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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

The Chemistry of Mind-Altering Drugs:

History, Pharmacology, and Cultural Context.

Perrine, Daniel M. (1996).
Washington: American Chemical Society.

ISBN: 0-8412-3253-9

Description: Paperback original, x + 480 pages.

Contents: Preface, 7 chapters, Appendices: 1. HONC: The Four Key Elements; 2. Return to the Second dimension; 3. How Shall I bond Thee? Let Me Count the Ways; 4. Through the Looking-Glass, index.

Note: Dedicated to Walter N. Pahnke. Don't let the fact that this is published by the American Chemical Society deter you from reading this book; although, the chemical section for each drug may be a bit technical for the reader who has never studied chemistry, most of the book is immediately available for the non-scientist, and Perrine's appendices are help buttons in case you'd like to learn some quick chemistry or brush up on your carbon rings.

Excerpt(s): ... this book of necessity explores much more than chemistry. In addressing so broadly human a topic as the mind itself and the drugs which affect it, it becomes impossible to understand the effects of such drugs outside the total context, and especially the cultural context, of their use. For instance, there is little meaning that can be assigned even to the term "drug" without specifying the cultural set and setting. An Afghan grandfather smoking a pipe of opium with the family after the evening meal, members of the Native American Church drinking peyote tea during their worship services, a once suicidal and bulimic young woman summoning the courage to live with the help of Prozac, Hasidic Jews reeling in drunkenness at Purim, or an American prostitute taking a "crack break" — all are clearly under the influence of a "drug," but just as clearly the drug effects take on profoundly different meanings in the different human settings. And so it is that the pages of this book will be found to contain much material which is not chemical or pharmacological but historical, anthropological, sociological — even literary, philosophical, theological, and religious. Chemists of an older generation may recognize that what has finally emerged is an expansive working in a genre once common but now not widely employed: the descriptive chemistry of some very interesting chemicals, in this case those that affect the human mind. (Preface, page ix)

One can be addicted to traditionally "virtuous" behaviors as well. Religious professionals are well acquainted with people who abuse religious ritual and ideation in what can only be described as an addictive manner—indeed, an Anglican priest has written a book entitled When God Becomes a Drug, and a group of psychologists have published Toxic Faith: Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction.

When some experts were asked to apply the standard psychiatric definition of addiction (a positive response to three of nine test questions such as: Do you curtail important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of X? Do you use or do X despite persistent problems caused thereby? Do you suffer cravings, anxiety, depression, jitters when unable to obtain X?) to such substance usage or behaviors as eating chocolate, jogging, shopping, sex, work, watching television, or mountain climbing, many of these proved to be just as addictive as marijuana and much more so than LSD. (pages 11-12)

"Bad Trips." The possibility of a negative or painful experience, which seems best described as an acute anxiety or panic reaction, following ingestion of a psychedelic drug, seems always to be present, although the majority of "trips" are experienced as positive. Because they are usually self-revelatory, even bad trips, according one study, are considered by 50% of those who have had them as being beneficial. There is conflicting, mostly anecdotal, evidence correlating the incidence of panic attacks with dosage, set, or setting; common sense suggests that lower doses, a positive outlook (set), and a familiar environment (setting) favor a more benign outcome. But the very suggestibility and claimed in-depth confrontation with Self and Other intrinsic to the action of the drug probably makes the exclusion of all painful encounters an impossibility; the same can be said of psychoanalysis and religious mysticism; in Christian tradition, the Dark Night of the Soul is an essential step in the progress of the mystic, and in St. Ignatius Loyola's program of spiritual guidance, periods of "desolation" are expected to alternate with periods of "consolation." (pages 268-269)

[LSD users] are enthralled by the mantra of St.Augustine: ... Do not go out into the marketplace, but rather enter into yourself; for in the inner self dwells the truth. (page 269)

Although the very possibility that an LSD trip could trigger a latent psychosis is what makes its classification as a Schedule I drug seem justified to many people, this potential should be placed in perspective. LSD has been used by thousands of individuals; and the frequency of chronic psychotic episodes, even in totally uncontrolled circumstances, seems no greater than in the population at large. And it must be recalled that even traditional and edifying religious practices, such as the observance of monastic silence, will catalyze a psychotic breakdown in labile persons. (page 270)

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