In this episode, Joe and Kyle sit down with famed anthropologist and author (most notably of The Cosmic Serpent), Jeremy Narby. He is also the Amazonian projects director for Nouvelle Planète, a nonprofit organization that works to empower Indigenous peoples through demarcation of land.
Narby talks about how he was pushed to psychedelics through a combination of long talks with Humphry Osmond and political anthropology, focusing on the conflict between the World Bank and Indigenous people over their land. He tells how his first ayahuasca and datura experiences made him feel reconciled with nature, and how he realized people in the states had started speaking highly of the ecological knowledge of Indigenous people of the Amazon without ever talking about the hallucinogenic way they attained that knowledge (and how he felt it was his place to start talking about it).
He also discusses anthropology and subjectivity; Richard Evans Schultes; the problem with trying to verify or substantiate hallucinations; the West’s focus on “the active ingredient” and how ayahuasca is much more than drinkable DMT; the overuse and microdosing of ayahuasca; the entourage effect and how it’s excluded by the “DMT explains everything” hypothesis; why vine-only ayahuasca needs to be researched more; and the differences in how people react to LSD vs. ayahuasca or psilocybin (do the plant substances have a trickster spirit in them which doesn’t like some people?).
To win a copy of Narby’s most recent book, Plant Teachers: Ayahuasca, Tobacco, and the Pursuit of Knowledge (co-authored by Rafael Chanchari Pizuri), click here!
“When I first started hearing this at the age of 25 (in 1985), I thought it was a bit of a joke because I didn’t think that one could take psychedelics and learn about plant properties. I thought one could take LSD and have an interesting time in the woods with one’s friends, but if you really started thinking that the trees were talking to you, there was a bit of a problem. That was my point of view at the time. But here were these rainforest Indians living in the most biodiverse place on earth saying: Yes, we learn about plant properties by drinking this hallucinogenic vine mixture.” “I went to the Rio summit in 1992, and suddenly there are all these governments talking about the knowledge of Indigenous people about biodiversity, talking about the knowledge of Amazonian Indians and how we have to recognize it and take it into consideration. Everybody talking about the knowledge of Indigenous Amazonians, [but] nobody talking about the hallucinogenic origin of this knowledge as they themselves discuss it.”
“If you’re an average Westerner; without really even realizing it, you kind of subscribe to this idea of The Active Ingredient. So you know what is the active ingredient of ayahuasca? Ah, it’s DMT. This is the scientific opinion that has been turned into a kind of orthodoxy, but just talk to the Indigenous Amazonian people. They’ll tell you that the vine itself, which doesn’t contain DMT, is the main ingredient.” “Just the ayahuasca vine itself; if you make an extract from it, you already have a complex cocktail. And then that mixture is used to study all the other plants. And so, it’s a cocktail to which you can add tobacco and nicotine, datura and scopolamine, coca and cocaine — you can add any plant you want to study the effect of the plant. That’s what ayahuasca also is. So, it’s, at its base, a cocktail, and then it can be turned into a psychoactive cocktail with many different plants, including DMT. …It’s Cocktail City, basically.”
Jeremy Narby, PhD, is co-author of Plant Teachers: Ayahuasca, Tobacco, and the Pursuit of Knowledge with indigenous elder Rafael Chanchari Pizuri. He became an early pioneer of ayahuasca research while living with the Asháninka people of the Peruvian Amazon in the 1980s. He studied anthropology at Stanford University and now lives in Switzerland and works as Amazonian Projects Director for Nouvelle Planète, a nonprofit organization that promotes the economic and cultural empowerment of Indigenous peoples.
In this episode, Joe and Kyle decided to celebrate 9/20 by sitting down with friend, writer, Editor in Chief of the blog, and past Solidarity Friday member, Michelle Janikian.
Before Michelle was part of the PT team, she was one of our more popular podcast guests (in a very mushroom-heavy episode), and the writer of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion, a safety-focused and informative guidebook highlighting the many ways mushrooms can be used. So it made perfect sense to spend the mushroom holiday episode checking in with her and talking some psilocybin. She talks about what inspired her to write the book, the importance of learning how to trip and fostering a relationship with mushrooms, how using mushrooms solely for personal healing feels self-centered and a bit boring, the common opinion of many psychonauts that you need to do a large dose for your first time, the concept of mushrooms as tricksters who may be trying to hurt you, the joy of foraging, how much we all tend to romanticize Indigenous culture and perceived wisdom, and the value of being honest with yourself about what you want out of a psychedelic experience and developing your own rituals. And she talks about what’s been biggest in her life recently: the time she spent living in the house she was raised in as her parents prepared it to be sold, and how doing mushrooms there after all these years not only made her feel reconnected to the house and its surrounding woods in a special way, but also gave her a ton of new gratitude for what her parents did to provide that for her. She feels much closer to her parents now and wants to have a mushroom or MDMA session with them- something many of us could benefit greatly from. If you want to win a free signed copy of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion and a whole host of other great mushroom and psychedelic-themed stuff, make sure to enter our huge 920 giveaway before it ends tonight at midnight! Happy Holidays!
“I feel like when folks only make their psychedelic work about healing, it seems a bit self-centered. It does feel a bit like if you make it all about yourself and healing your problems, …to the plant and the rest of the universe, [that] kind of seems a bit petty, perhaps. Not to be rude- we all deserve to heal ourselves, but I think that when we go in with just an intention to do that, we’re putting blinders on, …and we are not going to be able to see the rest of what’s going on here. It’s bigger than you.”
“Mushrooms are tricksters. We have to be a bit careful as a culture, welcoming mushrooms in. I mean, sure, let’s do it, they’re fun- they’re the life of the party. They should absolutely be part of our culture. But giving them so much responsibility, like healing mental illness of the world, for me, I don’t know if that’s actually the best idea, as someone who communicates and listens to them quite often.”
“People who use mushrooms are quite smart, and I think a lot of them are being ignored or not part of this new conversation, and that’s a shame. It shouldn’t be like that. I think a lot of them want nothing to do with this new clinical world either. They’re like, ‘Ehh, you can have that. I have my ritual, and it works for me.’ And I just want people to develop their own rituals and find out what works for them. That’s why I collected so many in one place, so you can kind of pick and choose what’s right to you. Everyone’s different. And in the true ‘think for yourself and question authority’ manner, Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion: It’ll help you figure it out. I don’t know if you really need everyone else telling you what to do. I think you know what you want to do, you’ve just got to listen.”
Michelle Janikian is a journalist and the author of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion (Ulysses Press, 2019), the down-to-earth guide that details everything you need to know about taking magic mushrooms safely and mindfully. Michelle actively covers psychedelic and cannabis education, harm reduction, and research in her work, which has been featured in Playboy, Rolling Stone, High Times, DoubleBlind Mag and others. Currently, she’s the editor-in-chief of Psychedelics Today and an occasional co-host of their podcast. She’s passionate about the healing potential of psychedelic plants and substances, and the legalization and de-stigmatization of all drugs. Find out more about her work on her website michellejanikian.com or follow her on Instagram (@michelle.janikian), Twitter (@m00shian) and Facebook (@Michelle.Janikian).
Sacred psychedelic plant medicines are increasingly entering the Western mainstream, but is it cultural appropriation?
From the medicinal and ceremonial use of mescaline-containing plants by the Indigenous peoples of Mexico thousands of years ago, to the brewing of ayahuasca by several Indigenous groups in the Amazon today, entheogens have been a part of the cultural heritage of these communities in ways that Western society is just starting to understand.
Because there are significant differences in the ways these plants have been used historically and the way Western society is integrating them, let’s take a brief look at both approaches.
Indigenous Uses of Sacred Plant Medicines and Traditions
Various Indigenous cultures have used medicinal plants with psychoactive properties for hundreds of years including the Mazatec and Huichol of Mexico, Native North Americans, tribes in Africa, and Indigenous groups in the Amazon. The uses of these plants vary from culture to culture, but have a few commonalities when it comes to their healing purposes. For most, there is a general belief in their sacredness and spiritual properties.
“Plants, in general, have been used for ceremony, food, and utilitarian purposes. Sacred plant medicines were always used in ceremonies and never used for recreational purposes. Plants were placed on this earth to heal humanity as I understand it,” Belinda Eriacho, Native American Healer, tells Psychedelics Today. “In my own experiences, these sacred plant medicines have helped me to heal intergenerational trauma, to find peace with deceased loved ones, and to look at my own life and improve many areas of [it].”
When it comes to ayahuasca, Indigenous peoples from Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador have used the brew in their sacred rituals for many years. It served and continues to serve as a basis for the establishment of different spiritual traditions by these peoples. They hold the vine in high regard and believe it can facilitate the perception of the complexity of the natural world and human creation.
Similarly, the consumption of peyote in sacred rituals allowed the Huicholes and the Tarahumaras of Mexico to come into contact with divine beings or ancestors and to cure various diseases. To this day, peyote has also been adopted by several Native American peoples. They see peyote as a gift from the creator, and a direct communication channel with the “Great Spirit”.
These cultures have preserved rituals and sacred medicines but have also gone through extreme hardships in order to do so. Many Indigenous spiritual practices in Mexico were severely persecuted and banned during the Spanish Inquisition, and hundreds of thousands of natives were brutally murdered. Many other Indigenous communities in the Americas faced the same barbarities during colonization, having their codices destroyed and much of their ceremonial knowledge lost.
Western Uses of Plant Medicines
In the Western world, the use of psychedelic plant medicine can also be traced for thousands of years. A few examples are The Eleusinian Mysteries, the most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece that involved ceremonies with psychoactive plants. Furthermore, Indigenous peoples of Siberia and the Sámi people of Northern Europe used Amanita Muscaria mushrooms in their sacred traditions.
Many medicinal plants have found their way into numerous products that the pharmaceutical industry sells today to treat a variety of diseases and health conditions, from aspirin derived from willow tree bark, to the current growing interest in entheogens for therapy and the possibility to revolutionize global mental health.
Scientists have been carrying out research for decades on psychedelic plants for their chemical properties and pharmaceutical potential. In this model of Western medicine, science seeks to understand these substances simply as chemical compounds detached from their ethnobotanical origin.
Adapting the uses of sacred psychedelic plants to Western medicine brings the advantage of making them accessible to people who can benefit tremendously from their properties on a global scale. In recent years, research into psychedelics has demonstrated their potential to address disorders that have proved difficult to treat including depression, anxiety, chemical dependency, and post-traumatic stress disorders.
But in reality, there is a suspicion that dominating the market is more important than addressing the mental health crisis. For instance, we are currently witnessing a debate on whether it’s ethical for companies such as COMPASS Pathways to try and monopolize the psychedelic industry with their patent strategy.
Additionally, in the past few years, the New Age spirituality movement has merged with positive psychology and the wellness industry, bringing many to seek healing, transcendental experiences, and self-improvement through entheogens. For many, these plants are the catalyst of positive life changes and are also revered with respect. However, there is concern that some are engaging in ceremonies so often that “spiritual bypassing” is now a recurring theme in psychedelic community discussions.
“I find it interesting how often I hear stories of people doing ceremony [using sacred plant medicines] every weekend. In many indigenous cultures, you were blessed to have one ceremony in your lifetime,” says Eriacho. “I would suggest that if individuals are finding that they need to use these plant medicines every weekend then (1) they are not taking the time to fully integrate into the experiences shown to them, and (2) these plant medicine(s) are not working for them.”
This high demand and constant search are not without negative consequences. Issues related to cultural appropriation, sustainability, and the commercialization of spirituality are often ignored by Westerners while engaging in such frequent ceremonies and spiritual tourism when they should be taken into greater consideration.
What Is Cultural Appropriation?
To understand the meaning of “cultural appropriation”, we need to understand the meaning of “appropriation” and ”culture” on an individual basis. We can define culture as the set of practices, symbols, and values that a specific group shares. For example, tattoos are an important symbol for many Indigenous cultures, as they are an essential part of the historical constitution of the groups to which they belong.
On the other hand, appropriation is the act of taking for oneself a certain element without the owner’s consent. So cultural appropriation would be the action of adopting elements of a culture to which you don’t belong without consent. An important detail to remember is this becomes problematic when it involves a power relationship. For example, it’s cultural appropriation when a culture which has historically been suppressed and marginalized has its elements stolen and its meanings erased by another culture that has dominated it.
Cultural appropriation contributes to the maintenance of structural racism in our society and the continuity of different stereotypes about cultures. But we must not forget that individuals appropriating a culture are just symptoms of a much larger problem. A capitalist system that aims for profit and uses extractivism (the exploitation of natural resources on a massive scale generating significant economic profits for a powerful few) to transform a community’s culture into a product but does not value the people whose culture it belongs to, is the real problem that needs addressing.
In the context of medicinal psychedelic plants and fungi, cultural appropriation may manifest itself in different ways. An example was the bioprospecting (the practice of searching for botanical miracle cures) of psilocybin mushrooms out of their Oaxacan context at the end of the 1950s by R. Gordon Wasson. And more recently, cases of “neo shamans” offering ceremonies they label “authentic” without years of experience and a real understanding of the cultures to which these ceremonies belong, are also examples of cultural appropriation.
The Answer? Awareness, Balance and Respect
There is a growing tendency to commodify these substances without giving back to the communities who have held this knowledge for centuries at their own risk. For example, who is really benefiting from expensive retreats in the Amazon jungle? Additionally, the development of new treatments with synthetic derivatives of these substances will reach the market through pharmaceutical patents without properly recognizing traditional knowledge.
For Indigenous people throughout the world, the commercialization of their spirituality is just one of many daily challenges embedded in larger societal struggles. Western engagement with Indigenous spiritual traditions often contributes to a false romanticization of these communities’ situations; it can even feel like an erasure of the injustices that they have experienced in the past, and continue to experience to this day. Indigenous people have to fight daily for the preservation of their lands, their languages, and their cultures. In fact, many continue to be murdered for standing up for their rights. As psychedelic enthusiasts, we have the responsibility to bring awareness to these dynamics.
“While psychedelic plant medicines still have most of their potential still to be taped into for the benefit of society, contemporary psychedelic studies are at risk of replicating harmful colonial behavior with the territories and communities from which the plants originate,” writes anthropologist, Paloma David, in her forthcoming publication, “Decolonizing Psychedelic Studies: The Case of Ayahuasca”. “A decolonial approach is essential to the current renaissance as failing to recognize indigenous perspectives as equally valuable to the discussion in the appropriate use of these substances only contributes to deepening the colonial wound in which these plants are interwoven.”
Will psychedelics be reduced to high-class wellness, healthcare, or self-optimization products that are only accessible for those who can afford the steep price tag while the people that carried this traditional knowledge are excluded from the market? As we are about to enter the era of psychedelic capitalism, it’s important for us to remember that balance can be achieved if we acknowledge that respect is crucial for any relationship.
We need to look at what we are doing when it comes to sacred plant medicine, how we are doing it, and what impact our actions have on other communities around the world. There needs to be an effort to educate ourselves in order to comprehend Indigenous paradigms, and the effect of their loss of languages, land, culture, and knowledge. As we begin to better understand spiritual identity and sacred reciprocity, we can start making an effort to no longer let Indigenous peoples and their cultures be seen as resources to be harvested.
“Through my lens as a Native American woman, when we are ill or when we seek balance in our lives through ceremony, we often look to our plant relatives for healing,” says Eriacho “There is a ritual or practice of utilizing these sacred beings. Before the plant is harvested, we are mindful about how much will be needed, and then explain to the plant why it is needed and for whom. This is done out of respect for the plant in exchange for its life. We offer tobacco, cornmeal as an act of appreciation. This is referred to as sacred reciprocity. We need to be respectful and reverent of these sacred plant medicines.”
So how can we protect and develop traditional ceremonies in a way that is useful and respectful of Indigenous communities? And how can we prevent the so-called psychedelic renaissance from exclusively benefiting non-Indigenous Western entrepreneurs?
When I speak to Paloma David about how we can move forward in a respectful fashion, she says, “Firstly, by being culturally humble in actively listening to Indigenous voices who are authorities on the use of psychedelic plant medicines and actively including them in the conversation on the appropriate use of these substances.”
“By being aware of our own cultural biases. By understanding that people’s making-sense of an ayahuasca experience is highly dependent on their cultural background, religious beliefs (or the lack thereof), and personal psychology.” David continues, “And secondly, by avoiding the harmful reproduction of colonial dynamics of appropriation, epistemicide and exploitation in which the Amazon rainforest and Indigenous knowledges are interwoven.”
Reflecting on these ethical dilemmas can offer us models for understanding and solving this continuing harmful and extractive economy. Another solution might be pointing out paths for fair and reciprocal reparation agreements with Indigenous communities.
More importantly, considering these issues make us question the colonial and racialized Western mentality that contributes to the continued delegitimization of Indigenous communities and their knowledge so we all can at least start asking ourselves: What are the true costs of our healing?
About the Author
Jessika Lagarde is a Brazilian storyteller, Earth and climate activist, and Women On Psychedelics co-Founder. Women On Psychedelics is an educational platform that advocates for the end of the stigmatization around women’s mental health and substance use, and the normalization of the use of psychedelics for its therapeutic potential and healing capacities. Jessika’s environmental work and psychedelic path have made her more aware not only of the crisis of our planet but also of how human disconnection is a direct cause of it. All of her work is informed in taking action in a way that serves the Earth and our human collective, in hopes of mobilizing inner healing towards outer action.
In this episode, Joe interviews freelance writer Jasmine Virdi, who, in addition to writing for Chacruna and Lucid News, has been writing for us for the last year and a half.
She tells the story of her path toward becoming a psychedelic-focused writer: An early interest in mysticism to a high-dose solo psilocybin experience, to volunteering with David Luke at a retreat in Wales, to eventually interning at the Institute of Ecotechnics, which led her to Synergetic Press. They talk about peyote conservation and the IPCI, 5-MeO-DMT and the protection of toads, how ayahuasca churches and facilitators have dealt with Covid, and the concept of plant medicines protecting people from Covid and other diseases.
They also talk about neurodivergence and how psychedelics could help autistic individuals, the environmental impact of having kids, panpsychism, Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, how language has changed us, the concept of “slow is smooth,” perennialism, the Mystical Experience Questionnaire, and more.
“Culture moves so fast nowadays. …We need to move at the pace of nature in order to align ourselves with its values.”
“A general trend among facilitators is that they had noticed [that] throughout Covid, they actually felt the demand for ayahuasca ceremonies increasing as opposed to decreasing. …I think it kind of speaks to the fact that the world is in dire need of healing, and also, maybe people are connected with a sense of what they really value and want to move towards when they’re confronted with their own mortality. And building community is now more important than ever, and I think a lot of people find community in plant medicine circles.” “I don’t think that psychedelics are the only answer or even the answer, but for me, I feel so passionate about them because they have been tools in turning me onto what I feel are greater parts of this reality.”
Jasmine Virdi is a freelance writer in the psychedelic space. Since 2018, she has been working for the independent publishing company Synergetic Press, where her passions for ecology, ethnobotany, and psychoactive substances converge. Jasmine has written for Psychedelics Today, Chacruna Institute for Plant Medicines, Lucid News, Cosmic Sister, Psychable, and Microdosing Guru. She is currently pursuing an MSc in Spirituality, Consciousness, and Transpersonal Psychology at the Alef Trust with the future aim of working as a psychedelic practitioner. Jasmine’s goal as an advocate for psychoactive substances is to raise awareness of the socio-historical context in which these substances emerged in order to help integrate them into our modern-day lives in a safe, culturally sensitive, ethically-integral, and meaningful way.
In this episode, Joe interviews Daniel Moler: author, artist, comic book creator, and sanctioned teacher of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition (a form of Peruvian shamanism).
Moler talks about the Psychonaut Presents comic series he writes and illustrates, which delves into his experiences with consciousness exploration, most notably in his first ayahuasca experience and the subsequent experiences he’s had through his shamanic training. And he talks about his pathway to shamanism, the attention shamanism places on the act of service and bringing wisdom from the experience back into the world, and the importance of finding your flow and aligning with its current.
He discusses San Pedro: how much he loves it, how he uses it in conjunction with Singado, and how it enhances his facilitation work. And he talks about Alan Moore, the Kamasqa Curanderismo Tradition, Terence McKenna, Aleister Crowley, Chaos Magick, Rick Strassman, how Christian and Catholic-based iconography became a part of Indigenous traditions, and how the worlds of science and traditional Indigenous culture could learn from each other for the betterment of all.
“There are Christian shamans. There are Islamic shamans. There’s shamans from various types of pagan traditions. So it doesn’t have to be locked into this framework of: ‘Oh, it’s only Indigenous tribal peoples that have a shamanic framework.’ Because shamanism is just about having that direct experience with the world of soul and then expressing that, bringing that out into the world in a way that helps benefit the planet. There’s a lot of controversy around the word, but I’ve, over the years, just learned to kind of shun that. It’s the word we have right now. It’s what we’re using.”
“When you have found your soul’s purpose, you have found a way to operate in the universe where the universe works along with you to help align your life in the direction that you would like it to lead.”
“A vital component of shamanism is that everything has a consciousness. Everything is alive, and especially these medicines. They’re not tools. Some people refer to these as shamanic tools. That would be like referring to my wife as a tool, or to you as a tool in this conversation. You’re a consciousness and I’m a consciousness and we’re two people participating together.” “Don’t just follow some kind of ritual paradigm, because it may not work. You’ve got to do what works for you, so find a method and a formula that works. And you know it’s going to work and that it’s going to be valid for you because every time you do it, it works. You have repeated, repeatable results.”
In this week’s Solidarity Friday episode, Michelle, Kyle, and Joe review the most interesting articles and recent news in the world of psychedelia.
They first talk about Chacruna’s article highlighting not only the world’s first trip-sitter, but also the first woman to take LSD, Albert Hofman’s assistant, Susi Ramstein. They then look into the new Pill-iD app coming out in the UK, which will match user-submitted pictures of MDMA with pictures from their database, using machine learning to determine purity and strength. While this is good (especially in a post-quarantine environment of people very eager to chemically celebrate their ability to be together again), how much can we really know without any chemical analysis? And how much should we trust their database?
They then revisit their discussion on California’s Senate Bill 519 (turns out it does mean legalization after all, but if so, why is “decriminalization” used in the bill’s title?), excitedly discuss the first all-drug decriminalization bill being submitted to Congress (the Drug Policy Reform Act, or DPRA), talk about psilocybin being studied for anti-inflammatory effects and Robin-Carhart Harris’ recent interview with Court Wing, and finally, get into the very real and often not-talked-about importance of ancient and Indigenous language and the danger of losing it: Are we going to lose more knowledge from the loss of language than from the destruction of habitat?
“The argument here is not only the human cost, [but] the real financial cost of an overdose is extreme, relative to getting ahead of this. So cities and governments can save money by offering this. Less dead bodies to pick up with your EMTs, less situations of overdose to respond to. …If we can do harm reduction [and] say, ‘Hey, these are people too,’ we also save money, and we save lives, and we get those lives back into society in a hopefully meaningful way.” -Joe
“The bill is damning of the drug war, of criminalization, [and it] talks about how criminalization and the drug war have added more harm to consumption. And the fact that it passed the California Senate means that these politicians are starting to catch on to how brutal this has been. And in this post-BLM, post-George Floyd and Breonna Taylor era; hey, you guys have got to clean your act up, otherwise, you’re going to have riots on your hands.” -Joe
“If this bill does pass, I feel like that’s sending a message to the whole world that we can be rational again. This wasn’t rational, this wasn’t based on science, and a lot of people mistrust us now because of that. …What would we be showing young people if we did this? …Not that we need more respect for authority, but we could respect authority at all if they could show us that they could rule or govern us in a rational, science-based way.” -Michelle
“If we ever get to the point in human civilization where things start to collapse and we need to understand the environment [and the plants] a little bit more, we’re going to be very lost. Just going outside and looking around you, what plants do you know? What stories do you know about the plants around you? Do you know what’s edible? Do you know what’s medicinal? All these things that you call weeds are actually edible plants or have really great medicinal value. Do you know the story of the landscape in which you live in?” -Kyle
Defining sacred reciprocity, exploring the historical use of psychedelics, and establishing ways to give back to the communities who have lost the most holding this ancient wisdom.
Nature exists in a dynamic balance of interconnected relationships and exchanges. When more is taken than returned, the results are depletion, imbalance and system collapse. Many of us in the Global North have the advantage of enjoying psychedelics simply by purchasing them or receiving them as a gift. We are no longer in direct relationship with their roots or required to know where they came from, who grew them, or how they were sourced and produced. We do not bear the historic or contemporary burdens carried by those for whom entheogens are integral to their way of life.
The psychedelic movement is surging, in part because many of us have had the privilege of direct, life-altering experiences with these substances. These medicines, whether grown or synthesized, give generously, often in the form of healing, wonder, reconnection, play and illumination. But they don’t exist in a vacuum. Thankfully, they also offer the capacity for openness—and this unlocks a door to a more nuanced and responsible conversation about where our medicines come from and the impacts of our participation in what has become, for better or worse, a global market.
Just as being good stewards on this Earth requires us to know the stories behind our food, clothing, fuel and devices, we also have a calling to ask deeper questions about psychedelics. What don’t we know about the places, cultures, ecologies, peoples, and complex histories associated with the healing modalities we venerate? In asking these questions, we can uncover practical and meaningful ways to contribute to a culture of reciprocity, sustainability and integrity, toward the benefit of all. Then we can begin to see how this reciprocity lays the groundwork for collective healing.
Sacred reciprocity offers an opportunity to help restore balance to a presently imbalanced system of extraction amidst the global expansion of psychedelics.
What Is Sacred Reciprocity?
Sacred reciprocity is the heartfelt exchange, gratitude, and acknowledgment for everyone and everything that sustains us. In psychedelics, it is a call for those who consume plant medicines to give back meaningfully to the communities and lineages who have preserved these medicines for generations. Indigenous communities bear the impact of the expansion, along with, in many cases, oppression from local governments.
The concept of sacred reciprocity comes from the Quechua word, ayni. Quechua is the Indigenous language of the ancestral peoples of the Andes, specifically Peru. Ayni is a principle of receptivity and gratitude, marked by a lifestyle of giving back in an inhale-exhale type relationship with the natural world.
Even those who consume only lab-based substances can participate in sacred reciprocity through a number of practices detailed here.
The History of Indigenous Psychedelic Use
Here’s a quick and dirty history lesson.
So, where and from whom do our medicines come? What is their traditional use? The following list is by no means exhaustive, and it’s important to remember that many entheogens are found throughout multiple continents and their practices vary between lineages. Additionally, much history has been lost and erased through the process of colonization. We recognize the unnamed groups and honor their heritage from which modern life has been severed.
Psilocybin mushrooms have confirmed Indigenous roots in Central America, most notably the Mazatec people of Oaxaca, Mexico (recall the oft-told tale of Maria Sabina and R. Gordon Wasson), as well as the Mixtec, Nashua and Zapotec peoples.
It has been theorized that ancient Greeks used a combination of psychedelic mushrooms and ergot fungus in their ceremonial brews. Evidence of ceremonial mushroom use has also been found in Africa, with Algerian cave paintings dating back 9,000 years and psilocybe mushrooms found in Central Africa and South Sudan.
Ayahuasca, also called caapi, yajé, or yagé, is a ceremonial drink made from the stem and bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of Chacruna (Psychotria viridis) or other botanicals. It was first formulated by Indigenous South Americans of the Amazon basin, particularly modern day Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. In 2010, a 1,000- year old bundle of shamanic herbs with ayahuasca was found in a cave in Bolivia. Ceremonial use for the Shipibo-Conibo people does not always include chacruna leaves, which contain DMT.
While the Shipibo people are the most well-known tribe associated with ayahuasca medicine, close to 100 distinct Indigenous groups use ayahuasca. The global expansion of ayahuasca tourism (and the Western emphasis on visions and DMT) has led to overharvesting, deforestation, violence, non-Indigenous owned retreat centers and competition between shamans.
In addition, deforestation in the Amazon has reached record highs, which has a global impact on climate instability. Yet, a 2020 study found what many First Nations people have often said and may seem obvious: Collective Indigenous property ownership reduces deforestation and protects human rights, as well as cultural and biodiversity.
Peyote is a sacred cactus native to what is now known as the American Southwest, Mexico and Peru. With a human-plant relationship dating back 10,000 years, this ceremonial cactus has been used in rites of passage and annual pilgrimages by Native American and Mexican Indigenous groups for millennia and is inseparable from cultural heritage for many tribes, including the Wixaritari, Raramuri, Yaqui and Cora peoples.
Peyote contains mescaline, a psychoactive substance also found in Huachuma (San Pedro cactus). For the last century, Indigenous groups have fought convoluted government policies, environmental degradation, private land ownership, poaching, mining, and urbanization.
The Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative is a collaborative effort to preserve peyote and ensure the survival of this sacred practice for generations to come. Learn more here.
Known as the grandfather of entheogens, Huachuma (which came to be known as San Pedro after the Spanish Invasion) is a cactus native to Peru and Bolivia. Its use can be traced back 4,000 years. With roots in the Andes, this medicinal plant is associated with the Chavín culture, which laid the foundations for the Inca civilization. Stone temple slabs dating back to 1,300 B.C. show a figure holding a huachuma cactus.
Huachuma contains mescaline, and while it is legal in the United States to grow the cactus for ornamental purposes, consuming mescaline is illegal. Because it grows so much faster than peyote and is more widely available, conservation and Indigenous rights advocates recommend that those who feel called toward a relationship with mescaline choose huachuma rather than peyote. In this way we can preserve peyote in solidarity with the Native American communities for whom it is a sacrament.
Tobacco is one of the oldest and most important shamanic medicines in the Americas. It is impossible to separate Indigenous history in the Americas from the ceremonial use of tobacco, known as Mapacho. Rapé (also called Hapé or Rapéh) is a form of sacred Amazonian snuff tobacco. It is made by combining dried tobacco leaves (Nicotiana Rustica) with sacred tree ash and other botanicals and grinding it into a dust-fine powder. Blends are distinct from tribe to tribe and the shamanic process of making rapé can take several weeks. It is known for its grounding and stimulating qualities.
Tobacco is not prohibited in most of the world the way other entheogens are. However, this open legal market has created other concerns. In recent years, an explosion in global interest in rapé has resulted in many white-owned “shamanic supply” businesses popping up online, selling rapé and other Amazonian medicines on web stores and Instagram. It is wise to dig deeper when companies claim they are in partnership with local tribes or have a “trusted source.” Keep in mind that “a portion of proceeds returned to the tribes” and “mutually beneficial relationship” are undefined and potentially exploitative claims and fair trade practices aren’t always readily enforced.
Kambo, also known as toad medicine, is a controversial ritual. Historical use of kambo is very different than the modern practice. Hunters in the Matsés tribe of Peru would coat their blow darts with the frog poison, believing that this purified the animal they shot. They would then bring the animal back to their village to be sacrificed and eaten. Kambo is quite different than other Indigenous medicines; the modern practice, as Westerners know it, seems to be a new invention. The first human use of Kambo (for sharpening the skills of hunters) was documented in 1925 by French missionaries. It was popularized in the 1980’s, by investigative journalist Peter Gorman, and numerous patents were also filed at this time.
Sourcing kambo involves first extracting the peptide-rich poison from the body of the Giant Leaf Frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor). This is done by catching the animals and then stressing them so that they secrete their poison, either by stretching their limbs or holding them over a fire. A stick is then used to scrape the gluey secretion from their skin and save it for later use. This biological material is shipped around the world to practitioners who promote it as a detoxification and immunity-building medicine.
Kambo practitioners burn holes in the skin of their clients and then apply the frog secretions to the wounds. The purging and immune response which follows is believed to cleanse the user of ailments and negative energies.
The Giant Leaf Frog is currently threatened by climate change and habitat loss (though it is currently listed as “Least Concern”). Furthermore, patenting kambo is yet an example of bioprospecting, which is a common practice in the incredibly diverse rainforests of the world and has major impacts on the Indigenous communities from which these molecules are sourced.
Ibogaine comes from the root bark of the iboga shrub, which is native to Gabon in central West Africa. It has been used for centuries by people of the Bwiti religion as a rite of passage and initiation. The preservation and expansion of the Bwiti tradition and iboga medicine has a complex history involving French occupation, displacement, intertribal violence, religious suppression and political marginalization.
Medicalization of ibogaine began in the late 1930s, with decades of intermittent but promising research into its potential to treat substance use disorders, particularly opiate addiction. Its legal status remains complicated and restricted in many countries.
Global enthusiasm about iboga’s healing potential has created problems not unlike those faced by Indigenous Americans with peyote, such as difficulty sourcing medicine for their traditional use and ongoing political struggle to protect their practices.
Wild iboga is currently endangered in Gabon due to poaching, climate change, illegal export to satisfy international demand, urbanization and habitat degradation. As an alternative, iboga can be grown sustainably in greenhouses and farms, and advocates also point to the option of using semi-synthetic ibogaine from the voacanga tree instead.
Due to conservation concerns, many in the movement advocate for the use of synthetically derived DMT to avoid contributing to habitat loss and extinction as interest and demand for this medicine grows.
While tiny squares of paper blotted with synthesized LSD and printed with cartoon characters may seem the farthest thing from nature, it was first discovered by Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman, working with ergot, a fungus that grows on rye.
Synthesized compounds such as LSD, MDMA, ketamine, 2C-B and others need not be excluded from the list of substances deserving of our gratitude. When we partake with intentionality, the journeys give generously back to us. Sacred reciprocity can be viewed as an essential element of psychedelic experience, regardless of the catalyzing substance.
Qualities of Sacred Reciprocity
Now that we have some context for the historical and contemporary issues surrounding entheogens and psychedelic medicines, let’s look at some guiding lights for giving back meaningfully.
Sacred reciprocity comes with the humble energy of the ask. To seek consent not only from the medicine itself, but also the elders and medicine keepers, is to set aside one’s own agenda in the interest of the larger good. Are we willing to take no for an answer? This is a nuanced question and cultural considerations are different with every entheogen and context. For example, partaking in ayahuasca may have different steps for accountability than partaking in home grown mushrooms. This is why moving at the speed of trust and cultivating lasting relationships is a responsible approach.
Proactive Sacred Reciprocity
Rather than an afterthought, sacred reciprocity can be woven into the entire psychedelic process, from decision making and intention through to integration and daily life. Think ahead and be intentional with how you want to give back. Involve your peers in this shared effort as well, and watch a culture of integrity bloom and flourish before your eyes.
When we talk about reciprocation, it’s important to focus on impact over intention. How does this action directly benefit the people, ecologies, and futures we seek to support? This is why we recommend backing organizations without intermediaries so that good intentions are not lost in translation.
Grateful Sacred Reciprocity
Every great medicine journey begins with gratitude. Whether in a deeply healing or rambunctiously festive environment, pausing for a few breaths or words of gratitude can have major impact on the ways we relate to the substances we consume, what we bring to the experience, and what we come away with. Thank the medicine, yes— but also thank the ancestors, wisdom keepers, protectors, ecologies, and chemists!
Readiness to listen and learn is a powerfully healing force. The forces of colonialism, which could have wiped out these medicines completely, are rooted in ideas of superiority and entitlement. Unwinding these attitudes is a process that comes full circle within the very medicine spaces that have been protected for generations.
The concept of ayni is one rooted in a living, dynamic relationship. If we fall into a guilt-driven, transactional mindset of repetitively taking and repaying, we begin to lose the heart of ayni. Reciprocity requires an exchange of value, to be sure—but it should be a meaningful contribution to which we bring our whole selves, rather than simply a bill that we pay.
Informed Sacred Reciprocity
Recognizing the true history of entheogenic medicine is a tough pill to swallow. We all benefit from the sacrifices of Indigenous groups who have preserved their heritage in the face of colonialism, genocide, religious persecution, criminalization and exploitation. Medicine work calls us to awareness. Awareness calls us to relationship. Relationship inspires action. This is a healthy cycle of responsibility that can have far reaching benefits for global healing, if we’re willing to engage with it.
Understanding also enables us to spread knowledge and context within our communities and gradually shift the culture at large.
Reciprocity considers the interconnected social, economic, ecological and spiritual factors at play within the global expansion of psychedelics. Offerings of gratitude seek to edify multiple facets of the movement—for example, financially resourcing native communities hit hard by COVID-19 and spreading awareness of entheogen conservation issues among your social circle are tangible ways to give back.
Committed to Sacred Reciprocity
To step into a reciprocal relationship with entheogens means stepping into the right relationship with the Indigenous communities where they originate. It is difficult to imagine an ethical way to consume psychedelics while ignoring the ongoing struggle of the very groups who have shared them with us.
Commit to supporting indigeous survival, thriving and self-determination. This includes the return of power, agency and resources to the original people of the land. The common psychonautic reprise that “we are all one” and desire to “stay out of politics” becomes difficult to justify while directly enjoying the traditions these people have made sacrifices to defend.
Complex global issues are at play here, so nuanced and open-ended relationships are the name of the game. We have to let go of short term solutions and quick fixes. This is a process of unlearning as much as learning—but the alternative is an old story in which we in the Global North unconsciously repeat the harms of the past in more subtle, but equally detrimental ways.
Ways To Give Back
Commit to learning and honoring the lineage and preservation of medicines you consume (studying and sharing this article is a solid start).
Financially support Indigenous-led organizations* The Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative, hosted by Chacruna Institute, offers a directory of community-determined projects which you can support directly. Check it out here.
Use medicines sparingly. These substances are powerful, limited and rapidly declining. Consider ways to spread out your journey work, and make the most of each experience through self-responsibility, preparation and integration.
Grow your own medicines and choose medicines that can be sustainably grown or produced.
Dig into your own Indigenous history. Get into relationship with your ancestry through family, food, research, community and focused journey work. Solidarity reaches deeper when it hits close to home.
Advocate for drug policy reform and work to understand systems of oppression in your community.
No money? Use what you have.
Volunteer time. Many organizations and projects could use help with web-based marketing, fundraising and awareness efforts.
Talk with loved ones about sacred reciprocity.
Cultivate practices that are good for the Earth and its ecosystems in your diet, travel, and consumption habits.
Do journey work specifically focused in prayer for Indigenous protection and thriving.
Commit to the path of interconnectedness. Embrace systems thinking over simplistic solutions.
*The Chacruna Institute makes an important point here: “It is vital that members of the psychedelic community help support Indigenous groups and the traditional ecological knowledge they practice. Many organizations and individuals have a genuine desire to help, but struggle to find ways of connecting directly with local communities. Sometimes, the only option is donating to massive non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Western countries. Many who care about the environment and its interdependency with Indigenous lives are aware that money given to large NGOs often fails to reach the people on the ground due to the large infrastructural costs needed to run these organizations. Yet, small grassroots groups doing the most impactful work often labor to connect with people wanting to offer direct support through donations. For this reason, Chacruna has created the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative of the Americas.”
With so many converging forces in the psychedelic movement, it is refreshing—audacious almost—to envision a community-led path forward that isn’t shaped by “corporadelics” or pharmaceuticals. The culture of sacred reciprocity is a first step toward healing the traumas of the past and present. The potential of the psychedelic resurgence multiplies when we embrace the inherent value of our roots and the lives that sustain this medicine.
Sacred reciprocity is a worthy cause. It requires humility and dedication. There lies before us a chance to live out a new story—one that our descendants will no longer have to spiritually bypass in order to fully enjoy their trip.
Rebecca Martinez is a Xicana writer, parent and community organizer born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She is a co-founder of the Fruiting Bodies Collective, an advocacy group, podcast and multimedia platform addressing the intersections between healing justice and the psychedelics movement. Rebecca served as the Event & Volunteer Coordinator for the successful Measure 109 campaign, an unprecedented state initiative which creates a legal framework for psilocybin therapy in Oregon. She is also the author of Edge Play: Tales From a Quarter Life Crisis, a memoir about psychedelic healing after family trauma, spiritual abuse, and police violence. She serves on the Health Equity Subcommittee for Oregon’s Psilocybin Advisory Board as well as the Board of Advisors for the Plant Medicine Healing Alliance.
Nine women of color who are working hard to ensure their communities have access and representation in the psychedelic movement
As interest in psychedelic medicine explodes, it is trailed by conversation about representation and access. From leaders, authors and filmmakers, to researchers and clinical study participants, one simple fact is clear: The psychedelic community is disproportionately white. The recent global focus on racial inequity and social justice has called us all to reflect on our impact and seek out tangible ways to show up for communities of color. Now, this conversation has reached the psychedelic community and called leaders to task. Are we ready to explore why the movement is so homogenous, and to learn from leaders of color who can help us shift and evolve?
While psychedelic press coverage focuses on hand-wringing over the privileged corporate takeover, there is a more hopeful subculture emerging. Around the world there are visionary and collaborative leaders who aren’t waiting for an invitation from the vanguard of psychedelic elites. We spoke with nine women of color who are shaping psychedelic culture at the grassroots level and helping to create more inclusive spaces within the movement for global healing.
Buki Fadipe, Founder Adventures in Om
Buki Fadipe, founder of Adventures In Om, is a transformational guide, artist, and psychedelic practitioner in training based in London, England. Her work focuses on empowering individuals to take part in their own healing and consider all aspects of the self: emotional, physical, environmental, spiritual and psychological. “When we self-heal, we do so for our lineage, community, collective, Mother Earth and all living beings,” Fadipe says.
In the future of psychedelics, Fadipe hopes to see better representation and access.
“Accessibility is a big issue,” she says. “The way the industry is currently heading does not leave much room for focusing on marginalized groups. These medicines are being worked into a psychiatric framework, a system that is already incredibly dismissive of those from lower economic brackets who are often most in need.”
Fadipe’s goal is to positively disrupt the conversation, one which she says overemphasizes the clinical model and dependence on quick fixes, pharmaceutical medicines, and years of ineffective talk therapy.
“This is an emerging field,” she continues. “How can we map its scope without more diverse data coming from a realistic representation of society? I hope that the future will lead us to see more leadership from BIPOC and women who need representation across the industry, from clinical research and decriminalization to harm reduction, education and integration.”
Jenn So, Founder SO Searching Oneself
As a femme embodied person from a family of Viet-Khmer immigrant refugees, Jenn So, LCSW and founder of SO Searching Oneself in Washington, USA, is passionate about generational healing. So has worked as a professional social worker for the past 14 years, and her private practice specializes in racial trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and intimate partner violence. She first became intrigued about the healing potential of psychedelics after witnessing firsthand how psilocybin transformed her cousin’s life.
“Psychedelic-assisted therapy could help someone who has experienced trauma return to a specific moment in their memory and know they can be safely walked out of it,” So explains. She emphasizes the importance of trained professionals and safe environments.
“Western life is disconnected from the idea of things being passed down generation to generation. We don’t live with our elders. We don’t have opportunities to be closely involved with their lives and experiences the way traditional cultures do,” So says. She believes we are just beginning to appreciate the way trauma impacts the body and family lineage.
“These medicines are being worked into a psychiatric framework, a system that is already incredibly dismissive of those from lower economic brackets who are often most in need.”
Is the mental health community ready to take a serious look at the potential of psychedelic medicine? So isn’t sure.
“The stigma around psychedelics is largely because we don’t fully understand them,” she says. “We humans believe that what we know is all there is to know, so new information is met with skepticism and fear. The mental health community isn’t immune to these attitudes.”
So hopes to bridge the conversation and help mental health practitioners better understand psychedelic medicines.
Charlotte James, Co-Founder The Ancestor Project
When co-founders of The Ancestor Project (formerly The Sabina Project) Charlotte James and Dre Wright met, they connected over their shared experiences in white medicine spaces and the recognition of the need for BIPOC-centered healing environments. They launched The Ancestor Project (TAP) in 2019 with a focus on Baltimore-based events, then shifted online when the pandemic hit.
James outlines some tangible steps the psychedelic community can take to better support Black community members: “We invite White folx to buy our Psychedelic Anti-Racism workbook. To sit in their discomfort as they unravel privilege and find their role in the collective liberation movement.” James continues, “Also, recognize that racism causes trauma, [and so] treat Black and BIPOC folx with the same trauma-informed care you provide others.”
The mantle of leadership is heavy for a woman of color navigating her own healing path while working to further conversations about psychedelics as medicine. James emphasizes how important it is to slow down. “I really try to live my life in ceremony. I have a massive toolbox of practices and technologies that support me: sitting in ceremony, practicing Kemetic yoga with my partner, spending time in nature, dance, meditation, drinking lots of water, and building a healthy, shameless relationship with food. I would say though, when you’re walking in your purpose, the work is less draining–even when it is really intense.”
James shared about TAP’s recent name change, and the importance of modeling accountability:
“We have to walk the walk. We can’t be out here holding White folx accountable to their sh*t and not also reflecting on the ways that we have deeply internalized their ways of being to the point that the system becomes self-replicating. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit when you have self-reflected and recognized a misstep. I’m grateful for the humans who support us as we do our own liberation work, and to the ancestors, spirit guides, and relatives who are the true geniuses and creators of this work.”
Elan Hagens, Co-Founder Fruiting Bodies Collective
Elan Hagens is the co-founder of the Fruiting Bodies Collectivein Oregon, USA, which was born out of a need for education, advocacy, and community within the state’s new psilocybin therapy program.
“Just inviting people of color into the scene or making options financially accessible isn’t enough,” Hagens explains. “We need to consider why communities of color aren’t as aware of or interested in psychedelics. We need to understand the history of the War on Drugs and what can happen if we invite people into vulnerable healing spaces and then they return to a world that can be dehumanizing.”
Hagens also explains the need to be mindful of the language we use. “When enthusiastic advocates talk about “magic mushrooms” and “tripping”, we can lose a lot of people due to stigma and cultural connotation. Instead, can we talk about these medicines with respect and in a new way that people from all walks of life can understand and relate to? Healing goes beyond one subculture. We all have hearts and souls and an innate ability to heal in the right conditions.”
“We have to walk the walk. We can’t be out here holding White folx accountable to their sh*t and not also reflecting on the ways that we have deeply internalized their ways of being to the point that the system becomes self-replicating. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit when you have self-reflected and recognized a misstep.”
Ultimately, healing must go beyond the individual. The founders at Fruiting Bodies believe that individual healing and societal change are inseparable. Beyond helping shape Oregon’s program, their mission is to shift the narrative and destigmatize psychedelic medicine through relationship building and storytelling.
*Note: Elan Hagens is co-founders with Rebecca Martinez, who authored this article.
Robin Divine, Founder Black People Trip
Robin Divine is the founder of Black People Trip, an online community with a mission to raise awareness, destigmatize, teach harm reduction, and create safer spaces for Black women in psychedelics.
“There is such a stigma around drug use (as well as therapy) which makes the idea of psychedelic therapy taboo for many Black people,” Divine says. “We need to see the faces and hear the stories of people who look like us in order to begin to break down these outdated ways of thinking.”
Divine explains that Black communities are traumatized. She sees psychedelics as a way for people to take healing into their own hands, down a path to wellness that exists beyond Western medicine.
“I invite white community members to get involved. If you are truly committed to equity in psychedelics, then take action. If you have the resources, then donate money to organizations that are doing the work to create better access in Black communities. I’d also ask them to respect the idea that Black people need their own spaces to heal that don’t involve them. In short: take action, and honor our space.”
Jessika Lagarde & Tian Daphne, Co-Founders Women on Psychedelics
Jessika Lagarde and Tian Daphne are the co-founders of Women on Psychedelics (WOOP), which began organically during the COVID-19 lockdown while the two were volunteering for a mushroom-related initiative. “Having ourselves experienced the healing and transformative power of psychedelics, we saw a glaring need to not only normalize the talk around psychedelics, but to specifically work to end the stigmatization around women’s mental health and substance use,” Lagarde explains.
The promising research inspired them to become advocates. But as they dove deeper, they quickly noticed a lack of diversity in the psychedelic space. “Despite having disproportionately higher rates of trauma, people of color and women remain underrepresented in research amongst participants, as well as in underground psychedelic communities and the movement toward decriminalization and legalization,” Lagarde adds.
“Through Women on Psychedelics, we hope to connect women through social, creative, political, and educational content and activities. We truly believe that everyone should have the freedom and ability to access psychedelics for their own healing and growth.”
Mariah Makalapua, Founder the Medicine Collective
Mariah Makalapua is a Hawaiian and mixed Native North American artist and mother who is the founder of the Medicine Collective in Oregon, USA. Since 2017, the Medicine Collective has combined art and medicine for the purpose of healing people and the planet. Makalapua’s mission is to provide safe and respectful healing experiences rooted in indigenous traditions.
Makalapua believes respect for indigenous rights and wisdom is an expression of an individual’s healing process. “Trauma healing has to do with diving into your upbringing, your ancestry, and ultimately, decolonizing and clearing your own lineage and understanding where you come from. We all have ancestors. No matter who you are, there is a reality of what colonialism and patriarchy did to your family.”
“We need to consider why communities of color aren’t as aware of or interested in psychedelics. We need to understand the history of the War on Drugs and what can happen if we invite people into vulnerable healing spaces and then they return to a world that can be dehumanizing.”
If people understand these things, she says, we will no longer need to argue about cultural appropriation because we will develop a heart level-understanding of it. “You wouldn’t attend an ayahuasca ceremony and then think a medicine leadership role is yours to take. You just wouldn’t be having that jump. It’s not a healed or whole approach.”
In regards to Oregon’s legal psilocybin therapy program, Makalapua advocates for wisdom, accountability and intentionality.
“Historically, indigenous communities did not exist in a vacuum in their healing. The medicine was part of the larger culture and there was a collective consciousness around it. They understood: This work is terrifying, necessary, and we must go to the right people. But this collectivism has been lost from modern culture. We need support in watering the seeds planted during ceremony. It is deep, inner, relational work: making changes, making boundaries. It requires friendship, community, and at least a few close people who can support and guide you through that change.”
“The mushrooms are going to be mushrooms no matter what we do,” Makalapua continues. “I want to protect their sacredness. It’s like protecting your grandmother. You know she’s strong and a badass, but you’re not going to let her go and do something dangerous. It’s the same with the mushrooms; we should respect them, love them, and help carry their groceries, so to speak.”
Hanifa Nayo Washington, Founder One Village Healing
Hanifa Nayo Washington is an award winning cultural artivist and sacred activist combining arts, healing, and activism for the last 20+ years. Based in Connecticut, USA, Washington is the founder and principal organizer of One Village Healing, cultivator of beloved community at the Fireside Project, director of community engagement for CEIO, and a founding member of several emerging psychedelic initiatives, including the Equity in Psychedelic Therapy Initiative.
In 2017 she released her third album, Mantras for the Revolution. In December 2018 Washington received a Phenomenal Women Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven for her contributions and achievements in the arts. She is currently working on a storytelling project called Growing Wilder, which is expected in 2022.
Washington explains how her own healing experiences led her to the intersection of psychedelic medicines and social transformation:
“Going into ceremony and creating sacred spaces…helped me deconstruct the poisons of internalized systems of oppression. These allies, these plant medicines, have helped me to unhook these things from my body and mindset, and allow me to be in deeper relationship with myself and others in ways that are not poisoned,” she says.
What makes Washington’s leadership stand out is both her joy and her specificity. One vision many emerging leaders share within the psychedelic space is inclusion. Washington carries a torch into the unknown and helps to illuminate the “how” by shaping practical models with which to realize this shared vision. Equity and access are more than buzzwords at One Village Healing–they are the pillars that form the very structure and breath of the organization, which currently provides seven online wellness sessions for free to the community.
“Historically, indigenous communities did not exist in a vacuum in their healing. The medicine was part of the larger culture and there was a collective consciousness around it. They understood: This work is terrifying, necessary, and we must go to the right people.”
The immense value of Fireside Project’s Psychedelic Peer Support Line is multiplied by their attention to “providing compassionate, accessible, and culturally responsive peer support, educating the public, and furthering psychedelic research, while embracing practices that increase equity, power sharing, and belonging within the psychedelic movement,” Washington says.
In order to create safer spaces and experiences for marginalized communities, Washington suggests a few practical steps:
Normalize and furthermore, require, inner work as a fundamental part of all psychedelic organizations, businesses, and institutions. “That means creating space and time within the work schedule for individual and collective learning, to practice and imagine ways of being that support healing from the trauma of oppressive systems.”
Within this process, trust and invest in affinity integration spaces.
Listen to, fund, and invest in individuals, businesses, projects, and initiatives led by people who have been impacted the most by systems of oppression.
“Without representation in leadership,” she says, “I’m pretty convinced that these aforementioned aspects will not happen.”
The common threads that come through these interviews help weave together a larger story. It’s a vision for global healing that doesn’t stop at getting over depression or healing family trauma. It’s a call to recognize our interconnectedness with one another and the Earth, and to commit to the work which enables psychedelic insights to transform us into more engaged, justice-focused citizens. Because of their intersectional identities, women of color offer the presence, leadership and perspective which are essential to the integrity of the psychedelics movement. We have endless opportunities to lift them up and learn from them as we grow and heal together in the years to come. Let’s begin today.
About the Author
Rebecca Martinez is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, parent and community organizer. She is a co-founder of the Fruiting Bodies Collective, an advocacy group, podcast and multimedia platform exploring the intersections between healing justice and the psychedelics movement.
In this episode, with hisrecent salvia experience in mind, Kyle interviews creator of the salvia pipe, and somatic salvia guide working to bring mindfulness to salvia use, Christopher Solomon.
To many of us, the word “salvia” conjures up images of one or both of the following: smoking salvia with friends and having a panicked, out-of-body experience that (rightfully) scared us away from ever doing it again, or watching Youtube videos of people filming themselves doing the same. Solomon’s goal is to reframe salvia’s reputation from one of confusion and panic back to how it’s known to the Mazatec people who discovered its power: as a loving, empathetic healer.
He talks about his first time smoking salvia after meditating and meeting a female entity, the differences between smoking, chewing leaves, and drinking a tincture, virtual salvia sessions, why you should smoke tiny amounts of salvia repetitively rather than 50x bong hits, why so many people feel like they’re zippers while on salvia, and his thoughts (and salvia’s) on if salvia should be smoked or not. And he lists out all the unique feelings that salvia can bring to the table if it’s approached with mindfulness, trust, and respect. “The more respectfully and cautiously and mindfully one approaches salvia, the more rewards she gives.”
“Aside from the fact that I was taken aback at seeing this entity, what was also amazing with it was the sense of emotion and love that was coming from this being. There was a very genuine, caring, telepathic connection that I had with this being that was made out of colorful, almost magnetic-looking lines.”
“When we think of transformation or transformative experiences, we think about these big, explosive, cathartic things, like, ‘Oh my gosh, my entire life flashed before my eyes and I could understand everything, and boom! I had this big transformation, and now I’m healed.’ And that can happen, but the real transformations happen in small, bite-sized moments that can be integrated, like taking that small sip of air- getting that one deep breath in if you haven’t had a deep breath in a long time.”
“Maybe we’re experiencing the zipper because we go so deep within our bodies that we’re actually getting taken into the felt experience of our DNA replicating.” “If you’re trying to make decisions in your life and you’re waffling back and forth and making lists of pros and cons and debating with yourself and then getting guidance from other people and you’re not sure where to go- you bring those questions to salvia, and she very quickly gets straight to the heart of the matter.”
Christopher Solomon is a somatic Salvia guide, teacher, and inventor of a pipe that aids in the mindful exploration of Salvia Divinorum. Incorporating lessons learned directly from Salvia and as a student of somatic psychotherapy, Christopher is pioneering techniques to use Salvia as a therapeutic tool for guided self-healing, meditation, and introspection. Christopher lectures about the proper, intentional, and therapeutic use of Salvia, offering a blend of scientific, esoteric, and therapeutic perspectives. He also cultivates a medicinal Salvia garden for use in his therapeutic practice with clients. His main goal is to teach people how to use Salvia for themselves in a manner that is supportive, informative, and empowering. He has a B.A in Psychology from the University of Texas at Dallas, and received his training in somatic psychotherapy from the Hakomi Institute of California.
In this episode, Joe interviews environmental and cultural activist, founder of advocacy group Cosmic Sister, and originator of psychedelic feminism, Zoe Helene.
In this open, free-form conversation, Zoe discusses her career path in male-dominated fields of performing art, then high-tech, then natural products, leading to a major shift leading to the creation of Cosmic Sister. She talks about concepts of othering and ableism, of coevolution and coextinction, and about how people often talk about how ayahuasca “tourism” harms Indigenous communities but rarely talk about the many ways it can and does benefit Indigenous people. She also talks about how many Americans have a fleeting, fickle, media-centric attention span on critical social and environmental issues, how living in “late-stage patriarchy” affects everyone across the gender spectrum, and how most males don’t think about how it has harmed and is still harming them.
They talk about Zoe’s “Ancestor Medicine” and colonization and the decolonization movement. She talks about ancient Mycenean and Minoan civilizations and their use of sacred psychedelic plant medicines, the tribalism of Greek people in general, and about how early Greek civilizations worked with sacred medicines even more than most people think (not just the Mysteries of Eleusis). She talks about the effects of colonization and the roots of cultural appropriation, and about ancient gold Signet rings depicting medicine women, including one that looks very much like an artistic depiction of ritual ecstatic dancing and ergot.
Colonization is multidimensional, and it isn’t just for people in the United States of America. We need to decolonize from ALL the colonizers. Globally, and throughout herstory. Dominator cultures have been around since the beginning of time, in subtle, systemic ways and in brutally apparent ways—and it’s still going on.
When people talk about Venus, I get on their cases about it. Please don’t call her Venus. Please call her Aphrodite. When the Romans appropriated Aphrodite, they didn’t just change her name. Venus is a twisted, patriarchal version of Aphrodite, and calling her Venus is no different from other cultural appropriations people talk about. Same goes for Mercury, Mars, Vesta and all the others. Please call Mercury by his original name, which is Hermes. Hermes is so, so much cooler. Mars is Ares. Cupid is Eros. I cringe when pop culture celebrates Diana, rather than the original Artemis. Artemis is a complex and powerful archetype, and we need her now more than ever.
There’s this prevailing idea of ayahuasca centers and so-called ‘ayahuasca tourists’ traveling to Peru and ‘taking advantage of indigenous people.’ Yes, of course there are always going to be bad people and yes, some tourists are crass and stupid, but most people go to Peru as a pilgrimage, and if anything, are guilty of romanticizing the Indigenous people in ignorant ways like, ‘Oh, they all want to run around in grass skirts.’ No, they want a cell phone. They want a good Internet connection so they can watch soccer or study or connect with loved ones or have access to more economic opportunities. Ayahuasca centers closing because of Covid-19 has been d devastating for the local and Indigenous people.
I hope people hold onto this passion for change. Fighting Racism should not be looked at as another damn trend rather than something we keep working on. We can’t quit. Same with Sexism and Environmentalism—all the big things. This is, I think, a flaw in our culture. We have this habit—it’s a trait I’ve especially noticed in American culture—where we are fickle about important issues in the news. Remember when the Amazon was burning? It’s still burning, and so many people were devastated by that, as if that was the first time we’d learned about the destruction of the Great Amazon. In mainstream American culture many people will think, somewhere in the back of their head, that it’s done. It’s fixed. ‘That got solved.’ Well, it didn’t. It’s still raging on. All the big social and environmental issues should not be considered trends. If you truly care, you are needed for the long haul.
Zoe Helene is an artist, environmentalist, and cultural activist best known for women’s empowerment and sacred plants such as cannabis, ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms—our co-evolutionary allies—and for “Psychedelic Feminism,” a term she coined and popularized in support of women in psychedelics. Zoe’s personal work with sacred plants continues to deepen her determination to help protect the earth’s diverse biological abundance. She believes that creating a true balance of power across the gender spectrum—globally—is the only way humans (and non-humans) will survive, and that it is our moral responsibility, as Earth’s apex predators, to protect and defend the rights of non-humans to live freely in thriving, uncompromised wilderness sanctuaries. She founded Cosmic Sister, an environmental feminist collective for progressives who understand that the current, grossly imbalanced “power-over” patriarchal model will continue to lead humans down a devolutionary path that will eventually end in the destruction of life on Earth as we know it. Cosmic Sister’s psychedelic feminism educational advocacy projects promote sacred plant spirit medicines as a way to “jump-start rapid cultural evolution,” starting with women.
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a small, spineless cactus endemic to North America, growing in the vast desert thorn scrub that runs from the southwestern United States into north-central Mexico. For centuries, the mescaline-containing cactus has been used by Indigenous groups in Northern America as a ceremonial medicine and a religious sacrament considered integral to their way of life. The rapidly growing psychedelic movement has generated a new wave of interest in plant medicines, including peyote, requiring us to tread with awareness for the impact this has on the Indigenous cultures and communities who have long stewarded these medicines.
At present, the peyote cactus is in the midst of a deep conservation crisis. Over the past few decades, wild peyote populations have been rapidly declining due to a convergence of factors including oil and gas development, illegal poaching, agricultural development, and unsustainable harvesting practices. Amongst Indigenous communities, there is a growing need to conserve this quickly disappearing natural resource that is a core element of the Native American Church (NAC), the largest pan-Indigenous religion in the United States.
Due to growing evidence of the decline of peyote and mounting concern about obtaining their sacred medicine, the NAC commissioned the Peyote Research Project (PRP) in 2013. The first phase of the project (PRP 1) concerned itself with documenting the decline of peyote as well as assessing threats to its natural habitat, while the second phase (PRP 2) focused on identifying conservation strategies, including “securing sovereign land” to protect the Peyote Gardens and building relationships with landowners to lease space for replanting and harvesting.
Sandor Iron Rope, former President of the Native American Church of North America, current president of the Native American Church of South Dakota, member of the Oglala Lakota Oyate (Oglala Sioux Tribe), and Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) board member, reflects that “supply and demand have always been an issue, and when we started looking at it through the lens of the PRP, we found out many issues were in the forefront of the longevity of supply.”
The research activities of the PRP showed that peyote was under threat, both in regards to its populations and quality of the plant. As the need to conserve peyote became more pressing, the National Council of Native American Churches (NCNAC) called for the establishment of the IPCI. “The coalition of the NCNAC were involved in PRP 2, and the collective decided that conservation itself needed to be addressed. Hence, IPCI was born in 2017,” says Iron Rope. “The Church is a religious, spiritual organization, however, peyote is a cactus that needs its own attention as far as its conservation status.” IPCI is not a religious organization, but a conservation center focused entirely on supporting the broader NAC community in North America. It is led by a Board of Directors controlled by NAC leaders from across the United States.
In late 2017, the NCNAC secured 605 acres of peyote habitat in southern Texas, often referred to as “the 605” on behalf of IPCI, with the help of the RiverStyx Foundation. Later that year, IPCI was formally established with the aim of empowering Indigenous communities across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to conserve and regenerate peyote for generations to come. IPCI operates as a non-profit, officially becoming a 501c(3) organization in 2018. In early 2019, IPCI held its first peyote harvest on the 605, educating children alongside their families on how to harvest in an ecologically and spiritually respectful way.
Unlike other conservation initiatives, IPCI is a cooperative Indigenous-led initiative, and is employing a range of biocultural strategies in order to conserve, as well as facilitate spiritual reconnection with peyote. Beyond purchasing land allotted for peyote conservation, they are also building alliances with local landowners, and developing a system of harvest and distribution that is in line with their values.
IPCI considers the rancher community in south Texas an important ally in its efforts, and its members have established an ongoing relationship with landowners from whom they lease land for biocultural harvesting and replanting. “Sharing our perspective as practitioners with the ranchers, we were encouraged to seek our own land and regain sovereignty over our medicine,” shared Iron Rope. “Most ranchers that we spoke to had a lot of issues concerning poaching, and lack of respect for their land making them fully supportive of our cause.”
How and When Did Peyote Become Endangered?
For decades, Indigenous cultural practices and peyote ceremonies were suppressed across the U.S., with peyote ceremonies being illegal in many states where peyotists practiced. It wasn’t until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) was passed in 1978 (and further amended in 1994 to expressly include peyote) that the NAC was finally granted exemption on a religious basis, allowing federally recognized tribes to use peyote as a ceremonial sacrament. The possession, transportation, and use of peyote by persons who are not members of federally recognized tribes remain illegal under federal law.
The endangered status of peyote is by no means a new problem. According to Dawn Davis, a Shoshone Ph.D. candidate at the University of Idaho and an Indigenous researcher studying the peyote habitat, researchers and scholars have been talking about peyote’s endangerment since the 1960s, when so-called “hippies” became aware of its “psychedelic” properties.
In the heat of the 1960s countercultural revolution, peyote was brought to public attention, gaining worldwide popularity through the works of Aldous Huxley and Carlos Castaneda. Their writings generated a newly sparked interest in the psychoactive properties of the plant and resulted in an influx of eager psychedelic tourists traveling to Texas and Mexico to seek out the famed cactus in its natural habitat.
To some extent, this trend continues today as we find ourselves in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance, and interest in the therapeutic potentials of visionary plants continues to grow. Such “psychedelic tourism” has inevitably impacted the availability of peyote for Indigenous groups. In fact, it was the countercultural movement of the 1960s and the corresponding interest in psychoactive substances that resulted in the U.S. government enacting The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which classified peyote as a Schedule I substance.
Due to improper harvesting techniques and overharvesting, peyote populations were left decimated, and it was declared an endangered species in Mexico as early as 1991. Currently, peyote is listed as “vulnerable” as populations in the wild continue to decline. “The International Union for the Conservation of Nature placed peyote on their red list as a vulnerable species in 2009 and the next level after re-evaluation of the population, it could move to endangered status,” says Davis. “It is also important to acknowledge that within the United States, in Texas, peyote is considered an endangered species at the local level.”
Other threats to peyote populations are largely a result of exploitative land management practices, including mining, oil and gas development, the construction of wind turbines, rancher root plowing, cattle grazing, and poaching. “Over the last ten years, wind turbine development within peyote gardens has had a huge impact on peyote populations, completely extirpating large populations of cacti from the natural range,” says Davis.
Another less obvious threat to peyote lies in the ongoing debate between Indigenous groups and the decriminalization community. Earlier this year, IPCI and NCNAC leaders produced an official statement in response to Decriminalize Nature Oakland’s resolution to decriminalize all plant medicines, including peyote. Although those working with Decriminalize Nature (DN) might have been well-intentioned, NCNAC leaders felt disappointed in Decrim’s failure to consult with Indigenous peoples, as well as their oversight of the cultural and religious history of peyote and the plant’s endangered status. The NCNAC’s statement requested that Decriminalization initiatives should not include peyote in their efforts to decriminalize all plant medicines, with the concern that it would provide citizens with a false sense of legality. Indigenous leaders fear that the decriminalization of peyote could unintentionally cause damage to populations by serving to “increase interest in non-native persons either going to Texas to purchase peyote or to buy it from a local dealer who has acquired it illegally and unsustainably in Texas.”
Very recently, Decriminalize Nature Santa Cruz issued a formal apology to the NAC for not consulting with them prior to proceeding with the resolution to decriminalize all entheogenic plants and fungi. DN Santa Cruz’s apology was accepted, and both the NCNAC and IPCI have stated that they “look forward to building a continued relationship based on unity, solidarity, and allyship.” DN Santa Cruz hopes other Decrim efforts will follow their lead, building a respectful relationship with Indigenous peyote practitioners.
A licensed distribution system was established in Texas as a regulatory companion to the federal exemption for Native religious use of peyote. This system employs licensed dealers, also known as peyoteros, to legally harvest and distribute peyote to NAC members, however, not all peyoteros necessarily consider Indigenous values of spiritual and ecological sustainability.
There have been issues with over-harvesting and improper harvesting by the current licensed dealers. When harvesting is done sustainably, the top of the root hardens and is able to produce more peyote pups in the future. Peyoteros (and black-market poachers) sometimes sever the root, causing the entire plant to die.
Iron Rope expressed IPCI’s intentions of being inclusive of and working with existing peyoteros, wanting to build relationships with them and start a dialogue about sustainable harvesting techniques. “The IPCI are a new family in the neighborhood,” he says. “We come as friends, as neighbors, as partners, and we don’t want to engage in any type of conflict.” However, IPCI also wants to take a step towards sovereignty, training Indigenous distributors so as not to rely solely on current suppliers.
“As Indigenous practitioners, it is important for us to reconnect in order to gain the full spiritual benefit of our medicine,” Iron Rope shared. “We are learning how to sustain our peyote for generations because a lot of our tribes have never harvested medicine and we have become lazy in a sense, relying on the non-practitioner distributors to send it to us in the mail.”
At the beginning of this year, there were four licensed peyoteros. According to Davis, the process of becoming a licensed peyotero is both time-consuming and costly, involving submitting an application to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Up until last year, peyoteros were licensed through the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). However, the law has changed and the DPS regulatory program was dissolved, making it only possible to acquire a license through the DEA.
“The stringent process of becoming a licensed peyotero involves annual application fees and thorough background investigation, but as far as harvesting protocols and regulations, there are now none,” adds Davis. “This has contributed to a lot of the issues that peyote is having in regard to propagation, because distributors aren’t necessarily harvesting ecologically. “If you look at pictures taken from peyote harvests, you can see that a shockingly high percentage of peyote are harvested unsustainably.”
Even if harvesting protocols and regulations were implemented through the DEA, Davis is doubtful that they would be effective, in that peyoteros operate in sparsely populated areas and such regulations would be hard to monitor. She also fears that increasing regulation would push distributors out of the business, making it more difficult for tribes who don’t have a connection to landowners in Texas to access their medicine.
“I feel that there is a more organic way of resolving this than relying on western law,” says Davis. “Rather, NAC practitioners could prevent these issues by educating fellow peyote practitioners about what a properly harvested peyote button looks like, encouraging them to buy sustainably harvested peyote.” Demanding properly and spiritually harvested peyote is the first step to bringing about lasting change.
How Can The Psychedelic Community Respect Indigenous Traditions?
As the psychedelic renaissance continues to unfold, it is increasingly important that we learn from the mistakes of the past, and make efforts to avoid another wave of colonial entitlement when it comes to peyote as a plant medicine.
Despite being given such reverence by Indigenous tribes and the NAC, peyote traditions have been extremely misunderstood by outsiders for centuries. From the persecution of peyote traditions beginning in the early 1600s by Spanish colonists in Mexico to the 19th and 20th-century legal suppression of peyote practices in the U.S., Indigenous people have had to undergo countless struggles to ensure the continued use of their sacred medicine.
Rather than feel entitled to peyote, the psychedelic community can serve as an ally to Indigenous communities by listening and choosing to support them in the ways that they wish to be supported. “It starts off with respect. Those that want to help can do something as simple as supporting Indigenous initiatives such as IPCI,” offered Iron Rope. “Indigenous people know what is best for them for the most part, and allowing them to take lead on certain matters is important.”
Beyond this, Davis expressed that one of her biggest concerns as a practitioner and a researcher is that non-Indigenous people should try to understand the history of peyote and what Indigenous people have endured in order to access and use their medicine. “Peyote went back underground until the passing of the AIRFA amendments in 1994, and now we have this movement pushing for peyote to be a sort of ‘free for all,’ and completely negating the historical struggle of Indigenous people’s use of peyote.”
Further, Davis also urges people to stay clear of harvesting wild peyote populations anywhere throughout its range, suggesting that one of the most important things that allies can do for peyote is to take the position that they will refuse to harvest wild populations while encouraging others to do the same. “Whether it be in Texas or Mexico, people who are truly respectful of this medicine- this plant, this way of life, will not harvest any wild populations because of peyote’s status as a vulnerable species with potential for future extinction.”
As we traverse the developments of this renaissance, it is crucial for our community to be aware of the impact we have, not only on mainstream culture, but also on Indigenous communities who have so frequently been left unheard. There are several steps that we can take to support peyote conservation, including sharing information about peyote conservation issues and educating oneself on the ethical considerations to be made when choosing to buy or use peyote outside of a bona fide NAC context, which must include awareness for the socio-historical baggage specific to this plant medicine.
About the Author
Jasmine Virdi is a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. Since 2018, she has been working as a writer, editor, and social media coordinator for the fiercely independent publishing company Synergetic Press, where her passions for ecology, ethnobotany and psychoactive substances converge. Jasmine’s goal as an advocate for psychoactive substances is to raise awareness of the socio-historical context in which these substances emerged in order to help integrate them into our modern-day lives in a safe, grounded and meaningful way.
In this episode, Joe interviews Wade Davis: Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, explorer, ethnobotanist, star of the recent documentary, “El Sendero de la Anaconda,” and author of several books, including bestseller The Serpent and the Rainbow, which was optioned for a movie, starring Bill Pullman and released by Universal Pictures in 1988. His new book, Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia, comes out on September 15th.
Wade discusses his history with Richard Evans Schultes, the strange phenomenon behind the growth of ayahuasca compared to other more benign plants, how set and setting can shift expectations across generations, how Indigenous people treat plant medicines in comparison to the western world, the difference between ayahuasca and yagé, Haitian zombies, Voodoo, and the mystery of how Indigenous people have been able to identify plants and learn of their combined effects through the plants speaking to them.
He also speaks about his hatred of cocaine and the damage it has caused Colombia and its people from US drug laws and global consumption leading to violence and deforestation for generations. He’s working to decouple cocaine from the coca plant (hopefully through some sort of future coca nutraceutical like a chewing gum or tea), encourage people to stop supporting the illicit cocaine market, and to think of Colombia differently than its unfair reputation encourages. Through his new book, which has been called a love letter to Colombia,he hopes to show people that everything they think they know about Colombia is wrong.
“This sort of quest for individual health and healing, for individual enlightenment, individual growth – which, at some level, is completely understandable, but it is also a reflection, in good measure, of our own culture of self; the ongoing center of narcissism, the idea that one’s purpose in life is to advance one’s own spiritual path or one’s own destiny – that is, in my experience, very much not what is going on in the traditional reaches of the northwest Amazon, where the plant (the medicine) both originated, but also, where today, it’s taken very much as a collective experience, such that the ritual itself becomes a prayer for the continuity and the wellbeing of the people themselves- where you’d never even think of this in terms of Self or I.”
“All of these cultures are fundamentally driven by this idea that they, themselves, are the stewards of the forest- that plants and animals are just people in another dimension of reality, that there’s a transactional relationship between human beings and the natural world so that the hunter is both hunted and the hunter; where you don’t simply go to get meat, you must seek permission to get that meat; where the shaman is less a healer than a nuclear engineer who periodically goes to the very heart of the reactor to reprogram the world.”
“I still am incredibly loyal to that passage in my life, and I find that I’m very proud and happy to say that I wouldn’t write the way I write, I wouldn’t think the way I think, I wouldn’t treat gay people the way I treat gay people, I wouldn’t treat women the way I treat women, I wouldn’t understand the power and resonance of biology- of nature itself, if I hadn’t taken psychedelics.”
“Everybody who uses illicit cocaine, I’m sorry to tell you, has the blood of Colombian people [and] the near destruction of a nation on [their] hands.”
“Everything you’ve ever heard about Colombia is wrong, and this dark cliche that has persisted is completely inaccurate, and an injustice to a people whose miseries have largely been caused by our actions- our prohibition of drugs and our propagating of this war on drugs, and of course our consumption of this horrible drug.”
Wade Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland. An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among fifteen indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing Passage of Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture.