An entheogen (meaning, literally, “generator of the divine within”) is a psychoactive substance – including peyote, psilocybin (mushrooms), uncured tobacco, cannabis, ayahuasca, Salvia divinorum (diviner’s sage), Tabernathe iboga, Ipomocea tricolor, and Amanita muscaria – used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context for healing, transcendence, and revelation in a ritualized context for thousands of years. Their use is sacraments far predates America’s psychedelic revolution of the 1960s, in which synthesized psychoactive compounds like LSD became popular in the mass culture.
Historically, U.S. drug policy seems to have been founded on political and economic bias not rationality, but with the increasing legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use in more and more states, advances are well underway, despite periodic incursions by the old guard. Many prohibited naturally-occuring psychoactive substances have profound medical applications. Iboga’s synthetic form, ibogaine, is surrounded by controversy because of its powerful anti-addictive properties, which were discovered in the sixties by Howard Lotsof (wonder if that’s an assumed name), boasting a 50% success rate in curing alcoholics as recorded by Dr. Gabor Mate. Author William S. Burroughs, who shot heroin off and on through his 70s and lived to be 83, vouched for ibogaine’s ability to cure that addiction as well. Entheogens are illegal in several countries, including the United States, and their use is not to be entered into without profound respect and extensive research.
Burroughs also undertook an expedition to South America in search of a substance known as yage, as chronicled in the letters sent back and forth between himself and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg compiled in The Yage Letters, first published by City Lights Books in 1963. “Ayahuasca” means “the Vine of the Dead” or “the Vine of Souls.” It is given this name for a number of very good reasons,” says modern researcher Graham Hancock, author of War God and other books. “One is that it can allow the experience of contact with those who have passed on. I make no claims here as to the reality status of that experience, although I do have an opinion. . . . a visionary brew that marries leaves containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT) with a monamine oxidase inhibitor contained in the Ayahuasca vine itself.” Whatever this researcher’s opinion on the contact with the dead angle, other researchers have lately proclaimed that DMT is “the key to the mystery of death.”
Western society sometimes seems to have razed and repaved that section of the planet, but the jungles of this world are full of magic plants. Says a friend of mine: “Iboga comes deep from the African jungle, and is used among the Bwiti as a rite of passage and for healing purposes. The Bwiti take massive amounts and believe they are taken to the spirit world to visit their ancestors and to learn powerful lessons. It indeed has tremendous healing ability. You hallucinate but not anything like you would on the most common psychedelics like mushrooms, LSD, DMT etc. Sometimes the visions can be chaotic, even dark and disturbing, but even if they seem meaningless the person still usually gains so much from the plant. It is more like lucid dreaming, to begin with, and can feel like you are in an all healing cat scan, you can sometimes actually see your brain being re-wired or being scrubbed clean, and in reality it is doing this to your brain and body. To see it happen is a beautiful thing. It can also be said that many people are visited by the Iboga spirit, to me he seemed like a stern father figure showing and telling you what you need to do to change your life. He is also known to show people things about the world we live in, deep, profound and sometimes spectacular things.
“Many of those who have met with this spirit will tell you they do not believe he is your typical hallucination, that he actually exists (most see him as male, though some see a female spirit). I for one am in that group. I am forever changed from meeting him and I do not believe he will ever leave me, he told me ‘I am always with you now,’ he told me a lot of things, but those words came from deep within my chest and not from my head like the rest of our conversations, and conversations I had with others. (passed relatives and other spirits). Iboga is not something you would ever want to go into blindly, it can be dangerous. People have died. There are many things one needs to know before even considering this sacrament and having a guide, sitter and provider are necessary (a knowledgeable person could be all three). Many people pay quite a bit of money for this treatment, but since it is also such a powerful tool at interrupting addiction, it can still be so much cheaper than a traditional drug or alcohol treatment center and is probably much more effective. Being illegal in the US, one may also get a pretty nice vacation. The legality of Iboga is a whole different and long discussion. You hallucinate but not anything like you would on the most common psychedelics like mushrooms, LSD, DMT etc. It is more like lucid dreaming, to begin with. It can feel like you are in an all healing cat scan, you can sometimes actually see your brain being re-wired or being scrubbed clean, and in reality it is doing this to your brain and body, and to see it happen is a beautiful thing.”
Says Graham Hancock, “. . . The Ayahuasca experience is by no means all sweetness and light and if you go into a session with that naïve expectation you may well, at some time or other, find yourself unpleasantly surprised. Ayahuasca is extremely serious business and this is one amongst many reasons why I would not advise anyone to partake of it without skilled and well-intentioned shamanic guidance – though such guidance, these days, is available from a small but growing number of good-willed and completely un-egotistical Western shamans as well as from Amazonian shamans. Indeed the fact that a self-styled ‘shaman’ hails from the Amazon is no guarantee whatsoever of the quality of care and service he will provide; in this, as in all adventurous journeys where hazards can be expected you should do your research carefully, consult others and rely on word of mouth before committing yourself to a particular path. With these necessary cautions expressed, however, I conclude by affirming that the Ayahuasca experience is, above all else, about love and that there is openness of heart in it and a tremendous sweeping away of the blockages and mechanisms of denial that prevent us from getting to grips with and resolving fundamental issues in our lives.”
Times Square hustler Herbert Huncke, who turned William Burroughs onto heroin, once said that ibogaine was the ‘closest thing yet’ to the cure that the Beats were looking for in the fifties, and its use has been credited with near miraculous effectuality in curing chemical addictions of any sort (if not spiritual malaise, which can be hard to shake). As a side note, In 1972, journalist Hunter S. Thompson accused democratic candidate Edmund Muskie of being addicted to ibogaine in a satirical piece while covering the Wisconsin primaries of the 1972 U.S. Presidential primaries for Rolling Stone magazine, later collected in his book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign trail ’72. The claim, of course, was completely unfounded, and Thompson himself is documented in the movie Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson discussing the self-fabricated joke of Muskie’s alleged ibogaine use and his surprise that anyone actually believed the claim though many readers, and even some other journalists, fell for it hook, line and sinker.
I’m happy to report, dear Ghost of Herbert Huncke, that popular wisdom has grown by leaps and bounds in with the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis sales and usage within certain agreed upon regulations in an increasing number of states, opening the door to further tolerance in this connection, and normalization of cannabis use. While defenders of the old guard are predictably continuing to mock pot smokers with jokes about the munchies, their foundation seems antiquated and weak compared to the rightful change occurring. Says Graham Hancock, “There can be no more intimate and elemental part of the individual than his or her own consciousness. At the deepest level, our consciousness is what we are—to the extent that if we are not sovereign over our own consciousness then we cannot in any meaningful sense be sovereign over anything else either.”