(This article originally appeared on the website www.knowdrugs.net)
So I’m lying on my back on a foam mattress and it doesn’t matter whether my eyes are open or closed – I can’t see what’s around me for the intensity of the visions is overwhelming. Extraordinary colours, patterns and shapes appear before me, endlessly morphing and perpetually renewing. As well as witnessing this numinous light show, what seems like profound knowledge is being imparted to me. I’m being taught deep truths about how to live a better life; I’m reliving and letting go of the pain associated with distant memories; I’m empathically experiencing the pain of others throughout history and in different parts of the world and learning the importance of compassion. In the following days and weeks I feel lighter, more optimistic about life, more energetic, and the sadness I used to experience is no longer there. Something quite remarkable has happened.
I’ve been drinking the Amazonian brew ayahuasca and it’s a good job it was in Peru because if this was taking place where I live – in the UK – it would be considered criminal activity and the facilitators of the ceremony could face serious class A drug offences. The ingredient for which ayahuasca is an illegal ‘drug’ is Dimethyltryptamine, – also known as DMT – a naturally occurring compound which is produced by the human body and by many plants and animals. In Peru they prefer to think of ayahuasca as a ‘medicine’, a renowned healer of innumerable psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical problems. I’m certainly not the only person to benefit in this way – countless people testify to the healing properties of ayahuasca and other plant medicines, or substances and methods that utilise altered states of consciousness. A growing research base is slowly documenting their ability to considerably help with problems such as addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. However, the case remains that in most countries outside of the Amazon people who wish to use this powerful therapeutic tool must do so in secrecy and face the possibility of spending time in jail. Just recently in England Peter Aziz was sentenced to 15 months in prison for holding Ayahuasca ceremonies.
Having experienced the profound benefits that Ayahuasca can potentially gift to those who drink it, it saddens me that something with such capacity for therapeutic value is placed beyond the reach of those who could benefit from it due to it’s legal status. It seems that whether through ideology or ignorance, or a combination of the two, Ayahuasca and similar substances continue to be thought of as odd, dangerous chemicals that should be avoided. Due to the fact that the predominant ideological paradigm in our culture denies that altered states of consciousness could possibly do any good for anything at all this is perhaps no surprise.
Of course, one must treat such powerful tools with respect, and the setting and way in which they should be used is critically important. Participants might also need support during the time that they are integrating their experiences. And ayahuasca and other altered state-inducing substances are certainly not for the faint hearted – though sometimes blissful they can also invoke a tough, frightening ordeal which can take the user to psychologically challenging places. All this plays a role in the healing process. But as commentators such Graham Hancock have explained, sovereignty over one’s own consciousness should not be withheld, and for the benefit of millions of people around the world who suffer from debilitating psychological problems such as addiction, depression and anxiety, it’s time to consider whether instead of being outlawed, these plant medicines should in fact be utilised.