Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

Part VII

LSD and LSD-Like Drugs

Scores of substances with widely varying chemical compositions are known to have effects similar (not identical) to that of LSD on the human mind. In general there are three major sources for these drugs. Some are natural plant substances–– for example, peyote, a cactus plant. Some are extracted from such substances; thus mescaline is derived from peyote. Some–– LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and others–– can be manufactured synthetically. 

To an even greater extent than for other psychoactive drugs, the effects of these drugs vary with the expectations of the user, the setting in which they are used, and other nonpharmacological factors. Three drugs in the group–– LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin–– have been used in psychotherapy, and LSD is still used as an adjunct to psychotherapy in countries other than the United States. 

These drugs are commonly taken orally. They are not addicting. Tolerance for LSD builds up very rapidly, but no withdrawal syndrome has been reported. LSD is longer-acting (usually seven hours or , more) and is effective in smaller doses (as little as 25 micrograms) than most other drugs in the group. Effects, both undesirable and favorable, are primarily psychological. The lethal dose of LSD is not known; no human fatalities have been recorded.

Chapter 45. Early use of LSD-like drugs 

LSD was not discovered until 1938, and its effects on the human mind remained unknown until 1943; but numerous other drugs producing LSD-like effects have been known since time immemorial, and have been used by peoples throughout the world, especially by North and South American Indians. The plants that produce these drugs grow almost anywhere–– in temperate as well as tropical climates; in deserts as well as forests. Almost everywhere, the effect of such drugs was considered a mystical and religious phenomenon, an experience that brings man closer to the gods and to nature.

Peyote. Peyote (in Aztec,  peyotl) is a spineless cactus with a small crown or "button" and a long carrot-like root. The crown is sliced off and dried to form a hard brownish disk known as a mescal button. The dried button is generally held in the mouth until soft and then swallowed unchewed; several buttons may be required to achieve a peyote "trip." "Native to the deserts of central and northern Mexico," Professor Richard Evans Schultes reports, "peyote claims centuries of use . . . and was basic to pre-Columbian religious practices of the Aztec and other Mexican Indians." 1 Much of the account that follows is based on a 1969 survey by Professor Schultes, director of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University and one of the nation's foremost authorities on ethnobotany. * The peyote effect is highly complex and variable, Dr. Schultes notes. "Its most spectacular phase . . . comprises the kaleidoscopic play of visual hallucinations in indescribably rich colors, yet auditory and tactile hallucinations and a variety of synesthesias are among the effects." 2 A typical synesthesia is the "seeing" of music in colors or the "hearing" of a painting as music. In addition to these sensory experiences, there is often a mystical experience of insight into a reality deeper than mere everyday appearances, or of communion with the gods; hence peyote was revered as a sacred medicine and used in healing rites and ceremonies.

* Readers interested in further details should consult Professor Schultes's paper in Science, January 17, 1969, or his "Botanical and Chemical Distribution of Hallucinogens" in the  Annual Review of Plant Physiology, 21 (1970): 571-598.

The Spanish warriors and priests who conquered and ruled Mexico viewed peyote, and other LSD-like drugs in common use among the Aztecs, as diabolical. Neither the civil authorities nor the Spanish Inquisition, however, was able to stamp out peyotism altogether; 'primitive peyote religious dances still survive among the Cora, Huichol, and Tarahumare of northern Mexico," 3 Professor Schultes reported in 1969. * Indians on the United States side of the Mexican-United States border notably the Mescalero ** Apaches–– adopted the custom from the Mexican Indians.

* For a detailed account of how peyotism survives in a rigorous framework of ritual and shamanism in Mexico, readers are referred to  The Teachings of Don Juan (1968), by Carlos Casteneda, an anthropologist at the University of California at Los Angeles.

** Whence the name of the drug mescaline. 4

Farther north, early white traders introduced the Indians to alcohol; and as the post-Civil War tide of white settlers and United States Army expeditions drove the Indians from their lands and onto the newly established reservations, alcoholism became a major problem among them. The peyote cult, with its mystical setting and religious rites, then spread northward in competition with alcohol. The Comanches and the Kiowas adopted peyotism in the 1870s; the Shawnees, Pawnees, Delawares, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and numerous other tribes followed. 5 Great Indian prophets like Quanah Parker (a Comanche), and John Wilson (part Caddo, part Delaware) carried both the drug and its meaningful ritual from tribe to tribe. 6 By 1954, it was estimated that one-half of all American Indians had experienced the peyote "trip." 7

Before discovering peyote, we are told, Quanah Parker "was dedicated to destroying every white man he came in contact with. He had more scalps in his tepee than all the other chiefs combined." 8 As the white man continued to come west in ever larger numbers, however, Parker saw he was fighting a losing battle. He accordingly went alone into the wilderness "where he could think and pray to the Great Spirit Within." After many moons, we are told, the Great Spirit Within appeared and spoke to him: 

Lay down your arms, Quanah Parker. Your solution, as is the solution of all creatures, is personal. Turn your energies toward conquering the self.... Only through this will you and your people have a freedom that exceeds the white man's.

I have planted my flesh in the cactus pioniyo [peyote]. Partake of it, as it is the food of your soul. Through it you will continue to communicate with Me. When all of those with the skin of red-earth clay are united by pioniyo, then and only then will they once again reign supreme. The white civilizations will destroy themselves and the Indian will return to nature, master over himself and at peace with all. 9 

When Quanah Parker returned to his people, we are further told, he called together his council and they adopted the peyote ritual, "which still prevails to this day. They broke the bow and arrow, signifying the ending of killings and wars. Quanah Parker was never to kill another man after that day." 10 

Anthropologists are quite generally agreed that the migration of peyote and its associated religion northward to the beleaguered Indians of the United States brought many advantages. The peyote cult required total abstinence from alcohol–– and there is abundant evidence that Indians who accepted peyotism did in fact abandon alcohol in substantial numbers. 11 In some tribes, where some members have adopted peyotism while others continue on alcohol, the contrast is quite striking. In addition the peyote cult eased the Indians' acceptance of their subjugation by the white man, and brought a sense of solidarity and brotherhood within that subjection. Finally, peyote was shared by many tribes and was thus a step toward pan-Indianism, the awareness of common interests that is a dominant theme of American Indian culture today.

Land speculators, who coveted the tribal lands where the peyote rites were practiced, and Christian missionaries sought to have peyote outlawed. 12 They scored modest successes in a few state legislatures. They were less successful, however, in getting antipeyote legislation through Congress; 13 anthropologists and friends of the Indians joined with the Indians themselves to defeat such legislation year after year. Even some of the state legislatures that had passed antipeyote laws later repealed them.

Oklahoma, the first state to outlaw peyote (1899), repealed its law in 1908 after Comanche Chief Quanah Parker himself testified before a legislative committee. Efforts to reenact the Oklahoma law in 1909 and 1927 were defeated. New Mexico outlawed peyote in 1929, but the law was not enforced–– and in 1959 it was amended to permit ritual use. Montana also has legalized the use of peyote in worship. 14

A major factor in maintaining the legal status of peyote has been the Native American Church of North America, an organization that claims some 250,000 Indian members from tribes throughout the United States and Canada. In addition to successfully opposing Congressional action against peyote and securing the repeal of state laws, the Native American Church has succeeded in several states in having such laws declared unconstitutional as a violation of freedom of religion.

To supply peyote to Indian tribes throughout the United States, mail order companies sprang up that sold the dried buttons at very low prices. Interest in the drug widened, stimulated by books and by magazine articles such as Alice Marriot's sensitive account in the  New Yorker (1954) of her experience with peyote among the Indians of South Dakota. The mail-order companies began advertising in college newspapers and other publications during the late 1950s and early 1960s. * Although peyote was not illegal, there were periodic raids on those in possession of it. In 1960, 311 peyote buttons were confiscated from a New York City coffeehouse. 16 Still, peyote remained generally available and openly used until LSD took over its market in the 1960s.

* During the 1950s, the cost per trip was as low as 32 cents. When  Life magazine published an article by R. Gordon Wasson on psychoactive mushrooms, a woman reader wrote the editors: "Sirs: I've been having hallucinatory visions accompanied by space suspension and time destruction in my New York apartment for the past three years ... produced by eating American-grown peyote cactus plants.... I got my peyote from a company in Texas which makes C.O.D. shipments all over the country for $8 per 100 'buttons.' It usually takes about four 'buttons' for one person to have visions." 15 An interesting sign of the times was the fact that the writer signed her name.

A recent study 17 of peyote use among American Indians today was presented at the 1971 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (and later published in the  American Journal of Psychiatry) by Dr. Robert L. Bergman, chief of the United States Public Health Service's mental health program serving 125,000 Navajo Indians in the Southwest.

Dr. Bergman had attended many peyote ceremonials and had interviewed some 200 peyote users, members of the Native American Church. Its religious services, he reported,

are highly serious and arduous. They follow a prescribed form which is derived largely from the ceremonial symbolism and practices of many tribes. A considerable difference from other Christian religions is the fact that until relatively recently all meetings were held for the purpose of praying for the cure of a sick person. This is still frequently the case, and all meetings must still have a specific purpose such as praying for the well being of children about to leave home for boarding school, or giving thanks for the safe return of a soldier from Vietnam.... The service is directed by a road chief assisted by several other officers, but is participated in almost equally by all present. Road chiefs learn their work through an apprenticeship usually lasting several years, but all have other occupations. There is no professional clergy.

The formal portion of a meeting begins at sunset and ends at sunrise. . . .

The group sits in a circle around a central altar and fireplace. The time is organized by a set order of service, and after a certain point in the service, Peyote is passed around the circle of worshippers and each is free to take whatever amount he wishes. This process is repeated during the night, and later each person is free to use a personal supply of medicine, which most bring with them. Amounts used vary greatly even within the same meeting. . . .

Much of the night is spent in the singing of religious songs: mostly Christian ideas expressed in various Indian languages and set to traditional Indian melodies. The songs are led by each person in turn and accompanied by a drum and by gourd rattles. There are also group and individual prayers, which are spontaneous, as well as many opportunities for the members of the group to address one another. Though there is some variation, portions of many meetings resemble group therapy. For example, I was present at a meeting held for a woman suffering from a mild menopausal depression. Older women present described their feelings about aging and the end of child-bearing and towards morning, the patient's husband said that he had realized that he was partly to blame for his wife's difficulties. 

"I have been so busy with church work," he said, "that I don't think I've been paying much attention to my companion. It came to me during the night that the reason I've been working hard is that I've prayed for a lot of people and sometimes they get better, but sometimes they don't, and sometimes they're grateful for what I did, but a lot of times they're not, and so I guess I began to have my doubts about religion, and the more I had doubts the harder I made myself work so I would forget about them."

The meeting ends with the consumption of symbolic foods and water, and then everyone goes outside into the early light, shakes hands and wishes everyone else good morning. It is a moment much like that at the end of a Jewish High Holy Day service when everyone exchanges wishes for a happy new year.... 

As hostility toward LSD spread through the United States during the 1960s (see below), hostility toward the peyote religion also increased. "There have been attempts lately to limit the freedom of the members of the Native American Church to practice their religion," Dr. Bergman noted. "There have been a few journalistic reports depicting them as drug abusers." Peyote ceremonials were attracting "popular, official, and scientific interest because of the growing concern over the use of hallucinogens by students and others in the population at large. The main source of this new attention is fear that the ceremonial consumption of Peyote may be dangerous."

To determine the extent of this danger, Dr. Bergman and his associates launched their study. "For a period of four years, we have followed up every report of psychotic or other psychiatric episodes said to arise from Peyote use. There have been forty or fifty such reports. The vast majority have been hearsay that could never be traced to a particular case. Some have been based on a physician's belief that Navajo people use Peyote and if a particular person became disturbed it must be for this reason." In the end, the study found "one relatively clear cut case of acute psychosis and four cases that are difficult to interpret."

The clear-cut case involved a Navajo who attended a peyote meeting after having taken alcohol–– several drinks. "Ordinarily, no one is allowed to participate if he has been drinking, but the road man did not realize that this person had been. "The Navajo became panicky and disoriented, then violent–– but recovered within twenty-four hours and remained well on follow-up six months later. "It is noteworthy," Dr. Bergman added, "that members of the church warn that the combination of alcohol and Peyote is very dangerous." Reactions in the other four cases were minor, and their relationship with peyote was doubtful.

Dr. Bergman then went on to calculate that even if all five of these incidents were to be classified as adverse reactions, "the resulting, probably overestimated, rate [over the four-year period] would be one bad reaction per 70,000 ingestions."

Dr. Bergman continued:

In describing some of the ways in which the Native American Church avoids harming its members, I have implied some ways in which I feel that it helps them. That is a subject for another and longer paper, but this one would be incomplete without saying that we have seen many patients come through difficult crises with the help of this religion and it appears to me that for many Indian people threatened with identity-diffusion it provides real help in seeing themselves not as people whose place and way in the world is gone, but as people whose way can be strong enough to change and meet new challenges. The Peyotists themselves are proud in particular of the help the church has been to Indian people who have drinking problems. In fact, Levy and Kunitz report a greater success rate for the Peyotists than for any other agency working with alcoholics in one part of the Navajo Reservation. 

Dr. Bergman also describes in fascinating detail the precise ways in which the potential hazards of peyote are minimized and its potential for good enhanced by the peyote ritual. "Some of the crucial factors," he explains,  

are a positive expectation held by Peyotists, an emphasis on the real interpersonal world rather than the world within the individual, an emphasis of) communion rather than withdrawal during the drug experience, an emphasis on adherence to the standards of society rather than on the freeing of impulses, and certain practices during the meetings. . . .

The whole spirit of the religion seems best characterized as communion with God and with other men. Meetings are experienced as a time of being close and growing closer to one another. . . . Distortions of time sense are counteracted by the various events of the service which take place at precisely defined times of the night....

Road men are trained to look after people who become excessively withdrawn. If a participant begins to stare into the fire fixedly and seems unaware of the others in the meeting, the road man will speak to him, and if necessary go to him to pray with him. In the process of praying with such a person, he may fan him with an eagle feather fan, splash drops of water on him and fan cedar incense over him. All of these processes are regarded as sacred and helpful, and it appears to me they provide stimulation in several sense modalities to draw one back to the interpersonal world. Another safeguard is the custom that no one is to leave the meeting. Considerable efforts are made if necessary to prevent someone who has been eating Peyote from going off into the night alone. This factor is probably important too, in the customary activities of the morning after the meeting. Everyone stays together and socializes until well after the time the drug effect is over. 

These safeguards, as we shall see below, are strikingly similar to the safeguards necessary for minimizing the hazards of LSD.

Dr. Bergman concluded his paper with a plea for further study of peyotism among the Indians–– "not only to avoid injustice but also to learn from these people who use a potentially dangerous drug well and who, after all, have much longer experience in these matters than we have." 

At the conclusion of Dr. Bergman's paper, the audience stood and applauded–– a rare event at meetings of the American Psychiatric Association. 

Fly agaric. Concerning this mushroom, Dr. Schultes reports, 

The hallucinogenic use of the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) by primitive tribesmen in Siberia came to the attention of Europeans in the 18th century. This fungus–– widespread in north-temperate parts of both hemispheres–– has long been recognized as toxic; its name refers to the European custom of employing it to poison flies. In recent times, its use as an inebriant has been known in only two centers: extreme western ... and extreme northeastern Siberia.... Tradition established the use of fly agaric by witch doctors of the Lapps of Inari in Europe and of the Yakagii of northernmost Siberia. Formerly, the narcotic employment of  Amanita muscaria was apparently more widespread, and it has even been suggested that the ancient giant berserkers of Norway induced their occasional fits of savage madness by ingesting this mushroom....

Effects ... vary appreciably with individuals and at different times. An hour after the ingestion of the mushrooms, twitching and trembling of the limbs is noticeable with the onset of a period of good humor and light euphoria, characterized by macroscopia, visions of the supernatural and illusions of grandeur. Religious overtones–– such as an urge to confess sins–– frequently occur. Occasionally, the partaker becomes violent, dashing madly about until, exhausted, he drops into a deep sleep. 18

 No use of fly agaric has been reported in the United States.

Other Mushrooms. According to Dr. Schultes, 

Archeological "mushroom stones" indicate that a sophisticated mushroom cult existed in Guatemala 3500 years ago. Early Spanish chroniclers wrote in detailed opposition to the diabolic mushrooms of the Aztec,  teonanacatl ("food of the gods"), * eaten ceremonially for divination, prophecy, and worship; but since four centuries failed to produce evidence of such use of mushrooms, the suggestion that the chroniclers had confused the dried mushrooms with the dried crowns of the hallucinogenic peyote cactus was accepted. Only (luring the past two decades have ethnobotanical studies elucidated the extent of modern use in southern Mexico of at least 20 species of mushrooms in four genera among nine tribes. . . . Many, if not all, contain psilocybin . . . and an unstable derivative psilocin.

 Psilocybe yungesis has been suggested as the identification of a "tree fungus" reported by ear1v missionaries as the source of an intoxicating beverage of the Yurimagua of Amazonian Peru. No evidence, however, points to the present use of an hallucinogenic mushroom in that area. 20

 * This also has been translated to mean "god's flesh." 19

Reports are occasionally made of the use of such mushrooms by Americans today. The active principles in several of them–– psilocybin and psilocin–– have been isolated and synthesized, 21 and are occasionally marketed. They have been placed under legal control.

Nutmeg. "It is interesting," Dr. Schultes continues, "that primitive American cultures have discovered [hallucinogenic] properties in Virola, since the related Asiatic  Myristica fragrans–– the common nutmeg–– is hallucinogenic and is thought to have been employed narcotically in south-eastern Asia. It is occasionally so employed in . . . Europe and in the United States. . . ."

DMT. Yurema" Dr. Schultes states, "an hallucinogen of the Kariri, Pankararu and other Indians of eastern Brazil, prepared from Mimosa hostilis, forms the center of a cult using an infusion of the root to bring on glorious visions of the spirit world. The active principle has been identified as  N, N-dimethyltryptamine. . . . " 22

N, N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is outlawed by Congress and some state legislatures. It has been called "the businessman's LSD" because it produces an LSD-1ike trip lasting only an hour or two–– and can therefore be taken during the lunch hour. 23

Morning glory. During the 1960s, the seeds of two varieties of morning glory were reported to produce LSD-like effects. With respect to hallucinogenic morning-glory seeds, Dr. Schultes has this to say: 

The early Spanish chroniclers of Mexico reported on numerous occasions the religious use of the lentil-like seeds of the Aztec  ololiuqui, a sacred, hallucinogenic vine with cordate leaves. Several illustrations of the plant–– the best in a voluminous study of the medicinal plants, animals, and stones of "New Spain" by Hernandez, personal physician to the King of Spain who worked in Mexico from 1570 to 1575–– leave no doubt that ololiuqui represented a morning glory. Most of the chroniclers were ecclesiastical authorities who railed against this "diabolic seed," and Christian persecution drove the native cults into hiding.

Corroboration of the identity of ololiuqui waited for 400 years, since no morning glory was found employed in pagan religious rites. The apparent absence of hallucinogenic use of a . . . plant [resembling the morning glory], together with the fact that no intoxicating constituent was known to exist in the family, led ethnobotanists to assume that ololiuqui must have been one of the several narcotic species of  Datura–– despite the insistence of reliable Mexican botanists that the plant was a morning glory. Only in the late 1930's was actual voucher botanical material of a morning glory employed as an hallucinogen collected in Mazatec country in Oaxaca, and the accuracy of the ancient reports seemed to be vindicated by modern fieldwork. Later, another psychotomimetic morning glory––  badoh negro of the Zapotec of Oaxaca–– was found.

Among the natives of Aztec Mexico, ololiuqui was used for divination perhaps even more than peyote and teonanacatl. Hernández wrote that: ". . . when the priests wanted to commune with their gods they ate ololiuqui seeds, and a thousand visions and satanic hallucinations appeared to them. Believed to possess a deity of its own, this plant was an ingredient also of magical ointments and enjoyed an exalted place in Aztec medicine. Modern Indians grind the seeds on a stone, soak them in water or alcoholic drinks, and filter them; ingest the filtrate, since the hard impervious testa may otherwise allow the seeds to pass intact through the digestive tract. 24 

For many years chemists sought to isolate the active principle in these morning-glory seeds, without success. Since 1960, the mystery has been solved. The hallucinogenic seeds contain a chemical very closely related to LSD. Most of the morning-glory seeds available in the United States, however, are believed to lack both this drug and the LSD-like effect. 

Numerous other Old World and New World plants with LSD-like effects have been used through the centuries. It is the ready availability of low-cost black-market LSD itself (see below) that makes the cultivation or even harvesting of such plants uneconomic for clandestine users. Since LSD weighs much less per dose, is much less bulky, and keeps better than the natural substances, it is better adapted to black-market distribution. In the event that the supply of LSD should be cut off or that prices should rise unduly, however, an increase in the growing and harvesting of plant materials would no doubt follow.

Chapter 45

1. Richard Evans Schultes, "Hallucinogens of Plant Origin,"  Science, 163 (January 17, 1969): 250.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Frank Barron, Murray E. Jarvik, and Sterling Bunnell, Jr., "The Hallucinogenic Drugs,"  Scientific American, 210 (1964): 32.

5. J. S. Slotkin,  The Peyote Religion (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1956), Table 1, p. 36.

6. Weston La Barre,  The Peyote Cult (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), pp. 109-123.

7. William H. McGlothlin and David 0. Arnold, "LSD Revisited--- A Ten-Year Follow-up of Medical LSD Use,"  Archives of General Psychiatry, 24 (January, 1971): 35.

8. Bernard Roseman,  The Peyote Story (Hollywood, Calif.: Wilshire Book Co., 1963), pp. 55-60.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. J. S. Slotkin,  The Peyote Religion, p. 44.

12. Ibid., pp. 52-53. See also Ruth Ernestine Cook [Brecher], "Indian Dance Ceremonials in Modern America: A Study of Governmental Policies and Civilian Attitudes, 1921-1933," senior thesis, Swarthmore College, 1933; unpublished.

13. J. S. Slotkin,  The Peyote Religion, p. 53.

14. Weston La Barre,  The Peyote Cult, pp. 223-224,

15. Ibid., p. 2:30.

16. Cited by David Solomon, ed., in  LSD: The Consciousness-Expanding Drug (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1966), p. 63.

17. Robert L. Bergman, "Navajo Peyote Use--- Its Apparent Safety," presented at the American Psychiatric Association Convention, Washington, D.C., May 6, 1971; later published,  American Journal of Psychiatry, 128 (December, 1971): 695-699.

18. Richard Evans Schultes in  Science, pp. 245-247.

19, Frank Barron, Murray E, Jarvik, and Sterling Bunnell, Jr., "The Hallucinogenic Drugs," p. 30.

20. Ibid.

21, Daniel H. Efron, ed.,  Psychotomimetic Drugs (New York: Raven Press, 1970), p. 47.

22. Richard Evans Schultes in  Science, pp. 248-249.

23. Le Dain Commission Interim Report, p. 141.

24. Richard Evans Schultes in  Science, pp. 251-252.


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