This article is from Vol. 1, Issue No. 1 pages 39-51 (Winter 1999/2000)
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Shamanism & Drug Propaganda:
An Interview with Dan Russell

By Richard Glen Boire, Esq.

Dan Russell is an independent scholar whose recent book Shamanism and Drug Propaganda, traces the roots of the modern Drug War back to their ancient unconscious origins. Beginning with the evolution of Paleolithic proto-hominids, Russell presents one example after another in support of his thesis that the Drug War is a psychological inheritance from ancient times, one which is now deeply embedded in and, in some cases, the driving force of our culture of power and profits. Russell draws extensively from archeological evidence, presenting object after object engraved with archetypal symbols of shamanic travels, and he deconstructs countless ancient stories and myths to show that many of them alluded to visionary states elicited by the ingestion of psychoactive plants and potions. Russell, building upon the seemingly impenetrable work of John Allegro, even presents evidence that the Bible is riddled with cryptic stories and word-play bestowing the importance of shamanic inebriation.

Shamanism and Drug Propaganda is so detail rich that a summary does it an injustice. In essence, however, Russell argues that over time, the stories told by ancient people (culminating in the New Testament), have been co-opted, corrupted, and manipulated by forces bent on producing a conformist culture. Modern industrial culture, argues Russell, is dependent upon the active eradication of the conscious knowledge of entheogens. As explained by Russell:

[T]he archetypal frame of reference has been carefully manipulated, through succeeding historical stages, to destroy conscious, cultural, knowledge of the ancient shamanism. When conscious memory (mnemosyne) is destroyed, what is left is emotion, irrational attitudes dictated by ‘parentally’ inculcated compulsions: God-the-Father as Pavlov. It’s not for nothing that the great shaman Plato said that all learning is remembering. The great crime of the nonconforming shaman is that he or she struggles to bring to consciousness that which the authorities, and their compulsive sheep, want forgotten.1

Having just finished his master narrative on the roots of the Drug War, Russell is now putting the final touches on his massive 670-page book Drug War: Covert Money, Power & Policy—a penetrating examination of the host of forces currently supporting the modern Drug War. The book is due out in early 2000, and is sure to become an essential addition to the Drug War library. A preliminary, pre-publication, illustrated chapter-by-chapter summary is available at, where you can also obtain more information about the book Shamanism and Drug Propaganda. Russell can be reached by mail to Kalyx, P.O. Box 417, Camden, NY 13316.

RGB: What was it that originally inspired your interest in entheogens and drug war theory?  

DR: I found myself, as a sophomore at the University of Buffalo, at the Berkeley Poetry Conference of 1964. I was just a wide-eyed kid, not a poet, but I was taking Sandoz acid and reading from the original edition of the Psychedelic Experience with some very seminal thinkers, and the graduate students gathered around them. My anthropological historiography was learned in the 60s, as was my ability, every now and again, to call up my own automatic creativity using very ancient ecstatic techniques. This interest was politicized by the fascists who have engineered the current Inquisition, which I have chosen to deconstruct.

Shamanism and Drug Propaganda is filled with many detailed descriptions of ancient cultures and archeological findings, how long did it take to research and write the book?  

I acquired the habit of intense study while in college, and have always pursued what was, for me, an intuitive thesis. Attempting to trace the evolution of the drug propaganda from its roots in Paleolithic shamanism to the current Inquisition, of course, required a reasonable fluency with the flow of history. I found myself writing two books—one, the ancient volume, Shamanism and the Drug Propaganda, is essentially a Jungian analysis of the evolution of the political use of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Jung stressed that these archetypes can only be understood within their politicized historical context, that they were not a “special question,” but were intimately tied to the flow of history.

The second volume, Drug War: Covert Money, Power & Policy, is a very heavily illustrated history of the modern American Inquisition. It is a definitive general history—650 pages, with 350 illustrations, fully annotated and indexed. It is scheduled for release within the next few months. Whatever else I’ve done, I’ve always pursued my studies, so the direct answer to your question is that this research has been pursued, sometimes part-time, sometimes full, for decades.

In your opinion, what is the fundamental root of today’s War on (Some) Drugs? If humans were once able to incorporate shamanic experiences into society, what was it that caused the fundamental shift that led to today’s “Just Say No” culture?  

A very big question Richard. The answer is “the interface between tribal and industrial culture.” In most cases, this interface has meant the enslavement of the tribal culture as beasts of burden by the industrial culture. This is an archetypal process—no different for the Khuzistan Neolithic farmers conquered by the Mesopotamians, the Helots under the Spartans, the Africans under the Portuguese or the mill slaves under the robber barons. Cultural genocide is an essential element of the enslavement process, and the criminalization of the sacraments of the enslaved is an essential part of the process of cultural destruction. We are being told, by industrial fascists, to say no to our own automatic creativity, to the archaic techniques of ecstasy, in favor of a Bismarkian exaltation of the assembly line as a spiritual goal—commerce as holy spirit. Fascism is always maudlin, and ecocidal.

So, if it is industrial culture itself that eradicated entheogen use in order to define its own identity and to institute a system bent on mechanized production and rabid consumption, what hope is there of changing the legal status of entheogens? Must industrial culture itself be entirely re-made in order to end entheogen prohibition?  

No, because industrial culture is properly concerned with the structural health of the industrial economy. I have an optimistic correspondent, Bush’s former Assistant Secretary of HUD under Jack Kemp, Catherine Austin Fitts, who asks the same question, but not from the perspective of someone who cares about entheogens, rather from the perspective of a professional macroeconomist desperately concerned that Prohibition is financing an economically and politically suicidal descent into military fascism. Pot is worth one-hundred times its natural value illegal, and money, of course, is the basis of military power. The drug trade, solely by virtue of its illegality, is worth 1/10th of all global commerce, about $500 billion a year—all untaxable. The question then becomes, does the structural economy being built by the G7, the World Bank and the EU, benefit from having nazi heroin dealers in control of the Burma army, or nazi coke dealers in control of Peru? Have the nazi dopers in Indonesia contributed to the positive or negative side of the Indonesian ledger? The fundamentalist hick farmer may not give a damn about entheogens, but he sure as hell cares about his farm subsidy.

Raymond Kendall, the head of Interpol for the past 20 years, the world’s top cop, is a vociferous advocate of international drug decriminalization, and he is joined by the likes of Milton Friedman, Paul Volcker, George Soros, Javier Perez de Quellar and many other rightwing economic structuralists who are not in the least amused by the inevitable financing of military fascism that is Prohibition. The Drug War is about War, not Drugs. The natural strategic alliance between the herbal sacramentalists and the real Prohibitionists is real—we have the same enemy. Covert fascists, such as much of the Republican establishment, are more concerned with the structural health of the fascist clients of our defense contractors, for whom they work.

But the real Prohibitionists, the ones who actually want to win the Drug War instead of using it as a boondoggle, such as John McCain, attack the economic system that causes their colleagues to turn into defense-contractor whores. They are painfully aware that, in the name of all the venial virtues, we are arming and financing the nazi pigs who actually control the illegal trade in refined alkaloids. That’s why the law enforcement field general Kendall advocates decriminalization—it would collapse the price, bankrupting the enemy.

I have suggested, as a matter of practical policy that can fly in the real world, that we draw the legal distinction between alkaloids and other concentrates, and whole herbs, the former being medically licensed and restricted to adults, the latter completely legal. This would completely destroy the street trade in illegal alkaloids and replace it with a relatively harmless legal trade in whole herbs—as, essentially, America had a hundred years ago. This is also, obviously, where the cultural distinction is. To pretend that whole herbs are “drugs” (a medieval French inquisitorial epithet) is to criminalize the traditional herbal sacramentalism of my ancestors, and yours. To pretend that alkaloids and other refined concentrates have a cultural history, or are safe for amateurs to use, is equally disingenuous.

So, in your scheme all psychoactive plants, including the Opium poppy, Cannabis, and E. coca, would be completely legal to grow and use by anyone without restriction? And “artificial” substances such as MDMA and LSD would be available, but only to adults who have some sort of prescription or license?  

The important distinction, the one that has a chance of flying in the real world, is the distinction between whole herbs and synthetic concentrates. This would legalize all traditional herbal inebriants, and render them inaccessible to bureaucratic medical control. The problem with concentrate distribution is, arguably, medical. That is, many adults can indeed use concentrates safely, but many cannot, and there is no general category of concentrates—some are quite safe, others highly toxic. LSD, for instance, in the wrong dosage, can be very dangerous. For that matter, it can be very dangerous in the right dosage, in the wrong setting.

I see no practical way to escape physician oversight of concentrate usage. Amateurs who like to drink, for instance, might need medical supervision to use heroin safely. Opium sap, on the other hand, would put them to sleep before they could paralyze their system with CNS depressants. Would we want people with severe emotional problems self-medicating with refined concentrates without physician oversight? Most doctors correctly insist that training is needed to understand concentrate usage and dosage. I would like to see a medical system wherein physicians who choose to allow their adult patients to use entheogenic or inebriative concentrates would be allowed to do so, but physicians are trained to look for the worst case scenario, and any system of medical oversight is going to be highly politicized.

Legalization takes whole herbs out of that loop, but I see no way to circumvent the prescription system for concentrates, most of which, of course, are not entheogenic, and many of which are lethal if incorrectly used. I doubt that any prescription system will ever be based on anything but some sort of legal definition of “medical necessity.” I'd like to see that definition be as broad as possible.

Andrew Weil, in his book The Natural Mind, makes a similar argument, distinguishing raw plant drugs from refined products, and noting that fewer problems seem to be related to use of the former as opposed to the later. For philosophical and practical reasons, I believe that plants and fungi ought to be beyond the scope of a Government proscription. On what basis can a government of humans decree that certain parts of nature are forbidden?  

Absolutely none. All the founding fathers, Abe Lincoln and every American libertarian from Walt Whitman and Eugene Debs to Barry Goldwater agreed with you completely. The prohibition of plant-foods is completely unconstitutional. As Eric Sterling, Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 1979 to 89, put it, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the people. Where is the power in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that allows Congress to say, ‘We declare that your brain is off limits to you. You cannot use those cells in your brain that opium can affect, or that marijuana stimulates. Your brain is not really yours to control. The space between your ears—that’s not really yours to control. We’re the Congress. That’s our space. You are prohibited from using your brain in unapproved ways.’ Is this a power that Congress has? If so, where did it get it and when?”

You mentioned LSD. As far as we know, LSD is incredibly safe physically, even in huge doses. Of course, a large dose of LSD could certainly cause a person to become disoriented, and if not properly supervised, an injury could occur. But, natural Psilocybe mushrooms can produce just as intense a visionary experience.

Rather than draw the line between plants and chemicals/concentrates, why not draw the line based on dangerous conduct? Shouldn’t people be free to control their own consciousness so long as they don’t act out in a manner that threatens to cause harm to another person or to themselves?  

It is none of the government's business if I, an adult, feel like engaging in conduct that is potentially dangerous to me. In fact, high-risk alpine skiing is far more dangerous than taking LSD, and I would be enraged if some bourgeois biddy tried to make it illegal. If I feel like living on the edge, psychonautically or aeronautically, I will. I have every right to risk my own safety if I feel like it.

Risking the safety of others, of course, is a right no one has, and here's where the problem of legal definition comes in. Legalization means amateur, and puerile, access. The problem is amateur use. I can see no substitute for a prescription system that somehow manages the dispensation of refined concentrates. There is no practical definition that can be evolved that would separate entheogenic concentrates from all the others, many of which would be suicidally dangerous for amateurs to self-prescribe. A lonely, emotionally unstable 18 year old has absolutely no business taking LSD in a fit of depression, however safe it may be for you. Marijuana, on the other hand, or opium sap, would be far less likely to produce a psychotic fit, and probably would be therapeutic. It is disingenuous to analogize mushrooms with refined LSD—it takes an awful lot of revolting effort to consume mushrooms in which the alkaloid concentration is relatively low, but none at all to take five or ten or twenty capsules too many.

Whole herbs with a cultural history can be empirically demonstrated to be safe, as a legal category. No subjective judgement is required. It either is or is not a whole herb. The pharmacological, cultural and political reality is that we can create a legal definition that separates whole herbs from refined concentrates, but have no way, except the case-by-case physician judgement entailed in the prescription system, of legally distinguishing refined concentrates from one another. Sure any adult should be able to take LSD if he wants to, and the physician should be free to prescribe or dispense it, but the physician is then left with a legal liability for its use. The only alternative is legalization, no age or use controls.

Legalization of concentrates leads the law back to subjectivity, to deciding which concentrates are “safe enough” to be completely legal. Who makes the decision? Law is no place for subjectivity. Only scientific method can provide a proper factual basis for law. I can demonstrate that a whole herb has an ancient cultural history of extensive use - is, in fact, a traditionally safe plant-food. I have no scientific way of categorically distinguishing one very potent refined concentrate from another.

It is perfectly true that some people can drive quite safely at 100 miles per hour. We make 65 the limit, however, so that traffic violations, which can be lethally dangerous to others, are not left to the subjective judgement of police officers or judges. I suggest that we define traditional pharmacoshamanism as unlicensed safe driving available to all, and save the speeding for pros, or accomplished amateurs, on the track. I would, of course, like to see the track legalized, rendered accessible, quite like we do amateur weekend drag racing. A controlled, but freely available, environment.

Do you see that happening?  

No, not in the foreseeable future. I think it will be a miracle if we can get whole herbs legalized. Forcing the culture to acknowledge the legitimacy of traditional herbal sacramentalism would mean a profound change of cultural orientation. I would be satisfied if this culture confronted the violent, inquisitorial, industrial-strength Protestant antisacramentalism at the heart of its Inquisition.

I guess that is what I was getting at earlier when I asked whether any change in entheogen law was impossible without mass-culture, itself, first undergoing some fairly radical changes in its implicit world view. Culture is so ossified around the easy-to-understand (and market) commodity, that anything such as entheogens which will plunge people through the surface veil of superficiality, down into the depths of meaning, simply must be outlawed. Is there anything that can be done to get mass-culture to confront this inquisitorial aspect of itself? What tactics can be employed to make a space for entheogenic herbs?

Nice question. The Drug War is about War, not Drugs. In other words, during WW II, right-wing farm boys found themselves in the trenches with left-wing veterans of the Lincoln Brigade—same enemy, even though they never would vote the same domestically. In order to beat the nazi bastards dealing the refined concentrates on the street, it will be strategically necessary to legalize the traditional herbal inebriants.

Confusing whole herbs with refined concentrates is as strategically insane as confusing Vietnamese nationalism with Chinese imperialism. The legal confusion of whole herbs with refined concentrates enables American military intelligence to help its fascist clients turn Native peoples into drug-crop sharecroppers. Legalize the traditional sacramental herbs, and coca leaf finds a market outside the fascist hood system—it ceases to be a source of military funding for the Peruvian army, loses 90% of its artificial value, and becomes taxable.

Legal access to whole coca leaf products, and medicalized or licensed access to refined cocaine, collapses the street trade in cocaine—which is the major source of military financing for the Peruvian and Bolivian armies, believe it or not. The greatest law enforcement officers, like Raymond Kendall, head of Interpol, advocate this tactic—from a Prohibitionist perspective. The rift in the law enforcement and Prohibitionist community over our financing of the nazi pigs actually dealing the drugs is as bitter as the rift between Winston Churchill and Joe Kennedy over the coming war. John McCain, a very serious Prohibitionist, actually attempts to legally attack the defense contractor whores running his own party who have turned the Drug War into an endless boondoggle for their clients, rather than a war to be won.

A strategic alliance exists between those who would legalize traditional, entheogenic herbal sacramentalism and those who really want to collapse the availability of refined alkaloids on the street. There is no way to pretend that ancient agricultural commodities like marijuana, coca leaf and opium sap aren't basic to the global economy. The boondoggle Prohibitionists are Stalinists, pretending that police state tactics can manipulate economic physics. They cannot, as the economic collapse of Stalinism in a chaotic Yakuza nightmare made perfectly clear. The criminalization of a demanded commodity simply raises its price to the point where it can overcome the legal hurdle through extra-legal means. Prohibition is a fascist protection racket, as those real Prohibitionists, contemplating Barry McCaffrey's financing of the nazi coke dealers in the Peruvian army, realize full well. McCaffrey, who ought to be tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity, has worked all his life to centralize the dope trade as a source of military financing for the clients of American military intelligence. He is the perfect symbol for America's descent into military fascism behind the Drug War.

The herbal sacramentalists have serious political allies in the right-wing libertarians, who are far more concerned with the legal infantilization of the adult citizen than with the private behavior of that citizen. Not just Abe Lincoln, but Barry Goldwater, Milton Friedman, George Soros and Paul Volcker are bitter enemies of Prohibition. The drug trade, illegal, is worth $500 billion a year, one-tenth of all global commerce. Legal, or licensed, it is worth $50 billion. It is not just economic, but political suicide to continue financing military fascism. There isn't a Christian, or at least a Catholic, alive who doesn't understand herbal sacramentalism. The point can be sold politically. Wine is not a “drug,” it is the Blood of Christ. Coca leaf juice is not a “drug,” it is the milk of Mama Coca. The era of cultural genocide must end. A defense of Native culture is a defense of the human psyche.

It’s still not clear to me how you think we can bring about a shift. What we’re talking about here is meme warfare. How do you think those who believe in visionary plants, and are tired of being hunted criminals, should proceed?

As I say, I think they should align themselves with libertarian political allies regardless of their attitude toward entheogens. There is a very powerful community of interest, which includes the most powerful economic structuralists in this culture that want the Drug War to end. Economic fascism is a mortal threat to us all, whether we smoke or not. Personal behavior—and what I put in my pipe in the privacy of my own home is very personal—is not a proper subject for public policy. That is a libertarian principle shared by many.

Do you care to predict the future? Do you think 2010 will find us tending legal opium poppy gardens and growing Psilocybe mushrooms, or will we be living in cinderblock prison cells, the victims of an ever-increasing copitalist State?

Given the failure of the fascists to control the Internet, and the libertarian nature of electronic communications, I tend to think that we'll go in a libertarian direction, but slowly and painfully. There is an awful lot of wariness among the conservatives about the growing fascist state. The best of them are getting very nervous, and the center, say Ventura’s Reform Party, true centrists, are calling for an end to the Inquisition. I think the Gingrich fascists are transparent to a lot more than the shamanically inclined.



1 Dan Russell, Shamanism and the Drug Propaganda (Camdon, NY: Kalyx, 1998), 200.