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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

Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research

(1998). Vol. 1. Santa Fe
NM: The Heffter Research Institute.

ISBN: ISSN, none

Description: First number of a professional journal, viii + 74 pages

Note: While not a topical issue wholly on entheogens, most articles consider entheogenic issues, and readers of this chrestomathy may want to keep up with this journal. For additional information, contact



iInstructions for Authors

iiWhat Is the Heffter Research Institute?

v Forward

vii Preface

1 Antiquity of the Use of New World Hallucinogens, by Richard Evans Schultes, Ph.D.

8 Psychiatric Research with Hallucinogens: What have we learned?, by Charles S. Grob, M.D.

21 Recent Advances and Concepts in the Search for Biological Correlates of hallucinogen-induced Altered States of Consciousness, by Franz X. Vollenweider, M.D.

33 Why Study Hallucinogenic Drugs in Animals?, by Mark A. Geyer, Ph.D.

40 The Medicinal Chemistry of Phenethylamide Psychedelics, by David E. Nichols, Ph.D.

46 Are the "Entactogens" a Distinct Psychoactive Substance Class?, by E. Gouzoulis-Mayfrank, M.D. and Leo Hermle, M.D.

51 Flashbacks in Theory and Practice, by Lin S. Myers, Shelly S. Watkins, and Thomas J. Carter

56 Ten Year Study of Ketamine Psychedelic Therapy (KPT) of Alcohol Dependence, by Evgeny M. Krupitsky, M.D., Ph.D. and A. Ya. Grinenko, M.D., Ph.D.

62 New Views of Timeless Experiences: Contemporary Research on the Nature and Significance of Transpersonal Experiences, by Roger Walsh, M.D.

65 The Scientific Investigation of Ayahuasca: A Review of Past and Current Research, by Dennis J. McKenna, Ph.D., J. C. Callaway, Ph.D. and Charles S. Grob, M.D. (page vii)


Given the paramount importance of the nature of the human mind to global existence, it is curious-and unsettling-to realize how little we know about it. The mind is the source of all discovery and invention, yet the relationship between brain and mind remains a mystery. Since our minds are our only means of solving the problems we face on this planet, understanding how the mind works and the nature of its relationship to the brain is an urgent and compelling priority.

Psychedelics have the unique ability to transform fundamentally the very functions that we consider uniquely human; the way we think, feel, communicate, and solve problems. They shift our cognitive and symbolic capacities, our aesthetic and spiritual sensibilities, and our linguistic and imaginative abilities; the very kinds of brain functions that constitute the fabric of what we experience as mind. Because psychedelic agents are similar to natural substances already present in the human brain, the careful study of their effects upon brain function and experiences provides access to primary states of brain and mind and the connections between them. For these reasons, research with psychedelic substances offers an unparalleled opportunity for understanding the relationship of brain to mind in ways not possible using other methods. Indeed, it is the thesis of the Heffter Research Institute that these substances represent an essential technology for this investigation. From the chemical and neurological level, to the psychological and spiritual, psychedelic research is a complex and difficult area of exploration. Nevertheless, the time has come to apply our scientific sophistication to explore the powerful influences of psychedelics on the brain and mind.

For millennia, psychedelics played essential roles in the culture and spiritual practices of advanced civilization such as the Mayans, Greeks, and Indo-Aryans. These substances hold similar importance today in many traditional non-Western societies. We are at an historic moment. Old social orders are changing rapidly. Economic powers are restructuring for the future. There is widespread popular interest in the brain and mind as never before. Interest in research with psychedelics seems to be growing, and yet organized financial support for this work is on the wane. The Heffter Research Institute is uniquely poised to be a key player in the revival of psychedelic research. (page ii)


On November 23, 1897, Dr. Arthur Heffter, an outstanding German scientist with training in chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine, performed a careful self experiment with one of the alkaloids that he had isolated from a small cactus. On the 100th anniversary of that date, it seems an auspicious time to be introducing what we hope will be the first of a series of Reviews, named in honor of Dr. Heffter.

The results he obtained on that day established for the first time that a specific chemical substance, which he named mescaline, was responsible for the dramatic and profound psychopharmacological effects that followed the ingestion of a small Southwestern American cactus that had been named peyotl by the Aztec Indians. This cactus, now known as peyote (Lophophora williamsii) was the subject of intense intellectual curiosity in the early part of the 20th century. It presently serves as the sacrament for the Native American Church but has been utilized for millennia as the focus of religious rituals by indigenous Indian peoples in the Americas. …

While there was a period during the 1950s where artists and philosophers explored the magical properties of these newly rediscovered but ancient materials, ultimately their profound and ineffable effects on the human psyche have led to widespread use by generations of adolescents. Of course, no one reading this material will be unfamiliar with the fact that these substances, known variously as psychedelics or hallucinogens, are now classified in a restrictive drug category that seems to hold the attention of only a handful of research scientists throughout the world. It has been the aim of the Heffter Research Institute ( to foster and maintain research interest in these substances, until the day that their value as research tools and potential therapeutic agents may again be recognized. (page vii, David E. Nichols and Mark A. Geyer)


A review of psychoactive plants known from archaeological contexts and artistic representations shows that their use has spanned centuries, continuing in places in Mexico and South America to the present day. The discovery of the unusual properties of these plants took place as part of the exploration of the physical milieu of the Western Hemisphere. That these plants must in some cases be made into infusions in order to be consumed reveals ancient enterprise in manipulating aspects of the environment. The surprising results obtained from treating psychoactive plants allowed their users to communicate more directly with the unseen world which they believed to exist.

It was the great German toxicologist Louis Lewin who wrote that "from the beginning of our knowledge of man, we find him consuming substances of no nutritive value, but taken for the sole purpose of producing for a certain time a feeling of contentment, ease and comfort."

There is ample material proof that narcotics and other psychoactive plants, such as hallucinogens, were employed in many cultures in both hemispheres thousands of years ago. The material proof exists in some archaeological specimens of the plants in contexts indicating magico-religious use and in art forms such as paintings, rock carvings, golden amulets, ceramic artifacts, stone figurines, and monuments. (page 1)

Concluding Remarks

The discovery of plants with psychoactivity must be attributed to millennia of trial and error experimentation with most or all of the plants in the ambient vegetation of native peoples. There can be no other explanation. When the unearthly and inexplicably weird physical and psychic effects of these few plants were experienced, it did not take long for primitive societies to regard them as sacred elements of the flora, and their use eventually fell into the province of the shamans or medicine men who explained their effects as proof that these species were the home of spirits or spiritual forces enabling man through various hallucinations to communicate with ancestors or with spirits in the outer realms.

Thus, most of these powerful members of the vegetal kingdom became the central figures in magico-religious rituals which have persisted in many regions to the present time. The role of the plants, as archaeological artifacts and other ancient records attest, has changed little with the passage of time. They remain, in effect, what has been called "plants of the gods." (Richard Evans Schultes, pages 5-6)


… The aim of this article is therefore to trace the evolution of our understanding and to make clear that observations of the power and potential benefits of transpersonal experiences, whether psychedelically or contemplatively induced, are fully consistent with contemporary research and theory. (page 62)

Researchers increasingly divide development into three major phases; preconventional, conventional and transconventional; or prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal. Whether it is the development of cognition, morality, faith, motivation or a self-sense, it is clear that we enter the world unsocialized (at a preconventional stage) and are gradually acculturated into a conventional worldview and modus operandi. A few individuals develop further into postconventional stages of post-formal operational cognition (see, for example, the work of Flavell and Arieti), transconventional morality (Lawrence Kohlberg), universalizing faith (James Fowler), self-actualizing and self-transcending motives (Abraham Maslow), and a transpersonal self-sense (Ken Wilber). These diverse studies have been synthesized into a remarkably comprehensive theory of transpersonal development by Ken Wilber.

What is crucial for a contemporary psychological understanding of religion is the recognition that religious belief, behavior and experience can occur at any stage-preconventional, conventional or post-conventional-and can vary dramatically in form, function and value according to the stage. There is no question that religion can be tragically misused in the service of, for example, egocentricity, bias and fanaticism. But the great mistake of many scientists and mental health practitioners who dismissed religion wholesale was to mistake parts of preconventional or conventional religion for all of religion; to equate dogmatic mythical or magical thinking with all religious thinking; to fixate on religion as a defensive maneuver and overlook religion as a developmental catalyst; to conflate preconventional regression with transconventional progression; and to confuse the schizophrenic's prepersonal loss of ego boundaries with the mystic's transpersonal recognition of the unity of existence. (page 63)

Growing numbers of contemporary psychoanalytic thinkers are forging new psychoanalytic perspectives of religion and no longer see psychoanalysis and authentic spirituality as incompatible. People who have transpersonal or mystical experiences, far from being necessarily pathological, score above average on multiple measures of well-being.

Several hundred studies of meditation confirm that, in addition to inducing the transpersonal experiences that are its goal, it can produce wide-ranging psychological, physiological and biochemical effects and therapeutic benefits. Intriguing findings include evidence for enhanced creativity, perceptual sensitivity, empathy, marital satisfaction, lucid dreaming, sense of self-control, and self-actualization. Developmentally, several studies suggest it may foster maturation on scales of ego, moral and cognitive development. Clinical research suggests that it can be therapeutic for several psychological and psychosomatic disorders including anxiety, phobias, posttraumatic stress, insomnia, drug abuse, chronic pain and mild depression. …

Together, these findings make abundantly clear that transpersonal experiences are far from being synonymous with pathology. Rather, they can be surprisingly beneficial and transformative and are most likely to occur in people of exceptional psychological health and maturity. These facts, plus their remarkable frequency and power in psychedelic sessions, suggest that they deserve to be a focus of further psychedelic research. (Roger Walsh, page 64)



Of the numerous plant hallucinogens utilized by indigenous populations of the Amazon Basin, perhaps none is as interesting or complex, botanically, chemically, or ethnographically, as the hallucinogenic beverage known variously as ayahuasca, caapi, or yage. The beverage is most widely known as ayahuasca, a Quechua term meaning "vine of the souls," which is applied both to the beverage itself and to one of the source-plants used in its preparation, the Malpighiaceous jungle liana, Banisteriopsis caapi. In Brazil, transliteration of this Quechua word into Portuguese results in the name, Hoasca. Hoasca, or ayahuasca, occupies a central position in Mestizo ethnomedicine, and the chemical nature of its active constituents and the manner of its use makes its study relevant to contemporary issues in neuropharmacology, neurophysiology, and psychiatry. ...

Syncretic Religious Use of Ayahuasca

From the perspective of the sociologist or the ethnographer, discussion of the use of ayahuasca or [hoasca] can conveniently be divided into a consideration of its use among indigenous aboriginal and mestizo populations, and its more recent adoption by contemporary syncretic religious movements such as the União do Vegetal (UDV), Barquena, and Santo Daime sects in Brazil. It is within the context of acculturated groups such as these that questions regarding the psychological, medical, and legal aspects of the use of ayahuasca become most relevant, and also, most accessible to study.

The use of ayahuasca in the context of mestizo folk medicine closely resembles the shamanic uses of the drug as practiced among aboriginal peoples. In both instances, the brew is used for curing, for divination, as a diagnostic tool and a magical pipeline to the supernatural realm. This traditional mode of use contrasts from the contemporary use of ayahuasca tea with the context of Brazilian syncretic religious movements. Within these cults, the members consume ayahuasca tea at regular intervals in group rituals in a manner that more closely resembles the Christian Eucharist than the traditional aboriginal use. The individual groups of the UDV, termed nucleos, are similar to a Christian Hutterite sect, in that each group has a limited membership, which then splits to form a new group once the membership expands beyond the set limit. The nucleo consists of the congregation, a group leader or mestre, various acolytes undergoing a course of study and training in order to become mestres, and a temple, an actual physical structure where the sacrament is prepared and consumed at prescribed times, usually the first and third Saturday of each month. The membership of these newer syncretic groups span a broad socio-economic range and includes many educated, middle-class, urban professionals (including a number of physicians and other health professionals). Some older members have engaged in the practice for 30 or more years without apparent adverse health effects. The UDV and the Santo Daime sects are the largest and most visible of several syncretic religious movements in Brazil that have incorporated the use of ayahuasca into their ritual practices. Of the two larger sects, it is the UDV that possesses the strongest organizational structure as well as the most highly disciplined membership. Of all the ayahuasca churches in Brazil, the UDV has also been the most pivotal in convincing the government to remove ayahuasca from its list of banned drugs. In 1987, the government of Brazil approved the ritual use of hoasca tea in the context of group religious ceremonies. This ruling has potentially significant implications, not only for Brazil, but for global drug policy, as it marks the first time in over 1600 years that a government has granted permission to its non-indigenous citizens to use a psychedelic in the context of religious practices. (pages 65-66)

Recent Biomedical Investigations of Ayahuasca …

The individuals who are attracted to the UDV seem to belong to a slightly more professional socio-economic class than those who join the Santo Daime. Of the approximately 7000 members of the UDV in Brazil, perhaps 5-10% are medical professionals, among them physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, chiropractors, and homeopathic physicians. Most of these individuals are fully aware of the psychologically beneficial aspects of the practice, and evince a great interest in the scientific study of hoasca, including its botany, chemistry, and pharmacology. The medically educated members can discuss all of these aspects with a sophistication equal to that of any U.S.-trained physician, botanist, or pharmacologist. At the same time they do have a genuine spiritual reverence for the hoasca tea and the experiences it evokes. The UDV places a high value on the search for scientific truth, and sees no conflict between science and religion; most members of the UDV express a strong interest in learning as much as possible about how the tea acts on the body and brain. …

The field phase of the study was conducted during the summer of 1993 at one of the oldest UDV temples, the Nucleo Caupari located in the Amazonian city of Manaus, Brazil. Subsequent laboratory investigations took place at the respective academic institutions of some of the principle investigators, including the Department of Psychiatry, Harbor UCLA Medical Center, the Department of Neurology, University of Miami School of Medicine, the Department of Psychiatry, University of Rio de Janeiro, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Amazonas Medical School, Manaus, and the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Kuopio, Finland. (page 69)

Assessment of Acute and Long-term Psychological Effects of Hoasca Teas …

The UDV volunteers showed significant differences from the hoasca-naive subjects in the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) and the WHO-UCLA Auditory Verbal Learning Test. The TPQ assesses three general areas of behavior, viz., novelty-seeking, harm avoidance, and reward dependence. With respect to novelty-seeking behaviors, UDV members were found to have greater stoic rigidity vs exploratory excitability, greater regimentation vs disorderliness, and a trend toward greater reflection vs impulsivity; but there was no difference between the groups on the spectrum between reserve and extravagance. On the harm reduction scale, UDV subjects had significantly greater confidence vs fear of uncertainty, and trends toward greater gregariousness vs shyness, and greater optimism vs anticipatory worry. No significant differences were found between the two groups in criteria related to reward-dependence.

The fifteen UDV volunteers and the control subjects were also given the WHO-UCLA Auditory Learning Verbal Memory Test. Experimental subjects performed significantly better than controls on word recall tests. There was also a trend, though not statistically significant, for the UDV subjects to perform better than controls or number of words recalled, delayed recall, and words recalled after interference. …

The most striking findings of the psychological assessment came from the structured diagnostic interviews, and the semi-structured open-ended life story interviews. The Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) was used for the structured diagnostic interview. None of the UDV subjects had a current psychiatric diagnosis, whereas two of the control subjects had an active diagnosis of alcohol abuse and hypochondriasis. Only one subject among the controls had a past psychiatric disorder that was no longer present; an alcohol abuse disorder that had remitted two years previously. However, prior to membership in the UDV, eleven of the UDV subjects had diagnoses of alcohol abuse disorders, two had had past major depressive disorders, four had past histories of drug abuse (cocaine and amphetamines), eleven were addicted to tobacco, and three had past phobic anxiety disorders. Five of the subjects with a history of alcoholism also had histories of violent behavior associated with binge drinking. All of these pathological diagnoses had remitted following entry into the UDV. All of the UDV subjects interviewed reported the subjective impression that their use of hoasca tea within the context of the UDV had led to improved mental and physical health, and significant improvements in interpersonal, work, and family interactions. (pages 70-71)

Assessment of Serotonergic Functions in Long-term Users of Hoasca …

Also, none of our subjects showed evidence of any neurological or psychiatric deficit. In fact, in view of their exceptionally healthy psychological profiles, one of the investigators speculated that perhaps the serotonergic upregulation is associated, not simply with age, but with "wisdom"-a characteristic often found in the aged, and in many hoasca drinkers. …

He [Jace Callaway] did indeed find that the density of central 5-HT receptors in the prefrontal cortex had increased; when he discontinued THH [tetrahydroharmine], their density gradually returned to previous levels over the course of several weeks. While this experiment only had one subject, if it is indicative of a general effect of THH that can be replicated and confirmed, the implications are potentially significant. A severe deficit of 5-HT uptake sites in the frontal cortex has been found to be correlated with aggressive disorders in violent alcoholics; if THH is able to specifically reverse this deficit, it may have applications in the treatment of this syndrome. These findings are especially interesting when viewed in the context of the psychological data collected in the hoasca study. The majority of the subjects had had a previous history of alcoholism, and many had displayed violent behavior in the years prior to joining the UDV; virtually all attributed their recovery and change in behavior to their use of hoasca tea in the UDV rituals. While it can be argued that their reformation was due to the supportive social and psychological environment found within the UDV, the finding of this long-term change in precisely the serotonin system that is deficient in violent alcoholism, argues that biochemical factors may also play a role. (page 71)


Ayahuasca, or hoasca, whether known by these names, or any of numerous other designations, has long been a subject of fascination to ethnographers, botanists, psychopharmacologists, and others with an interest in the many facets of the human relationship with, and use of, psychoactive plants. With its complex botanical, chemical, and pharmacological characteristics, and its position of prime importance in the ethnomedical and magico-religious practices of indigenous Amazonian peoples, the investigation of ayahuasca in its many aspects has been an impetus to the furtherance of our scientific understanding of the brain/mind interface, and of the role that psychoactive plant alkaloids have played, and continue to play, in the quest of the human spirit to discover and to understand its own transcendent nature.

Now, the process that has unfolded in Western culture since Richard Spruce first reported on ayahuasca use among the Indians of the Northwest Amazon in 1855 (Anon, 1855; Spruce, 1873) has reached a new stage. Ayahuasca has emerged from the Amazonian jungles where it has remained cloaked in obscurity for thousands of years, to become the sacramental vehicle for new syncretic religious movements that are now diffusing from their center of origin in Brazil to Europe, the United States, and throughout the world. As the world observes this process unfolding (with joyous anticipation for some, and with considerable trepidation for others), the focus for the scientific study and understanding of ayahuasca has shifted from the ethnographer's field notes and the ethnobotanist's herbarium specimens, to the neurophysiologist's laboratory and the psychiatrist's examining room. With the completion of the first detailed biomedical investigation of ayahuasca, science now has the basic corpus of data needed to ask further questions, regarding the pharmacological actions, the toxicities, and possible dangers, and the considerable potential Ayahuasca has to heal the human mind, body, and spirit. Humanity's relationship with ayahuasca is a long-term commitment, expressed on an evolutionary time scale, that has already taught us much, and from which we can still learn much, provided we have the courage, and the tools, to ask the right questions. (Dennis J. McKenna, J. C. Callaway, and Charles S. Grob, page 74)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby

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