DMT, The Shamans, Ayahuasca, and Consciousness

Written by: Matthew Sabatine

The following essay/post represents the views of only the author and not everyone at Common Issues.

A few nights ago, I picked up National Geographic’s issue on Science of The Supernatural, wherein it discusses healing and miracles.

 Shamans are leaders of hunter-gatherer societies, and are venerated because of people’s belief in their power to communicate with spirits through a deviation from ordinary waking consciousness. A specific shaman, called the Txiv Neeb, has “soul-calling rituals”, during which he wears a cloth mask to shield himself from spirits while stepping on a bench called a “flying horse” and throws down to the ground buffalo horns to direct him toward wherever the soul is located.  Entranced, and with the help of familiar spirits, the shaman must translocate to another world where he bargains for the return of a soul by offering money. [1] For me, all of that appears to be inspired by the zestful human imagination, but is nevertheless fascinating.

These shamans are known, not only for their conjurations of the dead, but also for their folk remedies. A psychoactive substance called the ayahuasca is believed to treat everything from cancer to addiction. It is concocted by those of the Peruvian Amazon, called the curanderos, [1] and is made from the Psychotria viridis plant and the Banisteriopsis caapi liana that contains β-carboline alkaloids such as harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine. [5]

As this is my first time writing about ayahuasca and DMT, please excuse any possible bias and lack of insight. More in-depth research will be attempted.

The ayahuasca is nothing new in the 21st Century. It was discussed by the ethnobotanist, mystic, and psychonaut, Terrance McKenna, at the Lilly/Goswami Conference on Consciousness and Quantum Physics at Esalen in December 1983. Although McKenna is associated with pseudoscience, he has fascinated me for years, as being dubbed the “intellectual voice of the rave culture.” [2]

If people want to know about dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and psilocybin, it is relevant to discuss ayahuasca, the hybrid drug used in aboriginal contexts that combines DMT and a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. [3] [4]

McKenna discussed the nature of dreams and hallucinations as occurrences “when the large amounts of various sorts of radiation conveyed into the body by the senses are restricted.” The meaning of this claim is hard to decipher and substantiate. That aside, such occurrences would change our view of the relationship between one’s internal (psychic) and external (physical) worlds, involving processes that McKenna believed “definitely arise at the quantum mechanical level.” [3]

For McKenna, things such as fasting, sense-distorting substances, and disassociate anesthetics cause hallucinatory experiences, with the tryptamine family having particular importance as it concentrates on the visual cortex. On a very animated level, inputs to the brain about the light and fabric of the external world is presented three-dimensionally but positioned and displayed fourth-dimensionally in the outputs. Meeting and facing these dimensions impels one to decipher what these experiences are saying, a circumstance that McKenna translated as “talking to gods and demons.” [3]

It appears that he believed these hallucinatory experiences had a basis in construing reality, as he seemingly decried the notion that knowledge is only canonized based on a posteriori, empirical, professional consensuses and never from the a priori reports of psychics, shamans, mystics, and schizophrenics. But he apparently cautioned against blindly trusting any voice you hear in your head, as you could be deceived by the many demons made of ions, ketamine, and mind. [3]

A lot of his research and exploration is anecdotal. He tells about his first tryout with DMT in 1965, stating, ” Once smoked, the onset of the experience begins in about fifteen seconds. One falls immediately into a trance. One’s eyes are closed and one hears a sound like ripping cellophane, like someone crumpling up plastic film and throwing it away. A friend of mine suggests this is our radio entelechy ripping out of the organic matrix. An ascending tone is heard. Also present is the normal hallucinogenic modality, a shifting geometric surface of migrating and changing colored forms. At the synaptic site of activity, all available bond sites are being occupied, and one experiences the mode shift occurring over a period of about thirty seconds. At that point one arrives in a place that defies description, a space that has a feeling of being underground, or somehow insulated and domed.” [3]

He likens his experience to what was once said by Heraclitus, the 6th Century BCE Greek philosopher, stating, “The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls.” Aeon has meant many different things to philosophers, mystics, occultists, and Christianity’s Greek New Testament since the ancient days. Plato used it in his denotation of “the eternal world of ideas.” Whatever it means for Terrance McKenna, it was his belief that in the DMT experience you become the Aeon upon meeting metamorphosing, fractal, hyper-dimensional, “machine elves” that resemble the Wizard of OZ’s Munchkins, set against a color-changing, shape-shifting background and luxuriating each other with non-erotic love. [3]

The sui generis lessons on the structures of consciousness, as experienced from the first-person point of view, and as offered by the family of tryptamines and psilocybin, had been disdained in McKenna’s time. Such substances, according to him, should have been identified as phenomenological universes unto themselves, distinguished from LSD and mescaline. Psilocybin and DMT can summon the Logos, but DMT has more intensity and brevity, as they affect the brain’s role for speech management (e.g. Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area) to create a dialogue within. For McKenna, the Logos is a “raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien” that he discovered one day when smoking DMT in 1966 and a “declension of gnosis” which brought the Logos into his field of view. Declension, being the changing of a word form, and gnosis, being the Greek noun for knowledge commonly used in multiple Hellenistic religions, is something unintelligible in his explanation on how he accessed this. [3]

McKenna’s eloquence and recondite thinking help to add to the allure and mystery of psychedelic and tryptamine stuff. Since we have an entire culture revolving around the use of this stuff as a source of healing and information on the universe, we now turn to ayahuasca.

The Benefits of Ayahuasca

This tea of the autochthonous Amazonian people was studied among people attending a ceremony in the Netherlands and Columbia. The people were evaluated prior to the event as well as the day after the event and then 4 weeks later, again. Researchers found a diminution of stress and depression and improved life satisfaction and mindfulness after the event, improvements which were attributed to their alleviation from ego during the event. The study was published online in August of 2018. [5]

Supposedly, a 1996 a study was performed on 15 male, healthy participants who were members of the modern-day syncretic religious sect, the União do Vegetal (UDV), and used ayahuasca every two weeks, on average. The control group consisted of 15 males, matching in age, with similar diets, similar socioeconomic status, were non-members of the UDV, and were enrolled from among the friends and families to the participants first mentioned.  [6]

Both groups underwent “structured psychiatric diagnostic interviews, personality testing, and neuropsychological evaluations.” The Hallucinogen Rating Scale devised by Dr. Rick Strassman of 1994 was used. The group of ayahuasca users had considerable score differences in the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) and the WHO-UCLA Auditory Verbal Learning Test. The ayahuasca users were found to have greater pain endurance, more stolidly calm demeanors, stricter control over behavior, less messiness, greater self-reflection and less impulsivity than the non-ayahuasca using participants. The ayahuasca users were found to be more self-assured, more sociable, and more optimistic than the control group. Lastly, the ayahuasca users performed better on word recall tests than the control group. The two groups did not differ very much regarding reward-dependence.  [6]

During the interviews on their life stories, the UDV members reported suffering with alcohol abuse, phobias, drug abuse (cocaine and amphetamines), depression, and tobacco use prior to joining their religious sect. Afterwards, their maladies had gone away. Their interpersonal lives had improved also. [6]

Doesn’t this seem to be a great panacea? The sources (McKenna and Strassman) are questionable. Perhaps these benefits and solutions are over-inflated or misreported.

There is a Dark Side to Ayahuasca, Reportedly.

This psychoactive substance is said to vary from person to person. While one can claim it is a bit arousing, another will report seeing extraordinary images. Vomiting is a common side effect, but is believed by the ritualists to be the expulsion of the negative elements from your life. Serotonin syndrome is said to follow from excessive intake. The mixture of other recreational drugs and nicotine, increased heart rate, and undiagnosed heart conditions during the ceremonies are said to have been the cause for the few deaths connected to the ayahuasca ritual observances. [7]

There is a particular concern for taking DMT in the form of a ayahuasca tea. Anxiety, nervous excitement, rising blood pressure, widening pupils, chest pain, brisk eye movements, and dizziness are said to be other undesirable effects. [7]

About the author: Matthew is interested in discussing social psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, human biology and anatomy, mental health disorders, philosophy, the psychology of religion, and the history of religion. Matthew loves his friends, his family, and his dog named Sampson. You can contact Matthew at commonissues.contactus@gmail.com.

Disclosure statement: I am not a licensed therapist nor doctor. My intention is to not pretend to be either. The information contained in this article is not meant to be accepted instead of a doctor or licensed therapist’s advice. All information contained herein is based on my interpretation of the books and articles I read. My hope and desire is that any troubled person reading this would feel encouraged to get help from a licensed practitioner.

References:

[1] Levy, Daniel S., Healing and Miracles, National Geographic, Science of the Supernatural- Dare to Discover The Truth, 2019 pgs. 8-10, print.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_McKenna#Critical_reception

[3] McKenna, Terrance, Book of Lies—The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult, San Francisco, PA, The Disinformation Company Ltd., Published 2003, pgs. 62-70, print.

[4] https://azarius.net/encyclopedia/18/maois/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6182612/

[6] https://heffter.org/docs/hrireview/01/chapter10.pdf

2 thoughts on “DMT, The Shamans, Ayahuasca, and Consciousness

Add yours

  1. Hmm interesting. I can neither read nor watch Mc Kenna or his ilk. Mother Mushroom, Mother Ayahuasca and so forth. And all that nonsence about serpents and mushrooms creating consciousness in humans. All that stuff is like a nutty cult or crank religion. However, and this is an extremely important caveat, psychedelics do seem to have a profound effect on depression and negative states of mind. Call that anecdotal if you will but if you filter out all the ridiculous hippy new age drivel, these substances may indeed have a lot to offer us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Anthony. This is Matthew writing to you. I appreciate your insight. Thank you for commenting.

      I agree that Terrance McKenna is difficult to read. He often appears to be writing poetry instead of discussing anything scientific. In fact, he appears to disdain science when it doesn’t confirm his occultic presuppositions. Aside from that, psychedelics apparently have some positive effects. I am surprised to have myself say this: as I was writing this post, I felt certain I would find a lot of scientific research to show that psychedelics involve many health risks. I still haven’t found those many health risks reported from truly reliable sources. Perhaps I need to do more research. This is a topic I most definitely intend to revisit.

      Liked by 1 person

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