Taking A Trip Out of the Mind
For Maisonneuve, Jeff Warren investigates ayahuasca, the hottest psychedelic of the New Age, by doing the only reasonable thing: taking a hell of a lot of it. As he chronicles the experience, he ponders the mechanisms of our minds and consciousnesses that facilitate the purported other-worldly and therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs, as well as the potential benefits of those experiences, both personally and culturally.
Ayahuasca owes its popularity to its alleged psycho-spiritual benefits. As one retreat centre’s website puts it: “the equivalent of ten years of therapy in one night, ayahuasca can promote healing and transformation in areas of relationships, self esteem and creative potential, to name a few.” Claims like this (circulated in online forums and, increasingly, in feature-length documentaries and mainstream news outlets) are part of a larger renaissance in the world of psychedelic-drug research; clinical trials are now exploring the potential of drugs like LSD and ecstasy to treat everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to addiction to cluster headaches. Yet of all these drugs, it’s ayahuasca that has generated the most interest outside the world of test subjects and clinicians. Call it hippie Prozac: the must-have miracle cure for the new New Age.
This is startling enough. But ayahuasca may be at the nexus of an even deeper revolution, one that explores how indigenous forms of knowledge—long discounted in the West—could contribute to our understanding of consciousness and reality. That’s because, according to devotees, ayahuasca is a direct channel to nature’s interior aspect, to a whole pantheon of extrasensory intelligences: other human psyches, alien beings, the spirits of plants and animals. To update Aldous Huxley’s famous quip about mescaline, ayahusaca blows the doors of perception right off their hinges. It disables what Huxley called the “cerebral reducing valve” and plunges the stunned psychonaut into a seething ecology of other minds.
Of course, for every investigator who holds this rather unscientific point of view, there is another who points out that such testimonials are, after all, generated by people on drugs. Although sympathetic to some of the therapeutic claims made on behalf of ayahuasca, I wasn’t sure the plant mixture could support the West’s collective expectation of spiritual-satori-slash-psychological-analysis. I was even more skeptical about the metaphysical assertions. We don’t believe dreams are “real”—why should an ayahuasca vision be any different? Nevertheless, the rich history of ayahuasca usage has undeniable authority; in the end, the only way to really answer these questions was to launch into the psychedelic troposphere and find out for myself.
Read the full article here.