A new epidemiological study adds weight to the claim that no evidence has yet been found of psychological maladjustment, mental health deterioration, or cognitive impairment in human adults who ingest ayahuasca regularly, frequently, and over long periods of time as committed members of the Brazilian ayahuasca churches. But caution is required in interpreting these findings.
A recent toxicological study has assayed the neurotoxic effects of ayahuasca in laboratory rats. “The results of this investigation,” the author reports, “indicate the presence of oxidative stress in rats treated with ayahuasca, with statistically significant values of neuronal apoptosis measured by TUNEL assay.” In other words, the author says that ayahuasca killed off brain cells in experimental rats. What can we make of this?
For most of his life, psychologist Carl Gustav Jung enjoyed telling the story of the Solar Phallus Man — the designation was conferred by historian Sonu Shamdasani — and often claimed that the story was the single most compelling piece of evidence for his theory of the collective unconscious. But the story has a number of problems, and, when it is used to argue for the existence and nature of the collective unconscious, it raises serious methodological and conceptual issues.
Significant materials in the field of Mesoamerican ethnomycology have been newly collected and translated by Brian P. Akers in his book The Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico: Assorted Texts. The work presents classic scholarship, previously unavailable in English, on Matlatzinca, Mixtec, Mixe, and other Mesoamerican sacred mushroom rituals — rich and detailed accounts of the place of psychoactive mushrooms in the lives of the peoples who use them. Plus a bonus — a classic 1960s television show.
Do warfare and killing among Amazonian peoples have an evolutionary function? Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon claims that the culture of the Yanomamö of Brazil exemplifies a key principle of sociobiology — that males who had murdered during intervillage warfare had more than twice as many wives and three times as many children as men who had not. In other words, he claims that violence is evolutionary adaptive behavior. Now a new study of violence and reproductive success, this time among the Waorani of Ecuador, has come to a different conclusion.
In 2001, a graduate student named Charles Zidar heard a lecture on the polychrome ceramics of the Classic Maya. The lecturer mentioned, in passing, that the botanical motifs with which many of these ceramics were decorated remained unidentified. This remark inspired Zidar, a natural historian and archaeologist, to focus his research on plants illustrated on Maya ceramics, culminating in the creation of a botanical resource database of the plants depicted in Classic Maya art, with the goal of rediscovering unknown or forgotten plants that were important to the ancient Maya. The initial results of this research have now been published.
Alexander Shulgin — familiarly known as Sasha — is a giant in the field of psychopharmacology, widely loved and admired for his inventiveness, courage, and sense of humor. He was a scrupulous and inventive chemist, and the creator of more than 230 psychoactive substances, most of which he tested on himself and on his wife Ann. For about four years now, Turn of the Century Pictures has been working on a documentary about Shulgin’s life and work. There is reason to believe that the film has evolved over the years. Where is it now?
The Moche culture flourished in the northwestern coastal areas of Peru around AD 100–800. Human sacrifice was a significant part of their state religion, apparently to appease a deity named Ai Apaec, who is depicted in Moche art as fanged, half-human, most often in the shape of a spider, holding in one hand a severed human head and in another the crescent-shaped ceremonial knife called a tumi. In the archeological literature, this deity has come to be called the Decapitator. Were hallucinogens part of these ceremonies?
Stanley Krippner, the Alan Watts Professor of Psychology at the Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center in San Francisco, is internationally known for his pioneering work in the scientific investigation of human consciousness, and especially of what he has come to call anomalous experiences — precognitive dreams, parapsychological phenomena, hypnosis, dissociation, altered states of consciousness, psychic surgery, and shamanism. Here is a thirty-minute interview with Krippner on the subject of ayahuasca, the “brutal teacher.”
We have talked before about the Grob, McKenna, Callaway, et al. psychiatric study on the long-term effects of drinking ayahuasca in the ceremonies of the União do Vegetal church. I noted that the study had not clearly disentangled any bias that might have resulted from the fact that the ayahuasca drinkers — but not controls — had been preselected for their orderly churchgoing habits. Here is a study that may shed some light on that question.