Psychodelics and Plant Medicine

Psyched Out: Documentary on Psychodelics and Plant Medicine

Directed by Giovani Bartolomeo (2018)

Film Review

The first video below is a documentary based mainly on the work of the late Terrence McKenna, a US ethnobotanist who was one of the first to investigate the healing effects of psychodelic plants. The film also features contemporary psychodelics advocates Dr Gabor Mate and British author and journalist Graham Hancock. The second video concerns a bank robber who was trained as an ayahuasca* shaman by a fellow prisoner.

Psyched Out begins by tracing the history of psychodelic use in healing and religious ceremonies. DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) was widely used by ancient Egyptians. McKenna believes Moses was under the influence of DMT when the burning bush spoke to him. He also suggests the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was actually the amanita mushroom. He also also sees a fundamental role for psylocybin in the supercharged evolution of the human brain occurring 15,000 – 20,000 years ago.

Between 3,000 – 1,500 BC, the use of psychodelics in healing and religious ceremonies occurred in all major civilizations. It ended in Western civilization in the 4th century AD with the Roman emperor Constantine’s formalization of the Catholic Church as a political body. Beginning with European colonization in the 15th century, psychodelics were banned nearly everywhere in the world.

McKenna and others believe the early church banned psychodelics because their role in expanding consciousness (ie these plants make people aware of their unconscious processes) leads people to question their fundamental beliefs about authority and their role in society.

For me the most interesting part of the film were the testimonials given by three patients who took ayahuasca and experienced total remission of longstanding opiate addiction, panic disorder/insomnia, and incapacitating scleroderma.**

I was also intrigued to learn of important discoveries and inventions directly related to psychodelic use, including the DNA double helix, the polymerase chain reaction, and several of Steve Jobs’ innovative Apple products.


*Ayahuasca is a hallucinatory tea made from a plant and vine containing DMT.

** Scleroderma is a group of autoimmune diseases that may result in changes to the skin, blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs. The disease can be either localized to the skin or involve both skin and other organs.

Kentucky Ayahuasca Episode 7

Vice (2019)

Film Review

I normally hate reality TV, but that was before I watched Kentucky Ayahuasca. Steve Hupp offers two-day Ayahuasca ceremonies with his wife and two apprentice therapist With 15 years experience, he boasts an 80% success rate for refractory PTSD, depression, and addiction and bipolar disorders.

Although, as a Schedule 1 drug, ayahuasca is illegal in the US, Native Americans are allowed to use it in religious ceremonies. Hupp calls his church the Aya Quest Native American church.

Readers can view the entire Kentucky Ayahuasca series at

https://video.vice.com/en_us/show/kentucky-ayahuasca

The Ancient Use of Psychodelic Herbs

DMT: A Lost History

Chris Rice (2015)

Film Review

This is a documentary about ancient civilizations’ use of psychodelic plants in religious ceremonies. Unlike his more recent Hidden History of Cannabis, the evidence Rice presents is this film is more circumstantial. Yet in my view, the documentary leaves little doubt that dimethyltryptamine (DMT) containing plants were used in religious ceremonies in ancient Egypt, India, Persia, Greece and possibly ancient Israel.

DMT is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, a psychodelic herb used throughout early South American cultures. It currently shows great promise in the treatment of alcohol and other drug addictions and PTSD (see Ayahuasca and Addiction). It can be smoked or taken by mouth. When taken by mouth, it must be combined with a second herb containing an MAO inhibitor to keep it from being degraded in the gut.

The ancient Egyptians derived DMT from  the acacia plant (Acacia nilotica), which they referred to as “The Tree of Life.”

The ancient Hindu Vedas refer to “soma,” an elixir that allegedly enabled practitioners to “commune with God.” Rice believes soma was derived from DMT containing herbs and may be responsible for much of the psychodelic art produced in ancient India. Sacred Zorastrian texts from ancient Persia also refer to “soma.” Ancient Greek texts refer to mystical ceremonies involving similar herbal elixirs.

Rice points to evidence that the “manna” (literally gift from God) provided to Israelites in their flight out of Egypt may actually have been DMT-containing mushrooms. A number of the original gospels describe to Christ offering “mana” to his disciples, though most of them were removed from the Catholic Bible when emperor Constantine banned the Gnostic sects.

The section of the film I found most interesting describes how use of DMT persisted in the rituals of numerous secret societies, including the Freemasons. Although there is no written record of Freemasonry prior to the 17th century, their oral tradition contains accounts of early Masonic rituals involving potions made from the acacia tree.

 

 

Psychedelics: A Miracle Cure for PTSD?

Soldiers of the Vine

Directed by Charles Shaw (2016)

Film Review

This documentary traces the experience of six US veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who undergo treatment with the psychedelic ayahuasca, owing to their failure to respond to conventional treatment.*

Ex-GIs who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer extremely high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury and suicidal depression. They commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population and US prisons, mental hospitals and homeless shelters are full of disabled veterans.

Studies show that psychedelic drugs, such as ayahuasca and ibogaine** are often helpful in treating heroin addiction and alcoholism. Their use in PTSD is still experimental.

In the film the six veterans travel to the Amazon jungle, where ayahasca is viewed as a sacred plant, to undergo a nine day healing ceremony with an indigenous shaman.


*Western medicine has no recognized treatment for PTSD.

**Ibogaine is legal for treating drug addiction in over 190 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Russia, China and Ukraine. See Why Are We Sending Vets to Costa Rico (and Canada and Mexico).

The Demonization of Psychodelic Drugs

Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychodelic Medicines

Directed by Oliver Hockenhull (2013)

Film Review

Neurons to Nirvana is about the detrimental effects of the War on Drugs on research into the medical and sociological benefits of hallucinogenic drugs.

Psychodelics have been used medicinally and in religious rituals for over 10,000. They’ve been used in nearly every culture except our own European culture. Psychodelic plants co-evolved with human beings to enhance our understanding and respect for the interconnectedness of the ecological system that supports our existence. Plants have important investment (to enhance their survival) in interacting with human beings via the chemicals they produce (see How Plants Control Us).

The filmmakers maintain that no brain theory will ever be complete without a complete examination of the the effect of psychodelic drugs. Yet it’s extremely difficult to undertake this type of research in the US or Britain, owing to their archaic drug laws.

Neurons to Nirvana argues the crackdown on psychedelic drugs in the sixties and seventies was motivated mainly by the political threat they pose. This relates in part due to their ability to break down barriers between ethnic groups and social classes and in part due to their ability to disrupt the “consensus trance” created by our constant bombardment with pro-government and pro-corporate propaganda.

The film also makes the point that legalizing psychodelics might be the only solution at this point to breaking through the zombieized mind set that’s destroying our plant. After viewing this documentary, I tend to agree with them.

The documentary divides specific therapeutic effects by drug category:

LSD

First discovered in 1943, LSD is the best study because psychiatrist used it in psychotherapy in the fifties and sixties. LSD research would lead to the identification of the neurotransmittser serotonin in 1948. Serotonin pathways play a major role in regulating the speed and scope of neural interconnections. LSD appears to counter the control Serotonin exerts over these interconnections.

With a dose of LSD, patients experience the ability to make new connections. Use in controlled therapeutic settings can enable patients to connect with repressed and suppressed memories and emotions. LSD users commonly report the realization that there is no “other”, ie that all people and things are interconnected.

Research reveals a single dose of LSD to be the most effective treatment for chronic alcoholism.*

Psilocybin (magic mushrooms)

Most psilocybin research has focused on its use in relieving pain and anxiety in terminal cancer patients. Single doses have also been useful in refractory depression.

Ecstasy (MDMA)

The DEA made ecstasy a Schedule 1 drug (effectively banning it) in 1985, despite a DEA administrative law judge’s recommendation that it be designated Schedule 3 (closely controlled but available by prescription). It’s an extremely effective as a rapidly acting, non-sedating, non-addicting anti-anxiety drug. Its best known therapeutic effect is as a catalyst for psychotherapy in veterans with treatment refractory PTSD.

Cannabis (marijuana)

Cannabis has a wide range of medical benefits and has been used to treat a variety of conditions for 4,000 years. Queen Victoria used it for period pain and the pain of childbirth. Senior citizens are the most rapidly growing demographic of marijuana users. They use it mainly to treat cancer, pain and nausea stemming from chemotherapy.

It contains more than 100 compounds with medial benefits, with cannabidiol the most widely studied.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a drug used for thousands of years in South American shamanic rituals. It’s primary medical use is in psychotherapy for trauma-related depression.

*Igobaine is another psychedelic effective in treating alcoholism, heroin addiction and PTSD. See Why Are We Sending Veterans to Costa Rica, Canada and Mexico

Healing Cancer and Chronic Illness in the Amazon

The Sacred Science

Nicki Polizzi (2011)

Film Review

The Sacred Science follows eight patients with cancer and severe chronic illness who seek treatment with traditional medicine men in the Amazon basin. The purpose of the film is to raise awareness of indigenous healing practices and the importance of halting the rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest and indigenous cultures that foster shamanic healing practices. Twenty-five percent of the ingredients used in western pharmaceuticals originate from Amazonian plants. Moreover a range of cancers and chronic illnesses resistant to western medicine respond to traditional healing methods. Polizzi, Plotkin and others are very alarmed about the rapid destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous cultures that foster shamanic healing.

John Perkins, best selling author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, writes about his own experience with Amazon healers in Shapeshifting: Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation, The World Is As You Dream It: Teachings from the Amazon and Andes, and Spirit of the Shuar: Wisdom from the Last Unconquered People of the Amazon.

Filmmaker Nick Polizzi first became interested in the healing potential of Amazonian plants when a friend developed untreatable Parkinsonism in 2009. Polizzi reached out to ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin* and through Mark, met Roman Hunt. Hunt moved to the Amazon in the late nineties to work with traditional shaman after they healed his Crohn’s Disease. Together, the three men conceived of a project in which eight patients would spend a month in the Amazon rain forest undergoing treatment with traditional medicine men.

Polizzi and his team received 400 applications when they advertised for patients to participate in the project. The eight they selected suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, neuroendocrine cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, type II diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, irritable bowel syndrome and depression/alcoholism.

The treatment combined spiritual healing, diet and herbal remedies specific for each illness. All eight patients took Ayahuasca, a mild mind expanding psychedelic and participated in various spiritual ceremonies aimed at self-healing. All gained insight into ways in which their mental state impeded their healing. They also received regular monitoring by a western qualified doctor.

As the eight subjects talk about themselves, their lives and their illnesses, the stark contrast between their self-centered world view and the holistic beliefs of the shamans leaps out at you. Although Polizzi doesn’t dwell on this in the film, his blog explores the topic at length. He particularly laments the loss (in the global north) of unwavering respect for all living things, including human beings, that characterized early cultures. “We have forgotten how to look after one another.”

He’s also highly critical of the Newtonian model of western medicine that approaches human beings as if they were machines in need of repair.

Of the eight patients, one died of advanced metastatic neuroendocrine cancer, and five became symptom-free after 1-2 months. The patients with breast cancer and Crohn’s Disease experienced no improvement. Given that Roman Hunt required five months of treatment to recover from Crohn’s, I wonder if Jessica (who spent two months in the Amazon) might have benefited from a longer course of treatment.

More information and a free ebook available from http://www.thesacredscience.com/

*Ethnobotanist specializing in the healing properties of tropical plants and author of Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice, Medicine Quest and The Killers Within: the Deadly Rise of Drug-resistant Bacteria and The Shaman’s Apprentice (a children’s book) with Lynne Cherry.