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Synergetic Press and MAPS Form Copublishing Partnership

Synergetic Press and MAPS Form Copublishing Partnership

Synergetic Press and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science (MAPS) are pleased to announce they have entered into a copublishing relationship effective May 1, 2021 which will greatly expand the availability of education about psychedelics and psychedelic therapy. 

Since MAPS began their mission to open pathways for legal, cultural, and medical contexts for people to benefit from psychedelics in 1986, they have published many pioneers in the psychedelic movement including Stanislav Grof, Albert Hofmann, Myron Stolaroff, Claudio Naranjo, Torsten Passie, Beatriz Cauiby Labate, Phil Wolfson, and Annie Oak. As with MAPS, Synergetic Press has been a leading publisher of cutting-edge books in the field of psychedelics and consciousness. The collaboration rests in the mutually held value to make these authors’ knowledge more accessible to a broader world-market. This newly formed alliance, along with Synergetic Press’ other copublishing partner, Transform Press, places Synergetic Press as the leading publisher in the field of psychedelics.

“Now that the psychedelic renaissance has overcome political and financial obstacles to research, public education is the most important need,” says Rick Doblin, Ph.D., founder and executive director of MAPS. “MAPS is delighted to partner with Synergetic Press to expand the reach of our publications so that people all over the world will be better prepared as psychedelics move into the mainstream.” 

The first title to be published under the copublishing arrangement is Psyche Unbound: Essays in Honor of Stanislav Grof, to be released in October 2021. Edited by Rick Tarnas and Sean Kelly, Psyche Unbound honors the life and legacy of Grof, a founder of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering figurehead in the practice of psychedelic therapy. Included are essays from a vast array of notable thinkers including Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Fritjof Capra, Frances Vaughan, Thomas Riedlinger, John Buchanan, Jenny Wade, Ralph Metzner, Paul Grof and Arlene Fox, William Keepin, Jorge Ferrer, Gerry Goddard, Ervin Laszlo, Christopher M. Bache, Tom Purton, Gregg Lahood, Jeffrey Kripal, Michael Mithoefer, and Charles Grob.

“I have watched Rick Doblin over three decades take on what seemed impossible, that is, to change people’s minds about psychedelics and pave a path to decriminalization, regulation, and medical research,” shared Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO at Synergetic Press. “Today, he and his team have succeeded at getting very far down that road. The MAPS imprint has curated the leading voices of the industry, funding and publishing pioneering work in the field. We are proud to bring the groundbreaking books from MAPS into our catalog.”

With this agreement, the MAPS backlist and new titles will be distributed to the trade through Synergetic Press and their distributor, Publishers Group West, part of Ingram Publisher Services.

Should Psychedelic Therapists Have Psychedelic Experience?

Should Psychedelic Therapists Have Psychedelic Experience?

Psychedelics are front and center of a new and rapidly growing medical industry that recognizes their profound healing potential. More and more people are taking psychedelics in clinical settings, with trained therapists guiding them through unpredictable terrain, helping them process and heal their wounds. 

However, as psychedelics become medicalized we are urged to explore the question: should a therapist have personal experience with psychedelics before working with clients who are on psychedelics? 

For those who’ve taken psychedelics and understand how utterly strange (and at times immensely challenging) the experience can be, the answer may feel like an obvious yes. While each psychedelic experience is unique, the thread that binds virtually all of them is their ineffability. Trusting someone to help you navigate that space can be difficult if they haven’t occupied it themselves. 

But as psychedelics intersect with western science, intuition alone cannot satisfy modern medicine’s inquiries around efficacy and safety. One possible solution is that space must be made for the perspectives of indigenous communities who’ve worked with psychedelic medicines for time immemorial and understand them in ways that transcend western epistemological frameworks. 

Western Medicine and Psychedelic Therapy

COMPASS Pathways, a UK-based mental healthcare company working with synthetic psilocybin, states on their website that therapists are not recruited based on their “willingness or desire” to take psychedelics. According to COMPASS, until evidence suggests otherwise, the best predictors of safety and optimal clinical outcomes are emotional maturity, compassion, and clinical therapeutic experience.

So far, there is no evidence within western medicine that suggests otherwise. Arguably, it is for lack of trying. As Elizabeth M. Nielson, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Guss, MD write in their article “Should Psychedelic Therapists Have First-hand Experience with Psychedelics?” for Chacruna, “no contemporary studies have systematically studied whether or how therapists’ first-hand experience with psychedelics affects clinical outcomes in psychedelic therapy.” 

When psychedelic therapy first garnered interest from medical practitioners in the mid-20th century, shortly after Albert Hofmann discovered LSD in 1943, researchers and clinicians “stressed the value of direct experience with a psychedelic compound” in order to be successful as psychedelic therapists, write Nielson and Guss. Hofmann wrote that first-hand experience would allow the therapist to truly understand the “strange world of LSD inebriation” and its related phenomena in their patients. 

But due to restrictive drug laws in the 1960s, and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, conducting those studies became virtually impossible. Psychiatrist and substance abuse researcher Herbert Kleber came the closest in the mid-60s when he designed a study that would compare the outcomes in patients undergoing LSD-assisted therapy treated by a therapist that had taken LSD themselves versus a therapist who hadn’t. The study was cut short when the Swiss laboratory Sandoz halted LSD production in 1965. 

Should Doctors Have Direct Experience with Psychiatric Drugs They Prescribe?

Today, with the mainstreaming of psychedelics and their burgeoning reputation as legitimate therapeutic medicines, questions around what constitutes effective psychedelic therapy can be more formally investigated. But the unique nature of psychedelic therapy, which, as Nielson and Guss write, is an “unprecedented blend of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic approaches,” doesn’t fit squarely with the already established western medical models. 

Contemporary psychiatry does not necessitate that a doctor has direct experience with any psychotropic medication they prescribe to patients. It’s a standard that, according to Nielson and Gus, hasn’t been fully examined. They say that as of June 2018, they were “unable to locate a single study on the relationship between psychiatrists’ personal use of pharmaceutical substances, their prescribing practices with psychotropic medicines, and/or effects on patient outcomes.” 

Furthermore, in the 1960s, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), in which a treatment is randomly allocated to participants and isolated from the doctors prescribing them, became the “gold-standard” for demonstrating the efficacy of pharmacological treatments. While this approach may be effective with drugs such as antibiotics, Nielson and Guss say that psychiatric medicine, in particular psychedelic therapy, are “poor fits” for the RTC research method because of the psychotherapeutic intervention involved. 

While psychoanalytic research and training values subjective personal experience, and doesn’t see it as potentially invalidating any research, pharmacological research values objectivity, and excludes personal experience as a source of knowledge. The “dual nature” of psychedelic therapy has generated “controversy regarding the relevance, importance, and danger of self-experimentation in the current psychedelic research,” write Nielson and Guss. 

Decolonizing Psychedelic Science

Healing with psychedelic substances is not exactly the uncharted territory of intrepid western researchers. Indigenous peoples have been the stewards of these medicines for centuries, and there exist rich traditions amongst various lineages involving the ceremonial use of plant medicines, in which shamans commune with plants as sacred sacraments. COMPASS’s claim that psychedelic therapists don’t necessarily need to be familiar with psychedelic modes of consciousness stands in stark contrast to traditional contexts in which only the shaman ingests the plant medicine.

As shamanic practitioner, Itzhak Beery, writes in his article “Are You Drinking Ayahuasca for the Wrong Reason?” for Lucid News, in some traditional contexts the shaman alone drinks the ayahuasca brew so that they may enter the “other world” and identify their patient’s ailment by penetrating both their physical and energetic bodies, clearing dark energies often with the aid of spirit animal helpers. Spirit worlds, energetic bodies, and animal guides are hardly the province of western science, a paradigm that fundamentally rejects intuitive wisdom in favor of rational, empirical knowledge. In her paper “The role of Indigenous knowledge in psychedelic science,” published by the Journal of Psychedelic Studies, Evgenia Fotiou writes that “in most cultural settings where ayahuasca is used, it is seen as an intentional agent, indeed a ‘plant teacher’, something that cannot easily be reconciled with scientific epistemology without broadening our lens.”

While western medicine enthusiastically embraces psychedelics, many believe we would be wise to meaningfully engage with indigenous perspectives, rather than uncritically appropriating these medicines into the current western framework, erasing those traditions. Fotiou argues that decolonizing psychedelic science “disrupts the legacies of colonialism and the systematic oppression of Indigenous peoples,” and could enhance western research efforts by widening its lens. For Fotiou, dismantling the hierarchy of knowledge systems that privileges western science above all others could allow for different perspectives and methodologies to coexist and contribute equally to psychedelic science going forward.

If this vision shared by Fotiou and many others is put into practice, it could help shed light on the tensions surrounding psychedelic therapy, and the challenges these medicines pose for the currently accepted medical standards. In the meantime, as Nielson and Guss suggest, the influence firsthand psychedelic experience has amongst psychedelic therapists and researchers deserves further investigation.

Image via Wikicommons: Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Session Room

On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

This article was originally written by Claudio Naranjo for Chacruna.net

A passage in Lao Tze’s Tao Te Ching states that when original harmony was lost, laws were created. I am sure that this is congruent with our contemporary knowledge of prehistory: We were equalitarian at the time when we were nomadic hunter-gatherers, while our modern political institutions of legislation and justice fail to give us justice or well being. Thus, it would seem that we should interest ourselves very much in that “original harmony” that our laws seek in vain to restore.

One way of moving in this direction, I have proposed,1 is by drawing a distinction between “normative ethics,” in which good and evil are defined by the obligations and prohibitions formulated by an authority, and “an ethics of virtue,” in which good actions are the natural expression of an inner goodness that has not been obstructed or contaminated by psychosocial aberration.

While the way to foster an ethics of virtue is therapeutic, since it is enough to remove the hatefulness or egocentricity that get in the way of natural wisdom and empathy for healing to take place, the way to foster a normative ethics is to intensify the threats and punishments that underlie the effectiveness of authority and its commands.

The now-long history of this attempt to make us good through rewards and punishment may be interpreted as a long experiment that has not yielded good results: paradoxically, the more we punish delinquency, the more delinquency we have. The more severe and punitive our penal system, the more our prisons are filled. And, as Jung observed, the more we are concerned with morality, the more immoral our society becomes. Yet, we continue to act as if this were not already obvious enough, and, surely, no politician would consider applying to society the Christian teaching of “not resisting evil,” and not responding to aggression with aggression, but with kindness and understanding.

It is instructive to consider in this context George Lakoff’s notion of an “ideology of the severe father.”  We may formulate such an ideology, precisely, as a belief that nothing can solve problems better than threats and punishment. If a child behaves badly, then, the mother may threaten him by telling him that she will tell Dad when he comes home, so that he will give him a corrective; or schools may threaten those who don’t perform well enough with expulsion and potential poverty, and criminals will be threatened with not only longer sentences, but death.

But, do we truly know that the way of severity, threats, and punishment works better than the way of understanding and support? Or is it rather the case that our society has been operating on a patriarchal bias?

In the realm of ethics, we may say that the patriarchal ideology of severity, already embodied in normative morality, is further intensified when morality becomes moralism.

The distinction between both is, more or less, the distinction between the original meaning of “puritan” and the more common contemporary and critical sense in which somebody may be criticized for being prudish. Yet, also in this case, historical perspective allows us to see that he Puritans were also puritanical in the sense of moralistic, and we are now aware of the dissonance between their sense of virtue and their ownership of slaves, their injustice toward the indigenous peoples, or their male chauvinism.

Nietzsche was the first to question seriously our universally accepted morality of good and evil; but today, psychology and clinical experience have allowed us to understand how conventional morality is moralistic and not an expression of health, but an example of what Freud called “reaction formation”: the covering up of repressed impulses with a semblance of correctness or perfection. In the Gospel we find the expression “whitened sepulchers” in connection with this hypocrisy that many people exhibit, seemingly without any awareness of it; the same metaphor might be applied to cultures, in which a collective sense of honor serves as a screen to hide a collective criminality—such as that of our economic system.

After this theoretical introduction, however, let me tackle the subject of the relation between psychedelics and morality, which I propose to launch with a set of complementary statements:

  1. Psychedelics are, by definition, immoral, since they have been forbidden and criminalized.
  2. Conventional morality, a complex of accusation-guilt-fear-duty and moralism, is normative ethics turned into custom, and only mimics virtue, but, in reality, militates against it, and constitutes a form of pathology that, because of its “normality,” passes for “healthy.”
  3. Psychedelics can heal conventional moral conditioning. This probably contributes to the opposition to psychedelics on the part of those who want to uphold conservative culture.

Now, I will develop my argument, seeking to demonstrate the various things I have stated.

  1. That psychedelics are regarded immoral we may take as a fact not needing further demonstration.
  2. Concerning the statement that “morality is un-virtuous,” let me say that, aside from Nietzsche and others who, since his time, have looked with suspicion upon the matter of good and evil, the earliest statement to this effect we have is the one we find in the myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis, where “original sin” is characterized as the eating of the forbidden fruit of “the knowledge of good and evil.”

If we take the fall from paradise as a deterioration of consciousness—for which our contemporary concepts are sickness and neurosis—nothing strikes the author of Genesis as more characteristic of such fall or sickness than “the knowledge of good and evil”—that we can also call a concern with morality.

Before going any further, I should respond to the many that may feel that “original sin” is an ancient superstition with little relevance to our real problems today. On the contrary, a concern about being good and about avoiding evil may be seriously considered to have been the most destructive force in human life and human history precisely, because—paradoxical as this may be and as I have already stated—the more we criminalize those we regard evil, and the more severe we become in our prohibitions, the more destructive we become. If we are prone to think of the idea of “original sin” as an irrelevant dogma, it is because the theologians of the past thought of it as a divine punishment that operated genetically. Many today know that the plague of a Universal Neurosis is transmitted from one generation to the next through a psycho-cultural process that operates through child rearing, socialization and education.

But why fuss about words, rather than just agreeing to the fact that a sort of plague (call it original sin or universal neurosis) passes from one generation to the next and seems to be inextricably linked to the issue of morality? It is not, then, that we have fallen from the paradisiac realm of morality, but, rather, fallen into morality—which is to say, into a life of prohibitions and obligations—which, in turn, presupposes an authority that demands and forbids, and, most especially, entails the will to inspire obedience, to subjugate, as well as presupposing punishment and the threat of punishment, which is the best tool for the domestication of the young.

In view of this, and also in view of the possible anachronism of speaking about “original sin” in the twenty-first century, or even of speaking of a Universal Neurosis to a population of “normotics”—who may be better described as zombies, for they have become too unconscious to recognize their unconsciousness, or even their destructiveness—I prefer to say that the gist of both original sin and universal neurosis, and thus the “heart of darkness” at the core of human suffering, is patriarchy: the invention of male dominance, along with the devaluation of motherhood and care, and the criminalization of pleasure and instinct, which has constituted the implicit counterpart to the domestication of children through effective, but sometimes invisible, violence.

Though I would need more time and space to fully develop my view of patriarchy as the root condition of individual and social pathologies, let me turn to my contention that psychedelics can heal the unacknowledged problem of morality. I emphatically re-state that nothing compares with the effectiveness of psychedelics when it comes to the cure of human “fallenness”; call it “original sin,”  “universal neurosis,” or “the patriarchal mind.”

To explain this, I firstly need to explain briefly that I use the expression “patriarchal mind” in reference to the intra-psychic aspect of patriarchy, through which the social phenomenon of patriarchy—a complex of authoritarian violence, instinctual repression, and the undervaluation of motherly care—is transmitted across the generations. While it is doubtful, I think, that we may be able to heal patriarchy, which is a social event of gigantic proportions, we may hope to heal the individual carriers of the patriarchal mind, and to this end, it is desirable that we also have some conception of its structure and dynamics.

While patriarchy is a social phenomenon, the root manifestation of which may be seen in the nuclear family and, more specifically, in what Roman law described as the institution of the paterfamilias, which establishes the ownership of the woman and the children by the father, we my say that the individual’s patriarchal mind is one in which an intra-psychic father-principle (superego) criminalizes the instinctual inner child (or id), and also has the effect of eclipsing our mother-like or compassionate potential through its warrior-like or conquering spirit. In other words: We may say that we are, as MacLean,2 proposed three-brained beings endowed of a reptilian on instinctive old brain, an affective mid-brain that we have inherited from the other mammals, and an intellectual forebrain that most exemplifies us as humans, but that, through the development of civilized life, we have come to identify excessively with our astute and clever rational mind to the detriment of our compassion and our inner freedom.

In light of such a model, then, we can say that psychedelics undermine the forebrain dominance that sustains the (moral) indictment of our natural or animal impulses and also our (immoral or predatory) preference for technology over compassion. It is as if psychedelics could anesthetize our “ego,” or controlling-repressive sub-self, and allow the expression of our natural empathy and our archetypal inner-animal; which is, of course, what empathogens and oneirofrenics do so specifically.

When we turn to the “classic hallucinogens”—mescaline, LSD-25, and psilocybin—it is not so much the liberation of the pleasure principle or our empathic potential that strikes us most, but the experience of transcendence or, to say it in modern terms, the “transpersonal realm”;  something that goes beyond our intellectual, affective, and instinctual sub-selves, and which spiritual traditions have variously called a deeper self, a deeper mind, a deeper reality, or truth, being, not-being, spirit, emptiness, Tao or God. This ineffable or empty realm of holiness or supreme value has always been regarded as something obscured by our imperfections, and is something that may be revealed to one who transcends the root of sickness that is the patriarchal mind.

What is the relation between the triune wholeness of our mind and transcendence—which may be more appropriately described as “mind-blowing” or “annihilation”? I would gladly consider this question next, but I am afraid that by now, I have come to the limit of the space offered me by the editors of Chacruna.

  1. Psychedelics in Light of Morality and Under the Shadow of Virtue. 
  2. MacLean, Paul (1990). The Triune Brain Evolution. New York: Plenum Press. 
Read the original article here. Find out more about Chacruna.net.

The Revolution We Expected book cover

Claudio Naranjo’s Last Written Work: The Revolution We Expected: Cultivating a New Politics of Consciousness

Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.

 

Learn more

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Continuing the Shulgin Legacy: Synergetic Press & Transform Press Agree to a Co-Publishing Deal

Synergetic Press is excited to announce that we have very recently signed a co-publishing deal with Transform Press, and are set to publish a new series of Transform Press titles by Alexander and Ann Shulgin, in continuation of the Shulgin legacy. Transform Press books are now distributed through Publishers Group West, effective July 1, 2020

Transform Press LogoSynergetic Press Logo

Since 1984, we at Synergetic Press have published in the areas of ecology, ethnobotany, anthropology as well as psychedelic history and research. Transform Press was founded in 1991 by renowned biochemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin and his wife and co-author, Ann Shulgin, to publish their groundbreaking classic, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and has specialized in works on psychopharmacology, psychedelic drug research, and other material relating to psychoactive compounds, states of consciousness, and society.

“Over the past three decades, both Synergetic Press and Transform Press have been publishing pivotal books in specialized topics of plant medicine and psychedelic psychotherapy, each cultivating important hubs for scholarship and public discourse through events and symposiums,” said Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO of Synergetic Press.

“We are honored to work together with Wendy Tucker, Publisher, and CEO of Transform Press, her mother Ann Shulgin, and their team to bring out more of the pioneering work by the Shulgins’.”

“Transform Press has many projects in the pipeline. We’re very happy to be able to work with the team at Synergetic Press to broaden our reach to the public and to contribute to the ever-expanding field of psychedelic research and its history,” said Wendy Tucker.

“This is an exciting time, as information about psychedelic drugs is not being demonized as it was before,” Tucker added. “Instead it is being seen more through a lens of curiosity as to the potentials for healing and growth.”


Our First Co-published Book:
The Nature of Drugs The Nature of Drugs Cover - The Shulgin Legacy

The first co-published title, to be released in Spring 2021, will be The Nature of Drugs: A Course on Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, Societal Responses, and Social Impact based on a lecture series that Sasha Shulgin taught (by the same name) at San Francisco State University (SFSU). 

The full text was transcribed from the original lecture tapes recorded at SFSU in 1987 and will be published in two consecutive volumes. Volume I covers the first third of the course and presents Sasha’s views on the origin of drugs, the history of U.S. drug law enforcement, human anatomy, the nervous system, the range of drug administrations, varieties of drug actions, memory and states of consciousness, and research methods. The discussions in The Nature of Drugs lay the groundwork for Sasha’s philosophy on psychopharmacology and society, what defines a drug, the nature of a person’s relationship with a given compound, and for extensive examinations of dozens of compounds in Volumes II. The book chronicles the story of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances from the perspective of a master psychopharmacologist and will enthrall anyone intrigued by this subject.

“For those of us who were not fortunate enough to attend Sasha’s classes, this book is a fantastic second chance to learn from a brilliant, principled, courageous, idealistic psychedelic chemist whose creations were molecules for psychotherapy, spirituality, and celebration, to help humanity wake up and save ourselves.” — Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) 

Beyond this, there are plans for three additional books carrying on the Shulgin legacy, including a second volume of The Nature of Drugs, a book of letters from the Shulgin archive, and a third volume of work joining the PiHKAL-TiHKAL series.

Sasha Shulgin in his labAlexander Shulgin, The Most Prolific Psychedelic Chemist in History

The late Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering chemists of this century. Completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1955, Shulgin went on to get a job at the Dow Chemical Company, where he invented a highly lucrative, world’s first biodegradable pesticide by the name of Zectran (mexacarbate). 

Whilst working at Dow in 1960, Shulgin had his first mind-altering experience. He ingested mescaline, a psychedelic compound that is naturally found in the peyote cactus, finding it so astounding that he dedicated the rest of his career to exploring psychedelic chemistry. 

“I first explored mescaline in the late ’50s,” Shulgin said in a 1995 interview. “Three-hundred-fifty to 400 milligrams. I learned there was a great deal inside me.”

Dow, pleased with his work, and the high profits generated by Zectran, gave him the freedom to pursue his own research program, and thus his experimentation with synthesizing psychoactive substances began. 

Shulgin left Dow in 1966, supporting himself thereafter by becoming a scientific consultant as well as a lecturer and teacher. Setting up a home-based laboratory on his ranch in Lafayette, California, he synthesized more than two hundred novel psychoactive compounds. Perhaps ironically, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) gave him permission to do so, even calling on Shulgin to serve as an expert witness in drug trials.

A bold explorer of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Shulgin tested the majority of the substances he synthesized on himself, his wife and co-researcher Ann, and a small circle of trusted friends. He and his friends kept diligent notes on their experiential research forays. 

Wanting to ensure that his life’s work researching psychoactive compounds did not disappear with him, he and his wife Ann, co-authored the psychonautic tome, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story in 1991. ‘PiHKAL’ is an abbreviation for  “Phenethylamines I have known and loved.” Phenethylamines are a class of natural and synthetic compounds, some with powerful psychoactive properties, including the naturally occurring mescaline, and the synthetic methylenedioxymethamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. 

PiHKAL, jointly written by Sasha and Ann Shulgin, is the fictionalized autobiography that blends the personal history of their falling in love with carefully detailed descriptions for how to synthesize 179 psychoactive compounds.

In 1996, the Shulgin’s published TiHKAL, a sequel to PiHKAL, standing for “tryptamines I have known and loved.” Tryptamines include well-known psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT, and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Similar to PiHKAL, TiHKAL is divided into two parts and is a blend of personal history and chemical recipes. 

Shulgin is most often remembered for his re-discovery and synthesis of a chemical called 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, otherwise known as MDMA. MDMA was originally synthesized by German chemist Anton Köllisch in 1912, however, when Shulgin resynthesized the chemical, he discovered that it had potent psychoactive properties. 

Discovering its effects, Shulgin suggested that MDMA would be a powerful aid in therapy, and by the late 1970s, some of his colleagues were evaluating the drug’s use in therapeutic settings. However, MDMA soon escaped the therapeutic setting, rising to popularity amongst young partygoers where MDMA’s euphoric effects were soon rebranded by dealers as “ecstasy” and MDMA was reclassified as a Schedule I drug in 1985.

Shulgin lamented the reckless recreational use and ensuing prohibition of psychedelics in that it hindered the possibility of their legitimate use in psychotherapy. 

“Use them [psychedelics] with care, and use them with respect as to the transformations they can achieve, and you have an extraordinary research tool. Go banging about with a psychedelic drug for a Saturday night turn-on, and you can get into a really bad place, psychologically. Know what you’re using, decide just why you’re using it, and you can have a rich experience. They’re not addictive, and they’re certainly not escapist, either, but they’re exceptionally valuable tools for understanding the human mind, and how it works.” ― Alexander Shulgin, PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story 

These books, combined with Shulgin’s association with MDMA were responsible for his rapid rise to popularity, and his becoming a celebrated chemist world over.


Exploring the Shulgin’s Chemical Legacy

A new Netflix documentary series The Business of Drugs set out to investigate the economics of six illicit substances, including synthetic drugs like MDMA. The second episode, entitled “Synthetics” is devoted to exploring the chemical legacy that Alexander Shulgin left in his wake. 

“The century of the synthetic drug begins but doesn’t end in the shadow of the late Alexander Shulgin. In the 1960s, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, a renegade chemist reimagined the study of drugs, and by extension human consciousness. He is recognized as the “spiritual father of psychedelics”, creating over two hundred substances from scratch, but he also, however, inadvertently set off the billion-dollar race to control the synthetics market.”

The episode navigates the dangers of synthetics, but continually circles back to the fact Shulgin saw breakthrough therapeutic potential in MDMA, the synthetic drug that brought him his fame. Shulgin never suspected that MDMA and other substances that he synthesized would become popular amongst young partygoers. Rather, he saw them as revolutionary psychotherapeutic tools that the “War on Drugs” wrongly forced underground.

Image: Ann Shulgin with daughter, Wendy Tucker, Publisher at Transform Press (Photo by Audrey Tucker, 2020)

Peyote Road Reflections

Peyote Road Reflections

Above: Peyote Meeting at Mirando City, Texas, from Reflections on the Peyote Road, by Jerry Patchen, ESPD50 (photo courtesy of Robert Black)

What is Peyote?

Peyote, scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, is a small, spineless cactus native to North America, populating the vast desert thorn scrub that runs from the southwestern United States into north-central Mexico. It is commonly known for its psychoactive properties. Among its many alkaloids, peyote contains the naturally occurring chemical compound mescaline which has the ability to induce brilliantly colored geometrical visions. Classed as a controlled, Schedule I substance in the United States, Native Americans have had to fight hard for the sustained use of their sacred plant.

The sacramental use of peyote is the oldest known religious practice on the North American continent. By way of example, there are three archeological specimens of peyote that were discovered in the Shumla Cave in Pecos, Texas which have been radiocarbon dated between 3660 and 3780 BCE. Petroglyphs in the area adorned with peyote motifs have also been dated to the same period. Thus, the cactus has been used by indigenous groups in Northern Americas for millennia, being an integral part of the cosmology of Huichol peoples of Northern Mexico as well as the Native American Church. 

Western Culture’s Misunderstanding of the Plant Medicine

Despite being given such reverence by indigenous peoples and the NAC, peyote has been extremely misunderstood by outsiders for centuries. Since their arrival in the New World in the early 1600s, Spanish colonists set about replacing native religions with Catholicism. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, and missionary priest wrote about peyote: 

“Those who eat or drink it see visions either frightful or laughable… it stimulates them and gives them sufficient spirit to fight and have neither fear, thirst, nor hunger… It causes those devouring it to foresee and predict; such, for instance, as whether the weather will continue; or to discern who has stolen from them…”

Upon coming into contact with peyote in Mexico, the Spanish colonialists considered it to be an anti-christian, “diabolical root” in direct opposition to the integrity of the Catholic faith. The Inquisitor General ordered Christianization at the point of the sword, and plants used in native rituals were condemned. In 1620, an official order was issued by the Inquisitors declaring that “no person of whatever rank of social condition can or may make use of the said herb, Peyote” as it was considered to be an “intervention of the Devil.”           

Spanish Imperialists brought death and disease to Northern Mexico and with this its inhabitants fled, scattering south and west. One group, the Tarahumara Indians, made their home in the remote hills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is believed that their successors gave rise to the Huichol or Wixarika, who are the only remaining indigenous group in Mexico that continues to use peyote as a ritual sacrament.

The Native American Use of Peyote

Peyote Drummer

‘Peyote Drummer’ Via Museum of Photographic Arts Collections

Meanwhile, north of the border the European colonization of America had begun. Over the span of a couple of centuries, the Native Americans saw their buffalo food supply deliberately wiped out, with each tribe experiencing its own genocide, land seizure, displacement, and removal to reservations.

Acclaimed ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes, was among the first few Westerners to study peyote. In 1936, Schultes made his way to Oklahoma to study the ritual use of peyote among the Kiowa Indians. 

It is thought that the Kiowa first came into contact with peyote in the mid-1800s through the Comanches. According to the seminal text Peyote Religion by Omer Stewart, the Carrizo Mexican Indians passed peyote use and rituals to the Lipan Apache, with the Apache going on to pass it to the Comanches, and finally it was passed from the Comanches to the Kiowa.

Anthropologist Wade Davis writes of the Native American’s connection to peyote in his book One River explaining that “peyote offered the Kiowa and the Comanche an astonishing affirmation of their fundamental religious ideas” in a time when their ways of life were disintegrating.

Legal Battles and the Native American Chruch

Jerry Patchen, a Texas attorney, and contributing author to our publication Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs has represented the Native American Church and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensed peyote dealers (peyoteros) harvesting and selling peyote to the NAC for over forty years. 

During his career as a lawyer, he fought on the frontlines of the peyote wars, providing pro bono representation to Indians that were being charged with the serious offense of possessing a controlled substance. In his paper, “Reflections of the Peyote Road with the Native American Church – Visions & Cosmology” he expands upon his journey, helping to protect and secure the legal status of Peyote for use by Native Americans in NAC prayer services. 

To learn more about the legal trials and tribulations faced by the Native American Church watch the video below, in which Jerry Patchen reflects on his career and shares his personal experiences.

In 1912, the Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to lobby for a federal law prohibiting peyote. This law was passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate. An Oklahoman senator was swayed by his Indian constituency, persuading his colleagues to vote against the bill. Following this, the Native American Church rallied the support of several anthropologists, ethnologists, and ethnobotanists in their fight to save their sacred medicine. Among them, Richard Evans Schultes had presented a vast bibliography as well as the insights from field research with the Kiowa. Finally, the U.S. Senate Committee accepted their conclusion that peyote was not a “habit-forming drug” and is used as a “religious sacrament”. 

The efforts to prohibit the use of peyote ceased for three decades until the beginning of the 1960s countercultural movement in the 1960s where baby boomers discovered psychedelic substances and wanted to “turn on, tune in, drop out” en masse. Alarmed by the potential dangers of psychoactive substances, the U.S. government enacted The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, in which peyote was included in the drugs classified as Schedule I substances. Read more about psychedelics and the 1960s counterculture.

Patchen helped create and draft a plan of petitioning the U.S. Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) to expressly include peyote. This strategy was presented to Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs at a public hearing in Oklahoma. The strategy succeeded with both Acts eventually being passed. Thus, the listing of peyote as a controlled substance does no longer applies to the sacramental use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church. Later, this legislation played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit the religious use of ayahuasca. Patchen reflects that:

“Without the tenacious commitment of the NAC, there would be no legal use of Peyote or ayahuasca in the U.S. today”

What does the Future Hold for Peyote?

Donna Torres Lophophora Williamsii

Lophophora williamsii by the botanical illustrator Donna Torres

In recent years, the greatest threat to peyote is its paucity and decreasing numbers. A convergence of factors such as illegal poaching, overharvesting, and conversion of its natural environment into agricultural land has led to a severe decrease in wild populations, making it a vulnerable species. 

As early as 1995, American botanist Edward Anderson noted the change in peyote populations in his paper entitled “The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis?”. Anderson theorized that the greatest threat to peyote was not the peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally permitted to collect peyote to supply the Native American Church. In general, peyoteros are considered to be good conservationists, harvesting sustainably with the knowledge that their livelihood depends on stable populations of the plant. 

Rather, Anderson identified the two most serious threats to peyote as “root-plowing [for agricultural purposes] and the locking up of ranches to the peyoteros” with most land being privately owned. Thus, a tension exists between land-owners and peyoteros who have to take out costly leases to harvest the peyote enclosed in private land. What’s more, is that it has become more and more difficult for distributors to gain the legal approval they need to collect peyote to sell to the Native American Church. A 2018 article by Daniel Oberhaus, stated that there are currently “only four peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally able to collect peyote.”

Beyond this, the number of people consuming peyote globally exceeds the plants’ ability to regenerate. Since the 1960s, New Age psychedelic tourists have been drawn to the plains of Northern Mexico seeking visionary experience. This trend has also been amplified by the fanfare surrounding today’s psychedelic renaissance, with a renewed interest in the therapeutic potentials of visionary plants. This psychedelic tourism has inevitably has impacted the availability of peyote for the Huichol.

Peyote is a fragile species liable to become endangered. The plant itself is extremely slow-growing, taking many years to reach maturity, and people are harvesting it in a very negligent way. When harvesting is done sustainably, the top of the root hardens but the plant does not die and is able to produce more peyote in the future. If poor harvesting techniques are used, the entire plant dies. 

To learn more about how to harvest peyote sustainably, check out this video uploaded by anthropologist, Bia Labate, interviewing Dr. Martin Terry from the Cactus Conservation Institute


More about Jerry Patchen

Jerry Patchen contributing author to the Ethnopharmacologic Search of Psychoactive Drugs -- PeyoteJerry D. Patchen, contributing author to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, is a Texas Attorney with four decades of experience litigating civil and criminal cases. Patchen’s work includes forty years of pro bono representation of the Native American Church (NAC) on behalf of American Indians to secure and protect their rights to religious freedom. Serving as an Officer in the NAC, he represented individuals charged in various states with possession of Peyote, winning every case. He also represented the Peyote dealers in Texas, who are licensed by the Texas DPS and DEA to dispense Peyote to Indians. Throughout his representation of the NAC Jerry, his wife, Linda, and their three children participated in Peyote meetings with Native American elders for decades.


Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017)

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Box SetCertain plants have long been known to contain healing properties and used to treat everything from depression and addiction, to aiding in on one’s own spiritual well-being for hundreds of years. Can Western medicine find new cures for human ailments by tapping into indigenous plant wisdom? And why the particular interest in the plants with psychoactive properties? These two conference volume proceedings provide an abundance of answers.

The milestone publication, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

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