103 Psychedelics, or Hallucinogens usually reaches its peak within the first minute. Some users lose all awareness of their surroundings, being overwhelmed by visual hallucinations. Fans of DMT say it gives an ultimate psychedelic rush; needless to say, this experience can be quite frightening to someone unprepared for it.
After fifteen minutes, the strong effects subside, and after thirty minutes users again feel normal. Because of its short duration of action, DMT is known as the businessman's trip.
A close chemical relative of DMT is 5-MeO-DMT. It gives an equally powerful rush when smoked, but instead of visual hallucinations, the smoker experiences complete dissolution of reality. Some users describe this trip as "a rocket ship into the void." These two tryptamines usually occur together in the plant sources of South American snuffs, but although synthetic 5-MeO-DMT has been readily available in North America, it has far fewer fans than its chemical cousin. The reason is that 5-MeO-DMT is often more frightening than delightful.
Nonetheless, a new natural source of this drug has recently created interest among psychedelic explorers. The Sonoran Desert toad, a huge toad found in southern Arizona, produces large amounts of 5-MeO-DMT in its venom glands. These can be milked without harming the toad, and the venom can be dried and smoked. Users say the experience is gentler than smoking the synthetic drug.
Articles in tabloid newspapers have sensationalized this story, reporting inaccurately that people are licking toads to get high. Licking toads is dangerous. Only the Sonoran Desert toad's venom is psychoactive (other species are purely toxic), but it can cause serious poisoning if it gets in the eyes or mouth. Apparently, smoking destroys most of the toxic constituents, while sparing the 5-MeO-DMT.
The dramatic effects of these two tryptamines ¿ire good examples of the correlation between route of administration, duration of action, and intensity of effect. Short-acting drugs, introduced directly into the bloodstream by smoking or injection, tend to give "rushes" — sudden, dramatic changes in consciousness. Some people are especially fascinated by drug rushes, and, as noted in the section on narcotics, the pursuit of a rush can be the basis of addictive use.
That addiction to DMT and 5-MeO-DMT is unknown is due 111 part to the rapid development of tolerance to their interesting effects. When smoked regularly, they soon become ineffective. Another reason is the "high impact" of these experiences; they cannot easily be integrated into daily life in the way that highs of alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine can be.
From Chocolate to Morphine 104
All of the psyehedelics share these characteristics. The body develops rapid tolerance to them, so that if you try to take them often, you do not get the results you want. Even people who really like these drugs don't take them every day, and most users save them for special occasions.
Yage (Ayahuasca, Caapi)
Yag6 (pronounced yah-HAY) is a strong psychedelic drink made from a woody vine of the Amazon forests. Indians pound up lengths of the vine with stones, then cook them in water for several hours, sometimes adding other plants to heighten the effect. They use the drink in all-night vision-seeking rituals with shamans or in large tribal ceremonies, such as coming-of-age rites for adolescent boys. The plant owes most of its activity to har-mine, a drug rarely seen on the black market. Yage first causes intense vomiting and diarrhea, and then a more relaxed and dreamy state than that produced by LSD; it lasts from six to ten hours. Indians say the spirit of the vine enters their bodies and makes them see visions of jungles and jungle animals, especially
Yage growing in the jungle in Colombia. The woody vine is the source of a psychedelic drink. (R. E. Schultes)
105 Psychedelics, or Hallucinogens jaguars. Also, the drug is supposed to enable them to see the future and communicate telepathically over great distances. Seeing visions on yagé, as with other psychedelics, depends very much on set and setting.
Curiously enough, the plant most commonly added to yagé in making the drink is a leaf containing DMT. Indians say the addition makes for better and brighter visions. When scientists first learned of this practice, they dismissed it as useless on the grounds that DMT is destroyed in the stomach. Further research has now shown that harmine inactivates the enzyme that destroys DMT. Combined with yagé, therefore, DMT becomes orally active, and in this form it is a longer acting, less intense drug that doesn't produce a rush.
How did Indians discover this remarkable combination of plants? Anthropologists and botanists say they did so by trial and error. Given the number of plants in the Amazonian jungles, that would mean a great deal of trial and error. The Indians themselves say they were inspired by visions — that the spirit of yagé showed them the other leaves and the method of cooking the two together.
Hallucinogens Related to Adrenaline and Amphetamines
Indole hallucinogens make people feel high very rapidly. Typically, their effects begin in twenty to forty minutes and reach a peak within the first hour or two. The drugs in this second family of psychedelics may also be felt quickly, but their onset is more gradual, reaching a peak after several hours. Some users find them less "electric" than LSD and its relatives, although in high doses the adrenaline relatives are more toxic than the indoles.
My first vivid show of mescal colour effects came quickly. I saw the stars, and then, of a sudden, here and there delicate floating films of colour — usually delightful neutral purples and pinks. These came and went — now here, now there. Then an abrupt rush of countless points of white light swept across the field of view, as if the unseen millions of the Milky Way were to flow a sparkling river before the eye. In a minute this was over and the field was dark. Then I began to see zigzag lines of very bright colours...
— from an essay by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914], an American physician and novelist who drank an extract of peyotc in 1896
Peyotc is a small, spineless cactus with white, hairy tufts,- it is native to the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas and north-central Mexico. The tops of the cactus, cut off at ground level, dry into peyote "buttons" that retain their potency for a long time.
Some Indians in Mexico have used peyote since before recorded history, making long pilgrimages to the desert to collect it, then eating it in elaborate ceremonies. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, the Roman Catholic Church tried to stamp out peyote use, calling it sinful and diabolic, but to no avail. In the late 1800s the use of peyote spread northward to Indians in the United States, who invented new rituals around it. As it moved north, peyote became even more popular,- Indians of the midwest-
From Chocolate to Morphine 106 t
A typical dose of dried pey-ote "buttons," with vials of mescaline sulfate. Mescaline, the primary hallucinogenic agent in peyote, was first isolated around the turn of the century. (Jeremy Big wood)
ern plains organized a new religion based on it and helped spread its use all the way to Canada.
Not surprisingly, the explosion of this psychedelic movement among Indians generated intense opposition by non-Indians. Churches and government agencies charged that peyote made Indians crazy and violent; stories circulated of Indian men who, upon eating the cactus, axed helpless victims to death, while Indian women under its influence supposedly ripped off their clothes in sexual frenzies. The similarity of the early peyote stories to those told about other psychoactive drugs is striking. (If there were high-rise tipis, newspapers would doubtless have reported peyote-crazed Indians jumping out of them, thinking they could fly.) The very same charges have been made about LSD, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and PCP. Rarely have they had any basis in fact.
107 Psychedelics, or Hallucinogens
In response to official efforts to suppress the use of peyote, Indians organized formal churches and fought in courts for their right to eat the cactus. The Native American Church began in this way. Eventually, it won its court battles and now boasts hundreds of thousands of members throughout North America. Indians have used peyote legally in Native American Church ceremonies, although most states have prohibited non-Indians from participating. However, this situation could change,- a 1990 Supreme Court decision regarding the Church declared that guarantees of religious freedom did not extend to the use of illegal drugs.
Native American Church "meetings" begin after dark, often in tipis. The meetings take place around a fire, last all night, and include a great deal of singing, chanting, and praying, all coordinated by a leader, or "road man." Peyote is eaten throughout the night, and participants ask the spirit of the cactus to help make them better people, better able to deal with their problems. Sometimes the ritual includes elements of Christian worship. Church members tell many stories of cures of illness resulting from peyote meetings, as well as cures of alcoholism, an addiction notoriously resistant to treatment by conventional means.
Peyote has a nauseating, bitter taste that is not soon forgotten. People who try it for the first time often find it hard to swallow, and it commonly causes vomiting. After an hour or two of sickness, the discomfort usually passes. Indians say that with repeated use, especially in religious ceremonies, nausea and vomiting do not occur. A typical dose of peyote is six to twelve buttons. Some users boil them in water to make a tea, and some non-Indians even take the tea as an enema in order to avoid the bad taste and effects on the stomach.
A persistent myth in the drug subculture is that the white hairs in the centers of peyote buttons contain strychnine, which is supposed to account for the sickness. In fact, there is no strychnine in peyote (or any other hallucinogenic plant), and the hairs are just cellulose, probably indigestible but certainly not poisonous. Peyote is bitter and causes nausea because it has a lot of drugs in it — more than forty separate compounds. Chief among these is mescaline, which accounts for much of the hallucinogenic effect.
Mescaline was isolated from peyote in the late 1890s. It is the only naturally occurring psychedelic in this family of adrenaline-related drugs. Throughout the twentieth century, a few artists, philosophers, and psychologists experimented with it on themselves, but there was no general demand for it until the psyche-
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), the British writer and philosopher, experimented extensively with mescaline in the 1950s. (Courtesy of Laura Huxley)
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