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?"

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