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Plants, Shamanism and Ecstatic States

Before the white man, Christian morality, and the practice of using chemistry to treat biology, there was nature, spirituality, and the medicine man for the indigenous people of the world. Everything in their universe was provided for them by the creator – nothing was evil, and nothing was wasted.

There were magical plants in this universe that could give you visions, heal your spirit, allow you to commune with nature, and, if the dose or the plant were powerful enough, to talk to the creator. They were part of rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations. They were part of negotiations with other tribes, of war and peace.

And the best part was that these plants and the comfort they provided were everywhere – they just grew there.

After thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of years of using these plants, in the last hundred years these plants and their traditional uses have been unfairly stigmatized and labelled under the ubiquitous moniker "narcotics". Many are illegal, many are regulated, and many fall into the grey area that might allow you to pick and use, but never to grow or sell.

The science of Ethneobotany studies these plants from every perspective, from the scientific to the cultural to the philosophical, hoping to better understand the uses and importance of shamanic plants and visions – there are a lot of wonderful legal drugs on the market today, but none of them are much good at giving you the power to talk to the animals.

Every two years for the past decade, experts in a wide range of ethneobotanical fields meet to discuss their research, their findings, and their experiences.

This year’s conference on shamanic plant science, Ethneobotany 2, will take place in Whistler from May 11 to 13, and attract experts from all over the world. Chief Allen Stager of the Mount Currie Indian Band will open the event, which is being held at the Whistler Conference Centre, at 2 p.m.

According to Rob Montgomery, director of the botanical preservation corps, the event is "a multidisciplinary exploration of shamanic, visionary plants or plant teachers, encompassing ethnopharmacology, pharmacology and phytochemistry" with emphasis on "history, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, archaeology, and art history."

Specific topics to be covered include ayahuasca (an endogenous, halluciongenic vine found in South America) and its analogues, cannabis, magic mushrooms (also called psilocybians), Salvia divinorum (a powerful and uniquely "visionary" type of sage found in Mexico), iboga (a West African tree whose bark produces the most powerful and long lasting psychedelics on earth), peyote (the same visionary cactus from the Southern U.S. and Mexico that the good guys were tripping on in the movie Young Guns), natural and artificial tryptamines (from a large hallucinogenic family of plants and compounds that contain both an indole ring and an amine group), phenylthylamines (a huge and largely illegal hallucinogen and "speed" family relative that includes mescaline and amphetamines), and, surprisingly, tobacco.

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