Tag Archives: ayahuasca

Gardening on the Brain

Even though they are unusual and interesting on the outside, the most interesting feature of Acacia maidenii plants is what they hide inside. Several Acacias, such as the more commonly available longifolia, as well as many other plants, and animals (including humans), contain a group of chemicals known as tryptamines. The main tryptamine of interest is di-methyl tryptamine, DMT. A close chemical relative of DMT is psilocin, the psychoactive/psychedelic substance found in the so-called “magic mushrooms”. Why plants manufacture and store such chemicals is not understood, but these chemicals incorporate nitrogen into their structure, an important element required for plant growth. So, it could be that plants evolved to construct these chemicals to fix nutrients in the plants tissues ready for use if the plant finds itself in difficult times.

Several other plants, including some types of grass, Phalaris for example, contain DMT. Perhaps the most well known and studied home of DMT containing plants is the Amazon Jungle. In the Amazon, native peoples have, for time immemorial, used the DMT containing plants in a serious medical and spiritual context. In the western world, we have lost the appropriate respect for such plants and sadly they find their way into hands of thrill seekers and idiots! As I hinted earlier, being related so closely to psilocin means that DMT has a powerful psychotropic effect. The effect of DMT was once described to me by comparing its activity to the well known semi-synthetic psychotropic agent LSD. This is how it was described…

“LSD is sold impregnated onto little squares of blotting paper, no bigger than 1cm square. One of these doses will enter the system over the first 30-40 minutes following consumption. The effects of a single dose, build-up, peak and wane slowly over time with one dose lasting last up to 16 hours. Now, just imagine one of those blotters A4 sized and the whole effect of it entering your brain all at once in a matter of seconds after consumption. That’s DMT!”

We are obviously talking about an extremely powerful mind altering substance here. However, if we step aside from the way these substances are abused in our society and look at the history of the use of DMT containing plants and combine that with modern research then we are faced with a startling possibility. Some researchers and scientists (and I stress scientists and researchers, not drug users!) have suggested the incredible possibility that DMT may actually be the molecule responsible for human spiritual experience! A quick review of the facts will demonstrate why this conclusion has been reached.

DMT, along with the enzymes responsible for its manufacture, has now been found in very small amounts in various tissues of the human body, including cerebro-spinal fluid, the fluid that bathes the brain and central nervous system. It is a normal part of us. Structurally, it is very similar to the well known neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and adrenalin that are the chemicals responsible for human behaviour, mood etc. Our brain cells and nerve cells have receptor sites onto which these chemicals bind in order for them to exert their effect. It is now known that some of these receptor sites are the ones onto which psychotropic/psychedelic drugs such as DMT also bind. Why the human body makes DMT is not exactly clear, but as we know its effects in isolation are startling to say the least. One of the main effects of taking DMT in large doses is that it propels the user into another dimension where they may encounter all kinds of aliens, creatures etc., and where our concepts of space and time no longer hold. Because of this effect DMT has been suggested as the dream chemical, responsible for creating the other worlds we enter when fast asleep. It was also thought to be a causative factor in schizophrenia, and urine levels of DMT were said to be higher in sufferers. We now know this to be untrue, but it’s an interesting possibility. It is also suggested that DMT has a close relationship with the pineal gland in the brain. We still have no real idea what all the  functions of the pineal gland are in scientific terms but it is the gland that is most important in the ancient systems of meditation, spiritual enlightenment, yoga etc. The gland itself occupies a central position between the two brain hemispheres and is represented in the mystical traditions as the “third eye” or “crown chakra”. What we do know of the pineal is that it is thought to be derived from a group of light sensitive cells, yes, just like an eye, that sense light levels and give the brain information on wake/sleep cycles, season etc. This internal measurement of light gives the brain information as to the time of day it is, the time of year it is and therefore adjusts behaviour such as breeding habits, accordingly, setting up the so-called “circadian rhythms”.

Cells of the pineal gland, in humans, produce the hormone melatonin, which is another tryptamine, and plays a part in our sleep/wake cycle. It is believed by some researchers that at times of spiritual enlightenment, spiritual ecstasy, call it what you will, the pineal releases larger than usual quantities of DMT into the brain creating these altered perceptions and changes in consciousness. It is further thought that “near death” experiences and even “alien abduction” experiences are related to sudden alterations in DMT levels. The reason why these apparently unrelated events have been connected by researchers is that all these experiences share a remarkably uniform set of “symptoms” suggesting a common underlying cause. Common “symptoms” include, altered space/time appreciation, bright light, travelling through space, time or out of the physical body, interaction with “alien” entities (commonly the grey, bug eyed type of creature that has been adopted in popular culture as being the typical alien), poor memory of the events of the experience, especially as time goes by. An obvious comparison here is with dreaming of course. A comparison I find particularly interesting is with the ancient yogic practice of raising kundalini energy. Kundalini is said to be powerful, residual energy derived from the desire that brought the whole Universe into being, and it resides at the base of the spine like a coiled serpent. It is only through slow, cautious, patient and strict meditation and exercise that this coiled serpent of energy can be raised through the chakras and up the spine into the brain where it is said to fill the mind with the bliss of an expanded universal consciousness or the ultimate enlightenment. Interestingly, it is said that if you rush into this or raise the energy too fast it can literally blow your head off. Anecdotal tales are indeed told of impatient yogis found in this state of decapitation. The reason this ties in with DMT experiences is that subjects testing DMT for the first time often describe the onset of the experience as being like having your head blown off or even like the whole known Universe tearing apart and the whole of reality being destroyed in an instant! Brings a whole new meaning to “dead heading” doesn’t it?

Now, before you start burning your Acacias or your Phalaris or all the other plants that contain DMT, do not panic! You could eat as much as you like or handle as many of these plants as you like and rest assured that you will not suddenly enter realms of consciousness reserved for asylums! These plants are perfectly safe because the DMT has to be extracted in a specific way before it can get anywhere near your blood stream or brain. This is where the Amazonian Indians come in!

For centuries Amazonian Indians have been observed preparing mixtures of herbs for use in medical or religious rituals. The medicine man or elders would prepare mixtures of herbs that were drunk or snuffed. The medicine man would then be observed to enter different realms of consciousness where he would interact with ancestors or the spirits of the plants, asking them how a certain illness could be cured or how any problem the people may have might be solved. The Amazon rain forest, as it turns out, is awash with plants that contain DMT, and it is these plants that are being used in the native traditions. The most commonly known ceremony/ritual of Amazonian origin is the “Ayahuasca” ceremony. “Ayahuasca” means the “vine of the soul” and refers to a plant called Banisteriopsis caapi. We think we are good at chemistry, but these people have known for ever that if you mix Banisteriopsis with DMT containing plants then it renders the DMT orally active. Normally, any DMT you may eat, if you grazed on Acacia for example, is broken down by enzymes in the gut and neutralised. The body in fact has an incredibly efficient system for breaking tryptamines down. However, Banisteriopsis contains chemicals that neutralise the enzymes that break down tryptamines and the DMT is allowed into the bloodstream and thence to the brain where it exerts its effects. In modern research experiments with DMT the pure chemical is inhaled/smoked or injected. In the Amazon the usual source of DMT for native rituals are species of Psychotria. The Banisteriopsis is often called the “force” whilst the DMT containing plant is called the “light”. There was even a time when the active components of the Banisteriopsis were called “telepathine” because early European observers were so impressed with the traditional ceremonies and the way the people did indeed seem to be connected to another realm using the conduit of the plant chemicals. Interestingly, there is no evidence that indigenous Australians ever used Acacia species in a similar fashion, but then, as they tell us, they came from Dream Time anyhow!

Whatever your views are on this amazing family of plants, you’ve got to admit it’s an incredible conversation starter! Every garden should have one…get yours here – http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Acacia-maidenii-plants-year-old-seed-grown/320720172188ssPageName=WDVW&rd=1QQihZ011QQcategoryZ3185QQcmdZViewItem