Tuesday, May 6, 2014

This trip will cure you of whatever ails you

Phillips Cotton’s post “Descartes the Tripper” on the use of psychedelics, “such as Psilocybin, peyote and LSD” in the treatment of anxiety inspired me to write about ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic used in South American shamanistic rituals.

If you haven’t read National Geographic Adventure’s "Peru: Hell and Back" by Kira Salak, I highly suggest it.  Basically, ayahuasca is believed to cure almost everything, as Salak explains: “
The taking of ayahuasca has been associated with a long list of documented cures: the disappearance of everything from metastasized colorectal cancer to cocaine addiction, even after just a ceremony or two. It's thought to be nonaddictive and safe to ingest. Yet Western scientists have all but ignored it for decades, reluctant to risk their careers by researching a substance containing the outlawed DMT. Only in the past decade, and then only by a handful of researchers, has ayahuasca begun to be studied.”

This blows my mind.  People get cured.  People who go to South America in hopes that ayahuasca will cure whatever ails them, come back better.  Or do they?  I personally believe in it and part of me thinks it would be an amazing experience (the other part of me says “hell no”), but you do have to wonder how much of it is due to the placebo effect?  Is there some kind of magical medicinal quality to this drug and these rituals or is it the power of suggestion?  However, if a person feels better, she feels better, and what does it matter if it was truly from the hallucinogen or from the powerful healing properties of her mind?  The hyperreality of Baudrillard's simulated illness can be applied to this. If the ritual allows a person to simulate health and wellness, they become healthy and well. 

A spiritual journey

                                                                                                                                                           Later in the article, Salak shares her guide’s advice given before they depart on this spiritual healing journey: “You have to be willing to have a very powerful, long, internal experience, which can get very scary…Everyone has an energetic body run by an inextinguishable life force. In Eastern traditions, this force, known as chi or prana, is manipulated through such things as acupuncture or yoga to run smoothly and prevent the buildup of the negative energies that cause bodily disease, mental illness, and even death. To Amazonian shamans, however, these negative energies are actual spirit entities that attach themselves to the body and cause mischief. In everyone, Hamilton asserts, there is a loving "higher self," but whenever unpleasant thoughts enter a person's mind—anger, fear, sorrow—it's because a dark spirit is hooked to the body and is temporarily commandeering the person's mind. In some cases, he adds, particularly evil spirits from the lowest hell of the "astral realms" take over a person permanently—known as full-blown demonic possession—creating a psychopathic mind that seeks only to harm others.”

An image from National Geographic
Basically people go through their own personal hell and back to purge themselves of these evil spirits and of the illnesses that they bring.  But how do we distinguish evil spirits from hallucinations?  We call them hallucinations, but perhaps the drugs alter the mind enough allowing it to be more open and receptive to paranormal entities? 

Would you do it to cure whatever ails you? 



 Image sources: ayahuasca-info.com, nationalgeographic.com



  1. Sorry about the funky font colors folks... tried to fix it and it just kept getting worse.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is an incredibly interesting post, I’m glad you were inspired off of mine. Something I found intriguing about your post was that the Amazonians used the hallucinogens to produce a state of mind to rid themselves of demons and bad spirits. This post reminds me a lot about M. Scott Momaday's Pulitzer winning book Interpreter Of Maladies. A great read if you have time, certainly a great selection for the summer!


Need to add an image? Use this code: < b > [ img ] IMAGE-URL-HERE [ /img ] < /b > (make sure you have no spaces anywhere in the code when you use it)