Entheogens as Ancient Medicine to Transform and to Unlock Your True Nature; a Modern Renaissance
Entheogens are substances that are used in ancient, sacred ceremonies for the purpose of aiding in the dissolution of the ego (self-identity) in order to give people the experience of oneness with God, the universe, and all things; a spiritual experience to achieve transformation and healing on the deepest level. Some examples are: magic mushrooms, peyote, San Pedro, Ayahuasca, Bufo, morning glory, fly agaric, cannabis, salvia, kava, etc. There are also laboratory compounds that have many uses for healing: LSD, ketamine, MDMA, etc. (You can find a more complete list on wikipedia here.) Plant based entheogens in particular have been revered and an essential part of human culture, experience, and growth since time immemorial. It is only in the modern, western world that these beautiful allies have been lost and forgotten... until recently.
Today the western world is experiencing something of a renaissance of entheogenic medicine, as small pockets of awakened individuals have found themselves going to and learning from ancient cultures that have maintained their sacred ceremonies and traditions. These brave souls have brought their experiences of healing and love back to us so that we may know of these powerful and transformational practices. Tales of meeting divine spirits and God are common. Getting to experience all of existence as oneness, that we are all one being, we are all a connected, integral part of the web of life and the very fabric of existence, is almost universal. These profound experiences often lead to people developing a new understanding of life, who they are, and why they are here on this planet. It provides a window into their spiritual existence, and with it comes profound changes in their belief systems and motivations. These changes seem to have a trickle down effect. As traumas, stuck emotions, and energetic disturbances are discharged we see physical symptoms and problems start to disappear with time. In effect, people are releasing the mental, emotional, and energetic abnormalities that are preventing their body from healing itself. Once these blocks are removed, the miracle of human physiology is able to reassemble itself as it is meant to. This is some pretty powerful medicine, to put it lightly. There seems to be good reason that these healing traditions have been passed on for all of known history.
Unfortunately, as we often do in the west, we have taken a reductionist approach to understanding the healing nature of these experiences. We have attributed these transformative miracles to simply the psychoactive compound within the plant medicine that is consumed. Yes, through research we have confirmed the effectiveness of these substances on a host of mental/emotional disorders, leading to more widespread acceptance of their use in healing in the west. The research and advocacy has been so compelling at this point that (at the time of writing this article) the US states of Oregon and Colorado have legalized, or are in process of legalizing, the use of some of these substances (psilocybin/psilocin in both; mescaline, ibogaine, and DMT (dimethyltriptene) in Colorado). This is great news as this is what it takes to gain acceptance in our western culture.
I find this encouraging and I am happy to see our culture starting to catch on. However, I foresee many problems with this reductionist approach to entheogens. For one, they are often only approved to be used in medical facilities with physician supervision. While this is done for the sake of providing safety, in my opinion, it likely misses the bar when it comes to effectiveness. I am a proponent for safe use of entheogens and believe people should be properly screened and counseled on their use in order to minimize any potential side effects or bad experiences. There are people who have damaging experiences and who should not be utilizing this kind of medicine. As a Naturopathic Doctor I know the value of such safety nets and advocate for them strongly. But to practice such sacred, ancient medicine in a medical facility, outside of the ceremonial traditions may lose much of the impact and power of these medicines.
In my own personal experiences with these substances, in ceremony and out, I find that the intention setting, creation of sacred space, songs, prayers, and integration afterwords are an essential part of the transformation and healing that occurs. These are entire processes that are passed down lineages from ancient healers. A physician without such shamanic or spiritual training is incapable of cultivating and guiding as strong a healing experience in this realm. It's my opinion that to lose the sanctity and sacredness of the healing ceremony is to lose much of the healing experience and effectiveness.
Let's not simply put people in a sterile room and give them a dose of a hallucinogenic compound. While this can and does lead to some positive changes, I believe we could do so much more. So I urge all practitioners getting into this world of medicine: Learn and study the old rituals that have been passed down. Develop a deep understanding of shamanic practices. Learn to set a sacred healing space and intention. Bring in shamanic drumming and sacred songs as part of the process. These things will take years to learn and implement, but are an important nuance to truly getting the most out of these beautiful plant allies and healing practices.
While some may worry about cultural appropriation, I find that many shamans from ancient lineages are more than eager to share their knowledge with the west. They are full of love and are ready to help mankind heal and elevate to the next level of consciousness. So let's seek them out and learn from them.
Lastly, I believe we could do a lot more with the synthesized chemicals that modern science has developed. These compounds that have proven to be valuable in healing, especially as the research grows. LSD famously came about in the 1960's and helped many shift into a great unity of consciousness and love; MDMA has become increasing popular in modern times, especially for PTSD; Ketamine has been shown to remove depression as of late. Perhaps we could learn from ancient cultures and start utilizing these substances in a sacred, ceremonial context. Would that improve their efficacy? Would that help reduce their stigma? Would that help shift people's use of such substances as "party drugs" and build more respect for their healing power? I believe we still have a lot to learn from our ancestors.
So yes, let's continue to study these substances for effectiveness and safety! And while we're at it, let's study this hypothesis that the ceremonial aspect adds much more impact to the healing process and better results. Who's with me on this? Who's ready to re-marry the worlds of science and spirituality? Who wants to bring together the best of both worlds to help lift up mankind and make this experience on Earth one of beauty, love, learning, and magic?