When science fails to answer the unanswerable questions regarding life and the universe, man is compelled to venture deeper into the realms of the unknown and the unseen for the answers.
The great shamanic cultures of old, whose mastery and understanding of nature is unparalleled, all have one thing in common - the use of mind-altering psychedelics as a source of knowledge and wisdom. Take for example, the Amazonian jungle tribes of South America. All the way back to the Aztecs and Toltec Indians, Native Americans used have used DMT and Mescaline to induce sacred visions, divine the future, and also as medicine which they revered as having the healing power of the gods. These jungle shamans concocted a brew called Ayahuasca, which contains a mix of DMT yielding plants in combination with a specific vine thay acts as a MAO inhibiter and makes it psychoactive when ingested orally. The Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, the so called “father of Chinese medicine”, also used cannabis as a holy medicine some 5000 years ago (approximately 2695 BCE). How did the native Indians know how to combine these specific plants together? How did Emperor Shen Nung have an understanding of the human body that contemporary medicine is still trying to comprehend?
In this last century our understanding of psychedelics has increased dramatically, with the discovery of LSD and numerous other fascinating new compounds, but over the centuries we have forgotten the inner world which was core to the primitive cultures whose innate knowledge possessed what modern science is just now discovering in a fragmented way. Scientific reasoning have taught us to discount anything that can’t be quantified or easily referenced, and perhaps that’s where we’ve gone wrong. As logic and technology dictate over our lives and minds we find ourselves looking at an increasingly polarised version of reality, and further disconnected from the essence that supports our very existence.
In order to tackle the the original paradox of thought, to “think that which is unthinkable”, it’s necessary to remove the boundaries and change the scope with which our consciousness operates. This is where psychedelics have been instrumental in enabling some of the greatest minds and discoveries in history.
Many people believe that “drugs are bad”, but the reality is that each chemical structure in nature is unique and therefore has it’s own special purpose. To classify them all as “bad” because some legal doctrine says so just means that the propaganda machine has done in it’s job well, and that some de-education is called for.
Over the decades we have been show pictures of deformed babies, and homeless people roaming the streets with vacant and lifeless eyes, in relation to LSD and other psychedelic substances. The truth is that psychedelic substances, unlike opiates and amphetamines, aren’t addictive, and these horrifying images are more indicative of heroine and ice abusers. If fact, LSD and psychedelic mushrooms are among the least toxic an safest psychotropic substances. It’s also interesting to note that people who have used psychedelics tend to be more intelligent and open minded, and people who claim otherwise have probably never tried them or have some kind of hidden agenda.
Many great and famous people throughout history have used substances like LSD for inspiration and insight. Steve Jobs used LSD to envision his world changing range of Apple products. If “think different” isn’t a classic psychonaut’s motto, then I don’t know what is! Jobs says it best in his own words:
“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, and the pioneer of modern genetics is another. He regularly took small amounts of LSD to aid his thought process, and he claims it was taking LSD that gave him the breakthrough visions that allowed him to unravel and discover the double-helix structure of DNA.
There are many other noteworthy examples, but less known and no less incredible are the artworks of Alex Grey. Alex Grey also attributes his insight and understanding of the energetics of the human form to the use of LSD.
Like anything, psychedelics can be abused and overused. In people who overuse psychedelics one can observe a rift or disassociation with reality, in which they find it hard to focus and apply themselves. However, it’s also highly likely that someone who would abuse psychedelics would already suffer from some kind of attention deficit disorder.
Having said all this, it should also be firmly acknowledged that psychedelics aren’t for everyone. These not a common “party drugs”, but powerful tools for the purpose of knowledge and insight, and taking them should be treated with caution and the utmost respect. Someone with a fragile state of mind, or a traumatic past they haven’t dealt with, can easily have a “bad trip” which can result in a terrifying experience for everyone.
Phenythylamines and Tryptamines
Most psychedelics we know about fall into two main chemical “classes” or “families”, known as phenythylamines and tryptamines. For chemistry novices, the tryptamine family includes substances like LSD, Psylocybin (contained within magic mushrooms), and DMT, while the phenythylamine family includes substances like MDMA, 2C-B, MDA, amphetamines and mescaline.
For those wishing to expand their knowledge on phenythylamines and tryptamines, the works of Alexander Shulgin provide unsurpassed insight.
Alexander Theodore “Sasha” Shulgin (June 17, 1925 – June 2, 2014) was an American medicinal chemist, biochemist, pharmacologist, psychopharmacologist, and author. Shulgin is best known for introducing MDMA (also known as “ecstasy”) to psychologists in the late 1970s for psychopharmaceutical use, but his real legacy is discovereing, synthesising, and personally bioassaying over 230 psychoactive compounds, and evaluating them for their psychedelic and/or entactogenic potential.
Sasha Shulgin and his wife, Ann — a psychedelic therapist, speaker, and author in her own right — regularly tried new compounds from Sasha’s lab. If, after considerable self-experimentation, a compound proved worthy of further analysis, they would share it with a group of close friends. The “research group” would test the new chemical and rate it for duration, psychedelic qualities, and other effects.
The Shulgins published the results of their research, including the theory, synthesis and effects of each substance is documented in two groundbreaking volumes, PiHKAL and TiHKAL. The titles stand for Phenethylamines and Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved. As Sasha once put it, everyone has “the license to explore the nature of his own soul.”, and as testament to the couple’s goal of free public access to information the books are published online here and here.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamine, commonly referred to as LSD, LSD-25, or Acid, is a semi-synthetic substance synthesised from ergotamine, an alkaloid present in ergot. Ergot is a parasitic, and highly toxic fungus known as Clabviceps Purpurea, which grows on the Rye plant. In the middle ages, ergot was responsible for a number of epidemics when ergot infected Rye was milled into bread and consumed by thousands, causing ergotism (ergot poisoning, commonly known as “Saint Anthonies Fire”) on a mass public scale.
LSD was inadvertently discovered by Albert Hoffman in 1938, while working on a research project for the Swiss drug company, Sandoz. At the time, Hoffman’s research was focused on Lysergic Acid, a compound derived from ergot, for a number of medicinal applications. When Hoffman first synthesised LSD-25, he hoped that it would be able stimulate breathing and circulation. After the first round of tests were inconclusive, LSD-25 was shelved despite Hoffman feeling that the compounds potential hadn’t beed fully explored.
Five years later, Hoffman’s thoughts returned to LSD-25, and he took the unusual step of synthesising another batch for further testing. During the testing process, Hoffman must have got some on his finger and touched it to his mouth (LSD cannot be absorbed through the skin), because he had to stop work and leave home early due to a feeling of “being affected by a feeling of remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness”. According to Hoffman, during his bike ride home, and later that night, he “perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours”.
Hoffman reported his findings to Sandoz, who ran more clinical trials, and were very excited by their initial findings; no other substance was so potent at such low quantity, and had such a low toxicity relative to the dosage. Sandoz quickly saw the potential of LSD for use in psychotherapy, and provided LSD samples to research instates and doctors for further psychiatric experimentation. By 1947, the research was compelling enough to convince Sandoz to patent LSD, and package and market it as Delysid to be sold in 25 microgram tablets for use in psychotherapy.
When Sandoz threw open the doors to “anyone” who cared to purchase LSD, the Americal Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) became paranoid. The CIA knew the Russians were engaged in tests to create truth serums, and undermine the behaviour and personalities of regular people to turn them into unwitting and involuntary assassins. This has the CIA spooked, the U.S. government started their own experiments by testing the effects of the drug. From 1953 to 1964, the CIA ran a program called MK-ULTRA, which was an umbrella operation covering 149 subprojects with the purpose of exploring new methods of chemical and psychological warfare. Experiments were conducted on voluntary subjects in exchange for her heroin and other drugs, and on hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians, prison inmates, federal agents, and military personal.
In 1975 congress held inquiries into the alleged clandestine operation named MK-ULTRA, but CIA maintained it’s standard silence; the files had been destroyed and the new directors had no knowledge of old projects. Two years later, the skeleton that was MK-ULTRA in the CIA’s closet emerged entirely, thanks to a Freedom of Information act request lodged by a journalist that turned up several boxes of information that had escaped destruction. These documents exposed information on places, names, methods of electro-shock torture, poisoning by sleight of hand, how they used hookers to lure unsuspecting civilians for undisclosed testing, slipped LSD into drinks at bars, and conducted interrogations with subjects under the prolonged influence of LSD.
On the flip side, when LSD escaped the lab it was quickly evangelised by hippies and clandestine chemists such as Owsley Stanley. LSD was the drug of choice which played a pivotal role in the consciousness shift that enabled the 1960’s counterculture and revolution to take place.
An interesting thing to note is the contrast in the way the way LSD has been perceived and used by different groups. Just as one segment of the American population started experimenting with the drug in order to produce peace and spiritual awakening, their government was using the same drug to try and “brainwash” people into compliance. Where the hippies saw unity and joy; the CIA saw paranoia and fear.
DMT, or Dimethyltryptamine, is a member of the tryptamine family, and is arguably the most fascinating psychedelic substance known to man. DMT exists naturally within each one of us, and in trace amounts in almost every living plant and animal. It could be said that DMT is the “spirit molecule”, the link between the physical body and the realm of spirit.
Despite modern advancements in neuroscience, modern science actually knows very little about DMT. The DMT molecule is structurally analogous to the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) and the hormone melatonin, and furthermore functionally analogous to other psychedelic tryptamines, such as bufotenin, and psilocybin. We know that DMT is stored in the pineal gland inside the brain, and is excreted at the time of death, but the significance of its widespread natural presence or propose remains undetermined.
DMT was first synthesised in 1931 by Canadian chemist Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske, but in fact it’s been used as a psychedelic drug for divinatory and healing purposes by the Amazonian Indians for thousands of years. Obviously the jungle shamans didn’t synthesise or extract pure DMT in their laboratories, but looking at some of the facts they apparently know a lot more about it than we do today. By combining plants with high levels of DMT, and a particular vine that serves as a natural MAO inhibiter, the jungle shamans created a brew called ayahuasca. DMT is not psychoactive when consumed orally, but they somehow knew that by combining DMT yielding plants with a naturally occurring MAOI, not only could the DMT be absorbed by the digestive track, but the experience could be stretched from several minutes to several hours. It remains unclear as to how these shamans were able to devise this ingenious method of ingesting DMT, but one can only speculate that they were able to divine it through deeper a connection with the plants, and some even say they were provided instruction by the plant spirits themselves.
One area that warrants further investigation is the similarity of the effects of DMT to those reported by NDEs (Near Death Experiences) and OBEs (Outer Body Experiences). People who have experienced temporary brain death often report travelling towards a “light at the end of the tunnel”, and having conversations with spiritual entities - all of which are indicative of the DMT experience.
When taking DMT one often experiences leaving the body completely, and traversing space or what could only be described as passing through many alternate dimensions at a very fast rate. After the initial experience of travelling, it’s not uncommon to meet certain spirits or entities with which one can converse. Many report these entities taking the familiar guise of people known over the course of one’s lifetime, either living or dead. The common factor with the entities encountered during these meetings is their transcendental wisdom, and while the interactions and conversations held with them van vary greatly from person to person, through them one can gain insight into a great many things, such as the clarity around past and present choices, the deeper meaning of things, and the purpose of one’s life.
These experiences can be very frightening for some, especially those that have strayed from their path and are brought face to face with the reality of their choices without mercy or remorse. However, and almost always yields positive results for the person involved, and is always illuminating. The trick is not to hold on, but to yield oneself fully to the experience, because control is just an illusion, and anything less than absolute truth cannot exist within the realm of DMT.
Mescaline or 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine is the naturally occurring alkaloid present in the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) and in the Peruvian torch (Echinopsis peruviana), and as well in a number of other members of the Cactaceae plant family. It’s also found in small amounts in certain members of the Fabaceae (bean) family, including Acacia berlandieri.
Mescaline is a member of the phenethylamine class, but it’s hallucinogenic qualities bear more similarity to members of the tryptamine class, such as LSD and psilocybin.
Peyote has been used for at least 5700 years by Native Americans in Mexico. Europeans noted use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies upon early contact, notably by the Huichols in Mexico. Other mescaline-containing cacti such as the San Pedro have a long history of use in South America, from Peru to Ecuador.
Peyote and other divine plants, including “magic” psilocybin mushrooms, morning glory seeds, and datura, were employed for the purposes of healing, divining the future, and producing visions during sacred rites and rituals. Peyote was believed to be a god-powerful medicine, with the ability to give sight to the blind and healing incurable diseases.
The arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16the century forced these age old traditions and cultures into the underground. They quickly outlawed “peyotism”, linking it with witchcraft and cannibalism, and enacted the first “anti-drug” laws in the western hemisphere.
For the most part the Conquistadors succeeded, driving the indigenous peyote based religion underground for the next 200 or so years, until the American Civil War. During the American Civil War, peyote began spreading from Mexico on a large scale. Indian prophets such as Quanah Parker and John Wilson, modified the traditional teachings, blending the traditional Peyote chants and rituals with Christian Theology and belief in Jesus. The Christianised versions of the traditional rituals were carried to more than fifty American tribes, including the Chyenne, Shawne, Blackfoot, and Sioux, all the way to north Canada.
In 1918, a group of peyotists formed the Native American Church to preserve peyote rituals and fight for the continued sacramental use of the plant. Even though laws in 11 states eventually sought to ban the religious use of Peyote, federal courts affirmed the right to sacramental use by the native American members of the 250,000 member church.
Aldous Huxley played a huge part in transforming public perception about mescaline. Huxley was a well known English literary scholar and controversial writer from the prominent Huxley family, probably best known for his book “A Brave New World”. A Brave New World paints a grim picture of a dystopian world ruled by a single corporation, in which people are cloned for their specific roles in society, and drugged from birth so as to never question their role in society. Alphas represent the aristocrats and politicians, Betas are administrators and managers, and Deltas are the workers and labourers. Despite the grim concept and setting, the book paints a picture of hope as the main character awakens to realise the lie he has been taught, and begins his own personal revolution. Since the book was written back in 1931, many people, especially today, say Huxley was a prophet with an uncanny ability to glimpse the future.
In 1954, Aldous Huxley began experimenting with mescaline, and as a result he wrote “The Doors of Perception”. The book is a vivid visual commentary on life, art and culture as perceived through the eyes of mescaline. “The Doors of Perception” was one of the key literary works responsible for the 60’s social revolution and counterculture. It’s safe to say that with it, Huxley changed the world. Without it there would be no luminaries such as Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsburg, no “turn on, tune in, drop out”, no Merry Pranksters, no Sergeant Pepper, and no Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
In 1955, English politician Christopher Mayhew took part in an experiment for BBC’s Panorama, in which he ingested 400mg of mescaline under the supervision of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. Though the recording was deemed too controversial and ultimately omitted from the show. Mayhew praised the experience, calling it “the most interesting thing I ever did”.
In 1990 the challengers finally had their day, with the US supreme court affirmed the right of individual states to control ritual use. Today, Mescaline is illegal in most parts of the world.
As humans it’s our duty to evolve as individuals and as a species, but the powers that be seek to keep us distracted with weapons of fear and mass control. It’s up to us now to find our own way back to nature, and psychedelics help us to perceive the reality of our existence and break down the barriers of duality that separate our collective minds. They show us that the “system” we work for is fundamentally flawed, and compromised at the highest level, they show us that the social conditioning and unconscious patterning that binds our minds is laughable, they show us that science and religion doesn’t hold the answers we’re looking for, and most of all they teach us the wisdom and insight to move forward with love in our hearts and a smile on our faces - despite the madness we’ve created.