I want to add something to my last post. And yes, I get this right from being a multi-dimensional transpersonal monochromatic knight of the inner realms. Or maybe it’s just because I’m a geek.
The following point really merits more posts or more like its own book. I mention that the Viking Youth discuss various methods of trance induction that are not “catalyzed by psychoactive chemicals” and that dreams could be ‘naturally’ induced non-ordinary states of consciousness.
The whole argument of synthetic drug (LSD) vs. natural drug (Morning Glory) and substance induced (drug) vs. naturally induced (meditation) altered states is riddled with misconceptions and ambiguities. If you listen to the Viking Youth Power Hour they mention a natural way to induce an altered state is by using pain to flood the brain with endorphins which are endogenous opioid biochemical compounds. Essentially, there is no way to avoid some sort of chemical process going on the brain that is not ‘natural’ to the brains normal state, hence non-ordinary state of consciousness. Endogenous means that the compound originates naturally in the body but there are also synthesized drugs which are psychoactive by altering the level of endogenous compounds in the brain. There are even endogenous cannabinoids (from the word cannabis) found in the body.
When a shaman ingests magic mushrooms which contain psilocybin it is converted into psilocin in the body. There are only subtle differences in ingesting synthesized psilocin and naturally occuring mushrooms such as potency and whatever other chemicals can be found in the mushroom. It is possible that this subtle difference may make all the difference for shamanic a purpose, that’s a complicated area of inquiry. But Albert Hofmann and Maria Sabina may offer some insight:
“When I was in Mexico on an expedition with my friend Gordon Wasson in 1963, in search of a hallucinogenic plant, we also visited the famous curandera Maria Sabina in Huautla de Jimenez. We were invited to attend a nocturnal mushroom ceremony in her hut, but as it was late in the year and no more mushrooms were available, I supplied her with pills containing synthetic psilocybin. She took a rather strong dose corresponding to the number of mushrooms she usually ingests. It was a gala performance assisted by a number of people of Maria Sabina’s clan. At dawn when we left the hut, our Mazateca interpreter told us that Maria Sabina had said there was no difference between the pills and the mushrooms. This was a final proof that our synthetic psilocybin was identical in every respect with the natural product.”
-Albert Hofmann (discoverer of LSD)
In regards to dreaming there is an interesting assessment of DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) by Dr. Rick Strassman in DMT: The Spirit Molecule. The book is based on his project that took place for five years in which he administered approximately 400 doses of DMT to 60 human volunteers. This research took place at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine in Albuquerque. Dr. Rick Strassman thinks Dimethyltryptamine may be connected to the hallucinogenic aspects of dreaming. It is an endogenous hallucinogenic tryptamine which is hypothesized to be produced by the pineal gland. This gland is also referred to as the ‘third eye’, ‘the seat of the soul by the philosopher Rene Descartes, and Ajna or the sixth chakra in yoga. DMT is a schedule 1 drug even though we all have it in our brains. What is the fine line between experiencing the state after ingesting it for shamanic use, which is illegal in many countries, and simply going to bed?
To return to the topic of natural vs. synthetic:
I think the fear of synthetic chemicals is twofold. Our culture is at the point where it’s beginning to fear that which is not natural because of a number of reasons, specifically our environment being in decline and the partial responsibility of the synthetic for this. The idea of mimicking the ecstatic experience by ingesting something from a lab is somehow more threatening than something originating in the forest. However, this fear might not be completely unwarranted.
A method in assessing the toxicity of a substance or its potential harm to the body/mind when one doesn’t have access to a lab is by focusing on the numbers of years and in what ways it was used through out history. Most, if not all entheogens (psychoactive substances taken in a religious or shamanic context) have been used for hundreds and thousands of years. If people have not been harmed by such use, it’s fairly safe to say that it won’t be detrimental to your well being. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said by all synthesized substances, including some new pharmacological drugs which are used with modern psychotherapy. Please see the Mind vs. Body post and future posts on this topic. An example would be the withdrawal symptoms and addictive properties of Paxil.
I also mentioned the way entheogens are used for a specific reason as well. The ritual aspect of the use of psychoactive substances may have been an imbedded failsafe mechanism which prevented them from being used too frequently, the effects of which still need to be studied.