And thereby the warm life of reason congealed.
A grain of wheat eclipsed the sun of Adam,
Like as the Dragon's tail dulls the brightness of the moon
An entheogen is a psychoactive substance (or Crown Activator) used in a spiritual or shamanic context. The term was first coined by Ruck, Bigwood, Staples, Ott, and Wasson (1979) and literally means "becoming the god within" or “becoming divine within” (Ott, 1996). Entheogens either come directly from plant sources (e.g., Psilocybin) or are derived, as is the case with LSD, in the laboratory. Entheogens contain molecules closely related to endogenous neurochemicals and have been shown to directly provoke Mystical Experiences. Entheogens may be contrasted with Empathogens which primarily act on the Heart Chakra.
Entheogens have been used in spiritual rituals and as components of Shamanic practice for centuries (Furst, 1972, 1976; Harner, 1973; Stafford, 1992; Wasson, 1957, 1968). Following the synthesis of D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25) by Hofmann at Sandoz laboratories in 1943, and psilocybin (CY-39) in 1958 (also by Hoffman), entheogens became a topic of psychological and spiritual research in universities. This eventually led, mostly via the psychedelic evangelism of Timothy Leary (1988, 2001), to the mass availability of LSD and other entheogens and a continent-wide expansion of consciousness that penetrated rapidly into the arts and, by the late sixties, was threatening to topple many of the established institutions of The System. As a result of the revolutionary potential of entheogens, and only a few years after their popularization in America legislators, presumably reacting to the clear and unequivocal ability of entheogens to unlock and unblock the crown chakra (Grof, 1973) and free consciousness from the “system imposed” consciousness straightjacket (Sharp, 2004), prohibited sale and possession of all such substances. This despite the fact that, even then, there were few indications of any short or long term negative outcomes as a result of the ingestion of psychoactive substances (Strassman, 1984; Wells, 2007). Indeed, when compared against the [negative outcomes of alcohol use], and the clear and documented spiritual and psychological benefits of entheogens (see below), citing social pathology, addiction, or psychosis as the reason for anti-entheogen legislation is highly absurd.
Recent years have seen a repopularization of psychoactive substances. Wells (2007) reports growing legal recognition of the role of psychoactive substances in religious rituals in the U.S.A and elsewhere when used within the context of established religious institutions. Wells points to the Native American Church (NAC) in the U.S.A as a successful model for the integration of prescribed substances into religious ritual. Gains have been slow, however, and government resistance is still strong.
While much of the government responses to psychoactive substances can be considered formally repressive and an attempts to prevent the spiritual awakening and empowerment of individuals and society (Dobkin de Rios and Smith,1977), there is legitimate cause for concern. As Halpern (2004), Fisher (1963) and others point out, Set and Setting is a critical component and determines, to a large measure, the psychedelic/entheogenic experience. Unguided ingestion of powerful psychedelics without proper preparation can lead to Spiritual Psychopathology and either long term, low grade neurosis or acute psychotic breaks (Sharp, 2009). This is currently the professional reason cited for confining the experience to controlled religious and or institutional settings.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-25 (LSD) : First synthesized by Hoffman in 1943, LSD is clearly the most powerful Crown Activator in existence. It is five thousand times more powerful than mescaline and can trigger profound activations in doses as small as 10 to 20 micrograms (1 microgram is equal to 1 millionth of a gram) (Grof, 1976). LSD aggressively activates the crown chakra even against attempts to actively maintain the illusionary realities of the ego. “Bad trips” often result out of attempts, on the part of the ingestor, to control the experience and prevent insight which they may feel threatens the integrity of their “system fed” self image. As everyone who has ever commented on the use of LSD has said, Set and Setting are critical components of positive and therapeutic LSD experiences.
Ayahuasca: Amazonian psychoactive containing harmala alkaloids and dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
Peyote: also known as Lophophora williamsii, is a hallucinogenic cactus native to Mexico and the American South West. The psychoactive ingredient is mescaline. Mescaline appears to provide safe and gentle Crown Activation, as opposed to L.S.D. which can dramatic and pre-emptive. Bergman (1971) reports peyote to be ultra safe indicating that of 70,000 ingestions, only one case of pychotic sequelae was ever confirmed.
Iboga: Also known as Tabernanthe iboga, native to central Africa, and associated with the Bwiti native cult. The principle psychoactive agent it Ibogain.
Marijuana: A mild hallucinogenic. In the ancient world, used by Hindi sects and Persian mystics (Gelpe, 1981). In low doses I hypothesis it can be used to enhance perception, raise intelligence, and enhance creativity. In higher doses, or in combination with high doses of alcohol, the positive action can be reversed and Crown Intoxication can occur.
Ergot: Dannaway, Piper and Webster (2006) make a strong case for the psychedelic properties of parasitic fungus of wheat known as ergot. They even provide an informally tested recipe (Webster, P., Perrine, D.M., Ruck, C.A.P., 2000) for brewing the Kykeon as evidence of its potential as an entheogen and to strengthen arguments made in the scholarly literature of it's potential use as such in sacred (and often secret) rituals in Egypt, Greece, India and the Middle East including Jewish and Greek mystery schools and Shia Gnosticism (Dannaway, et. al., 2006). References to a psychedelic derivative of ergot as The Tree of Life or the Wine of Light, with mystical references to the Grail mythology Corbin (1989), are provided by Dannaway et. al. (2006).
Therapeutic Value - Theory
It was hypothesized by psychedelic researchers in the late ‘50s and '60s that psychedelic drugs could have considerable therapeutic value. According to theorists of the time, the value of the psychedelic experience was in its ability to raise unconscious materials, overcome resistances (Fisher, 1963) or activate dormant neural pathways (Leary, 1988) in order to open up consciousness. However, a better theoretical explanation of the positive therapeutic value of psychedelics can be found by conceiving of psychedelic drugs as Crown and Third Eye Activators. The ingestion of entheogenic substances leads to the sensitization (or awakening and integration) of the Central Nervous System (CNS). This sensitization enhances the functioning of the Brain. Senses become more acute, intelligence is enhanced, and eventually insight becomes routine. Interestingly enough, shortly after I conceived of entheogens as crown activators, I read an article by Grof (1973) who argues basically the same thing. Based on his observation of 2,600+ LSD sessions, he concluded that LSD (and presumably other entheogens) should be considered an “unspecific amplifier or catalyst of mental processes that confronts the experiencer with his own unconscious.” (Grof, 1973: 17; 1976). Grof based his conclusion primarily on the liquid nature of entheogen experiences. Out of the thousands of treatments he administered, he could find no “single phenomenon, “mandatory pharmacological effect” (Grof, 1976: 26) that could be considered an invariant product of the chemical action of the drug in any areas studied—perceptual, emotional, ideational, and physical…. In addition, many typical LSD experiences are indistinguishable from those induced by a variety of non-drug methods, such as various spiritual practices, hypnosis, sleep and sensory deprivation…” (Grof, 1972: 18). Interestingly, Metzner's (1998: 335) echoes Grof’s typification by suggesting that entheogens function as amplifiers or microscopes. My suggestion that entheogens are Crown Activators is supported by the psychopharmacology of Entheogens (Winkelman, 2001) which operate, according to Nichols (2006: 285) to depolarize serotonin 5-HT2a receptors in the apical dendrites of cortical pyramid cells thus making receptors "more sensitive to low-level signals." Nichols suggests (Ibid.) that entheogens amplify processes that are normally running, but which are not generally apparent in everyday awareness! Winkelman (2001) argues that entheogens function as “psychointegrators” whose effects “provoke limbic discharge patterns that produce enhanced interhemispheric synchronization and increased communication interaction between the frontal hemispheres, and between the lower brain areas and frontal cortex (Winkleman, 2001: 220).
What is the result of this heightened sensitization of the CNS? Like turning on a lamp in a dark room, the activation (or sensitization) of the CNS (i.e., Crown Chakra and Third Eye Chakra) via the ingestion of entheogens gives the individual heightened awareness of internal and external realities. Given the pathological social systems in place, to a greater or lesser degree in all countries on this planet, there is always a therapeutic element to the initial use of entheogens.
In initial uses, entheogens help the individual confront formerly repressed memories and issues (Grof, 1976; Ling & Buckman, 1964). Once repressed memories have been accommodated and reconsolidated (references), energy within the neural system is freed and activity in these formerly repressed areas increases. It is important to note that repression may run deep. Continued exploration and activation via entheogen use may eventually uncover past life memory traces which have been encoded in DNA but that lie buried (Sharp, 2004) deep within the genetic pathways of the body. Past life traces are open to accommodation and reconsolidation as well. If this process is taken far enough, that is if, through the use of entheogens the individual is able to recover a fully functioning CNS, then mystical experiences become probable even with the use of mild entheogens such as Marijuana.
Up until to point of the reconsolidation of memories, materialist explanations are adequate for understanding the action of entheogens. Entheogens sensitize or amplify sense and sensation giving us access to a world of inner and out experience that we normally do not have access to (Nichols, 2006). However, when the Crown Chakra has recovered enough to enable mystical experiences, i.e., those that clearly go beyond dealing with repressed issues, maladaptive behaviors, or social repression, then materialist explanations are no longer a satisfactory explanation. At the point of the Mystical Experience, we must begin developing new theoretical perspectives based on full scale spiritual ontologies (Sharp, 2007) and cosmologies (Sharp, 2006). In this case we can say that full activation of the crown chakra (even if only temporarily) leads to contact with the Fabric of Consciousness. The need for expanded ontologies was recognized early with the formation of Transpersonal Psychology, which is psychological “force” firmly rooted in early entheogen research.
Once we overcome Naive Materialism and accept the reality of a universe embedded, created, and flowing from consciousness (Sharp, 2007; 2006), conceiving of psychedelic experience in this way is parsimonious and logical. This spiritual interpretation is supported by almost all personal and scientific accounts of advanced psychedelic experiences which often describe connection with "ultimate realities" and "higher selves" free of the physical, temporal, and conceptual limitations of the individual "perishable" self, where everything is collapsed into a "single reality" and where all things, all beings, are seen as united and unified with a "central being" or consciousness (Sherwood, Stolaroff, and Harman, 1962). For more information see Crown Activation.
Therapeutic Value - Research
Although most researchers would agree the ingestion of entheogens in uncontrolled situations, without formal preparation, and in negative set and settings, can lead to psychological damage (i.e., bad trips) there is almost no evidence to suggest that the ingestion of entheogens in controlled settings has any negative consequences whatsoever. In 1981 R. Gelpke reported on over a dozen self experiments with LSD and Psilocybin. After ingesting “relatively very high doses” (1981: 82), he suggests “I have been unable to identify any sign at all of addiction, organic injury, or other, in some way unpleasant after effects” concluding that “The designation “narcotics” (Rauschgifte) is completely out of place for this type of drug.” (1981: 82). Similarly Strassman (1984) found an extremely low incidence of negative psychological effect.
In 1969 Timothy Leary reported the result of his Harvard-Concord Prison Project where he administered a total of 168 doses of Psilocybin (i.e., Magic Mushroom) to prison inmates of Concord Correctional Facility in Massachusetts. At the completion of his trials he noted that not only was Psilocybin safe (he reported no instances of violence, lasting disturbance, or negative effect despite the fact that all doses were administered within an extremely negative institutional context), but was dramatically therapeutic saying that the entheogen produced "temporary states of spiritual conversion, interpersonal closeness, and psychological insight." (Leary, 1969: 35). Leary even reported reduction in recidivism and attributed this to the personal insights and interpersonal connections gained by prison inmates who ingested the substance, going so far as to suggest that psilocybin is "a dramatically useful, educational and rehabilitative instrument." (Leary, 1969: 35).
In addition to the positive outcomes reported by Leary, his article is also interesting for its emphasis on creating and appropriate Set and Setting prior to ingesting entheogens, and in his admission of the difficulty of measuring positive outcome.
You can work with 1,000 people and help every one of them change their way of thinking and their way of acting, but there are no statistics like hits, runs, and errors to tabulate your score. The problem is that half the people you help are going to get better jobs, and half of them are going to quit the jobs they have. Half of them may increase the intimacy and closeness and meaning in their marriages, but the other half may leave their wives. Changing a person's psyche is one thing, but measuring results in an observable way is another thing. (Leary, 1969: 32)
In 1963 the editors of Psychedelic Review reported on several studies conducted in Saskatchewan, Canada (e.g., Sven, 1962: Smith, 1958) investigating the efficacy of using psychedelic substances to treat chronic alcoholics. According to the editors, only the most difficult of chronic cases were selected. The editors report those treated with psychedelic drugs showed "significantly more improvement" over those in control groups. "Of the patients who received psychedelic drugs, 72%...were judged improved after one year, as contrasted to 46%...who were followed up in control groups (1963: 207). Similar positive results were reported by Maclean et. al (1961) , also reporting improvement in personality trait and anxiety disorders. A case study by Mikuriya (1970) also reported positive results when substituting cannabis for alcohol noting, based on the self reports of his case study, that cannabis had none of the deleterious effects of alcohol (i.e., suicidal ideation, blackouts, promiscuity, depression, over consumption) and in fact was associated with a reduction in depression, absence of withdrawal symptoms, enhanced emotional and physical control, and increased adaptability.
Later research (Dobkin, Grob, and Baker, 2002) examined a wider variety of entheogenic substances and found generally positive results with Drug Substitution, i.e, substituting "non harmful" psychedelics for harmful drugs like alcohol and highly addictive opiates. Drugs investigated have included Peyote (Bergman, 1971), Ayahuasca (McKenna, Callaway, and Grob, 1988), and Iboga. In general all research shows no negative outcome and, in some cases, dramatically positive outcome (Grof, 1976). So much so that Menninger (1971) suggested of peyote that it "was a better antidote to alcohol than anything the missionaries, the White Man, the American Medical Association, and the Public Health services have come up with."
Link and Buckman (1964) report the successful treatment of female frigidity with the use of LSD. Their case study participant reports, over the course of several sessions, the gradual recover of childhood memories of rejection, sexual abuse, and rape all of which are successfully processed to the point total cure. A similar study was conducted by Martin (1925) with day patients displaying various forms of psychoneurosis. Martin reports significant improvement in forty-five (45) of fifty (50) subjects, many of which showed retrieval of unconscious trauma and subsequent processing to the point of cure.
Bergman (1971) reports positive effects of peyote on the physical, mental, and social well being of those who ingest it. Between the years 1967 and 1972, “Stanislav Grof and his colleagues at Spring Grove State Hospital in Baltimore showed LSD combined with psychotherapy could alleviate symptoms of depression, tension, anxiety, sleep disturbances, psychological withdrawal and even severe physical pain.” (Brown, 2007).
Grof (1976) reported that LSD significantly enhanced the creative process leading to “insights into the nature of the creative process…[and] new understanding[s] of art. Painters, sculptors, and musicians were able to produce under the influence of LSD most interesting and unconventional pieces of art which differed considerably from their usual modes of expression.” (pp. 3). In the same volume Grof also points to voluminous evidence indicating the utility of LSD in psychotherapy and the generation of mystical experiences. Grof concludes, based on his “detailed analytical scrutiny” that “LSD could become an unrivaled tool for deep personality diagnostics.” (Groft, 1976: 19).
It should be noted that most early studies lack experimental rigor and would not be considered adequate by today’s methodological standards. However given the initial excitement generated by entheogens in the treatment of psychological pathology, modern research seems warranted.
Roberts (1999) argues convincingly for the need to investigate a possible connection between entheogen generated mystical experiences and the enhancement of the immune system. Roberts cites research (McClelland and Cheriff, 1997; Stone et. al, 1996; Stone, et. al, 1987; Valdimarsdottir and Stone, 1997; Valdimarsdottir and Bovbjerg, 1997) pointing to the fact that mood mediates salivery IgA (an important measure of immune system function) and suggests that the positive outcomes of mystical experiences may be found to influence levels of salivary IgA (a particularly easy immunoglobulin to measure).
Hayes (2007) has suggested that psilocybin could be used in gender role, family, or marital counseling and Fisher (1973) reported a “miracle cure” of a chronically dysfunctional young man with only a single high-dose treatment of LSD. The broad applicability of entheogens to psychopathology is also supported by the rich autobiographical accounts of early Psychonauts like Lilly 1972), and transpersonal psychologists like Grof (1985) who report that entheogens provide powerful assistance in uncovering childhood repressions, trauma, irrationalities, and in recovering the higher facilities and abilities of the Physical Unit. His commentary on his own, catholic derived stereotypes of women (i.e., as evil temptresses) is highly suggestive.
For more research, and evidence supporting my hypothesis that entheogens function as crown activators, see the Spiritwiki article on Crown Activation
Fisher (1963) indicates that dosage is not a crucial factor in determining the experience of those ingesting psychedelic drugs pointing to Set and Setting as crucial determinants. Fisher (1963) does however provide guidance and a therapeutic protocol that includes monitoring anxiety levels, carefully adjusting set (as much as possible) and setting, and even using mild sedatives prior to therapeutic interventions to calm anxiety. See also Chwelos, Blewett, Smith, and Hoffer (1959), Stolaroff (1999) and the SpiritWiki page on Set and Setting.
It is now acknowledged in the mainstream popular scientific literature (Brown, 2007) that we are seeing a quiet resurgence of interest in psychedelics. Primarily this interest and research is concerned with the potential for entheogens to treat chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcoholism or drug dependency (Brown, 2007). However there is a nascent awareness, even in the legal literature, that the therapeutic effects of entheogens are derived from the “consciousness expanding” effects (Chapkis, 2007) or, as I would say, crown activating properties of entheogens. In light of the fact that we have new and more sophisticated technologies and instrumentation, it seems unlikely that governments will be able to resist a growing push to allow the reasoned exploration of entheogens in the treatment of physical and psychological pathology and the expansion of consciousness.