Tripping the Way to God: Hallucinogens and Religion

If you are from the U.S., you may associate psychedelic drugs to the 1960s hippie movement, Phish concerts, or Dazed and Confused. If you come from an indigenous community in the Amazon, you may have a slightly different notion…

This week’s episode of The Chopra Well’s, HOLY FACTS, addresses the use of hallucinogenic drugs in religious traditions around the world. Gotham, the show’s host, begins with the example of indigenous Amazonian tribes who have used ayahuasca for hundreds, if not thousands, of years for religious purposes. Ayahuasca is a powerful, hallucinogenic tea made from bark, vines, and leaves. The name translates to “spirit vine,” which references the drug’s sacred nature.

Traditionally, ayahuasca is administered by a shaman with years of training. Ingestion should be accompanied by several days’ observance of dietary and lifestyle taboos leading up to the ceremony. That means no caffeine and no sex, among other things. The brew’s active drug is essentially dimethyltryptamine (DMT), though a medley of substances may come into play, depending on the specific mixture.

What results is a multi-hour, mind-blowing, body-purging trip, the likes of which you’d really only seek out if you’re looking for a spiritual experience. (Vomiting and diarrhea are side effects – so people don’t tend to take ayahuasca recreationally…)

Peyote, iboga plant, and cannabis are three other drugs used for religious purposes around the world. In a spiritual context, people may believe the substances bring them closer to God, heal afflictions, reveal hidden universal truths, or unite them with their ancestors. People do all sort of things in order to reach spiritual heights and holiness. Meditation, yoga, prayer, dance, and consumption of certain foods are just a few examples, all of which may foster non-ordinary states of consciousness, as well.

But psychedelics gets a bad rap in the U.S. Most are illegal, classified as “Schedule 1,” which means they have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. This includes LSD, DMT, MDMA, and about fifty others you’ve probably never heard of. (At least I haven’t.) They can be dangerous if misused. On the other hand, Diet Coke also has a high potential for abuse and no apparent health benefit or medical use… not to mention the ever-growing incidence of Type II diabetes.

Dangers and legality aside, many say psychedelics have the power to expand consciousness and carry users into other dimensions of awareness. Steve Jobs, the beloved founder and CEO of Apple, once told an interviewer:

Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life.

One of the most important things he did in his life? That is a monumental statement for one so important in our time. I would assume it has to do with the spiritual and mind-expanding nature of his experience. Unless LSD just provided Jobs with a thoroughly fun and mindless pastime to offset the rigor of founding Apple…Though I would find that hard to believe.

Meanwhile, as religious practitioners and others continue to use psychedelics for spiritual purposes, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is conducting research to see if the drugs hold any medical viability. LSD, MDMA, and Psilocybin are three substances MAPS has investigated for treatment in post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction, anxiety, cancer, and more. Results have been surprisingly promising.

Spiritual discovery, consciousness expansion, and treatment of illness. Perhaps the indigenous shamans of the Amazon are onto something. That said, I’ll stick to coffee for today and leave ayahuasca to the professionals.

Have you ever had a religious trip? What have you done to connect with your spirituality or get closer to God? Let us know in the comments section below!

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photo by: -Jeffrey-