OPEN Foundation

M. Winkelman

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

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.619890

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Assessment of Alcohol and Tobacco Use Disorders Among Religious Users of Ayahuasca.

Abstract

The aims of this study were to assess the impact of ceremonial use of ayahuasca-a psychedelic brew containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and β-carboline -and attendance at União do Vegetal (UDV) meetings on substance abuse; here we report the findings related to alcohol and tobacco use disorder. A total of 1,947 members of UDV 18+ years old were evaluated in terms of years of membership and ceremonial attendance during the previous 12 months. Participants were recruited from 10 states from all major regions of Brazil. Alcohol and tobacco use was evaluated through questionnaires first developed by the World Health Organization and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Analyses compared levels of alcohol and tobacco use disorder between the UDV and a national normative sample (n = 7,939). Binomial tests for proportions indicated that lifetime use of alcohol and tobacco was higher in UDV sample compared to the Brazilian norms for age ranges of 25-34 and over 34 years old, but not for the age range of 18-24 years old. However, current use disorders for alcohol and tobacco were significantly lower in the UDV sample than the Brazilian norms. Regression analyses revealed a significant impact of attendance at ayahuasca ceremonies during the previous 12 months and years of UDV membership on the reduction of alcohol and tobacco use disorder.
Ribeiro Barbosa, P. C., Tofoli, L. F., Bogenschutz, M. P., Hoy, R., Berro, L. F., Marinho, E. A., … & Winkelman, M. J. (2018). Assessment of alcohol and tobacco use disorders among religious users of ayahuasca. Frontiers in psychiatry9, 136., 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00136
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The Mechanisms of Psychedelic Visionary Experiences: Hypotheses from Evolutionary Psychology

Abstract

Neuropharmacological effects of psychedelics have profound cognitive, emotional, and social effects that inspired the development of cultures and religions worldwide. Findings that psychedelics objectively and reliably produce mystical experiences press the question of the neuropharmacological mechanisms by which these highly significant experiences are produced by exogenous neurotransmitter analogs. Humans have a long evolutionary relationship with psychedelics, a consequence of psychedelics’ selective effects for human cognitive abilities, exemplified in the information rich visionary experiences. Objective evidence that psychedelics produce classic mystical experiences, coupled with the finding that hallucinatory experiences can be induced by many non-drug mechanisms, illustrates the need for a common model of visionary effects. Several models implicate disturbances of normal regulatory processes in the brain as the underlying mechanisms responsible for the similarities of visionary experiences produced by psychedelic and other methods for altering consciousness. Similarities in psychedelic-induced visionary experiences and those produced by practices such as meditation and hypnosis and pathological conditions such as epilepsy indicate the need for a general model explaining visionary experiences. Common mechanisms underlying diverse alterations of consciousness involve the disruption of normal functions of the prefrontal cortex and default mode network (DMN). This interruption of ordinary control mechanisms allows for the release of thalamic and other lower brain discharges that stimulate a visual information representation system and release the effects of innate cognitive functions and operators. Converging forms of evidence support the hypothesis that the source of psychedelic experiences involves the emergence of these innate cognitive processes of lower brain systems, with visionary experiences resulting from the activation of innate processes based in the mirror neuron system (MNS).
Winkelman, M. J. (2017). The Mechanisms of Psychedelic Visionary Experiences: Hypotheses from Evolutionary Psychology. Frontiers in Neuroscience11, 539. 10.3389/fnins.2017.00539
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The therapeutic potentials of ayahuasca: possible effects against various diseases of civilization

Abstract

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychoactive brew of two main components. Its active agents are β-carboline and tryptamine derivatives. As a sacrament, ayahuasca is still a central element of many healing ceremonies in the Amazon Basin and its ritual consumption has become common among the mestizo populations of South America. Ayahuasca use amongst the indigenous people of the Amazon is a form of traditional medicine and cultural psychiatry. During the last two decades, the substance has become increasingly known among both scientists and laymen, and currently its use is spreading all over in the Western world. In the present paper we describe the chief characteristics of ayahuasca, discuss important questions raised about its use, and provide an overview of the scientific research supporting its potential therapeutic benefits. A growing number of studies indicate that the psychotherapeutic potential of ayahuasca is based mostly on the strong serotonergic effects, whereas the sigma-1 receptor agonist effect of its active ingredient dimethyltryptamine raises the possibility that the ethnomedical observations on the diversity of treated conditions can be scientifically verified. Moreover, in the right therapeutic or ritual setting with proper preparation and mindset of the user, followed by subsequent integration of the experience, ayahuasca has proven effective in the treatment of substance dependence. This article has two important take-home messages: 1) the therapeutic effects of ayahuasca are best understood from a bio-psycho-socio-spiritual model, and 2) on the biological level ayahuasca may act against chronic low grade inflammation and oxidative stress via the sigma-1 receptor which can explain its widespread therapeutic indications.

Frecska, E., Bokor, P., & Winkelman, M. (2016). The therapeutic potentials of ayahuasca: possible effects against various diseases of civilization. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 7, 35. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2016.00035
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Psychedelics as Medicines for Substance Abuse Rehabilitation: Evaluating Treatments with LSD, Peyote, Ibogaine and Ayahuasca

Abstract

Substances known as psychedelics, hallucinogens and entheogens have been employed in ethnomedical traditions for thousands of years, but after promising uses in the 1950’s and 1960’s they were largely prohibited in medical treatment and human research starting in the 1970’s as part of the fallout from the war on drugs. Nonetheless, there are a number of studies which suggest that these substances have potential applications in the treatment of addictions. While these substances are generally classified as Schedule I, alleging no established medical uses and a high drug abuse potential, there is nonetheless evidence indicating they might be safe and effective tools for short term interventions in addictions treatment. Evidence suggests that the psychedelics have a much greater safety profile than the major addictive drugs, having extremely low levels of mortality, and producing little if any physical dependence. This paper reviews studies evaluating the use of LSD, peyote, ibogaine and ayahuasca in the treatment of dependencies and the possible mechanisms underlying the indications of effectiveness. Evidence suggests that these substances help assist recovery from drug dependency through a variety of therapeutic mechanisms, including a notable “after-glow” effect that in part reflects their action on the serotonin neurotransmitter system. Serotonin has been long recognized as central to the psychedelics’ well-known phenomenological, physical, emotional and cognitive dynamics. These serotonin-based dynamics are directly relevant to treatment of addiction because of depressed serotonin levels found in addict populations, as well as the role of serotonin as a neuromodulators affecting many other neurotransmitter systems.

Winkelman, M. (2015). Psychedelics as Medicines for Substance Abuse Rehabilitation: Evaluating Treatments with LSD, Peyote, Ibogaine and Ayahuasca. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 7(2), 101-116. https://dx.doi.org/10.2174/1874473708666150107120011

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A possibly sigma-1 receptor mediated role of dimethyltryptamine in tissue protection, regeneration, and immunity

Abstract

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is classified as a naturally occurring serotonergic hallucinogen of plant origin. It has also been found in animal tissues and regarded as an endogenous trace amine transmitter. The vast majority of research on DMT has targeted its psychotropic/psychedelic properties with less focus on its effects beyond the nervous system. The recent discovery that DMT is an endogenous ligand of the sigma-1 receptor may shed light on yet undiscovered physiological mechanisms of DMT activity and reveal some of its putative biological functions. A three-step active uptake process of DMT from peripheral sources to neurons underscores a presumed physiological significance of this endogenous hallucinogen. In this paper, we overview the literature on the effects of sigma-1 receptor ligands on cellular bioenergetics, the role of serotonin, and serotoninergic analogues in immunoregulation and the data regarding gene expression of the DMT synthesizing enzyme indolethylamine-N-methyltransferase in carcinogenesis. We conclude that the function of DMT may extend central nervous activity and involve a more universal role in cellular protective mechanisms. Suggestions are offered for future directions of indole alkaloid research in the general medical field. We provide converging evidence that while DMT is a substance which produces powerful psychedelic experiences, it is better understood not as a hallucinogenic drug of abuse, but rather an agent of significant adaptive mechanisms that can also serve as a promising tool in the development of future medical therapies.

Frecska, E., Szabo, A., Winkelman, M. J., Luna, L. E., & McKenna, D. J. (2013). A possibly sigma-1 receptor mediated role of dimethyltryptamine in tissue protection, regeneration, and immunity. Journal of Neural Transmission, 120(9), 1295-1303. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00702-013-1024-y
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21 March - Ketamine Discussion with Celia Morgan, Filip Tylš & Will Barone

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