Skip to main content

Forbidden Therapies: Santo Daime, Ayahuasca, and the Prohibition of Entheogens in Western Society

Abstract

Santo Daime, a Brazilian religion organized around a potent psychoactive beverage called ayahuasca, is now being practiced across Europe and North America. Deeming ayahuasca a dangerous “hallucinogen,” most Western governments prosecute people who participate in Santo Daime. On the contrary, members of Santo Daime (called “daimistas”) consider ayahuasca a medicinal sacrament (or “entheogen”). Empirical studies corroborate daimistas’ claim that entheogens are benign and can be beneficial when employed in controlled contexts. Following from anthropology’s goal of rendering different cultural logics as mutually explicable, this article intercedes in a misunderstanding between policies of prohibition and an emergent subculture of entheogenic therapy.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    The total list of signatories can be found here:

    http://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/MTDSG/Volume%20I/Chapter%20VI/VI-16.en.pdf.

  2. 2.

    Software called Anthropac sorts how a social group prioritizes items within a “cultural domain.” Stephen Borgatti (1994: 265), the creator of Anthropac, defines a cultural domain as “a set of items which are, according to informants, of a kind.” Once a cultural domain is identified, freelists convey the relative significance of specific domain items. Such inferences are based on the notion that entities which are more significant in the minds of informants are mentioned earlier than less significant entities (de Munck and Sobo 1998: 79).

  3. 3.

    “Sacred plants” is an emic category common to daimistas.

  4. 4.

    “Smith’s s” is a statistical measure of the number of informants who mentioned an item relative to that item’s average ranking among all the freelists as a whole (Smith 1993).

  5. 5.

    Ayahuasca is made by combining leaves containing N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from a plant (usually Psychotria viridis or sometimes Diplopterys cabrerana) with the bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, containing Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs). MAOIs neutralize the MAO stomach enzyme that would otherwise render the psychoactive DMT inert (Shanon 2002: 15–16; see also Beyer 2009).

  6. 6.

    http://www.justice.gov/dea/druginfo/drug_data_sheets/LSD.pdf.

  7. 7.

    In this section, all quotations concerning Dr. Maté’s work are derived from a newspaper article: “B.C. Doctor Agrees to Stop Using Amazonian Plant to Treat Addictions.” The Globe and Mail, Nov. 09, 2011; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/bc-doctor-agrees-to-stop-using-amazonian-plant-to-treat-addictions/article4250579/.

  8. 8.

    The genitive case reflexive pronoun; see Collins (1985: 243, 248).

  9. 9.

    http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/-scope.

  10. 10.

    Existential intelligence is the degree to which one can effectually conceptualize and manage universal problems of meaning and being (see Gardner 1999).

References

  1. Abraham, H. D., & Aldridge, A. M. (1993). Adverse consequences of lysergic acid diethylamide. Addiction, 88(10), 1327–1334.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, B. T., Labate, B. C., Meyer, M., Tupper, K. W., Barbosa, P. C. R., Grob, C. S., et al. (2012). Statement on ayahuasca. International Journal of Drug Policy 23(3), 173–175.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Barbosa, P. C. R., Mizumoto, S., Bogenschutz, M. P., & Strassman, R. J. (2012). Health status of ayahuasca users. Drug Testing and Analysis, 4(7–8), 601–609.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Barrett, L. E. (1997[1977]). The rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press.

  5. Baumeister, R. F., & Placidi, K. S. (1983). A social history and analysis of the lsd controversy. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23(4), 25–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Beyer, S. V. (2009). Singing to the plants: A guide to mestizo shamanism in the upper Amazon. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Beyerstein, B. L., & Kalchik, M. (2003). History of the psychedelic experience. In R. R. Laing (Ed.), Hallucinogens: A forensic drug handbook (pp. 1–36). San Diego: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Blainey, M. G. (2010). Towards an ethnometaphysics of consciousness: Suggested adjustments in SAC’s quest to reroute the main (stream). Anthropology of Consciousness 21(2), 113–138.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Blainey, M. G. (2013). A ritual key to mystical solutions: Ayahuasca Therapy, Secularism, and the Santo Daime Religion in Belgium. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

  10. Borgatti, S. P. (1994). Cultural domain analysis. Journal of Quantitative Anthropology, 4, 261–278.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Bronfman, J. (2011). The legal case of the União do Vegetal vs. The Government of The United States. In B. C. Labate & K. Jungaberle (Eds.), The internationalization of ayahuasca (pp. 287–300). Berlin: Lit Verlag.

  12. Callaway, J. C., & Grob, C. S. (1998). Ayahuasca preparations and serotonin reuptake inhibitors: A potential combination for severe adverse interactions. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 30(4), 367–369.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Collins, J. F. (1985). A primer of ecclesiastical Latin. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Dalgarno, P. (2008). Buying Ayahuasca and other entheogens online: A word of caution. Addiction Research & Theory, 16(1), 1–4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Dawson, A. (2013). Santo daime: A new world religion. London: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  16. de Munck, V. C., & Sobo, E. J. (1998). Using methods in the field: A practical introduction and casebook. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dobkin de Rios, M., Grob, C. S., Lopez, E., da Silviera, D. X., Alonso, L. K., & Doering-Silveira, E. (2005). Ayahuasca in adolescence: Qualitative results. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 37(2), 135–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. dos Santos, R. G. (2010). Toxicity of chronic ayahuasca administration to the pregnant rat: How relevant it is regarding the human, ritual use of ayahuasca? Birth Defects Research, Part B: Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology, 89(6), 533–535.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. dos Santos, R. G. (2013). Safety and side effects of ayahuasca in humans—An overview focusing on developmental toxicology. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 45(1), 68–78.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Dumont, G.-H. (2000). A portrait of Belgium. Bruxelles: Merckx.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Ellam, M., Jerónimo, M. M., & McKenna, R. (Writer). (2011). The jungle prescription. In A. Handy & M. Johnston (Producer). The nature of things (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Canada.

  22. Fábregas, J. M., González, D., Fondevila, S., Cutchet, M., Fernández, X., Barbosa, P. C. R., et al. (2010). Assessment of addiction severity among ritual users of ayahuasca. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 111(3), 257–261.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Fernandez, J. W. (1990[1972]). Tabernanthe Iboga: Narcotic Ecstasis and the work of the ancestors. In P. T. Furst (Ed.), Flesh of the gods: The ritual use of hallucinogens (pp. 237–260). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

  24. Forte, R. (1997). Entheogens and the future of religion. San Francisco: Council of spiritual practices.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Fox, R. C. (1994). In the Belgian château: The spirit and culture of a European society in an age of change. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gable, R. S. (2007). Risk assessment of ritual use of oral dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and Harmala Alkaloids. Addiction, 102(1), 24–34.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Gardner, H. (1999). Are there additional intelligences? The case for naturalist, spiritual, and existential intelligences. In J. Kane (Ed.), Education, information, and transformation: Essays on learning and thinking (pp. 111–131). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Griffiths, R., Richards, W., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 187(3), 268–283.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Grinspoon, L., & Bakalar, J. B. (1997[1979]). Psychedelic drugs reconsidered. New York: The Lindesmith Center.

  30. Grob, C. S., Chopra, G. S., McKay, C. R., Danforth, A. L., Hagerty, M., Halberstad, A. L., et al. (2011). Pilot study of psilocybin treatment for anxiety in patients with advanced-stage cancer. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(1), 71–78.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Grof, S. (1976). Realms of the human unconscious: Observations from LSD research. New York: Dutton.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Halpern, J. H., & Pope, H. G. (2003). Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder: What do we know after 50 years? Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 69(2), 109–119.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Halpern, J. H., Sherwood, A. R., Passie, T., Blackwell, K. C., & Ruttenber, A. J. (2008). Evidence of health and safety in American members of a religion who use a hallucinogenic sacrament. Medical Science Monitor, 14(8), 15–22.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Harris, R., & Gurel, L. (2012). A study of ayahuasca use in North America. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(3), 209–215.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Henderson, L. A., & Glass, W. J. (1994). LSD: Still with us after all these years. New York: Lexington Books; Maxwell Macmillan International.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Johnson, B. A. (2010). Addiction medicine science and practice. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Johnson, M. W., Griffiths, R. R., & Richards, W. A. (2008). Human hallucinogen research: Guidelines for safety. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 22(6), 603–620.

    CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kornfield, J. (2000). After the ecstasy, the laundry: How the heart grows wise on the spiritual path. New York: Bantam Books.

    Google Scholar 

  39. La Barre, W. (1969[1938]). The peyote cult. New York: Schocken Books.

  40. Labate, B. C. (2011). Consumption of ayahuasca by children and pregnant women: Medical controversies and religious perspectives. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 43(1), 27–35.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Labate, B. C., Jr., Alves, A. M., Rose, I. S. de., & Lemos, J. A. (2010). A Tribute to Glauco Vilas Boas: Beloved Brazilian cartoonist and a leader in the Santo Daime religion, slain in São Paulo. Erowid.org. May 6, 2010: Erowid.org/chemicals/ayahuasca/ayahuasca_info14.shtml.

  42. Labate, B. C., & Bouso, J. C. (Eds.). (2013). Ayahuasca y Salud (Ayahuasca and Health). Barcelona: Los Libros de La Liebre de Marzo, Colección Cogniciones.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Labate, B. C., de Rose, I. S., & dos Santos, R. G. (2008). Ayahuasca religions: A comprehensive bibliography and critical essays. Santa Cruz, CA: MAPS, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Labate, B. C., & Feeney, K. (2012). Ayahuasca and the process of regulation in Brazil and internationally. International Journal of Drug Policy, 23(2), 154–161.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Labate, B. C., & Jungaberle, H. (Eds.). (2011). The internationalization of ayahuasca. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Labate, B. C., & Macrae, E. (Eds.). (2010). Ayahuasca, ritual and religion in Brazil. London: Equinox.

  47. Maté, G. (2010). In the realm of hungry ghosts: Close encounters with addiction. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  48. McKenna, D. J. (2004). Clinical investigations of the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: Rationale and regulatory challenges. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 102(2), 111–129.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Mithoefer, M. C., Mithoefer, A. T., Wagner, M. T., Jerome, L., & Doblin, R. (2011). The safety and efficacy of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine- assisted psychotherapy in subjects with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder: The first randomized controlled pilot study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 25(4), 439–452.

    CAS  PubMed Central  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Nutt, D., King, L. A., Saulsbury, W., & Blakemore, C. (2007). Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse. The Lancet, 369(9566), 1047–1053.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Oliveira, C. D. R., Moreira, C. Q., de Sá, L. R. M., de Souza Spinosa, H., & Yonamine, M. (2010). Maternal and developmental toxicity of ayahuasca in Wistar rats. Birth Defects Research, Part B: Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology, 89(3), 207–212.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Polari de Alverga, A. (1999). Forest of visions: Ayahuasca, Amazonian Spirituality and the Santo Daime Tradition (English Translation of O Guia da Floresta [The Guide of the Forest, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil : Editora Record, 1992] (R. Workman, Trans.). Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

  53. Presti, D. E., & Beck, J. E. (2001). Strychnine and other enduring myths: Expert and user folklore surrounding LSD. In T. B. Roberts (Ed.), Psychoactive sacramentals: Essays on entheogens and religion (pp. 124–137). San Francisco: Council on Spiritual Practices.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Richards, W. (2005). Entheogens in the study of religious experiences: Current status. Journal of Religion and Health, 44(4), 377–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Ruck, C. A. P., Bigwood, J., Staples, D., Ott, J., & Wasson, G. (1979). Entheogens. Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, 11(1–2), 145–146

  56. Schultes, R. E., Hofmann, A., & Rätsch, C. (2001). Plants of the gods: Their sacred, healing, and hallucinogenic powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Sessa, B. (2005). Can psychedelics have a role in psychiatry once again? The British Journal of Psychiatry, 186(6), 457–458.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Shanon, B. (2002). The antipodes of the mind: Charting the phenomenology of the Ayahuasca experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Sharon, D. (1990[1972]). The San Pedro Cactus in Peruvian Folk Healing. In P. T. Furst (Ed.), Flesh of the gods: The ritual use of hallucinogens (pp. 114–135). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

  60. Smith, J. J. (1993). Using ANTHROPAC 3.5 and a spreadsheet to compute a free-list salience index. Cultural Anthropology Methods Journal, 5(3), 1–3.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Smith, H. (2000). Cleansing the doors of perception: The religious significance of entheogenic plants and chemicals. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Smith, H., & Snake, R. (1996). One nation under God: The triumph of the Native American church. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Snelders, S., & Kaplan, C. (2002). LSD therapy in Dutch psychiatry: Changing socio-political settings and medical sets. Medical History, 46, 221–241.

    PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. Spillane, J., & McAllister, W. B. (2003). Keeping the lid on: A century of drug regulation and control. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 70(3), 5–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Strassman, R. (1997). Biochemical research with psychedelics. In R. Forte (Ed.), Entheogens and the future of religion (pp. 153–162). San Francisco, CA: Council on Spiritual Practices.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Taylor, C. (2007). A secular age. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Tupper, K. W. (2002). Entheogens and existential intelligence: The use of plant teachers as cognitive tools. Canadian Journal of Education, 27(4), 499–516.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Tupper, K. W. (2008a). Drugs, discourses and education: A critical discourse analysis of a high school drug education text. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 29(2), 223–238.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Tupper, K. W. (2008b). The globalization of ayahuasca: Harm reduction or benefit maximization? International Journal of Drug Policy, 19(4), 297–303.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Tupper, K. W. (2012). Psychoactive substances and the English Language: “Drugs”, Discourses, and Public Policy. Contemporary Drug Problems, 39(3), 461–492.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Tupper, K. W., & Labate, B. C. (2012). Plants, psychoactive substances and the international narcotics control board: The control of nature and the nature of control. Human Rights and Drugs, 2(1), 17–28.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Walsh, R. N., & Grob, C. S. (Eds.). (2005). Higher wisdom: Eminent elders explore the continuing impact of psychedelics. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Wasson, R. G. (1980). The wondrous mushroom: Mycolatry in Mesoamerica. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Watts, A. (1965). The joyous cosmology: Adventures in the chemistry of consciousness. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Zinberg, N. E. (1984). Drug, set, and setting: The basis for controlled intoxicant use. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

In recognition of their steadfast patience with the author’s incessant questions, I dedicate this article to the members of the global Santo Daime community. For providing financial support for my research, I would like to thank the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC); the Paul and Elizabeth Selley Doctoral Fellowship; the Murphy Institute Center for Ethics and Public Affairs; as well as the School of Liberal Arts, Stone Center for Latin American Studies, and the Department of Anthropology at Tulane University. I would like to extend a special thanks to the members of my Doctoral committee (William Balée, Adeline Masquelier, and Allison Truitt) for their erudite guidance. Additionally, I am grateful to my friend and colleague Kenneth Tupper for helpful comments with an earlier draft of this paper.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marc G. Blainey.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Blainey, M.G. Forbidden Therapies: Santo Daime, Ayahuasca, and the Prohibition of Entheogens in Western Society. J Relig Health 54, 287–302 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-014-9826-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Psychotherapy
  • Entheogen
  • Ayahuasca
  • Santo Daime
  • Prohibition