Wednesday, September 10, 2014


John J. McGraw discusses the meaning and significance of the term "entheogen" in this extract from his book, Brain & Belief. He draws from numerous theorists who have made strong claims about the significance of entheogens in the history of religions and, in particular, for the genesis of basic religious concepts, including the idea of an immaterial soul. 


          If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man
          as it is, infinite.
                                               —William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Albion.  Painting by William Blake

Most of us have the good fortune to possess a few sacred recollections—memories of some passing moments upon a mountain, in a forest, or fishing from a giant lake.  Whatever the particular character of our memory, these times loom large in consciousness for in these brief pauses we felt God.  Or so we thought.  The experience, stripped of theology or doctrine, is ineffable—we know merely that colors shone in unearthly hues and that the vivid contrast around, above, and beneath took on a razor sharp sheen.  Most important of all is the feeling—that exceptionally rare sensation—that we are not separated from our surroundings, not caught up in our typical turmoil, but simply immersed into the cosmos at large.  Then we wish well to all that is.  At last, we feel—we know—we are at home.  These intriguing moments are not so different from those induced by the hallucinogens.

Set and Setting

In speaking of these drugs, an important concession must be made; they are neither faultlessly mystical nor predictably maddening.  Hallucinogens do very different things for different people.  This demands explanation.  If we’re dealing with chemicals here—which we are—then shouldn’t they be rather predictable?  In some ways yes; in others, no.  For instance, aspirin does pretty much the same thing most of the time to most of the people who take it.  After all, the predictability of many drugs is why they’re useful at all.  If they were unpredictable they wouldn’t be therapeutically safe. 

The truth is that even our most tried and true drugs are not entirely predictable.  Because of an individual’s unique biochemistry at the time they use a drug, the drug may work ‘normally’ or it may produce any number of adverse reactions.  All too often, people suffering side effects are treated by their doctors off-handedly, for the doctor, just like the patient, expects the drug to be reliably safe.  When a drug is not predictable, for doctor and patient alike, some disbelief arises; the logic runs: “a drug is good, if something bad occurs, it can’t be the drug.“  So, even with many of our common pharmaceuticals side effects and unexpected results occur some percentage of the time.

The hallucinogens, by affecting brain chemistry, are even more prone to unpredictability than other pharmaceuticals and psychotropics.  The chemistry of the brain changes more often and in more intricate ways than any other organ of the body.  We recognize this, among other ways, by changes in consciousness.  At times we’re in deep sleep, at other times aroused, sad, anxious, or angry.  Within a single day we may experience dozens of chemical ‘shifts’ in our brain causing various changes in mood and the perception of events around us. 

How do these changes occur?  To simplify the matter, we are dealing with two variables: set and setting.  Dr. Andrew Weil sums it up concisely: “Set is a person’s expectations of what a drug will do to him, considered in the context of his whole personality.  Setting is the environment, both physical and social, in which a drug is taken.”[1]  The brain’s chemistry is more intricately linked to the environment than most other organs.  The purpose of the nervous system is to monitor and react to the environment.  By constantly monitoring and reacting to the environment, the nervous system attempts to keep the organism alive.  The speed with which a person will tug his hand away from a hot surface reflects the dazzling electro-chemistry at work in the human animal.  The downside of this adaptation is a certain amount of instability.  At times, we definitely ‘lose control.’  Some environmental factor—a rude remark, a driving offense, a child’s tantrum—sets us off and we react in spite of our best intentions and values.  We also know that some people are more prone to lose control than others.  This would be considered their ‘set.’  They are generally anxious, angry, unpredictable people.  Others we know to be ‘rock solid;’ these people are rather predictable and seem quite ‘stable.’  The ‘setting’ would be the event and its context.  Road rage is a good example.  Usually no single driving offense sets a person off.  The combination of frustrating traffic, hunger, and the incident together may turn even the meek into the ferocious—such is the setting.

Hallucinogens cause different reactions in people because of one’s set and setting.  A mildly psychotic person amid a crowd of imposing strangers in a foreign country who already has many anxieties about drugs should not use a hallucinogen, bad results are sure to follow.  On the other hand, a stable person, who does not easily succumb to anxiety, surrounded by trusted friends camping in a beautiful mountain area (but not too far from a hospital) might comfortably use a hallucinogen for purposes of “mind expansion.”  If such a person respects the power and has an intimation of the effects of hallucinogens, the experience will likely be an adventurous one. 

Accessing the Divine Within

The term—hallucinogen—has stuck but most experts in the field think it an unfortunate misnomer.  Only a few of these substances, in high quantities, cause visual or auditory hallucinations.  In their common dosages, hallucinogens cause vivid imagery when the eyes are closed but scarcely import images into normal vision.  Drugs of other classes have about the same probability of creating eye-open hallucinations.  An addict coming off of depressants may experience hallucinations and high dosages of stimulants are likely to evoke nightmarish visuals.

What is a hallucination anyway?  Its very definition suggests mistaken perception—but are religious experiences mistakes of consciousness?  Would one be so bold to claim this in the case of Moses or Muhammad?  Some critics continue to argue that the hallucinogens cause absurd mistakes in perception but many more hold these substances to be among the most sacred tools humans possess—keys for accessing the divine.

Some researchers prefer the term entheogen (“generating the divine within”) when discussing many of the substances outlined below.  This august sounding phrase entitles these drugs a bit more respect than they have previously received.  Why accord these drugs such respect?  As we’ll discuss, the history of many of these substances is not one of abuse and recreation, as we have seen in our own recent times.  The history of entheogens finds them as essential sacraments in a variety of ancient religious traditions.  In discussing these substances, we are handling artifacts akin to crucifixes and idols—though far more powerful in the experience they typically impart.  To decry these items as illicit, mind-bending drugs is to mistake their cultural importance and impose a modern stereotype upon ancient practices.  Furthermore, the near universality of entheogen usage suggests something remarkable about man’s essential nature.  In his book, The Natural Mind, Dr. Weil likens man’s pursuit of these substances to a basic instinct: “…the desire to alter consciousness periodically is an innate, normal drive analogous to hunger or the sexual drive.”[2]

Entheogens definitely affect perception.  In general, the alterations in perception lead to a striking intensification of stimuli: colors are brighter, sounds more distinct and more subtly experienced, smell and taste heightened, and touch sensitized to the finest textures.  Sometimes, again in a higher range of dosage, an effect called synesthesia occurs.  Synesthesia is the jumbling of perception: visual things may be heard, musical things seen, and all of them ‘felt.’  In short, the entheogens amplify the senses—both the senses that stream through one’s eyes and ears and the perception of self, emotion, and mood.

In higher dosages, while experiencing ‘true’ hallucinations or synesthesia, the effects of these substances can be unsettling.  They take the individual so far out of the normal routine of mental activity that the person may ‘freak out.’  While in this bizarre state, the person may feel she is permanently deranged or insane.  A state of intense anxiety follows, the increase in heartbeat or sweating may feel a thousand times more intense, like nothing the person has ever experienced.  The person on a bad trip thinks he will die or go insane.  In sum, though these drugs are part of the typical array of recreational substances, they should not be recklessly exploited. 

While the escapism provided by depressants or stimulants alters one’s typical mental activity, the entheogens create another identity altogether.  In some cultures, extended psychoactive ‘trips’ formed part of the initiation from childhood to adulthood.  The prolonged break from ‘normal’ reality to an alternate one marked the juncture to adulthood and helped revamp one’s identity to take on new roles.

The entheogen-induced state of derangement is not for the faint-hearted.  These substances shake one’s core assumptions about the world.  The psychic disintegration, which only in the very rarest cases lasts beyond the normal course of the drug’s action in the body, may shatter the icon of that most holy of holies—the stable sense of self—and leave an uncertain relativity in its place.  This is reflected in the 1960s maxim that after an LSD experience the initiated is never the same again.  The entheogenic experience is one only to be attempted by the most mature, grounded, and knowledgeable few—those already awake to life’s more disturbing truths.  These drugs lead to mental states neither common nor easy to integrate—these drugs create a mystical experience. 

Materia Mystica

Peyote Ceremony in the Sacred Land of Wirikuta.  
Painting by Maximino Rentería de la Cruz
Some may scoff: how can drugs create a truly mystical experience?  In his study, Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemicals, Huston Smith voices a similar wonder and disbelief in recollecting his own drug-induced religious experience: “How could what felt like an epochal change in my life have been crowded into a few hours and occasioned by a chemical?”[3]  Religious leaders in ancient times voiced no such protest.  The animistic worldview held that all animals, plants, and objects possessed a ‘spirituality.’  With this framework in place, the effects of a psychoactive plant would be recognized as an assimilation of its spiritual power.  In this understanding, nothing ‘material’ was affecting any other material thing (i.e. chemicals affecting the brain).  In the animist’s world, the spiritual in the plant moved the spiritual in the man.  We moderns have so much trouble accepting psychoactive plants as conveying ‘spiritual’ experiences because we know, for a fact, that such plants work because of the peculiar chemicals they possess.  We can even replicate these specific chemicals, in a laboratory, and be done with the plant altogether. 

Albert Hofmann, for instance, accomplished this in 1938 when he synthesized LSD-25 from a type of molecule present in the ergot fungus. Hofmann later studied some of the traditional ‘medicine’ plants of the great Central American cultures.  As he describes: “When we analyzed them we arrived at an unexpected result: these ancient drugs that we are apt to call magical and the Indians consider divine, contained as their psychoactive principles some of our already familiar ergot alkaloids.”[4]

We know something the ancients didn’t—we know that the plant does not possess a spirit, the plant possesses a psychoactive chemical or a mixture of such chemicals.  Our trouble is not with the plant as an arbiter of mystical experience, our real trouble is in admitting that a mystical experience is a chemical one, a fact we can no longer reasonably deny.  As Smith notes:

When the…philosophical authority on mysticism, W.T. Stace, was asked whether the drug experience is similar to the mystical experience, he answered, ‘It’s not a matter of its being similar to mystical experience; it is mystical experience.’[5]

According to those who know both mysticism and entheogenic drugs, the distinction between them is a forced one, an overlaid prejudice.  The raw data of the experience is truly mystical. 

One researcher, Walter Pahnke, attributes our disbelief in these agents as promoters of mystical experience to the Protestant ethic that anything ‘good’ must be thoroughly paid for by an exertion of effort and labor.  Decidedly, the ingestion of a few capsules does not qualify as real effort.  But, Pahnke insists, even within the Protestant heritage (and the Christian one more generally), these agents can be considered particular gifts of grace:

"Gratuitous grace" is an appropriate theological term, because the psychedelic (literally ‘mind manifesting’) mystical experience can lead to a profound sense of inspiration, reverential awe, and humility, perhaps partially as a result of the realization that the experience is a gift and not particularly earned or deserved.[6]

How do we reconcile the bad reputation of psychedelic ‘drugs’ with the sanctity of the mystical experience they can produce?  The prejudice against them is a cultural one—one more case example of the false stereotype.  In Hallucinogens and Culture, Furst describes varying cultural perceptions of the entheogens:

It is clearly society, not chemistry, that is the variable, since the same or chemically similar drugs can function so differently in different cultural situations, or be venerated over centuries as sacred, benign, and culturally integrative in some contexts but regarded in others as inherently so evil and dangerous that their very possession constitutes a serious crime.[7]

There is good reason for viewing entheogens as true threats to human culture for they upset many of our most important beliefs.  Furthermore, they disrupt the theology that has hardened into a cultural concrete and provides the foundation upon which so many social institutions rest.  To break up this concrete, many fear, would be to tear apart all of society’s best adaptations.  But alas, the psychedelic sixties came and went and though the tremors rattled social patterns, society remains surprisingly sturdy.

The states of mind created by our chemical brains, while truly religious experiences that gain us alternate perceptions of our world, do not occur because some immaterial being, a god, has conveyed them to our immaterial souls.  Mystical experiences occur because our brains metabolize entheogenic chemicals, chemicals either taken into the body or produced within the brain itself.  The perceived threat of entheogenic plants is real but it is not from a fear that the substances will turn one into a junkie (use of hallucinogens have rarely, if ever, given rise to dependency).  The fear of entheogenic substances is the fear of truth—the truth of materialism, the truth that the human being, for all her miraculous abilities, perceptions, and insights remains wholly dependent on and derivative of the body’s material basis.  With this truth comes the concomitant fear that all matter passes away and that time dissolves both muscle and mind.  Hallucinogens are dangerous indeed!  At once they release man from his day-to-day, hum-drum world and render the reality of ecstasy; at the same time they confirm his worst fears—the very paradox of meaning and mortality.

Whether the mystic achieves his states of ecstasy through ascetic vigils, fasting, meditation, or by ingesting psychoactive substances—the identical experience occurs. Whether we subsequently label this experience as sacred or profane is merely a social and psychological prejudice, a further flight from the inevitable truth that we are physical beings affected, in our most intimate and religious moments, by physical causes.

The setting—the environment—yields our cherished moments as much as any other factor.  If God truly exists, he certainly is predictable in the times and places he chooses to send his Holy Spirit to illuminate mortal minds.  After all, what mystic would talk of God without his cave, mountaintop, or tranquilizing sunset?[8]  What mystic has no method?

If entheogenic chemicals produce mystical experiences then why do some users have such frightening experiences and others such life-affirming ones?  Bad trips are merely the experience of too much too soon.  The eminent mythologist, Joseph Campbell, expresses this point well:

I have attended a number of psychological conferences dealing with this whole problem of the difference between the mystical experience and the psychological crack-up.  The difference is that the one who cracks up is drowning in the water in which the mystic swims.[9] 

The drug, in contrast to meditation or some other, more subtle influence, literally ‘throws’ one into a mystical experience.  Furthermore, the chaos and tone of that experience is generally dose-dependent, a greater dose induces a more powerful experience.  There is no turning back once the drug courses through the bloodstream.  In contrast, when meditating or fasting one can always open one’s eyes, turn on the television, or get something to eat.  One cannot so easily retreat from a chemical-dependent trip.  For good or ill, one must remain on this flight until it comes to a complete stop.

The mystic, if anything, is prepared for the experience he will find and if it still turns out to be frightening then it can always be attributed to a demonic being.  The psychologically adept shaman calls upon benevolent spirits to counteract the frightening ones; thus placating the turbulence, the shaman gains confidence and relaxes—the solution to bad trips ancient or modern. 

While the recreational abuse of entheogens is unfortunate, these substances still have their place in our own time.  Psychologically, man is little different now than he has always been—after all we’ve been using the same model of brain for at least 100,000 years.  Man always and everywhere lusts for the creative exploration of his nervous system.  Whether this tendency is culturally or biologically programmed, humans thrive when they live within a framework where such explorations are guided and supervised by knowing elders (e.g. Classical Greece’s Eleusinian Mysteries).  If a framework for these experiences is not available then we will continue to witness each lost generation passing its illicit activities and irrational prejudices to the following one—always searching, and abusing, but never finding.

Shamanism and Ecstasy Revisited

The entheogenic drugs form a backdrop for many ancient religions.  Some theorists think these drugs and the experiences they induce responsible for religion itself. As Harner notes in his anthology, Hallucinogens and Shamanism:

There can be little doubt that the use of the more powerful hallucinogens tends to strongly reinforce a belief in the reality of the supernatural world and in the existence of a disembodied soul or souls.  An intriguing possibility is that hallucinogenic experiences may have also played a role in the innovation of such beliefs.[10]

As discussed in the first section, shamanism cannot be divorced from the state of ecstasy.  Through this state and the attendant beliefs associated with it, some of our first ideas about a detachable, disembodied soul emerged.  The state of mind created by the entheogenic drugs is a state of ecstasy, a radical alteration of consciousness.  It is a mind-shattering, soul-rattling adventure that seems to tear one from his normally corporeal existence and allows insights into a separate reality.  These experiences and the stories told about them may have led to the complex mythologies behind many ancient religions with their subsequent focus on the soul.

One of the characteristic features of shamanism is the shamanic flight—the ability to take off from their bodies on a ‘trip’ to explore transcendent realities. In The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia, Devereux discusses shamanic flight:

There are numerous ways in which travel in the spirit realm was envisaged.  …we have seen repeatedly…that spirit flight is the preeminent form.  It is the one most emphasized throughout shamanism worldwide: the allusions to flight, particularly through the medium of bird imagery, can be found in rock art, geoglyphs, in effigy mounds, on a shaman’s robes, in ceremonial dancing and costume, in ritual paraphernalia, in shamanic gestural symbolism (such as the flapping of the arms atop ritual poles), and in the legends concerning shamans…[11]

Why such a recurrence of this flight motif?  The uncanny effect of many entheogens in creating a sensation of bodily detachment, what in neurological terms would be called a derangement of proprioception (the body’s perception of balance and tactile sensation), likely reinforced, if it did not originate, the shamanic flight.  Drugs that influence proprioception can produce everything from a bizarre ‘headiness’ or ‘weightlessness’ to a virtual sensation of flight. 

A peculiar cultural repetition of drug-induced flight occurred in the Middle Ages when witches on their ‘flying broomsticks’ made such a frightening appearance.  Perhaps not far removed from prehistoric European shamanism (who can deny the shamanic abilities of Merlin, King Arthur’s magician?), Medieval Wicca utilized psychoactive plants in their religious practices.  

Woodcut of medieval witches. Source R. Decker

The herbs featured in this pagan tradition included deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus), mandrake (Mandragora), and thorn apple (Datura).  In addition to being powerful hallucinogens, these plants are known to be quite toxic.  Wicca’s successful usage of this assortment implied a sophisticated knowledge of plants reminiscent of shamanism. Twentieth century scholars, recreating some of the Medieval witches’ ‘flying ointments’ note the very kind of psychological sensations of flight recounted in the Medieval chronicles.  Schenk experimented with henbane and reported the following experience:

My teeth were clenched, and a dizzy rage took possession of me.  I know that I trembled with horror; but I also know that I was permeated by a peculiar sense of well-being connected with the crazy sensation that my feet were growing lighter, expanding and breaking loose from my body.  (This sensation of gradual body dissolution is typical of henbane poisoning.)  Each part of my body seemed to be going off on its own.  My head was growing independently larger, and I was seized with the fear that I was falling apart.  At the same time I experienced an intoxicating sensation of flying.

The frightening certainty that my end was near through the dissolution of my body was counterbalanced by animal joy in flight.  I soared where my hallucinations—the clouds, the lowering sky, herds of beasts, falling leaves which were quite unlike any ordinary leaves, billowing streamers of steam and rivers of molten metal—were swirling along.[13]

The uncanny resemblance of this twentieth century scholar’s account to both Medieval witches’ tales and to the mythology of shamanism suggests a chemical lineage departing from the same ancestry—psychoactive plants.

Along with our culture in general, the character of our religious thinking has changed dramatically over time.  Recent, institutionalized religions obtain their theologies from authority, an authority based almost entirely on scripture and its interpretation.  Ancient religion, based in a totally illiterate culture, relied upon the authority of direct experience.  Harner touches upon this: “We of a literate civilization may get both our religion and our religious proofs from books; persons in non-literate societies often rely upon direct confrontation with the supernatural for evidence of religious reality.”[14]  As arbiters of ‘supernatural evidence’ entheogens were perhaps as important in their time as Bibles and sacred writings in our own.

Soma and the Origins of Hinduism

The history of the search for Soma is, properly the history of Vedic studies in general, as the Soma sacrifice was the focal point of the Vedic religion.  Indeed, if one accepts the point of view that the whole of Indian mystical practice from the Upanisads through the more mechanical methods of yoga is merely an attempt to recapture the vision granted by the Soma plant, then the nature of that vision—and of the plant—underlies the whole of Indian religion, and everything of a mystical nature within that religion is pertinent to the identity of the plant.
         —Wendy Doniger, Soma: The Divine Mushroom of Immortality[15]

As a worldwide movement, religion seems to have transformed from its experiential and bardic roots to its legalistic, canonical character approximately 3000 years ago.  Hinduism typifies this transition from shamanism, and its basis in the experience of ecstasy, to written religion.  The most ancient texts of Hinduism are called the Vedas—they are the written histories of the ancient rishis (seers).  These texts are among the only universals in an otherwise broad tradition of religious thought and practice.  The Rig Veda sings the praises of the, since lost, drug/god called Soma.  The rishis who first recited these hymns experienced their religion through Soma but later devotees codified the songs into the first sacred writings of India.

The Vedas were sung for countless generations in the mother Indo-European tongue.  The rishis accompanied the Indo-European tribes that thundered into India approximately 3500 years ago.  In their conquest they brought the shamanic religion of ancient Europe but the creativity and diversity of the Indian peoples forged a manifold religion called Hinduism. 

The mystery of Soma is its disappearance.  How could a plant, revered as a god itself, have disappeared from the sacred traditions of the Hindus?  Certainly, a psychotropic plant that could provide visions as powerful as those recorded in the Vedas would not have been set-aside.  Why then did it disappear altogether thousands of years ago?

R. Gordon Wasson has identified the Soma of the ancient Vedas with the fly-agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria), a colorful mushroom that appears time and again in fairy tales and their illustrations.  It is this powerfully psychoactive mushroom he believes to have inspired the rishis’ divine visions.

Amanita muscaria.  Photo by H. Crisp

Amanita muscaria was the favored mushroom of Siberian shamans from time immemorial.  The first witnesses to meet these people noted the Siberians’ appreciation of the mushrooms.  They also chronicled an even more eccentric behavior.  Because the cold climate often precludes the growth of Amanita muscaria, they would become scarce and extremely valuable during the winter.  The poorer of the Siberians would hungrily await outside the wealthier ones’ tents after a mushroom session had begun.  When the mushroom-eaters came out to urinate, their attendants would catch their steaming piss in a bowl and lap it down!  Because the psychoactive chemicals (muscimole and ibotenic acid) leave the body but partially metabolized, one could achieve a powerful a state of intoxication from the chemical-laden urine.[16]

Until the Russians brought them alcohol, the Siberians relied almost exclusively on the fly-agaric mushroom to access alternate states of consciousness.  Curiously, they may have learned about the mushroom’s power by observing the behavior of their beloved reindeer.  The reindeer possess a preternatural lust for the colorful fungi and delightedly munch them down and become inebriated.

The Amanita muscaria mushroom, like all mushrooms, is difficult to cultivate.  To pre-moderns the appearance and disappearance of mushrooms seemed part of nature’s rhythmic mysteries.  They might predictably arise from the ground during a certain season but nothing could sway them to man’s control.  Seedless, they long retained vestiges of the supernatural.  This mushroom, in contrast to many others, possessed another fickleness; its underground fungal structure only grew in the soil around pine, fir, and especially birch trees.  Without these trees, and numerous other environmental constraints, the fly-agaric would not fruit.  While the ancestral homelands of the Indo-Europeans featured the precise ecology for fly-agaric growth, many of the regions they annexed did not.  In particular, this mushroom cannot grow in the lowlands of India.  This likely explains the disappearance of Soma from ancient Hinduism.

The Rig Veda mentions a number of details about Soma.  Soma is always associated with the mountains and comes from those areas.  It is no mean coincidence that the coniferous trees whose soil Amanita requires are among the only plant life that flourish at high altitudes. 

The branches, roots, flowers, or leaves of Soma are nowhere mentioned in the Rig Veda.  Surely, the praise of a divine plant would note some part of its botany.  In fact, the only plant-like appendage noted are Soma’s fleshy stalks.  Other than its cap, the mushroom’s stalk (called a stipe) is it’s most noticeable feature. 

Soma’s color is mentioned repeatedly in the Veda.  It varies from fiery red to a tawny yellow.  Wasson’s extraction of juice from the fly-agaric mushroom fits just these spectrums depending on the age and particular type of fly-agaric.

One passage in the Rig Veda says of Soma: “Like a serpent he creeps out of his old skin.”[17]  Few metaphors so exactly capture the transition from fungal puffball, just breaking the surface of the soil, into sprouting mushroom, whose cap breaks free and perches over its “single-footed” stipe (another of the Rig Veda’s tropes).  One of the most intriguing references to Soma is the following: “Acting in concert, those charged with the Office, richly gifted, do full honor to Soma.  The swollen men piss the flowing Soma.”[18]  This surely refers to the knowledge that the urine of those who ate fly-agaric remains psychoactively potent.

The identification of Soma with the Amanita muscaria mushroom solves an age-old mystery and provides more evidence regarding the ecstatic origins of our most sacred traditions. 

The Mysteries of Eleusis

The ancient testimony about Eleusis is unanimous and unambiguous.  Eleusis was the supreme experience in an initiate’s life.  It was both physical and mystical: trembling, vertigo, cold sweat, and then a sight that made all previous seeing seem like blindness, a sense of awe and wonder at a brilliance that caused a profound silence since what had just been seen and felt could never be communicated: words are unequal to the task.  Those symptoms are unmistakably the experience induced by an hallucinogen.
                             —Wasson, Hofmann, Ruck,  The Road to Eleusis[19]

In Ancient Greece, religions were concealed behind and within other religions.  Secret ‘mystery schools’ flourished all over Attica and tales of Dionysus and Orpheus were murmured about in the marketplace.  About these occult rituals we have mere fragments left—tantalizing accounts that inspire awe and reverence.

The most influential of the Greek mysteries were those performed at Eleusis, just 20 kilometers from Athens. So well kept were the mysteries of Eleusis that many classicists consider it the most enigmatic problem left to us by the Greeks.  And yet, for all that, the mysteries affected so many well-known Greeks and Romans, for so long a period (some 2000 years), that the pieces and clues they left us add up to a rendition of the mysteries that is vaguely complete—like a painting by a pointillist.  The picture seen is a psychedelic one for at the heart of the mysteries lies the consumption of an entheogenic beverage.

The mythological backdrop of the mystery is unrevealing.  It concerns the goddess Demeter, an ancient mother goddess credited with the bestowal of grain and agriculture upon mankind, and her daughter, the goddess Persephone.  Persephone had been spirited away by Hades, god of the underworld, to become his Queen.  In consequence, Demeter wailed as she searched about for her stolen daughter.  She left her important duties behind.  The Earth became arid and would no longer support man.  Zeus stepped in and Hades conceded to release Persephone though by cleverness he caused it so that Persephone resided with her mother for part of the year and with him, in the Underworld, for the other part.  This myth explained the rhythms of nature, the cycles of growth and harvest, life and death.

Demeter, goddess of grain

The rituals performed in the mysteries revolved around these mythological themes but were not limited to them.  Indeed, the recounting of a myth hardly explains the affect the mysteries had on its initiates.  Of the mysteries, Cicero wrote:  “…we have learned from them the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope.”[20]  And just as Plato had the most significant things to say about the soul, so does he reveal the most about the mysteries:

Beauty it was ours to see in all its brightness in those days when, amidst that happy company, we beheld with our eyes that blessed vision, ourselves in the train of Zeus, others following some other god; then were we all initiated into that mystery which is rightly accounted blessed beyond all others; whole and unblemished were we that did celebrate it, untouched by the evils that awaited us in days to come; whole and unblemished likewise, free from all alloy, steadfast and blissful were the spectacles on which we gazed in the moment of final revelation; pure was the light that shone around us, and pure were we, without taint of that prison house which now we are encompassed withal, and call a body, fast bound therein as an oyster in its shell.[21]

The mysteries alleviated the fear of death.  But what possible experience could accomplish such a feat?  The rituals conveyed, ultimately, an alternate state of consciousness.  This state of consciousness and its subsequent vision convinced the devotees that the normal mode of life was not the only one.  Perhaps, the initiates might conclude, the teases of Orpheus are true!  According to the traditions at Eleusis, if one understood the process of dying he could fare better than the uninitiated.  This concept is similar to that purveyed in the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Book of Going Forth by Day) and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Plutarch relates the process of dying to a mystery initiation.[22] Of death, he writes:

…the soul suffers an experience similar to those who celebrate great initiations…Wanderings astray in the beginning, tiresome walkings in circles, some frightening paths in darkness that lead nowhere; then immediately before the end all the terrible things, panic and shivering and sweat, and amazement.  And then some wonderful light comes to meet you, pure regions and meadows are there to greet you, with sounds and dances solemn, sacred words and holy views; and there the initiate, perfect by now, set free and loose from all bondage, walks about, crowned with a wreath, celebrating the festival together with the other sacred and pure people, and he looks down on the uninitiated, unpurified crowd in this world in mud and fog beneath his feet. 

Numenius felt that Plutarch had betrayed the secret of Eleusis in writing this.  But what did he reveal?  The mystery was nothing less than a beatific vision, a mystical apprehension of the divine order of things.  As Burkert notes: “In religious terms, mysteries provide an immediate encounter with the divine.”[23] And that logician of logicians, Aristotle, speaking out of character: “… is said to have used the pointed antithesis that at the final stage of mysteries there should be no more ‘learning’ but ‘experiencing’, and a change in the state of mind.”[24]

The startling thing about the Eleusis experience was its regular occurrence.  Year after year people came to be inspired.  Year after year they were.  This is no ‘appearance of the virgin’ or other singular mystical experience.  Eleusis could be counted on, the experience was expected.  Whether the initiate be young or old, philosopher or servant, he would invariably leave the place shaken to his core.

No mere theatrics could have been behind the vision.  Greeks, the Athenians in particular, virtually invented dramatic performance and were thoroughly versed in the power of the theater.  The mystery was not another play.  What could have convinced the best and brightest that something truly divine had transpired?  The answer is quite clear—entheogenic drugs.

For some days before initiation, a fast was required.  In fact, entrance to the Telesterion, the great hall where the mysteries occurred, was only granted after one recited: “…I have fasted, I have drunk the kykeon.”[25]  But it is the latter part of this ‘access code’ that truly reveals the secrets of the mysteries—the kykeon.  The kykeon was a special beverage prepared just before entrance to the Telesterion.  It consisted of water, barley, and mint.  To chemists and non-chemists alike this seems odd; none of these are hallucinogens.  It is the opinion of Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck that there was ‘something in the water.’  This something came from a fungus that might grow on barley.  It is none other than the ergot fungus, the same from which Hofmann derived LSD-25 in 1938.  The water-soluble ergot alkaloids created the state of mind that sanctified the mysteries.

An important clue lies in the fact that the kykeon was a measured volume of drink.  One could not get in after a mere sip: “…a definite dose had to be taken.  The dose in that case would have been the exact quantity contained in the small pots carried in the hands of the men in the procession.”[26]

That the kykeon actually possessed entheogenic properties seems beyond doubt.  In the words of one initiate: “I came out of the mystery hall feeling like a stranger to myself.”[27]  The kykeon delivered a state of ecstasy to the initiates. 

While the kykeon provides the key to the mysteries, the intricate rituals should not be overlooked.  Those who orchestrated the mysteries were masters of set and setting and could amplify the entheogenic effect of the kykeon to its maximum.  The techniques behind the Eleusis experience were guarded for dozens of generations by just two families.  A member of the Eumolpidai played the role of high priest while two of the Kerykes fulfilled roles as torchbearer and herald of the ceremonies. These families provided the magic brew and enacted the sacred rituals that convinced all who came that something supernatural had occurred. Proclus, born shortly after the mysteries were condemned, learned some ‘family secrets’ from the daughter of the last high priest:

They cause sympathy of the souls with the ritual in a way that is unintelligible to us, and divine, so that some of the initiates are stricken with panic, being filled with divine awe; others assimilate themselves to the holy symbols, leave their own identity, become at home with the gods, and experience divine possession.[28]

Burkert describes the actual rites as:  “…patterned by antithesis, moving between the extremes of terror and happiness, darkness and light.”[29]  This, indeed, sounds like maximum effect: one was made terribly anxious and frightened before experiencing the vision.  The release and joy of the actual experience then appeared all the more ‘saving;’ it transformed the bad trip into the good.  In juxtaposition, deliverance was complete.  The fear of death had been replaced with ecstatic consciousness and hope for the hereafter.

Wasson describes the nature of the experience, at least as he came to understand it after sampling an entheogenic mushroom for the first time:

As your body lies there…your soul is free, loses all sense of time, alert as it never was before, living an eternity in a night, seeing infinity in a grain of sand.  What you have seen and heard is cut as with a burin in your memory, never to be effaced.  At last you know what the ineffable is, and what ecstasy means.  Ecstasy!  The mind harks back to the origin of that word.  For the Greeks ekstasis meant the flight of the soul from the body.  I am certain that this word came into being to describe the effect of the Mystery of Eleusis.[30]

When Christian authorities, empowered by Alaric, King of the Goths, finally put an end to the mysteries some worried that the world would fall apart.  As Kerényi notes:

They [the mysteries] were thought to ‘hold the entire human race together,’ not only because people continued, no doubt, to come from every corner of the Earth to be initiated…but also because the Mysteries touched on something that was common to all men.  They were connected not only with Athenian and Greek existence but with human existence in general.[31]

With the mysteries of Eleusis lost, Western man lost his last shamanically supervised mystical experience.  In the nearly two thousand years since Christian monks put an end to the ancient experience, a few mystics have appeared here and there within the church, sometimes embraced, sometimes burned, but no proper supervision, nay, even encouragement, has been given for experience of the sacred mysterium tremendum.  Did the world fall apart in the meantime?

The writing of the Vedas and the great mysteries of Eleusis share an entheogenic heritage, a heritage that comes from a form of ancient shamanism.  These two sacred traditions confirmed for their devotees a separation of soul and body, a divorce of the natural and the supernatural.  But for all their supernatural testimony, these drugs are most certainly chemicals and work along definite neurological pathways.  While their psychoactive properties gave rise to some of the mystical experiences that set the foundation for spiritualist dogma, our current knowledge of the entheogens literally ‘undoes’ the animistic matrix they once affirmed.  The irony of the situation suggests a cosmic joke of the very worst type. 

The entheogenic substances, like all the better sources of wisdom in life, create an ultimately paradoxical effect.  At once they teach about the most ethereal and unearthly parts of human existence while also confirming our physical basis and its short duration.


Cannabis sativa. Photo by H. Zell

Like a tourist in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest, marijuana possesses the uncommon ability to set foot in many different places at once—the differing categories of the hallucinogens/entheogens, the opiates, and the depressants.  At various doses, its properties qualitatively alter the user’s consciousness.  Of these properties, marijuana’s ability to produce euphoria keeps people coming back to it time and again.  Around the world people have been doing so for thousands of years.

The actual plant probably came from the Russian steppes near Eastern Europe, the homeland of the Indo-European culture.  It still grows wild in these areas today.  All the Indo-European-based languages possess a term for marijuana (cannabis/hemp) testifying to the deep influence of this plant.[32]  The wanderlust of the Indo-Europeans spread their culture, including marijuana use and cultivation, across the mid-latitudes all the way to Asia and particularly throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Since ancient times the plant has been valued for its physical and psychoactive properties.  The use of hemp fibers to weave cloth and to make rope remain vitally important even in our time.  The high tensile strength of the plant’s fibers has made it an ideal rope constituent for millennia. 

Besides its utilitarian uses, the plant was surely appreciated by the ancients for its psychoactivity.  Archeological evidence suggests marijuana usage in ancient Europe, at least before the Bronze Age.  Its medicinal usage in China stretches beyond recorded history but was first chronicled in a pharmacopoeia of the emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C.E.[33]  Herodotus, the wandering Greek historian of the fifth century B.C.E. relates cannabis usage by the Scythians, a northern tribe that bordered Ancient Greece:

They have hemp growing in their country, very like flax, save that the hemp is by much the thicker and taller…  The Scythians then take the seed of this hemp and…they throw it on the red-hot stones; and, being so thrown, it smoulders and sends forth so much steam that no Greek vapour-bath could surpass it.  The Scythians howl in their joy at the vapour-bath.[34]

The religious uses of marijuana occur mainly in India. Different preparations of the plant include the weakest, bhang, the more potent ganja, and the hashish-like charas.  A marijuana drink made from bhang has long been prized and some children’s candies even include a bit of the substance.  Marijuana is a staple of the wandering holy men, the sannyasi, who mimic the god Shiva, another of the plant’s devotees.[35]

Traditionally, marijuana smoking flourished in the Middle East, though it continues to suffer periodic persecution there.  Because of Islam’s prohibition of alcohol, smoking various substances emerged as the primary alternatives to inebriation.

In 12th century Persia, followers of Hashishin ibn-al Sabbah, the so-called hashishin, became a feared militant sect of Islamic mysticism.  The two words, hashish and assassin, derive from this notorious group.  They targeted various opponents and Christian Crusaders for summary execution.  Cannabis was part of the reward for their services.  As preparation during their commando training, the novice hashishin were given marijuana as a “foretaste of Paradise” so that they might not fear danger and death.[36] 

There is some evidence that European usage began, in small scale, during the Crusades.[37]  More commonly, it is thought that the reintroduction of marijuana to European culture resulted from Napoleon’s massive Egyptian campaign.  Napoleon’s advancement of Enlightenment principles included the importation of teams of scholars to study and journal the flora and fauna of Egypt as he attempted (but failed) to subdue the country.  Whether from these scientific observations or from the French soldiers’ importation of the likable substance, European doctors began experimenting with marijuana soon thereafter.  Of course, as the pattern appears again and again, this medical usage quickly spread to less academic quarters. 

The Romantic intellectuals of the nineteenth century, in pursuit of eccentric novelties and rare sources of pleasure, pounced upon marijuana once it came to their attention.  Baudelaire, Delacroix, Gautier, Dumas, and Hugo were all members of the Club de Hachichins, a group of Parisian writers and thinkers who experimented with numerous drugs.  Baudelaire, with poetic style, describes the various stages and effects of marijuana inebriation:

   …people completely unsuited for word-play will improvise an endless string of puns and wholly improbable idea relationships fit to outdo the ablest masters of this preposterous craft.  But after a few minutes, the relation between ideas becomes so vague, and the thread of your thoughts grows so tenuous, that only your cohorts…can understand you.
   …your senses become extraordinarily keen and acute.  Your sight is infinite.  Your ear can discern the slightest perceptible sound, even through the shrillest of noises.
   Now the hallucinations begin…  The strangest ambiguities, the most inexplicable transpositions of ideas take place.  In sounds there is color; in colors there is a music…  You are sitting and smoking; you believe that you are sitting in your pipe, and that your pipe is smoking you; you are exhaling yourself in bluish clouds.  You feel just fine in this position, and only one thing gives you worry or concern: how will you ever be able to get out of your pipe?
This fantasy goes on for an eternity.  A lucid interval, and a great expenditure of effort, permit you to look at the clock.  The eternity turns out to have been only a minute.
   The third phase…is something beyond description…it is complete happiness.  There is nothing whirling and tumultuous about it.  It is a calm and placid beatitude.  Every philosophical problem is resolved.  Every difficult question that presents a point of contention for theologians, and brings despair to thoughtful men, becomes clear and transparent.  Every contradiction is reconciled.  Man has surpassed the gods.[38]

The U.S. experience with marijuana began quite early.  The American Colonies did an enormous amount of hemp farming.  The bustling naval activity of the Colonial period made rope and sailcloth (also woven from hemp) an essential trade commodity.  Washington and Jefferson both attempted hemp farming but ceased their operations due to the labor-intensive nature of the crop.[39]  No Americans of that era, though, seem to have discovered hemp’s psychoactive features.

The exploration of marijuana as a ‘drug’ in the United States did not occur until the twentieth century.  Marijuana, or reefer, smoking spread throughout African-American populations originally from foreign influences in and around the port of New Orleans around the 1920s.[40]  Its association with the burgeoning music called jazz provided it a quick medium to spread from South to North and East to West.  Since it was largely a black drug in these days, early legislation against it expressed the typical fears and prejudices of the time.  The ‘reefer madness’ campaigns of the 1940s and 1950s held that its use led to degenerate and violent acts, an unlikely interpretation given marijuana’s blissful, tranquilizing effects.  By the 1950s jazz had deeply shaped the Beatnik subculture.  They extolled the novel drug.  From the beatniks, marijuana spread into a largely white population and set the stage for the hippie-overrun 1960s.  Used both by Vietnam protesters and GIs alike, marijuana use peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s and spread throughout all sectors of society. 

Today, marijuana use is commonplace and quasi-tolerated both in the United States and abroad.  In 1997, almost 50% of those between the ages of 26 and 34 claimed prior usage of marijuana.[41]  The drug’s popularity has created an insoluble problem for law enforcement agencies.  Among the greatest concerns of such agencies is that marijuana leads to experimentation with other drugs.  After all, once an individual has broken both the social stigma and federal laws concerning drug regulation and found a source to provide at least one type of drug, the barriers to further experimentation are less imposing; as such, marijuana is termed a ‘Gateway Drug.’ 

Besides its history in popular culture, marijuana possesses a long history as a therapeutic medicine.  The role of cannabis in numerous medical traditions (including Hindu Ayurveda) stretches far back in time.  Even today, marijuana-derived substances possess medical import in the most advanced therapies of Western medicine.  Because of marijuana’s ability to reduce eye pressure, it has been used as a glaucoma drug.  Marijuana’s ability to calm both nausea and anxiety elect it an important role in cancer treatment.  These characteristics along with its analgesic properties make it an ideal adjunct to chemotherapy.[42]

Despite its historical and medicinal importance, marijuana is considered a social scourge by those who oppose it.  In the United States alone almost two million pounds of marijuana are confiscated by federal authorities every year (at an enormous cost of life and money) in an effort to check its widespread usage.[43]  This represents but a fraction of the marijuana consumed each year.  One might logically infer a substance’s danger by the zeal with which authorities seek to control it.  On this measurement alone, one would conclude marijuana to be a lethal drug.  The most recent research does not support this fear.[44]  Marijuana, while not without its risks and dangers (especially to lung tissue, when smoked), poses less inherent risk than many other substances that suffer no such restriction.  Marijuana exhibits relatively low potential for dependence; some data suggests it to be about half as addictive as alcohol.[45]

Plant and Preparation

The marijuana plant was classified by the taxonomist Linnaeus in the eighteenth century.  He labeled it cannabis sativa.  Since Linnaeus controversy has arisen about the number of species in existence.  Some believe that three distinct species of cannabis exist: sativa, indica, and ruderalis.[46]  Others feel that the latter two ‘species’ are actually just different breeds of the cannabis sativa plant.[47]  The cannabis indica plant is squatter than the towering sativa; this feature has made it preferable for illegal production with its typical space constraints.

In the late 1960s, the famed botanist Richard Evans Schultes used to spring to his students’ aid when they were arrested for marijuana usage.  Since the early laws were quite specific in naming the species of plant, Schultes would claim his students’ usage was limited to one of the other species.  The law caught on to Schultes’s tactics and eventually broadened its terms.

A number of common preparations exist for cannabis.  The psychoactive constituents course throughout the plant, so all of its parts may be ingested for the desired effect. Since the active ingredients of marijuana are especially concentrated in its flowering tops, these are the more prized parts of the plant.  The most potent method of delivery is smoking (free-basing) the dried plant though some prefer the longer lasting and less intense oral consumption of the plant (as is more traditional in India).  Hash or hashish, the distilled oils and resins of marijuana, are more potent and easier to smuggle than the unprocessed plant.  Hash oil, a more concentrated form yet, can be inconspicuously consumed or smoked on other media (e.g. tobacco cigarettes).  In these higher potencies, marijuana is increasingly likely to induce hallucinogenic experiences.

How Does Marijuana Work?

The marijuana plant contains a number of unique substances.  These chemicals are called cannabinoids.  Pharmacologically, the most active cannabinoid is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol).[48]  In addition to this, a number of other cannabinoids (such as cannabidiol) likely potentiate THC’s metabolism or otherwise possess their own psychoactive properties.[49]  The manner of marijuana delivery may modify these chemicals to make them more potent. 

Once in the body, the cannabinoids are fat-soluble and, like general anesthetics, penetrate many types of tissues and generally affect the permeability of cell membranes.  The cannabinoids easily pass through the blood-brain barrier.  Understanding the precise mechanism of such highly soluble substances is tricky because they cause a variety of metabolic changes.

Recent work has demonstrated the presence of at least two cannabinoid receptors in the human body.  Through these sites the drug exerts its effect.  The main cannabinoid receptor, the CB1 receptor, is the only known cannabinoid receptor in the central nervous system.  These sites are “extraordinarily abundant in the brain” in the words of one researcher.[50]  Such abundance suggests their importance in the regulation of many neural processes.  The other cannabinoid receptor, CB2, well represented in cells of the immune system, is poorly understood at this time.  As a class, cannabinoid receptors show up in many different species, including invertebrates:

The evolutionary history of vertebrates and invertebrates diverged more than 500 million years ago, so cannabinoid receptors appear to have been conserved throughout evolution at least this long.  This suggests that they serve an important and basic function in animal physiology.  In general, cannabinoid receptor molecules are similar among different species.  Thus, cannabinoid receptors likely fill many similar functions in a broad range of animals, including humans.[51]

When dealing with the receptors of psychoactive plants the question always emerges: why are there plant-chemical receptors in the human nervous system?  Again, in most cases, endogenous brain chemicals of a similar type exist already.  The resemblance of plant chemicals to these brain-generated substances is mere coincidence. 

At least one marijuana-like neurotransmitter has been discovered.  This substance, labeled anandamide (from Sanskrit ananda—bliss), produces quasi-marijuana effects in laboratory animals.  Anandamide is produced within the human brain and binds to the cannabinoid receptors in many separate regions of the brain.[52]  Anandamide concentrations run high in the nucleus accumbens, part of the dopaminergic ‘reward pathway.’ The reward system pleasurably reinforces important animal behaviors like feeding and sex.  The arousal of a superhuman appetite when using marijuana probably relates to the similarity of the cannabinoids to natural reward chemicals.[53]

The cannabinoids are generally inhibitory neurotransmitters and their selective binding preference in areas of movement and memory help to explain the difficulties many users have with those two functions when under the influence.[54]  The cannabinoids’ augmentation of dopamine release (especially in the mesolimbic tracts) indicates their ability to induce euphoria.  However, the fact that they accomplish this dopamine release in a different manner than other drugs of abuse may explain marijuana’s tendency to be less addictive.[55] 

The Social Dilemma of Marijuana

More than any other restricted drug, marijuana incites social commentary.  A number of proponents argue for its legalization.  The extensive usage of marijuana by all types of people makes its prohibition more questionable than other restricted drugs.  Indeed, some researchers have likened the current state of irrational prohibition, chemical loyalty oaths (mandatory drug testing), and the generally anathema status of marijuana to a form of “psychopharmacological McCarthyism.”[56]

Whatever potentially harmful effects marijuana begets, few of its users cry foul about it.  Far more people, for instance, claim a sense of psychological and physical bondage from the use of alcohol and nicotine, both sanctioned drugs.  Whatever deficits chronic marijuana abuse may engender they are arguably far less destructive than those seen as a result of long-term alcohol or nicotine usage.  In light of these reasons, the severe prosecution of marijuana users and suppliers appears excessive. 

As a “Gateway Drug,” it is argued that marijuana use leads to experimentation with other, more destructive types of controlled substances.  On sheer logical grounds, this alone is not a legitimate argument; it is a judgment of guilt by association.  For instance, one could note a much higher correlation between gun procurement and crimes of violence yet this has not caused a federal crackdown on firearms.  There is nothing inherent to marijuana, nothing that clings to it as a causal agent, that leads to further drug experimentation.   Alcohol, nicotine, and coffee are as psychoactive as marijuana, in differing fashions, and yet they are not considered to be Gateway Drugs.  The chemical induction of alternate states of consciousness by any of these substances does not necessitate further experimentation—again no causative link exists between these agents and subsequent drug experimentation.  The anthropologist Weston LaBarre, with his typically ironical criticism, answers this confusion of social policy: “Despite its much-proved danger, we accept alcohol blandly, but rabidly reject marihuana for its as yet unproved dire danger, since unknown euphoriants must surely be more dangerous than known ones.”[57]

The correlation between marijuana use and subsequent drug experimentation is more likely a result of crossing the social and psychological barriers concerning the use of an illegal drug.  Were such a drug sanctioned, the loss of stigma would make marijuana users less susceptible to further law-breaking behavior.  Another possible reason that marijuana serves as a Gateway Drug relates to its vendors.  By associating with drug dealers whose very business it is to encourage further experimentation, the novice marijuana user exposes herself to the dangers of this subculture and its generally criminal influences.  Were marijuana only a fraction as accessible as alcohol or nicotine and sold by regulated and supervised distributors, the association with drug-dealing and the drug subculture would stifle experimentation with the more dangerous substances. 

In the end, though, all such arguments are too refined.  The larger political question towers in the foreground: in a conservative political structure that professes the relative freedom of the individual over mind and body (one and the same) how can a drug that is widely used and viewed both by lay people and scientists alike to be a predominantly benign substance be prohibited outright without the blatant contravention of democratic principles?  If such a model of government will progress towards its ideal then the power of unfounded prejudice must be finally discarded and replaced with well-reasoned and objective legislation.  Were we truly free we might finally choose our poisons.


St. Albert and the LSD Revelation Revolution.  Painting by Alex Grey

The sacrament of the sixties, bane of urban lore, LSD is one of the world’s most potent psychoactive substances.  In ridiculously small doses, like 50 millionths of a gram, LSD can send its user on a hallucinogenic trip that lasts 8-12 hours or more. 

Without LSD one can hardly imagine how the last few decades of the twentieth century would have been different—no Timothy Leary, no Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, no Woodstock.  If there was a flame in the 1960s then LSD was its spark.  Despite being the youngest of the drugs mentioned here, LSD possesses a fluorescent history with larger than life characters and mind-boggling plots.  The LSD experience shaped music, unchained its users from the weight of social taboos, and set creativity loose making this time of freedom and free love the most extraordinary tumult in Western society since the days of the French and American revolutions.  If its enemies were more insidious (consumption-culture, environmental decay, and communism-phobia), these revolutionaries’ implements of war were more subtle (mind-altering drugs, the methods of civil disobedience pioneered by Gandhi and King, and rock music). 


LSD, whose full name is lysergic acid diethylamide (in German, Lyserg-säure-diäthylamid), was born in 1938 in a Sandoz pharmaceutical lab in Basle, Switzerland.  Its father, Albert Hofmann, had been systematically studying the chemistry of the ergot fungus for some time.[58] 

For centuries, lore about ergot had bestowed upon it properties favorable in childbearing.  It was also the responsible agent in St. Anthony’s Fire, a periodic plague during the Middle Ages that inflicted gangrene and madness on those who consumed ergot-infected grains.  By synthesizing ergot’s therapeutic agents, Sandoz hoped to avoid its less favorable qualities.  Hofmann satisfied them and derived some medicines from variations on the basic nucleus of an ergot alkaloid, lysergic acid.  From these variations, Sandoz patented and produced pharmaceuticals that aided childbirth (reducing contraction time) and assisted in senility and headache.

When Hofmann first synthesized his 25th variation of lysergic acid in 1938, he had expected to produce a circulatory and respiratory stimulant.  The chemical structure of LSD-25 resembled a well-known agent of that type.  The Sandoz pharmacology department noted LSD-25 to be about 70% as effective as another ergot substance for the induction of contractions.  They also observed a certain restlessness in their research animals—but who’s to judge when or why an animal is grumpy?  Any other hoped for benefits were not found.  They decided to shelf LSD-25 as a redundancy at best. 

For the next five years, Hofmann conducted fruitful research with the ergot alkaloids but a lingering presentiment about the twenty-fifth variation of LSD kept nagging at him.  In 1943, he decided to produce a fresh batch for further testing just to see if they had overlooked anything back in 1938.  On Friday April 16, 1943, while a massive war raged all over Europe and the South Pacific (North Africa had only just been won by the Allies), Dr. Hofmann, in neutral Switzerland, underwent a bizarre experience.  He sent the following report to his superior:

…I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness.  At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination.  In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.  After some two hours this condition faded away.[59]

In its effects, this toxic exposure was thoroughly eccentric; even more unusual, though, was its mechanism.  Aware of ergot’s toxicity, Dr. Hofmann always employed meticulous methods when handling it.  He could, at most, have been exposed to only a tiny amount of the LSD-25 he had produced and then only on the skin of his fingertips! 

Deciding to get to the bottom of this bizarre experience, Hofmann, on April 19, ingested a touch of LSD-25, just 250 micrograms (millionths of a gram).  By later standards, this is approximately 5 ‘hits’ of LSD!  He quickly realized that it was indeed this substance that had been responsible for his previous experience.  After asking an assistant to accompany him on a psychedelic bicycle ride back home (automobiles were restricted during the war), Dr. Hofmann went through hours more of a nightmarish experience.  As he wrote:

Even worse than these demonic transformations of the outer world, were the alterations that I perceived in myself, in my inner being.  Every exertion of my will, every attempt to put an end to the disintegration of the outer world and the dissolution of my ego, seemed to be wasted effort.  A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul.  I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa.  The substance, with which I had wanted to experiment, had vanquished me.  It was the demon that scornfully triumphed over my will.  I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane.  I was taken to another world, another place, another time.  My body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange.  Was I dying?  Was this the transition?  At times I believed myself to be outside my body, and then perceived clearly, as an outside observer, the complete tragedy of my situation.[60]

A doctor visited Hofmann during this state and noted all his vital signs to be perfectly normal.  As time progressed, the worst part of this intense trip gave way to more playful alterations in perception and finally, a welcomed rest.  After he awoke the next morning, his vision possessed unusual clarity and he felt profoundly grateful to be back in the world of the living, and the sane.  This was, in effect, the first acid trip in history. 

Sandoz faced a difficult situation: what to do with this unusual substance?  They decided to provide it to interested researchers.  They hoped that the world of psychology might find a use for this highly potent, synthetic hallucinogen.

One of LSD’s best researchers, Dr. Stanislov Grof, experienced his first LSD trip in 1956.  Of the experience, Grof wrote:

… [it] radically changed both my personal and professional life.  I experienced an extraordinary encounter with my unconscious, and this experience instantly overshadowed all my previous interest in Freudian psychoanalysis.  I was treated to a fantastic display of colorful visions, some abstract and geometrical, others filled with symbolic meaning.  I felt an array of emotions of an intensity I had never dreamed possible…I emerged from this experience moved to the core.[61]

To gauge just how powerful this substance is, keep in mind that these are not the words of a youthful ‘hippie’ but the seasoned impressions of an intellectual, a doctor, and a man who had studied, and undergone, psychoanalysis for many years.

Such an effect was rather common.  Even among the seasoned scientists who first researched LSD, an unnatural enthusiasm followed.  The rigorous methods of science were often sacrificed to the intuition that the scientists had stumbled upon something new under the sun.  Soon the research supplies of LSD began to show up among groups of intellectuals and others far outside the realm of scientific research.


About the same time that Dr. Hofmann discovered LSD, Nazi’s were experimenting with drugs like mescaline in an attempt to find effective mind control agents.  Using prisoners in their concentration camps as unwitting subjects (not a very pleasant set and setting), the S.S. would spike their beverages to note different reactions.  While one would expect such things of the Nazis, one might not expect them of the U.S. government.  At roughly the same time, though, members of the proto-C.I.A. group called the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), were themselves searching for a ‘truth serum’ for use in interrogation. 

The early history of the C.I.A. is peppered with the search for effective mind control agents.  The importance of separating truth from lie became a driving force in spy technique.  An abundance of double-agents and adepts at disinformation had to be sifted from genuine intelligence gatherers. The C.I.A. settled on a powerful form of marijuana as their best truth serum, for a while.[62]

In 1953, the head of the C.I.A., Allen Dulles, approved the MKULTRA program.  This program aimed, “…to investigate whether and how it was possible to modify an individual’s behavior by covert means,” in the words of the project’s chief chemist, Sid Gottlieb.[63]  LSD was among the project’s top concerns.  They were especially impressed by its potency.  Only an infinitesimal amount was necessary to produce a major ‘trip.’  As Marks notes in his book The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: “A two-suiter suitcase could hold enough LSD to turn on every man, woman, and child in the United States.”[64]  The C.I.A. imagined tainting a city’s water supply to diminish the opponents’ ability to defend themselves in time of war.  Before the C.I.A. could really proceed in their use of LSD they had to know more about it.  Using the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation and the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research as go-betweens, the C.I.A. funded dozens of LSD research projects at hospitals and universities across the country.  U.S. citizens (and a few Canadians) would teach the C.I.A. all about LSD’s capabilities.

One of the most insidious set of experiments was performed in Lexington, Kentucky at the Federal Addiction Research Center.  The ‘volunteers,’ who were addict inmates at the Lexington facility, were promised use of their preferred drug (heroin, morphine) for participation in the LSD experiments.  In one study, seven men were kept on LSD for 77 days.  Because of LSD’s ability to produce tolerance, these subjects were routinely taking triple and quadruple doses by the end of the period.[65]

Sandoz was the only company that produced LSD through the early 1950s. Based in neutral Switzerland, the U.S. expected no loyalty from the pharmaceutical company.  Fearing they might sell large amounts of LSD to the Soviets, the C.I.A. sent two agents and $240,000 to purchase all of the firm’s LSD stock.  The President of Sandoz informed the agents that since LSD’s discovery the firm had produced a total of just 40 grams.  He made a deal to supply the C.I.A. with 100 grams weekly and to keep them informed of all LSD orders.  Nevertheless, the C.I.A. was much assured when an American firm, Eli Lilly & Company, discovered a process to produce LSD without the ergot fungus.  The C.I.A. now had all the substance they could want and the loyalty of an American firm behind it.[66]

As the C.I.A. progressed in their control of the LSD supply and their potential control of the mind, they began to step-up their experiments.  Imagining how the drug would be used in practice—by slipping it into an unsuspecting agent’s food or drink—they began to test the notion on themselves.  For a while, C.I.A. staff ‘in the know’ never drank anything they didn’t personally control.  One agent brought his own bottle of wine to all office parties to avoid any surprises.  Nevertheless, some would have to succumb and succumb they did.  An agent who drank some spiked coffee left the office in a flight of terror only to be chased halfway around Washington, D.C. by his cohorts.  The inner circle of these experiments proved themselves by their inability to be swayed by LSD.  Slipped a dose, the head chemist, or Helms (the project director), or any of the top ‘operators,’ could still play the spy game—showing how totally in control of themselves they were.  At least they would not fumble if the enemy blasted them with truth serum.

Taking the experiments to their final extreme, the C.I.A. began drugging people outside of the agency, people who had no knowledge of LSD or what it did.  When they did this to Dr. Frank Olson, a Chemical Warfare scientist for the Army, tragedy ensued.  Gottlieb dosed a bottle of Cointreau with LSD during a meeting with members of the Army’s Special Operations Division.  Olson took poorly to the LSD and after suffering through some days of paranoia, guilt, and worry—committed suicide.  The C.I.A. cover-up was immediate.  Twenty-two years passed before the Olson family understood the cause of their husband and father’s suicide.[67]   

Despite the tragedy and negligence of the Olson case, the C.I.A. considered its LSD experimentation too vital to shelf.  The MKULTRA program continued unabated. The C.I.A. had to reassess their modus operandi.  They needed to find experimental subjects they could monitor but ones who could not be traced back to the agency.  The Army’s Frank Olson was too close for comfort.  They had to remove themselves even farther from their test subjects.  By targeting questionable types like prostitutes and drug addicts the C.I.A. felt a safe distance from any credible accusation.  In one set up, the C.I.A. operated a small brothel in San Francisco where unsuspecting clients would be guinea pigs for LSD and assorted psychotropics.  Since people in such compromised positions are not likely to go on record about a night of psychosis in a whorehouse, the C.I.A. possessed a truly covert laboratory for human behavior.  Many a lecher was chastened by the experience.

MKULTRA’s search for chemical means to control behavior continued in one form or another until the early 1970s.  When Richard Nixon expunged Helms from the C.I.A., Sidney Gottlieb also retired.  With these two out of the picture, the C.I.A.’s nefarious research into mind control ended—hopefully.

Enter the High Priest

Whether in the hands of the C.I.A. or research academics, LSD went unnoticed by the public.  It could be spoken about in circles of intelligentsia but, by and large, the majority of people remained ignorant of this drug.  A handful of psychotherapists began using it in therapy, to help unlock the mysteries of the subconscious. 

The first celebrity to go on record was none other than Cary Grant.  All told, Grant experienced more than seventy acid trips.  Shortly after his first experience Grant gave a candid interview:

I have been born again.  I have been through a psychiatric experience which has completely changed me.  I was horrendous.  I had to face things about myself which I never admitted, which I didn’t know were there.  Now I know that I hurt every woman I ever loved.  I was an utter fake, a self-opinionated bore, a know-all who knew very little.  I found I was hiding behind all kinds of defenses, hypocrisies and vanities.  I had to get rid of them layer by layer.  The moment your conscious meets your subconscious is a hell of a wrench.  With me there came a day when I saw the light.[68]

Given this was the 1950s, no one really knew what he was talking about.  But this was all about to change.

In 1960 a middle-aged psychologist, just riding the wave of some successful research, consumed a handful of foul-smelling mushrooms while summering in Cuernavaca, Mexico.[69]  The psychologist’s name was Timothy Leary and he was about to take his first psychedelic trip on psilocybin mushrooms in the tradition of the Aztecs who had celebrated religious practices in Cuernavaca half a millennium before.  Leary’s mushroom experience impressed him so much that he devoted the rest of his life to the entheogens and became the flashpoint for the psychedelic inferno of the 1960s. 

Leary’s most pressing question in personality psychology involved therapeutic change.  How does one turn a hopeless neurotic into a robust, integrated personality?  Like Cary Grant before him, Leary came to see his own personality structure with ruthless clarity after the psychedelic experience.  This enlightenment was accomplished in mere hours, compared to the years of psychoanalytic work.  Psilocybin, the primary agent in the Mexican mushrooms, disclosed one’s ‘hang-ups’ as effectively as a highly-trained therapist and with chemical simplicity.  Leary’s mushroom experience in Cuernavaca changed him forever.  He spent the next few months talking to everyone who’d listen and experimenting with massive doses of pure psilocybin, chemically synthesized from the mushrooms and free of their noxious taste. 

The most brilliant figure in a crowd of luminaries, the charismatic Leary eventually founded a religion, was arrested by a federal judge who called him, “The most dangerous man in the world,” and claimed personal responsibility for ten million peoples’ ‘acid trips.’  His battle cry to ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out’ provided a counter-cultural ethos for dissatisfied American youth and a marching beat to oppose the Vietnam War.  Leary and his cohorts hoped that widespread experimentation with LSD would wrestle people free from the social constraints and lifeless expectations of those times.  They were right.  The mixture of war protest, psychedelic drugs, and skepticism about traditional ways of life forged a cultural revolution that, if ill-organized, still managed to change American society in a radical way. 

Leary and his fellow Harvard professor, Richard Alpert, led project after project to mine the psychedelic realms. During this time, the group switched their chemicals too.  First using psilocybin, they settled on the more intense LSD as their psychotropic of choice.  Though they began with healthy scientific curiosity, these projects ended in absurd attempts at psychedelic Utopias.  Many other LSD researchers began to dismiss Leary.  They were fearful that his democratic ways, his desire to turn on everyone to the psychedelics, would bring ruin to the field.  They were right.  While Leary should not bear sole responsibility for the government’s eventual crack down on the hallucinogens, he surely deserves a large part of the blame. 

Leary’s basic theory about the hallucinogens, cribbed from Aldous Huxley, sees them as opening up the reducing valve of consciousness.  The mind must select primary tasks for attention since we can only be aware of so much at any one time.  If, for instance, one is battling on a war front, it is not a good use of processing capacity to consider the particular hue of the sky, the scent in the air, or some intriguing lines by Blake.  To perform well, you must be focused on the things most likely to harm you.  According to Leary, the hallucinogens expand the mind (psychedelic) to allow the numberless influences of the moment equal say.  Leary thought character structure and personality to be ‘encrustations;’ the built-up residue of too much consciousness restriction, mere lime-deposits within the valve.  Using these drugs, he hoped to dissolve the residue of ‘hang-ups.’  This accomplished one could hope to live a more enlightened existence.  Leary’s aims were social and religious as much as they were therapeutic.  His research into a class of potentially therapeutic drugs led him to believe that everyone was in need of therapy.  The normally adjusted, ‘sane’ modern was, in fact, a mad collection of personality hang-ups and behavior residues.  This breached the category of psychology research and turned into social and religious revolution.  Despite taking place in the early sixties, this idea came to express the tenor of that whole decade.  

Leary’s excitement soon leapt past even a quasi-scientific framework and embraced every Eastern conception of the ‘Other World,’ the spiritual realm of pure consciousness.  Leary, Alpert, and Ralph Metzner put out a psychedelic guidebook based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  No scientist would take him seriously any longer, most even thought him dangerous.  But Leary’s lack of restraint and unchecked creativity made him a champion of the hippies.  His method, or lack of them, also promised ruin for any real growth.  Almost everyone ended up disillusioned, sure they had stumbled upon something momentous but uncertain how to integrate it into their lives.

Leary’s first quasi-religious organization, The International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), attempted to set up base in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  The lush tropical surroundings along an unblemished stretch of Pacific served as the perfect venue for their psychedelic forays.  After a few months, though, the Mexican government, tired of their antics and wary of the drug use, deported the lot of them.  From there, the crumbling organization, inspired by the visionary Utopia Aldous Huxley set out in his novel Island, tried to lodge in first one, then another, Caribbean outpost.  Government after colonial government chased them away, worried that they were attempting to assist locals in revolution which, at times, they were.

Broke and homeless, the fledgling group benefited from Leary’s socialite standing.  A friend of Leary’s, a wealthy New York heiress, provided shelter for the psychonauts at one of her family’s estates.  IFIF settled on a five square mile estate, mansion and all, 90 miles north of New York city.  These luxurious surroundings were home to some of the group’s more decadent experiments.  Trouble kept brewing and after just a few months of community living, Leary disbanded IFIF.  The group was finally arrested and expunged from the house by authorities, led by assistant district attorney G. Gordon Liddy.[70]

Leary couldn’t ignore his calling.  He thought it his destiny to spread the knowledge and usage of Hofmann’s otherworldly molecule.  He touted LSD as the ultimate aphrodisiac and Playboy chased him down for an interview.  The statement was far from true but Leary considered any means justified so long as it served his end of popularizing LSD. 

Unfortunately, LSD did not live up to Leary’s promise of enlightenment.  If traditional conceptions of enlightenment always convey some attenuation of ego then Leary’s hundreds of trips weren’t working.  For all his good intentions, Leary, both in his call to destiny and the indulgences he took along that path, exhibiting a thoroughly inflated sense of self-importance. 

Along with him, thousands of other hippies and LSD enthusiasts seemed to be losing their way.  Taking the baton from a bedraggled Leary, others, like Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, continued to sway the masses to use LSD.  They organized massive “Acid Tests” (see Tom Wolfe’s classic novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) in which crowds could sample LSD while listening to the psychedelic music of the Grateful Dead.  But even when millions had been ‘turned on’ the vision of the clear light always hid behind the next bend, the next dose, or the next drug.  As Stevens sums up in his chronicle Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream: “Instead of creating a taste for enlightenment, LSD was promoting a love of sensation, the more intense the better…”[71]  These groups began experimenting with every kind of drug in search of illumination, bliss, or just a new kick.

Among the maelstrom of hippies and hippie leaders, some spoke with more seasoned wisdom.  For instance, Richard Alpert, who had been one of Leary’s co-conspirators in the massive popularization of LSD eventually came to see drugs as a stumbling block.  While exploring India in search of real enlightenment he came across a traditional guru and began following the rigorous methods of meditation.  His spiritual record, Be Here Now, became a key text for the seekers of his generation.  Another student of the Eastern traditions, Alan Watts, gave perhaps the final word on drugs and enlightenment: “My retrospective attitude to LSD is that when one has received the message, one hangs up the phone.  …my feeling about psychedelic chemicals, as about most other drugs, is that they should serve as medicine rather than diet.”[72]

All Good Things…

The time of consciousness expansion was quickly contracting as the sixties came to a close.  In 1968, LBJ, in his State of the Union address, made the eradication of the psychedelics a national priority: “These powders and pills threaten our nation’s health, vitality, and self-respect.”  The criminalization of the psychedelics had begun even before this, however.  In California, the fault line of psychoactivity, possession of LSD became a crime on October 6, 1966.  Though illegal, California would experience its ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967 with LSD still gushing through the hippie subculture. 

Psilocybin Mushrooms

There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby, and invisible.  And there is where God lives, where the dead live, the spirits and the saints, a world where everything has already happened and everything is known.  That world talks.  It has a language of its own.  I report what it says.  The sacred mushroom takes me by the hand and brings me to the world where everything is known.  It is they, the sacred mushrooms, that speak in a way I can understand.  I ask them and they answer me.  When I return from the trip that I have taken with them, I tell what they have told me and what they have shown me.
                       —Maria Sabina (a Mazatec Shaman), Plants of the Gods

Psilocybe cubensis.  Photo by Dr. Brainfish

In contrast to cannabis, which can be cultivated easily, or the peyote cactus, which grows prolifically in certain parts of Mexico, psilocybin mushrooms have only recently swayed to human cultivation.  Mushrooms yield to cultivation only with the most fastidious, scientifically-controlled methods.  In the wild, these mushrooms grow during very humid times of year, sprouting where they may, seemingly overnight.  Their appearance, then, seems a miraculous occurrence to prescientific peoples.

Psilocybin mushrooms (of which there are numerous species) appear as the last stage of fungal reproduction.  Mushrooms, of any type, stretch skyward as the fruiting bodies of fungi in order to disseminate spores, their units of reproduction.  Because these spores are microscopic, the reproduction process of fungi has only recently been understood with specialized scientific tools.  In traditional cultures the growth of mushrooms could only vaguely be predicted; their mysterious appearance defied the most advanced knowledge of plants.  Combined with their powerful psychoactive traits, psilocybin mushrooms truly fit the profile of a divine substance.

The sixteenth century Spanish missionaries, whose charge it was to convert vast sections of Mesoamerican peoples to Catholicism, found the natives’ knowledge of plants to be quite sophisticated.  The explorers and missionaries possessed no basis of comparison, the lush botanical wealth of these regions had no such European analogue.  In chronicling what they perceived to be a diabolical Aztec religion (which did, in fact, practice terrifying amounts of human sacrifice), the more meticulous missionaries took note of the role of sacred plants in this tradition.  One Dominican friar, Diego Durán, recorded the following:

The sacrifice finished and the steps of the temple and patio bathed in human blood, they all went to eat raw mushrooms; on which food they all went out of their minds, worse than if they had drunk much wine; so drunk and senseless were they that many killed themselves by their own hand, and, with the force of those mushrooms, they would see visions and have revelations of the future, the Devil speaking to them in that drunken state.[74]

Seeing in the mushroom rituals a Satanic perversion of the Catholic Communion, the priests sought to stamp out this tradition.  Along with the vast writings of the Aztec and Maya, these plants were banished by the Church.  While the Aztec writing system and most of its literature was summarily destroyed, the usage of mushrooms continued in small pockets of Aztec-descended culture.  Preserved by the curanderos and sabios (healers and sages), a few of these plants, like the psilocybin mushrooms, have come to be rediscovered by ethnobotanists (those who study the cultural significance of plants).

In 1936, an anthropologist named Blas Pablo Reko, began consulting the Nahua-speaking (a language derived from Aztec) mountain peoples of Oaxaca, Mexico about their sacred plants.  Joined by the godfather of ethnobotany, Richard Evans Schultes, Reko obtained samples of the mushrooms from a village of Mazatec.  In 1939, Schultes published a paper identifying the legendary Aztec teonanácatl (Flesh of the Gods) as this mushroom, and subsequently classified them Psilocybe mexicana.[75] 

Despite this identification, little research followed until the fifties.  An unlikely researcher, R. Gordon Wasson, participated in a secret mushroom velada (night vigil) with the Mazatec sabia María Sabina, herself an heiress of the primordial shaman heritage.  The American enthnobotanist R. Gordon Wasson was no academic, however.  At the time, in fact, he was a Vice-President of J.P. Morgan—a Wall Street banker!  He later coined a term for his own field, ethnomycology—the cultural influence of mushrooms.

He and his wife, a Russian-born physician, had long kindled a fascination for mushrooms.  During their honeymoon in the Catskills, Wasson, of English heritage, reviled his young Russian wife’s delight in the discovery and culinary preparation of wild mushrooms.  He was quite sure she would poison herself eating these dirty ‘toadstools.’  The two intellectuals observed their noteworthy attitudes on this point and nursed their fascination over many years.  They eventually concluded that some cultures (largely Western European) had been taught to shun mushrooms and fear them as universally poisonous.  These cultures they labeled ‘mycophobic.’  Other cultures, like the Slavic Russians, adored mushrooms and commonly distinguished dozens of them.  These cultures they called ‘mycophilic.’  They eventually concluded this divergence of feelings to have arisen from ancient religious taboos.  The strange husband-wife hobby vaulted them to the forefront of a niche field.  In the 1950s, the Wassons devoted increasingly more of their time to their studies and, following Schultes’s trail, were among the first non-Aztec to ever experience the psychoactive influence of these sacred mushrooms.

In 1957, a couple years after the experience, Wasson published an article in Life Magazine about the mushroom velada—the ceremonial mushroom vigil that intertwines rich Catholic motifs with native Aztec traditions.  Some think this article the spore of the psychedelic sixties.  Wasson’s poetic descriptions of his mushroom experience reveal a great deal about their role in shamanic traditions.  The language of Wasson’s accounts leaves no doubt that the mushroom and other entheogens helped early man to discover the soul or, at the very least, confirm its existence as an entity separate from the body:

Here as in the first night the visions seemed freighted with significance.  They seemed the very archetypes of beautiful form and color.  We felt ourselves in the presence of the Ideas that Plato had talked about.  In saying this let not the reader think that we are indulging in rhetoric, straining to command his attention by an extravagant figure of speech.  For the world our visions were and must remain ‘hallucinations’.  But for us at that moment they were not false or shadowy suggestions of real things, figments of an unhinged imagination.  What we were seeing was, we knew, the only reality, of which the counterparts of every day are mere imperfect adumbrations.[76]

To the discontent of both R. Gordon Wasson and María Sabina, the local sabia who led the velada, many in search of psychoactive novelties began disturbing the Mazatec in search of their secret, and sacred, traditions.   Timothy Leary, whose story has already been related, was among the first of these hack anthropologists.

The mushroom veladas exhibit the bizarre mixture of Native and European traditions that mark so much of Latin American culture.  And yet, behind these façades, deeper still, one sees the shamanic influence, the millennial-old traditions, that emerged in the oldest matrix of Euro-Asian culture and lie as essential traits in the religious worldviews of people all over the globe. 

Mushrooms and Mysticism—The Good Friday Experiment

With psilocybin in pill form, thanks to Hofmann, researchers commenced an intriguing set of experiments in the early 1960s.  Later prohibition of the entire class of hallucinogens by the DEA virtually ended research into these substances. 

The most famous experiment was performed by a medical doctor in pursuit of a Ph.D. in the study of religion, Walter Pahnke.  His interest in mysticism led him to research the entheogens.  He decided to base his dissertation on an experiment he designed to test the entheogens’ ability to evoke mystical experiences.  Entitled the Good Friday Experiment, this relatively simple idea gained enormous press.

Using a set of nine criteria to distinguish a mystical experience (unity, transcendence of time and space, deeply felt positive mood, sense of sacredness, objectivity and reality, paradoxicality, alleged ineffability, transiency, and persisting positive changes in mood and behavior[77]) Pahnke distributed (in a double-blind procedure) either psilocybin or a niacin placebo to twenty volunteer subjects, mostly students from the Andover Newton Theological Seminary. 

The setting of the experiment attempted to promote the religious connotations of these drugs.  Pahnke received permission from the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University to conduct the experiment as part of the Good Friday services.  He received use of a closed off basement where the two and a half hour service could be conveyed via loudspeakers. 

Of the ten subjects who actually ingested psilocybin, all experienced mystical experiences along the lines of the criteria mentioned above.  One, unfortunately, went a bit mad and escaped the building, only to be chased down by supervisors of the experiment.  By the next day, this subject was back to normal but never considered his experience very pleasant.[78]

One of the ‘guides’ in this experiment (who also received psilocybin), the same Huston Smith mentioned earlier, reports a particular highlight he had that day.  Smith experienced the acme of his mystical experience after listening to what he objectively considered a “trite” hymn but, “…the gestalt transformed a routine musical progression into the most powerful cosmic homecoming I have ever experienced.”[79] 

In general, the experiences of the subjects who received psilocybin that day in 1962, were profound and cherished over a lifetime.  A retrospective study in 1990 found all the active subjects truly thankful for that day twenty eight years earlier.[80]

Pahnke offered some cogent conclusions about the experiment.  For one, the use of psilocybin to engender authentic mystical experience allows it to be reproduced—a sine qua non for scientific research.  But, as Pahnke is quick to report, psilocybin does not guarantee a mystical experience.  The recurrent theme of set and setting in relation to the entheogens is at least as important in furthering the experience than is the chemical alone:

Positive mystical experience with psychedelic drugs is by no means automatic. It would seem that the "drug effect" is a delicate combination of psychological set and setting in which the drug itself is the trigger or facilitating agent—i.e., in which the drug is a necessary but not sufficient condition.[81]

In the end, mysticism—the origin of religion—may be its final step as well.  Huxley aptly entitled it the “perennial philosophy.”  But mysticism needs more study and more exploration.  Its psychology and possible dangers must be better understood.  In short, mysticism needs science. Just as animism integrated early cultures with their environment, teaching people to believe that all things are spiritual, subject and object alike, now science accomplishes the same thing—teaching us that the material world creates our inner world as well, subject and object revisited.  Unfortunately, we lay between these two worlds—animism and science—desperately holding on to one that we know to be false (but want to be true), and another we know to be true but is, as yet, new and frightening.  Until we recognize the congruency of our highest aspirations with nature, we will remain distorted and confused—hunter-gatherers living in the age of the atom bomb and supermarket.

How Do LSD and Psilocybin Mushrooms Work?

With some eagerness the famed Swiss pharmacologist Albert Hofmann obtained samples of Psilocybe mexicana from Wasson via Roger Heim, a French mycologist.[82]  Hofmann was able to isolate and then synthesize the primary entheogenic chemical he entitled psilocybin.  The various species of mushrooms in the Psilocybe (Greek for “bald head”) genus contain other active chemicals, but most experts agree that psilocybin is the primary agent of the experience.  Wasson and Sabina, after experience with synthetic psilocybin, found no difference from the natural mushroom experience.[83]

Both LSD and psilocybin possess a molecular structure called an indole ring.  These molecules closely resemble the neurotransmitter serotonin and can fit into a certain serotonin receptor, called the 5-HT2 receptor. Current researchers hold this to be the primary site of action for the hallucinogenic effects of these substances.[84]  How or why binding to the 5-HT2 receptors creates the entheogenic experience remains unknown.


Lophophora williamsii. Photo by Peter A. Mansfeld

The peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) has been used as a sacred plant in the Americas for at least 7000 years.[85]  Shaped like a bulging carrot, most of the cactus stretches beneath the soil.  Only the crown of the plant, like the top of a carrot, remains above ground.  A few wooly patches grow on this button and occasionally a dainty flower blooms from it.  Those who make use of the plant cut off this top section.  A new button grows back from the subterranean portion.  Peyote buttons can be dried and kept for a very long time without losing any psychoactive properties. 

Numerous indigenous tribes of Mexico, including the Aztec, revered peyote until the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 16th century.  Christianity’s condemnation of sacred plants largely supplanted peyote usage.  Only a few of the more remote tribes continued to use the cactus for healing purposes.

The Huichol, residents of Western Mexico, remain steadfast in their native traditions and have used peyote for centuries.  Each October, a group of Huichol make an arduous 200 mile journey to a locale where peyote grows wild.  Actually, the journey is not quite so arduous as it once was.  In the old days, it was a 200 mile epic infused with magic and ceremony.  Now it is a road trip along the major highways.  Modernization has crept into this cultural niche as well.  The Huichol still undergo some special preparations and abstain from sex, food, and sleep during the journey.  Upon seeing the first cactus, the Huichol shaman shoots it with an arrow, for in their mythology they associate peyote with the deer and enact a sacred hunt. The pilgrims then proceed to harvest countless buttons, for each adult Huichol will consume between 6-12 of the buttons during the peyote ceremony in January.  Outside of this ceremony, the plant is rarely consumed.

A people who still rely on hunting for a good portion of their food, the Huichol represent, in LaBarre’s words: “…almost the ideal type of the mesolithic shamanic myth.”[86]  By this he refers to his larger theory that the shamanism of mesolithic hunting peoples crossed over with them from Eurasia into the New World tens of thousands of years ago.  The stability of these cultural traits, as portrayed in numerous tribes and in evidence from French caves, to Siberian folkways, to Huichol peyotism, reflect an enormously ancient and influential complex of religious themes among pre-modern peoples the world over.

The art and clothing of the Huichol reflect peyote’s influence on their culture.  Few of the world’s art forms reflect such a mastery of bright color, obviously the workings of the intense visual acuity peyote provides.  Their careful beadwork generally focuses around religious and symbolic themes, commonly depicting the holy trinity of these people—deer, corn, and peyote.  The yarn paintings they specialize can convince the aesthete that he himself is seeing a psychedelic vision—the colors and pronounced play of geometry and form blast the eyes with a visionary maze.

Huichol art.  Photo by Mariana Rentería

As the resident tribes of Texas and the Southwest were increasingly marginalized and forced from their lands, many of them, like the Apache, sought refuge in Mexico.  It is from these and other forays that the use of peyote diffused from Mexican Native American populations to U.S. tribes.  By 1870, peyote had definitely gained a foothold among some tribes of the American Southwest.  From the Apache peyote use spread to the Kiowa, the Comanche, and the Caddo.  By the turn of the twentieth century the congregation of numerous tribes on reservations rapidly diffused the peyote religion.  Oklahoma became the epicenter of this influence and numerous Plains tribes took to peyote as a unifying religion that transcended their normal tribal divisions.  Such unity was more necessary than ever given the tremendous changes wrought in Native American culture by the invasion of Europeans. 

Peyote has been an integral part of certain Native American tribal customs for centuries.  More recently, the use of peyote has achieved a galvanizing effect, bringing together members of disparate tribes into a single church. Peyote enjoys a rare status in American culture for it alone of the classic entheogens possesses a marginal tolerance by federal authorities.  After years of judicial proceedings that alternately sanctioned and prohibited the use of peyote by members of the Native American Church (roughly 200,000 strong), the church finally won its 1993 case before the Supreme Court.

Forte relates a telling anecdote that imparts the Native American view concerning this substance: “Once, when a journalist casually referred to peyote as a drug, a Huichol Indian shaman replied, ‘Aspirin is a drug, peyote is sacred.’”[87]

How Does Peyote Work?

Just as LSD and psilocybin resemble the neurotransmitter serotonin, mescaline, the psychoactive compound of peyote, resembles the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.  Though the states of consciousness between LSD and peyote are not identical, their overwhelming similarity leaves us to question why two different neurotransmitter systems can produce such similar effects. 


For all its novelty, MDMA, or Ecstasy, is not truly new; the compound was synthesized by Merck Laboratories in 1914.[88]  In the late 1960s people had begun experimenting with many obscure hallucinogens besides the ‘majors.’  Among these lesser known substances was MDA, an amphetamine derivative.  When the DEA cracked down on the hallucinogens they numbered MDA among those to be scheduled.  Underground chemists found MDMA to be quite similar, molecularly, to MDA.  Citing this similarity, people cautiously began using it.  To their delight, it provided a unique psychological experience. 

Ecstasy does not resemble other hallucinogens/entheogens.  When using it people don’t experience the unusual alterations in perception that LSD or psilocybin provide.  The most striking property of Ecstasy is the feeling of empathy it arouses.  It promotes trust and kindles concern for others.  Some have entitled MDMA the ‘love drug.’ 

Despite it’s lurid label, Ecstasy is not an aphrodisiac.  In fact, during the better portion of the four hour trip the ‘mechanics’ of sexual performance are hindered, especially in men.  Rather than an erotic arousal, Ecstasy heightens non-sexual feelings of unity and commonality. Again, we must be struck by the ability of a drug to produce sentiments so traditionally ‘spiritual.’  The spirit of loving community that the early Christians deemed holy—agape and koinonia—are here rendered in chemical form.  The kind-hearted atmosphere of an Ecstasy rave is probably not different in kind from a Baptist prayer meeting.

The earliest camp to realize these special properties and use them for therapeutic purposes was a network of psychologists.  One of the great difficulties in psychotherapy is generating enough trust for an honest rapport between patient and therapist.  For wounded people, there may be so many layers of defenses against a trusting relationship that useful therapy becomes almost impossible.

In the 1970s a chemist, impressed with Ecstasy’s empathogenic (empathy-producing) properties, discussed them with a friend of his, an elder psychotherapist on the verge of retirement.[89]  The psychotherapist had occasionally used hallucinogens in therapy sessions.  Intrigued, he decided to give this still-legal drug a try.  He was so impressed with the breakthroughs he achieved with some ‘stuck’ patients that he became Ecstasy’s chief proponent.  He spread the word of his good results and a number of psychotherapists began using Ecstasy in their practices.

Two camps quickly emerged in Ecstasy’s history—the elitists and the popularists.  The elitists held that Ecstasy should remain a relative secret, used by therapists and those psychological explorers who had already logged many hours in the reaches of psychedelic space.  The elitists wanted to investigate its uses fully.  Newcomers, they feared, might abuse the drug, using it without regard to appropriate set and setting.  More than this, though, they feared that the popularization of Ecstasy would bring it to the attention of government authorities and lead to its regulation.  Though legal, production occurred on a rather small scale catering to the needs of psychotherapists and cognoscenti.  This group, based in Boston, did everything to stave off publicity and prevent government intervention.  One Dallas-based Ecstasy user felt that he had stumbled onto a gold mine.  He sought investors and began large-scale production of the substance in 1983.  The Texas group advertised the drug at bars and nightclubs and distributed it at these locales.  Instead of a beer, one could easily purchase a tablet of Ecstasy from any Dallas bartender for about $20.  These entrepreneurs were right, they were mining the mother lode and turning some major profits.  Ecstasy was made a Schedule I drug by the DEA just two years later.[90]  To be placed in this category, a drug must meet the following criteria: a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of safety for use even under medical supervision.

How Does Ecstasy Work?

The mechanism of ecstasy is uncertain.  It may work by fostering a massive release of serotonin.  Some research suggests MDMA to be neurotoxic.  In particular, it is thought to selectively damage serotonin neurons.[91]  The long-term consequences of such injury could be disastrous but at this time few of its users seem to be complaining.  Like most drugs, when MDMA is irresponsibly abused—taken too often or taken in large doses—damage to one’s body is almost certain.  Furthermore, when taken at raves, during which people may dance all night, MDMA may be particularly dangerous.  Its tendency to alter heat regulation can cause a great deal of bodily harm, including rapid electrolyte imbalance.  When these imbalances progress, the brain may swell.

[1] Andrew Weil,  The Natural Mind  (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company,  1972),  p. 29.
[2] Weil,  p. 19.
[3] Huston Smith,  Cleansing the Doors of Perception (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000),  p. 15.
[4] Wasson, R. Gordon, Albert Hofmann, Carl A.P. Ruck,  The Road to Eleusis  (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978),  P. 29.
[5] Huston Smith,  p. 24.
[6] Walter Pahnke, “Drugs and Mysticism,”  in The International Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1966): 295-313.
[7] Peter T. Furst, Hallucinogens and Culture  (San Francisco, CA: Chandler & Sharp, 1976),  p. 17.
[8] Cf. Walter Pahnke,  pp. 295-313. [Perhaps there is more of a biochemical basis to such "natural" experiences than has been previously supposed. Certainly many ascetics who have had mystical experiences have engaged in such practices as breathing and postural exercises, sleep deprivation, fasting, flagellation with subsequent infection, sustained meditation, and sensory deprivation in caves or monastic cells. All these techniques have an effect on body chemistry. There is a definite interplay between physiological and psychological processes in the human being.]
[9] Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers,  The Power of Myth,  ed. Betty Sue Flowers (New York: Anchor Books, 1988),  p. 16.
[10] Michael Harner (ed.),  Hallucinogens and Shamanism  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973),  p. xiv.
[11] Paul Devereux,  The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia  (New York: Penguin Books, 1997),  p. 220.
[12] Michael Harner,  “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft,”  in Hallucinogens and Shamanism  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973),  p. 128-129.
[13] Gustav Schenk,  The Book of Poisons,  trans. Michael Bullock  (New York: Rinehart, 1955), cited in Michael Harner, p. 139-140.
[14] Michael Harner, p. xi.
[15] Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty,  “The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant,”  in R. Gordon Wasson,  Soma: The Divine Mushroom of Immortality,”  (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968),  p. 95.
[16] Richard Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Christian Rätsch,  Plants of the Gods,  (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2001),  pp. 82-85.
[17] R. Gordon Wasson,  Soma: The Divine Mushroom of Immortality,  pp. 41. 
[18]  Wasson,  Soma,  pp. 29-31.
[19] Wasson, R. Gordon, Albert Hofmann, Carl A.P. Ruck,  The Road to Eleusis  (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978),  p. 51.
[20] Marcus Tullius Cicero,  Laws (The Loeb Classical Library),  trans. C.W. Keyes,  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928),  Book II, 36, p. 415.
[21] Plato,  Phaedrus,  trans. R. Hackforth, Plato: The Collected Dialogues,  eds. Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns  (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961),  250 b-c.
[22] Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987),  pp. 91-92.
[23] Burkert,  p. 90.
[24] Burkert,  p. 89.
[25] Carl Kerényi,  Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter,  trans. Ralph Manheim,  (New York: Pantheon Books, 1967),  p. 177.
[26] Kerényi, p. 178-179.
[27] Sopatros,  Rhet. Gr. VIII, 114f.  in Walter Burkert,  Ancient Mystery Cults  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987),  p. 90.
[28] Burkert,  p. 113-114.
[29] Burkert,  p. 93.
[30] Wasson, Hofmann, Ruck,  p. 21.
[31] Kerényi,  p. 12.
[32] Weston LaBarre,  “History and Ethnography of Cannabis,”  in Culture in Context: Selected Writings of Weston LaBarre  (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1980),  p. 93.
[33] William Emboden,  “Ritual Use of Cannabis Sativa: A Historical-Ethnographic Survey,”  in Peter Furst (ed.),  Flesh of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Hallucinogens  (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972),  p. 217.
[34] Herodotus (The Loeb Classical Library), Vol. 2,  trans. A.D. Godley  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971),  Book IV, 74-74, pp. 273-275.
[35] Ernest Abel,  Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years  (New York: Plenum Press, 1980),  p. 17.
[36] Emboden,  pp. 220-222
[37] LaBarre,  “History and Ethnography of Cannabis,” p. 99.
[38] Charles Baudelaire,  Artificial Paradises: On Hashish and Wine as Means of Expanding Individuality,  Trans. Ellen Fox  (New York: Herder & Herder, 1971),  pp. 18-23.
[39] Ernest Abel,  Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years  (New York: Plenum Press, 1980),  p. 80.
[40] Abel,  p. 214.
[41] U.S. Census Bureau,  Table No. 238.
[42] For a thorough discussion of marijuana’s medical properties see Institute of Medicine,  Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, Janet Joy, Stanley Watson, and John Benson (eds.)  (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999).
[43] U.S. Census Bureau,  Table No. 361.
[44] Institute of Medicine,  pp. 83-136.
[45] J.C. Anthony, L.A. Warner, R.C. Kessler,  “Comparative Epedemiology of Dependence on Tobacco, Alcohol, Controlled Substances, and Inhalants: Basic Findings form the national Comorbidity Survey,”  in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology 2(1994) : 244-268.
[46] Ray and Ksir,  pp. 401-402.
[47] Emboden,  p. 214.
[48] Institute of Medicine,  p. 25.
[49] Institute of Medicine,  p. 36.
[50] Institute of Medicine,  p. 41.
[51] Institute of Medicine,  p. 42.
[52] Institute of Medicine,  pp. 43-47.
[53] Eliot Gardiner,  “Cannabinoid Interaction with Brain Reward Systems—the Neurobiological Basis of Cannabinoid Abuse,”  in Marijuana/Cannabinoids: Neurobiology and Neurophysiology,  eds. Laura Murphy and Andrzej Bartke  (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992),  p. 322.
[54] Institute of Medicine,  pp. 51-53.
[55] Institute of Medicine,  p.  58.
[56] L. Grinspoon and J.B. Bakalar,  Marijuana, The Forbidden Medicine  (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).
[57] Weston LaBarre,  “Anthropological Perspectives on Hallucination, Hallucinogens, and the Shamanic Origins of Religion,”  in Culture in Context: Selected Writings of Weston LaBarre  (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1980),  p. 65.
[58] For a complete account, Albert Hofmann,  LSD: My Problem Child,  Trans. Jonathan Ott (Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy Tarcher,  1983),  pp. 5-21.
[59] Hofmann,  LSD: My Problem Child,  p. 15.
[60] Hofmann, LSD: My Problem Child,  pp. 17-18.
[61] Stanislov Grof with Hal Bennett,  The Holotropic Mind  (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993),  pp. 15-16.
[62] John Marks,  The Search for the Manchurian Candidate,  (New York: New York Times Books, 1979),  pp. 4-6.
[63] Marks,  p. 57.
[64] Marks,  p. 58.
[65] Marks,  p. 63.
[66] Marks,  pp. 65-67.
[67] Marks,  pp. 73-86.
[68] Lee Guthrie,  The Life and Loves of Cary Grant  (New York: Drake Publishers,  1977),  pp. 163-165.
[69] Timothy Leary,  High Priest  (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1968),  pp. 12-34.
[70] Jay Stevens, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream  (New York: Harper & Row, 1987),  pp. 188-271.
[71] Stevens,  p. 342.
[72] Alan Watts,  In My Own Way  (New York: Vintage, 1972),  p. 402.
[73] Richard Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Christian Rätsch,  Plants of the Gods  (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2001),  p. 156.
[74] Diego Durán,  Historia de las Indias de Nueva España, IICap LIV 24; quoted in R. Gordon Wasson,  The Wondrous Mushroom (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980), p. 202.
[75] Richard Evans Schultes,  “The Identification of Teonanacatl, a narcotic Basidiomycete of the Aztecs,”  in Botanical Museum Leaflets  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University,  1939),  pp. 37-54.
[76] Wasson,  The Wondrous Mushroom,  p. 16.
[77] Walter Pahnke,  pp. 295-313.
[78] Smith,  p. 101-104.
[79] Smith,  p. 101.
[80] Rick Doblin,  “Pahnke’s ‘Good Friday Experiment’: A Long-Term Follow-Up and Methodological Critique,”  The journal of Transpersonal Psychology 23, no. 1, (1991), 1-28.
[81] Pahnke,  pp. 295-313.
[82] Robert Forte,  “A Conversation with R. Gordon Wasson,”  in Entheogens and the Future of Religion,  ed. Robert Forte  (San Francisco: The Council on Spiritual Practices, 1997),  pp. 72-73.
[83] Hofmann,  LSD: My Problem Child,  pp. 141-142.
[84] Richard Glennon,  “Pharmacology of Hallucinogens,”  in Handbook of Substance Abuse,  eds. Ralph Tarter, Robert Ammerman, Peggy Ott  (New York: Plenum Press, 1998),  pp. 222-223.
[85] Richard Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Christian Rätsch,  Plants of the Gods,  (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2001),  p. 145.
[86] Weston LaBarre,  The Peyote Cult, 5th Ed.,  (Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1989),  p. 257.
[87] Robert Forte (ed.),  Entheogens and the Future of Religion  (San Francisco: The Council on Spiritual Practices, 1997),  p. 1.
[88] William McKim,  Drugs and Behavior,  4th Ed.,  (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000),  p. 331.
[89] Alexander Shulgin,  Pikhal: A Chemical Love Story  (Berkeley, CA: Transform Press, 1991).
[90] Jerome Beck and Marsha Rosenbaum,  Pursuit of Ecstasy: The MDMA Experience  (Albany, NY: The State University of New York Press, 1994),  pp. 18-22.
[91] Una McCann, Melissa Mertl, and George Ricaurte,  “Ecstasy,” in Handbook of Substance Abuse,  eds. Ralph Tarter, Robert Ammerman, Peggy Ott  (New York: Plenum Press, 1998),  pp. 567-574.


Post a Comment