OPEN Foundation

Indigenous use


Art by Aine Design 

We are extremely happy to be able to socialise with all of you soon at ICPR 2022. Yet we are fully aware of multiple ongoing crises right now. Out of care and concern for our living environment and other species, we decided to reduce ICPR’s ecological footprint per person compared to earlier conferences.

We have opted for vegetarian, mostly organic meals, have created a digital conference booklet instead of a printed one, and have dispatched with the tradition of physical swag bags.

We also reduced our oversees marketing, introduced livestream-tickets (including scholarship tickets) and have now started a fundraiser to compensate for the conference’s carbon footprint and to give back to the cultures whose knowledge informs psychedelic science today.

Green fundraiser
To compensate for the travel emissions involved in getting speakers and attendees to Haarlem, we have launched a fundraiser through One Tree Planted. OPEN will ‘plant’ the first few thousand trees, and we hope to triple or quadruple that number with your help. Go to our fundraiser on One Tree Planted to contribute.

One Tree Planted is a non-profit organization focused on global reforestation. Your donation is tax-deductible.

Reciprocity fundraiser
We acknowledge and honor the responsible relationships that indigenous peoples have forged with psychedelic plants over the past centuries. We recognize that the Global North benefits from their knowledge, and we believe that it is critical to support the organizations working to conserve the biocultural communities that have taught – and continue to teach – the rest of the world about how entheogenic plants can benefit individuals and societies. 

Our partners at the Chacruna Institute recently launched the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative, which we applaud and want to support with a second ICPR fundraiser. Please consider donating if you feel that you have benefited from psychedelics in any way.

The Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative (IRI) is a community-directed biocultural conservation program connecting directly with grassroots Indigenous organizations with the aim of ‘giving back’ to the cultural regions that support indigenous plant use and knowledge. IRI created a pool of funds that supports Indigenous initiatives with a proven track record, addressing a broad range of efforts from food security and environmental health, to economic and educational support.

IRI strives to foster a relationship of reciprocity between the rapidly growing industry generated by the mainstreaming of psychedelics in the Global North, and the Indigenous peoples who have historically received little benefit from the commercialization of their cultural and biological heritage. 

No swag bags, but…
We’re not handing out notepads and swag bags anymore, so we kindly request that all attendees bring their own writing gear. But, of course, we will not let our guests go home entirely empty-handed either! There will be some surprises that do not cause unnecessary garbage.

ayahuasca, a plea for the decolonization of psychedelic studies

“We told people that it was in the name of the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son, but in reality it is in the name of the Sun, the Moon and the Tiger…”

While the potential benefits of psychedelic plant medicines to society still remain largely unrealised, contemporary psychedelic studies risk replicating harmful colonial practices within the territories and communities in which the use of psychedelic plants originate. 

After decades of prohibition, the so-called “psychedelic renaissance” is undertaking a  state-of-the-art exploration of the psychology, neurology and medical approaches associated with the effects and benefits of psychedelics.  The field runs the risk, however, of privileging the voices of mainstream western male researchers over those of the indigenous practitioners whose ancestral knowledge of psychedelics roots back to their origins (George et al, 2020). 

A decolonial approach is essential to the success of the current psychedelic renaissance, as failing to recognize indigenous perspectives as equally valuable to the discussion in the appropriate use of these substances only contributes to deepening the colonial wound within which usage of the plants is interwoven. As academia reconsiders previously taboo subjects (such as mind-altering substances), it has the duty to reconsider also the re-enactment of colonial epistemicide (the killing off of existing systems of knowledge), and give indigenous expertise the space it deserves in scientific research. 

The very old relationship between humanity and the ritual alteration of consciousness is, in indigenous communities, deeply linked to systems of traditional medicine. Nevertheless, in the West, practices associated with mind-altering substances have faced decades of strong political opposition and, as the renaissance unfolds, there are other, more subtle threats being held at bay, specifically the peril inherent in silencing other voices because of their culturally diverse backgrounds. 

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Ayahuasca’s history and its critical entanglement with colonization: 

Ayahuasca, or yagé, is a traditional brew from the Amazon rainforest that contains the classic psychedelic compound DMT. It has a long history of use by indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin, where it is mainly used for ritual and healing purposes, usually in ceremonial settings led by a shaman or curandero. 

Ayahuasca is a particularly complex substance that relies on two intersecting components to deliver its psychedelic effects. Psychotria viridis, or chacruna, is a shrub, the leaves of which contain the DMT. Banisteriopsis caapi is a vine that contains monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, which prevent MAO enzymes in the stomach from breaking down the DMT as they’d normally do, thus allowing the body to actively absorb it when it is consumed orally. Taking into account the improbability of discovering the function of this particular combination of a shrub and a vine amongst the the tens of thousands of different plant species in the Amazon, along with the preparatory process needed to coax out its psychoactive properties, ayahuasca can be considered an invention, a piece of technology developed by the Amazonian people.  

The indigenous people of the Amazon relate to their surrounding environment in a way that lends itself to developing a great body of ethnobotanical knowledge. Much of the knowledge that has been produced by indigenous people has, however, been the subject of appropriation and biopiracy, as the history of the rainforest cannot be grasped separately from the history of the colonization of the Americas.

One can go back to Western explorers and botanists to trace historically how ayahuasca came to be known outside the jungle, Richard Spruce and Richard Evans Schultes, for instance, were some of the first outsiders to report on indigenous plant medicines. But, by telling and re-telling the story in such a way, a colonial version of history is reinforced where indigenous peoples and their knowledge are passively discovered by Western institutions, their own contribution, skill, and subjectivity neglected, minimized, or reduced to naturalistic fact. 

The history of the Amazon has been shaped by the way that the Western European imagination has interacted with this territory: from the mythic quests to find rivers of gold in the 16th century as the Spanish conquistadors mapped the Amazon river in the search for El Dorado, to the rubber barons of the 20th century who exploited and enslaved hundreds of thousands of indigenous people as they strove to realize enormous profits. The Amazon is a territory that has been perceived as a well of treasures to be extracted and appropriated. 

Today’s deforestation crisis, related to the extraction of precious timber and the clearing of trees for cattle, are an inheritance of old relationships with this land that still conceives of the Amazon as an uninhabited space full of natural wealth and resources. The rainforest has been historically included in the world’s economy only in terms of exploitation, and indigenous communities as well as their knowledge have been objectified in the same way as their land. 

Ayahuasca, curiously, was used during colonial times as a way of resisting and contesting the settler invasion. As the conquistador’s culture demonized indigenous ritual and traditional medicine, ayahuasca was used as a way of exercising and preserving indigenous identity, and was perceived as a repository of cultural memory for the peoples of the Amazon (Leyva, 1991).

At ICPR 2020, Olivia Marcus, David Dupuis, Bia Labate and Daniela Peluso discussed the globlisation of ayahuasca

Other versions of history; Ayahuasca/Yagé and its traditional users:

To trace historically the movement of ayahuasca and other plant medicines one need not rely entirely on the Western explorers and botanists who explored the Amazon and taxonomized its species. Ayahuasca traveled outside of the Amazon via old shamanic networks that for centuries wove an exchange of knowledge and ritual technologies (Pinzón et al., 2004). For instance, the Putumayo department, located in southwest Colombia, is divided into three sub regions: The Upper Putumayo (Andes mountain range), Middle Putumayo (Amazon foothills) and Lower Putumayo (Amazon basin). The Sibundoy Valley which is famous for being home of prominent ayahuasca shamans in Colombia, is located in the Upper Putumayo, a geographical node between the Andes and the Amazon. People who inhabit the area are both settlers and indigenous people who belong to two ethnic groups, the Inga and the Kamentsá

Relations – including shamanic ones – have existed for centuries between the Upper Putumayo (Andes) and the Lower Putumayo (Amazon). The Cofán, Siona and Coreguajes, who are known to be powerful shamans, live at lower elevations where rainforest vegetation flourishes. As ayahuasca cannot grow outside of the tropical forest, shamans from the Upper Putumayo have long traveled down to acquire the brew and, in doing so, maintained a cross-pollinating network that exchanges plants, ritual and healing technologies, and cosmological knowledge (Pinzón et al., 2004). 

In their travels to the Amazon basin, Ingas from the Upper Putumayo learnt the uses and powers of shamanic plants and engaged in shamanic apprenticeships (Pinzón et al., 2004) with the help of shamans from this area. They then transported plants and other ritual devices, including ayahuasca, from the low tropical forest to Sibundoy. The memory of the botanical relationship between shamans was retained in their respective gardens, disseminating and preserving thus the interchange of knowledge between the Amazon and the Andes. 

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Such movement helped inform the transformation of indigenous practices which came into contact with Catholic missionaries and the general mestizo culture of the rest of the Colombian territory. As we can read in the next excerpt from an interview with a shaman from the Sibundoy Valley:

When I was born, the first thing they gave me was three drops of yagé (ayahuasca). We told people that it was in the name of the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son, but in reality it is in the name of the Sun, the Moon and the Tiger. That’s how my blood began to be painted.” (Pinzón et al. 146 )

As the previous passage shows, the ritual use of ayahuasca in this area was influenced by the dominant Catholic religion, while at the same time acting as a mechanism to contest and resist the colonial apparatus. The previous statement beautifully depicts how indigenous ritual practices were disguised using catholic motifs as a way to preserve silently their identity: Giving three drops of ayahuasca in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to conceal it was really given in the name of the Sun, the Moon and the Tiger.  

“…Two years later Eliseo was back again, by bus all the way across the country to dip once more into what he saw as the Indian well of magical power” – (Taussig, 1986. p 435)

With this sentence Michael Taussig begins chapter 27 of his book “Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man” (1986) where, “The Indian well of magical power,” was, of course, the Amazon. Since the very first stages of colonization, the Amazon was a screen upon which European minds could project fantastical mirages of imaginary geographies populated by noble, primitive, and superstitious savages. The picture of an ‘Indian well of magical power’ is a reflection of this. A well of vast and mysterious treasures, gold, rubber, magic, and endless resources, where indigenous communities were perceived through a lens of intellectual inferiority.  The Amazon consequently epitomizes and condenses several European fantasies surrounding a mysterious, irrational and exotic Other. 

What Taussig was looking for in that ‘Indian well of magical power’ was ayahuasca shamanism, where the otherness of indigenous knowledge is capable of healing the maladies of the West. It is precisely the same phenomenon seen when the renowned writer William Burroughs went on a journey to find ayahuasca in Colombia, thinking that it might be his ‘final fix’ (Fotiou, 2019).

The same trope is seen with contemporary ayahuasca tourism, where huge numbers of people from all over the world (though predominantly European and American) travel to the Amazon in search of healing through the exotic otherness of ayahuasca (Losonczy & Mesturini, 2010) (Caicedo, 2009). The contemporary medical approaches to ayahuasca and other psychedelic plant medicines follow the same lines, wherein ayahuasca is being researched for its potential to treat some of the most pervasive illnesses of our time, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction (Fotiou 18)(Frecska et al.) (Palhano-Fontes et al.)(Richards) (Watts et al.) (Roseman et al.).

An interdisciplinary future: 

As psychedelic plant medicines re-enter Western culture, researchers in this field must be aware of the colonial history behind these plants and the communities from which they come to avoid perpetuating the same type of intellectual violence that underlies the old notion of the “noble savage” and current practices of biopiracy. As we enter a globalized society, it will be critical to give regard to knowledge that comes from different cultural and ethnic sources, bestowing upon them equal validity in the discussion of the adequate use of these substances. Mainstream psychedelic research will need to encourage and actively include researchers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, as a diversity of voices and perspectives can only contribute to the advancement of science. 

Besides giving credit to indigenous knowledge (which kept this technology alive for at least the past millennium) it is necessary to recognize the contribution of people of color, women, and researchers from Latin American in the development of psychedelic research, as well as to create spaces within which their perspectives can be heard and  included. 

Understanding how to use these substances will, in the end, require an interdisciplinary effort. The cutting-edge research being performed on psychedelics in the fields of neurobiology and psychology will see its most fruitful results by working hand-in-hand with the humanities (anthropology, decolonial studies, religious studies, philosophy, etc.) to avoid the pitfalls inherent in the epistemicide of non-western voices. The task at hand for the humanities is to reflect on the body-politics of knowledge, help give voice to traditional and indigenous ethno-medicine systems, and create the foundation for a renaissance free from harmful colonial appropriation and silencing.

In conclusion, ayahuasca has a lot to offer the world, as current scientific studies continue to prove its therapeutic potential. It, along with other psychedelic plant medicines, have enormous possibilities in the ongoing fight to alleviate psychological and spiritual suffering. The real question, then, is what can we give back, to the Amazon, to the people that inhabit it, to the preservation of their systems of knowledge, to their worldview and culture, to the most diverse ecosystem of the Earth?

What can we give back? 


1. Caicedo, Alhena. Nuevos chamanismos Nueva Era. 2009, p. 18.
2. Fotiou, Evgenia. ‘The Role of Indigenous Knowledges in Psychedelic Science’. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, Dec. 2019, pp. 16–23. (Crossref), doi:10.1556/2054.2019.031
3. Frecska, Ede, et al. ‘The Therapeutic Potentials of Ayahuasca: Possible Effects against Various Diseases of Civilization’. Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 7, Mar. 2016. (Crossref), doi:10.3389/fphar.2016.00035
4. George, Jamilah R., et al. ‘The Psychedelic Renaissance and the Limitations of a White-Dominant Medical Framework: A Call for Indigenous and Ethnic Minority Inclusion’. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, Mar. 2020, pp. 4–15. (Crossref), doi:10.1556/2054.2019.015
5. Leiva, A., Guerrero, H., Pardo, M., JUNCOSA, J., & AMODIO, E. (1991). Los espíritus aliados: chamanismo y curación en los pueblos indios de Sudamérica. Ediciones Abya Yala, Quito, (31). p. 47
6. Losonczy, Anne-Marie, and Silvia Mesturini. ‘La Selva Viajera: Rutas del chamanismo ayahuasquero entre Europa y América’. Religião & Sociedade, vol. 30, no. 2, 2010, pp. 164–83. Crossref, doi:10.1590/S0100-85872010000200009
7. Mignolo, Walter D. ‘Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom’. Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 26, no. 7–8, Dec. 2009, pp. 159–81. (Crossref), doi:10.1177/0263276409349275
8. Miller, M. J., Albarracin-Jordan, J., Moore, C., & Capriles, J. M. (2019). Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(23), 11207-11212
9. Palhano-Fontes, Fernanda, et al. ‘The Psychedelic State Induced by Ayahuasca Modulates the Activity and Connectivity of the Default Mode Network’. PLOS ONE, edited by Dewen Hu, vol. 10, no. 2, Feb. 2015, p. e0118143. (Crossref), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118143
10. Pinzón, Carlos, et al. ‘El Jardín de La Ciencia En El Valle de Sibundoy’. Mundos En Red: La Cultura Popular Frente a Los Retos Del Siglo XXI, 2004, pp. 139–99
11. Richards, William A. ‘Psychedelic Psychotherapy: Insights From 25 Years of Research’. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 57, no. 4, July 2017, pp. 323–37. (Crossref), doi:10.1177/0022167816670996
12. Roseman, Leor, et al. ‘Emotional Breakthrough and Psychedelics: Validation of the Emotional Breakthrough Inventory’. Journal of Psychopharmacology, vol. 33, no. 9, Sept. 2019, pp. 1076–87. (Crossref), doi:10.1177/0269881119855974
13. Taussig, Michael. Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. The University of Chicago Press, 1986
14. Watts, Rosalind, et al. ‘Patients’ Accounts of Increased “Connectedness” and “Acceptance” After Psilocybin for Treatment-Resistant Depression’. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 57, no. 5, Sept. 2017, pp. 520–64. (Crossref), doi:10.1177/0022167817709585

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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30 April - Q&A with Rick Strassman