By Dr. Dayal Mirchandani
One of the most exciting happenings in the field of drug and alcohol dependence treatment is the adoption of ecstatic healing techniques derived from ancient shamanism along with modern psychotherapy
We have drunk the Soma; we have become immortal; we have gone to the light; we have found the gods. What can hatred and the malice of a mortal do to us now, O immortal one?
Addiction is on the rise and each day we are discovering new addictions. Apart from addiction to drugs and alcohol, a whole gamut of new addictions—to shopping, gambling, internet, pornography— which were unknown till a few decades ago have become commonplace. Many individuals believe our modern society is based on addiction to possession and consumption. Addicts are very accident-prone and more likely to steal or become violent. One person’s addiction is a cause of suffering for many more. The damage goes beyond just the addict. For the ones around him is the pain of the violence experienced and the terrible shame. The expenses of the habit have also bankrupted many families. Plus there is damage to society due to accidents and crime related to drugs.
Unfortunately the treatment of addiction has not kept pace with the explosive growth of this problem. Research shows that even at the best traditional treatment facilities, success rates are in the 30 per cent range; the large majority (70 per cent) relapse. Even these dismal statistics hide the fact that only a handful of addicts agree to, or can afford, admission in these rehabilitation centres and of those about half drop out during treatment.
While there are other newer alternatives such as Brief and Network Therapy, they require a high level of skills which very few practitioners have. This means that in practice only a small percentage of addicts really get effective help. While a number of new psychiatric drugs such as Acamprosate and Naltrexone are being heavily touted by drug companies to reduce relapse among alcoholics, the research shows that they are marginally more effective than sugar pills (placebos).
One of the most exciting happenings in the field of drug and alcohol dependence treatment is the adoption of ecstatic healing techniques derived from ancient shamanism along with modern psychotherapy. For years it has been recognised that members of the Native American Church rarely get addicted to alcohol or drugs; and when addicts join this church they are cured. The 300,000 members of this church use the Peyote cactus—a potent hallucinogenic substance—as a sacrament in their ceremonies, in the manner that Catholics use wine. While the church is legal by an act of Congress, Christian missionaries have led a vicious campaign to have the church banned. Members believe that this substance opens their souls and senses to fully receive the Creator who ‘‘reveals himself through the peyote spirit and punishes those who violate his moral precepts’’. This stresses the need to be truthful, abstain from alcohol and be faithful to one’s spouse.
Scientists believed that it was the hallucinogenic substance in the Peyote Cactus that was responsible for its anti-addictive properties. Hence synthetic psychedelics such as Psilocybin and LSD were tried under controlled conditions, often with remarkable results. However, these substances were banned before they could be investigated adequately in the 1960s due to their widespread abuse. It is only in the last few years with great difficulty that researchers have been able to get licenses to resume research. Also, as these substances are out of patent the drug companies are unwilling to fund this research as no profits would accrue to them.
Doctors who administered them believed that it was the capacity of these substances to foster powerful mystical and spiritual experiences that was responsible for the effects. Patients reported experiences such as ‘‘At this point I felt as if God were holding me in his arms and revealing himself to me. I laughed and said, ‘I have found him, I have found him.’ I had an extraordinary feeling of peace and well-being. After so many years of wandering lost and alone, now God was with me. It was wonderful… I also found reasons for everything. God’s place in the universe, in the world and in myself appeared so clear to me. It is life and love. He is present in everything and finally after such a long time he was also in me….’’
The Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), Bill W. describes these LSD experiences in his book Pass it On. He believed that LSD had the potential to bring some alcoholics to awareness of the higher power to which AA says one must surrender one’s will.
In 1962, a 19-year-old heroin addict, Howard Lotsof, tried some Iboga, the sacred substance of the religion of the Bwiti tribe of Gabon and Cameroon (2-3 million people). He had a prolonged visionary experience. When he emerged 30 hours later he discovered he had lost his craving for heroin and did not have any withdrawal symptoms. He spread the word and subsequently this substance has become popular as a self-therapy by many addicts. Many brave the risks of disease and danger to travel to Africa to be initiated into the Bwiti religion. This is done by ingesting, under the supervision of a shaman, an extract from the Tabernanthe Iboga plant, which produces powerful spiritual experiences. In the last few years a few research studies have been initiated on the alkaloid Ibogaine from this plant.
In Peru, which has a horrific problem of drug abuse, Dr Jacques Mabit has founded ‘Takiwasi’, which means ‘The chanting house’. In a recent (Nov 2003) BBC interview he said: ‘‘I met spiritual healers—shamans—and realised they had resources unknown in the West.’’ In his centre patients are administered Ayahuasca, a sacred plant of Amazonian healers that creates visions. Mabit says: ‘‘Users can engage with the underlying causes of their drug addiction.’’ According to him, over a third of the patients that begin treatment get completely cured. And among those who complete the treatment, the success rate is nearly 70 per cent.
Some of the substances used by shamans may be dangerous. Illegal Iboga and Ayahuasca clinics have come up in Mexico and Europe. There is a legally available short acting anaesthetic agent Ketamine, tens of thousands of doses of which are administered across the globe daily. It is safe when administered by a doctor and has powerful mind-altering properties when administered in doses a fraction of that used for anaesthesia.
A Russian researcher, Dr Evgeny M Krupitsky, has successfully been researching the use of Ketamine to treat alcoholics and heroin addicts for over 10 years with very successful results. At the end of a year after treatment, 65.8 per cent remained abstinent as compared to 24 per cent who received conventional treatment. Dr Krupitsky observed that patients treated with this method were ‘‘more sure of themselves, their possibilities, their future, less anxious and neurotic, and more emotionally open… that reflected, as a rule, a certain harmonisation of the patient’s personality’’ than those treated with conventional medication.
I’ve often wondered if the history of our planet would be different if so called ‘reformed’ alcoholics like George Bush had received this kind of treatment. In my experience this treatment makes people much more peaceful and ecologically conscious. Ancient shamanic wisdom and ecstatic techniques could help save the world from war and ecological disaster.
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