Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Genetics of Drug Addiction

     Drug addiction is a chronic disease associated with alterations in the brain that result in compulsive behaviour and the urge to use one or more particular drugs. Whether the drug involved is cocaine, amphetamines, narcotics (opioids), cannabis, alcohol or even nicotine, the affliction can be a chronic, relapsing disorder in which these compulsive drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviours persist despite serious negative consequences.
The Effects of Drug Abuse

     Even the tobacco smoker, well aware of the potentially deadly effects and faced with gruesome pictures of the results of smoking ignores, overlooks or 'blanks out' these warnings, overwhelmed by the need for nicotine.
     All these addictive substances induce pleasant states or relieve distress, effects that contribute to their recreational use (see post: Altered States of Consciousness). There really is a 'reward center' in the brain. It sits centrally, in the deep brain structures and is responsible for our feelings of motivation and reward. Performing healthy activities such as eating, drinking and sex, activities that aid in survival, results in stimulation of this central area of the brain. 
Dopamine Pathways and Central Reward Center of the Brain

     Bombarded by the senses of smell, touch, taste, and sight of a morsel of food, for instance, results in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, producing the sensation of pleasure and 'wiring' the brain to seek out this same pleasure again.    

     Dopamine has many functions in the brain including roles in motivation, regulation of body temperature, memory, voluntary movement (it is the neurotransmitter that is low in certain areas of the brain in cases of Parkinson's Disease), mood, learning, punishment and reward.
     Nature has programmed us to repeat behaviours that maximize rewards and thus, in a perverse way, it is dopamine that is critically involved in the drug addiction process.
Parkinson's Disease with Forward-Stooped Posture

     A neurotransmitter (such as dopamine, GABA, epinephrine, norepinephrine) is a chemical substance that is released from a nerve ending that then attaches itself to contact points on the next nerve cell(s). These contact points are called receptors but, to add to the confusion, there is often more than one receptor type for the various different neurotransmitters and even more than one receptor site for any one specific neurotransmitter, such as dopamine.
     The role(s) of the various dopamine receptor subtypes on brain cells has been difficult to precisely delineate.
     And then, of course there are two important questions:
1. Are the receptors for the 'reward neurotransmitter' (ie dopamine) different in the addict as compared to the non-addicted individual?
2. Is there a genetic 'predisposition' (a marker? a subtle difference in the gene(s) that codes for these receptors?) in the 'addictively-predisposed' individual?
Chemical Structure of Dopamine

     A great deal of research has looked at the genetics of addiction, mostly focusing on the differences in the genes that code for dopamine receptors in the brain. These studies, which examined families, identical and non-identical twin subjects and control subjects who differed in their drug use habits suggest that there is indeed a significant difference in the make-up of specific dopamine receptors, most markedly at the specific 'DRD2' gene site that codes for dopamine receptors.
Neurotransmitter at Nerve Ending (Synapse)

     Unfortunately, nothing in science is ever quite this simple and these research findings do not hold true in all studies. It seems evident that drug addiction certainly has a genetic component but environment as well as social factors also play important roles.
     One key aspect to addiction however seems to be that it is the neurotransmitter, dopamine that plays a central role in addiction, this scourge of many in today's society.

     An interesting 'mouse party' that demonstrates the brain's activity in drug use has been produced by the Department of genetics at the University of Utah. Click on the link below:
     *The genetics of drug addiction: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle

Monday, December 12, 2011

Your Personal Narcotic

     All human beings (and probably all mammals) use 'narcotics' on a daily basis. We are not all drug abusers. We are not all drug addicts. The 'narcotics' that we use are our own, made by our bodies (endogenous) for normal daily function.
The Pituitary Gland and Hypothalamus

     These endogenous narcotics are called endorphins and are produced by the pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) and by the hypothalamus (a deep brain structure). These 'morphine-like' substances are released when we are excited, when we are in pain, when we are in love, during orgasm and even during exercise. Release of endorphins provides the body with a sense of well-being and can dull pain that could otherwise be disabling.
    Endorphins are neurotransmitters (see post: The Genetics of Drug Addiction) and the most important endorphin (or at least the one most studied) is called 'ß-endorphin'. The importance of this particular endorphin comes from the fact that it reacts mostly with specific receptors on the nerve cell (called μ1-opioid receptors). These μ1-opioid receptors are the same receptors that narcotics such as morphine react with. When ß-endorphin (or morphine) attaches to the μ1, certain neurotransmitters are blocked (GABA) and others are enhanced. The enhancement is especially pronounced with dopamine, the 'brain-reward' transmitter (see post: The Genetics of  Drug Addiction).
The Runner's 'High'

     The pleasure or 'brain reward' experienced with endorphin or morphine stimulation at these μ1 receptor sites, leads to the desire and 'need' to seek out this same stimulus - endorphin release from a 'runner's high' or (often intravenous) narcotic administration. When narcotic abuse is the case, these μ1 receptors are essentially 'high-jacked', triggering dopamine release and creating dependency.
     But why do human beings have this 'natural morphine' release? What use could it be or could it have been in the past? One theory to explain this phenomenon is based on the statistics of running speed and endurance. Animals, such as human beings, are not fast runners but do have the ability to run for long distances.

Masai Hunters
     In prehistoric times, catching a fast-moving meal may have been impossible for these relatively slow-moving humans but eventually, if chased far enough and for a long enough period of time, the meal-to-be would tire, slow down and fall into the hands of the pursuer. 
     Endorphin release in the man chasing the prey enabled the hunter to ignore the pains of twists and bumps, the aches of exhaustion and reach his goal. This may explain why some of the best long-distance runners in the world originate from regions where long distance hunts are common and have been for thousands of years.

Isolation/Flotation Tank
     Certain studies have suggested that endorphin release also occurs when floating in 'isolation/flotation tanks' as well as during acupuncture.

     The placenta secretes endorphins during pregnancy into the mother's blood stream. Why this occurs is unclear but some suggest that this ß-endorphin production creates dependency in the mother and forces her metabolism to direct nutrients to the growing fetus (the child addicts the mother!).

Acupuncture and Endorphin Release

     Post-partum depression may therefore be a type of 'narcotic withdrawal' that sometimes can be countered by the mother's own endorphin release when breast-feeding.
Placental Secretion of Endorphins

     The 'runner's high' is probably not entirely due to these morphine-like substances our bodies produce. There are many other natural chemicals that have been suggested as important in feeling the euphoria of victory or extreme exertion and in dulling the pain of a severe injury.

     Naturally occurring cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) such as anandamide are thought to play such a role.
     Other neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, serotonin and dopamine (that wonderful reward neurotransmitter) have also been shown to be important.

      * The genetics of drug addiction: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs -Amazon Kindle

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

     If anyone reading the title of this post recognizes the words, it is likely that you grew up in the 1960s. 'Turn on, tune in, drop out' was the counter-culture phrase of  Timothy Francis Leary (October 22, 1920 – May 31, 1996), American psychologist, writer and Harvard professor known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs (see post: Altered States of Consciousness).

Timothy Leary
     Leary believed LSD showed therapeutic potential for use in psychiatry, a focus that was similar to the interests of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron  of the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University in Montreal (1957 to 1964) who carried out research for the C.I.A. into mind-controlling drugs, 'truth' drugs as well as schizophrenia (see post: The Author and the Addict).
     Leary earned his Masters Degree in psychology at  Washington State University in 1946, and his Ph.D in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1950. He travelled to Mexico with where he ate psilocybin mushrooms (see post: Drugs Used in Religion-The New World) for the first time, for Leary, a life-altering experience. With the experience of psilocybin, Leary claimed that he had 'learned more about ... (his) brain and its possibilities ... (and) more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than ... (he) had in the preceding fifteen years of studying and doing research in psychology'.

Psilocybin Mushrooms
     Following his return to the U.S., Leary and an associate started the Harvard Psilocybin Project (an endeavour which eventually lost him his position at the university) to study the effects of the drug on human subjects. Despite his discharge from Harvard faculty, a number of spin-off projects continued led by graduate students or co-workers, including: The Marsh Chapel Experiment (the Good Friday Experiment) was run by  a graduate student in theology at. The goal was to see if in religiously predisposed subjects, psilocybin would act as a reliable entheogen, a drug which would induce religious experiences (see post: Drugs Used in Religion-The Old World).

Leary withJohn and Yoko in Montreal
     Almost all of the subjects who took part in the study reported experiencing profound religious experiences, providing  support for the concept that psychedelic drugs could facilitate religious experiences; the Concord Prison Experiment which was designed to evaluate the effects of psilocybin combined with psychotherapy on rehabilitation of released prisoners. After being guided through the psychedelic experience ('trips') by Leary and his associates, 36 prisoners allegedly repented and swore to give up future criminal activity. Leary's career became fraught with legal difficulties due to drug advocacy and drug use. He was imprisoned for trying to bring cannabis into the U.S. from Mexico.
     On June 1, 1969, Leary joined John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their Montreal 'bed-in' with Lennon subsequently writing Leary a campaign song (Leary ran for governorship of California against Ronald Regan) called 'Come Together'.
A Pegasus Rocket

      In early 1995, Leary was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and died the next year. Seven grams of Leary's ashes were arranged 'buried in space' aboard a rocket carrying the remains of 24 other people including Gene Rodenberry (creator of Star trek). The rocket containing Leary's remains was launched on April 21, 1997, and remained in orbit for six years until it burnt up in the atmosphere.

Terence McKenna

     Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American philosopher, researcher, teacher, lecturer and writer on many subjects, such as human consciousness, language, psychedelic drugs, the evolution of civilizations, the origin and end of the universe, alchemy, and extraterrestrial beings. In 1963, McKenna was introduced to the literary world of psychedelics through 'The Doors of Perception' and 'Heaven and Hell' by Aldous Huxley (see post: TheAuthor and the Addict). 

     McKenna claimed that one of his early psychedelic experiences with morning glory seeds (see post: MotherNature's Psychedelic Roadside Drug Store) made him realise 'that there was something there, worth pursuing'.  Mckenna began smoking cannabis regularly during the summer following his 17th birthday and while in college, in 1967, he begun studying shamanism (see post: The Shaman) through the study of Tibetan folk religion. In 1969, McKenna traveled to Nepal where he worked as a hashish smuggler, until 'one of his Bombay-to-Aspen shipments fell into the hands of U. S. Customs'.

     McKenna switched majors to a Bachelor of Science in ecology and conservation when he returned to Berkeley and soon after graduating, McKenna and his brother, Dennis published a book inspired by their Amazon experiences, 'The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching', relating to their consumption of ayahuasca.
     After the publication of his second book, 'True Hallucinations', McKenna, like Leary became a fixture of popular counterculture. These were followed by several more books which promoted his predilection towards 'Altered States of Consciousness' (see post: Altered States of Consciousness) via the ingestion of naturally occurring psychedelic substances.


     But perhaps, KcKenna is most famous for his 'Stoned Ape Theory of Human Evolution'. According to McKenna, it was the psychedelic mushroom which had also given humans their first truly religious experiences and it was the potency to promote of the mushroom that led to 'linguistic thinking', promoting vocalisation and speech. In 1985, McKenna co-founded Botanical Dimensions with his then-wife Kathleen, in Hawaii, where he lived for many years before he died of glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer.

Graham Hancock
     Graham Hancock (born 2 August 1950 in Edinburgh, Scotland) is a writer and journalist (formerly for The Economist magazine) who specialises in unconventional theories involving ancient civilizations, megaliths, ancient myths and astronomical/astrological data from the past.

     His 'stand-out' book, entitled 'Supernatural' is a fascinating adventure into the world of paleolithic cave art and mind-altering substances. In it, Hancock see the 'Machine Elves' described much like McKenna did, both men, under the influence of DMT.
     Is this evidence to support McKenna's 'Stoned Ape Theory of Human Evolution'? Is this supportive of the idea that the brain is a 'receiver', opened up by certain pharmaceuticals that allow us to perceive messages from 'alien beings'? After all, the two men, under the influence of the same/similar drugs did see virtually the same things.

Sigmund Freud
     Perhaps the most famous researcher who investigated and used pharmaceuticals was the Austrian neurologist and father of the discipline of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Sigismund Schlomo Freud 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939). Freud was an early user and proponent of cocaine as a stimulant, anti-depressant, pain-killer and a cure for morphine addiction. Despite witnessing a friend experience 'cocaine psychosis' and subsequently revert to his addiction for morphine, Freud continued to use cocaine on a daily basis for 'depression, migraine and nasal inflammation' during the early 1890s, before giving it up in 1896.

     It has been suggested that much of Freud's early psychoanalytical theory was a by-product of his cocaine use. In September 1939, Freud, who was suffering from throat cancer and in severe pain, persuaded his doctor and friend Max Schur to help him commit suicide. On 21 and 22 September, 1939, Schur administered doses of morphine to his friend, relieving his suffering and allowing Freud to die.
     For an interesting audio by Terence McKenna, 'Mushrooms are an Extra-Terrestrial Phone, click on the link 'The Best Interview About Drugs' below:
     Graham Hancock's most recent non-fiction book, 'Supernatural: Meetings With the Ancient Teachers of Mankind' (published in the UK in October 2005 and in the US in 2006) examines paleolithic cave art, its relation to drug use and the development of the 'fully modern human mind'.
     His first novel, 'Entangled: The Eater of Souls' makes use of Hancock's prior research interests much as he described in 'Supernatural'.
     A (rather long) talk by Graham Hancock concerning his novel 'Entangled' relates to many of these experiences he recounts in 'Supernatural'. Click on the link: 'Elves, Aliens, Angels and Ayahuasca' below.

     * The history of narcotics use: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The 'High' Doctor

     Various studies have examined the subject of drug abuse among physicians and have shown that, in general, the rate of illicit drug use is less among doctors than the general public.  The rate of abuse of prescription drugs however is considerably greater for physicians, up to five times higher than in the general population. Up to 15 percent of all health care professionals will battle substance abuse at some point in their careers. Is this due to stress? Overwork? Easy access to addictive substances?

     Historically, physicians have experienced a high rate of drug abuse and drug addiction. With the increased use of medical cocaine in the late 1800s, physicians were thought to constitute 30 percent of all cocaine users. The problem of abuse among physicians was well recognized. 'A man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client'. This same line of thought was most pertinent to the medical field where cocaine used by physicians was usually self-prescribed.
     In the nineteenth century, there was no formal process by which new drugs were investigated and doctors often simply experimented on themselves. The renowned and well-respected physician William Halsted, along with several of his colleagues, became cocaine abusers while assessing this new drug, cocaine.
William Stewart Halsted

     Halsted was able to recognize his addiction and 'cured' himself of the cocaine habit by shifting to the use of morphine instead. He continued on, able to handle his morphine addiction more easily than the cocaine addiction, achieving a notable career in American surgery.

     But in the field of medicine, there is one speciality that is especially prone to substance abuse and it is abuse of the most powerful, dangerous and addictive substances known.  
Drug Addiction

     The speciality field is anesthesia (the specialists who put you to sleep for surgery) and the substances most commonly abused are narcotics (morphine and its derivatives). Needless to say, anesthesia can be a very stressful job. Knowing what type of medication is needed, how much is needed and during what point in the surgery it should be administered are all important factors that can determine life, significant brain injury or even death. No patient is the same. There are no 'recipes' for drugs except according to weight, age, cardiac condition, kidney condition, drugs the patient already is taking...The list goes on and on.
     Anesthesia is similar to piloting a large aircraft (but without any auto-pilot or computer to back you up): a period of boredom (hopefully) while the patient is safely anesthetized (the aircraft is in flight) with a period of 'terror' at the beginning (take-off), as the patient is put to sleep and another period of 'terror' at the end (landing), as the patient is brought out of anesthesia.

Prescription Drug Abuse
     But with all these powerful drugs at hand (barbiturates are also commonly abused by anesthetists) and all the stress of the job, it is perhaps surprising that more of these specialists don't become addicts. Although anesthetists make up only 3 percent of all specialists, this group accounts for 20 to 30 percent of drug-addicted doctors.
     Several organisations recognize the problem of addiction among physicians and realize that certain groups, such as anesthetists, are more susceptible to this problem. Despite campaigns as well as teaching of the risks of addiction early in medical training, the difficulty with substance abuse among doctors remains a problem.

Anesthetists at the Head of the Operating Table
     In the operating room, anesthetists usually wear short sleeves. The needle tracks of injection sites would be difficult to hide but these specialists are not just experts at putting a patient to sleep. They are also  experts at finding and accessing veins for drug administration - between the toes, on the leg or the inside of the thigh. Drug addiction is an 'occupational hazard' among this group of physicians but a hazard that can have catastrophic effects for the patient under care.

Demerol (pethidine) - An Intravenous Narcotic

     Is an anesthetist on drugs (The 'High' Doctor) still capable of performing his/her work? That depends on whether the addict has become tolerant to his 'drug of choice', when he took it, the type and sub class of drug used...This list goes on and on, too. But the short answer is 'No'. No physician, dependent on drugs is safe to 'pilot the airplane'. His response time and ability to make a decision may be unreliable. His judgement may be impaired.
     And even when giving a drug to himself, does the doctor, at that point, really know what drug he has just taken? Drugs in the operating room are administered by vein, many do not contain preservatives, the vast majority have no color. In the bottle and in the syringe (except for the labelling, if it is done correctly), they all look the same. They all look like water.

     What follows is a true story: He was a young man (J.R. - not his real identity), a specialist in anesthesia, out of training no more than 5 years. The patients who met him, loved him and had great confidence in his skills. The surgeons and nurses knew him well (or so they believed). J.R.' s behaviour seemed normal. At times, however, he would be very talkative, at other times, there was only silence behind the curtain of sterile sheets that separated the surgery from the head of the table where the patient lay.
     At the end of one very long week, J.R. 'disappeared' before his patient was transferred to the recovery room (an unusual event in the practice of anesthesia) and no body knew where he was. Just by chance, one of the nursing staff, searching for a mop in a closet, found J.R, still breathing, slumped in a corner, a needle in his arm.
     J.R., medical expert, knowledgeable of all the risks and possible complications inherent in anesthetic drugs, had mistaken his substance of choice (fentanyl, a narcotic - see post: A Basketful of Narcotics) with a paralysing agent (pancuronium). Immediately upon injecting the wrong agent, J.R. realised that he had made a mistake but it was too late. The paralysis seized his body and he stopped breathing.
     J.R. was one of the lucky ones. Nursing staff and fellow anesthetists came quickly to the scene and he was resuscitated.
     Both medications in this particular circumstance are the color of water. Both are given intravenously. Each one can be easily confused with any number of anesthetic agents. And each one alone can be deadly.
     But how can a physician in this position of authority and responsibility, in the presence of and watched by fellow staff members, obtain the drugs (narcotics, in the case of J.R.) without his co-workers knowing? Is there not a system, an accounting of drugs used? Is there not a way of measuring how much narcotic was used for the patient, when it was given and how much of the open ampoule that the drug was packaged in was left over?
     The answer is 'Yes'. But, as with most systems, there are always ways to 'outsmart' it.
      *The drug-addicted physician: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle

Monday, October 24, 2011

Devils and Demons

     Throughout religion, good and evil are 'at war'. 'Fallen angel', Satan, demon - these terms all stand in as the metaphor for the worst characteristics that each one of us, as human beings, possesses. The devil and demons (evil) are the enemy of God (good) and humankind.
St. Anthony Plagued by Demons

     The presentation of the 'devil' can take different forms. In Zoroastrianism,  Angra Mainyu is the destructive, evil counterforce of  the force of 'good', Ahura Mazda. 'Mara', the devil-personification in Buddhism, tempts Gautama Buddha with beautiful women. In Hinduism,there are the 'asuras' that cause evil to occur. 
     Christianity's devil is a single entity, a 'fallen angel', named Satan, LuciferBeelzebub (the name of a Philistine god) along with a troupe of other fallen, the 'demons'.
     In Islam, the devil is called 'Iblis', created by God out of smokeless fire along with his lessers, the 'jinn'. Surprisingly different from the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism does not have a specific 'devil' character such as Satan or Iblis, just as there is no 'hell' in Judaism but rather a place of (temporary) purgatory (Gehenna).
Lucifer Expelled from Heaven

     In ancient Egypt, Set(h) was the evil 'stand-in' for the devil (see blog: A Story of Brothers).
     Demons were recognized in Mesopotamia, called 'shedu' (storm demons); in pre-Islamic Arabia 'jinn' (adopted by Islam).
     In ancient Israel there were 2 types of demon, the 'se irim' and the 'shedi' (which could cause 'demonic possession').
     In popular Islamic culture, "Shaytan" is often translated as "the Devil," but the term can refer to any of the jinn who disobeyed God and followed IblīsShaytan and his minions are "whisperers," who whisper into the chests of men and women, urging them to commit sin.

     Some Christian theology claims that demons are the evil spirit product of sexual relations between fallen angels and human women. 
     But not all devils are bad. For the Yazidi of Northern Iraq,  'Malek Taus' is Satan, known as the 'peacock angel' the fallen angel who is worshipped and will, one day, be redeemed.
     All these are surely metaphorical stories that play well with many people but mean to say that 'good' and 'evil' reside in each one of us.
Malek Taus
The Peacock Angel


     *Religious belief: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Did They See?

     Psilocybin, mescaline, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), various alkyloids, narcotics, cannabis...human beings are very adept at finding the naturally-occurring sources of 'mind-altering' drugs (see post: Altered States of Consciousness) in their environment.

Humans with Antelope Heads, Cave Art South Africa
     Today, the use of drugs in rituals and religion is still with us but drug use for non-religious reasons (depression, anxiety, escapism, addiction) is probably the major reason for drug consumption. Human ingenuity has found artificial ways to transform these drugs into more powerful products (heroin) and even created entirely new compounds to produce the same effects (lysergic acid diethylamide-LSD, derived from ergot).
     The images/experiences that the users see or undergo are often filled with color, wide, unending spaces and often the presence of a godly figure. But what else did the ancient users see when under the spell of these drugs? In most cases, in every ethnic group, in every region of the world, whether isolated from or in contact with other cultures, the users would 'meet' therianthropes, beings half-human, half-animal, usually with the body of a man and the head of a beast. Pre-historic cave-wall art in Europe and Africa shows beings, half-human, half-animal.

Anubis-Ancient Egypt
     Pharaonic Egypt is the best known example with several animal-headed gods. In the Mayan culture, Quetzalcoatl was the 'Feathered Serpent' god. Many Greek and Roman gods and mythological creatures were mermaid-like. Scylla was a guardian of the Strait between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Dagon, a god of the Philistines, was half man, half fish.

     Fu Xi in Chinese myth, also half human and half fish, was the inventor of writing, fishing and trapping. The first incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu was named Matsya again half man and half fish. 
     The Dogon tribe of Mali, Africa venerate the humanoid fish creatures called Nommo, said to be ancestral spirit deities. 
     Sedna is a mermaid-like goddess of the Arctic Inuit.

     Paintings created by users of ayahuasca will often show creatures that are part reptile-part human, some part human and part ape. Patients with temporal lobe epilepsy have reported 'visions' of  'heavenly beings' (see post: Epilepsy and the Divine). 
     People who have ingested DMT, whether synthetically made or derived from plants (ayahuasca), recount encounters with supernatural or alien beings.

     But there is one drug derived from the root of a plant from Central Africa that, in terms of vision and 'ecstasy' is very special.
     It is a substance that, when taken in the correct fashion and quantity, is a 'Drug to See the Dead'.

     *Paranormal experience: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Drugs Used in Religion-The 'New World'

     In the Americas, natives used several different types of hallucinogenic plants in order to induce spiritual experience. In North and South America, the inhabitants smoked potent tobacco in high doses in the belief that this carried a prayer for them from the human world to the spirit world.
European Adoption of Tobacco

     Tobacco was brought back to Europe by Sir Walter Raleigh. In Mesoamerica, the cacao (chocolate) seed was mixed with chili for its stimulant effect. It was considered to be an aphrodisiac and to possess 'mind-altering' properties. The coca leaf  (from which cocaine is derived) is sacred to the natives of the Andes.
     Mescaline (a psychedelic alkaloid) is a staple for a number of indigenous faiths in North and South America. It is the principle psychoactive agent in: Peyote-used by members of the Native American ChurchSan Pedro Cactus used in the San Pedro Cactus Rites of Peru.
Peyote Cactus

     Throughout history, in the Americas as well as in Europe, psilocybin mushrooms (metabolised to mescaline in the body) have been used to induce visions. The 'Ayahuasca' ('spirit vine' in the Quechua language) vine (Banisteriopsis species), mixed with the shrub of the dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing plant from the species Psychotria is used in sacred ceremonies by shamans and their followers.
Psilocybin Mushroom Statues - Mesoamerica

     Well-known artist and shaman, Pablo Amerigo, illustrates the beauty of his visions when under the influence of 'ayahuasca'. Interestingly, in nearly all of his paintings, there is a predominance of the color 'blue'. A color of the divine? (see post: The Colors of Faith).
     In the Pacific, Kava root extract provides a sedative effect (similar to barbiturates) used in spiritual practice and, today, as an everyday drink (much like the original Coca-Cola produced in 1896 containing cocaine from the South American coca leaf and caffeine from the African kola nut).
Pablo Amerigo

     Aboriginal Australians used a shrub bark to make 'pitcheri', that produced effects similar to those of coca. Natives in Papua New Guinea found their visions through the use of mushrooms (psilocybin as well as other types containing different hallucinogenic compounds).
     Rastafarians (see post: The Chosen Ones) use cannabis as a sacred drug. Cannabis is also used by certain Hindu sects (Sadhu) and, although denied by many in the Sikh faith, used by some Sikhs to make a concoction called 'Hola Mohalla', a mixture of seeds, almonds and other substances with cannabis.  

     The Scythians, people of the Caspian Steppe at the time of the Roman Empire, used cannabis for religious rites and battle. Taoists in ancient China used cannabis in their own rituals as well.
Kava in a Bottle - Vanuatu


     Different drugs used by different peoples in different parts of the world. But what were they all looking for? And, more importantly, what did they see?
     *Drugs used in religion: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Drugs Used in Religion-The 'Old World'

     Entheogen: A psychoactive substance used in a religious or spiritual context (ie drugs). Drug use was probably a significant component in the 'prehistoric' cults, among 'mystics' and is still in use in many areas of the world, found in a variety of religious traditions.
Cave Painting - Lascaux, France

     'Shamanism', a 'pagan' belief system centers around the mystical leader (the shaman) who visits the 'other world(s)', often via drug-induced states. One of the earliest signs to suggest drug usage is seen in the figure of a man in a trance-like state in a 25,000 year old cave painting in Lascaux, France.

     In early Hindu literature, a drug called 'soma' was used to create mind-altered experiences. There is evidence that the Pharaonic rite of passage of the Horus (new king) involved a drug-induced 'voyage' to the 'otherworld' under the (narcotic)  influence of a combination of mandrake root and the buds of the blue water lily, the ceremony directed by the high priest. Palm wine was also used as the medium in which was dissolved water lily with incised yellow poppy capsules that dripped their opium nectar into the mix.
The Passion of Christ at Golgotha

     In ancient Greece, the priestess at the 'Oracle of Delphi' provided 'insights and revelations' probably after breathing in naturally-occurring gases that emanated from the ground.In the middle east, the Hebrews were known to use wine combined with opium and there is even thought that this mixture may have been offered to Jesus as he carried his cross to his own execution (Matthew 27:45).

Oracle of Delphi

     Some even suggest that Jesus' survival on the cross may have been due to the sip of the sponge ('vinegar') sedation (opium/'gall'?) given to him on the end of a spear/stick, resulting in sedation that mimicked death.

     The Eleusian Mystery Cults (Greek) celebrated Demeter and Persephone and climaxed their ceremonies with the drinking of a sacred potion (barley wine likely tainted with the fungus 'ergot')  resulting in 'dazzling visions of eternity'. The Romans were known to use alcohol (wine) as well as narcotics.
Triptolemus Receiving Sheaves of Wheat and
 Blessings from Demeter and Persephone

     *Drugs used in religion: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ibogaine-Can I Buy Some?

     The answer is no, you cannot buy ibogaine. At least, not in the United States and not very easily anywhere else in North America - at least not for 'recreational' purposes. Ibogaine was promoted as a diet drug in France in the 1800s (called Lambarene) and was looked into by the American CIA as a potential tool for their activities in the 1950s ( much as they had looked at LSD as a substance with potential use for pharmaceutical mind-control or as a 'truth drug').
Chemical Structure of Ibogaine

     The mechanism of action of Iboga is similar to that of other psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline but the drug also has a dissociative effect (feeling of 'detachment') similar to an anesthetic medication called ketamine. This root-derived alkyloid, ibogaine, produces an 'altered state of consciousness' (see post: Altered States of Consciousness), a state of dream-like hallucination sought after throughout the history of religion.
Ibogaine Hydrochloride Salts
     Research into the use of this drug has been carried out in many jurisdictions, mostly examining its psycho-active properties.
     Crystalline salts of  'ibogaine hydrochloride' are the most effective form of the drug, this preparation made in a semi-synthetic fashion (the completely synthetically-made product is much more expensive) using a similar alkyloid from another type of plant. From a therapeutic perspective, Ibogaine has been used in psychotherapy (Naranjo-France), in the treatment of chronic pain (the drug has the ability to enhance the effect of narcotics) and experimentally in the treatment of opioid (narcotic) addiction in Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, The Netherlands and several other countries.
The Iboga Plant

     In the U.S.A., ibogaine is classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the Food and Drug Administration and is essentially banned from legal use in the same way as is psilocybin, mescaline and many other 'religious-use' drugs.
     Side effects of the ingestion of ibogaine include dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, loss of balance, irregular heart beat. Some cases of death have been attributed to the use of this drug.

     So, if you want to see the dead, talk with your great grandfather or ask Julius Caesar, face to face, what made him decide to 'Cross the Rubicon', you may have to travel to Central Africa yourself and ask a 'Bwiti' practitioner, one of the 'Seers of the Dead'.
Bwiti Practitioner

     *Paranormal experience: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Drug to See the Dead

Central Africa
     There is one very special drug used in a ritual by native groups in Central Africa (Gabon, Cameroon, Zaire). It's origins are dark and mysterious, the  myth of its discovery told in the story of an indigenous secret society, the 'Bwiti' (the 'Seers of the Dead'):
     "The Pygmy Bitamu died after falling from an Atanga treeZame cut off the little fingers and little toes of the dead man and planted them in various parts of the forest. They grew into the Eboka (Iboga) bush."

Iboga Shrub
   Iboga or Ibogaine (Tabernanthe iboga) belongs to the Apocynacae (Dogbane) family. Iboga, as a psychoactive substance, is classified as an 'indole alkyloid'.
     Attempts have been made to create the substance synthetically but have been shown to be too expensive. Most samples of the drug are made semi-synthetically (from another plant alkyloid) producing crystalline 'ibogaine hydrochloride'. Otherwise, the drug can be made directly from the root bark shavings.

     This is how practitioners of the 'Bwiti' rituals fabricate their iboga - the root bark of the iboga plant is crushed and drank in large quantities resulting in vivid hallucinations (eyes open or eyes closed), elevated mood, emotional clarity and dream-like visualisations of the past and the anticipated future.
Chemical Structure of Ibogaine

     When the bark itself is simply chewed the result is a stimulating effect but an effect less pronounced than ingestion of the pulverized mixture in suspension/solution.

     Iboga has not remained 'undiscovered' by western medical practitioners nor by western drug abusers. But the medical use of this indole alkyloid, still difficult to artificially synthesize, is limited. In most jurisdictions, iboga is illegal or, at the very least, a controlled substance.

     In Central Africa, home of iboga, the main purpose of the 'Bwiti' ceremony today is the same as it has been for centuries - to journey into supernatural realms, to encounter supernatural beings and to contact the spirits of the dead.

Iboga Root Bark Shavings
     The dead, mostly relatives or tribal wise men give the 'traveller' solace, advice, sometimes warnings - warnings about the future, warnings about the past, warnings about impending death - usually with signs, sounds, symbols or simply the experience of the 'traveller' just 'being there'.

     Ibogaine is used by the natives of Gabon not only `to see the dead`` but for initiation ceremonies.

     To view a short You-Tube video of a Bwiti ceremony, click on the following link:

     Bwiti Ceremony

     *Paranormal experience: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.