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1956: Stephen Szára, and the birth of the modern DMT Era

 

In three or four minutes I started to experience visual sensations that were very similar to what I had read about in descriptions by Hofmann (about LSD) and Huxley (about mescaline) … I got very, very excited. It was obvious this was the secret.

~ Stephen Szára, The Social Chemistry of Discovery: The DMT Story. (1989)

 

Thermodynamic Horizon Adam Scott MillerWhile DMT was ‘discovered’ by Richard Manske (by synthesis) in a lab in 1936, and later found in the plants used by South American Shamans in the mid-1940’s, its psychoactive properties were not recognized until 1956 by the Hungarian chemist ad psychiatrist Stephen Szára. Szára had read in the early 1950’s of the effects of LSD and mescaline and was keen to carry out the same kind of ‘psychedelic’ research that was going on the West, but because he was behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, Sandoz refused his order for LSD. (The CIA carefully monitored and approved or denied all LSD sales by Sandoz). After realizing that DMT had been analyzed as being present in many of the plant sources that were used by the Amazonian shamans, Szára synthesized his own supply of DMT in 1955 to see if the compound was ‘psychoactive’. After initial experimentation with ingesting the drug failed to show any signs of activity (Szára reportedly ate up to a gram of DMT with no effect) he began to wonder if something in his stomach was in fact neutralizing the drug. So one day in 1956, in the adventurous spirit of the era, Szára gave himself an intramuscular injection of DMT – and the ‘modern’ DMT era was born.

 

Stephen Szára would subsequently administer DMT to volunteers at the Central State Institute for Nervous and Mental Diseases, Budapest-Lipótmezö, Hungary, and publish his findings behind the same ‘Iron Curtain’ that was denying his access to LSD. After the Hungarian Revolution Szára fled Hungary (with his stash of DMT), and emigrated to the USA. He ended up as the Chief of the Biomedical Branch of  National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where he continued his research on DMT (with Julius Axelrod and others) until research in psychedelics was made virtually impossible after the Drug Scheduling Act of 1971. Among other achievements, Szára and his colleagues characterized the biochemistry of the first three psychedelic cogeners of tryptamine: dimethyl-, diethyl-, and dipropyl-tryptamine (DMT, DET, and DPT), describing their pharmacokinetics and effects. In recent years, Szára has argued that psychedelic drugs should be studied in a 'heuristic' manner and that learning the mechanisms by which they affect the brain may "serve as keys to unlock the mysteries of the brain/mind relationship".

 

 

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Oscar Janiger

 

Oscar JanigerThe first recorded use of DMT in the United States is by one of the forgotten pioneers of the original psychedelic era, the Beverly Hills psychiatrist Oscar Janiger, who would be responsible for introducing LSD to a number of the Los Angeles elite in the lates 1950’s including Anais Nin, Cary Grant, and others. After the discovery of the properties of mescaline and LSD within the psychiatric community, the search for other psycho-active compounds intensified. Janiger himself was intrigued by the Osmond/Smythesis thesis that psychoses might be caused by a metabolic malfuntion of the adrenal system. Humphrey Osmond had noticed the molecular similarity between mescaline and adrenalin; and with a remarkable show of intuition, Janiger noticed the similarity between brain tryptamines (i.e. serotonin) and a South American vine used in shamanic rites – ayahuasca – whose psychoactive element was thought to be dimethyltryptamine. (Note: The research that Janiger had read must have analyzed the actual ayahuasca  potion, and not the ayahusca  vine itself, since the Banisteriopsis caapi vine does not contain any DMT itself.) Searching the medical literature for further references about DMT, Janiger discovered Stephen Szara’s research (in Hungarian) and surmising that his Hungarian counter-parts must have tried DMT and survived to be able to write their monographs, Janiger had the local laboratory make him  batch, and one afternoon while he was alone in his office he filled a syringe and shot it into his arm – in his own words, “a dangerously stupid, idiotic thing to do.”

 

LSDCompared to DMT, LSD was like a lazy summer picnic. Janiger felt like he was inside a pin-ball machine, bombarded by flashing lights, clanging bells, infernal messages. There was no insight. He was lost, disconnected, and when he later regained consciousness (the DMT lasted only thirty minutes) he was convinced he had been “totally stark raving crazy.” Which was terrific! Perhaps he had found the elusive M factor.

 

Janiger gave DMT to Bivens, who agreed it was too much, then he called up Alan Watts and bet him he had a drug that could finally shut him up. Watts took the bet and the DMT, and for thirty minutes he lay there staring at Janiger, who kept repeating “Alan, Alan, please say something. Talk to me. Your reputation is at stake.” But Watts never said a word. The next time Al Hubbard passed through the town, Janiger gave him a supply of DMT for his leather bag and asked him to distribute it along the circuit. “This isn’t a gift,” he said. “I want reports back.” Everyone who took DMT agreed it was a hellish half hour, with absolutely no redeeming qualities.

 

~ Jay Stevens, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (1987)

 

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William S. Burroughs: The Godfather of ‘recreational’ DMT

 

There is nothing to fear … Your (yagé) consciousness is more valid than “Normal Consciousness.

 

~ William S. Burroughs, The Yagé Letters (1963)

 

William S. BurroughsWord of Szára’s experiments leaked thru the Iron Curtain before his escape and other medical groups confirmed his discovery that DMT had to be injected (and not eaten) to be psychoactive. This information made its way to the burgeoning ‘drug-underground’ where William S. Burroughs, the author infamous for his opiate use, would be one of the first people to experiment with DMT outside of strict ‘clinical-research’. Burroughs had already been one of the first non-botanist/anthropologist westerners to experience yagé (the Spanish name by which ayahuasca was then commonly known) in the late 1950’s in Colombia and Peru in search of a cure for his heroin habit - yagé already had a reputation for breaking addictions even then. Burroughs was introduced to the vine by a fellow Harvard alumni, the great plant explorer Richard Evan Schultes, and Burroughs experiences on the brew itself were described in a series of letters to Alan Ginsberg, that would much later be published as a small book titled ‘The Yagé Letters.” (This is one of the first works of modern Western entheogenic literature, and predates Terence McKenna’s popularization of ayahuasca by some 30 years!)

 

The Yage Letters by William Burroughs & Allen GinsbergIn the early 1960's Burroughs spent time in London, England, (still searching for a cure to his opiate addiction) where he was reputedly working on a theory of "neurological geography" with the idea that the cortical areas were divided into the heavenly and the diabolical. (Presaging some of Julian Jaynes ideas presented in 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind' in 1976). Burroughs small circle of friends were mostly psychiatrists and through them he must have discovered of Szara's work and somehow obtained a supply of DMT for he and his English friends to experiment upon themselves with.

 

Ayahuasca narrated by William S. BurroughsBurroughs told (Timothy Leary) a gripping tale about a psychiatrist in London who had taken DMT with a friend. After a few minutes the frightened friend began requesting help. The psychiatrist, himself being spun through a universe of shuttling, vibratory pigments, reached for his hypodermic needle (which had been fragmented into a shimmering assemblage of wave mosaics) and bent over to administer an antidote. Much to his dismay his friend, twisting in panic, was suddenly transformed into a writhing, wiggling reptile, jewel-encrusted and sparkling. The doctor's dilemma: where to make an intravenous injection in a squirming, oriental-martian snake?

 

Burroughs subsequently scared himself off the drug after believing that he had nearly overdosed on a 100mg IM trip. He wrote Timothy Leary a letter warning him of the dangers of DMT, later categorizing it as a 'terror-drug'.

 

(Due to his dislike of LSD (which gave him anxiety attacks and left a metallic taste in his mouth) and his general distrust in the late 60's psychedelic culture, Burroughs biographers have mostly maintained that Burroughs was 'anti-psychedelics'. In interviews however he often mentioned his yage experiences – and never seems to mention his DMT experiences. In an appendix in my book Tryptamine Palace titled "William S. Burroughs: The Godfather of DMT", I propose that Burroughs experiences on yage and DMT were in fact the main influences on Burroughs work from Naked Lunch on, and that both, the themes that run through his work (aliens creatures, language as a virus, typewriters transforming into cockroaches etc), and indeed his radical attempt at transforming the English language, all stem from his earlier tryptamine use. The following link will direct you to a reprint of the full appendix.)

 

May 6, 1961
Cargo U.S. Consulate
Tangier, Morocco

 

Dear Dr. Leary,


I would like to sound a word of urgent warning with regard to the hallucinogen drugs with special reference to N-Dimethyltryptamine.


I had obtained a supply of this drug synthesized by a chemist friend in London.


My first impression was that it closely resembled psilocybin in its effects.


I had taken it perhaps ten times - (this drug must be injected and the dose is about one grain but I had been assured there was a wide margin of safety) - with results sometimes unpleasant but well under control and always interesting when the horrible experience occurred which I have recorded and submitted for publication in Encounter.


I am sending along to you pertinent sections of this manuscript and I think you will readily see the danger involved.


I do not know if you are familiar with apomorphine which is the only drug that acts as a metabolic regulator.


I think if I had not had this drug on hand, the result could have been lethal and this was not more than a grain and a half of N-Dimethyltryptamine.


While I have described the experience in allegorical terms it was completely and horribly real and involved unendurable pain.


A metabolic accident?
Perhaps.


But I have wide experience with drugs and excellent constitution and I am not subject to allergic reactions. So I can only urge you to proceed with caution and to familiarize yourself with apomorphine. Dr. John Dent of London has written a book on the apomorphine treatment for alcoholics and drug addicts - (it is the only treatment that works but the U.S. Health Dept. will not use it).

 

His book is callen Anxiety and its treatment. I can ask him to send you a copy if you are interested.

 

Let me hear from you... William Burroughs

 

 

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1962: Timothy Leary reassesses DMT

 

Considering Burroughs reputation amongst the drug-community at that time, it is no surprise that his description of DMT as a ‘terror-drug’ would stick with the nascent psychedelic community until Timothy Leary himself was finally curious enough to try it.

 

Timothy LearyIn the fall of 1962, while giving a three-day series of lectures to the Southern California Society of Clinical Psychologists, I fell into discussion with a psychiatrist who was collecting data on DMT. He had given the drug to over a hundred subjects and only four had reported pleasant experiences. This was a challenge to the set-setting hypothesis. According to our evidence, and in line with our theory, we had found little differentiation among psychedelic drugs. We were skeptically convinced that the elaborate clinical differences allegedly found in reactions to different drugs were psychedelic folk tales. We were sticking to our null hypothesis that the drugs had no specific effect on consciousness but that expectation, preparation, emotional climate, and the contract with the drug-giver accounted for all differences in reaction.


We were eager to see if the fabled "terror-drug," DMT, would fit the set-setting theory.


A session was arranged. I came to the home of the researcher, accompanied by a psychologist, a Vedanta monk and two female friends. After a lengthy and friendly discussion with the physician, the psychologist lay down on a couch. His friend's head rested on his chest. I sat on the edge of the couch, smiling in reassuring expectation. Sixty mg of DMT were administered intramuscularly.


Within two minutes the psychologist's face was glowing with serene joy. For the next twenty-five minutes he gasped and murmured in pleasure, keeping up an amused and ecstatic account of his visions.

 

"The faces in the room had become billion-faceted mosaics of rich and vibrant hues. The facial characteristics of each of the observers, surrounding the bed, were the keys to their genetic heritage. Dr. X (the psychiatrist) was a bronzed American Indian with full ceremonial paint; the Hindu monk was a deep soulful middle-easterner with eyes which were at once reflecting animal cunning and the sadness of centuries; Leary was a roguish Irishman, a sea captain with weathered skin and creases at the corners of eyes which had looked long and hard into the unseeable, an adventurous skipper of a three-masted schooner eager to chart new waters, to explore the continent just beyond, exuding a confidence that comes from a humorous cosmic awareness of his predicament--genetic and immediate. And next to me, or rather on me, or rather in me, or rather more of me--Billy. Her body was vibrating in such harmony with mine that each ripple of muscle, the very coursing of blood through her veins was a matter of absolute intimacy...body messages of a subtlety and tenderness both exotically strange and deliciously familiar. Deep within, a point of heat in my groin slowly but powerfully and inevitably radiated throughout my body until every cell became a sun emanating its own life-giving fire. My body was an energy field, a set of vibrations with each cell pulsing in phase with every other. And Billy, whose cells now danced the same tune, was no longer a discrete entity but a resonating part of the single set of vibrations. The energy was love."

Exactly twenty-five minutes after administration, the psychologist smiled, sighed, sat up swinging his legs over the side of the couch and said, "It lasted for a million years and for a split-second. But it's over and now it's your turn."

 

~ Dr. Timothy Leary, Originally appeared in the eighth issue of Psychedelic Review, 1966.

 

Perhaps due to the ecstatic experience that he had just witnessed his psychiatrist friend have, Leary (and his wife Margaret) both greatly enjoyed their first DMT experiences (See: A description of the DMT experience: Timothy Leary). 

 

In 1964, Leary would subsequently mention DMT (along with LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin) in the introduction to The Psychedelic Experience, Leary/Metzner/ Alpert’s how-to-manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but due to the combination of DMT’s short-acting nature, the fact that it had to be administered by injection (at the time), and its general rarity, DMT would never gain the same counter-culture popularity as LSD, and (unlike LSD) would remain comparatively unknown to the general public. It was however apparently popular at the Millbrook Estate that would be the home for Leary’s League of Spiritual Discovery; Tom Wolfe make note of the negative effect it seemed to have on the Merry Prankster Sandy Lehmann-haupt(aka DisMount) when he is given the compound on the now-famous visit of the Further bus to Millbrook, while Leary himself (in 1986) mentions DMT in the following account of the now infamous raid on Millbrook, by the local prosecutor G. Gordon Liddy, later famous for bungling the Watergate break-in.

 

Leary, (laughing): "It was a Saturday night and we had already been tipped off by all the deputy sheriffs' teenaged kids, who acted as informants for us. We had extraterrestrial company at the time, all sorts of Buddhists, yogis, scientists, light artists, psychedelic cannibals … The place was a launching pad for higher ideas. The light artists had it all set up to greet the cops with a 40-foot rainbow-colored pulsating vagina over the lawn. But the cops got hung up, and things dragged on, so we all called it a night and went into the bedrooms to smoke a strong hallucinogenic drug called DMT. After a few puffs the room was a glowing and hissing molecular time-space warp.

 

"Then BOOM! Here comes James Bond Liddy through the door with 24 armed and booted state troopers. Gordon was just beatific. His face was every color of the rainbow, his eyes shot out laser beams, and he had this powerful halo around him. And I cannot even describe what the 24 dinosaurs in trooper uniforms looked like! Whew! Meanwhile, the dope pipe laid there on the bed screaming 'HERE I AM! HERE I AM!' My wife immediately covered it with a blanket, then pointed across the room and yelled, "Don't you dare touch my pot!" In typical knee-jerk storm trooper fashion, 24 cops and Gordon himself stomped across the room and seized a pound of peat moss, and off we all merrily went to jail."

 

~ Joe Bageant: Ghosts of Tim Leary and Hunter Thompson.

 

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Nick Sand discovers that Freebase DMT is smokable

 

The world of DMT is incredibly vast. What DMT opens in us is so profound that it is impossible to truly express. I have been making, using, and initiating people into DMT use for around 40 years. I was the first one who discovered that free-base could be smoked. It has never ceased to amaze me, nor have I ever felt that one could fairly arrive at any hard or fast conclusions about what happens during a DMT trip.

 

~ Nick Sand, “Entering the Sacred World of DMT", The Entheogen Review, Volume X, Number 1

 

Nick SandDespite being relatively unknown, DMT was made illegal along with mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD in 1966, (the same 4 compounds mentioned in the introduction of ‘The Psychedelic Experience’ which came out in 1964) and categorized as a Schedule 1 drug in 1971. Due to its general rarity, DMT could have easily vanished from human history had it not been for the fact that one of the members of Leary’s ‘League of Spiritual Discovery’, a young man called Nick Sand, had developed a taste for the compound while acting as a ‘sitter’ for initiates at Millbrook. When LSD became illegal (and its supply more problematic) Leary encouraged Nick Sand to become an underground chemist, something he did with remarkable efficiency when he ‘invented’ Orange Sunshine LSD (the first underground LSD) of which he would go on to produce some 3.6 million hits of for a loose smuggling organization called The Brotherhood of Love, before his subsequent arrest in 1974. Nick Sand would also be the first ‘underground’ chemist to synthesize DMT, and – equally importantly – became the first person to realize that its freebase could be smoked, a discovery which undoubtedly led to an increase in its popularity amongst the psychedelic community of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

 

Despite being famous for creating Orange Sunshine LSD, Nick Sand has universally declared DMT to be his favorite compound. When his LSD lab was busted in Canada in 1996, the police also found 4 kilograms (!) of pure DMT, and in his subsequent writings about DMT (published in The Entheogen Review), Nick has proven to be one of the most thoughtful and enlightening advocates of the spiritual potential of smokable tryptamines. He was released from prison in 2000, and now lives quietly in the Bay Area, a hero to many of those who know him, and many of those who don’t.

 

There are scattered reports of DMT’s use through this era – most famously the comment by Grace Slick that ‘LSD is like being sucked up a straw, while DMT is like being shot out of a cannon.” The visual effects of smoking DMT gave it the street name “Sparkles”, while the brevity of the experience caused it to be given the nickname ‘The Businessman’s Trip’ (since it could be smoked on a lunch-break!). One also wonders is Hunter S. Thompsons description of a savage ‘trip’ after smoking ‘adrenachrome’ in his counter-culture classic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ is not in fact an allegory for smoking DMT. Given the drug cultures propensity for publically advocating its ‘sacraments’ through this era, it is hard to understand how DMT remained so relatively unknown – for unlike LSD, mescaline, mushrooms, or on a lesser level, cannabis, there are few mentions of it amongst the underground literature, comics, or music of the day.  As the promise of the ‘Psychedelic Revolution’ faded first into the harsh realities of the 70’s, and then virtually died during the greed-driven culture of the 1980’s where the use of all psychedelics dropped dramatically, (replaced mainly by the wide-spread societal use of amphetamines and cocaine), DMT would virtually disappear from public view, waiting close to 20 years for its next great champion.

 

 

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The Psychedelic Sixties

 

The Merry Prankster Further Bus at the final 'Acid Test' Graduation.The discovery that DMT could be smoked or vaporized by the same chemist that is credited as being the co-inventor (with Tim Scully) of Orange Sunshine LSD – the most distributed brand of acid in history - undoubtedly led to more wide-spread use of the compound during the hectic ‘Psychedelic Era’ of the late 1960’s (1966-70).

 

Jack Kerouac on DMTThere are however only scattered reports of DMT’s use through this era – such as Grace Slick (from the Jefferson Airplane) famous comment that ‘LSD is like being sucked up a straw, while DMT is like being shot out of a cannon”, or the fact that Jerry Garcia came up with the name ‘Grateful Dead’ during a DMT smoking session with the rest of the band. The visual effects of smoking DMT gave it the street name “Sparkles”, while the brevity of the experience caused it to be given the nickname ‘The Businessman’s Trip’ (since it could be smoked on a lunch-break!). One also wonders is Hunter S. Thompsons description of a savage ‘trip’ after smoking ‘adrenachrome’ in his counter-culture classic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ is not in fact an allegory for smoking DMT. Given the drug cultures propensity for publically advocating its ‘sacraments’ through this era, it is hard to understand how DMT remained so relatively unknown – for unlike LSD, mescaline, mushrooms, or on a lesser level, cannabis, there are few mentions of it amongst the underground literature, comics, or music of the day.  It seems likely that DMT retained some of its reputation as a ‘terror drug’ , since even for some of the pioneers in the psychedelic arena (such as Richard Alpert and Alan Ginsberg) DMT was simply “too powerful and uncontrollable for enjoyment”. (Gahlinger, 2001, p. 265).

 

As the promise of the ‘Psychedelic Revolution’ faded first into the harsh realities of the 70’s, and then virtually died during the greed-driven culture of the 1980’s where the use of all psychedelics dropped dramatically, (replaced mainly by the wide-spread societal use of amphetamines and cocaine), DMT would virtually disappear from public view, waiting close to 20 years for its next great champion.

 

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1976: Aliens, Elves and Ayahusca - The influence and advocacy of Terence McKenna

 

I came to feel, and I still sometimes offhandedly refer to it like this, that it [DMT] is secret. It is not a secret. It is THE secret. There is a secret, and this is it. It is the secret that the world is not only not the way you think it is. It is the secret that the world is not only not the way you think it is. It's that the way the world is, is a way that you can't think it is, because you simply do not have the imaginative capacity to conceive of such overwhelming peculiarity.

 

~ Terence McKenna speech, Ojai Foundation 1985.

 

The Invisible LandscapeIn 1976, one of the strangest and most original of all the books in the psychedelic canon - The Invisible Landscape: Mind, hallucinogens, and the I Ching - was released. Written by two brothers, Terence and Dennis McKenna, it read like a bizarre mix of travelogue, science fiction, and alchemical text, as it recounted the story of their journey to the Amazon in 1971 in search of ooh-ko-he, a plant mixture reputed to contain DMT. Unable to find ooh-ko-he, the focus of this trip became psilocybe cubensis mushrooms instead – it was on a combination of those and a local MAOI inhibitor that the brothers would take their famous trip that would later be the inspiration of Terence McKenna’s ‘Novelty Theory’.

 

The McKenna brothers would subsequently be responsible for bringing the first cubensis mushroom spores back to the United States; and 1976 they wrote the first magic mushroom cultivation book, under the pseudonyms OT Oss and ON Oeric. Thus, simply by being responsible for the widespread introduction of psilocybin (4-OH-DMT) into the world’s psychedelic culture, they would both be worthy of mention here. But Dennis McKenna went on to earn his Master's degree in botany at the University of Hawaii in 1979 and his Doctorate in Botanical Sciences in 1984 from the University of British Columbia – his thesis was on ayahuasca and ooh-ko-he - and conducted extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian Amazon, on the way to becoming probably the most respected ethnopharmocologist in the world.

 

Terence McKennaHis brother Terence began speaking about psychedelics in the mid-1980’s, and 1992 released two books – The Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge - A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution - that would cement his reputation as the most important spokesperson for the psychedelic community since Timothy Leary.

 

But unlike Leary, who was enamored with LSD, Terence McKenna’s principal compound of interest was DMT, and until his untimely death in April of 2000, he would be continue to be its primary advocate. While Food of the Gods garnered more attention at the time due to McKenna’s scholarly elaboration on Gordon Wasson’s theory that Man first conceived of God after eating magic mushrooms, (McKenna’s Stoned Ape theory), it may in fact be that The Archaic Revival, McKenna’s collection of transcripts and essays published the same year that have a heavy emphasis on DMT, ayahuasca, and shamanism, turns out to be the more influential.

 

Terence McKenna - Archaic RevivalA great fan of smoking DMT, Terence McKenna waslooking for another method of obtaining that experience when he went to South America (with his wife Kathleen Harrison and brother Dennis) in search of shamans who would prepare for them ayahuasca, a journey he recounts – along with his affinity for DMT - in one of the essay’s in The Archaic Revival. While the ayahuasca that the shamans prepared for them initially seemed ineffective, when they brought bottles of the foul brew back to the USA they discovered that larger dosages than what the shamans had been giving them did indeed open up the DMT dimension. It was Terence McKenna’s relentless testimony in writing and in speeches that was been responsible for the popularization of a once virtually impossible to find compound (DMT), an equally rare Amazonian concoction (ayahuasca), and the western-ideal of the shaman as the psychedelic-healer figure. A popular figure with the then emerging Rave (electronic music) culture for his ideas and spoken-word performances, and it was McKenna’s call for an ‘Archaic Revival’ that was the seed for the emergence of the contemporary entheogenic tribal culture, and he remains one of its most revered and beloved figures.

 

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Alexander and Ann Shulgin and TiHKAL

 

DMT is, most simply, almost everywhere you choose to look. It is in this flower here, in that tree over there, and in yonder animal… And, it is a relatively short-lived psychedelic compound that has a record of ancient and revered use in many cultures in the world. To some users, it is a connection to a vivid world of magic and mystical beings. To others, it is a dark exposure of the most negative aspects of the psyche. And everything in between.

 

~ Alexander and Ann Shulgin. TiHKAL: Tryptamines I have known and loved. (1997)

 

Terence McKenna would be DMT and ayahuasca’s best-known proponent over the last decade of the twentieth century and the person most responsible for their current popularity amongst psychedelic culture. However, the most important book that will probably ever be written about DMT, and about psychedelic tryptamines in general, was quietly released by a husband-and-wife team who, thanks to his life’s work as a chemist, had spent most of the previous 30 years trying to stay out of the public view.

 

Alexander and Anne Shulgin(born June 17, 1925 in Berkeley, California) is a Russian-American pharmacologist, chemist, and drug designer. Shulgin is credited with the popularization of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, especially for psychopharmaceutical use and the treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In subsequent years, Shulgin discovered, synthesized, and bioassayed over 230 psychoactive compounds. In 1991 and 1997, he and his wife Ann Shulgin authored the books PiKHAL and TiKHAL on the topic of psychoactive drugs. Shulgin discovered many noteworthy phenethylamines including the 2C* family of which 2C-T-2, 2C-T-7, 2C-E, 2C-I, and 2C-B are most well known. Additionally, Shulgin performed seminal work into the descriptive synthesis of compounds based on the organic compound tryptamine.’

 

~ Alexander “Sasha” Theodore Shulgin’s Wikipedia entry

 

Alexander Shulgin InterviewWhile this entry may describe Alexander Shulgin’s career in strictly professional terms, it fails to mention the fact that he has worked out of his own small back-yard laboratory in Northern California for over 40 years, testing his numerous compounds – both phenethylamines and tryptamines – on himself, his wife, and his friends, and then freely, and without profit, released his results to the world. By the time other, unregulated, chemists have copied his more favorable creations and a compound gains enough popularity that it becomes illegal – as in the case of 2-CB for example – Sasha has long since moved on to newer, still legal, territory. Since he is credited with the rediscovery of MDMA (Ecstacy), as well as being the inventor of the infamous DOM (STP) and virtually the whole 2-C family of phenethyamines, Shulgin is probably the most beloved psychedelic chemist in the history after Albert Hofmann, even if a lot of his fans have never heard his name. But what he and his wife will forever be remembered for amongst the psychedelic community will be the brave publication of ‘PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story’ and ‘TiHKAL: The Continuation’, two massive tomes that are the summation of Alexander Shulgin’s work and the story of he and his wife Anne’s remarkable life together and love affair.


What sets these two works apart – and has garnered the ire of law enforcement agencies world-wide (these books are illegal in many countries) – is the fact that ‘Sasha’ has given the recipes of all the various phenethylamines and tryptamines that he has tested . In TiHKAL there are 55 tryptamines listed, each one listed with a description of its synthesis, its range of dosage, duration, and a description of the experiences (Trip reports) rated on Shulgin’s own scale of 1 to 5, and a considerable amount of notes and further commentary on each compound. It is these ‘trip reports’ and the personal commentary that give the book such a unique flavor.

 

Some random examples:

 

This is one of the most provocative temptresses I have ever encountered in the tryptamine world. It is a case of having a protégé that you absolutely know will be a success if allowed to come to fulfillment, and yet you know that uncontrolled circumstances will prevent that fulfillment.

 

~ Alexander Shulgin, regarding 5-MeO-DET

 

I placed approx 30mg of 5-MeO into a pipe and smoked it, in one toke, without a second thought. An instant later, I was crawled into my bed (in a fetal position) with my eyes closed, squirming around, screaming (in my head) ‘Fuck! You killed yourself!

 

~ Alexander Shulgin, referring to 30mg 5-Me0-DMT, smoked

 

It is meaningful to say that I ceased to exist, became immersed in the ground of Being, in Brahman, in God, in ‘nothingness’, in Ultimate Reality, or in some similar religious symbol for oneness.

 

~ Alexander Shulgin, referring to 15mg 4-HO-DET phosphate ester, oral

 

Two years after the publication of PiHKAL, DEA agent raided Dr. Shulgin’s house citing ‘record-keeping irregularities’; he was subsequently fined $25,000 and made to give up his DEA Schedule I Analytical license. Though now well in his 80’s, Dr Shulgin and his wife Anne continue to lecture and make public appearances.

 

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The 1980’s and 1990’s: Changing Psychedelic Times

 

Acid House FeverSocial changes in the United States combined with the fact that the precursors required for the manufacture of LSD had become increasingly hard to obtain from the traditional Eastern European sources, saw the use of psychedelics in the United States dropped to record lows in the late 1980’s before beginning to climb again into the early 1990’s. The culture of wealth and greed that dominated the 80’s had little or no use for mind-expansion. In hip circles in places like New York and Los Angeles they talked about ‘heroin chic’, while cocaine and methamphetamine were the flavor of the day (as Daniel Pinchbeck records in ‘Cracking Open the Head’) and drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms, and even cannabis, were the domain of ‘hippy-drop-outs’ and ‘losers’.


Interview with Ken Kesey and Jerry GarciaIn 1988, 5.5% of high school seniors said they had tried hallucinogens – down from 11.2% in 1975. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the critical ergotamine tartrate (ET) flowed towards the West again, and by 1994, LSD use was back to 1975 levels. In the United States, The Grateful Dead (who were the house band (as The Warlocks) for Ken Kasey’s original ‘Acid Test’s’) and their followers were seen as the last bastion of psychedelic culture. Subsequently, the death of guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995, and the band’s subsequent decision to stop touring was seen as a serious blow to the last remnants of ‘acid’ culture.

 

In 1996, LSD use amongst 12th graders peaked at 8.8%, and then went into free-fall. The followers of the east-coast jam band Phish picked up the slack for a while; then in 2000 when they too stopped touring, the symbiotic car-park LSD distribution system was also terminated. After the rapid-fire losses around the turn of the century of William S. Burroughs, Terence McKenna, Ken Kesey, and Timothy Leary, to many of those who embraced or remembered the 60’s psychedelic culture, it seemed as if those days were now over.

 

However, outside of the USA, psychedelic culture had taken a turn in the mid-1980’s with the birth of ‘Acid-House’, a DJ driven style of music which would later expand into a number of genres (psy-trance, Goa-trance, breakbeat, happy-house, etc.) all grouped together under the label ‘house-music’ or ‘electronic music’.


Late 80's Acid House RaveAcid-House which emphasized a repetitive, hypnotic and trance-like style, often with samples or spoken lines rather than sung lyrics, originated in the gay dance clubs of Detroit but really took off once the style emigrated to England and Ibiza, Spain. ‘Raves’ – giant, often illegal, underground parties that went all night and were originally distinguished by the Acid-House DJ’s (the original raves were called ‘Acid-House parties’) and their incredible light-lasers-and-video shows - became the predominant form of entertainment for the European youth culture, and established the DJ’s themselves as international super-stars. These all-night dance parties were also distinguished by the lack of alcohol at these events (since they were often illegal ventures to begin with they had no liquor licenses) and the corresponding popularity of LSD and Ecstacy amongst the ‘ravers’. These ‘raves’ became so notorious that the British Government tried to legislate against them - The UK Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was a government attempt to ban large rave dance events featuring music with "repetitive beats".

 

Burning Man FestivalThe popularity of house-music in England would see it influence the pop and rock and bands of that era, and especially the emerging indie-dance scene (Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, etc). While house-music was initially a mostly gay-club phenomena back in the US, it also began to emerge into the mainstream through cross-over acts such as the New York group Dee-Lite’s massive 1990 hit “Groove is in the Heart’. In urban centers like New York, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami, first underground venues, and then established clubs sprung up. By the mid -90’s the Miami Winter Music conference had become a major international event with regular appearances by the top English and International DJ’s, while the nascent Burning Man festival was establishing itself as the focal point of the US underground electronic music scene that was beginning to spawn a DJ culture all of its own.

 

The Role of the Internet

 

This process was greatly accelerated by the emergence of the Internet in the 1990’s, and the focus on the idea of a new ‘digital’ age. The young tech-savvy Silicon Valley (and nearby Bay Area) partiers saw electronic music as the sound of the future, and the new medium of the Internet was crucial for the promotion and easy distribution of the various styles of electronic music around the world.

 

Silicon Valley's rise as the hub of the technology industry in the 1960s coincided with LSD's explosion on the cultural scene. Within a few miles of Stanford Research Center (SRI), where Douglas Englebart was envisioning the personal computer as a mechanism to "augment human intelligence," three organizations were then legally administering LSD to guinea pigs. The Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park and the Palo Alto Mental Research Institute were studying LSD to better understand schizophrenia. Meanwhile, the International Foundation for Advanced Study, founded by a former engineer, sought to give credibility to LSD's mind-expanding properties. These organizations offered leaders of the counterculture (Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg) and some of the personal computer industry's founding fathers their first communions with acid. No doubt, their mind-blowing experiences influenced the communal ethos of the early personal computing industry and later the open source software movement.

 

~ John Markhoff, What the Dormouse said:
How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry

 

Many of the founding fathers of the Internet and the Computer Age have admitted to experimentation with psychedelics. (Steve Jobs reputedly has said that his LSD experience was one of the two or three most important things he has done in his life). Other declared ‘psychedelic warriors’ like John Perry Barlow (former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and now Web-freedom warrior) or Timothy Leary (who had one of the earliest websites and was an equally early advocate of the internet) successfully reinvented themselves in the digital age, while Terence McKenna and others would see the Internet as the future of human consciousness, the emerging global ‘mind’. This same Internet also proved to be critical in the free distribution of information about psychedelics. Information sites on psychedelics like EROWID appeared first, followed by some of the earliest forums on the World Wide Web that are related to entheogens (dmt.tribe.net/), while the website Palenque Norte made early use of pod-casts by broadcasting the spoken words of the Terence McKenna, Sasha Shulgin, and others. These pioneering websites and forums have been followed by a plethora of other websites and blogs on a variety of subjects related to entheogens.

Deep End Dance Party, Burning Man 2006The tech-stock boom of the 90’s also had an unforeseen side-effect – it allowed an explosion of capital into the nearby Burning Man festival by its participants who had become known as ‘Burners’. (Larry Page and Sergey Brin (the founders of Google), John Gilmore (Sun Systems), John Perry Barlow, Kevin Herbert (Cisco Systems) are just a few of Silicon Valley’s keen ‘Burners’). In 1991, around 250 people attended made the first trip to the Black Rock desert in Nevada. By 1996, that number was 8000, by 1999, 23,000 participants. As the turn of the millennium approached, and the spread of both the Internet and electronic music grew, it was not surprising that Burning Man would also become the meeting point for tech-savvy people with like-minds about entheogens. Camps are run by websites like EROWID or Palenque Norte, or form associations with existing agencies, as Entheon Village did with MAPS. These camps offer daily lecture series from prominent psychedelic advocates and a free and open atmosphere to discuss the values of entheogens, empathogens, and psychedelics. (Similar, smaller gatherings (such as Mind-States) emerged, dedicated to the study of entheogens, and convened in exotic locales like Palenque or Costa Rica). By the turn of the 21st century a distinctive style of music and dress had begun to emerge for this new ‘West-Coast’ culture, and its tentacles had started to spread across the country with the spread of Burning Man regional events and philosophically similar events like Symbiosis, Lightning-In-A-Bottle, Emerg-n-see, PEX Summer festival, and others. Despite criticisms that Burning Man has become too regulated and lost its old outlaw ways, the event has continued to grow: In 2008 and 2010 it reached the maximum 50,000 people allowed by the BLM permit.

 

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The Birth of the 21st century: And the end of Acid?

 

In 2003, the US Government legislated against the now-flourishing US electronic dance music scene with the RAVE (Reducing Americans’ vulnerability to Ecstacy) Act, which threatened organizers with decades in prison if anyone was arrested with drugs at one of their events. The Grateful Dead had long since stopped performing; and Phish were taking a hiatus from touring; consequently the use of LSD and MDMA (Ecstacy) was at an all time low, but for very different reasons.


‘Ecstasy’ pills had become increasingly suspect, because more often than not the pills commonly sold as ecstasy had little or no MDMA in them at all! (In 1996, only 6.1% of the Ecstasy pills tested were 100% pure MDMA – see http://www.ecstasydata.org/stats.php) There were also a number of deaths attributed to PMA, a potent and highly neurotoxic hallucinogenic amphetamine, being sold as ecstasy that created a field day amongst the popular media. Users turned to purer powdered forms where available, and then increasingly to cocaine and amphetamines as these drugs became cheaper and increasingly available. Statistically, Ecstasy use in the USA topped put in 2000.


The LSD ‘drought’ of the early twenty-first century was caused by very different reasons – an extreme disruption of supply. First, hard-on-the-heels of the very obvious end of the Grateful Dead touring organization (and the parking-lot supply scene that travelled with it) in 1995, came the much less-well known arrest of the original Brotherhood of Love chemist Nick Sand in Canada in 1996. (Sand had been living underground for more than twenty years after skipping the US on bail in 1973.) This brought about an end to what the Canadian RCMP says was one of the largest LSD labs in North American history, a facility near Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, that produced enough acid to dose every man, woman and child in Canada 1.5 times. The end of the 20th Century also saw the implementation of United Nations International Drug Control Program, which stemmed much of the flow of ergotamine tartrate from the former Soviet Republics. Then on November 6, 2000, Special Agents of the DEA raided a former missile-silo in Wamego, Kansa, and subsequently arrested William Leonard Pickard, a Harvard graduate who claimed to be the last of the ‘Brotherhood of Love’ LSD chemists’. (There are various opinions about the veracity of that claim.) DEA officials asserted that Pickard’s Kansas lab had produced 2.2 pounds of LSD – about 10 million doses – every five weeks. (Pickard himself denies this claim). They also claimed that this single bust eradicated the supply of 95% of the nation’s LSD.


Statistics certainly seem to support this claim. In 2000, the DEA recorded 203 LSD related arrests – In 2003 they arrested only 19. Between 1995 and 2000, statistics for emergency room visits related to LSD were stable at around 2,500 per six-month period. In the second half of 2001, they dropped below 1000 for the first time, and then fell below 500 for the next six-moth period. In San Francisco, the self-declared LSD capital of the world, the DEA recorded no arrests for LSD in 2000, and only 20 in 2002. In Ryan Grim’s book This is Your Country on Drugs; The Secret History of Getting High in America (2007) – where many of these statistics came from - he states that in 2001, none of his friends could find any acid at Burning Man (which he equates to walking into a bar and finding the taps dry), while by 2004, if you could find any LSD anywhere, its cost had skyrocketed 1000%, up to 10 dollars or more a hit, compared to the long-stable price of $1 for 1 hit that LSD had traditionally been for more than 20 years. And how even at these ‘exorbitant’ prices apparently more often that not, it probably wasn’t really LSD at all, but some kind of acid-analogue. This era is now remembered amongst the counter-culture as ‘the Great Acid Drought’.

 

 

New Compounds and a New Psychedelic Renaissance

 

If one was looking at the statistics for LSD and Ecstacy entering into the 21st century, one might have thought that the so-called psychedelic age was over. In reality however, this was far from the truth, and what happened when the supply of LSD and MDMA was restricted, is the same thing that happens historically whenever crucial goods come into short supply – other goods arise to fill the vacuum.

 

In the case of psychedelics in America, this happened in two main ways.

 

  1. An accelerated return to the natural and organic psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, and San Pedro, which had already begun thanks to Terence McKenna’s influence and the emerging interest in tribalism and the psycho-spiritual role of the shaman. This in turn accelerated the interest in ayahusca (and to a lesser extent the African tryptamine ibogaine)which led to the first South American shamans coming to the USA, Canada, Europe, etc., to lead ayahusca ceremonies after enough gringos had gone to Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil looking for it.

  2. The use of new, previously little known compounds often invented by Alexander Shulgin, (especially the 2C* family of entheogens), instead of MDMA or LSD. And the rekindled interest – once again mostly thanks to Terence McKenna – in DMT.

 

The emerging technology of the Internet would again be an integral part in the spread of these new trends; both by initially supplying new compounds to the curious, and by making the information about these new (or old) compounds readily available.

 

Research ChemicalIn the late 90’s ‘Research Chemical’ companies sprung up on the web, with numerous compounds  - 2CI, DIPT, 5-MeO-DMT etc - straight from the pages of PiHKAL and TIHKAL readily available. In July of 2004, the DEA moved against these companies in “Operation Web Tryp” which led to the prosecution of five U.S. based research chemical companies (under the Controlled Substances Analogue Act) while those remaining U.S. companies that were not prosecuted either closed shop, or went underground. Research Chemical companies from Canada, Hong Kong, and other countries can still be found on the Internet, but their reputation and veracity tend to be unknown. In 2006, a federal survey estimated that 104,000 people had taken “DMT, AMT, or Foxy” in the first survey related to research chemicals.

 

Equally important were the publication on the WWW of various simple brew prep and extraction processes for extracting DMT and 5-MeO-DMT from the various plant sources for ayahuasca, and various companies that specialize in the import of various roots, barks, and seeds, used by indigenous shamans worldwide. These recipes were often first published in a publication called The Entheogen Review that made its debut in 1992, and then quickly made their way onto the Internet.

 

Jonathan OttFurther interest in the plant sources of DMT and 5-MeO-DMT were sparked by the Jonathan Ott’s 1993 book Pharmocotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plant Sources and History and his 1994 publication Ayahuasca Analogues: Pangean Entheogens.

 

However it would be the publication in 2001 of a book by Dr Rick Strassman of an account of his clinical trials with DMT at the University of New Mexico between 1990 and 1995 that would be responsible for catapulting DMT firmly into the imagination of the psychedelic counter-culture of the 21st Century. Titled DMT: The Spirit Molecule and replete with a cover by the visionary artist Alex Grey, this seemingly staid and scholarly work offers some of the most radical theories in modern medicine today; most astoundingly, that DMT is the chemical ‘vehicle’ that facilitates the soul’s entry into, and exit from, the human body.

 

 

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2001: Dr. Rick Strassman and the publication of  DMT: The Spirit Molecule

 

It is important for us to understand consciousness. It is just as important to place psychedelic drugs in general, and DMT in particular, into a personal and cultural matrix in which we do the most good, and the least harm. In such a wide-open area of inquiry, it is best that we reject no ideas until we actually disprove them. It is in the interest of enlarging the discussion about psychedelic drugs that I’ve written DMT: The Spirit Molecule.

 

~ Dr. Rick Strassman, Introduction to DMT: The Spirit Molecule

 

Dr. Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit MoleculeThe influence and importance of Dr. Strassman’s book DMT: The Spirit Molecule upon current psychedelic culture cannot be underestimated. Number One, it recounts the first FDA and DEA approved clinical trials on a psychedelic since the 1970’s, and for that reason alone it is a milestone. (Dr. Strassman’s trials were held at the University of new Mexico between 1990 and 1994). Secondly, Dr, Strassman was able to inject sixty volunteers with DMT and their experiences make riveting reading whether you have experienced DMT or not. Thirdly, Dr Strassman introduced to a widespread audience (within the psychedelic community at least) a new terminology for the mystical-psychedelic experience; the term entheogen meaning god-generated-within. And finally, within the pages of this volume Dr Strassman offers a number of radical ideas, on everything from Near-Death Experiences to Alien Abductions (see ‘Speculations on DMT’). He also puts forward the hypothesis that the mysterious pineal gland, considered by the Hindus to be the site of the seventh chakra, and by Rene Descartes to be the seat of the soul, is the source of the endogenous DMT that has been found in the human body; that our brains are flooded with DMT as a fetus at 49 days when we first show sex; and at death; and that this is the way the soul enters and leaves the body.

 

Dr Strassman’s book has sold over 80,000 copies since publication; in 2010 a  documentary was released (titled DMT, The Spirit Molecule) examining his work. The extent that his ideas have penetrated the consciousness of the psychedelic movement is astounding, and the interest it has caused in DMT itself cannot be denied.

 

There has also been a dangerous misconception amongst the psychedelic community and others that Dr Strassman’s ideas and hypotheses have some how been proven – but they have not, they are just hypotheses, and in fact since the publication of DMT: The Spirit Molecule, there has been no proof emerge that the pineal gland is the source of the endogenous DMT produced within the human body. Nor is there currently any proof that our bodies are flooded with DMT whilst dreaming, or at birth and death, two theories now commonly regarded as facts by many in the psychedelic community.

 

 

In 2007, Dr Strassman along with Steve Barker (LSU) and Andrew Stone formed, The Cottonwood Research Foundation to address the lack of interest in on-going DMT research and to develop suitable methods of determining DMT levels in test-subjects.

 

Their mission statement reads:

 

The Cottonwood Research Foundation will perform scientific studies into human consciousness, using the lens of naturally-occurring hallucinogenic medicines. We will apply our findings to the full spectrum of the human condition—including treatment of physical and psychological illnesses, religious and spiritual issues, and creativity studies.

 

1) Development of new technology capable of measuring previously undetectable levels of the compounds: N,N-dimethyltryptamine, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, bufotenine, and metabolites, all of which occur widely in the plant and animal kingdom. We will develop this technology at Louisiana State University, and apply it by measuring levels of these compounds in humans in normal and various abnormal states and conditions. The specimens will be gathered at university settings throughout the US and overseas.

2) Perform research into effects, mechanisms of action, and relevance of plant-based psychoactive materials in psychiatric research and treatment. Any and all requisite local, state, and federal regulatory conditions will be closely followed.

 

Education and Training:


1) Organize and implement symposia and conferences on the chemistry, pharmacology, anthropology, and medical uses of plant-based psychoactive materials throughout history and across cultures. Publish the proceedings.


2) Organize and implement smaller scale conferences and symposia on current research applications of plant-based psychoactives.

3) Collect and organize written, electronic, and other formats of information for reference use. Begin publishing a catalog of resources. Cottonwood Research Digital Library Login

4) Train individuals in the use of plant-based psychoactives for use in clinical research protocols using the faculty organized and media collected from 1), 2), 3) above.

 

Cottonwood Research

 

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Ayahuasca, Hoacsa, and Pharmahuasca

 

Oral ingestion of DMT with beta-carboline MAO inhibitors is now a sort of totem amongst many of today’s trippers, a way to both encounter and embody the Archaic Revival: the return to pure, autochthonic theology, often via modern chemistry, extolled in McKenna’s 1991 compilation of that name. These days there’s many an amateur ethnopharmacologist and psychedelic brewmeister out there, calculating the tryptamine to MAOI ratios just so. (Indeed, MAOIs can be dicey admixtures that can cause blackouts when taken in combination with tryptamines and possibly death when mixed with MDMA. Prescription MAOIs carry a slew of warnings about dangerous combinations.) Writes R. U. Sirius, cofounder of MONDO 2000 (which Time calls “the cyberculture mindstyle manual-magazine), “You can find it [the independence and erudition of the new counter-culture] on the Net, where millions of youths log onto psychedelic bulletin boards. Read through the public conversations, and you’ll start to wonder how many young psychedelic chemists conversant in biotechnology, comparative religion and visionary literature, are hiding in the American heartland.

 

~ From Tripping: An anthology of true-life psychedelic experiences. Edited by Charles Hayes, 2000.

 

As LSD and other synthetics have declined in popularity worldwide due to shortages and difficulty of supply, many first-world entheogen users have began to increasingly rely on natural entheogens, such as magic mushrooms, San Pedro cactus, and most recently, various forms of ayahuasca.

 

In Amsterdam in the 1990’s the first ‘Smart Shops’ opened offering a wide variety of natural plant entheogens. Holland would then provide an early Western context for the spread of ayahuasca use. Supporting a large Brazilian population, Santo Daime members in particular made efforts to spread the philosophy of their ritualized hoasca use. [Hoasca is the Brazilian form of ayahuasca that is used legally by synchretic Christian-religious groups in Brazil (see next section.) In the mid-to-late 1990s one group, the Amsterdam-based Friends of the Forest, was formed by Santo Daime members to introduce hoasca to Europeans and others, with "allergies to Christianity. They did this by introducing "New Age" rituals incorporating basic ritual structure, celebrating with songs in the Daime tradition (Portuguese waltzes), English language songs, ambient music and mantras and kirtan. They existed at least until the Dutch authorities raided a Santo Daime ritual in progress, and other ayahuasca-oriented groups sensed that an obvious public profile was not in their best interest. Amsterdam is also among the few cities in Europe where one can find, in addition to cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms and peyote, ayahuasca vine, chacruna leaves, and plants for ayahuasca analogues in the tradition of Jonathan Ott's so-called "ayahuasca borealis."

 

ShamanBy the early 90’s traditional ayahuasca shamans (first mestizo shamans from Peru and Ecuador’s more urban areas, and then traditional Indian shamans from the Amazon jungle itself) also began to arrive on European and American shores. Ayahuasca tourism had become increasingly common, with substantial numbers of westerners of all ages either seeking ayahuasca out while travelling in South America, or travelling to Peru and Ecuador for exactly that purpose. The enthusiastic writings of Terence McKenna soon became augmented by more personal reports, while the media documented the ayahuasca usage of famous musicians and entertainers such as Sting, Jimmy Cliff, and Paul Simon, and the 2012 laden later-day writings of Daniel Pinchbeck continued to spread interest in the various versions of the plant-admixture. The publication in 1999 of The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by the Swiss-Canadian anthropologist Jeremy Narby offered a number of fascinating new possibilities for the ayahuasca mystery – most startlingly that the visions ayahuasca users experience come from bio-photonic emissions from the users DNA, and that the talking-snakes reputedly common to ayahuasca visions are in fact visual representations the DNA itself.

 

 

Ayahuasca proponents often proclaim a more holistic intent, often calling the brew itself the medicine. In many holistic centers scattered around the world that are primarily based on yoga or alternative-health practices, peyote, ayahuasca, and the rare African plant-tryptamine ibogaine, are often of keen interest, due to their reputation as plant-medicines. Ayahuasca and ibogaine have also attracted interest from addiction treatment experts in countries where they are considered legal, since both plant admixtures have long been known to be effective at curing chronic addiction. (That was what attracted William S. Burroughs to Colombia in 1958 to find yagé as ayahuasca was then commonly known – he was looking for a cure from his opiate addiction, not for any type of psychedelic experience.)

 

Ayahuasca  CircleThe publication of Jonathan Ott’s 1993 book Pharmocotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plant Sources and History, and his 1994 publication Ayahuasca Analogues: Pangean Entheogens, the publication of The Entheogen Review between 1992 and 2008, and the rapid growth of Internet-based ayahuasca and DMT forums and bulletin-boards at the beginning of the 21st century, created an opportunity for a world-wide underground experimentation in the invention of ayahuasca analogues, which use non-traditional plant-combination (often utilizing the MAOI effect of Syrian Rue), and also pharmahuasca  - which is basically any combination of DMT and an MAO inhibitor.

 

In TiHKAL, the most reliable resource on all things Tryptamine, Sasha Shulgin has this to say about the debate, in a chapter titled Hoasca vs. Ayahuasca:

 

Another direction that the separation of the words hoasca and ayahuasca has taken, and one which is the substance of this chapter, has been in the loosening of the identity of the composition of the drink. In its native use in the Amazon, in both religious and indigenous native cultures, it is referred to as ayahuasca, of course, but by many other names as well. There are names such as caapi, lagé, yajé, mihi, dapn, natema, and pin de, but some of these can be used to refer to not just the drink but to the components of the drink. The terms “daime" and "vegetal" are the informal lames used within the two churches discussed beloww. Hoasca remains the most widely recognized name used within the modern-day Brazilian cultural setting, and it implies a rigidly prescribed composition. But as the popularity has moved abroad, and the concept of mixing two drugs together has become more widespread and corrupted, the term ayahuasca is the only one encountered. Over the last several years this term has spread widely, taking on an almost mystical connotation. The quantity of lay research in this area is staggering, and it is occurring today in many countries around the world, including the United States. Every month or so I learn of another combination of plants or chemicals or both, that has been tried and found valid. And is happily called ayahuasca. I can only guess as to the much larger number of unknown trials of home-designed ayahuasca that have been made and have failed.

 

~ A. and A. Shulgin, TiHKAL: The Continuation. (1997)

 

Thus that what is now commonly called ayahuasca in the psychedelic community can actually be divided into 4 distinct categories:

 

  • The traditional Indian ayahuasca from the Western slopes of the Amazon. Of which there are 100 + known variations that can also include plants that contain 5-MeO-DMT, or from the highly hallucinatory datura family (tohé)).

  •  The Brazilian hoasca used by its synchretic-Christian religions, Uniáo do Vegetal, and Santo Daime., which uses Psychotropia viridis  leaves and the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.

  • The various ayahuasca analogues [i.e. Mimosa Hostilis and Syrian Rue] inspired by Jonathan Ott’s work.

  •  And finally the pharmahuasca  [DMT + MAOI] of today’s Internet savvy psychonauts.

 

Neuro Soup on Ayahuasca, Ayahuasca Analogues, and PharamhuascaSince the effects of taking ayahuasca and smoking DMT are clearly different, many ayahuasca enthusiasts say that it a mistake to reduce the psychotropic effect of ayahuasca as solely being the result of the DMT content, and argue rightfully that the other components in the ayahuasca (including the MAO inhibitors harmine and harmaline and numerous other alkaloids) have psychedelic qualities in their own right. This being said, the confluence of influences that combine to form the apparently wide-class of admixtures that we now commonly call ayahuasca, could now cause some confusion over what should be called ayahuasca, and what should not. One can only assume that until a more enlightened time arrives when scientific research can openly investigate the myriad of possibilities currently being investigated by underground enthusiasts all over the world, then we shall continue to group all DMT and MAOI admixtures under the now generic term ayahuasca.

 

Ayahuasca DMT trip from the film "Blueberry"Though most popular amongst neo-tribal psychedelic music influenced sub-cultures such as the Goa Trance culture, or the Burning Man inspired West-Coast 'tribal' culture, where ayahuasca use has achieved a near 'cult' status, ayahuasca 'circles' are increasingly becoming a fixture throughout middle and upper class white America, from Hollywood mansions to Colorado mountain towns, Mississippi yoga centers, and Brooklyn warehouses. Countless books and magazine articles can be found that recount the authors often harrowing and traumatic experience, while The Discovery Channel and National Geographic have sent intrepid psychonauts off to venture into the Amazon, and the HBO show Weeds has even had an ayahuasca session. The modern technology of movie-making has allowed films like Renegade to seem capable of relaying the visual impact of the experience with impressive precision, while Avatar, with its resounding 'Save the Rainforest' theme and now the most popular movie of all time, is laden with ayahuasca-like references, most pointedly the sacred 'Tree of Souls' – one of the most common translations of ayahuasca is 'Vine of the Soul'. Ayahuasca use, often used in a sacred of ritualized context, has thus become the most commonly available method for individuals to experience both the psychotropic qualities of DMT and the shamanic metamorposis of death-and-rebirth.

 

 

The Spread of Brazil’s hoasca religions, Uniáo do Vegetal and Santo Daime

 

Hoasca in ReligionIn Brazil, a number of modern religious movements based on the use of ayahuasca (or in Brazil, hoasca) have emerged, the most well-known (both inside of Brazil and internationally) being Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal (or UDV). Hoasca is used usually in an animistic context that may be shamanistic or, more often (as with Santo Daime and the UDV) integrated with Christianity. Both Santo Daime and União do Vegetal now have members and churches throughout the world. Similarly, the US and Europe have started to see new religious groups develop in relation to increased ayahuasca use. PaDeva, an American Wiccan group, has become the first incorporated legal church which holds the use of ayahuasca central to their belief. Both Santo Daime and the UDV church now have numerous chapters in the USA, Europe, and Australia.

 

On February 21, 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that members of the ayahuasca-using União do Vegetal (UDV) church must be allowed to continue using their DMT-containing brew until a final decision is reached in their case against the government. Although many news reports about the ruling seem to suggest that the decision is final, the case before the Supreme Court was simply a re-re-re-hearing on a "preliminary injunction" that the UDV requested to stop the DEA from seizing their psychoactive tea and arresting church members.

 

The decision was a unanimous 8-0 (Justice Alito did not participate in the decision because he was not yet on the Court at the time of the hearing). The Supreme Court decided most of the points of contention in favor of the UDV, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court, which said that the United Nations International Convention on Psychotropic Substances did not control ayahuasca because it is derived from plants.


A Summary of the Opinion:

 

The Supreme Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Oregon v. Smith (1990), clearly carved out the possibility for exemptions to the Controlled Substances Act for religious groups and that the Government had failed to show that there would be serious harm done to make such exceptions in this case. The Court wrote:

 

‘Before this Court, the Government's central submission is that it has a compelling interest in the uniform application of the Controlled Substances Act, such that no exception to the ban on use of the hallucinogen can be made to accommodate the sect's sincere religious practice. We conclude that the Government has not carried the burden expressly placed on it by Congress in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and affirm the grant of the preliminary injunction. [Gonzales v. UDV, 2006]

 

This decision is final, and cannot be appealed further. It allows the UDV to transport and use DMT-containing hoasca tea until the conclusion of the trial in the District Court (a US Federal trial court) looking at the actual religious freedom questions involved. This Supreme Court decision lends substantial weight to the UDV's case by dismissing some of the key arguments by the DEA and federal government against the use of the tea by the UDV.’

 

~ ‘UDV Wins Supreme Court Decision on Preliminary Injunction’ From www.Erowid.com

 

 

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The 21st Century: The DMT Era?

 

Raul Casillas

No one single event tends to create a revolution: more often a confluence of seemingly small events and other synchronicities slowly merge to form a new paradigm. In the case of DMT (and its plant-analogues), it has clearly stimulated a number of different threads that have now begun to pull together into the apparent formation a coherent new entheogenic culture and era. These have chiefly been:

 

• The enthusiastic advocacy of DMT and ayahuasca by Terence McKenna, and his call for an Archaic Revival.

 

• The emergence of a sustained interest in holistic healing and the use of plant entheogens, supported by Jonathan Ott’s publications.

 

• The publication of The Entheogen Review (with its DMT extraction recipes) from 1992-2008.

 

• The brave publication of TiHKAL (after the official harrasment they received due to the publication of PiHKAL) by the Sasha and Ann Shulgin.


• The science and speculation aroused by Dr Rick Strassman’s clinical trials at The University of new Mexico in the early 90’s, and the publication of DMT: The Spirit Molecule. (2001).


• The emergence of the Internet as an uncensored medium for the dissemination of information.

 

• The scarcity of LSD at the beginning of this new century, and the apparent possibility that it coud actually disappear forever(!)


• The renewed endorsement of DMT and ayahuasca by many of the contemporary and still emerging ‘Tribal’ culture of ‘Visionary’ artists, DJ’s, VJ’s, and Lighting engineers.

 

DMT CrystalsThanks to these influences, DMT, its most common plant-analogue ayahuasca, and (thanks to association) its rare cousin 5-MeO-DMT, are the most sought-after, speculated, and plain-mythologized entheogens  known to the psychedelic community today.

 

In April of 2010, twenty-four years after it’s formation by psychiatrist Rick Doblin, MAPS (The Multi-disciplinary Association of Psychedelic Sciences) held its first ever conference in San Jose, California. The over 600 attendees from all over the world included many doctors and psychiatrists; and MAPS was proud to report that for the first time since the 1960’s there would be ongoing multiple studies on psychedelics at different universities in the USA and around the world; most notably with LSD in Switzerland, and psilocybin at UCLA and John Hopkins in the USA. Studies are also underway with MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy) for soldiers with PTSS (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). So there is undoubtedly a shifting attitude towards the strict prohibition on so-called ‘psychedelic research’ that has been in place since the inception of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. A further review of the MAPS website reveals however that there has only been one major study on DMT in this time period at a US university (Dr Rick. Strassman, University of New Mexico, 1991-1994), and there are no studies on going in the USA (or anywhere in the world) with DMT or 5-MeO-DMT. The fact that these are the only two known entheogens that are endogenous to the human body, and thus clearly play a part in the understanding of not only our consciousness but also our spirituality would cause one to believe that some time in the future they will be considered worthy of further clinical investigation; ongoing ayahuasca studies in Germany, Spain, and Brazil offer some hope that the unique importance of DMT and 5-MeO-DMT will one day be recognized.

 

Thanks to the widespread publication of simple extraction methods, freebase DMT, which made a brief appearance in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s before virtually disappearing entirely, is now increasingly reappearing on the underground drug market, even though it is still considered rare. DMT extracted from Acacia trees first gained popularity in Goa, India, amongst the psychedelic-trance community there, with use then spreading to Australia, before later appearing more regularly in the USA,  especially on the West Coast. As sub-cultures of the DJ (and VJ) culture and the artists of the emerging Visionary Art movement continue to acknowledge their inspiration from DMT in their music, art, and writing, curiosity about this unique compound will only continue to grow. The use of DMT itself now seems to be spreading all over the US, even into areas in Middle-America and the Deep South where local law enforcement have clearly had zero experience with the compound before.

 

A routine traffic stop Tuesday led to the city’s first discovery of a narcotic referred to as “LSD on steroids,” police said.

 

“We have not heard of it nor seen it in Vicksburg before,” said police Chief Walter Armstrong. “It was in a crystal form.”, XXX XXXX, 21, of XXXX St., was charged with possession of a controlled substance in the 3300 block of Drummond Street near National Street at 5:52 p.m. after the traffic stop.

Police found the drug, a hallucinogen called dimethyltryptamine or DMT, in his car, Vicksburg police Sgt. Sandra Williams said. Traylor had five grams with a street value of $2,000 on the front passenger seat of his vehicle, Armstrong said. A search of his home yielded three more grams, with a street value of $1,200.

Usually seen as oil or crystals, the schedule 1 drug, which makes the offense a felony, is vaporized in a glass pipe or mixed in cigarettes with tobacco or marijuana.
The drug is a derivative of plants including anadenanthera peregrina seeds and virola bark, which are found in South America and the West Indies. By the time it is used as a recreational drug, it is synthetic.

“It’s more prevalent in California,” Armstrong said. “They often refer to it as ‘LSD on steroids.’ It’s pretty potent.” The chief said the drug is not volatile when manufactured. “It’s a natural psychodelic hallucinogen found in many plants,” said Armstrong.

DMT changes from white to reddish-pink as it ages and smells like burning plastic when smoked. Hallucinations last about 30 minutes. DMT vapor produces a harsh feeling on the lungs, elevates blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and dilates pupils.

Sheriff Martin Pace said he has not seen the drug in Warren County.

XXXXXX, who was on probation with the Mississippi Department of Corrections for a 2007 burglary conviction in Hinds County, was being held without bond today at the Warren County Jail.

 

~ Article from The Vicksburg Post, Mississippi, March 3rd 2010.

 

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New Ways of Experiencing DMT

 

ChangaWhile ayahuasca circles are currently the most popular form of experiencing the DMT Dimension, the future of DMT may well be contained in so-called smokable ayahuasca blends (invented in Australia) known as changa, that include DMT soaked in herbs and bark blends that contain MAOI inhibitors. The result is an often (though not always) gentler and somewhat more extended DMT experience, making it a perfect entry point for novice psychonauts curious about DMT. The herb-blend is easily transportable and can be rolled in joints or smoked in a bong, which also offers advantages over the often-tricky ‘volatizing’ methods that DMT smokers advocate. There is also a variety of potential for mixing DMT and 5-MeO-DMT in different proportions in changa – at the MAPS conference a ratio of 10:1 DMT to 5-MeO-DMT was suggested. Thus it would not be surprising to see changa blends become more popular in the future.

 

 

Other possibilities also exist for finding new ways to ingest (and experience) DMT. Studies indicate that some Psilocybe species can be 'fed' DMT as part of their diet; grown in Mimosa Hostilis or other DMT-rich substrates, magic-mushrooms dutifully convert the DMT into 4-HO-DMT (psilocin) in the mushrooms, which users report to be extremely visual and intense. In TiHKAL, Alexander Shulgin mentions that a whole rich new field of pharmacology exists in feeding mushrooms synthetic-tryptamines (such as 4-OH-DET) that are not found in nature, which the mushroom will then dutifully convert into an 'organic tryptamine' — a process he elucidates on further in the following online query.

 

'However there is a very interesting study that took place in Leipzig about 15 years ago. Jochen Gartz, a mushroom explorer whom I know quite well, has done some fascinating studies with Psilocybe species by raising them on solid media containing strange tryptamines that are alien to the mushroom. Apparently the enzymes that are responsible for the 4-hydroxy group of psilocin are indifferent to what it is they choose to 4-hydroxylate. He has taken things like DPT or DIPT and put them in the growth media and the fruiting bodies that came out contain 4-hydroxy-DPT or 4-hydroxy-DIPT instead of psilocin. In fact, he has a patent on the process. These active compounds are made by the mushroom so they really are natural and yet they never have been observed in nature. I'll give you even odds that if you put spores of a psilocybe species on cow droppings loaded with 5-MeO-DMT you would come out with mushrooms containing 4,5-HO-MeO-DMT. This way you avoid a 10 step synthesis by growing a psychoactive mushroom that contains no illegal drug.'

 

~ Ask Dr Shulgin Online, 12/7/2005.

 

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