Higher Ground

From article, In a world of prayer-hands emoji and lite spirituality, it is easy to feel distant from the sacred. It may even be hard to recognize what is sacred. For members of the Native American Church, however, this is not an issue. To its estimated 500,000 followers, peyote (Lophophora williamsii) — a diminutive, spineless cactus that grows exclusively in southern Texas and northern Mexico — is not only sacred, it is essential to their religious experience. In fact, “Peyotism” is another name for the religion itself, the most widespread movement among North American indigenous tribes.

A tale of two cacti: studies in Astrophytum asterias and Lophophora williamsii

Astrophytum asterias (star cactus) and Lophophora williamsii (peyote) are sympatric species in the Tamaulipecan thornscrub of South Texas and adjacent Mexico. Peyote has been excavated from two archaeological sites: Shumla Caves, Texas, and CM-79 in Coahuila. We report new radiocarbon dates: a mean of 5195 ± 20 14C years BP for the Shumla Caves specimens, and 835 ± 35 14C years BP for the CM-79 specimen. The Shumla Caves specimens were not intact peyote tops, but manufactured effigies thereof. Published data on the geographic ranges of L. williamsii and A. asterias are of varying quality and accuracy. We report the results of extensive research to document extant U.S. populations by county, drawing specific conclusions about where each species currently occurs, where its occurrence is uncertain and where it is unlikely, based on herbarium specimens, verifiable reports in the primary literature and interviews with knowledgeable individuals. Dwindling of populations of peyote is partly due to improper harvesting, namely cutting off the top of the plant so deeply below ground level that the plant is unable to regenerate new stems, and consequently dies. We describe the anatomy of the cactus shoot (stem) and root, and suggest how this new knowledge can be utilized to determine “how deep is too deep” to cut if harvesting of peyote is to be done sustainably. We report the first population genetics study on endangered A. asterias, with five microsatellite markers in populations sampled at four locations in South Texas. A battery of tests and measurements indicated that in most populations heterozygosity was high, F-statistics were low, and Nm was >1. With one exception, these populations appear not to be undergoing excessive inbreeding, despite small population sizes. Data from two L. williamsii microsatellite loci are presented. L. williamsii, which reproduces autogamously, exhibits a single homozygous genotype within a given population. West Texas L. williamsii plants differ from South Texas plants in the identity of the single allele (or single genotype) at each locus. The ability of microsatellite markers to separate West Texas from South Texas plants suggests utility of microsatellites for infraspecific taxonomic studies in Lophophora.

Transient reinforcing effects of phenylisopropylamine andindolealkylamine hallucinogens in rhesus monkeys

Relatively few studies have assessed the reinforcing effects of hallucinogenic compounds, and no such studies have attempted to engender contingent responding for these compounds in animals with behavioral histories that include experience with serotonergically mediated reinforcing effects. The objectives of the present study were to investigate the capacity of several hallucinogenic compounds to maintain self-administration behavior in rhesus monkeys with a previous history of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) self-administration, and to compare these effects across a range of doses of drugs from two structural classes (indolealkylamines and phenylisopropylamines). The results indicate that no compound generated reliable responding and that no subject ever self-administered 4-iodo-2,5-dimethoxyphenylisopropylamine (DOI) at rates above those engendered by contingent saline. However, 3 out of 4 subjects did respond at rates between 0.75 and 3.0 responses/s in one or more sessions where N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline or psilocybin were available. During some of these sessions in which self-administration was maintained, animals earned a majority of all available infusions and appeared intoxicated by the end of the session. This pattern of transient self-administration may indicate that these compounds have weak reinforcing effects, or mixed reinforcing and aversive effects.

Classic Psychedelic Use and Mechanisms of Mental Health: Exploring the Mediating Roles of Spirituality and Emotion Processing on Symptoms of Anxiety, Depressed Mood, and Disordered Eating in a Community Sample

A resurgence of research has begun to systematically examine the relationship between psychedelic use and mental health and well-being. Although preliminary findings examining the therapeutic value of these substances show promise, the mechanisms through which psychedelic use may predict reduced mental distress remain poorly understood. To this end, we surveyed a community sample of individuals (n = 159) who endorsed lifetime psychedelic use to examine relationships among psychedelic use and self-reported spirituality, difficulties in emotion regulation, and symptoms of mental health issues. Results revealed a pathway through which classic psychedelic use predicted greater spirituality, which in turn predicted better emotion regulation, ultimately predicting lower levels of anxiety, depressed mood, and disordered eating. These results contribute to our understanding of potential mechanisms of change with respect to psychedelics and mental health. They also add to the growing body of literature pointing to the healing effects of the cultivation of spirituality and emotion regulation as separate and related constructs.

A Brief History of the Native American Church

Veneration of the small spineless cactus called peyote probably began immediately after the first hunter-gatherers discovered its remarkable effects. The Native American deification of the plant is estimated to be about 10,000 years old. Peyote buttons uncovered in Shumla Cave in southern Texas have been radiocarbon dated to 5,000 B.C. The Huichol Indians of northwestern Mexico still use peyote sacramentaly. Their peyote pilgrimage may have been in place by 200 A.D. Scholars consider it the oldest sacramental use of peyote in North America.

Navajo Peyote Use: Its Apparent Safety

An American Indian religion uses significant quantities of peyote, a hallucinogenic plant containing mescaline. Since there have been many reports of serious emotional disturbance caused by similar drugs, the rate of such illness in this population was investigated. The rate was found to be very low, probably because the feelings evoked by the drug experience are channeled by church belief and practice into ego-strengthening directions and there are built-in safeguards against bad reactions.

The Relationship Between Psychedelic Use, Mystical Experiences, and Pro-Environmental Behaviors

Expanding on the work of Forstmann and Sagioglou, this study investigated the differences in personality and pro-environmental behavior (PEB) as a function of psychedelic-occasioned mystical experiences. A sample of 240 participants with prior psychedelic experience completed an online survey. Data were collected on participants’ psychedelic-occasioned mystical states, personality, and self-reported PEB. A measure of behavioral PEB was also included (Charity Task). The mean scores on self-reported PEB, openness and agreeableness of participants who met the criteria for a “complete” mystical state, were significantly higher than those who did not. Specifically, those who experienced a mystical state scored higher on the PEB types “eco-shopping and eating” and “one-off domestic conservation actions.” Participants who demonstrated PEB in the Charity Task scored higher on self-reported PEB than those who did not, supporting the task’s validity. Findings suggest that mystical experiences influence PEB. Future research with experimental designs could further illuminate potential causal relationships.

Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic

A definitive history of mescaline that explores its mind-altering effects across cultures, from ancient America to Western modernity.

Mescaline became a popular sensation in the mid-twentieth century through Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, after which the word “psychedelic” was coined to describe it. Its story, however, extends deep into prehistory: the earliest Andean cultures depicted mescaline-containing cacti in their temples.

Mescaline was isolated in 1897 from the peyote cactus, first encountered by Europeans during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. During the twentieth century it was used by psychologists investigating the secrets of consciousness, spiritual seekers from Aleister Crowley to the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, artists exploring the creative process, and psychiatrists looking to cure schizophrenia. Meanwhile peyote played a vital role in preserving and shaping Native American identity. Drawing on botany, pharmacology, ethnography, and the mind sciences and examining the mescaline experiences of figures from William James to Walter Benjamin to Hunter S. Thompson, this is an enthralling narrative of mescaline’s many lives.

The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead

This manual uses material from The Tibetan Book of the Dead for this preparation. The authors also make an important contribution to the interpretation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. They show that it is concerned not with the dead, but with the living. The last section of the manual provides instructions for an actual psychedelic session, under adequate safeguards. The authors were engaged in a program of experiments with LSD and other psychedelic drugs at Harvard University until sensational national publicity unfairly concentrating on student interest in the drugs, led to the suspension of the experiments. Since then, the authors have continued their work without academic auspices.