Jungle Drugs

“Unlike other man-made psychedelics such as LSD, synthetic DMT takes many users to the same ‘place,’ where they report meeting elfish, clown-like, and insectoid beings who frequently extend the same warm and welcoming message: ‘We’ve been expecting you.'”

If science is beginning to look seriously into psychedelics for health benefits, they are only trying to put into words what some indigenous people know instinctively. Sometimes a good dose of acid is just what you need to straighten your head out.

Things can get truly weird when these drugs are involved, and no one knows that better than the Ashaninka tribe of the Peruvian Amazon. A couple of years ago, Alex Zaitchik trekked deep into the jungle and befriended these people. He requested of his hosts to partake of their sacred tripping ceremony, and the elders nodded their assent.

The shaman, Noemi Vagus, was like no octogenarian I had ever met. Her jet black hair, nimble barefoot stride, and straight-backed squat reminded me more of a teenage gymnast than her elderly counterparts in American cities, with their four-legged walkers, slouching postures, and debilitating arthritis. Then there is the fact that she habitually consumes more elite psychedelics than every parking lot ‘shroom dealer at Burning Man put together.

This woman brewed a bubbling, magic potion for Alex and a few others, taking the whole day to boil roots and plant leaves into a simmering stew. He drank of her cup and laid down to rest on the earthen floor, and soon the jungle spirits were beckoning to him:

We lay quiet for some time, listening to the rushing river to our left and the teeming jungle to our right. Then, gently but swiftly, the Madre spirit announced her arrival and mine. She did this with a sound as natural to the jungle as the taste of the vine. The noise of the river rushing over rocks began to merge with that of the buzzing rainforest to form a warm insectoid hum. It was as if waves of bugs as big as rodents were swarming from every direction; as if the river was full of prehistoric flying insects. Yet somehow this wasn’t frightening or even creepy. The enveloping sound did not threaten us; the forest and its many creatures were our protectors.

I shut my eyes and breathed deeply. The jungle drug was taking hold.

As Alex freaked out in the tent, the tribesfolk outside started singing, the whole village in harmony. They sang songs that are thousands of years old, and have the effect of tying together everyone’s hallucinations. They bring everyone in tune with the Great Vision, the oneness that people feel when they take psychedelics. In the Peruvian jungle they call it the Ayahuasca Madre, a mother spirit who guides her children into the light and relieves of them their burdens. It’s a beautiful vision – not just for day-glo freaks – and it’s a powerful one. It could be put to good use, and a few scientists today are trying to prove it, for the benefit of everyone.


Come and enjoy a conversation with us about all of this, and other things, at next week’s meeting of the Junta. We’ll be at DOC Wine Bar, 83 N. 7th St. in Williamsburg (Cash bar only). Tuesday, November 8th, 8:30pm. All are welcome.

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