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Indigenous use

The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead

The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert. Penguin Books. ISBN: 978-0141189635

The authors process the concepts of death and rebirth presented in Tibetan Book of the Dead as a metaphor for the experience of ego death or depersonalization that is commonly experienced under the influence of psychedelic drugs. The book also describes broadening spiritual consciousness through a combination of Tibetan meditation techniques and psychotropic substances.

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The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Carlos Castaneda. Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 978-0671600419

A mixture of narrative experiences and scholarly analysis, this book describes the effects of three hallucinogenic drugs taken by a graduate student under the supervision of a Yaqui Indian shaman.

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True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author’s Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil’s Paradise

True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author’s Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil’s Paradise. Terence McKenna. Ebury Publishing. ISBN: 978-1846044250

McKenna recounts a psychedelic journey in the Colombian Amazon with his brother. 

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Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers

Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hoffman and Christian Rätsch. Healing Arts Press. ISBN: 978-0892819799

Ritual uses of psychoactive plants; detail the uses of hallucinogens in sacred shamanic rites while providing lucid explanations of the biochemistry of these plants and the cultural prayers, songs, and dances associated with them

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Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism

Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. Daniel Pinchbeck. Broadway Books. ISBN: 978-0767907439

Daniel Pinchbeck tells the story of the encounters between the modern consciousness of the West and psychedelic substances, including thinkers like Allen Ginsberg, Antonin Artaud, Walter Benjamin, and Terence McKenna, and the new wave present-day ethnobotanists, chemists, psychonauts and philosophers.

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The Evolved Psychology of Psychedelic Set and Setting: Inferences Regarding the Roles of Shamanism and Entheogenic Ecopsychology


This review illustrates the relevance of shamanism and its evolution under effects of psilocybin as a framework for identifying evolved aspects of psychedelic set and setting. Effects of 5HT2 psychedelics on serotonin, stress adaptation, visual systems and personality illustrate adaptive mechanisms through which psychedelics could have enhanced hominin evolution as an environmental factor influencing selection for features of our evolved psychology. Evolutionary psychology perspectives on ritual, shamanism and psychedelics provides bases for inferences regarding psychedelics’ likely roles in hominin evolution as exogenous neurotransmitter sources through their effects in selection for innate dispositions for psychedelic set and setting. Psychedelics stimulate ancient brain structures and innate modular thought modules, especially self-awareness, other awareness, “mind reading,” spatial and visual intelligences. The integration of these innate modules are also core features of shamanism. Cross-cultural research illustrates shamanism is an empirical phenomenon of foraging societies, with its ancient basis in collective hominid displays, ritual alterations of consciousness, and endogenous healing responses. Shamanic practices employed psychedelics and manipulated extrapharmacological effects through stimulation of serotonin and dopamine systems and augmenting processes of the reptilian and paleomammalian brains. Differences between chimpanzee maximal displays and shamanic rituals reveal a zone of proximal development in hominin evolution. The evolution of the mimetic capacity for enactment, dance, music, and imitation provided central capacities underlying shamanic performances. Other chimp-human differences in ritualized behaviors are directly related to psychedelic effects and their integration of innate modular thought processes. Psychedelics and other ritual alterations of consciousness stimulate these and other innate responses such as soul flight and death-and-rebirth experiences. These findings provided bases for making inferences regarding foundations of our evolved set, setting and psychology. Shamanic setting is eminently communal with singing, drumming, dancing and dramatic displays. Innate modular thought structures are prominent features of the set of shamanism, exemplified in animism, animal identities, perceptions of spirits, and psychological incorporation of spirit others. A shamanic-informed psychedelic therapy includes: a preparatory set with practices such as sexual abstinence, fasting and dream incubation; a set derived from innate modular cognitive capacities and their integration expressed in a relational animistic worldview; a focus on internal imagery manifesting a presentational intelligence; and spirit relations involving incorporation of animals as personal powers. Psychedelic research and treatment can adopt this shamanic biogenetic paradigm to optimize set, setting and ritual frameworks to enhance psychedelic effects.

Winkelman M. J. (2021). The Evolved Psychology of Psychedelic Set and Setting: Inferences Regarding the Roles of Shamanism and Entheogenic Ecopsychology. Frontiers in pharmacology, 12, 619890.

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Chemical Composition of Traditional and Analog Ayahuasca


Traditional ayahuasca can be defined as a brew made from Amazonian vine Banisteriopsis caapi and Amazonian admixture plants. Ayahuasca is used by indigenous groups in Amazonia, as a sacrament in syncretic Brazilian religions, and in healing and spiritual ceremonies internationally. The study aimed to determine concentrations of the main bio- and psychoactive components of ayahuasca used in different locations and traditions. We collected 102 samples of brews from ayahuasca-using communities. Concentrations of N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), tetrahydroharmine, harmine, and harmaline were determined by ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (UHPLC-MS/MS). Qualitative analyses for non-traditional additives (moclobemide, psilocin, yuremamine) were performed by high resolution mass spectrometry. Higher and more variable concentrations of DMT in neoshamanic ayahuasca samples compared to indigenous samples may indicate use of higher and more variable proportions of DMT-containing admixture plants. From European samples, we found two related samples of analog ayahuasca containing moclobemide, psilocin, DMT, yuremamine, and very low concentrations of B. caapi alkaloids. Some analogs of ayahuasca (Peganum harmala, Mimosa tenuiflora) were used in Europe. No analogs were found from Brazil or Santo Daime ceremonies in Europe. We recommend awareness about the constituents of the brew and ethical self-regulation among practitioners of ayahuasca ceremonies.

Kaasik, H., Souza, R., Zandonadi, F. S., Tófoli, L. F., & Sussulini, A. (2021). Chemical Composition of Traditional and Analog Ayahuasca. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 53(1), 65–75.

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Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences


Historical research about the use of psychedelics in specific religious contexts can provide rational explanations for visionary experiences that could otherwise be cause to question the mental health of religious actors. Reversely, if historians ignore or overlook empirical evidence for the use of psychedelics, the result can be that normal and even predictable reactions of healthy subjects to the effects of psychedelic substances are arbitrarily interpreted as ‘irrational’.

AIM: To describe the meaning of the psychedelic factor in historical visionary experiences.

METHOD: Discussion based on three examples of selective use of historical sources on psychedelics.

RESULTS: This theme is of broader relevance to cultural history and scientific theory because we are typically dealing with religious practices that have traditionally been categorized as ‘magic’ and thereby classified in advance as irrational and potentially pathological. The article discusses three historical examples: the so-called Mithras Liturgy from Roman Egypt, early modern witches’ ointments, and spiritual use of hashish in the nineteenth century.

CONCLUSION: Established academics often deny the significance of psychedelics in visionary experiences. Discussion of pre-Enlightenment source material appears to be of considerable importance for the correct interpretation of important religious and cultural traditions. Critical empirical source research without prejudices or implicit agendas is the appropriate method.

Hanegraaff, W. J. (2020). Psychedelics in Western culture: unnecessary psychiatrisation of visionary experiences. Tijdschrift Voor Psychiatrie62(8), 713-720.
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Exploring ayahuasca‐assisted therapy for addiction: A qualitative analysis of preliminary findings among an Indigenous community in Canada


Introduction and Aims

A previous observational study of ayahuasca‐assisted therapy demonstrated statistically significant reductions in self‐reported problematic cocaine use among members of an Indigenous community in Canada. This paper aims to qualitatively explore the impact of ayahuasca‐assisted therapy on addiction and other substance use‐related outcomes and elucidate the lived experiences of participants.

Design and Methods

Qualitative interviews were conducted with 11 adult Indigenous participants of the ayahuasca‐assisted ‘Working with Addiction and Stress’ ceremonial retreats (June–September 2011). Semi‐structured interviews assessed experiences of participants following the retreats at 6‐month follow up. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts was conducted.


Narratives revealed that the retreats helped participants identify negative thought patterns and barriers related to their addiction in ways that differed from conventional therapies. All participants reported reductions in substance use and cravings; eight participants reported complete cessation of at least one substance at follow up. Increased connectedness with self, others and nature/spirit was described as a key element associated with reduced substance use and cravings.

Discussion and Conclusions

This analysis expands upon prior quantitative results highlighting the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca‐assisted therapy and provides important contextual insights into why ayahuasca‐assisted therapy may have been beneficial for members of an Indigenous community seeking to address their problematic use of substances. Given limited efficacy of conventional treatments for resolving addiction issues, further research should investigate the role of ayahuasca and other psychedelic‐assisted therapies in enhancing connectedness and other key factors that may improve well‐being and reduce harmful substance use

Argento, E., Capler, R., Thomas, G., Lucas, P., & Tupper, K. W. (2019). Exploring ayahuasca‐assisted therapy for addiction: A qualitative analysis of preliminary findings among an Indigenous community in Canada. Drug and alcohol review.

Transformative Psychopharmacology: the Case of 5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine


Since the 2nd part of last century neo-shamanic rituals using mind-altering extracts from plants or animals have become increasingly popular in Europe and the USA. The first rituals coming to the west were based on drinking a special Amazonian tea, Ayahuasca, based on 2 different plants, with active compounds belonging to the class of the beta-carbolines (harmala alkaloids) and tryptamines. The use of such compounds will be described from the perspective of the transformative psychopharmacology: that part of psychopharmacology studying the use of psychoactive compounds to achieve a new balance, a transformation or healing and sometimes even leading to a cure. Examples of curing are meanwhile well documented, for instance the positive influence on drug abuse and addiction, alcoholism. The importance of the healing aspects of these rituals however are often neglected or overlooked. For users, these are key however. As medicine becomes more and more personalized and postmodern, it will be relevant to understand why patients and healthy people decide to participate in healing rituals based on psycho-active compounds. We will present the pharmacology, the transformative psychopharmacology, the effects and adverse events of 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) and its place in postmodern medicine.

Jan M Keppel Hesselink (2019) Transformative Psychopharmacology: the Case of 5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine. International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research – 1(3):9-15., 10.14302/issn.2574-612X.ijpr-18-2503
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