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Peyote Road Reflections

Peyote Road Reflections

Above: Peyote Meeting at Mirando City, Texas, from Reflections on the Peyote Road, by Jerry Patchen, ESPD50 (photo courtesy of Robert Black)

What is Peyote?

Peyote, scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, is a small, spineless cactus native to North America, populating the vast desert thorn scrub that runs from the southwestern United States into north-central Mexico. It is commonly known for its psychoactive properties. Among its many alkaloids, peyote contains the naturally occurring chemical compound mescaline which has the ability to induce brilliantly colored geometrical visions. Classed as a controlled, Schedule I substance in the United States, Native Americans have had to fight hard for the sustained use of their sacred plant.

The sacramental use of peyote is the oldest known religious practice on the North American continent. By way of example, there are three archeological specimens of peyote that were discovered in the Shumla Cave in Pecos, Texas which have been radiocarbon dated between 3660 and 3780 BCE. Petroglyphs in the area adorned with peyote motifs have also been dated to the same period. Thus, the cactus has been used by indigenous groups in Northern Americas for millennia, being an integral part of the cosmology of Huichol peoples of Northern Mexico as well as the Native American Church. 

Western Culture’s Misunderstanding of the Plant Medicine

Despite being given such reverence by indigenous peoples and the NAC, peyote has been extremely misunderstood by outsiders for centuries. Since their arrival in the New World in the early 1600s, Spanish colonists set about replacing native religions with Catholicism. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, and missionary priest wrote about peyote: 

“Those who eat or drink it see visions either frightful or laughable… it stimulates them and gives them sufficient spirit to fight and have neither fear, thirst, nor hunger… It causes those devouring it to foresee and predict; such, for instance, as whether the weather will continue; or to discern who has stolen from them…”

Upon coming into contact with peyote in Mexico, the Spanish colonialists considered it to be an anti-christian, “diabolical root” in direct opposition to the integrity of the Catholic faith. The Inquisitor General ordered Christianization at the point of the sword, and plants used in native rituals were condemned. In 1620, an official order was issued by the Inquisitors declaring that “no person of whatever rank of social condition can or may make use of the said herb, Peyote” as it was considered to be an “intervention of the Devil.”           

Spanish Imperialists brought death and disease to Northern Mexico and with this its inhabitants fled, scattering south and west. One group, the Tarahumara Indians, made their home in the remote hills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is believed that their successors gave rise to the Huichol or Wixarika, who are the only remaining indigenous group in Mexico that continues to use peyote as a ritual sacrament.

The Native American Use of Peyote

Peyote Drummer

‘Peyote Drummer’ Via Museum of Photographic Arts Collections

Meanwhile, north of the border the European colonization of America had begun. Over the span of a couple of centuries, the Native Americans saw their buffalo food supply deliberately wiped out, with each tribe experiencing its own genocide, land seizure, displacement, and removal to reservations.

Acclaimed ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes, was among the first few Westerners to study peyote. In 1936, Schultes made his way to Oklahoma to study the ritual use of peyote among the Kiowa Indians. 

It is thought that the Kiowa first came into contact with peyote in the mid-1800s through the Comanches. According to the seminal text Peyote Religion by Omer Stewart, the Carrizo Mexican Indians passed peyote use and rituals to the Lipan Apache, with the Apache going on to pass it to the Comanches, and finally it was passed from the Comanches to the Kiowa.

Anthropologist Wade Davis writes of the Native American’s connection to peyote in his book One River explaining that “peyote offered the Kiowa and the Comanche an astonishing affirmation of their fundamental religious ideas” in a time when their ways of life were disintegrating.

Legal Battles and the Native American Chruch

Jerry Patchen, a Texas attorney, and contributing author to our publication Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs has represented the Native American Church and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensed peyote dealers (peyoteros) harvesting and selling peyote to the NAC for over forty years. 

During his career as a lawyer, he fought on the frontlines of the peyote wars, providing pro bono representation to Indians that were being charged with the serious offense of possessing a controlled substance. In his paper, “Reflections of the Peyote Road with the Native American Church – Visions & Cosmology” he expands upon his journey, helping to protect and secure the legal status of Peyote for use by Native Americans in NAC prayer services. 

To learn more about the legal trials and tribulations faced by the Native American Church watch the video below, in which Jerry Patchen reflects on his career and shares his personal experiences.

In 1912, the Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to lobby for a federal law prohibiting peyote. This law was passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate. An Oklahoman senator was swayed by his Indian constituency, persuading his colleagues to vote against the bill. Following this, the Native American Church rallied the support of several anthropologists, ethnologists, and ethnobotanists in their fight to save their sacred medicine. Among them, Richard Evans Schultes had presented a vast bibliography as well as the insights from field research with the Kiowa. Finally, the U.S. Senate Committee accepted their conclusion that peyote was not a “habit-forming drug” and is used as a “religious sacrament”. 

The efforts to prohibit the use of peyote ceased for three decades until the beginning of the 1960s countercultural movement in the 1960s where baby boomers discovered psychedelic substances and wanted to “turn on, tune in, drop out” en masse. Alarmed by the potential dangers of psychoactive substances, the U.S. government enacted The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, in which peyote was included in the drugs classified as Schedule I substances. Read more about psychedelics and the 1960s counterculture.

Patchen helped create and draft a plan of petitioning the U.S. Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) to expressly include peyote. This strategy was presented to Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs at a public hearing in Oklahoma. The strategy succeeded with both Acts eventually being passed. Thus, the listing of peyote as a controlled substance does no longer applies to the sacramental use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church. Later, this legislation played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit the religious use of ayahuasca. Patchen reflects that:

“Without the tenacious commitment of the NAC, there would be no legal use of Peyote or ayahuasca in the U.S. today”

What does the Future Hold for Peyote?

Donna Torres Lophophora Williamsii

Lophophora williamsii by the botanical illustrator Donna Torres

In recent years, the greatest threat to peyote is its paucity and decreasing numbers. A convergence of factors such as illegal poaching, overharvesting, and conversion of its natural environment into agricultural land has led to a severe decrease in wild populations, making it a vulnerable species. 

As early as 1995, American botanist Edward Anderson noted the change in peyote populations in his paper entitled “The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis?”. Anderson theorized that the greatest threat to peyote was not the peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally permitted to collect peyote to supply the Native American Church. In general, peyoteros are considered to be good conservationists, harvesting sustainably with the knowledge that their livelihood depends on stable populations of the plant. 

Rather, Anderson identified the two most serious threats to peyote as “root-plowing [for agricultural purposes] and the locking up of ranches to the peyoteros” with most land being privately owned. Thus, a tension exists between land-owners and peyoteros who have to take out costly leases to harvest the peyote enclosed in private land. What’s more, is that it has become more and more difficult for distributors to gain the legal approval they need to collect peyote to sell to the Native American Church. A 2018 article by Daniel Oberhaus, stated that there are currently “only four peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally able to collect peyote.”

Beyond this, the number of people consuming peyote globally exceeds the plants’ ability to regenerate. Since the 1960s, New Age psychedelic tourists have been drawn to the plains of Northern Mexico seeking visionary experience. This trend has also been amplified by the fanfare surrounding today’s psychedelic renaissance, with a renewed interest in the therapeutic potentials of visionary plants. This psychedelic tourism has inevitably has impacted the availability of peyote for the Huichol.

Peyote is a fragile species liable to become endangered. The plant itself is extremely slow-growing, taking many years to reach maturity, and people are harvesting it in a very negligent way. When harvesting is done sustainably, the top of the root hardens but the plant does not die and is able to produce more peyote in the future. If poor harvesting techniques are used, the entire plant dies. 

To learn more about how to harvest peyote sustainably, check out this video uploaded by anthropologist, Bia Labate, interviewing Dr. Martin Terry from the Cactus Conservation Institute


More about Jerry Patchen

Jerry Patchen contributing author to the Ethnopharmacologic Search of Psychoactive Drugs -- PeyoteJerry D. Patchen, contributing author to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, is a Texas Attorney with four decades of experience litigating civil and criminal cases. Patchen’s work includes forty years of pro bono representation of the Native American Church (NAC) on behalf of American Indians to secure and protect their rights to religious freedom. Serving as an Officer in the NAC, he represented individuals charged in various states with possession of Peyote, winning every case. He also represented the Peyote dealers in Texas, who are licensed by the Texas DPS and DEA to dispense Peyote to Indians. Throughout his representation of the NAC Jerry, his wife, Linda, and their three children participated in Peyote meetings with Native American elders for decades.


Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017)

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Box SetCertain plants have long been known to contain healing properties and used to treat everything from depression and addiction, to aiding in on one’s own spiritual well-being for hundreds of years. Can Western medicine find new cures for human ailments by tapping into indigenous plant wisdom? And why the particular interest in the plants with psychoactive properties? These two conference volume proceedings provide an abundance of answers.

The milestone publication, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

Buy Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs

Reflections on 2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

Reflections on 2019 World Ayahuasca Conference


Reflections of the 2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

This was the third World Ayahuasca Conference held in Girona, Spain last June, which brought together 1400 people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, disciplines, and traditions. Three days of fascinating, moving presentations, invocations, conversations, and declarations towards a common vision of a sustainable future for plants, people and the planet.

The gathering was organized by the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education Research and Service (ICEERS) a small group of highly intelligent and dedicated individuals based in Barcelona who I cannot say enough good things about. Founder and director, Benjamin De Loenen, and his colleagues have vision and commitment. Since 2008, they have been working to change society’s relationship with psychoactive plants. Their work ranges from research, advocacy, legal defense fund, and community building. They are having an impact.

Synergetic Press had a booth along with many wonderful organizations and showcased several of our authors who participated in the event including Allan Badiner, Wade Davis, Dennis McKenna, John Allen, Luis Eduardo Luna, and Sir Ghillean Prance

European Debut of ESPD50 

The Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD50) book collaboration was featured in the program where Dennis McKenna shared the history how the publication came to be and we had all four editors present for a book signing with Luis Eduardo Luna, one of the contributors, as well. Read more about the vision behind ESPD50.  

Visit to the Reseach Ship Heraclitus

Group visit to the research ship Heraclitus in Roses, Spain. Photo by Thirty Vakil.

We exhibited together with our ecological affiliate the Institute of Ecotechnics to introduce the research vessel Heraclitus currently being rebuilt nearby in Roses, Spain. The Heraclitus is dedicated to studying our oceans and rivers. Wade, Dennis, and Ghillean had all been on that ship in the early eighties when it was on an ethnobotanical expedition up the Amazon River. A busload of participants came along for a day trip to see the legendary vessel in drydock. The ship plans to return to the Amazon in a few years. We would like to thank the crew of the Heraclitus for their help setting up and manning our booth during the conference.

 

Amazonian explorers Sir Ghillean Prance, Wade Davis, Dennis McKenna with Heraclitus founders and directors John Allen, Robert Hahn, Christine Handte and Claus Tober.

Find out how you can donate and support the reconstruction of the RV Heraclitus.

Ayahuasca & Healing Our Society Through Plant Wisdom

Alchimia Soldaría interview Dennis McKenna about his research and personal perspective on the plant medicine ayahuasca, and how symbiosis with it could heal our relationship with the Earth.

Declaration by the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin

This conference aspired to form new understandings, new friendships, and new commitments. I left the conference with the unmistakable sense that many movements are gathering, stepping up to the front lines of action. And what is the action? The Indigenous peoples and nations of the Amazon basin who attended the closing ceremony called for the creation of a global alliance of all movements and peoples to stop climate change and to protect the rights of Mother Earth and all living beings. Read their full Declaration Here.

 

Technical Reports by PsychēPlants

PsychēPlants is an information hub and e-health platform created by ICEERS for people interested in traditionally used psychoactive plants and fungi, those who use them, and health care professionals.

PsychēPlants has generated a series of technical reports including anthropological, botanical, chemical and risk reduction information on traditionally used psychoactive plants, fungi, and venoms. These reports are all open source and available for free online.

View and download the reports here. 

 

More About ICEERS

International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS)  is a non-profit organization committed to integrating traditional medicinal plants such as ayahuasca, and iboga as therapeutic tools in contemporary society. Further, dedicated to preserving the integrity and traditions of indigenous cultures that have been using such plants medicinally for time immemorial, aiming to safeguard and harness ethnobotanical knowledge in response to the urgent need for better tools for personal and social development.

 

Stay tuned with their latest developments and events

@NGO_ICEERS or ICEERS on FB

2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

May 31 – June 2 | Girona, Spain

Hosted by the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS)

Save 10% by using discount code SYNERGETICPRESS10

 Looking Forward to Seeing You at AYA2019!

Synergetic Press is excited to announce our participation in the 2019 World Ayahuasca Conference being held this spring in Girona, Spain, May 31st-June 2nd, for the European debut of our seminal publication, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD).  Among the many distinguished speakers at the conference will be the four editors of ESPD:  famed ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, internationally known botanist Sir Ghillean Prance, filmmaker/anthropologist Wade Davis, and the founder and Executive Director of ICEERS, Benjamin De Loenen. Several other contributors to the book including shaman/anthropologist Luis Eduardo Luna and medical psychology researcher Ede Frecska, MD, will be giving presentations at the conference. Other Synergetic Press authors will be found at the conference including Allan Badiner (Zig Zag Zen) who will be speaking, and John Allen (Me and the Biospheres) attending. It promises to be a truly stellar event. – read more on our blog. 

The AYA2019 Conference is being hosted by the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS). ICEERS is a non-profit organization committed to integrating traditional medicinal plants such as ayahuasca, and iboga as therapeutic tools in contemporary society. Further, dedicated to preserving the integrity and traditions of indigenous cultures that have been using such plants medicinally for time immemorial, aiming to safeguard and harness ethnobotanical knowledge in response to the urgent need for better tools for personal and social development.

More than a Conference…

The 3rd World Ayahuasca Conference 2019 will be the largest gathering on the subject of ayahuasca ever held, bringing together a diverse community and a multiplicity of voices to share knowledge about this invaluable plant medicine and how we can use it in order to shape a better future for our planet.

The conference aims to explore the use of ayahuasca in a wide variety of contexts, and its ability to not only affect individuals in a transformative way, but whole communities, societies, and moreover our planetary landscape. The transformative and healing potentialities of this sacred plant must not be overlooked, with AYA2019 aiming to unite academics, practitioners, and communities around a shared vision – creating a sustainable, ecologically aligned paradigm for our species.

The conference is scheduled to span over three-days with additional events such as workshops, open-discussions, art, music and much more. Participants will have the opportunity to connect with one another, engage in dialogue, listen to inspirational talks, and enjoy art, food, film, and good music together.

Use code SYNERGETICPRESS10 for 10% off your tickets!  Buy Your Tickets Here

Speaker Line-Up

Dennis McKenna PhD

Dennis McKenna’s professional and personal interests are focused on the interdisciplinary study of ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens. He received his doctorate in 1984 from the University of British Columbia, where his doctoral research focused on ethnopharmacological investigations of the botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, two orally-active tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the Northwest Amazon. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs.

Wade Davis PhD

Wade Davis is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker whose work has taken him from the Amazon to Tibet, Africa to Australia, Polynesia to the Arctic. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 1999 to 2013, he is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Author of 22 books, including One River, The Wayfinders, and Into the Silence, winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top nonfiction prize in the English language, he holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University.

Luis Eduardo Luna PhD

Luis Eduardo Luna has a B.A. from Universidad Complutense de Madrid (1972), an interdisciplinary M.A. from Oslo University (1980), a Ph.D. from the Department of Comparative Religion Stockholm University (1989), and an honorary doctoral degree from St. Lawrence, Canton, New York (2002).  Dr. Luna is since 1989 a Fellow of the London Linnaean Society. He was an Assistant Professor in Anthropology (1994-1998) at the Department of Anthropology of Santa Catarina Federal University (UFSC) in Florianópolis, Brazil. He is co-editor with Steven White of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine. He is the Director of the Research Center for the Study of Psychointegrator Plants, Visionary Art and Consciousness, Florianópolis, Brazil.

And many more! Check out the full speaker-line up here.

Interested in learning more? All of the talks from the 2016 World Ayahuasca Conference in Rio Branco, Brazil are open-source and available to watch for free through this link. 

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs with Dennis McKenna

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs with Dennis McKenna

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs eBook Newly Available

For those who like to save paper, keep things minimal, or merely have their research library on easy tabs, we are excited to announce that the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESDP50) Volume 2: Proceedings of the 2017 conference held in Tyringham Hall, UK, is now available in eBook format!

 

McKenna’s Milestone Publication

The milestone publication, ESPD50, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

“The realization that real science was being pursued in this field was a revelation to me, partly because it opened the possibility that one day I, too, might be able to achieve a place in this exclusive fellowship. At first, I thought I would be able to prove to my parents that I was serious about psychedelics and not just a confused hippie in search of cheap thrills, but they were not very reassured. However, over the years, they came to recognize the merits of my chosen career.”Dennis McKenna, The Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: Reflections on a Book that Changed My Life.’

The first international gathering of researchers held on this subject was in 1967. It was an interdisciplinary group of specialists gathered in one place to share their findings on a topic that was gaining widespread interest: The use of psychoactive plants in indigenous societies. It was intended that follow-up conferences should be held about every 10 years. However, the War on Drugs soon limited any advances in this field of research, putting a prohibitive ban on psychoactive drugs, denying their medicinal value altogether.

 

The Future of Medicine

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research into the medicinal and therapeutic properties of psychoactive substances. In spite of their prohibitive ban, researchers persevered. With their substantial discoveries and findings helping to reverse public opinion and reestablish the medical legitimacy of certain substances.

In June 2017, a group of interdisciplinary researchers from around the world convened to review their research and findings together in what was known as the second Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Symposium. The papers given at the 2017 Symposium, organized by Dr. Dennis McKenna, have been collected and curated into what is now known as the ESPD50, representing the most significant body of knowledge in this field available.

 

McKenna Speaks at ESPD50 Conference

 

 

Interested in ESPD50, but find the science hard to digest? Make your reading interactive by watching the video lectures of individual authors presenting their research papers at the 2017 Symposium here

Check out Dennis McKenna’s recent interview on the Future Fossils Podcast with Michael Garfield, where they discuss the applications of psychoactive substances as tools for scientific investigation.

What Reviewers Had to Say:

For decades, the keepers of the psychedelic therapy and ethnobotany flames have guarded and passed along rare copies of the published proceedings of this January 28–30, 1967 conference at UC San Francisco, which were released later that year as “Public Health Service Publication No. 1645” and briefly sold for $4 by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

This month, the historic research papers from that mostly forgotten conference, along with the proceedings of a symposium held in England last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the San Francisco gathering, have been published by Synergetic Press in a beautifully boxed, two-volume hardcover edition. 

Don Lattin, award-winning journalist & author of Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy

Much of their discussion centers around the indigenous peoples of the world who have utilized these miraculous psychedelic fungi and plants (even the skin secretions of frogs and toads) in their cultures and religions. Of course, what’s most exciting is the potential for additional therapeutic discoveries, once the substances are better understood. 

Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews

A Psychedelic Summer: Symposium Central

A Psychedelic Summer: Symposium Central

The ESPD50 Team & friends – Dennis McKenna with Franz Vollenweider, Jasmine Virdi, Annette Badenhorst, Hugo Amadeus Santos & others

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of attending the Elevate Live Symposium in Zurich, Switzerland. The symposium took place on June 9, and officiated the European launch of our newest book, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD50).

Synchronistically, the Elevate Symposium marked the one-year anniversary since we organized the ESPD50 Conference, from which the book project then ensued. The Elevate Symposium served as a meeting place for our wonderful book team that worked so hard to make the ESPD50 publication a reality.

Simply put, the Elevate event was fantastic, leaving us feeling inspired and charged with a fresh zeal for life! There was such a diversity of speakers from far and wide, covering a range of topics: from the future of blockchain technology; to biohacking and using extreme cold as a tool to overcome mental barriers; to  sacred plant medicines and how they can help us overcome addiction, psychological trauma and walk a path that is more fully aligned with nature.

On the one hand, it is true that the Anthropocene era is one of rapid change. We currently inhabit a world where our oceans are filled with plastic, a world undergoing a drastic global-‘weirding’ with unpredictable weather developments, a world where over-population is becoming an ever looming reality, with new problems mounting every day.

However, the Elevate event reminded us that although it is important to be aware of these issues, it is also crucial to pay attention to the positive things that we can do to make a difference alongside the beneficial actions that are already being taken.

To say the least, we left feeling thoroughly elevated! And to keep the ball rolling in a positive stead, there are two more worthwhile symposiums coming up in the next week.

Upcoming Events to Pencil in your Calendar:

Beyond Psychedelics, Global Psychedelic Forum in Prague, June 21-24

Our friends at Psychedelic Press UK will be vending our books at the Beyond Psychedelics Conference alongside theirs. They also publish breakthrough books on consciousness and psychedelics, so definitely worth checking out!

Buy Books from Psychedelic Press UK Here

LAPSS Into Higher Consciousness, LA Psychedelic Science Symposium, June 22-23

The LAPSS into Higher Consciousness conference is coming up in LA next weekend! Dennis McKenna, editor in chief of the ESPD50 book, will be attending the conference as a speaker. He will also be bringing a limited number of copies of the book with him. If you’re in LA, and want to get your copy signed, this is your chance!

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