc) are in the public domain and so can't be patented.  Prohibitive substances (like SSRI's) bring in much more money.  The government stance is if we can't patent it, let's prohibit it.  This creates a black market and it helps some people make a lot of money."

Gillian Maxwell, Keeping the Door Open, says these substances - medicines - are the antidote to the lack of meaning (in our culture).   Medicines: let's explore what I am, and let's understand it.  Drugs: let me get out of this reality. 

These drugs are misclassified as being addictive.  They are actually more helpful in curing addictions (one study of 2000 alcoholics were treated with LSD and 45% of them stayed off alcohol after 1 year - AA only has an average 10%  sobriety rate after one year.)(2)

The research and study of these substances has been completely shut down, not based upon scientific evidence but based on a prohibitic policy, and "...despite the evidence that these substances have been used for medical purposes for tens of thousands of years, ...because of government regulations, we're denying major aspects of our population access to medicines that they dearly need." 

It is possible and it would be interesting to use (psychedelics) not just for disease states but for the exploration of one's consciousness, for spiritual exploration, to enhance spiritual growth and empathy, to be better people.  "We are potentially the salvation of the planet and also potentially the destruction of the planet." Terrence McKenna.

"We're talking about transformation at every level: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual."

"In order to use these medicines you have to be 'rebel' enough against the taboo to look at the taboo, and the whole nature of a taboo is that it's an area of culture where we are told 'don't look there, it's not good to even look there.'" Kathleen Harrison

(If you are still reading, you can see why I am quoting so much from this movie! Good stuff, good information.  I will have to review it again to get the manes on some of the other quotes.  After they introduced a person one time, they didn't put up their name again - and so I have some quotes whose authors I have missed.  Will fix later.)

Ayahuasca - Vine of the Soul (2010): directed by Richard Meech
Kenneth Fupper talks about the globalization of Ayahuasca.  He says users are not criminals associated with illegal drug use.  Over the past 10 years thousands have tried this, and their spirituality and healing has been excised.  "Our culture is empty - it doesn't give people what they really need."  This medicine, "...can open up energetic barriers to help one live more optimally."  Another quote, "You just know that you are connected to something larger."

Religions demand faith.  But with ayahuasca you don't have to have faith - you have direct experience of the divine.  "Learning through plants is a cultural tradition that goes back hundreds if not thousands of years."  "It is a very powerful medicine that has to be placed and used in a proper way.  If not, it can create a psychological shock that can leave a trauma.  "Addiction is trying to complete yourself from the outside, to fill the void."

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the film: "Mysterium Tremendum - the feeling of being at one with the universe.  Religions say that this is not for the ordinary person.  But ayahuasca says no - it is!"  "It was the most spiritual thing I have ever felt in my whole life."   "I felt a kind of love I have never felt in my life."  "That literally broke me open - annihilated me..."  "It allows you to have a second chance at being yourself."  "It is very much about love.  Period."

DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010):

DMT (dimethlytriptamine) has profound effects on human consciousness.  it is 2 steps away from tryptophan, one of our amino acids.  All organisms have this plus two enzymes that lead to the DMT molecule.  Graham Hancock reports, "No one knows why it is there - why is it in our bodies/mammals/plants?"

Dennis McKenna says, "Wake up you monkeys - you are really screwing things up!" (I don't remember the reference for this quote but include it here as a bit of comic relief!  I am sure he was referring to the fact that the use of DMT is said to (potentially at least) expand one's consciousness into a unitive state, where 'we' realize in a profound way that everything in existence is connected, or is ONE - and then, presumably, with this consciousness we (humanity) could stop raping, plundering, killing, and ruining everything on this planet and instead use ALL of our resources to work together to reestablish balance and (possibly) avoid the impending apocalypse.  Just sayin'...) 

Jeremy Narby, PhD, has this to say: "With the help of two concepts which are traditionally opposed - science and spirituality - we humbly reintroduce psychedelics back into the cultural dialogue."  (What a quote!)

DMT is said to foster the entering and exiting of the soul from the body, much in the same way as fasting, chanting, meditation, and near-death experiences.  It is the active ingredient in the Ayahuasca brew, made available to digest by the addition of a plant which inhibits the body's naturally occurring MAO inhibitor.

So why is it and other substance like it illegal?  "In the Western world, we value alert problem-solving consciousness; a production and consumption mentality only.  We allow drunkenness as a respite but stigmatize and condemn other states of consciousness that don't conform to this." (paraphrasing here).

Daniel Pinchbeck, author, says that the era of the 60's was a failed initiation attempt.  People wanted to push to a new level of consciousness but there were no elders, no medicine men, etc (no one but the blind leading the blind.)

There is a part of the brain that is keyed to trigger and mediate the experiences of the transcendent -   the pineal gland - which some say is the interface between Spirit and matter.  In our culture, we have severed our natural connection with Spirit (and with the natural world).  We need the help of these plant teachers at this time to reestablish our natural wisdom: to investigate the biological basis of moral and ethical behavior; to better understand the universe (in all its dimensions); to discover new forms of medical treatment (free from greed, bias and fear/propaganda); to have life-changing spiritual revelations; and to use these natural tools which offer us the ability to seek greater knowledge.

"What we are looking for out there... is really in here... (pointing at brain)."  (We have to evolve in consciousness if we want to change the world - that old Einstein quote about how you can't correct a problem in the level of consciousness in which it was created...)

(My main take-aways from watching these three films: 1.  There are a LOT of very intelligent, knowledgeable and educated people in this country and in the Western world who are devoting their lives to scientifically studying these medicines despite the prohibitive laws, fear-based propaganda, and the potentially career-damaging jeering of their peers.  2.  There is a wealth of already amassed scientific evidence that in the very least supports further scientific study of these medicines and clinical trials to create viable treatment options for the diverse groups who would most benefit from their use; 3.  While many people include LSD, MDMA, and marijuana in the discussion of entheogens, in my personal definition, I only include naturally occurring, psychoactive plant-based substances.  So even though marijuana is naturally occurring, and while I believe it to have tremendous medicinal benefits, I am not including it in the scope of my book, mostly because in my experience with those who use it , it seems to often be (psychologically) addictive in nature, and also I do not have any traditional elders from whom to learn its proper use.  LSD and MDMA are both synthetic substances, and are therefore excluded from my considerations for the book.  Finally, I am debating about including psilocybin mushrooms in the book. Although they are entheogenic and completely natural, I do not know of any traditional ceremonies or elders who can teach me to use them properly (I have heard the Huichol in Mexico use them, but have not had the opportunity to participate there with that tribe).  Most of the mushroom experiences I know or have heard about range from a person taking some and going into nature alone, to taking them with a group of friends, to going to see a Dead show and partying and dancing their asses off.  I have experience with all of the above - and none of it compares to the intentional purposefulness of taking an entheogen for spiritual growth.  AND at the same time I did grow from my mushroom experiences, unguided and seat-of-the-pants as they were. So the jury is still out on that one;  4.  Things in this country are changing in respect to the legitimacy of studying and even using these medicines... (but not fast enough for me, I might add!), and the field of psychedelic research is gaining proponents, momentum, validity, and profound results.  May it continue to be so!)

(2) "The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous." The Atlantic.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Entheogens: Wachuma (San Pedro) and Ibogaine

Switching gears, and going for a more strictly research-based post this time.

The San Pedro Cactus, aka Wachuma, Huachuma, Achuma

The San Pedro cactus, named after a Christian Saint who holds the keys to the gates of Heaven (Saint Peter) (1), is a plant native to the high altitude regions of the Andes, primarily in the countries of Peru and Ecuador.  Known as Wachuma, Huachuma, or Achuma to natives, it contains the alkaloid mescaline, the same entheogenic substance found in the peyote cactus, of which it is in the same family.

The earliest images featuring use of this plant medicine come from Peru, between 4000 - 3,500 years ago (2, 3), after which there are many examples, featuring both male and female healers and animal helper spirits, such as the jaguar, deer, snake, and condor.   

Among healers San Pedro is also known by the name "El Remedio," the Remedy, since it can "... help us to let go of the illusions of the world."  (3) As one author relates:

     "Cactus ceremonies are held today for the same reasons as ever: to cure illnesses of a
     spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical nature; to know the future through the prophetic
     and divinatory qualities of the plant; to overcome sorcery or saladera (an inexplicable run 
     of ‘bad luck'); to ensure success in one's ventures; to rekindle love and enthusiasm for life;
     and to experience the world as divine."   And "...those who drink it can heal, discover their
     divinity, and find their purpose on Earth."(3)

One of the authors (3) interviewed a female shaman, Lesley Myburgh (known as La Gringa, "the outsider woman") who has led ceremonies with San Pedro for almost 20 years.

'"It is a master teacher", she says. "It helps us to heal, to grow, to learn and awaken, and assists us in reaching higher states of consciousness. I have been very blessed to have experienced many miracles: people being cured of all sorts of illnesses just by drinking this sacred plant. We use it to reconnect to the Earth and to realize that there is no separation between you, me, the Earth, and the Sky. We are all One. It's one thing to read that, but to actually experience this oneness is the most beautiful gift we can receive."'

Of course, as with all entheogenic medicines, when the Christian church conquered the Andean territories, they concluded that this sacred plant teacher was a tool of the Devil, used to deceive the ignorant and lead them further into sin.  They tried, without much success, to suppress its use.  Currently, in the US and in many other western countries, it is illegal to extract the mescaline (ie make the tea) from the cactus, since it is a Schedule One controlled substance, unless you have membership in the Native American Church, who have permission to use mescaline in their religious ceremonies. However it is legal to grow the cactus for ornamental purposes.


Ibogaine is an entheogenic plant medicine, an indole alkaloid,  that comes from a central West African shrub named Tabernanthe Iboga.  It has been used for thousands of years for a variety of reasons, mostly for spiritual development and also to initiate youth into adulthood in rites of passage ceremonies.  In the modern world, since the 1960's ibogaine has gained recognition as an addiction interrupter, helping addicts quit such varied substances as heroin, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco, and methamphetamine.  However it is a Schedule One controlled substance in the US, and so is illegal to use in this country (see below (*)for exceptions).

(Side note: from what I have heard, no one would EVER want to take ibogaine as a recreational substance.  It is reportedly the most intense of the substances I am covering in this blog

The way ibogaine works is that it cleanses the body of the drug in question while at the same time chemically resetting the addictive pathways in the brain, balancing out the different neurochemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, setting them back to pre-addicted levels.  After ingestion, the converted ibogaine is stored in fat cells which helps to curb future cravings, also helping reduce depression and negative thought patterns.

On a psychological level, ibogaine helps a person see, examine, and clear the roots of their addiction, leading one author to state the following: "In effect, years of therapy can be replicated in a matter of hours."(4)

Ibogaine has been approved for clinical trials in the US since the early 1990's (*),  but due to lack of funding, the treatment remains largely undeveloped. (5)  The National Institute on Drug Abuse was at the center of these clinical trials in the early '90's, and made the final decision to not continue funding their own protocol.  Interestingly, "Opinions of consultants from the pharmaceutical industry were a significant influence in the NIDA decision not to fund human efficacy trials." (6)

Many private clinics offering ibogaine therapy can be found in Central America and Mexico.  I may be accompanying a friend to one of these in the near future: if so, I will have more first-hand information to report later on! 

(Well, it had been almost 4 hours here at the old computer desk.  Time to go make some kale chips and blackberry cobbler!  See you next time!)

(1) "What is a San Padro Ceremony, or Huachuma?" Gaia Sagrada,
(2) Samarco, F (trans). " Huachuma, Wachuma, Achuma, San Padro: Cacuts of the Four Winds." El Mundo Magico.
(3) Heaven, Ross.  "San Pedro, the Miracle Healer."
(4) "What is Ibogaine?"

Monday, August 3, 2015

Collecting the loose ends - and more about addiction

Just want to put this out there - I was away from home, and then house-sitting without internet, for the past 2 weeks, since the last publish date (7/23).  Feeling stressed that I didn't write last week! Today is already Thursday and while publishing once a week at this point seems like a good goal, I am finding it sometimes difficult to maintain.  Also aiming to keep in mind the practice of not entertaining stress in my body, mind or experience.  I choose to relax in this moment.  I choose to accept that my writing could not happen last week, and relax into my knowing that it is all happening in divine timing.  I choose to trust myself to write in a structured way whenever possible, and to accept when that cannot be so.  To those of you who are following this blog - thank you! - and just know that I will do my very best to write something good here every week. 

There are many loose ends in my previous posts: the legal aspects of using Schedule One controlled substances - which is one aspect that will have to wait until I am able to schedule an appointment with a lawyer;  the other entheogens I have not yet written about (San Pedro and Ibogaine); the cultural taboos and vilification of entheogens in general; the possible dangers of using, and misusing these medicines; rites of passage; elders and eldering; and a deeper look at what is known about how these substances do what they do for us.  After clearing up some of these loose ends, I want to take a look at some of the world cultures that use entheogens, specifically looking at how they raise their children around these medicines. There may be a few more subjects arising as this research is completed, after which I plan to begin interviewing people who are raising or who have already raised their children in the US as members of an indigenous spiritual tradition.

Just a note on staying focused: it has been hard these past few weeks to get in the state of mind I feel I need to achieve in order to write.  I have found myself performing avoidance maneuvers - like this morning I was going to focus for 3 hours on writing and instead deep-cleaned the bathroom (it needed it!) and went to work on my other home project an hour early.  Tired myself right out with five hours of labor, troweling concrete onto the exterior and interior walls of our addition/ greenhouse.  Now it is 10 pm, I am beat, and I still have not gotten this blog written.  I feel like I am falling short.  Just admitting this in writing feels like a good step.  However I will not be satisfied until I get into some real content here.  My coach, the one who initially advised me to start this blog, recommended I write (or research, or focus on this project) from 9-12 every Tuesday and Thursday.  Starting next week, I am going to hold to that.  I am definitely a morning person when it comes to thinking!

Before continuing on with my list, I want to share about an article I recently read: "The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered and it is Not What You Think, ",(1) by Johann Hari, author of a book on this subject entitled Chasing the Scream.   In his article, the author mentions some of the drug studies done on rats which seemed to prove that addictions are completely self-destructive, even unto death, and that the "War on Drugs" is completely necessary for our continued survival.  Researchers put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles.  One bottle contained regular water, and the other water with cocaine added.  The rat would quickly become obsessed with the cocaine water and would drink it until it died.  These results seem to point to the fact that access to drugs causes addiction.

Then along comes another researcher, a Psychology professor from Vancouver named Bruce Alexander, who noticed that these rats were all alone in their plain cages with nothing to do all day but take the offered drugs.  He designed an alternative experiment, where rats got to live together in "Rat Park," a special environment where there was stimulation, exercise, games to play, good food, and other rats to hang with, as well as regular water and cocaine water.  Lo and behold, the rats in Rat Park did not drink the cocaine water very much, consuming less than a quarter of the amount that rats in isolation drank.  And they did not get addicted!  According to the article, "Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It's not you. It's your cage."

The prevalent view in our culture on addiction has been that people get addicted because drugs 'hijack their brains.'  But with these studies, and further studies showing that even addicted rats can stop using the cocaine water if they get moved into Rat Park, the view of addiction as the result of chemical hijacking is coming into question.  The new paradigm looks at the bigger picture, seeing that the addict is not finding what they need in their life to be happy and fulfilled, like the rat in the barren cage. What is needed is a new cage (aka environment).  And what many people are starting to realize is this new 'cage' needs to be one where bonding and deep connections are made.  Professor Peter Cohen, also quoted in the article, says people will connect with whatever they can.  If there isn't a person or people available to connect with, the addict will connect with a drug, or with a behavior, searching for that (missing) comfort and sense of belonging..

 In the words of the article's author: 
"So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection."

If this perspective were adopted, the treatment for people with addictions would begin with the view that addiction is just a symptom of a much greater issue - and the addiction itself would NOT be the focus of the treatment!  Instead, treatment would focus on teaching people how to find connection and meaning in the world: how to connect with themselves, how to connect with their emotions, how to connect with others, and how to connect with the sacred and discover a purpose for their lives.

This is the essence of the medicine work of which I have been a part for the past 10 years.