Entheogens and Psychedelics including Ayahuasca, LSD, Peyote, Mescaline, Psilocybin Mushrooms, Salvia


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Page last updated June 9, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

1. Entheogens & Psychedelics

"'Entheogen' is a word coined by scholars proposing to replace the term 'psychedelic' (Ruck, Bigwood, Staples, Ott & Wasson, 1979), which was perceived to be too socioculturally loaded from its 1960s roots to appropriately denote the revered plants and substances used for traditional sacred rituals.What kinds of plants or chemicals fall into the category of entheogen is a matter of debate, as a large number of inebriants - from tobacco and marijuana to alcohol and opium - have been venerated as gifts from the gods (or God) in different cultures at different times (Fuller, 2000). For the purposes of this paper, however, I will focus on the class of drugs that Lewin (1924/1997) terms 'phantastica,' a name deriving from the Greek word for the faculty of the imagination (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1973). Later these substances became known as hallucinogens or psychedelics, a class whose members include lysergic acid derivatives, psilocybin, mescaline and dimethyltryptamine; these all shared physical, chemical, and, when ingested, phenomenological properties and, more importantly, have a history of ritual use as cultural tools to cure illness and/or to mediate cosmological insight (Grinspoon & Bakalar, 1998; Rudgley, 1994, Schultes & Hofmann, 1992;)."

Tupper, Ken, "Entheogens & Education: Exploring the Potential of Psychoactives as Educational Tools," Journal of Drug Education and Awareness, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 146.

2. Entheogens as Psychedelics

"Another peculiar effect of these drugs is a dramatic change in perception: it appears to the person as if the eyes (the 'doors of perception') have been cleansed and the person could see the world as new in all respects — 'as Adam may have seen it on the day of creation' as Aldous Huxley (1954, p. 17) pointed out in his popular and influential book. This new reality is perceived and interpreted by some individuals as manifestation of the true nature of their mind; hence, the term 'psychedelic' was suggested by Osmond (1957). This interpretation has been embraced not only by professional therapists but also by some segments of the public, and gave rise to the 'Summer of Love' in San Francisco in 1967 with free distribution of LSD. This perception resulted in the formation of numerous cults, communes, and drug-oriented religious groups (Freedman 1968), permeated the lyrics and style of popular music (acid rock), and was viewed by some as one of the contributing sources of the occasional resurgence of popularity of illegal drug use (Cohen 1966, Szára 1968)."

Szára, Stephen, "Are Hallucinogens Psychoheuristic," National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Monograph Series (Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, 1994) NIDA Research Monograph 146, p. 36.

3. Entheogens as Hallucinogens

"The term 'hallucinogen' is widely used and understood in both professional and lay circles, in spite of the fact that hallucinations in the strict psychiatric sense of the word are a relatively rare effect of these drugs (Hollister 1962). What is probably the first reference to hallucinations as produced by peyote appears in Louis Lewin’s book published in 1924 in German and later translated into English with the nearly identical title Phantastica (Lewin 1924, 1964). In this book by the noted German toxicologist, the term 'hallucinatoria' appears as a synonym for phantastica to designate the class of drugs that can produce transitory visionary states 'without any physical inconvenience for a certain time in persons of perfectly normal mentality who are partly or fully conscious of the action of the drug' (Lewin 1964, p. 92). Lewin lists peyotl (also spelled 'peyote') (Anhalonium lewinii), Indian hemp (Cannabis indica), fly agaric (Agaricus muscarius), thornapple (Datura stramonium), and the South American yahe (also spelled 'yage') (Banisteria caapi) as representatives of this class."

Szára, Stephen, "Are Hallucinogens Psychoheuristic," National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Monograph Series (Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, 1994) NIDA Research Monograph 146, p. 34.

4. Description of Ayahuasca

"Ayahuasca is a psychedelic decoction made from plants native to the Amazon Basin—most often Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis—and which contains harmala alkaloids and N,Ndimethyltryptamine (DMT), the latter being a controlled substance scheduled under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances."

Anderson, B. T.; Labate, B. C.; Meyer, M.; Tupper, K. W.; Barbosa, P. C. R.; Grob, C. S.; Dawson, A. & McKenna, D., "Statement on ayahuasca,". International Journal of Drug Policy (London, United Kingdom: International Harm Reduction Association, March 2012) Vol. 23, No. 2.

5. Description of Ayahuasca

"Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic tea originally from the Amazon Basin that is supposedly able to induce strikingly similar visions in people independent of their cultural background. Ayahuasca users commonly claim that this regularity across people’s visions is evidence that their visions are not simply the products of their own brains, but rather are representations of spiritual information learned from plant-spirits that one gains access to by drinking the tea."

Anderson, Brian, ""Entheogenic Visions: The Sacred Union of Word & Image," Undergraduate Humanities Forum, Mellon Research Fellows 2005-2006, Word & Image (Philadelphia, PA: May 5, 2006), pp. 2 and 30.