NORMAN W. WILSON, Ph.D.
At the very outset, I have to admit I have a bias against the use of hallucinogens for shamanic journeying. I also have to confess that I have never used any of the hallucinogens. With this said, I will attempt to bring reliable information about both the use of hallucinogens and shamanic journeying.
What is a hallucinogen? It is a drug that causes profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality. Under the influence of hallucinogens, people see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. Hallucinogens cause their effects by disrupting the interaction of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Distributed throughout the brain and spinal cord, the serotonin system is involved in the control of behavioral, perceptual, and regulatory systems and especially one’s sensory perception.
According to the Australian Drug Foundation, some of the immediate effects caused by using a hallucinogen include feelings of euphoria, blurred vision, distorted perception, disorganized thoughts, and paranoia.
What are the psychoactive drugs? There are four general groups that are included: stimulants, depressants, opioids, and hallucinogens. Our interest here is the latter. Among these hallucinogens are LSD, Psilocybin Mushrooms, DMT/Ayahuasca, and Mescaline/Peyote. Others are listed by the Ocean Breeze Recovery Organization (firstname.lastname@example.org). For my purpose of dealing with hallucinogens and shamanic journeying, I will concentrate on Ayahuasca.
N.N-Dimethyltryptamine, is a naturally occurring chemical found in both plants and animals. It is the active hallucinogenic compound in Ayahuasca, the Quechua name for a tea brewed from the shrub Psychotria viridis, which is used for ritual purposes by the indigenous people in the Amazon. DMT may be among the most powerful psychedelic drug on earth. Its potential for powerful visual hallucinations makes it a favorite among those who desire to authenticate themselves as healers. It’s the drug de jour for shamanic journeying.
Reported problems caused by the use of Ayahuasca include increased blood pressure, severe vomiting, and profoundly altered states of consciousness. Typically, these effects begin within 20 minutes of ingestion and last as long as twelve hours. This, of course, depends on the strength and amount of Ayahuasca taken. There is little available information suggesting that Ayahuasca use creates lasting physiological or neurological damage among long-term users, especially those who use it for their religious activities. Assuming this is true, what then are my concerns about Ayahuasca use?
My first concern is the effects of Ayahuasca are highly unpredictable. A shaman who journeys to another realm does so for very specific reasons. It’s not a ride on a roller coaster. A second concern is the potentiality of a “bad” trip; one that produces terrifying thoughts, anxiety, despair, and insanity or even death. Cited in References are two articles that challenge reported deaths caused by taking Ayahuasca. My real concern is being in control of the journey. A shaman doesn’t just do a journey for entertainment. She or he does so for a specific purpose: to get help in healing and to return a lost soul or a part of a soul. In days of old, the journey would be to seek advice about a potential tribal war, a hunt, or a move of the tribe to another area. If you are hallucinating how can you know what the message is to heal, to help, or to guide? You can’t.