March 14, 2022
March 10, 2022
A Trip Around the World: Psychedelic Geography
Psychedelics are sacred and powerful healing tools. But distance and sustainability issues limit the ability for researchers and health care providers to offer reliable solutions.
Terrance McKenna famously hypothesized in his “Stoned Ape Theory” that homo sapiens “ate our way to higher consciousness” by ingesting psilocybin mushrooms and thus sparking development in brain size and cognitive evolution that allowed us “articulated speech and imagination.”
While we can’t pinpoint the veracity of McKenna’s theory, we do know that psychedelics have been used by cultures globally for millennia. With painstaking research, we’re only skimming the surface of understanding their medical uses.
Some of the first evidence we have of psychedelics being used by our ancestors links ancient rock art with psychedelic use. Researchers in California discovered rock art paintings of the Datura plant, which causes hallucinogenic effects in users.
Primitive psychedelic use was not confined to California. Many cultures around the world have traditions using psychedelics that trace through history:
- Practicing spiritual healing
- Contacting the souls of ancestors
- Achieving enlightenment (Nirvana or Satori)
- Becoming a master shaman, pagan, or witch
- Exploring new perspectives and ways of thinking
- Transitioning between life stages (rites of passage)
Psychedelics Around the World: Drug Tourism & Traditional Uses
Psilocybin use can be traced back to the birth of civilization and may have been used pre-civilization. One of the most potent and popular legends involving mind-expanding substances comes from Central America, where Aztecs referred to psilocybin mushrooms as the “food of the Gods.” Aztec myth tells us that mushrooms were given to people by the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, who was said to have created mankind. The Aztec people consumed mushrooms to interact with their gods.
Psilocybin now has over 1000 published studies and is considered the most well-researched of all psychedelics. It has the potential to treat mood and anxiety disorders and addiction, conditions which affected a combined 1 billion people in 2020. This is a figure that is believed to have risen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Psilocybin has additionally been shown to have analgesic effects when used in the treatment of cluster headaches, intractable phantom-limb pain, and other chronic pains. Currently, the most widely used treatment for chronic pain is opioid-based painkillers. While these can prove effective in reducing pain, their use can come with a host of common side effects including sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and respiratory depression. Users of opioids also regularly build up a tolerance, meaning that a larger amount of the drug must be used to achieve the same effect. Such painkillers also cause physical dependence, which may lead to patients being unable to cease use.
Psilocybin may offer a better treatment option for some of these pain-related conditions, with a much less severe side-effect profile. It has shown to be “comparable to or more efficacious than most conventional medications.” As with treating mental health conditions, the use of psilocybin for chronic pain has been reported effective when used infrequently and at controlled doses.
South America’s psychedelic of highest repute is often considered ayahuasca, a “brew made from the Bannisteriosis caapi vine and the Psychotria Viridis leaf.” Ayahuasca was probably first imbibed by the inhabitants of western Amazon. Today, it is used in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, as well as other countries globally.
There is evidence of ayahuasca use dating back 1000 years, though many researchers believe its initial use to be far more ancient. The first western encounters with ayahuasca were from Spanish missionaries who became perhaps the first group to demonize psychedelic use. Richard Evans Schultes, the father of modern ethnobotany, was the first Westerner to study the plant. His work inspired the Beat poet William S. Burroughs to travel to the Amazon in search of it.
Today, ayahuasca use is popularized across the continent, with large numbers of Westerners heading to South America for “ayahuasca tourism.” While some authentic shamans are still offering ayahuasca ceremonies, the growing demand has seen the introduction of inauthentic shamans using non-traditional or dangerous plants in the ayahuasca preparation.
Ayahuasca has tentative uses across the globe, with the US and Canada both permitting churches to use the drug as a holy sacrament, following a slow and cautious relaxing of laws governing psychedelics across both countries.
San Pedro and Peyote Cactus
South America is also the home of San Pedro, a psychedelic cactus that has been used for countless generations. There is evidence of San Pedro ceremonies existing for more than 3000 years, possibly up to 8000 years.
It’s often remarked that, like the Christian apostle of the same name (Saint Peter) who holds the keys to heaven, San Pedro is a keeper of keys, “the guardian of the gates to other, unseen, worlds”.
The cactus has a rich history of being used to provoke modified states of consciousness, allowing users to go on journeys to “other planes of existence.” These journeys help shamans diagnose and heal magical illnesses such as “soul loss” and “sorcery.”
While alternative healing modalities are evidently in high demand and more treatment options are needed in mental health care, abuse and recreational overuse can negatively impact the communities that have traditionally used and continue to rely on these plant medicines. In fact, the rise in indiscriminate harvesting of San Pedro cactus for psychedelic tourism in places like Southern Ecuador is impacting sustainability and causing “serious community conflict in the area.” This is one of the fundamental problems with the increase in popularity of psychedelics in recent years.
Those who naturally source mescaline face an issue that is apparent for all natural psychedelic drugs: the difficulty in accurately gauging doses. One San Pedro cactus may have a markedly different amount of mescaline than another of the same size. This is due to natural variability, the time that the cactus was harvested, and the conditions in which it was grown.
San Pedro is not the only mescaline containing cactus in existence. Peyote, another mescaline-containing cactus that has traditionally been used by the Native American Church is now considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. This is due to a combination of unsustainable methods being used for harvesting, the habitat available for the cactus being significantly reduced in the past 60 years, and the potential effects of climate change on the species.
Currently, under US federal law, only members of the Native American Church (NAC) are permitted to ingest peyote. The push for decriminalization for the general population has prompted some Native American communities to push back, as overconsumption will lead to a low supply for use in traditional ceremonies and the cactus is crucial to their cultural identity. Several companies have begun industrial-scale production of mescaline, with the intention of the drug being used for psychedelic medicine programs.
Related: Why We Synthesize Ibogaine
The utmost respect should be given to psychedelic medicines, both in terms of protecting traditional sources and developing protocols that integrate proper harm-reduction methods.
Iboga & Ibogaine
Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga) has traditionally been used by the Bwiti people in Gabon, where it is incorporated into healing and ritual practices. These practices include rites of passage from youth to adulthood, assuming leadership roles, and recovering from extreme grief.
The substance is ingested to connect with ancestors and to learn about the realities of life and death. There’s also a belief that the personality transformation that occurs through the use of the plant is a result of experiencing universal truths. There is an understanding among Bwiti that those who have not used the plant cannot grasp its potential.
While iboga is used primarily for spiritual purposes, it's not the sole use only. Traditional practitioners in South Cameroon value the plant for its medicinal qualities. The plant is used for treating “fever, stomachache, liver disorders, madness, and addiction” in the region.
It’s this last usage that has brought the iboga plant to prominence in the West in recent years, in the form of ibogaine. This hallucinogenic compound is extracted from the iboga plant and is used to interrupt opioid use. This usage has been proven in a number of studies, including two conducted by MAPS in Mexico and New Zealand.
Ibogaine also has the effect of reducing or eliminating withdrawal symptoms. This is an important point and does not just pertain to the suffering of the person with the substance use disorder; it also assists users in attaining sobriety. Many who are addicted to opioids keep taking them despite wishing to stop due to the gut-wrenching withdrawal symptoms that they experience when attempting to quit.
Those who use the drug often report a “waking dream state,” in which they envision the life events that led to their addiction. Others have reported shamanic visions that assist them in conquering the fears and emotions that have driven their addiction.
Some people may experience cessation of their addiction following one dosage. Other people require further doses so they can attain long-term abstinence.
The history of iboga in the West began in the 19th century, when Marie-Théophile Griffon du Bellay, a French physician, Naval surgeon, explorer, and ethnobotanist reported the use of iboga during African spiritual ceremonies.
Ibogaine was first isolated from the iboga plant in 1901. The drug was then sold within France from the 1930s until the 1960s, where it was promoted as a mental and physical stimulant before being banned.
Ibogaine’s most famed medicinal action of helping interrupt addiction was discovered by Howard Lotsof in 1962. Lotsof went on to pioneer research in the United States.
Ibogaine is likely effective in treating many ailments due to its unique mechanism of action, which allows the drug to work on both the “software” of the brain (i.e., due to its psychedelic nature) and also the “hardware” of the brain as it works on a number of different receptors.
Currently, ibogaine laws are either non-existent or ill-defined in many countries around the world. This means that ibogaine providers often exist in a legal gray area, where they have a lack of accountability within unregulated facilities. At the moment, ibogaine use is only permissible in a small number of countries, under certain circumstances.
In the US, ibogaine has been a Schedule I substance since 1967, as the FDA states there’s “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” However, the psychedelics movement has been gaining momentum and various cities and one state (Oregon) have now legalized some psychedelics.
In Canada, ibogaine was unregulated until 2017, when, due to several adverse reactions to ibogaine, the drug became scheduled. This highlights the importance of clinical administration and settings where the strictest adherence to protocol is carried out. The irony is that as time passes without regulated access to ibogaine treatment, individuals traveling to ibogaine clinics in countries where regulations are not so stringent are put at risk.
It’s technically possible to apply for permission to use ibogaine under Canada’s Special Access Program, which permits psychedelic use in serious or life-threatening conditions, or where other treatments have failed. While ibogaine is not one of the psychedelics that has previously been granted access under the program, Health Canada has authorized the use of new psychedelics under SAP recently. It is, therefore, possible that ibogaine use may be permitted under SAP in the future.
Iboga Cultivation: Pitfalls & Solutions
The iboga plant has traditionally grown wild in the Congo Basin, and there has been no need to cultivate it. In recent years, fueled by greater demand from outside Gabon, quality, quantity, and affordability have been impacted within the country. The plant has faced extensive illegal harvesting for sale in international markets and other difficulties. In 2019, the Gabon Government halted exports, citing concerns over the plant's preservation.
The sustainability of iboga is worrying. While the plant is not currently endangered, it has been classified as a "plant of concern" according to The Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
This has led to the beginning of the cultivation of the plant within Gabon. There has also been a move from various entities to begin cultivating other sources of ibogaine (e.g., from the Voacanga Africana plant).
While this happens, traffickers have established themselves in areas where iboga plants are cultivated, offering money to local people to harvest the plants. In doing this, trees are uprooted without replanting cuttings, ultimately hampering regeneration. The root bark is then sold internationally to resellers who make enormous profits.
Still, the demand grows for ibogaine while its natural sources plummet. As scientists investigate and discover further indications, this demand for ibogaine materials is in need of a sustainable solution that prioritizes preserving the natural sources of the iboga plant for traditional usage.
Aside from ibogaine’s potential in treating addiction and substance abuse disorder, there’s mounting evidence into its medical value for indications such as neuroinflammation (including traumatic brain injuries), anxiety disorders, and chronic pain (including cluster headaches and migraine).
MINDCURE’s Ibogaine Project seeks to offer solutions to the problems that have been disrupting people who need ibogaine from accessing it safely and reliably. With a team of celebrity psychedelic researchers, we’ve begun manufacturing pharmaceutical-grade ibogaine and are creating strategic preclinical testing models using ibogaine.
As a leader in psychedelics, MINDCURE recognizes the value of the iboga plant as a rare and diminishing resource. Our sustainable approach to manufacturing synthetic ibogaine aims to provide approved research partners and treatment facilities with access to a safe, reliable, and efficacious supply to help drive towards and create better treatment outcomes without further endangering the iboga plant.