Ask Dr. Shulgin Online

ARCHIVE:  July 11, 2001

Entheogens - significance and future

Dear Dr. Shulgin:

What do you believe is the true significance of the modern concept of the entheogens? What future applications might they have in our society? I work with philosophical ideas and I am trying to see where this whole exploration might go.  


Dear SaToriBluE:

You have asked two questions, and I am not sure I can answer either one of them. But I will try. You have addressed the area of the entheogens and would like to know just where are we now, and where might we go? 

To begin with, just what is meant by the name, "Entheogens?" I am old-fashioned and still use the loaded (and quite dated) term "Psychedelics." I receive quite a bit of flak for this old habit. Years ago, the scientific journal editors insisted on the term Psychotomimetics," then relaxed into the acceptable synonym "Hallucinogenics," and finally allowed (for a few years) the word "Psychedelics" to be used in the titles and abstracts of medical reports and reviews. But this always made an intimate and condemnatory association between the pharmacological scene (altered states of consciousness, self-discovery, exploring the unconscious) and the social scene (the Hippie crowd of Golden Gate Park in the late 1960's, free love, and the Grateful Dead). A new euphemism for these magical compounds was needed, and quite a few unusual ones wandered into the medical literature scene.

What do you call a class of drugs so that it gives you a clean starting position in an area that has been tainted by negative associations with earlier people and earlier history? You find a new name. One of the first trials was with "Entactogens," which called upon the origins of "Tactile" meaning to touch. To touch within. And, indeed, many of these materials could be used this way. This is the heart of the psychotherapeutic value of these compounds. You can indeed make contact with the hidden unconscious of a patient, using agents such as MDMA. There was a proposal of the name "Empathogens," bringing an emphasis to the state of empathy generated by some of these materials. But to those who felt that sacramental input outweighed the psychiatric input, the term "Entheogens" was more attractive. The existence of God within us. "En" inside, and "Theo" God, and "Gen" which is short for genesis, origin or creation. But existence is not creation. A fantastic new drug might reveal that there is a God there inside of us. But that drug does not create that God within us.

And then as to the future. This is harder to reply to, and is of course total speculation. We do not know what is to come in the future. Any prediction is hopelessly entangled with the wishes of the predictor. But, I have my own agenda, and I foresee an increasingly broad acceptance of human exploration with these materials. Their intrinsic value will be seen to outweigh their risks. They will be found to have sacramental value to more and more people. There will be an increased appreciation of their entertainment value. And from them, I am sure, there will be the development of new research tools for the scientific study of the human mental processes.

-- Dr. Shulgin

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