When it comes to the use of psychedelic substances, the people here in the west are absolute rookies. In the special September edition of The Psychologist, Vaughan Bell takes an in depth look at cultures that can tutor us. His article, titled cultures of chemically induced hallucinations, provides an interesting eye-opener.
Expectations shape your trip
What are your expectations going into a trip? This appears to be a decisive factor for the experience you are going to have (see also: set and setting). And the expectations you bring are largely shaped by your environment. In cultures where the use of psychoactive plants plays a natural role, expectations are formed in a social setting - through rituals, from person to person.
The article focuses on a number of tribes living in the Amazon. If we are in kindergarten, they are going for their umpteenth master. All of these tribes use ayahuasca, but do so for different reasons and through different rituals. With this, their psychedelic experiences also vary, a phenomenon that underlines the influence of expectations.
- Cashinahua: ayahuasca brings hallucinations that give direction to life.
- Aguarana: ayahuasca provides the insight to understand the future and give the ability to shape it.
- Siona: ayahuasca acts as a gateway to an alternate reality.
- Schuar: ayahuasca acts as a gateway to the true reality.
The conclusion of clinical psychologist Vaughan Bell, author of the article, is that the effect of hallucinogens can only be fully interpreted within the cultural context of the user.
The cultural baggage of westerners
What about our cultural context? Here in the west big entertainment plays a decisive role in shaping our expectations. As a teenager growing up, you will already have a lot of baggage. In general, these are not the most uplifting ideas.
The picture sketched by mainstream movies and television is often limited to clichés. The use of drugs invariably takes place in a party setting, where users don’t spent a moment thinking about tomorrow, and focus purely on hedonistic pleasure.
Fortunately for us here in the Netherlands there is room for informative programming aimed at a young audience like Spuiten & Slikken - despite a repressive government. What it’s really like on mainstream broadcasting in other Western countries, we don’t know. Please fill us in and leave a comment!
Of course a curious person will hit the internet. The result we stumble upon in the Netherlands aren’t that bad. Obviously there are the sites of institutions that lean against the government that focus almost exclusively on the risks. But pretty quickly you’ll find websites that paint a more nuanced picture. However; not a word on the wonderful properties of people from the Amazon.
Curiosity is rewarded
Ignorance limits the potential of hallucinogens. It’s of great importance that there’s more and more attention to the many interesting facets of the psychedelic experience. Be curious and read up!
Vaughan Bell gives positive mentions to sites like Erowid and Bluelight, specifically set up to share tripping information and experiences. We would like to include new initiatives like reset.me, as well as the recently launched organization The Psychedelic Society, which manages an informative website and organizes seminars.
Written by: Steek