September 23, 2010
As recently as September 16, 2010, a lawsuit was entered with the Utah U.S. District Court on behalf of the Oklevueha Native American Church (Press, 2010). This Native American Church (NAC) contends that any member of their Church, including non-Native Americans, should be allowed to consume Lophophora Williamsii (peyote) during religious ceremonies. This claim is according to a 1994 Federal Statute called The American Indian Religious Freedom Act that permits members of the Native American Church to consume this Schedule 1 narcotic. Aside from the Native American Church, peyote is considered illegal. Since the US Government recognizes the Oklevueha Native American Church as an official religious organization, they claim that all of its members should be treated equally. According to this news report, local law enforcement has been arresting non-Native American members of this NAC for using peyote in ceremonies created to treat alcoholism and other addictions. Native American Indians believe peyote is a sacred medicine. (Schultes, 1938)
Lophophora Williamsii (peyote) is a narcotic referred to by researcher John Halpern (Horgan, 2003) as a hallucinogenic that he believes can one day cure alcoholism. He is not alone in the world of researchers who believe that Schedule 1 hallucinogenic drugs can cure psychological ailments. Others, noted in the article include Harrison G. Pope with whom Halpern partnered to research the dangers of prolonged use of hallucinogenic drugs, Francisco Moreno who experimented with Psilocybin Semilanceata (psilocybin, hallucinogenic mushrooms) as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder; Jose Carlos Bouso (Madrid, Spain) who research using Ecstasy on women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; Evgeny Krupitsky who treated heroin addicts at the St. Petersburg Pavlov State Medical University (Russia) with an anesthetic called ketamine; Charles Grob who offered psilocybin to cancer patients; Michael Mithoefer who like Bouso researched post-traumatic stress disorder (with MDMA or Ecstasy) and Peter Gasser who, at the time of the article, was intending to treat life-threatening illnesses with LSD. What all of these researchers have in common is a mutual belief that hallucinogenic drugs can cure other ailments, from alcoholism to cancer. The research conducted by Halpern (Horgan, 2003) was in its 10th year at the time of the article. Halpern’s research was financially supported by Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. His hypothesis contends that users of peyote in religious based therapeutic ceremonies do not harm their cognitive memory abilities; and that the “mind revealing power of psychadelics” (Horgan, 2003) also referred to as the “afterglow” (Cole, 2009) could offset pain and suffering associated with deadly diseases. His general hypothesis was that by taking peyote, the Navajo Indians of the NAC were not prone to drink and were able to retain their health and wellbeing.
In earlier twentieth century research conducted by Richard Evans Schultes (1938) he claimed through “ethnobotanical studies”, the consumption of peyote had the ability to create visions. His research extended to Oklahoma tribes including the Kiowa, Kickapoo, Shawnee and Wichita. He attributed these to capabilities to a variety of alkaloids found within peyote. Although he said that peyote was not addictive it was a narcotic that had the ability to intoxicate a user. There were two levels of results attributed to the experience, a level of relaxation and calm feelings, or more concentrated reaction of muscle over-relaxation and traits of nervousness. He discussed the long standing belief by American Indians that all boys would at one time in their growth, experience their “Vision Quest”, their equivalent of a coming of age ceremony in other cultures. Rather than spending long periods of time starving themselves or following other native rituals that would lead to experiencing the required visions, they found that consuming enough peyote would give the user the immediate effect they needed to have their visions. Schultes went on to report in additional research with the Kiowa and Comanche that peyote could cure most ailments including tooth aches, fevers, colds, pain, pneumonia, scarlet fever, diabetes and even venereal disease. They used different processed forms of peyote for consumption as well as topical skin treatments and wound dressings.
Halpern’s (Horgan, 2003) research was limited to the only legalized users of this Schedule 1 substance in the USA, the Native American Church (NAC) of the Navajo Indian Tribes that claim to have 250,000 members nationwide.
The central requirement for all testing was the consumption of peyote by participants in religious ceremonies that were arranged as therapy sessions for members of the NAC that were having troubles either medically, socially, marital, or for any other reason that experiencing the effects of the “afterglow” (Cole, 2009) would serve their ability to transcend to a mind revealing state of consciousness. Religious leaders of the Native American Church organized regular gatherings of members who required therapy, something that has been done for more than one thousand years amongst tribes of American and Mexican Indians (Schultes, 1938). They convened in a large tepee where they brought those that needed treatment along with their support group that included family and friends. The article’s author (Horgan, 2003) describes one such event he and Halpern participated in. Halpern invited Horgan to participate in order to write this article. Horgan was required to partake of the peyote buttons as did Halpern, in respect for the Navajo NAC leader conducting the ceremony. This was said to be Halpern’s fifth experience taking peyote.
A couple having marital problems came with members of family and friends for the peyote induced ceremony. The ceremony took place overnight. They brought their children with them who slept through the ceremony. Each of the twenty adults consumed an average of 4 peyote buttons, and drank peyote tea at designated times during the ceremony. The result of the peyote presented each of the adults with a minimum level one (Schultes, 1938) psychedelic experience. According to an earlier research paper (Halpern, 1996) none of the participants lost consciousness or physical control of their bodies. The wife and one other participate did vomit as a result of the peyote consumption. All adults were required to partake of the hallucinogenic drug.
Halpern interviewed more than one thousand Navajo before selecting 176 to participate in one of three control groups for his research experiments. The first group included members of the NAC that had consumed peyote a minimum of 100 times with minimum use of other drugs or alcohol; the second control group were not members of the NAC and also had little prior use of drugs or alcohol; and the third group were former alcoholics that had been sober for a minimum of two months. It was not difficult to find the third group since there was a large substance-abuse clinic on the Navajo Reservation that mainly treated Native American Indians for alcoholism and other related addictions. The Na’nizhoozhi Center had opened 15 years earlier in nearby Gallop (Mercado, 1997). According to the Center that offers Alcoholics Anonymous classes in the Center and Peyote Ceremonies in the back of the Center (for NAC members), those that participate in the religious ceremony have better results in giving up alcohol and other addictions than those that do not. (Horgan, 2003)
Halpern (Horgan, 2003) was not able to conclude his experiments on the second and third control groups because as non-members of the Church it would violate the rules of the NAC who refused to allow non-NAC members to participate in their religious ceremonies. According to the article, the Federal Government did give Halpern permission to experiment with non-members in the name of science. The NAC decision not to allow these two groups to participate shut down Halpern’s research. His acknowledged affection for the NAC became a serious bias for his research abilities.
According to a number of researchers (Albaugh & Anderson, 1974) (Blum, Futterman, & Pascarosa, 1977) (Schultes, 1938) (Halpern, 1996), peyote and other hallucinogenic drugs (LSD, Ibogaine) once the “afterglow” is established it creates “anti-craving” properties that treat the addictions that are being cured. It is these anti-craving properties that help the individuals from going back to their addicted sources. This is also why it is necessary to repeat the hallucinogenic drugs periodically to continue the cure process. In all cases, researchers acknowledge that it is not clear if these drugs are addictive themselves as no long term proven cases of cured alcoholism have been monitored. None of the material discusses inappropriate use of the peyote outside of the organized religious ceremonies.
Albaugh, B. J., & Anderson, P. O. (1974, November). Peyote in the Treatment of Alcoholism Among American Indians. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 1247-1250.
Blum, K., Futterman, S., & Pascarosa, P. (1977, November 4). Peyote, a potential ethnopharmacologic agent for alcoholism and other drug dependencies: possible biochemical rationale. Retrieved from PubMed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/201426
Halpern, J. H. (1996). The Use of Hallucinogens in the Treatment of Addiction. Addiction Research, 4(2), pp. 177-189.
Horgan, J. (2003, February 1). The Peyote Promise: Is the cure for alcoholism and other addictions locked up in hallucinogenic drugs? Discover Magazine.
Mercado, L. (1997, Autumn). Traditional Rehabilitative Therapy: A Look into the Positive Therapeutic Potential of the Native American Church Peyote Ceremony. Newsletter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, 7(4), pp. 4-5.
Press, T. A. (2010, September 16). American Indian church sues feds over peyote use. Retrieved from DrugSenseBot: http://drugpolicycentral.com/bot/xarticle/gjsentinel18990.htm
Schultes, R. E. (1938, October-December). THE APPEAL OF PEYOTE (LOPHOPHORA WILLIAMSII) AS A MEDICINE. American Anthropologist, 4(1), pp. 698-715.
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