Enigma of Drug-Induced Altered States of Consciousness Among the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert

This article examines data presented in Katz’ book, Boiling Energy: Community Healing among the Kalahari Kung, particularly with regard to plant drugs present in the community during the 1968 visit. The author argues that the similarity of the Bushman trance state, kia and that of drug-induced altered states of consciousness has been paid too little attention in the research, and that an enigma currently exists with regard to the degree to which plant drugs may have influenced the !Kung trance phenomenon and healing beliefs. The author discusses the existing evidence for plant drug use based on Katz’ research and the specimens currently on hand at the Harvard Botanical Museum herbarium, and presents a Table which contrasts drug-induced behaviors and ideologies of societies known or suspected to have used mind-altering drugs with similar behavior/beliefs of the!Kung. It is suggested that the influence of a number of psychoactive drugs may have played a much more pivotal role in Bushman behavior and belief than is generally acknowledged.

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