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Remembering Ann Shulgin, The Matriarch of the Psychedelic Movement

Remembering Ann Shulgin, The Matriarch of the Psychedelic Movement

We are grieved by the loss of Ann Shulgin, an elder and beloved friend, often referred to as the matriarch of the psychedelic movement. Ann passed away peacefully on July 9, at home in the company of loved ones, crossing into the great unknown. She was 91.

Ann was an artist, lay therapist, researcher of consciousness, prolific writer and speaker, and much more. She was a shining light in the psychedelic community who brought people together. Her advocacy for the use of psychedelics in therapy played a vital role in introducing these substances to the fields of psychology and psychiatry.

Widow of the renowned chemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, Ann was his life-long collaborator and co-conspirator. Sasha famously pioneered new psychedelic compounds which Ann and he researched experimentally together. In her work as a lay therapist, Ann provided psychedelic-assisted therapy with MDMA and 2C-B, compounds that Sasha synthesized, before they were illegal, to many in the San Francisco Bay Area using her expertise in Jungian psychoanalysis. The Shulgin’s lifework and legacy was commemorated in the 2021 documentary, Better Living Through Chemistry, by filmmaker Connie Littlefield, which she worked closely with Ann to complete. Ann fortunately was able to see the film.

⁠At Synergetic Press, we feel honored to have established a copublishing relationship together with Transform Press, the independent publishing company Ann and Sasha founded in 1991 now owned and led by Ann’s daughter Wendy Tucker, in order to ensure their research would not be lost or destroyed. Thus came two groundbreaking classics in psychedelic literature, PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TIHKAL: The Continuation, that she co-wrote together with Sasha Shulgin. More recently, we worked closely with Wendy to publish The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact, Vol. 1, the first Shulgin book publication since 2011. 

Ann was guest of honor at the book launch for The Nature of Drugs—one of her last major speaking engagements—in which she participated in a panel reflecting on what a sane and healthy future for psychedelics could look like.

When asked about her vision for the future of psychedelics, Ann shared, “First of all, I agree that the War on Drugs has got to stop. The entire emphasis on law has got to end, the emphasis should be on medical use and spiritual growth. The laws must change and we have to work very hard on making them change. I’m very optimistic about the way things are going right now. I think there is a lot of hope.”

We will continue to work closely with Wendy and the Transform Press family to share and celebrate Ann’s wisdom, teachings, and insights for years to come. May you travel safely onwards, Ann. You will forever be in our hearts.

Ann Shulgin at desk

Reflections from the Synergetic Press Team 

“Throughout the last year, I’ve had the privilege of developing Synthesis, a forthcoming collection of Ann and Sasha Shulgin’s writings and a companion to PIHKAL and TIHKAL. It has been an awe-inspiring ride to live inside of Ann’s words: her thoughts about experimentation, psychedelic revelation, the work of therapy, the pleasure of the arts, building community, and extending oneself into the world with bravery and curiosity. What has struck me most, however, is Ann’s abiding love—for her beloved Sasha, for her children, for her friends, and for humankind itself. She nourished her own hope and, through this practice, the hope of those around her. Ann lived an extraordinary lifeone for the books, and there are several. Her steadfast commitment to writing and collaborating with Sasha has ensured that her legacy will continue far beyond today’s living generations. This was her gift to us all.” — Noelle Armstrong, Senior Project Editor 


“I had the honor of meeting Ann Shulgin in 2018, when my dear friend, author of the book The Secret Drugs of Buddhism for which Ann wrote the foreword, invited me to the Shulgin’s legendary Easter barbeque. At the time, I was still relatively young and new to psychedelics, finding myself overwhelmed to meet a foundational figure in psychedelic history. However, Ann’s kind, gentle, and loving essence quickly allayed any fears I might have had around meeting her.

Little did I know that years later, I would come to work for Synergetic Press and that we would sign a co-publishing deal with Transform Press. More than that, I now find myself pursuing a path in psychedelic-assisted therapy, and feel indebted to Ann, her wisdom, and the way in which she has laid the groundwork for the field.” — Jasmine Virdi, Marketing & Communications Associate


“When I started working at Synergetic Press, I had never heard of Ann and Sasha Shulgin. However, over the past two years I have had the incredible honor of spending time with Ann at her beautiful farm several times. We published the amazing The Nature of Drugs last year and Ann gladly signed hundreds of copies so that readers could enjoy a signed copy. How lucky they all are!

I was able to chat with Ann during my visits and I always left feeling happier than when I arrived.  I was even able to bring my son Jake (who is a huge fan of the Shulgin’s and their amazing legacy) to meet her. The fact that I could introduce him to Ann and allow him the pleasure of meeting her is such a blessing. I am honored to be a small part of the Transform Press family and we will continue to share their legacy and amazing contributions as we continue publishing their work.” — Sandy Balin, Sales & Publishing Operations Director 


“When I was first fortunate enough to attend one of the Easter gatherings at the Shulgin “Farm”, I only briefly met Ann Shulgin. What immediately struck me about the gathering was the strength and depth of the community. It was clear this group of people had connections built over time and a deep commitment to shared work that was cultivated at the home of Ann and Sasha Shulgin. So, it was a great thrill to visit the ranch again, this time while working with Ann’s daughter, Wendy Tucker, to explore a publishing partnership between Synergetic Press and Transform Press, the press Ann and Sasha Shulgin created to publish their much-celebrated classic, PIHKAL. Sitting with Ann and hearing her ideas and keen insights about the possibilities for new Shulgin book projects, it was clear that for her, the work was very much present and ongoing, a through-line from the work she’d engaged with for decades. It has been an inspiring experience to work with her and it is an honor to help amplify her lasting legacy.” — Douglas Reil, Associate Publisher/ Managing Director

Ann Shulgin and friends

“I first heard from Ann and Sasha Shulgin back in 1990 when they wrote to inquire if Synergetic Press would be interested in publishing this book they had been working on, PIHKAL. I was 32 at the time, and unfortunately, not in a position to publish the book with them. As such, they went on to start Transform Press. 40 years later, we began a copublishing relationship with Ann’s daughter, Wendy, now the owner of Transform Press. We all feel blessed to be working closely with the Shulgin family and associates to help publish their groundbreaking work in the fields of chemistry and the study of mind. I stand in awe at the life Ann led and the family she and Sasha cultivated around them. Ann glowed a way of life that was full of dedication, mastery, passion and persistence. Rest in peace, and know your glow persists in the eyes of many.” — Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher 

Reflections on the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD) 55 conference

Reflections on the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD) 55 conference

Last month, Synergetic Press was excited to attend the McKenna Academy’s Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESPD55) Conference in St. Giles House, Dorset, UK. 

A beautiful and inspiring gathering that came as joyous relief for many after months of being confined to communing through Zoom space, it was the coming together of old friends and the making of new ones. Not your ordinary psychedelic gathering, this conference’s focus was on ethnopharmacology: the pharmacology and biology of how people collaborate with plants and fungi in their respective contexts.

A Brief History of ESPD

The history of the conference harks back to 1967, when the first ESPD conference was held in San Francisco, California. A first of its kind, the symposium, brought together a diverse array of interdisciplinary specialists including notable figures some of whose careers would include them becoming Synergetic Press authors including Alexander Shulgin, Richard Evans Schultes, and Gordon Wasson.

At the time of the first symposium, Dennis McKenna was 16 years old. Sharing a burning fascination in psychedelics with his older brother, Terence, Dennis yearned to find a way to shape his career around the substances which sparked his curiosity and fed his inquiry. The 1967 conference proceedings were published in book form a few months after the event took place, and perchance, Dennis happened upon a copy in 1968. That book had a major impact on Dennis, serving to change his life that very day when he realized he could also pursue a path in this field.

The US Department of Mental Health who sponsored the first conference intended to have follow-up gatherings every ten years, but sadly, though not surprisingly, the War on Drugs slowly forced all such public conversations to a grinding halt. Fast forward 50 years to 2017, Dennis had long dreamed of having a second ESPD symposium in order to explore how the field had developed and evolved throughout the last half a century of psychedelic prohibition. The proceedings of the papers presented at that symposium held Tyrigham Hall, UK in were carefully curated into what has become a cornerstone addition to the Synergetic Press library, in this two volume box set, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research

Synergetic Press at ESPD55
This year, the second ESPD conference hosted by Dennis together with the McKenna Academy marked 55 years since the original conference, once again bringing specialists from far and wide to discuss their research and findings in a setting that encouraged the free and frank exchange of information and ideas on the last 55 years of research, and assess the current and possible futures for research in ethnopharmacology. 

We were delighted to be a sponsor of the conference and have the opportunity to showcase our books at the to the assembly of about 100 people. Synergetic Press Publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder and Community Outreach Manager, Jasmine Virdi both attended the gathering. Several of our presented talks included keynote address by Monica Gagliano (The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence), Luis Eduardo Luna (Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine), and Wade Davis, Mark Plotkin, Glenn Shepard, Manolo Torres (all ESPD50 contributors), and of course, Dennis McKenna. We are getting the work underway to publish the ESPD55 conference proceedings with the McKenna Academy in the year ahead. 

Looking to the future of the field, there was a strong sentiment among conference organizers and researchers regarding the importance of keeping the fields of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology alive, inviting young, emerging researchers to participate in and shape the dialogue, while acknowledging many ethnobotany programs at universities have, over the years, been discontinued for reasons that are not totally clear, as there are students looking for the training in these disciplines. 

In addition to the ethnopharmacology studies, there were talks that branched from the pharmacology of kratom to the use of psychedelics as tools for scientific discovery to the history of psychoactive plants in Chinese culture. We explored different spheres of the ethnosphere, the hydrosphere, the mycosphere.

Monica Gagliano, co-editor of The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence gave the opening keynote, a wonder-inspiring talk entitled Medicine for the future: if we listen, plants will teach us, gently inviting the audience to sense into the ways in which we conceive of and interact with plants and their intelligence, setting the pace for the rest of the conference. 

Through her studies investigating plant intelligence, Gagliano invites us to reconceptualize the ways in which we understand plants, shifting away from language that frames them as inactive objects, moving towards perspectives that honor their agency and influences upon the human world. 

“Denying non-human intelligence is bound up with colonial agendas,” she shared, in her presentation at ESPD55.

Another captivating talk was that of astrobiologist, Bruce Damer, who spoke about the use of psychedelics for creative problem solving, particularly as tools for scientific discovery and for accessing genius. 

Making a case for the necessity of genius and innovative thinking, he pointed to the compounded crises of our times. 

“I would suggest to you that if we don’t have more of it, or if we don’t use it, we won’t make it through the coming challenges,” Damer said. “And my tribe, the tribe of neurodivergent scientists and engineers, their close cousins, all nerdy peoples on the earth — we play hide and seek with genius. It is our job to come up with solutions to gnarly scientific problems, crack the code of some AI optimization, or look through a massive climate data set and find a solution.”

Paul Stamets raised our attention levels as he spoke of his latest insights and discoveries in the mycelium universe he works in, sharing eye-opening statistics on the performance of the “Stamets Stack” in treatment for depression and other ailments. 

Wade Davis, author, cultural anthropologist, co-editor of the ESPD box set and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, gave a powerful closing keynote address, sharing his insights from traveling around the world and spending time with different traditions and cultures as well as delving deeper into his decade-long research on the history of the coca plant.

Davis re-emphasized the critical need to abandon the colonial, and furthermore unscientific, Victorian construct of the evolution of humanity from the savage to the barbarian to the civilized. 

“If we’re cut from the same genetic cloth, it means all cultures share the same genius,” Davis said. “And critically whether this genius is invested in technological wizardry or unraveling the complex threads of memory inherent in myth is still a matter of choice and cultural orientation.There is no hierarchy in the affairs of culture.”

All the conference talks are available to purchase and stream here.

Michael “Goz” Gosney, Collaborator & Friend

Michael “Goz” Gosney, Collaborator & Friend

Michael “Goz” Gosney, Collaborator & Friend

(July 11, 1954 – April 28, 2022)

Beloved friend and Special Projects Associate at Synergetic Press, Michael “Goz” Gosney peacefully departed this world on April 28, 2022. Goz, as we called him, was a culture creator, a DJ, thinker, writer, publisher, event maestro, and super-connector whose vision pulsed at the heart of many communities. Based in San Francisco, Goz was an innovator in digital, ecological, and psychedelic communities alike. His words and actions inspired many to think creatively to find solutions to big problems. He would jump right in to help mount any event that promised good fun to build community and restore ecological balance. He was deeply loved by many and we are shaken by his loss.

We are grateful to Michael’s close friend and collaborator, Steven Wagner, for writing this history for us of Goz’s unique time on this planet:

Michael was a writer, editor, and publisher of books, music, and multimedia. He was a thought leader in the fields of technology, consciousness, and environmentalism who created and produced events in San Francisco and worldwide. In a 1995 interview, Timothy Leary described Michael as “one of the few great pioneer humanists in the digital world.”

Michael was born in Pittsburg, PA and graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, KS in 1972. He attended Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ in 1972-73 and University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS in 1975-76.

After relocating to San Diego in 1976, Michael co-founded the literary agency The Word Shop, published the Journal of Holistic Health from 1978 to 1980, and founded the independent publishing house Avant Books in 1980. His notable publications include The Life and Adventures of John Muir (1979) a biography of the early conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club: the English version of the play Buddha (1983) by Nikos Kazantzakis; and Deep Ecology (1985) a collection of essays proposing a progressive, post-modern environmental sensibility.

From 1986 to 1991, Michael published and edited Verbum, an early personal computer and computer art magazine widely recognized as one of the first periodicals to be entirely produced with desktop publishing techniques. In 1991, he published Verbum Interactive, which showcased digital articles with video, hyperlinks, audio files, and CD-Audio. It was hailed as a groundbreaking product and attracted the attention of Apple, Kodak, Adobe Systems, Toshiba, and Microsoft, leading to many collaborations in computer-related art and publishing realms, including the Imagine Exhibit of Personal Computer Art, a touring exhibition that the Los Angeles Times described as marking “the distinction between an earlier era of computer graphics and newer computer art.”

In 1995, Michael relocated to San Francisco and established the Verbum office in the heart of the booming SoMa district. He loved The City and proudly made it his home for the rest of his life. He always honored it in his work, and many would say that he personally exemplified its unique spirit. There was no more natural representative and genuine emissary for San Francisco than Michael.

He was a prominent and highly innovative producer of festivals, conferences, and exhibits. His semi-annual Digital Be-In, a San Francisco-based celebration and technology showcase was described by Soledad O’Brien on MSNBC as, “where 60s counterculture meets 90s cyberculture.” The many counterculture icons instrumental in the event included Timothy Leary, Chet Helms, Allen Cohen, Ken Kesey, John Perry Barlow, and Ram Dass. Michael produced eighteen Digital Be-In events over a 25-year span, including special editions in Tokyo in 1995 and London in 2005.

An early proponent of deep ecology and green cities, Michael shared a long collaboration with the ecological architecture model community Arcosanti, near Phoenix, AZ, where he produced the Paradox Conferences in 1997, 1999, and 2001, bringing together leaders in cyberculture and sustainable development. In 2011 and 2012, he produced the San Francisco Bay Area Deep Green Conference, which featured panels on ecology and cannabis legislation and exhibitions of green cultivation techniques.

In 2002, Michael co-founded the Green Century Institute, an information clearinghouse for sustainable community solutions. The non-profit provided consulting and advisory public services and produced a range of events and workshops, including the San Francisco Green Cities Expo at UNEP World Environment Day event in June 2005. From 2013 to 2015, he produced and hosted the talk radio podcast Eco-Evolution, featuring in-depth interviews with innovators on technological solutions to ecological sustainability issues.

From 1998 to 2001, in collaboration with eMusic, Michael produced Radio-V.com, a weekly radio program on U.S. public and college stations and electronic music sites. In 2001, he co-founded Cyberset, a San Francisco-based record label showcasing world, ambient, dance, vocal, and urban music.

Since 1999, he co-managed Earthdance International, a non-profit that coordinates the annual Earthdance multi-location global peace party. At the time of his passing, Michael was Managing Director of the Techné Verde ICT research project with the Buckminster Fuller Institute developing social and collaboration networks for transformative culture; and Director of Strategic Planning for Synergetic Press, a publisher of books and journals on psychedelic research, biospheric science, and regenerative design.

Michael was a lifelong creator and tireless supporter of music and the arts. He championed the legacy and work of the Beat poets. He produced music and dance events for Earthdance, Green Festival, and the How Weird Street Faire. He organized the official Burning Man Community Dance on the playa, entertaining ecstatic revelers on myriad occasions as a beloved trance deejay. Michael enriched our culture with art, music, and poetry of the highest vibration. 

The breadth of Michael’s accomplishments is only eclipsed by his inspirational and lasting influence on countless family members, friends, and colleagues. A man of impeccable character, endless optimism, clear vision, and heartwarming presence, he had a singular ability to bring people together in ways that sparked profound, enduring relationships and vital creative endeavors.

He was a deeply spiritual man, a true seeker of wisdom and higher consciousness who stayed the path until his final breath. He loved his family with all his soul and was immensely proud of his daughters Kate and Rachel and grandchildren Harrison, age four, Ophelia, age two, and Clara, age one. He loved being a granddad—nothing made him happier than his three “little ones.” His eyes lit up at the sound of their names.

His vast community of friends, colleagues, and collaborators reaches around the globe, and his spirit will emanate within so many who felt blessed to be in his orbit, who revered him as a trusted friend. If it is true that a man’s heart is not judged by how much he loves, but by how much he is loved by others, then Michael’s life was an exemplary one that will continue to inspire far beyond his time on this earth.

 

Celebrating Michael Gosney

Friday, May 27, 2022| | 3-8 PM PDT
Join us virtually or in-person for an afternoon of art, ceremony, remembrance, music and celebration, honoring “Goz” who left us for new adventures on April 28. There is no charge to attend the memorial; please click here to RSVP and/or make a donation.

Anything raised above event costs will be applied towards maintaining Michael’s archives and/or future symposia and events in his honor (the next Digital Be-In, anyone?).

Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture excerpt

Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture excerpt

The following is an excerpt from Agroecology & Regenerative Agriculture: Sustainable Solutions for Hunger, Poverty, and Climate Change by Dr. Vandana Shiva:

Biodiversity is the Foundation of Agroecology

Agroecology is the scientific paradigm for sustainable agriculture. Agriculture is and should indispensably be a life-enhancing phenomenon. Production of a variety of healthy and nutritious foods requires a productive and healthy agroecosystem reverberating with biodiversity in its forest, cropland, and livestock. Agriculture based on healthy, biodiversity-laden, and vibrant agroecosystem is naturally the agriculture rooted into its inexhaustible source of nature: the solar-powered agroecosystem.

Agroecology is the holistic study of agroecosystems, including all environmental and human elements. It focuses on the form, dynamics, and functions of their interrelationships and the processes in which they are involved (Altieri 1987; Reijntjes et al. 1992). Intercropping, agroforestry, and other traditional methods mimic natural ecological processes. The sustainability of many local practices lies in the ecological models that agroecologists follow. By designing farming systems that mimic nature, farmers can get the optimal use out of sunlight, soil nutrients, and rainfall (Reijntjes 1992).
Agroecology gives deeper meaning to agriculture. It integrates agriculture with ecology. It helps us understand the direct relationship between agriculture and ecology. It teaches us to be in tune with nature while producing a diversity of healthy, nutritious, and delicious foods using sources of nature. In essence, agroecology is the philosophy of relishing all edibles that nature produces and, at the same time, nurturing nature so that it can blossom with biodiversity.

Agroecology is now a separate discipline of agriculture and ecology. It is the central concept of many valuable ideas, philosophies, approaches, strategies, and tactics of life which include natural farming, traditional agriculture, permaculture, biodynamic farming, integrated pest management, organic agriculture, and sustainable agriculture. Agroecology uses ecological theory to study, design, manage, and evaluate food production systems. It is the concept on which sustainable agriculture—which ensures the future of agriculture—has been built. It is through applying the principles of agroecology that we protect, conserve, and augment natural resources such as forests, grasslands, livestock, soil, water resources, and farming. Agroecology appreciates and strengthens interactions among all crucial biophysical, socioeconomic and technical components of the agroecosystems. All components are regarded to be fundamental units of an integrated system.

Agroecology helps us understand and maintain vital mineral cycles, biological processes, energy transformations, and socioeconomic relationships in an integrated manner. Agricultural strategies woven around the principles of agroecology look into local geographical, socioeconomic, environmental, and cultural specificities and obey traditions, such as food habits, festivities, and ethical or aesthetic values.

In essence, agroecology is the philosophy of relishing all edibles that nature produces and, at the same time, nurturing nature so that it can blossom with biodiversity.

A one-dimensional monoculture view of conventional agriculture has no place in agroecology. An understanding of ecological and social levels of co-evolution, structure, and function is instead necessary (Altieri 2000). Rather than focusing on one particular component of the agroecosystem, agroecology emphasizes the interrelatedness of all components and the complex dynamics of ecological processes (Vandermeer 1995). Agroecology is a holistic response to agribusiness-based exploitative technologies and trade for profits, which have no room for other values of life and are not conscious of the future of the planet. Agroecology, on the other hand, does not overlook technical and economic aspects but is very much alive to social, cultural, and environmental issues, firmly standing for the present and future well-being of society.

Food production needs are central to the concept of agroecology. The performance criteria in agroecology takes into consideration vital contemporary issues, namely, ecological sustainability, food security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Traditional concepts of organic farming, natural farming, and ecological farming offer to resolve numerous issues from the individual family to the global level, from seed to swaraj (self-rule), from agribusiness empire to genuine socialism, from food security to food sovereignty, from ecological disaster to ecological affluence, and from climate chaos to climate order.


Dr. Vandana Shiva is an author, physicist, ecologist, and advocate of biodiversity conservation and farmer’s rights. Her pioneering work around food sovereignty, traditional agriculture, and women’s rights created fundamental cultural shifts in how the world views these issues.

Along with Jerry Mander, Edward Goldsmith, Ralph Nader, and Jeremy Rifkin, Dr. Shiva is a leader and board member of the International Forum on Globalization and a prominent figure of the global solidarity movement known as the alter-globalization movement.

Dr. Shiva founded Navdanya, an organization that promotes agroecology, seed freedom, and a vision of Earth Democracy, seeking justice for the Earth and all living beings. She has authored more than 20 books including Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth (Synergetic Press, 2020), Philanthrocapitalism & The Erosion of Democracy: A Global Citizens’ Report on the Corporate Control of Technology, Health, and Agriculture (Synergetic Press, 2022) and Agroecology and Regenerative Agriculture: Sustainable Solutions for Hunger, Poverty, and Climate Change (Synergetic Press, 2022).

Dr. Shiva is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, Spain’s Socialist Party’s think tank and the International Organization for a Participatory Society. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, an honor known as an “Alternative Nobel Prize”. She has received numerous other awards and honors for her work including the “Save the World” award in 2009 and the Sydney Peace Prize in 2010. Dr. Shiva’s life and work is the subject of the award-winning 2021 documentary, “Seeds of Vandana Shiva.”

 

 

 

 

The Mind of Plants excerpt: Cannabis

The Mind of Plants excerpt: Cannabis

The following is an excerpt from Jeremy Narby’s essay, “Cannabis,” from The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence:

The years skipped by, and I started working for a humanitarian organization based in Switzerland as an Amazonian projects manager, helping Indigenous Amazonian people gain land titles and access to bilingual education. So, my work kept a focus on humans. But the Ashaninca’s view of plants continued to intrigue me. Were plants really intelligent beings? Could psychoactive plants really teach things to those who consumed them? My experience with ayahuasca confirmed that this plant brew could lead to important understandings, so I knew the notion had some basis.

I decided to test the matter on a psychoactive plant that I knew I could grow in my garden, outdoors, and with sunlight: cannabis. I had used it previously for recreational purposes. While in college, I had occasionally smoked grass, usually with pleasure.

I intended to grow some organic cannabis and test it on myself to see if it worked as a “plant teacher.” I would follow Ashaninca precepts as much as possible. For starters, it had to be a natural-grown plant, not an indoor one grown with electricity. And to try to learn from this psychoactive plant, I would have to act with disciplined intent. As I am not a shaman of any sort but an anthropologist and a writer, I wanted to see if the plant could help with my thinking and writing. I wanted to enroll the plant to reach a fuller understanding of the world we live in and gain knowledge about nature and all forms of life, including people.

First, I read up on the cannabis plant and on growing techniques. I learned how to start plants from seeds, grow them with daily care, select only female plants for their resin-rich flowers, harvest them, and dry them. By 1991, at the age of thirty-one, I was producing outdoor organic cannabis for my personal research. Starting any younger would have been risky, as research indicates that heavy cannabis use disrupts learning in adolescents and young adults. But I figured I was old enough to take a risk. The point was not to take repeated doses of strong cannabis and become a “chronic heavy user,” but to use the plant for a purpose and in a disciplined way, in order to get an idea of what the Ashaninca were talking about when they said that one could learn from a plant.

I trained myself physically, running in the forest every day. I kept to a healthy diet and gave up sugar and processed foods. I knew I had to be healthy and strong to work with a plant teacher.

I spent the first part of my working days in ordinary consciousness, doing my desk job, and reading anthropology and biology on the side. And in the late afternoons, I would smoke some cannabis, go running in nature, and think about what I had just read or written. Interesting ideas tended to flow into my mind during those moments; I could consider the data from a freer, more sensorial, and side-winding perspective. To catch these fleeting ideas, I carried around a pocket notebook and a felt pen. As soon as an interesting idea came my way, I would stop running and note it down. The next morning, in sober and lucid consciousness, I would use the previous day’s insights or discard them if they did not seem relevant.

It’s true, some cannabis-inspired thinking is nebulous and requires lucid criticism. But I found that this worked both ways; cannabis thinking provided an interesting angle on normal thinking, and the converse was also true. I allowed myself to critique both equally as I went back and forth between the two. The end result of combining these two ways of thinking was that I found myself reaching a fuller understanding of the questions I considered.

Cannabis also allowed me to reread my own words with detachment as if someone else had written them. This was precious because I tended to be overly attached to my own words when I was in the process of writing. With cannabis, I found that I could detect the words that didn’t feel quite right or that lacked clarity, and I could also see what was missing—such as the things I didn’t know enough about yet and needed to look into. For me, cannabis worked as a “plant editor.”

For several years, and on a near-daily basis, I went back and forth between these two ways of thinking. Using this method, I looked into a discipline about which I knew very little, molecular biology, and ended up writing a book about its possible interface with Amazonian shamanism. The book went on to have some success and was translated into multiple languages. However, I kept the cannabis work method to myself. Using the plant was one thing, discussing it was another. At the time, in the late 1990s, cannabis was illegal almost everywhere in the world. There was still a “war on drugs,” and talking about the method would have meant confessing to a crime. Also, discussing the method could have been construed as promoting it, and it seemed obvious that consuming strong cannabis on a regular basis was not for everybody. I was fortunate to find myself in the right circumstances, living in a quiet place surrounded by nature, and knowing enough to follow Ashaninca principles of discipline and intent. What’s more, my driven temperament allowed me to handle most of the plant’s discombobulating effects. But this was certainly not the case for most people. Cannabis was just not everybody’s cup of tea. Most of the people I knew who smoked it in their teens or early twenties had stopped doing so because it made them feel paranoid or confused.

I had no interest in promoting cannabis by saying that I used it as a plant teacher. All I wanted to do was to “learn from the plant.”


Jeremy Narby is an anthropologist and writer who has worked since 1989 as Amazonian projects director for the Swiss non-profit Nouvelle Planète, backing projects for the self-determination of Amazonian indigenous peoples that involve land rights, primary education, village health, botanical knowledge, fish farms, tree nurseries, and other local initiatives.

Jeremy grew up in Canada and Switzerland, studied history at the University of Canterbury, receiving a doctorate in anthropology from Stanford University. Jeremy spent several years living with the Ashaninca tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, cataloging indigenous uses of rainforest resources.

Narby has authored several books including The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (1999), Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge (2001), Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge (2005), and Psychotropic Mind: The World According to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism (2010). He lectures worldwide and sponsors rainforest expeditions for biologists and other scientists to examine indigenous knowledge systems and the utility of ayahuasca in gaining knowledge. He was featured in the documentary “DMT: The Spirit Molecule.”

 

 

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