Indigenous cultures have utilized plants, minerals and rituals such as dancing and drumming to connect with the mysteries of nature throughout history. It has been recognized that certain plant essences can affect parts of the brain that induce altered states of consciousness. Feelings of connectivity, affiliation, empathy, heightened sensory perception and expanded states of consciousness are some of the experienced reactions that can have a positive effect on personal awareness, interpersonal relationships and the relationship between human beings and their environment.
Indigenous cultures have learned to use plant remedies to worship their creator, to cure physical ailments, to resolve personal and collective psychological problems and to explore expanded states of consciousness to better understand their world and their place within the realm of creation. When studied by ethnologists, the employment of psychoactive substances within the context of rituals has been reported to be religious, medicinal and psychotherapeutic in nature.
In contrast to this, medicine, psychology and religion of western societies are distinctly separated by significant frames of reference that seem to have no common ground. These professions assessed the use of psychedelic drugs but were dismayed by the changes in perception and worldview that emerged when people were under their influence. In lieu of this fear, further scientific research and public usage was formally prohibited and all three disciplines made no attempt to explore the potential of psychedelics or to delve into their former benefits derived by indigenous cultures. The professional community apparently decided that individuals were not capable of making informed choices about their wellbeing and how to go about treating their aliments and in doing this, denied the individual the right to choose his or her own desired interventions.
Unfortunately, the contemporary use of mind-altering drugs, either from natural sources or synthetic substitutes, has been primarily re-directed towards recreational purposes without regard for its original intended usage. Although recreational use in itself is certainly not objectionable and has also been used in this way by indigenous cultures, drug use to escape from emotional problems and responsibilities typically leads to addiction and misuse resulting in a variety of unwanted and dysfunctional behaviors that have become a serious problem in most modern societies. This fact has led to the regulation and prohibition of these substances except for some accepted medical and psychological situations for those with chronic pain and terminal conditions. Government control of mind-altering substances has also resulted in the birth and establishment of the illegal drug industry as well as the resultant criminal element created by such prohibition that has become a problem of global proportions.
Many plants were traditionally used in rituals in an appropriate manner such as coffee as a stimulus for long nights of prayer or meditation and tobacco as a power source but these substances are now used extensively either for recreation to relax or for a stimulant to help us maintain enough energy to function instead of employing good eating and sleeping habits. These practices have resulted in serious health problems for a large number of individuals thus incurring increased medical attention and financial expenditures.
Our materialistic society has come to promote the use of a variety of natural and synthetic substances for the quick high, to forget our problems and to dissociate from our psychic pain. The modern discoverers and proponents of synthetic psychoactive substances, (Albert Hofmann, Alexander Shulgin; philosophers Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts and Huston Smith; and psychologists ustin SmithTimothy Leary and Richard Alpert) advocated for their appropriate utilization in medicine, psychotherapy and for personal wellbeing but were unsuccessful at stopping the conversion of psychoactive drug use from the sacred to the profane. Paradoxically, what had become a sacred and healthy practice to indigenous cultures for centuries has more recently become regarded as a social evil and a criminal offense in modern Western societies.
The proper use of psychoactive drugs, both in their natural and synthetic forms, could be allowed and treated in the same manner as we do with alcohol abuse by applying appropriate consequences for misuse and resulting negative and anti-social behaviors. This would allow indigenous cultures to continue their historically healthy practices and allow our modern societies to benefit from their knowledge and experience in the use of psychoactive medicines to expand human consciousness and to develop a healthier relationship with the Earth.
Ralph Metzner, Ph.D, author of Green Psychology, has done extensive research on psychoactive substances and their role as gnostic catalysts in expanding human consciousness. He feels that psychoactive substances such as LSD and other psychedelics can be used as an evolutionary instrument in expanding our understanding of our evolutionary process and destiny. He also asserts that the evolution of consciousness is a transformational process that is directed towards accumulating insight and comprehension and can be accessed and accelerated at deeper levels with the use of various natural substances.
It is apparent that the use of plants, minerals and a variety of rituals have been employed by indigenous cultures throughout history with documented viable results in curing illnesses, healing emotional problems, improving interpersonal relationships, and allowing an expansion of consciousness to explore human evolution, purpose and meaning outside the confines of normal sensory and cognitive perceptions. The traditional use of these practices did not produce any remarkable deleterious effects on society like the kind we have witnessed today, due to their appropriate applications. Thus, it would be advantageous to re-integrate some of these practices into our current scientific and social context as another viable source of wisdom and a catalyst for the discovery of new states of consciousness to promote our evolutionary destiny.
Green Psychology by Ralph Metzner, Ph.D. copyright, 1999, Park Street Press, Rochester Vermont. The Role of Psychoactive Plant Medicines, pp. 66-79.