Nixiwaka Biraci Yawanawa, the leader of the Yawanawa people in the Amazon, delivered a passionate speech at the Psychedelic Science conference in Denver, Colorado, which was organized by MAPS, a key player in the ‘Psychedelic Renaissance.’ His speech echoed the sentiments found in the 1854 speech by Chief Seattleof the Suquamish tribe to the first governor of Washington Territory. He emphasized the urgent need to consider the environment and indigenous perspectives in the context of the ongoing Psychedelic Renaissance.
“When you pollute the last river, when you cut down the last forest, we will also be out of this Earth”.
Nixiwaka Yawanawa did not miss the opportunity to remind that the so-called ‘Psychedelic Renaissance,’ in which MAPS is one of the main actors, is taking place without listening to indigenous peoples, “the true guardians of many medicinal plants, of sacred plants”.
Albert Casasayas teaches Spanish and Latin American Studies at Santa Clara University in California. He admits he’s a newcomer to psychedelia or, according to Juan Carlos Usó, who wrote the book’s prologue, a “neo-convert.” This fresh look at psychedelics is one of the book’s greatest strengths. The book is not intended to be academic, but rather a “middle-ground” perspective, distinct from those deeply involved in the psychedelic community but also beyond the “very biased mainstream media with its anti-drug discourse.”
Speaking via Zoom from California, Albert is preparing for the imminent academic year while continuing to delve into the complex, fascinating, and often paradoxical world of visionary drugs.
In 1910, the German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich made a groundbreaking discovery and patented arsphenamine, a chemical compound derived from arsenic that proved effective against syphilis and was marketed for two decades under the trade name ‘Salvarsan’.
Ehrlich, who had already been awarded a Nobel Prize for his vaccine research, had a profound impact on 20th-century pharmacology with his concept of the “magic bullet”:a pharmacological compound that specifically targets a particular pathogen without harming the host’s body.
‘Salvarsan’ was the first successful drug based on the “magic bullet” hypothesis and saved millions of lives in Europe until the introduction of penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming two decades later. Penicillin proved to be more effective than ‘Salvarsan’ for treating syphilis and other infectious diseases. However, the echo of Ehrlich’s discovery and the “magic bullet” concept continues to resonate, albeit with diminishing influence.
When we talk about mental illnesses, anxiety, depression, and suicide, we usually focus on modern Western societies, considering them as afflictions of our time caused by an increasingly disconnected lifestyle from nature. However, indigenous peoples in the Amazon suffer from extremely high levels of alcoholism, and their suicide rate is three times the national average, as denounced by the artist and activist Daiara Tukano, from the Tukano (or Yé’pá Mahsã) people, during the opening of the 7th Colloquium ‘Shamanism, Science, and Knowledge’ held last week in Tarragona.
“It seems incredible to me that there are so many research projects for mental health, but I have a request because I know that we need that attention in our communities. Indigenous peoples are the most marginalized. If you want to investigate how to treat suicide, depression, come and research with us… the suicide rate among indigenous peoples is 300% higher than any other social report,” explained Daiara Tukano via videoconference from her community in the state of Vaupés, on the border between Colombia and Brazil.
The botanical classification only includes two species of ayahuasca, the famous Banisteriopsis caapi and the lesser known Banisteriopsis inebrians, a gnarled vine that is also used, less frequently, to make the Amazonian medicinal concoction. However, traditional indigenous peoples contemplate a wide range of ayahuasca vines, not only in terms of colour and morphology, but also in terms of their effects.
The taxonomy of Amazonian plants by indigenous and mestizo healers and shamans is no less precise or “scientific” than that offered by botany. In fact, more and more researchers are trying to build bridges between traditional knowledge and the western Cartesian vision, two complementary approaches with the same objective: the attainment of knowledge.
Allan Finney began his “healing journey” with ayahuasca at the age of 59, seven years ago, with a lineage of Shipibo shamans in Peru. The journalist and television producer from British Columbia, Canada, returned home to find that ayahuasca was illegal, in contravention of the UN Conventions on Narcotic Drugs, which recognise that the Amazonian concoction is not banned. How did this happen? “It’s about the pharmaceutical industry, about big corporate interests. They don’t want to see people being cured, healed by ayahuasca,” Finney responds in this interview we conducted via Zoom last week.
To try to get a licence for the use of traditional ayahuasca in Canada, three years ago he founded Companionship for the Sacred Vine (CSV), a religion that would allow the opening of ayahuasca centres in the Shipibo tradition in all provinces of Canada.
Why a religion? “Because it is the only legal possibility Canada allows to import ayahuasca,” explains Finley. In order to file a legal battle in the Supreme Court, and eventually sue Health Canada, the CSV has launched a crowdfunding campaign seeking to raise $20,000.
We chatted with Antón about the current state of psychedelic-assisted therapy in Europe, about research in Spain and about the eventual (and unlikely) integration of the shamanic model in the future regulatory framework.
Francisco Azorín is a veteran in the defence of cannabis clubs, an experience he applies to put recent police operations on ayahuasca ceremonies into perspective. Azorín achieved a landmark court ruling on ayahuasca in the Malaga provincial court in 2021. It recognised that ayahuasca cannot be considered a “toxic drug, narcotic or psychotropic substance”. Only two years have passed, but the current situation of the plant is very different. Nobody would dare to speak today of the “(pen)last judgement on ayahuasca”.
We talked to Azorín, member of the Murcian law firm Brotsanbert, about laws, politics, police strategies and the role of shamanism in the booming ‘psychedelic renaissance’.
“For me, the Amazon is the last frontier, a mysterious universe where the power of nature can be felt like nowhere else on Earth. Here, there is a forest that stretches to infinity and contains a tenth of all existing plant and animal species. It is the world’s largest natural laboratory,” writes Sebastião Salgado in the foreword to his new book ‘Amazonia’, which has just been published by Taschen.
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.