Psychoactive Terminography

19 01 2009

Steve Beyer authors a really nice blog called Singing To The Plants.  He has a hearty understanding of traditional approaches to entheogens and applies this to the pharmacological society we inhabit.   In a recent post titled
An Experiential Typology of Sacred Plants, he explores the need for a more refined and mature understanding of the describable differences between various, so-called, psychedelics:

Sacred plants such [the ayahuasca drink, the peyote cactus, and the teonanácatl mushroom] are commonly categorized by the chemical structure of their single active molecule.

[…]  there has been a pervasive assumption among academic researchers that the psychedelic experience is paradigmatically that of LSD, and that the experience of dimethyltryptamine, mescaline, and psilocybin can be lumped together with that of LSD under such rubrics as altered state of consciousness. Such terms refer vaguely to what the experiences of taking LSD, mescaline, dimethyltryptamine, and psilocybin — and maybe DOM and MDMA, but maybe not — presumably have in common. That there is such a common experience is simply assumed. Of current researchers, apparently only Richard Glennon has attempted a typology, based primarily on animal drug discrimination studies, which classifies these substances as hallucinogenic, central stimulant, or other, with some substances occupying more than one category.

I think we need a better typology than that. The goal should be to understand the phenomenology of the sacred plants under their ceremonial conditions of use, not when their single active molecules are ingested under experimental or recreational conditions.

He goes on to offer a 3D matrix of classification with axes being hallucinogenic, empathogenic and entheogenic, and focuses on the three main examples of psilocybe, ayahuasca and peyote.

While I really appreciate this approach phyto-maestro-Steve has embarked on, I do actually disagree with the semantics and particular choices of the 3 axes.

First off, psilocybin is extremely close to DMT (ayahuasca).  In fact, it’s just DMT with an extra hydroxy chunk on it that permits it to escape the digestive monoamine oxidizer.   So while this slight structural difference may lead to categorically different effects than pure DMT, I think they’re experiential similarity is more note-worthy than their difference.

But as per mescaline, salvia, THC, ibogaine, ketamine, etc, I think we do need to work on better observational descriptions, although we should dig deeper into the linguistic and poetic usages of ‘scientific’ terms, rather than rely solely on the recent tags of hallucinogen, empathogen, deleriant, psychointegrator, entheogen, etc.   They’re not necessarily dangerous words or anything, but neither are they very effective, however.

LINK:  Singing to the Plants

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2 responses

20 01 2009
Steve Beyer

Thank you for the link to Singing to the Plants and for your most helpful thoughts. I am certainly not married to any particular descriptive terminology. I do think we need to develop and refine an experiential typology; if we are going to try and correlate structure and function — which we may or may not be able to do — then the function part of the correlation needs a lot of work.

What we should not do is cede the descriptive terminology solely to chemists, regulatory agencies, and law enforcement. And I agree completely that we need a better and deeper understanding of the poetic and bardic descriptions of the sacred plants in the indigenous cultures that developed their use.

Thank you for The Teleomorph, which is, in my opinion, one the most interesting and enjoyable blogs on the Web.

19 04 2010
Jymi Nonya

The use of entheogens is finally getting the attention/research it deserves! I was treated with Ibogaine for a 6 year methadone habbit in 2006 and I can tell you from first hand experience that it works!

Ensenada Ibogaine Program

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