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.

 

 

Invisible No Longer: Chicago’s Homeless

Street Life: Faces Uncovered

By Neal Karski, George Min, Tyler Dubiak and Scott Hilburn (2016)

Film Review

Street Life is a portrait of the Chicago’s homeless population. It begins by demolishing the myth that homelessness is a lifestyle choice. In addition to a wealth of statistics, the documentary includes interviews with homeless Chicagoans, social service workers, homeless advocates and random passersby. I found it intriguing that none of the women interviewed blamed the homeless for their predicament – while more than half the men did.

On any given night 750,000 Americans are homeless, and yearly 25-35 million spend some nights on the streets or in shelters. Worldwide 100 million people have no housing at all while one billion have grossly inadequate housing. Last year, over a million American children were homeless at some point.

In examining the causes of chronic homelessness, filmmakers identified the following breakdown (in Chicago):

  • 48% suffer from chronic drug or alcohol addiction
  • 32% are mentally ill
  • 25% are victims of domestic violence
  • 15% are unemployed veterans
  • 4% have HIV or AIDS

Because the homeless make huge demands on the public health system, it costs taxpayers far less to pay for their housing than to leave them on the street. After starting a Permanent Supportive Housing program two years ago, Illinois lawmakers reduced emergency room visits by 40%, nursing home days by 975%, inpatient days by 83% and psychiatric services by 66%.