Psychotropic Plants

Psychotropic Plants

“If the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”  –Terence McKenna


Psychedelic Medicine

Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca (2017)
Dr. Richard Louis Miller et al

In case you're wondering what is meant by 'psychedelic medicine' or why a growing number of people are advocating for this research, here's the author making a case that's about as good as any I've heard so far:
"When we expand our consciousness we liberate ourselves from the slavery that is inherent in all cultural and institutional systems. The slavery derives from repetition of daily life until the behavior becomes institutionalized, thereby creating culture. Rigidified, institutionalized culture is the ultimate peer pressure, which stifles, dominates, and controls both creativity and consciousness expansion. Once a person ingests a psychedelic medicine and experiences the Deep Within and expanded consciousness, there is no going back to narrow consciousness and constricted thinking. What has been seen cannot be unseen. Once we experience alternate realities we can never again say this is the only one reality. When we experience ourselves as electrochemical beings of light, as molecules stuck together taking material form, our lives take on new meaning. Psychedelic medicine can facilitate our using the power of the mind to change our very genetic structure. We can change the slings and arrows of outrageous genetic misfortune into a Cupid's bow of a sculpted self." --from the Introduction to 'Psychedelic Medicine'
Clearly Miller's strong belief in the importance of psychedelics informs his book, a collection of interviews with many of the leading psychedelic researchers of today such as ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, MAPS founder Rick Doblin and psychedelic advocate Amanda Feilding. In the interviews we hear a bit about the history of earlier research, the nature of consciousness and other interesting asides as each scholars discusses their research and its implications for the future with author Richard Miller, an American clinical psychologist, radio host and founder of the highly regarded Cokenders Alcohol and Drug Program. Recent headlines have been alerting us to the promise of psychedelic medicine for any number of applications - PTSD, mental illness, terminal illness - and this book offers a timely way to get caught up on much of this important research.

The Harvard Psychedelic Club

The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (2010)
Don Lattin

Being relatively new to the psychedelic scene, the swirl of new names was initially a bit confusing. Speakers would refer to 'Leary' or 'McKenna' as if we all knew - of course! - who is being talked about. Meanwhile, I'm googling to see which version of 'McKenna' gets the most hits so I can figure out the guy's first name and why people are talking about him. After a few years of this (and just when I think I've got a handle on this who's who), another few names pop up on the radar - Houston Smith and Andrew Weil.
“They came together at a time of upheaval and experimentation, and they set the stage for the social, spiritual, sexual, and psychological revolution of the 1960s. Smith would be The Teacher, educating three generations to adopt a more tolerant, inclusive attitude toward other people's religions. Alpert would be The Seeker, inspiring a restless army of spiritual pilgrims. Weil would be The Healer, devoting his life to the holistic reformation of the American health-care system. And Leary would play The Trickster, advising a generation to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." --from the introduction to 'The Harvard Psychedelic Club'
Actually, I did recognize Weil's face from his work with integrative healthcare models but was unaware of his role in the psychedelic sixties. But thanks to Lattin's book, the way in which all four men - Weil, Dass, Leary and Huston - deeply influenced the cultural revolution of the 1960s has been more fully revealed. To be clear, these aren't the usual stories of acid trip bus rides or commune living adventures but tales of academic in-fighting, political upheaval and personal relationships amid genius-level intelligence. Lattin's writing style is quick and dispassionate, letting the color of the events and characters shine through. And in a nice surprise, Lattin devotes the eighth chapter to (brief) revisits with each man, giving the reader some sense of how these experiences continued to unfold in their lives. The final chapter, 'Conclusion', also offers keen insights about the lessons time has continued recover from these events. Overall, an excellent read for anyone interested in the psychedelic culture.

The Road to Eleusis

The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries (1998)
R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. Ruck

As the U.S. begins to confront the legacy of misinformation and missed opportunities resulting from this country's 'war on drugs', a space is also being made to re-examine the historical role of psychotropics in ancient cultures and religions. From books on Jesus' use of visionary plants to lectures about the ancient Egyptians' use of psychedelics, old and new theories on the topic seem to be springing up regularly.
“Some theophanies seem to occur spontaneously, while others are facilitated by ways that seekers have discovered - one thinks of the place of fasting in the vision quest, the nightlong dancing of the Kalahari bushmen, prolonged intoning of sacred mantras, and the way peyote figures in the vigils of the Native American Church. We do not know if, on the human side, it was anything more than absolute faith that joined earth to heaven on Mount Sinai, or when three of Jesus's disciples saw him transfigured on Mount Hermon, his face shining like the sun and the clothes dazzling white. The Greeks, though, created a holy institution, the Eleusinian Mysteries, which seems regularly to have opened a space in the human psyche for God to enter. The content of those Mysteries is, together with the identify of India's sacred Soma plant, one of this two best kept secrets in history, and this book is the most successful attempt I know to unlock it." --Huston Smith from the preface to 'The Road to Eleusis'
Before there were the religions and cathedrals of today, there were mystery schools, societies run by priests who conducted carefully orchestrated ceremonies, usually lasting several days, in which initiates prepared for and then experienced a ritual meant to expand spiritual awareness; the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece may be the most famous example, with students like Plato, Sophocles and Pythagoras. While the rituals themselves may be lost to time, the question of whether psychotropic plants were used during these ceremonies appears to be settled, thanks to the work of a mycologist, a chemist and a classicist. Wasson (the mycologist) and Hofmann (the chemist) present their findings in the first two short chapters of this book before Ruck ties it all together in the third chapter, 'Solving the Eleusinian Mysteries'. This short book concludes with a review of the supporting documentation and an appendix from Peter Webster on the chemistry of the kykeon. I read this book at the recommendation of Terence McKenna and I'd second his suggestion; it's an informative glimpse of our long history with psychoactive plants and the clever ways in which we've embedded and transmitted this knowledge throughout our history.

True Hallucinations

True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise (1994)
Terence McKenna

I am usually disinclined to investigate the personal lives of teachers - at least not beyond the numerous personal stories many offer to their audiences. But upon hearing numerous direct and indirect references to either this book or the events it describes, curiosity - and Terence's exceptional wordsmithery - got the better of me and I made the time to take in this story of the psychedelic adventures of the McKenna brothers at La Chorrera in the Amazon Basin.
“In the days following that first mushroom experience, the lives of my brother and I underwent a tremendous and bizarre transformation. Not until Jacques Vallee had written 'The Invisible College' (1975), noting that an absurd element is invariably a part of the situation in which contact with an alien occurs, did I find the courage to examine the events at La Chorrera and try to fit them into some general pattern. I have told various parts of our story over the years, never revealing the entire incredible structure to any one listener, knowing full well what it seems to imply about our mental condition during the time of the experiences.” ―Terence McKenna
In 2017, Dennis McKenna published his account of the La Chorrera adventures in The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. True Hallucinations is Terence's account of these same events - and what a wonderfully told account it is. But here I should come clean and confess - I didn't read the book but listened to Terence read his book via this nice YouTube share from PhilsMind. It's a funky rendition - natural and psychedelic sound effects and folk rock songs are sprinkled throughout - which adds a touch of the fittingly surreal to the story. But best of all, it's the author reading his words as he meant them when he wrote them - always an enjoyable way to 'read' a book. (FYI - Terence appears to be reading a slightly different version of the book than is currently on the market.)
<p id="awake-psycho">The Psychedelic Others</p>

The Psychedelic Others

Stories Of Awakening With Psychotropics

Having come to my awakening through the use of psilocybin, I’ve had a deep interest in all things psychotropic ever since. Now that I’m wading around in the psychedelic world, I find myself a bit surprised I didn’t end up here earlier, given that psychedelics inspired so many of the artists who produced the sci-fi, gaming, digital art and etc. that I’ve delighted in all my life. But though I enjoyed what altered minds produced, personally I had bought into the cultural message that these drugs were more dangerous than helpful and so I barely explored their use myself. And when it came to stories about spiritual revelations at the hands of these drugs, my lack of firsthand knowledge let me to buy into mainstream skepticism about the ‘real’ nature of these psychedelic encounters. Then I had one – which taught me that psychotropic-induced experiences can feel just as real as sitting on a chair in front of a computer, typing out blog posts (which feels pretty darn real, I assure you). In fact, next to experiencing Source consciousness, I’d say feeling the ‘realness’ of existing outside of form and time while tripping on psilocybin was the most surprising part of awakening. (My consciousness exists apart from my body! Who knew!?)

Given the illegality of psychedelics in this country, I was doubtful I’d find many people in the public space willing to share stories of spiritual encounters while on these substances. Wrong! This doubt might have borne out ten or fifteen years ago but today, the internet is awash in content from people exploring altered states of consciousness – even of people tripping on camera (whoa!). Below are four such films, featuring more of these truly courageous and generous men and women willing to share intimate details about their lives and psychedelic experiences. After watching these films, I was better equipped with the tools to both understand my previous journey and prepare for the next. Perhaps just as importantly, recognizing many of the psychedelic experiences shared in these films gave me a sense of having found a community of fellow travelers – a wonderful gift.

“It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”  … <wink>

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Ayahuasca Serpents

Ayahuasca Serpents  by  TAS Visuals

While pulling together the ayahuasca gallery, I sidetracked numerous times into the vast trove of digital art inspired by psychotropic plants. This short video, in which the ayahuasca serpent theme makes an appearance, is a trippy example. Find more psychedelic clips from TAS Visuals on YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook.

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Art Inspired by Ayahuasca

Experienced psychonauts assert that specific psychotropics (LSD, psilocybin, cannabis, etc.) provide access to specific inner spaces or ‘dimensions’. As odd as the notion may sound, it’s not quite so hard to believe when viewing the work of artists who’ve encountered the ayahuasca brew. Not only do their complex and colorful images give the uninitiated a peek into the ayahuasca experience but they also make clear – in beautiful details! – the striking similarities among the visions of many people. According to these paintings (and numerous verbal accounts), ayahuasca opens the door to a realm of tropical wilderness full of wise serpents, jungle cat guides, sacred plants, ancient trees, vivid colors and – for many – a Mother Gaia archetype. Here are a few examples of ‘ayahuasca art’ from two widely known artists, Pablo Cesar Amaringo and Anderson Debernardi.


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<p id="aya-101">Ayahuasca Basics</p>

Ayahuasca Basics

A Shamanic Brew From The Amazon

If you haven’t yet heard of ayahuasca (sounds like ‘iowaska’) from your usual sources, give it a minute; I was super-surprised to see a fairly factual article about this psychotropic brew posted by Fox News so word has clearly gone mainstream.

Ayahuasca is a plant medicine, a tea used by Amazonian tribes during shamanic rituals for at least the last 1000 years, possibly much longer. The drink is made by boiling crushed pieces of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine with the leaves of one of a handful of DMT-containing plants, usually Psychotria viridis. Over many hours, a big pot of vines and leaves are boiled down into a dark, thick, noxious-tasting potion (or so I’ve heard, I’ve not yet had the pleasure). Fortunately, just a few ounces is usually enough. In addition to the noxious taste, ayahuasca typically produces bouts of vomiting – called ‘the purge’ or la purga – as the ‘Goddess of the Vine’ cleans out the physical and psychic body of the traveler.

And judging by the numerous stories being shared on the net these days, you will be doing some traveling after drinking ayahuasca. Many a book, blog and documentary have popped up recently with accounts of this consciousness-altering experience; it’s interesting that so many people encounter this same ‘Mother Ayahuasca’ or ‘Goddess of the Vine’ entity during their voyage; I’m reminded of comments from Terence McKenna and other widely-traveled psychonauts that each psychotropic plant or substance opens a door to a specific kind of psychedelic space, a unique perspective into the One Mind and the archetypes within just that space.

Another after-effect of the ayahuasca experience seems to be a call to creativity. Explosions of colorful and imaginative ideas and visions, both during and after the ritual, have prompted many to produce stunning works of art when, taken as a group, clearly share a common theme; it’s become known as ‘ayahuasca art’ and I’ll share some gorgeous examples in the next post.

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The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss

The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss (2012)
Dennis McKenna

I've been on a McKenna brothers kick lately, first listening to Terence inspire curiosity about the psychedelic space and then to Dennis, a well-known ethnopharmacologist, thoroughly detail the psychotropic chemistry.
“Psychedelics are not suppressed because they are dangerous to users; they’re suppressed because they provoke unconventional thought, which threatens any number of elites and institutions that would rather do our thinking for us.” ― Dennis McKenna, 'The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss'
The title might suggest the book is primarily about the brothers' pivotal experience at La Chorrera since 'the Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss" was the name the McKenna's gave to the small group they joined for this trek through the Amazon. But Dennis actually treats us to a much richer tale that begins with a few good stories about the McKenna ancestors before starting with the brothers' early childhood years in Colorado (speaking of which, I love this cover photo). We don't get to the days in La Chorrera until about halfway through the book and it's worth the wait as Dennis' retelling of the event is captivating. Having heard both Terence's (True Hallucinations) and Dennis' account of that psilocybin-fueled adventure, I can only say I soooo wish I could have been a fly on the wall, so to speak, to have witnessed the wildness. It's easy to see why this experience had such a profound impact on both men.

The book goes on to describe a number of other notable happenings in the lives of the brothers - the timewave theories, ayahuasca trips and the like - before concluding with Dennis' account of his brother's death in early 2000.

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<p id="psilo-101">Psilocybin Basics</p>

Psilocybin Basics

An Introduction to Magic Mushrooms

I am no mushroom expert so I thought I’d start the topic off with some pretty and accurate(ish) images of psilocybin mushrooms. Fortunately for newbies like myself, the net is full of experts who can speak to the spiritual, archeological, ethnobotanical and recreational aspects of this special fungus. Here a few of the sites I’ve used to get up-to-speed on the basics – and then some.

  • Wikipedia – Psilocybin – this site has a surprising amount of content on this compound, though some of the research content looks a bit dated. Wikipedia page for psilocybin mushrooms.
  • PsychonautWiki – a LOT of information on a LOT of psychoactive substances, natural and synthetic.
  • MAPS – Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies – a rich resource of new research on a variety of psychedelics; this link to their ‘psilocybin’ search results delivers about 100 studies, articles, interviews, and newsletters.
  • The Third Wave – a website run by a group supporting informed discourse and advocating for integration of psychedelics back into the culture. They’ve pulled together a lot of basic and referenced material on all the usual psychedelics – LSD, DMT, ibogain, the lot. They’re big into microdosing and offer a number of guides on this and general usage.
  • Erowid – a member-supported organization that offers a straight-forward database of information about psychoactive plants and chemicals; over 360 herbs, plants, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. And a toad. This link to their psilocybin mushroom page is a great technical resource.

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<p id="cann-101">Cannabis Basics</p>

Cannabis Basics

Links To Lots Of Good Marijuana Content

The legalization of recreational cannabis in some US states has finally brought to this country the transparency needed to fuel an enormous wave of creativity in all-things marijuana. For those of you interested in deep-diving into the new wealth of public information on cannabis, here are the sites that keep me up-to-date on all the serious and silly goings on in the industry.

  • The Cannabist – a longstanding resource with a large group of writers able to bring in news and information from a broad range of topics that includes clothing, parenting and sports.
  • High Times – maybe the longest-standing cannabis magazine, this website focuses on the latest news and trends across culture, growing, edibles and more.
  • Leafly – This website has emerged as the go-to spot to quickly find dispensaries and bud info. They’ve done an excellent job, since their start just a few years ago, of maintaining a clean, user-friendly site and mobile app while quickly expanding their content to include deeper threads: terpene definitions, a nice collection of ‘cannabis 101‘ resources, and several news lines.
  • NCBI – and if you really want to geek out on the data, I refer you to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, operated by the US National Library of Medicine, a website that presents a no-nonsense library of biomedical and genomic information.
  • NORML – Founded in 1970, this group works to reform marijuana laws. While their focus is legislative, because they’re one of the oldest such organizations they’ve had time to build up a lot of good “pot 101” content like FAQs, policy fact sheets, a nice primer article and, my personal favorite, nice summaries on recent medical research; a great site for getting your hands on cannabis data.
  • The Weed Blog – a nice running collection of headlines in a range of areas like culture, cooking, and growing. Their mission:  “facilitating a constructive conversation about marijuana in America”.

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The Psychedelic Experience

The Psychedelic Experience (1964)
Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert

Since my awakening came by way of psychedelic mushrooms, reading up on the topic has become my new favorite past-time. It used to be gaming ... I miss gaming.
"You must be ready to accept the possibility that there is a limitless range of awareness for which we now have no words; that awareness can expand beyond range of your ego, your self, your familiar identity, beyond everything you have learned, beyond your notions of space and time, beyond the differences which usually separate people from each other and from the world around them. You must remember … millions have made this voyage." --The Psychedelic Experience
By now I've listened to at least a few dozen people recount their psilocybin experiences; the descriptions that have so far resonated with me most are found on the pages of this book. No surprise, perhaps, considering the group of experienced psychonauts who are the authors. They've combined their experiences to both describe the psychedelic experience and help prepare those getting ready for their own explorations. The book is only about 100 pages, which was fortunate as I was immediately hooked by the clear, practical and yet compassionate writing and couldn't stop until the end. As I read, I could feel the echoes of my own journey burbling up in the background; I'd say these three nailed something essential about the psychedelic encounter. And the way the authors set their descriptions against backdrop of the Tibetan Book of the Dead provides a nice peek into a details of that tradition. (I'm sure I encountered the essence of the Tibetan's Bodhisattva Chenrazee during my first frantic journey back to Source.) I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to prepare for their own spirit quest with a few possible spoilers on board. I will definitely be reading this book again. Free pdf version

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