We have already discussed what entheogens are in the first part of the series about these amazing molecules, now let’s take a look at different types and their effects on the human brain.
There are various types of substances used for the purpose of entheogenic spirituality or healing. Most of these substances fall into the hallucinogenic drug category and all have a chemical composition to neurochemicals that are naturally occurring in the human body. Entheogenic substances are predominantly plants, seeds, fruits, and fungi.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of plant species that are used for these purposes. The following represents a list of some of the most prolific entheogens throughout history as well as those that continue to be used in modern practice.
In both ancient and current times, Harmaga was and is the most commonly used entheogenic substance. It’s been used throughout religious ceremonies and shamanic rites as an additive to certain types of wine to counteract the effects of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion and depression. It can also be dried and smoked in a mixture with tobacco.
LSD is arguably one of the most potent mind-altering substances in existence. It is the generic name for Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-25 and can produce highly varied effects depending upon the amount taken and the method of ingestion. Typically, the effects of LSD start to appear within about an hour of consumption and can last from eight to 12 hours. Practitioners of entheogenic spiritualism use LSD for its mood-altering effects. It was also famously used in the 1960s during experiments to treat severe alcoholism and patients with psychiatric disorders. Comparatively speaking, LSD is about 5000 times as powerful as mescaline, which is the main component of Peyote (below).
Marijuana is a mild hallucinogenic. In small doses, it has been suggested that the use of marijuana can lead to deeper perception and a heightened creative ability. In Hinduism, the smoking of marijuana is pervasive. However, consumption of too large an amount can have the reverse effect.
The leaves and root of the Belladonna plant are narcotic and produce a sedative effect. Consumption of this rather rare plant usually consists of eating its fruit, which is similar in size and shape to that of a grape. It can also be smoked.
Henbane is sometimes referred to as “crazy weed” and is known to produce visions as well as sedative effects. Another more notable effect of henbane is the intense feeling of weightlessness and floating.
Perhaps the most popular mushroom used in entheogenic spirituality is the Amanita muscaria. Use of this fungal species dates back to ancient times and is still widely consumed by shamans in Siberia and northern Europe. It’s also known as Fly Agaric. Some members of this fungal species can be quite poisonous. It is important that before ingesting any type of fungus, there is confirmation from an expert that consumption of a particular species is safe.
Peyote is derived from the cactus plant and is found predominantly in Mexico and the southwestern region of the United States. The effects of peyote are the result of mescaline. Mescaline can produce the same types of effects as LSD, only with a more gradual onset. Peyote is also reported to be rather safe. One such account states that only one case of an adverse psychiatric reaction to peyote was ever confirmed.
Use of opium, for entheogenic and other purposes, dates back to about 3000 B.C. It is a narcotic and is the plant from which morphine is derived. Thus, it has highly sedative and relaxing effects.
Consumption of any entheogen can profoundly alter the chemistry of the brain. Much of the safety issues revolve around how the substance is grown, cultivated, and the handling procedures. It is also highly dependent on the amount of compounds that are found within the particular plant or fungus. Effects can also vary greatly from person to person since synthetic versions of particular drugs can be more easily and effectively controlled. Adverse reactions can potentially occur.