Slowly but surely, the repeal of the ban on psychedelic drugs is progressing state by state, country by country. The normalisation of entheogenic substances raises, however, several questions: who is legitimised to give these medicines: doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, shamans…, what experience does a traditional healer need and how can he or she prove it, can these substances be dispensed as if they were conventional medicines?
To answer these and other questions, we talk to Manuel Villaescusa, psychologist, musician, ayahuasca expert and co-founder of the Plantaforma de Defensa de la Ayahuasca.
One of the most disconcerting effects of ayahuasca is that it sometimes seems to allow us to “read” other people’s minds or “transmit” ideas without the need to speak. The description of this phenomenon is not anecdotal but very frequent in the scientific literature, to the point that the active principle of ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) was baptised “telepathine” back in 1915.
The term was coined by the famous Colombian botanist Rafael Zerda Bayón, and appeared for the first time in his paper ‘Informes sobre mi excursión científica en las regiones colombianas de Caquetá, Bogotá, Colombia’ (Reports on my scientific excursion in the Colombian regions of Caquetá, Bogotá, Colombia). However, the error persists of attributing the discovery to the American ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who began to use the term “telepathine” during the 1940s. Since Schultes studied yagé in Colombia, it is very likely that he was aware of Zerda Bayón’s studies and writings three decades earlier.
But it was neither Bayón nor Schultes who popularised the telepathic abilities of ayahuasca but the novelist and drug addict William Burroughs, who in his ‘The Yage Letters’ to his friend, the poet Allen Ginsberg, wrote the following:
“A Colombian scientist isolated a substance from yagé which he called telepathine. I know from my own experience that telepathy is a fact. I have not the slightest interest in proving telepathy to anyone or anything. I want to have the useful knowledge of telepathy”.
The book was published in 1963 (although it was written ten years earlier, in 1953) and aroused great interest in ayahuasca in North America, giving the starting signal for the ayahuasca tourism that is so common in the Amazon region today.
Telepathine, a personal experience
Like Burroughs, many of us who have been touched by the ayahuasca angel can affirm that telepathy is a fact. I had the certainty exactly one year ago, during the summer solstice of 2019. It was in Madrid, at a ceremony of my dear Nak, then president of the Plantaforma. Rita and I went together, once again, and spent a good part of the trip in each other’s arms, our heads in contact, and we were able to have telepathic “conversations” without uttering a word or even looking at each other. I felt like his brain was mine and I could directly access his thoughts.
-Don’t worry, I’m fine.
-But you’re making me worry by telling me that.
The next day we confirmed these and other “words” by word of mouth. Rita had a hard time that night and tried to reassure me, but I knew – I could see – that she was having a hard time.
Harmina = telepathine
Unfortunately, the evocative name “telepathine” is no longer used (the last references are in the writings of Claudio Naranjo in one of his last books ‘Ayahuasca’, which is also written half a century ago, during the 50s and 60s). The reason is that telepathine is exactly the same molecule as ‘Harmine’, a beta-carboline described a few years earlier and which takes its name from harmel, the common name of the Syrian rue (Peganum harmala), a plant widely used in the traditional pharmacopoeia of Arab countries and which some call the “European ayahuasca”.
*”The first among us who undertook its study was Dr. Rafael Zerda Bayón, of pleasant memory, a true man of science, who spent most of his life observing nature with the idea and conviction of one day extracting from it some of its hidden secrets.
He made a famous scientific expedition to Caquetá and Putumayo with the purpose, among many others, of studying more closely and in detail the active principle of this plant, which was the object of a profound and conscientious work, by means of which he managed to suppose, after multiple experiments without managing to isolate it, that this plant must contain as its active principle an alkaloid, which he baptised with the name of telepathine because of the very particular and curious effects produced by the ingestion of its preparations.
In honour of the memory of this illustrious scholar, the alkaloid which we have isolated, and which he supposed to exist, should retain the name of telepathine”.
Marc Aixalá, psychotherapist, holotropic breathing facilitator, founder of the ICEERS Support Centre and now also a writer, has just published a book that looks set to become an instant classic: ‘Integración psiquedélica’, published simultaneously in Spanish by Eleftheria and in English by Synergic Press (with translation by Adam Aronovich), was born “as a ‘self-reflection’ to clarify in writing the ideas of what I had learned in these years”, as Marc explains to us in this interview, which you can watch and listen to in full here:
Gustavo Preto, President of Colombia, delivered one of the most courageous, forceful and emotional speeches ever heard at the United Nations Assembly last September 20th. Petro spoke to the representatives of the world’s nations, but with special emphasis on the United States, promoter and guarantor of the “failed” war on drugs, a disaster that has been dragging on for 40 years and has political, social and environmental consequences in Colombia, his country, and also throughout Latin America.
The war on drugs, said the Colombian president, is, together with greed for oil and coal, co-responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest: “As in a paradoxical crossroads, the rainforest that we are trying to save is at the same time being destroyed”.
Petro is not the first Latin American leader to point the finger squarely at the war on drugs as responsible for the violence in Colombia, but also in Mexico, Brazil and Peru. The difference lies in the fact that, unlike, for example, Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, he does so from his presidential post and not after leaving office.
The influential Anglo-Saxon historiography places the first contact between the white man and ayahuasca somewhere between the 19th and mid-20th centuries, that is, during the career of two great scientists: the English naturalist Richard Spruce (1817-1890) and his namesake, the American Richard Evans Schultes (1915-2001), who some consider to be the first white man to take the sacred drink of the Incas and the Amazonian peoples, specifically from the hand of the taita Salvador Chindoy.
However, it is doubtful, to say the least, that the thousands of Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors, missionaries and settlers who lived with, subdued and tried to Christianise the ‘Indians’ did not get to know ayahuasca and other indigenous remedies centuries before the aforementioned scientists.
Ediciones La Llave published in 2021 ‘El viaje sanador’, the first edition in Spanish of a classic book by Claudio Naranjo: ‘The Healing Journey’, published in English in 1973 and, nevertheless, very topical, now that the taboo on therapeutic research with psychedelics, a field in which Naranjo was a pioneer, is finally beginning to be broken.
We spoke to David Barba, editor of La Llave, member of Fundación Beckley Med,and an advanced disciple of Claudio. Through his words, David brings us not only snippets of the master’s wisdom but also his own, after decades of deep personal work with Gestalt, Buddhism and, of course, psychedelics, including ayahuasca.
Marc Lane defines himself as a ‘phoenician world traveler’ and has been living in Ibiza for the last 15 years. It’s not unusual seeing him around, giving to the people some microdoses of a dark and sweet jam made of San Pedro that Marc himself cooks at home: «I’ve spent years trying to find a nice flavour to wachuma, because people usually feels its flavour beeing too bitter».
The effect of San Pedro (Echinopsis pachanoi) in microdose are subtle but crystal clear. It’s like the doors of perception suddently were clystal clear, using the famous words of Aldous Huxley. The british novelist had a revealing experience with mescaline, the active principle of San Pedro, when he wrote ‘The doors of perception’ and ‘Heaven and Hell’, two brief essays that pioneered the psychedelic literature.
«The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend».
«This medicinal plant that is called San Pedro, ‘Wachuma‘ or ‘Iwakoya‘, but a lot of people like to refer to the active ingredient which is mescaline», explains Marc while pointing one of the dozens cacti that grows in his garden. His relantionship with the plant started 12 years ago, when «some gentleman was here [in Ibiza] and he had a bag of San Pedro powder that he brought from South Africa. When I started taking it, it made me feel really really good…. I wasn’t taking full doses, but just enough to… it was like turning on the light to reality», explains Marc Lane.
«For a few years, I got involved a little bit with with ayahuasca and other different experiences, but the San Pedro was always there there in the background somewhere», recalls Marc. The epiphany was about to happen:
«Five years ago, I finally went to Peru and I made my direct connection with the plant. I could not find anybody to really teach me about the ‘Wachuma’, but instead I was learning from directly from the plant itself. It was guiding me, so when I was coming back I wanted to bring some with me and one of my maestros told me let’s go ask for the ‘apus’ -the great mountain spirits- for permission. I could have just gone to the market and bought it, but instead we went up to mountain and we made an offering to the ‘apus’. At that moment, I received a message and the message was ‘You take this and you give it to everybody. You just put it in your mouth; no ceremonies, no stories, no complications. You don’t put yourself between the plant and the people. The cactus is a lot smarter than you or anybody else».
Why do you think the ‘wachuma’ has chosen you for this ‘mission’. «Well, the cactus is very very powerful but it doesn’t have hands neither legs, it doesn’t feed doesn’t have a mouth, so i’m just letting him use mine», repplies Lane.
Since then and following this aim for spreading the plant, Marc has been growing the cacti and developing different ways of taking the San Pedro. «The most important thing trying to make it taste good, so be more pleasant to take because some people say that it tastes bad».
Applications for San Pedro
Mescaline its well kwown for its psychoactive effects (due to mescaline, the same active principle of peyote). Nevertheless, this is not the effect Marc it’s looking for with the microdoses: «To me it’s like taking it like you would take a normal medicine, taking a little pill every day in small quantities. I don’t go for large doses or for psychedelic experiences. I think a slow buildup is a much more effective long-term therapeutic, and it’s also a lot easier because it’s a much easier to manage».
Taste is relevant, but safety it’s much more important for Marc. There is no much information about safety with mescaline, but Marc Lane defends its ‘observational experience’: «I have given San Pedro to literally thousands of people ranging from very small children to very old people. There has never been a bad side effect. It’s the safest substance I’ve ever come across. It’s safer than coffee, it’s safer than anything that I know. Before that, it works for many different conditions. for a person that is let’s say okay, it improves your mood but it also improves sleeping for insomnia and also for children with ADHD [Attention Deficit Hypeactivity Disorder] or even autism.
There are some parents that have been giving very small doses of San Pedro to children with autism or children with ADHC, and the results have been incredible: the anxiety is gone, the stress is gone all this tendency to to flip out just gets smoothed; all is serenity and peace (…) Nothing gives me the satisfaction that when one of these children just comes up to me and hugs me… I just start crying».
The ‘antidepressant cacti’?
There is a vigorous movement in the U.S. trying to ‘decriminalize nature’, more specifically, all the psychoactive plants and fungi used for millenia by humankind. In this aspect, Marc considers that «San Pedro should be legalized and it should even be classified potentially as a nutritional supplement». Nevertheless, Echinopsis pachanoi «can basically replace most psychiatric medication. It is more effective than antidepressants and than most anti-anxiety medicines and also than most mood elevators out there, without any side effects and that’s also one of the reasons I believe that it’s always been kept on the side: because it basically take out a big chunk of pharmaceutical business». While other psychedelic compounds like MDMA or LSD also work in different ways, they also have their side effects some of them are addictive and, eventually, are very dangerous to stop taking, this one is is anti-addictive actually: the more you take the less you want to take».
I ask Marc if there are any scientific studies to support his findings in the issues of those patologies: autism, depression and ADHD: «It depends on what you consider a scientific study. There is no scientific studies for San Pedro or mescaline in general, and the ones that there are very small. I mean, if we want to look for example even the work that MAPS is doing with MDMA, even all their trials have been with a few dozen people. Is that a real study ? I’ve been doing a real life study with thousands of people for years, perhaps not scientific but surely observational, and I found out that ‘wachuma’ is both safe, useful and powerful».
Leo Artese is a free radical within the Santo Daime church. While he follows the official calendar and the original design bequeathed by godfather Sebastian, he also sings his own hymnbooks (‘O Curandeiro’ and ‘Camino das Virtudes’), and performs a powerful shamanic ritual (‘Voo de aguila’), unheard of within the daimist liturgy: “I was a shaman before I was a daimist, just as others are engineers or teachers”, Artese justifies himself during this interview we had in Ibiza as part of his annual European tour.
Besides being a shaman, Artese is a qualified musician and has ‘received’ immortal hymns from the astral, such as ‘Yemanjá’ or ‘Livre’. Leo guides his ‘trabalhos’ by playing the bongos and imbuing the rituals with rhythm and good humour.
The journalist, novelist and documentary filmmaker Alfonso Domingo(Madrid, 1959) tried ayahuasca for the first time in the late 1980s in the Amazon. He had a transformative experience, which was followed by a phase of proselytising, trying to convince others to try this marvellous mixture. Now his attitude is very different: the abuses and “spurious uses” that are being made of the sacred drink have made him adopt a much more discreet attitude, close to mutism, with regard to ayahuasca. In transit, he has published a book about his experiences in the Amazon, ‘La serpiente líquida’ (Punto de Vista Editores, 2018) and a documentary of the same name. In them, ayahuasca is not the protagonist, although it is a constant thread running through Domingo’s story, as if it were the snake of the title.
We chatted with Domingo about master plants, extractivist capitalism, the first steps of ayahuasca in Spain… and about Alfonso Graña, the Galician adventurer who was chieftain of the Shuar Indians in the 1930s and about whom we will talk soon.