Hallucinogen Use in China

On a world map that illustrates native use of eighteen categories of major hallucinogens, China is a conspicuous blank. Further, contemporary Daoist-shaman priests are not known to use psychoactive herbs. Although there is hardly any mention of hallucinogen use in early Chinese literary and historical sources, this study discovers such references in Guideways Through Mountains and Seas, Songs of Chu, and a preface to “The Rhapsody of Gaotang.” In early medieval China, Daoist adepts, searching for personal transcendence and immortality, seem to have adopted some of the knowledge accrued by the shamans. Many of the plants they ingested were hallucinogens, including a number of varieties of psychedelic mushrooms. Their knowledge is recorded in pharmacopoeias, encyclopedias, and the biographies of Daoist transcendents. This study also reveals that shamans, in ancient China and among present-day ethnic groups in northern and southwestern China, employed and still employ hallucinogens to assist their entrance into altered states of consciousness.


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