Who Takes Psychedelics?
“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.”
— Terence McKenna
Why do people take psychedelics?
Studies suggest psychedelics could be a breakthrough therapy for mental health issues including depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD, and PTSD through their ability to work on a deep emotional as well as biological level. Matthew Johnson, who leads the Johns Hopkins University Psilocybin Research Project, says "Unlike almost all other psychiatric medications that have a direct biological effect, these drugs seem to work through biology to open up a psychological opportunity”.
Psychedelics can also bring about profoundly positive and meaningful experiences for people who aren't facing any particular issue or difficulty. In a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 80% of those who received psilocybin said it was one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives; 50% said it was the single most meaningful experience. Many of the participants said they were left with the sense that they understood themselves and others better and therefore had greater compassion and patience - a change reported by their colleagues, friends and families too.
Psychedelics may also improve creativity and problem-solving abilities. Apple's Steve Jobs said taking LSD was "one of the most important things [I did] in my life" , whilst Gregory Sams, co-founder of Whole Earth Foods, said "It was as a direct consequence of my brother and myself taking LSD that we introduced natural and organic foods in the UK."
Our relationship with psychedelics goes back throughout millennia, in places as diverse as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, China, India, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Central and Western Europe, West and North Africa, Siberia and Scandinavia to name but a few. One study established that of 488 different cultures surveyed, 90% of them had some ritualistic alteration of consciousness through psychedelics.
Evidence of the use of psychoactive plants can be elucidated through many sources of information, including archaeological data, iconographic evidence, ethnographic accounts, ethnobotany, folk tradition, and chemical analysis. In ‘traditional’ cultures, psychedelic plants fulfilled functions as diverse as healing the sick, resolving disputes, developing symbolic culture, communing with the divine and connecting with the natural world. In Western culture, psychedelics have been successfully applied for purposes such as treatment of alcoholism, addiction, chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety associated with terminal illness and assistance with general psychotherapy.
The fly agaric mushroom has been used for shamanic purposes worldwide. It has even been linked to the ancient Indian Somaa. The use of entheogens by aboriginal people have been restricted mostly to magic, medical and spiritual purposes.
The main difference between out current use and the pre-industrial society use is the belief of their origin and purpose. All aboriginal societies consider these plants as sacred gifts from the gods and even revered as gods themselves. It is obvious our modern cultures do not see the entheogens in this light.
Most entheogens are sacred mediators between man and the supernatural.
Soma is the glorified ancient god entheogen of ancient India. Soma revered to as so sacred it has been suggested the idea of deity has arisen from its unearthly effects.
The sacred Mexican mushrooms have along history closely connected to shamanism and religion. The Aztec’s called them Teonanácatl - “DiVine flesh” and were ingested for ceremonial use. Over three thousand years ago the highland Maya cultures of Guatemala had a sophisticated religion utilizing mushrooms.
The most famous sacred entheogen of the new world is peyote (hikuri) which is identified with deer and maize by the Wixárita - Huichol of Mexico. Their original shaman Tatewari let the first Peyote collecting expedition and subsequent annual holy pilgrimages to Wirikuta are made to collect the plant. Wirikuta is the original paradisal home of their ancestors.
In South America, Ayahuasca reveals the real world, while daily living is an illusion. In Quechua Ayahuasca means ‘cirrus of the soul’ and is derived from the periodic experience of the soul separating from the body during elation, mediating with the ancestors and forefathers of the spirit world. The drinking of Ayahuasca is “a return to the maternal womb, to the source and origin of all things” where participants see “all the tribal divinities, creation of the universe, the first human beings and animals and even the establishment of social order” - Reichel-Dolmatoff
Not always the shaman or medicine man administers the medicine. The general population also shares the entheogens however use is usually controlled by taboos or ceremonial confinement.
The Waro of Venezuela smoke tobacco to enter trance like states that induce visions.
Soma, the holy inebriant in India was drunk thousands of years ago in the most sacred rights. Most entheogens were thought of as sacred mediators however soma became a deity in its own right. The machines Indian Rif Veda recoded this and states “Parjanya, the god of thunder, was the father of soma” (Indra)
“Enter into the heart of Indra, receptacle of Soma, like rivers into the ocean, though who pleases Mitra, Varun, Vaya, mainstay of heaven....Father of the gods, progenitor of the moving force, mainstay of the sky, foundation of the earth”
Of the thousands of holy verses in the Rig Veda , 120 are devoted exclusively to Soma and references to this sacrament are in many other hymns.