Frequently Asked Questions
What is plant medicine?
Plant medicines are a healing tool, used by Shamans and indigenous healers to access different states of consciousness wherein they believe they are able to heal the body and/or mind from illness and disease. The reason for the moniker ‘plant medicines’ is that they are generally made of plant-based materials, as in the case of Peyote (cactus), San Pedro (cactus), Ayahuasca (vine), Psilocybin (mushrooms), Iboga (shrub) .
Currently, the better known of these plant medicines is Ayahuasca, a vine-based brew made throughout South America. Many people do not realize that Ayahuasca is not the only medicine available. A short list of plant medicines can be found here.
Plant medicine is also at least partly a misnomer, as there are some fauna-related sacred medicines.
There are many terms used to refer to plant medicine, but let’s get a bit more specific before we move on. Some of the more common terms are:
Entheogens, my preferred term in many ways, which means ‘generating the divine within’, and refers to any psychoactive drugs when used for their religious or spiritual effects.
Psychotropics, which includes any substance which is mood- or mind-altering. This isn’t the best description as Xanax, a well-known mood-altering pill, has little or nothing to do with an experience like Ayahuasca.
Hallucinogens, which is any drug that causes hallucination. Again, I don’t think this is the appropriate term, as sacred plant medicines are used ritually and serve serious healing purpose for indigenous folks who do not depend on allopathic medicine. Sacred plant medicine has nothing to do with LSD or DMT. Comparatively, plant medicines are 10% hallucinogen, 90% entheogen; LSD is 90% hallucinogen, 10% medicinal. I know that some may disagree here, especially any Timothy Leary followers. Note I’m not discarding LSD as an entheogen, which I believe it surely is, but rather that many people work with LSD on a purely recreational level and therefore the overall culture supporting LSD has not generally been one of serious healing intention.
Plant Medicine, which is the easiest term to use overall, being that it encompasses both the healing and organic nature of the experience; for that reason, it’s the term I’ll use throughout this post.
Is it a drug?
Well…yes and no. Yes, because it is at least slightly hallucinogenic, and therefore drug-like from most people’s perceptions, but no, because it’s nothing like taking drugs.
Ideally, a plant medicine experience (when done properly, and with serious intention) won’t have any similarities to taking LSD or other hallucinogenic drugs. If you have lots of experience with hallucinogens, you may even be underwhelmed that the ‘visuals’ of your experience are far less dramatic with entheogens. On the other hand, the psycho-emotional experience should be much, much more profound than the time you dropped acid with your friends in the backyard while your parents are away.
In the plant medicine ceremonies I’ve been in, I and almost everyone involved has been completely compos mentis. Maybe a bit light-headed, even a bit giggly at times (and desperately sad at others – all emotions come up), but never out of our minds. I always tell people intending to come to a plant medicine ceremony that you can easily ‘click’ into place if needed; if your boss or mother called, you’d be able to grab the phone, handle the call, and then hang up and ‘click’ back into the vibe of the ceremony.
So, long story short: no, it’s not a drug.
What is it like to take it?
This is impossible to describe: every person’s experience is different and every time you do it is different. There is no such thing as a ‘standard’ plant medicine experience.
I’ve known plant medicine participants to: cry wailing sobs, sleep the entire time, sing, dance, remember nothing, see visions of their childhood, envision future children, see past lives, be told things by a ‘voice’, receive spontaneous physical healing, be shown future developments in their career.
Just know that whatever happens for you will be a) what you need and b) what you can handle; nothing more, nothing less.
You can read here about my first experience with San Pedro, here for another, and here for an understanding of how Shamanism helps us heal.
Will it/can it change my life?
Maybe – are you ready to change your life? Will you change your life? Nobody can say if it will change your life, that’s for you to decide (and if a Shaman or someone else says you just have to come because it will change your life – run away).
Plant medicine is not the last stop on a very desperate healing train. I’ll admit readily that plant medicine has been a key part of my journey; your journey may end up looking very different to mine, and you should stay true to that calling.
The challenge of returning to life after a plant medicine journey and applying that wisdom to your reality, instead of just enjoying the cozy bubble you experience immediately post-ceremony cannot be understated. This is what most people would call ‘integration’.
The really life-changing stuff potentially comes together in the integration period, not just in the plant ceremony.
How many times do you have to do it?
Plant medicine ceremonies are not a linear, do-it-more-and-heal-faster journey.
In the West we’re used to easy healing narratives: 10 Steps to Better Self-Esteem; a weekend workshop that promises to heal our poor body image; a wellness faux-guru who advertises her revolutionary ‘fast-tracked’ healing techniques; a new ‘miracle’ drug that promises to cure us if we can just withstand the insurance co-pay and deleterious side effects.
Shamanic work, and especially plant medicines, are not controlled experiences. You are not able to push the plant to give you more than what you can a) need and b) handle. That’s tough to get used to, as we’re so used to having lots and lots of control in our everyday lives.
Remember: the plant is divine. It knows where to take you each time – just surrender. Allow yourself to be led.
Is it scary?
No. Most of us get nervous as we approach a ceremony, but it’s not scary.
The one caveat to that is it could be a bit scarier working with Ayahuasca, which most Shamans describe as ‘physically and emotionally demanding’, or other seemingly intense plant medicines like Iboga. Possible other factors include not being ready for your experience (my personal recommendation is never just to ‘book and show up’ without knowing the Shaman/healing center), a dodgy Shaman, or badly cooked medicine.
I’ve known some people in the ceremony to get overwhelmed or have a big release of fear and anxiety, and thus, they may have felt very palpable levels of fear or anxiety as part of that release. But that doesn’t make it inherently scary; if anything it can teach you that our emotional responses are not always in line with reality.
If you’re worried about a scary experience, just remember again that you get what you a) need and b) can handle.
If you’ve read really full-on, seemingly insane experiences on whacked-out burner forums, please just ignore that stuff. There’s a huge tendency for people to over-hype their experience for ego reasons, so take it all with a grain of salt.
Follow your feelings.
Is every ceremony the same?
Every person’s experience is different and every time you do it is different. Some plant medicine ceremonies are heavier and tougher, and others feel joyous and ebullient.
A lot of that depends on where you’re at emotionally/energetically as that dictates the filter through which you view the evening. Equally, the energetic feeling or vibe of the evening comes from the group.
Groups come together for a reason, and sometimes it’s because we all have heavy work to do, which results in a tougher ceremony. Sometimes we need to be uplifted, which can make for a lot of laughter.
You will have the ceremony a) you need and b) you can handle.
What is the Shaman’s job? Can’t I just do it on my own?
No, not a great idea. Serious use of these sacred medicines is just that – serious. And as such, it should involve being guided by a strong, able Shaman that can hold space, protect you and intervene if required. The Shaman is also able to help you interpret, understand and integrate your experience.
Doing it on your own is like doing anything on your own. You technically could but why would you?
Would you do an oil change on your car by yourself? How about heart surgery? A haircut?
In a world where many of us don’t even clean our own houses or cook our own food anymore, presuming you’ll be able to guide yourself through a sacred entheogenic experience is faulty thinking, to say the least.
Why should I have to pay for it? Shouldn’t something like this be free?
You should pay for it because it’s serious, valuable and important to you. If a plant medicine experience doesn’t evoke those feelings for you, then you may want to reconsider if you’re doing it for solid reasons, put it on hold, and return to it when you’re ready to do it with proper intention.
It’s complete fodder that ‘traditional’ Shamans work for free. They’ve always been compensated, or, held other types of jobs in addition to their role as Shaman. Without going too far into it, just know that the Shaman does more than their fair share of work for the entire ceremony, before and after. You should absolutely fairly compensate a Shaman for their time and effort.
What’s the difference between San Pedro and Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is capable of taking you places whether you want to go there or not; San Pedro seems a gentler plant to ‘work’ with, in the sense that you move in and out of control.
What’s Entheogens and Psychedelics Integration?
The definition refers to the process by which the material accessed and insights gained in an entheogenic experience are incorporated over time into one’s life in a way that benefits the individual and their community.
Does the Shaman you do it with matter?
How to find a Shaman?
If at all possible, don’t search for your Shaman; let the Shaman find you.
Does doing it with intention matter?
Yes, the deeper my respect and love for the plant has deepened, so have my ceremonies. An intention is hugely important.
How have Shamanic plant medicines helped you?
How about changing my life?
Entheogens and psychedelics can help heal and reveal our soul’s innermost purpose. My personal experience using these powerful tools are seminal in helping me find a passionate calling; in giving me the courage to choose love over fear; and in providing the catalyst for transcending chronic anxiety since I was a teenager and be of service assisting others with their spiritual inquire.
It’s helped me become a better partner, friend, and person.
Are there any dangers?
Yes, of course, there are. That’s why it’s deeply important to choose a Shaman with integrity.
I don’t feel qualified to fully answer this as I’m a Shamanic Practitioner, not a Shaman. You should always consult with a Shaman and tell them of any pre-existing health issues before going into a plant medicine ceremony.
Will I get sick/vomit/have diarrhea?
Every plant medicine is different. Some, like San Pedro, have milder physical side effects. Normally this would look like intermittent nausea, headaches, dizziness or a light-headed feeling. In nearly 10 ceremonies I’ve only known one person to vomit, and it was more of a gagging than projectile vomiting.
Ayahuasca is well-known for its ‘purgative’ nature. Apparently, some people experience that through vomiting, and some others through diarrhea. I’ve heard that similar side effects exist with Peyote and Iboga; as I haven’t done either, I cannot say what the physical side effects are. You should always consult the Shaman about all possible reactions before the ceremony.
Is Ayahuasca the female spirit, and San Pedro the male spirit?
All plants are female because they’re all from Mother Earth.
Visionary plant medicine is a term that describes the group of entheogenic “teacher” plants used first in traditional societies throughout the world to promote wellbeing and healing at individual and community levels. This group includes ayahuasca, huachuma, iboga, peyote, and psychedelic mushrooms.
A chemical substance, typically of plant origin, that is ingested to produce a nonordinary state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes.
Will EntheoMedicine facilitate a MDMA or Psilocybin session?
We’re really sorry. We wish we could, and EM offer referrals for integration only.
Currently, because of the laws, we only work with psychedelic cannabis and ketamine related psychotherapy in the United States, and we are partnering with a retreat outside the US to provide psilocybin related experiences. While Psilocybin has been decriminalized in parts of California, it is not yet legal and as such we cannot legally offer this medicine in a therapeutic container. But we do hope this changes soon! MDMA will only be available by prescription several years from now. We’ve found we can successfully address the reasons people are interested in MDMA and psilocybin with psychedelic cannabis and ketamine, as these medicines mimic the effects and intensity of MDMA and psilocybin. We are happy to discuss how these treatment modalities work. We can also help our clients assess potential guides as well as provide educational information on microdosing. I’d be happy to chat to discuss further these options with you during the FREE consultation.
We really love working with cannabis and we’d love to show you that it can be used in the same way as these other medicines can, but it’s really okay if you don’t believe us. We will say that all of our services are designed to support our clients in stepping into psychedelic journeywork, whether for deep healing or just good ol’ fashioned curiosity, without anyone having to break any laws.
We stumbled upon one of the biggest secrets in the psychedelic community, one that very few people know about. Maybe we just collectively forgot how to use cannabis skillfully. Cannabis is a classic psychedelic. We have a lot of experience to back that claim up.
Most people associate psychedelic cannabis trips with eating too many edibles and getting sick, having panic attacks, and tripping really, really hard. Afterwards they rightly think, why in the world would I do that again? But this common experience proves, even if it was a “bad trip,” that it was a “trip” nonetheless. If you’re new to the psychedelic paradigm, it really makes some sense to test the waters a bit before flying to Peru for your first ever Ayahuasca experience. If you’re an experienced psychonaut, come try something new. If you’re concerned it won’t be strong enough, I’ll offer you a second pipe… and a third. Let’s see how far we can take it. Cannabis is one of the safest substances on the planet.
A few things I can say are this: most skeptics come out of the experience completely surprised by the intensity of the trip, sometimes even veteran psychonauts say it was the most intense psychedelic trip they have ever had. Ayahuasca practitioners and DMT folks regularly say it was just like Ayahuasca and DMT. From my experience, I will say that it seems like it starts like an MDMA experience, then it morphs into a psilocybin experience. A very significant number also state they experience Ayahuasca level and DMT level trips, especially if we add certain breathwork practices. I am becoming more and more convinced that cannabis used skillfully may be as effective as MDMA in treating PTSD, just from my personal observations of both. Personally, I have had psychedelic cannabis experiences that were indistinguishable from MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, peyote, ayahuasca, N,N-DMT, and even 5-meo-DMT. Cannabis is a shapeshifter medicine as much as anything else. The primary difference is that journeyers keep their agency, they can navigate the experience more skillfully, and with greater ease, and they can pause the experience if they need to if it gets overwhelming. And there’s way less vomiting involved. We have a lot to learn from this humble medicine.
The pot most of us are familiar with is just not the cannabis we have available now. I remember a time when there were two kinds of cannabis, weed and later on, “kind bud.” It is hard to describe the magical potency and variety of cannabis strains that we now take for granted in California. This service was developed because we had access to the cleanest, best cannabis ever grown.
It’s going to be figured out eventually. People are already starting to propose studies on cannabis as a psychedelic and as a trauma healing modality.
I don’t like how pot makes me feel, how is this different?
We’d ask more details about how cannabis makes you feel and about the context of your use. Usually people smoke pot recreationally and in group settings, which sometimes elicits social anxiety and other negative side effects. I generally explore specific concerns but remind potential clients that this is more akin to an intentional psychedelic experience, rather than smoking pot with your friends. It’s important to consider the possibility that the experience will be radically different than previous cannabis experiences.
Is this confidential?
EntheoMedicine referral system adheres to strict confidentiality guidelines in our work with our clients, and all information provided to us, written and verbal, as well as your identity, will remain confidential, except when exclusions are required by law, such as if there is intent to hurt oneself or another, or child or elder abuse is occurring. Many of our practitioners are helping professionals and are therefore mandatory reporters under California law. While we require that all participants agree to keep confidential the experience and identity of other participants, due to the community nature of some of our events, we cannot make any guarantees of confidentiality.
What is Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Harm Prevention?
As a Psychedelic Harm Reduction & Prevention program at its foundation, the information, individual services, training programs, and events of EntheoMedicine are designed to address the full spectrum of complex experiences associated with psychedelic medicine and cannabis use. Some behaviors and decisions are inherently risky, especially skydiving, transformation and awakening. We require that everyone we work with takes full responsibility for all outcomes of their journey as part of their experience with us. It has been our experience that this degree of personal responsibly is a required preliminary mind set for individuals to stay as safe as possible on their journey. With that being said, our number one priority is your safety.
What is the legality of referral services EntheoMedicine provides?
The short answer is that what we do is completely legal. Federal cannabis possession laws only apply to federal lands and military bases and such. In Colorado, the consumption of cannabis and its possession is legal but well regulated. We just use the recreational cannabis laws in a new and unexpected “set and setting.”
The use of cannabis is an optional, but integral, component of our Conscious Cannabis Experiences. Participants are required to bring their own cannabis to these sessions. Less than 1 gram is usually required, which is far less than the legal private consumption limit of one ounce for California residents. Participants must be 21 years old or older to attend these events. A valid ID is required to determine age. These services and events do not include the sale of cannabis or cannabis products. Cannabis is not a business expense and there are no financial transactions related to this medicine in any way.
Sessions and events where cannabis is consumed are private, invitation only, and comply with all applicable California laws. Participants understand that the California Supreme Court ruled that employers have the right to fire employees for cannabis use, even if used responsibly and off hours, and participants assume all risks associated with this as well.
According to NORML publication, The Responsible Consumer’s Guide to Marijuana, “Private vs. Public: California protects private marijuana use, so you can consume openly at a residence or outdoors on a porch or balcony as long as the property owner allows it. Marijuana cannot be consumed openly and publicly, such as on streets and sidewalks, or in public parks. Localities may have their own regulations on where you can consume, so you should check local laws first.”
EntheoMedicine is a Harm Reduction drug education and support program, specifically for psychedelic medicine and cannabis users. We believe objective education and nonjudgmental support services are the most effective strategies in working with our communities. Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs. Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence to meet drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.
Psychedelic harm prevention takes this paradigm a step further. Saying “harm reduction” implies inherent harms, where as we believe that when used skillfully and intentionally, cannabis and other psychedelics can be used to heal and make our lives better. With that being said, risks are real, so we address them head-on.
Active placebo: A type of placebo used in drug trials to fool the volunteer into thinking he has received the psychoactive drug being tested. In the psilocybin trials, researchers have used niacin, which produces a tingling sensation, and methylphenidate (Ritalin), which is a stimulant.
Ayahuasca: A psychedelic tea made from a combination of plants native to the Amazon basin, typically Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis (or chacruna), and used sacramentally by indigenous peoples of South America. The chacruna plant contains the psychedelic compound DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine), but it is deactivated by digestive enzymes unless it is ingested with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor such as Banisteriopsis. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of the Brazil-based UDV Church to use ayahuasca as a sacrament.
The Beckley Foundation: The organization established by Amanda Feilding in England in 1998 to support research into psychedelics and advocate internationally for the reform of drug laws. The organization is named for Feilding’s ancestral estate in Oxfordshire (BeckleyFoundation.org).
Council on Spiritual Practices (CSP): A nonprofit organization established by Bob Jesse in 1993 and “dedicated to making direct experience of the sacred more available to more people.” CSP helped organize and fund the first experiments in psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins; CSP also supported the suit that resulted in the 2006 Supreme Court decision recognizing ayahuasca as a sacrament in the UDV Church. In 1995, CSP developed and published the “Code of Ethics for Spiritual Guides” that many underground psychedelic guides have adopted (csp.org).
Default mode network (DMN): A set of interacting brain structures first described in 2001 by the Washington University neuroscientist Marcus Raichle. The default mode network, called that because it is most active when the brain is in a resting state, links parts of the cerebral cortex with deeper and evolutionarily older structures of the brain involved in emotion and memory. (Its key structures include, and link, the posterior cingulate cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus.) Neuroimaging studies suggest that the DMN is involved in such higher-order “metacognitive” activities as self-reflection, mental projection, time travel, and theory of mind—the ability to attribute mental states to others. Activity in the DMN falls during the psychedelic experiences, and when it falls most precipitously volunteers often report a dissolution of their sense of self.
DMT (or N,N-Dimethyltryptamine): A rapid-onset, intense, and short-acting psychedelic compound sometimes referred to as “the businessman’s trip.” This tryptamine molecule is found in many plants and animals for reasons not well understood.
Empathogen: A psychoactive drug that produces a heightened sense of connectedness, emotional openness, and compassion. MDMA, or Ecstasy, is such a drug. Also sometimes called an entactogen.
Entheogen: From the Greek, “generating the divine within.” A psychoactive substance that produces or facilitates a spiritual experience. Entheogens have been used by many cultures for thousands of years, whether by shamans or as part of religious or spiritual practices. However, the term was not coined until the 1970s, by a group of scholars that included R. Gordon Wasson, Richard Evans Schultes, Jonathan Ott, and Carl Ruck. The word was intended to help rehabilitate psychedelics by distinguishing their ancient spiritual role from the recreational uses to which they were often put beginning in the 1960s.
Esalen, or the Esalen Institute: A retreat center in Big Sur, California, founded in 1962 to explore the various methods for expanding consciousness that often go under the umbrella of the human potential movement. Esalen was closely identified with the psychedelic movement before the drugs were banned; in the years afterward, a series of meetings took place at Esalen where strategies to rehabilitate and restart research into psychedelics were developed. Many psychedelic guides now working underground received their training at Esalen.
5-HT2A receptor: One of several types of receptors in the brain that respond to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Psychedelic compounds also bind to this receptor, precipitating a cascade of (poorly understood) events that produce the psychedelic experience. Because of its distinctive molecular shape, LSD binds particularly well to the 5-HT2A receptor. In addition, a portion of the receptor folds over the LSD molecule and holds it inside the receptor, which might explain its intensity and long duration of action.
5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine): A powerful, short-acting psychedelic compound found in certain South American plants and in the venom of the Sonoran desert toad (Incilius alvarius). The toad venom is typically vaporized and smoked; 5-MeO-DMT obtained from plants is usually made into a snuff. The compound has been used sacramentally in South America for many years; it was first synthesized in 1936 and was not made illegal until 2011.
Hallucinogen: The class of psychoactive drugs that induce hallucinations, including the psychedelics, the dissociatives, and the deliriants. The term is often used as a synonym for psychedelics, even though psychedelics don’t necessarily produce full-fledged hallucinations.
Harvard Psilocybin Project: The psychological research program established by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass) in the Department of Social Relations at Harvard in 1960. The researchers (who included Ralph Metzner, a graduate student) administered psilocybin to hundreds of volunteers “in a naturalistic setting”; they also conducted experiments with prisoners at Concord State Prison and with theology students at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Later, the group began working with LSD. The project was engulfed in controversy in 1962 and closed down after it had been reported that Alpert had given psilocybin to an undergraduate, in violation of its agreement with Harvard. Leary and Alpert established a successor organization in Cambridge but outside Harvard, called the International Federation for Internal Freedom.
Heffter Research Institute: A nonprofit established in 1993 by David E. Nichols, a chemist and pharmacologist at Purdue University, with several colleagues, to support scientific research into psychedelic compounds. The institute was named for Arthur Heffter, the German chemist, pharmacologist, and physician who first identified mescaline as the psychoactive component of the peyote cactus in the late 1890s. Established at a time when psychedelic research had been dormant for two decades, the Heffter Institute has played a pivotal, but quiet, role in the revival of that research, helping to fund most of the psilocybin trials done in America since the late 1990s, including the work at Hopkins and NYU (Heffter.org).
Holotropic Breathwork: A breathing exercise developed in the mid 1970s by the psychedelic therapist Stanislav Grof, and his wife, Christina, after LSD was made illegal. By breathing rapidly and exhaling deeply, nearly to the point of hyperventilation, subjects enter an altered state of consciousness without the use of a drug. This trancelike state can give access to subconscious material. “Holotropic” means “moving toward wholeness.”
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide): Also known as acid, this psychedelic compound was first synthesized in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist at Sandoz who was searching for a drug to stimulate circulation. LSD was the twenty-fifth molecule that Hofmann had derived from the alkaloids produced by ergot, a fungus that infects grain. Hofmann shelved the compound when it proved ineffective as a medicine, but five years later a premonition led him to resynthesize it. After accidentally ingesting a small quantity of LSD, he discovered its powerful psychoactive properties. In 1947, Sandoz began marketing LSD as a psychiatric drug under the name Delysid. It was withdrawn from circulation in 1966 after the drug appeared on the black market.
MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies): The nonprofit membership organization founded in 1986 by Rick Doblin to increase public understanding of psychedelics and support scientific research into their therapeutic applications. Based in Santa Cruz, California, MAPS has focused its efforts on MDMA, or Ecstasy, as a therapeutic intervention for people suffering from PTSD. In 2016, it won FDA approval to conduct phase 3 trials of MDMA in the treatment of PTSD; in 2017, the FDA designated MDMA as a “breakthrough therapy” for PTSD, clearing the way for an expedited review. Doblin, and MAPS, have played a central role in the revival of psychedelic research. MAPS also sponsors Psychedelic Science, the international conference on psychedelic research that takes place in Northern California every few years. (maps.org)
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine): A psychoactive compound first synthesized by Merck in 1912 but never marketed. After the compound was resynthesized by the Bay Area chemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin in the 1970s, it became a popular adjunct to psychotherapy, because its “empathogenic” qualities helped patients form a strong bond of trust with their therapists. In the 1980s, the drug showed up in the rave scene, where it was sold under the name of Ecstasy (or E or later Molly); in 1986, the U.S. government put MDMA on schedule 1, declaring it a drug of abuse with no accepted medical use. However, recent drug trials sponsored by MAPS have demonstrated MDMA’s value in treating PTSD. MDMA is not considered a “classical psychedelic,” because it appears to operate on different brain pathways from LSD or psilocybin.
Mescaline: A psychedelic compound derived from several cacti, including peyote and San Pedro. The compound was first identified and named by the German chemist Arthur Heffter in 1897. The Doors of Perception is a first-person account of Aldous Huxley’s first mescaline experience.
Microdosing: The practice of ingesting a small, “subperceptual” dose of a psychedelic, usually LSD or psilocybin, every few days as an aid to mental health or mental performance. A common protocol is to take ten micrograms of LSD (a tenth of a medium dose) every fourth day. The practice is fairly new, and as yet the evidence for its effectiveness is anecdotal. Several trials are under way.
MK-Ultra: The code name for an undercover research program on psychedelic drugs conducted by the CIA beginning in 1953; it was closed down in 1963 or 1964. At various times, the CIA sought to determine whether LSD and related compounds could be used as a means of mind control; an interrogation tool (or truth serum); a biological weapon (added to a population’s water supply); or a political tool (by dosing adversaries to get them to do foolish things). As part of the research program, which at times involved forty-four universities and colleges, civilians and military personnel were dosed without their knowledge, sometimes with disastrous consequences. The public first learned about MK-Ultra during the Church Committee hearings on the CIA held in 1975; further hearings on the program were held in 1977. However, most of the agency’s documents on the program had been destroyed in 1973 on orders from director Richard Helms.
Mystical Experience Questionnaire: The psychological survey, developed by Walter Pahnke and William Richards in the 1960s, used to assess whether a volunteer in a trial of a psychedelic drug has undergone a mystical-type experience. It seeks to measure, on a scale of one to five, seven attributes of a mystical experience: internal unity; external unity; transcendence of time and space; ineffability and paradoxicality; a sense of sacredness; the noetic quality; and a deeply felt positive mood. Several revised versions of the MEQ have since been developed.
Noetic quality: A term introduced by William James, an American psychologist, to denote the fact that the mystical state registers not only as a feeling but as a state of knowledge. People emerge with the enduring conviction that important truths have been revealed to them. The noetic quality was, for James, one of the four marks of the mystical experience, along with ineffability, transiency, and passivity.
Phenethylamines: A class of organic molecule, and the name for one of the two principal types of psychedelic compounds; the other is the tryptamines. Mescaline and MDMA are examples of phenethylamines.
Psilocin: One of the two principal psychoactive compounds found in psilocybin mushrooms. The other is psilocybin, which breaks down to psilocin under certain conditions. Both compounds were isolated (from mushrooms provided by R. Gordon Wasson) and named by Albert Hofmann in 1958. Psilocin is what gives psilocybin mushrooms their bluish tint when bruised.
Psilocybe: A genus of approximately two hundred gilled mushrooms, roughly half of which produce psychoactive compounds such as psilocybin and psilocin. Psilocybes are distributed throughout the world. Their possession is illegal in most jurisdictions. The best-known members of the genus are Psilocybe cubensis, Psilocybe cyanescens, Psilocybe semilanceata, and Psilocybe azurescens.
Psilocybin: The main psychoactive compound found in psilocybin mushrooms and a shorthand for the class of mushrooms that contain it.
Psychedelic: From the Greek for “mind manifesting.” The term was coined in 1956 by Humphry Osmond to describe drugs like LSD and psilocybin that produce radical changes in consciousness.
Psycholytic: A term coined in the 1960s for a drug, or dose of a drug, that loosens constraints on the mind, allowing subconscious material to enter one’s awareness. Also the name for a form of psychotherapy that uses low doses of psychedelics to relax the patient’s ego without obliterating it.
Psychotomimetic: The name for a drug that produces effects resembling psychosis. This was a common term for LSD and drugs like it when they were first introduced to psychiatry in the 1950s; researchers believed they produced temporary psychoses that would yield insights into the nature of mental illness and give therapists the opportunity to experience madness firsthand.
Reducing valve: The term used by Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception for the mental filter that admits to our awareness only a “measly trickle of the kind of consciousness” we need to survive. In his view, the value of psychedelics was to open the reducing valve, giving us access to the fullness of experience and the universal “Mind at Large.”
Set and setting: The inner and outer environments in which a drug experience takes place; “set” is a term for the mind-set and expectations the person brings to the experience, and “setting” is the outward circumstances in which it takes place. Set and setting are particularly influential in the case of psychedelics. The terms are usually credited to Timothy Leary, but the concept was recognized and made use of by earlier researchers such as Al Hubbard.
Tryptamine: A class of organic molecule common in nature, and the name for one of the two principal types of psychedelic compounds; the other is the phenethylamines. LSD, psilocybin, and DMT are tryptamines. The neurotransmitter serotonin is also a tryptamine.
Taking entheogens can be like air travel: people do it all the time, it’s usually fine, but when it’s not fine, it’s sometimes very bad. We’ve been there. And that’s where an experienced guide can make the difference in the outcome.
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