Peyote, Its Perilous Past and Prospective Future

Peyote, Its Perilous Past and Prospective Future

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. 

Reflections on a Perilous Past 

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. 

The Kiowa, a tribe of warrior people, frequently fought with neighboring tribes, sometimes making long-distance raids as far down as Mexico. It is thought that the Kiowa first came into contact with peyote in the mid-1800s through the Tarahumara Indians and other tribes who had fled south, finding a safe haven in the Sierra Madre. 

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 with the Native American Church.

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 revise the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) to expressly include peyote. 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

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

Above: Ram Dass, late 60s, from “Birth of a Psychedelic Culture”

Forever Remembering Ram Dass

Psychedelic pioneer, countercultural icon, spiritual teacher, and Synergetic Press author Ram Dass passed away last month. He peacefully departed from his body on 22 December 2019, at the ripe age of 88 surrounded by friends and loved ones at his home in Maui. 

Without a doubt, Ram Dass was one of the most symbolically representative figures of the countercultural consciousness revolution that took place in the 1960s and 70s. From formidable Harvard professor, LSD researcher, and right-hand man to Timothy Leary, he helped to initiate the psychedelic era to later becoming the spiritual teacher known world over as Ram Dass. 

Born Richard Alpert in April 1931, he graduated from Tufts University in Boston, earning a doctorate in psychology at Stanford, and becoming a high-flying professor of psychology at Harvard University. In the early 1960s, Alpert worked together with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner at Harvard University, emerging as a figurehead in the countercultural scene. 

Higher Consciousness at Harvard

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary & Ralph Metzner

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzner

It was under Timothy Leary’s influence that Richard Alpert came to have his first psychedelic experience. Leary had experienced psilocybin mushrooms in Mexico, holding that the experience revealed more about human psychology than he’d spent his career learning. Alpert found himself intrigued by Leary’s description of the mushroom, and soon enough an experiment had been arranged. Alpert describes his first experience with psychedelics as extremely powerful, bringing about an ego-death, dissolving the image of himself that he’d spent his career working towards. Reflecting on his dissolving identity, he said:

“‘Well, I guess I don’t really need that anymore’ and I sat back and relaxed. And the minute I said, ‘I don’t need that anymore,’ the figure changed and it was somebody else. I sat forward and there I was again, except now I was the young cosmopolite. My ‘cosmopoliteness’ was sitting over there; alright, well I guess I can do without that. Sat back. And in a sequence, all of my social roles went by— ‘loverness,’ ‘wise man,’ ‘kind person—all of my roles. With each one, I said: ‘Okay, well too bad about that one, there it goes.’”

In 1960, Timothy Leary ordered psilocybin from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, with the aim of investigating how different manners of administration could generate different experiences. Richard Alpert, alongside Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner (who passed away last year), collaborated with figures like Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg in order to carry out research into human consciousness, which later became known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. 

Soon the Harvard professors began to include LSD in their experiments. Although psilocybin and LSD were both legal at the time, their research was considered to be highly controversial and its legitimacy was questioned by the faculty at Harvard, leading to Alpert and Leary being jointly dismissed in 1963. 

Learn more about LSD, it’s history, and how it was first synthesized.

Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

Unperturbed, the unorthodox Harvard trio relocated to an estate in Millbrook, New York, offered to them by heirs of the Mellon fortune, in order to continue their research. Alpert and Leary went from being academic to legendary counterculture icons, forever changing a generation of Americans with their explorations into the usness. 

An illuminating conversation between Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner is presented in our publication, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, Harvard, Millbrook, and the Sixties, in which they shine light on these radical experiments, and provide an understanding of the history of the sixties.

CLICK HERE to read Ram Dass’s and Ralph Metzner’s reflections in this last chapter of their memoir on a decade of experimentation with psychedelics and pioneering the science of consciousness research with their colleague Timothy Leary.

The Trap of Getting High 

Psychedelics were undoubtedly the catalysts that led Richard Alpert to India, seeking a more permanent form of enlightenment. The awakenings induced by psychedelic substances never lasted for long, and Alpert longed for a way to maintain and integrate expanded states of consciousness. Disillusioned with the experiments at Millbrook, Alpert traveled to India in 1967 in search of a more enduring experience of enlightenment. In India, he became the devoted disciple of the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, tenderly known as Maharajji. It was Maharajji who renamed Alpert as ‘Ram Dass’, meaning “Servant of God”.

During his time in India, Ram Dass gave his guru a hefty dose of LSD, curious to see how Maharajji would react. However, it had no impact, and the holy man was unaffected by the drug, telling Ram Dass that one could take a drug and “stay in the room with Christ for only a few hours instead of living with the Lord.” It was this notion that led Ram Dass to make his life about spiritual practice, his relationship with psychedelics taking a backseat. 

We Wouldn’t Be Here Now without Ram Dass

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Ram Dass’s ‘Be Here Now’

Ram Dass was a major harbinger of the New Age movement, and after returning to America, long-haired and bearded, Ram Dass devoted himself to the path of selfless service, making Maharajji’s teachings his work, eventually becoming considered a guru himself.

“A guru only exists to serve his devotees, that’s the only reason for his existence. And seeing him in the physical form is only another part of the dance and another part of the illusion.”

Upon returning from India in 1971, Ram Dass distilled his spiritually enlightening experiences, publishing his seminal book Be Here Now in which he imparts the teachings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji. Be Here Now was perhaps Ram Dass’s most influential work, and it continues to be exceptionally resonant for generations of spiritual seekers, having sold over two million copies since it was first published. In a sense, the book made novel Eastern spiritual and philosophical ideas palatable to the Western mind, propelling the New Age discourse on mindful awareness, positivity, and higher consciousness. 

No Stranger to Death

An experienced psychonaut, Ram Dass knew the terrain of ego-death intimately, having co-authored The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner to guide people through experiences of ego-death encountered in the psychedelic experience. 

Beyond this, in 1997, Ram Dass suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side, unable to find the words which before had flowed so fluidly. Going from being fully independent to being dependent on others, and having to learn how to speak again, he described the stroke as “ego-shattering”. Emphasizing the importance of “being here now”, Ram Dass viewed death as a reminder to live more fully, encouraging us to be in the moment and remember that our souls transcend space, time and the transient existence of the physical body. 

In the past, he had spoken of his acceptance of death. Last year, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine he was asked how he’d come to this acceptance. In response, he shared: 

“When I arrived at my soul. Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.”

A Word from Michael Gosney, Synergetic Press, Associate Publisher

“It was an honor to have known all three of the main characters in the Harvard Psychedelic Club. The first was Timothy Leary, who I befriended in the early 90s during his final Chaos and Cyberculture phase when he appeared at several of our Digital Be-In events in San Francisco, and we held parties at his house in Bel Air during the Digital Hollywood conferences. I met Ram Dass at Tim’s 75th birthday where he made a theatric entrance with a gigantic bouquet of roses, symbolizing his love for Tim and the end of their estrangement at the time.

Ralph Metzner and I met in the late 90s with his participation in the Digital Be-In, and in 2003 I organized the after-party in San Francisco for his groundbreaking conference on Ayahuasca. The following year Ram Dass finally made our spirited cyberculture event when we held a Ram Dass discussion circle moderated by Wavy Gravy at Digital Be-In 13 (May 29, 2004, Memorial Day with themed “The Transparent Network”).

I have long been fascinated by the respective roles these three iconic figures played on the world stage. Timothy took the celebrity visionary path and continued to hack mainstream culture in various ways. Ralph never stopped working as a serious consciousness researcher and became the guide of guides, leading the neo-shamanic movement and helping to set in motion today’s psychedelic research renaissance. Richard Alpert in becoming Baba Ram Dass took the path of spirit, and starting with his classic transmission Be Here Now, translated age-old principles for a new generation of seekers looking for deeper insights into life than the prevailing materialist paradigm offered. His many books, seminars, and organizations (such as Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation) were all products of his commitment to compassion. Before his passing, he initiated the Be Here Now Network an ongoing resource from his core circle of teachers.

Although I never had the opportunity to know Ram Dass as I did the other two, events and people seemed to keep us connected, including friends who managed his tours before the stroke constrained his travel, friends who made the beautiful documentary Dying to Know, and my work over the years with Synergetic Press, which in effect began with a launch party for Birth of a Psychedelic Culture edited by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner at the legendary Anon Salon venue in San Francisco.

The last time I saw Ram Dass was in 2016 when he wheeled up to the table at the wedding of mutual friends in Maui. Although his energy was limited that day, he took the time to come and join in the celebration and bless the event. All in attendance felt that signature loving vibration.

Thank you, dear brother, for all you contributed to our shared journey through these remarkable times. Onward into the subtle realms…”

 

Psychedelic Conversations with Author Don Lattin

Psychedelic Conversations with Author Don Lattin

Confessions of a Psychedelic Journalist: A Conversation with Don Lattin & Kat Snow

Join veteran journalist Don Lattin, and KQED Science senior editor Kat Snow at 7:00 PM, January 16th 2020 at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, for an insightful conversation traversing Don’s long, strange trip of a career investigating and writing about psychedelic substances . 

For over forty years, Don Lattin has written about the social, spiritual, and political aspects of the psychedelic drug movement as a newspaper reporter, freelance journalist, and the author of four books of narrative nonfiction.

In the 1970s, as a young reporter working in the East Bay, Don broke one of the first investigative stories about the US Army’s past efforts to use LSD as a hostile interrogation tool. He also covered the first local campaign to legalize marijuana in the United States—a political movement that continues today in ongoing efforts to decriminalize the use of magic mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca in cities and states across the nation.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as a staff writer and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, Don wrote extensively about various cults, sects, and new religious movements including a generation of spiritual seekers inspired by psychedelic drug experiences in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Lattin’s most recent book, Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, builds upon his previous investigations, presenting a broad survey of the psychedelic renaissance, covering almost all areas of this resurgence, placing emphasis on the particulars of how psychedelic substances are being used for therapeutic as well as spiritual purposes.

Listen to Don’s previous interview on the KQED Radio. 

Buy Tickets Here

The “Post-Prohibition” Era of Psychedelic Substances 

It is safe to say that we find ourselves approaching the “post-Prohibition” era of psychedelic substances. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted “Breakthrough Therapy” status to psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, as a treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD). Psychedelic substances are once again establishing themselves as therapeutic modalities, promoting both spiritual and psychological insight. In the closing chapters of Changing Our Minds, Lattin reflects on this changing paradigm:

“What is most striking about the psychedelic future is how much it looks like the psychedelic past. If today’s vision becomes tomorrow’s reality, it will be possible – sometime in the 2020s – for regular people struggling with depression, addiction or other psychological woes to seek help from therapists using psilocybin or MDMA as treatment tools – just like people could do back in the late 1950w with psilocybin and in the early 1980s with MDMA.”

Don Lattin young

Don Lattin

Psilocybin mushrooms are being decriminalized in various cities and states across the US, including Denver, CO, Oakland, CA, and Chicago, IL. It is forecasted that psilocybin, alongside many other drugs, will follow marijuana’s trajectory from illegal to medically approved to decriminalized to eventually being legalized. 

Moving beyond the first wave of psychedelic exploration, and the backlash of prohibition that ensued as a reaction to what happened in the sixties, we find ourselves in a wholly new era. We now see a massive resurgence of legitimization, with psychedelics being ‘rebranded’ or rather repositioned within the public mind, due to the growing body of scientific research that continues to highlight the psychologically beneficial aspects of these substances. Psychedelic substances are not only being used for those who suffer from mental health conditions, they are increasingly being used for the’ betterment’ of well people. However, Lattin wisely cautions:

“Psychedelic plants and chemicals are not for everyone. They affect different people in diverse ways, depending in large part on one’s intention and the setting in which these drugs are taken. But, in sometimes subtle and other times dramatic ways, they often inspire awe and wonder, providing the heightened insight and meaningfulness one may also find in dreams or religious excitation.”

Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy 

Changing Our Minds by Don LattinChanging Our Minds is one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date books on psychoactive substances, their socio-cultural trajectories of use over time and their place in contemporary society. Lucid, well researched and written, Don covers the global movement of scientifically-grounded exploration of how psychedelic drugs – such as LSD, MDA, MDMA, psilocybin, ayahuasca, ketamine, and many others – have been utilized to treat conditions like PTSD, depression, addiction, and end-of-life anxiety.

“Changing Our Minds expertly explores the healing and spiritual journey catalyzed by psychedelic psychotherapy through the courageous voices of those who are pioneering the study of these treatments. An essential read for those interested in the expanding field of psychedelic research for therapeutic and spiritual uses, this volume lands at a crucial time during the re-emergence of psychedelic research as we approach the mainstream, scientific acceptance of psychedelic psychotherapy and the reintegration of the legal use of psychedelics into Western culture.” — Rick Doblin, PhD., Founder & Executive Director of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies

Learn More About Changing Our Minds

California Institute of Integral Studies LogoAbout California Institute of Integral Studies

California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) is an accredited university that strives to embody spirit, intellect, and wisdom in service to individuals, communities, and the earth. CIIS expands the boundaries of traditional degree programs with transdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and applied studies utilizing face-to-face, hybrid, and online pedagogical approaches. Offering a personal learning environment and supportive community, CIIS provides an excellent multifaceted education for people committed to transforming themselves, others, and the world.

Stay tuned with CIIS public programs & updates for similar events @CIIS_sf

 

More About Don Lattin


Don Lattin, author of Changing Our Minds

Don Lattin is an award-winning author and veteran journalist. His five previously published books include The Harvard Psychedelic Club, a national bestseller that was awarded the California Book Award, Silver Medal, for nonfiction. His feature articles have been published in dozens of leading magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle, where Lattin worked as a staff writer for twenty years. Additionally, Don has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, where he holds a degree in sociology. His most recent book, Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, was published in 2017.

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch in San Francisco

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch in San Francisco

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Prayer OfferingSecret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

We want to issue a massive thank you to everyone who joined us for our Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch at Haight Street Art Center on 18th November in San Francisco as well as those who attended  Psychedelic Sangha’s DARSHAN 9 event that took place at Lang College of the New School in New York. Both events were aimed at exploring and celebrating the convergence of psychedelic studies and Buddhism whilst simultaneously celebrating the launch of Michael Crowley’s new book.

The Book Launch was kicked off with a mantra meditation led by Michael Crowley in which he relayed a yogic technique from the Dzogchen tradition which helps to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. Experience Michael’s guided meditation here.

Psychedelics in Buddhism: Evidence of Amrita in Tibetan Art

 

The scriptures of the Vajrayāna repeatedly make reference to a sacrament called amrita, the  Sanskrit term for ‘immortality’. The word amrita is significantly older than the Vajrayāna and was also used within the ancient Indian scripture, the Rig Veda, (composed c. 2000 BC) as a synonym for soma, the divine intoxicant. At the Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch, Mike Crowley gave a presentation highlighting the ubiquitous prevalence of amrita in Tibetan art as well as recounting personal anecdotes about his path as an upasaka of the Kagyud lineage.

Panel Discussion on Buddhism and Psychedelics led by Erik Davis (Psychedelic Sangha)

One of the highlights of the evening was a panel discussion moderated by author, podcaster, and award-winning journalist, Erik Davis. Erik Davis also is co-founder of the Psychedelic Sangha in NYC and actively organises the San Francisco Sangha. 

Many psychedelics are reentering culture under the necessity of the medicalisation framework due to the hierarchy of approvals that are needed to legitimise them as healing tools. Psychoactive substances and the Buddhist tradition converge on the aphex of spiritual experience. This discussion served to “probe the heretical edge” of this controversial, but crucial topic, exploring the relationship between psychedelic sacraments and Buddhist practice; the importance of the role of community (Sangha) in integrating mystical experiences; the ways in which Buddhist doctrine and practice is inherently ‘psychedelic’ and much more.

Erik Davis, Mariavittoria Mangini, David Presti, and Allan Badiner at Secret Drugs of Buddhism discussion panel

Discussion panel with Erik Davis, Mariavittoria Mangini, David Presti, and Allan Badiner

Panellists included: 

Erik Davis, author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, a cult classic of visionary media studies. He has contributed chapters on art, music, technoculture, and contemporary spirituality to over a dozen books, including Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. His latest book, High Weirdness, explores the new counterculture of drugs, esoterica and visionary experience that emerged in the 1970s. 

Mariavittoria Mangini Ph.D., FNP is a member of faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Program. Her academic interest has been the historiography of psychedelics and she has written extensively on the impact of psychedelic experiences in shaping the lives of her contemporaries. 

David Presti Ph.D. is a neurobiologist, psychologist, and cognitive scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1991. Since 2004, He has been teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks and nuns in India, Bhutan, and Nepal, part of a contemporary dialogue between science and spirituality initiated by the Dalai Lama.

Allan Badiner is a contributing editor at Tricycle magazine, and the editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. He also edited the books, Dharma Gaia: A Harvest in Buddhism and Ecology, and Mindfulness in the Marketplace. Allan holds an MA from the College of Buddhist Studies in LA and serves on the boards of Rainforest Action Network, Threshold Foundation, and Project CBD.

Deborah Parrish Snyder at the Secret Drugs of Buddhism book launch marvelling @phaneros_art's visionary gallery.

Publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder at the Secret Drugs of Buddhism book launch marvelling Sander Bos’ “The Veil”

Partners & Exhibitors

We’d also like to give a special thanks to the San Francisco Psychedelic Society for partnering and exhibiting with us, and the SF Dharma Collective for exhibiting and helping to make this evening such a uplifting event. 

The renowned curator Phaneros Art awed us with an elevating exhibit of visionary art, including paintings by artists like Sander Bos and Bernard Dumaine. Phaneros Art is a platform devoted to curating peak experiences through showcasing visionary art, with the word Phaneros coming from the Greek phan “to show” and eros “love.

Musical Offerings

No Book Launch would be complete without a little celebratory party. The musical offerings of the evening included Sound Temple, a soul soothing duo comprised of Stephen Kent, the pioneering Australian Aborinal didjeridu player, and ritualistic teacher and performer, Jeffrey Alpjonsus Mooney. Following this, LA-based Lynda Arnold, otherwise known as Divasonic, graced us with her healing melodies. The night was concluded by DJ Goz, SF-based Michael Gosney who has been producing transformational events since the 1980s such as a Digital Be-In series, and Burning Man Community Dance series.

Cover Art of 2nd Edition of Secret Drugs of Buddhism by Michael Crowley About Secret Drugs of Buddhism 

Did the Buddhists of the ancient world make use of shamanic plants and psychedelic sacraments in their sacred rituals and practices?

This is the provocative question that Buddhist lama and author, Michael Crowley, explores in his recently re-published book, Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayāna.

Drawing on scriptural sources, botany, pharmacology, and religious iconography, Crowley calls attention to the central role which psychedelics have played in Indian religions and traces their history from the mysterious soma, venerated in the ancient Hindu scriptures, to amrita, the sacramental drink of the Vajrayāna.

Get your copy of Secret Drugs of Buddhism


More About San Francisco Psychedelic Society 

San Francisco Psychedelic Society Logo

The San Francisco Psychedelic Society is a Bay Area organization devoted to weaving community with people from all walks of life who share an interest in the exploration of altered states of consciousness. They frequently organize events with the purpose of educating people on psychoactive substances, providing support, and opportunities for integration and spirtual growth. The current leaders of the San Francisco Psychedelic Society include Deth Warner, Danielle Negrin, and Damla Gunngor.

Keep up-to-date with the San Francisco Psychedelic Society psychedelicsocietysf.org or @psychedelicsocietysf

More About Psychedelic Sangha

Psychedelic Sangha Logo Sangha संघ (saṃgha) is Sanskrit for “spiritual community.” Psychedelic Sangha offers a safe and supportive spiritual community with a commitment to discernment, practice, and play. They provide refuge to those who value the integration of Indic-based yoga and meditation with psychedelic exploration. Psychedelic Sangha is headquartered in NYC, with groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boulder, and Montréal.

Their public mission is to organize and host spiritual trips—immersive experiences that facilitate the encounter of psychedelics and meditation in a spirit of critical dialogue, ethics, community-building, and navigational group practice. 

Keep up-to-date with Psychedelic Sangha @Psychedelic_sangha or psychedelicsangha.org


About the Author Michael Crowley

Author of Secret Drugs of Buddhism Mike CrowleyMichael Crowley was born February 26th, 1948 in Cardiff, Wales. He began studying Buddhism with a Tibetan lama in 1966, becoming an upasaka of the Kagyud lineage in 1970. In order to augment his Buddhist studies, he acquainted himself with Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Mandarin Chinese. Mike has lectured at the Museum of Asia and the Pacific, Warsaw, the Jagiellonian University, Cracow, the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work has been published in Fortean Times, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture, Psychedelic American, and Psychedelic Press UK. In January 2016, Mike received the R. Gordon Wasson Award for outstanding contributions to the field of entheobotany. He currently serves on the advisory board of the Psychedelic Sangha, a group of psychedelically-inclined Buddhists, based in New York and he teaches at the Dharma Collective in San Francisco.


Other Books on Psychedelics by Synergetic Press

Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics edited by Allan BadinerZig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics edited by Allan Badiner 

More than ever, people are in pursuit of greater fulfillment in their lives, seeking a deeper spiritual truth and strategies for liberation from suffering. Both Buddhism and psychedelics are inevitable subjects encountered on the journey to wisdom. Examined together, the reader may understand more deeply the essence of each. Edited by Tricycle contributing editor Allan Badiner and with art edited by renowned visionary artist Alex GreyZig Zag Zen features a foreword by Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor, a preface by religion historian Huston Smith, and numerous essays, interviews, and art, that lie outside the scope of mainstream anthologies.

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs edited by Dennis McKenna and Wade Davis published by Synergetic PressEthnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017) edited by Dennis McKenna

Certain 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 first international gathering of researchers held in San Francisco, California on this subject was in 1967, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and U.S. Public Health Service. 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. The WAR ON DRUGS which intervened slowed advances in this field.

Research, however, has continued, and in the fifty years since that first conference, new and significant discoveries have been made. A new generation of researchers, many inspired by the giants present at that first conference, has continued to investigate the outer limits of ethnopsychopharmacology. In June of 2017, once again specialists from around the world in fields of ethnopharmacology, chemistry, botany, and anthropology gathered to discuss their research and findings in a setting that encouraged the free and frank exchange of information and ideas onthe last 50 years of research, and assess the current and possible futures for research in ethnopsychopharmacology. The papers given at the 2017 Symposium, organized by Dr. Dennis McKenna, appear in this handsome two-volume boxed collectors set represents perhaps themost significant body of knowledge in this interdisciplinary field available.

Browse related books on consciousness and psychedelics

 

Synergetic Symposium and Salon: Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

Synergetic Symposium and Salon: Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

We are delighted to announce a one-of-a-kind event exploring and celebrating the convergence of psychedelic studies and Buddhism with the launch of The Secret Drugs of Buddhism by Mike Crowley. Hosted by our publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder, and associate publisher, Michael Gosney at the beautiful Haight Street Art Center in San Francisco on 18th October 2019. 

The evening’s experiences include:

The evening’s experiences include:

• Mantra Meditation led by Mike Crowley

• Panel Discussion: Buddhism and Psychedelics
Erik Davis – (Psychedelic Sangha, moderator)
Allan Badiner – author, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
David Presti – Prof. of Neurobiology, UC Berkeley
Mariavittoria Mangini, PhD, FNP – CIIS Psychedlic-Assisted Therapy program

• Mike Crowley presentation and book signing

• Musical Offerings
Sound Temple with Stephen Kent and Jeffrey Alphonsos Mooney

Deep Jam with Mike Crowley and emergent players

Divasonic – live electronic set

DJ Goz – closing grooves

• Exhibitors:
Psychedelic Society of San Francisco
SF Dharma Collective
MAPS

• Visionary Art by Phaneros Gallery

• Cash bar (by donation) – wine and beer

When & Where? 

The Synergetic Salon and Symposium: Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch will take place on Friday, 18th October at San Francisco’s Haight Street Art Center, with doors opening at 7:00 pm. 

Buy Tickets Here  

Buddhism & Psychedelics Panelists Include: 

Erik DavisErik Davis Ph.D. is an author, podcaster, award-winning journalist, and popular speaker based in San Francisco. He is the author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, a cult classic of visionary media studies. He has contributed chapters on art, music, technoculture, and contemporary spirituality to over a dozen books, including Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. His latest book, High Weirdness, explores the new counterculture of drugs, esoterica and visionary experience that emerged in the 1970s. He is also co-founder of Psychedelic Sangha, organizing the San Francisco Sangha. 

Allan BadinerAllan Badiner is a contributing editor at Tricycle magazine, and the editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. He also edited the books, Dharma Gaia: A Harvest in Buddhism and Ecology, and Mindfulness in the Marketplace, and his written work appears in other books including Dharma Family Treasures, Meeting the Buddha, Ecological Responsibility: A Dialogue with Buddhism, and The Buddha and the Terrorist. Allan holds an MA from the College of Buddhist Studies in LA and serves on the boards of Rainforest Action Network, Threshold Foundation, and Project CBD. He has been a student of Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, for more than 25 years.

David Presti Ph.D. is a neurobiologist, psychologist, and cognitive scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1991. Between 1990 and 2000, he worked as a clinical psychologist in the treatment of addiction and of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco. Since 2004, He has been teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks and nuns in India, Bhutan, and Nepal, part of a contemporary dialogue between science and spirituality initiated by the Dalai Lama. His areas of expertise include human neurobiology and neurochemistry, the effects of drugs on the brain and the mind, the clinical treatment of addiction, and the scientific study of mind and consciousness.

Maria ManginiMariavittoria Mangini Ph.D., FNP is a member of faculty at California Institute of Integral Studies Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Program. Her academic interest has been the historiography of psychedelics and she has written extensively on the impact of psychedelic experiences in shaping the lives of her contemporaries. She has worked closely with many of the most distinguished investigators in this field. Her current project is the development of a Thanatology Program for the study of death and dying.

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Pre-Order Discount

Did the Buddhists of the ancient world make use of shamanic plants and psychedelic sacraments in their sacred rituals? This is the broad topic that Buddhist lama and author, Michael Crowley, attempts to unfurl in his book Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayāna. Crowley’s book is the culmination of over forty years of research exploring the extensive historical evidence for the use of entheogenic plants within the Buddhist tradition. Learn more about the Secret Drugs of Buddhism.

To further celebrate the release of this exciting book, we are currently offering a 40% discount on all pre-order purchases of Secret Drugs of Buddhism.

Pre-order Secret Drugs of Buddhism

Evan Hirsch Interview with Mike Crowley at Psychedelic Science 2017

“There is no fluff, it is just solid information. The reason that someone might want to read it [Secret Drugs of Buddhism] is that it legitimises the use of psychedelics in a sane and responsible manner for spiritual progress. It shows that for hundreds of years that were used perfectly well, perfectly safely in this manner when used with great respect and used in a spiritual context.” —Mike Crowley

More About the Author, Michael Crowley 

Mike Crowley - The authorMichael Crowley was born on February 26th, 1948 in Cardiff, Wales. He began studying Buddhism with a Tibetan lama in 1966, becoming an upasaka of the Kagyud lineage in 1970. In order to augment his Buddhist studies, he acquainted himself with Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Mandarin Chinese. Mike has lectured at the Museum of Asia and the Pacific, Warsaw, the Jagiellonian University, Cracow, the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work has been published in Fortean Times, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture, Psychedelic American, and Psychedelic Press UK. In January 2016, Mike received the R. Gordon Wasson Award for outstanding contributions to the field of entheobotany. He currently serves on the advisory board of the Psychedelic Sangha, a group of psychedelically-inclined Buddhists, based in New York and he teaches at the Dharma Collective in San Francisco.

Breaking Convention: 5th International Psychedelic Conference

Breaking Convention: 5th International Psychedelic Conference

Breaking Convention: More than a Conference

This August, Breaking Convention, one of the world’s largest conferences on psychoactive substances took place at the University of Greenwich, London. Over 1500 people attended, coming together to share and discuss psychoactive substances from a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds. 

More than a conference, Breaking Convention’s program featured over 150 interdisciplinary presentations across the span of three days covering five simultaneous academic tracks – not to mention the various workshops, art installations, musical performances, and stalls (of which we were proud to be one). 

David Luke speaking at Breaking Convention

Dr. David Luke, co-director of Breaking Convention, talking about altered stated of consciousness.

Not limited strictly to the scientific, Breaking Convention presents a unique convergence of voices, weaving together a multi-layered narrative, skillfully incorporating the numerous perspectives involved in today’s dialogue on psychedelics, encapsulating insights from neuroscientists, psychologists, psychotherapists, anthropologists, spiritual practitioners and many more. 

We found ourselves truly overwhelmed with the tightly packed schedule of quality speakers, unable to choose between one talk and another. Lucky for us, the team at Breaking Convention records and broadcasts all of the talks online free of charge. Watch their video lectures here.

In the days leading up to the conference, there were also several related events hosted around Greenwich. One of our personal favorites was the comedy show hosted by UK Psychedelic Comedy featuring stand-up comedians Shane Mauss, and Adam Strauss. Needless to say, we laughed a lot and even learned a little in the process.

The Psychedelic Renaissance

Breaking Convention Group photo from 2016

Breaking Convention group photo from 2016

Well beyond the anti-drug backlash of 1960s counter-culture, times are changing. Many psychoactive substances are slowly on their way to being decriminalized, with the mental stigma and cultural baggage associated with psychedelics dissolving. 

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research into the therapeutic potentials of these substances. The growing body of scientific research continues to demonstrate the psychological, medical, and spiritual value of many psychoactive substances leading to their reevaluation in mainstream consciousness.

The psychedelic renaissance is here, and the growing interest in these substances can be observed in the fact that Breaking Convention has seen a marked rise in interest surrounding the conference, with each iteration of the conference growing in size. Psychedelics are becoming more commonly accepted, no longer considered fringe or radical. 

Extinction Alert: In Response to the Ecological Crisis

This year, Breaking Convention placed a heavy focus on the current ecological crisis and the extinction threat that we face collectively as a species, acknowledging the copious evidence that supports that our planet is in a state of ecological crisis. 

Over the last century, industrialized human civilization has upset the natural balance of life and as a consequence we are in the 6th wave of mass extinction, facing a rapid loss of species estimated to be between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. As organisms with psychedelic properties may constitute part of the medicine cabinet of our future, Breaking Convention as a cultural and educational organization declared a state of ecological emergency and it supports efforts to educate the public on this situation.

Dr. Gail Bradbrook co-founder of Extinction Rebellion gave a talk about the ecological crisis, stating: 

“I’m not actually here to really push this idea of nature connection even though I believe it’s foundational because I don’t think we have time to really write that in us. I think that it is going to be many centuries of work and I want it to happen. Because this issue is systemic we have to think about the system itself and how that sits in us.” 

Watch Dr. Gail Bradbrook’s talk below. 

Find out more about Extinction Rebellion.

Keep up-to-date with Breaking Convention

Breaking Convention LogoIn early 2015, Breaking Convention achieved registration as a UK charity. Its main objectives include organizing and hosting their biennial academic conference which brings together multiple disciplines associated with research into psychedelic substances. Further, they are concerned with promoting and supporting research in psychoactive substances and assisting in the dissemination of useful findings from such research, publishing an academic collection of essays submitted by the speakers of each conference. It is in their aims to purchase physical premises to act as a psychedelic charity shop and workspace within London. The Psychedelic Museum will sell books and wares, acting both as a networking space and a place to raise money for the organization. 

Interested in getting involved? Stay tuned with their latest developments and events through their website

BreakingConvention on FB or BreakingConvention_uk

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