Due to the rapid growth in use of psychedelic plants for the purposes of healing and shamanic ceremonies, these plants are becoming more and more threatened, as western culture does not have the understanding of how ecologically sensitive and endangered they are.
Tricia Eastman is Medicine Woman and an advocate in the psychedelic movement for the last 5 years and has observed the massive increase in media coverage for psychedelics.
“I admit myself, had I known what I know now about the delicate ecosystem surrounding plant medicines I would have started from a completely different approach.”
Eastman created, Ancestral Heart to address the impacts of colonization of to indigenous traditions as a result of the resurgence of psychedelics. She has been involved with numerous projects that are aimed at keeping on ongoing cultural exchange and delicate, noninvasive forms of support.
“Our hope is to engage this audience and inspire others in the midst of a burgeoning psychedelic movement to adopt a culture of respect and honor the keepers of these medicines and to those particular indigenous cultures worldwide who have tended to these medicines and ancestral traditions for millennia. We do not know the answers quite yet, but I feel, it is time to start gathering in councils to help engage with these important issues in a supportive way.”
Iboga, Peyote, and the venom of the Bufo Alvarius toad are Earth Medicines that are deeply connected to the sacred lands that belong to these indigenous nations. They are part of a complex ecosystem. For example, the Tabernathe Iboga plant has a relationship to the Okoume trees, the elephants that pull on them strengthening the plants roots, and the interconnected mycelial network of the jungle. By regarding each these endangered plants with respect we can sustain their presence for generations to come. If we fail to do so, we run the risk of future losing their chance to learn their traditions and carry out their rites of passage. We need to take into consideration how we respect their use and support them to ensure their preservation.
Tabernathe Iboga is native to a very small country located in Equatorial Africa. It is a plant that takes a minimum of seven years to grow before the root bark can be harvested, and it is used in ceremonies by a large tribe called the Bwiti. This plant is highly sensitive to its growing environment. Iboga can only grow near sea level, in very specific soil conditions only found within the equatorial jungles on the planet. Some Bwiti elders dispute its ability to thrive outside of Gabon due to the sensitivities of transporting seeds.
Since Tabernathe Iboga is currently protected by the Gabonese government and is illegal to export from Gabon, fines and potentially jail time threaten can be enforced for those caught trying to export it. Recently this plant has gained popularity due to the relatively recent widespread Western culture and practice of microdosing psychoactive plants and psychedelics. This trend is where individuals take small quantities of this plant, out of a group ceremonial environment, for addressing common psychological maladies or to improve one’s mental performance. The concern with this practice is that if increasing populations join the trend of microdosing endangered plant medicines, these long held indigenous medicines will not be available for marginalized groups to provide initiations for their own people. As a result of the increased demand for Iboga in the West and poor economic conditions in Gabon, some Ngangas or shamans in Bwiti culture, are selling or exporting the Iboga used in village initiations and instead giving their village palm wine in ceremony.
The popularity of iboga has grown due to an alkaloid extract from this plant which helps free the body from physical oppiate addiction called Ibogaine. Currently due to the lack of availability of full plant iboga, ibogaine is being made with a plant that is more environmentally sustainable called Voacanga Africana.
Blessings of the Forest, is a Gabonese organization that is planting more Iboga to ensure the future of this sacred medicine. Individuals are encouraged to plant Iboga if they are participating in any ceremony or have in the past, in order to offset the devastating cultural mining that has occurred as a result of Westerners coming to Gabon.
Peyote is a cactus native to regions of Texas and Mexico. It is used as a sacrament in the traditions of Native American tribes such as Lakota Sioux, Comanche, and indigenous peoples in Mexico including Mēxihcah and Wixárika.
Wirikuta is a sacred site for the Wixárika natives named Huichole by the Spanish, which is high in the mountains of central Mexico, They believe this location was the birthplace of peyote, which also is a spirit of a Blue Deer in their tradition. The Wixárika are indigenous to Mexico and have been split apart into reservations with little access to resources and the land they inhabit is difficult to farm.
Every year there is a pilgrimage to Wirikuta, where individuals march through the mountains and are guided by their ancestors on a journey to harvest the sacred peyote buttons for ceremony. These lands have been purchased up mining companies and private land owners, making it very hard for them to do the pilgrimage. Over the last decade, mining has been destroying the sacred lands and much of the peyote that has been growing there for centuries. A single peyote button can take up to 13 years to mature. Differences between the tribes have made it difficult to align together to raise enough funding to protect the land. There are several organizations such as River Styx organization, which specifically provides funding to protect Peyote for indigenous tribes to use in their ceremonies. The lands of Wirikuta as currently of threat from mining and private land-owners that do not understand the significance of this yearly pilgrimage.
Many American first nations are concerned with the Decriminalize Movement, that the peyote that they have been given special permissions to do prayers and ceremony under the Religious Freedom Act A statement from the National Council of Native American Churches and Indigenous Peyote conservation was made to address the sensitivity of this plant and preservation of their traditions.,
The National Council of Native American Churches (NCNAC) and the Board of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) recognize that humans have utilized entheogenic plants for their health and wellbeing for millennia and respectfully requests that current efforts to decriminalize these relationships should consider the complexities of each plant or fungal medicine. This statement addresses the particular complex relationship of the law, our history, and social/cultural realities in the U.S. to the peyote cacti (Lophophora williamsii).
Native American Church leadership respectfully request that Decriminalization efforts NOT mention peyote explicitly in any list of plants and fungi.
The statement further outlined the Black Market of peyote and unsustainable practices currently posing a threat would be amplified by the promotion of Decriminalize Movement to the limited supply of Peyote that they use for their worship practices.
The Bufo Alvarius toad secretes venom referred to as Bufotoxin that contains 5-MeO-DMT, a psychoactive tryptamine. This sacrament has no past indigenous records of traditional use, however there is iconography in ancient Mesoamerica temples and artifacts that potentially allude to prior sacramental use. This substance must be extracted by squeezing the glands of the toad.
The toads themselves carry an important message and frequency for the planet. They burrow underground and are “asleep” in a meditative state for nine months out of the year. The root Latin meaning of ‘Alvarius’ is ‘of the womb’ and these toads represent an important cycle of birth and death. When the venom is vaporized and smoked, it puts the brain into high-gamma frequency. This electrical pattern in the brain is associated with subjective experiences of oneness or non-duality. The EEG brain waves of an individual having smoked toad look similar to monks who are lifelong meditators.
Over the past several years, Bufo Alvarius, toad medicine, made mainstream by Mike Tyson and Hamilton Morris, has appealed to the masses for its psychoactive effects. Vice created billboards in the New York city subways with photos of Bufo Alvarius and Peyote buttons to promote their show Hamilton Morris’s Pharmacopeia. While we can assume both Mike Tyson’s and Hamilton Morris’s intentions were to help spread the healing and transformative powers of these profound substances, the side effect of creating massive interest and subsequent demand in millions of individuals that is a destructive force to the ecosystem. Damage has been done to these regions as a result of a rapid upsurge of psychedelic tourism-related activities. Its lasting effects on the culture and the environment, are yet to be fully realized. Although, there may not be a way to circumvent this with the overall media’s reporting on psychedelics tends to skew this area due to lack of knowledge. Education about these complex situations is really the only option. The answers and approaches are not completely black and white.
Tribes such as the Seri, Tohono O’odham, and Yaki found in the Sonoran desert work with this sacred medicine. Its wide range in popularity drives increased outsiders to the toad’s habitat, ultimately causing more harm than good.
“Many herpetologist say, ‘Leave the toads alone. Don’t go to the desert. Don’t harvest medicine on your own. The local tribes that live in the Sonoran desert should do this harvesting, if any, and those that build relationships with them could potentially access the medicine in a humble and supportive way.” Eastman Urges
Tribes found in the Sonoran desert work with this sacred medicine. Its wide range in popularity is driving seekers that believe that it’s an enlightening experience to go and “milk” a toad in its habitat, ultimately causing more harm than good. “People are driving around in 4x4s in search of toads, they’re breaking up the deserts fragile biofilm and they’re doing damage to the ecosystem that could take decades to recover from,” Eastman warns. The wisest option is to use synthetic 5-MeO-DMT, which is the primary psychoactive molecule that is in the venom of the Bufo Alvarius.
More sustainable alternatives to these delicate medicines are psilocybin mushrooms, which grow rapidly and are far more widely available. We have massive supplies of San Pedro Cactus that contains mescaline, which is also found in peyote. There are also synthetic-derived versions of all three substances (ibogaine, 5-MeO-DMT,mescaline) which can be made available. We just need to educate the public and media to make sure they are communicating these important issues.
We have much bigger concerns, as the clinical side psychedelic therapy moves forward. Large corporations, many with very little experience themselves with psychedelics or plant medicine, and coming from the already booming Cannabis space, ready to invest big dollars to dominate the “Corpordelic” marketplace. Many are placing speculative bets even before regulations that would allow these clinics to be doing certain psychedelic therapies are in place. Organizations like MAPS, a nonprofit and B corp fusion model, and those that have adopted nonextractive business models are going to be the most supportive to the communities that need to work collaboratively to create the support matrix that is necessary for integration of the healing from Psychedelic Therapy. MAPS has been the first to address publically Cultural Sensitivity and the need for therapy professionals of color and indigenous origin to receive training in psychedelic therapy. A bigger conversation needs to take place to acknowledge how big business could further widen the gap, making these therapies inaccessible for indigenous, as there are many living in the western society that are carrying cultural trauma. When we address the issue of cultural exchange, being that most of these extracts, except MDMA, originated from indigenous traditions, what measures will these entities take to share their scientific discoveries, professional training and making treatments accessible to the indigenous nations? The other issue is we have historically seen the promotion of a synthetic version of a plant such as Ibogaine to promote the popularity of its plant counterpart Iboga. This is another area where duty of care and education will have to be delicately addressed before moving forward. Eastman believes that extensive personal experience with individual psychedelic work, understanding the traditions, and inclusivity of indigenous elders should inform this space, rather than a trajectory of increasing of cultural separation … Integration is the very foundation of psychedelics being a massive transformative force for humanity and this concept must be weaved into all aspects. Northstar is one nonprofit organization starting to reach out to the community and host Town Halls to discuss these issues regarding big business coming into the space and has drafted guidelines to show organizations looking to enter the psychedelic movement that this space belongs to a massive community with a greater shared vision.
Ultimately, the underlying issue of cultural mining in Western society needs to be addressed for the right understanding of how we can advance in this burgeoning psychedelic movement in a sustainable and respectful way. As Terrence Mckenna stated succinctly, “Nature is not our enemy, to be raped and conquered. Nature is ourselves, to be cherished and explored.”
Cognitive liberty is not liberating if this movement siphons and destroys from other marginalized groups of people and nature sanctuaries of our planet.
ABOUT TRICIA EASTMAN:
Tricia Eastman is a pioneer in the psychedelic movement. As a medicine woman, she offers highly curated retreats in countries where use is legal working with 5-MeO-DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, and Iboga. She has been initiated into Bwiti traditions of Fang and Ngonde Missoko tradition, as well as facilitated the psychospiritual iboga program for Crossroads Treatment Center in Mexico. Since 2015, Eastman has supported 1200+ people through powerful medicine experiences including celebrities, political leaders, and Navy Seal veterans. She supports movements related to preservation of the sacred medicines for future generations, and working with the ancient wisdom traditions with respect and reverence.