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Inside the Entheogen Review

Will Beifuss

An interview with ER editor David Aardvark

Will Beifuss: How did you come to get involved with ER and were you involved with the publication before taking it over?

David Aardvark: Well, The Entheogen Review was always one of my favorite reads. I subscribed to it fairly early on, and it has been quite interesting to see the developments in this area. ER is a unique publication, in that it is written - to a large extent - by the psychonauts who are experimenting with ayahuasca analogues and fairly obscure plants such as Salvia divinorum, Calea zachatechichi, Stipa robusta, Lepiotahumei, and others. To my knowledge, there hasn't ever been any previous journal that covered the "nuts & bolts" of how to prepare these plants, what the proper dosages are, what the inherent dangers of consuming these plants might be, and - most interesting - what the effects of these plants are.

I first met ER's founding editor Jim DeKorne in 1994 at the Gathering of the Minds conference. I had just finishing reading his book Psychedelic Shamanism, and I was impressed with his conceptualization of the "imaginal realm." After this meeting, I started corresponding with Jim, and a few of these letters were eventually printed in ER. So my initial involvement in ER was as an enthusiastic subscriber, and then later, as an occasional anonymous contributor.

WB: Why did Jim DeKorne quit publishing ER? Was it offered to you by DeKorne or did you lobby him over a period of time for it?

DA: We first discussed the possibility of Jim "passing the torch" of ER at the 1997 Telluride Mushroom Festival. Jim was about to go public with the news that he had decided to stop publishing ER with the Winter 1997 issue. The publication no longer had enough subscribers to make it financially feasible to continue. As well, Jim had burned out on publishing; six years is a long time for someone to single-handedly produce a quarterly publication. Jim's own "inner work" had been moving away from entheogen use for some time, and I think that his enthusiasm was waning. As well, Jim's travels to other countries provided him with experiences that left him increasingly disillusioned with the direction that America seems to be moving in. Indeed, Jim recently moved to Budapest.

At Telluride, I offered to take over ER, and to fulfill all of the subscriptions that were currently left incomplete - some people had paid for several years in advance. Jim was glad to see ER continue, and happy that he wouldn't have to be refunding anyone's money! It worked out well for both of us. Prior to my first issue, I brought in K. Trout as the technical editor of the publication, since he was well-suited for this position.

WB: Speaking of your technical editor K. Trout, what is his background in this field? Has he worked on other publications and what other writing has he done?

DA: Trout's formal education is in chemistry. I am particularly thankful to have him onboard with ER because of this, as I know little about chemistry. Trout has been writing on the topic of entheogens for many years, compiling his "Trout's Notes," which can be best described as critiques, collections, and condensations of references on the current state of the literature on entheogens. As well, his expansive personal experience with visionary plants and drugs is invaluable. Perhaps the most well-circulated publication that Trout has written is his Sacred Cacti and Some Selected Succulents: Botany, Chemistry, Cultivation, and Utilization, which is an extensive overview of psychoactive and purportedly psychoactive cacti.

WB: ER has gone through some changes under your watch, most notably a more scholarly, academic approach to the subject matter. Is this something you perceived the readership wanted or does it reflect your own personal tastes?

DA: It probably reflects my own tastes. Nevertheless, we have received numerous letters lauding the new spin that we've put on ER. On seeing the first issue, Jonathan Ott commented that he thought ER was "immeasurably improved over its prior incarnation." That was quite nice to hear. As far as an example that I looked to for inspiration regarding the "more scholarly approach," as you call it, I was mainly influenced by the Italian journal Eleusis. This is an excellent publication that takes an entirely scholarly approach towards the study of entheogens. It is one of my favorite reads, and to an extent I wanted to incorporate this manner of addressing the topic.

However, I didn't want ER to take an overly scholarly approach. ER remains a journal largely produced by its subscribers, and I like this fact. The "hyperspatial maps," or "trip reports," are what keeps ER real. Sharing these experiences is an important manner in which readers can learn potential ways to navigate the mental spaces that entheogens can produce, and use them to their advantage.

WB: Do you have any other writing projects you are considering, or has ER turned out to be more work than you anticipated?

DA: Well, ER has certainly turned out to be more work than I anticipated! When we took over ER, we had less than 200 subscribers, most of whom had already paid DeKorne for their subscriptions. So I had to work very hard to build the subscription-base back up. We now have over 500 subscribers, and are doing okay financially, but I am hopeful that we can eventually build the subscriber base to 2000+, which seems to me to be areasonable goal.

One of the main drawbacks is that people feel that they can get any information that they want over the Internet. The Internet is another reason that we decided to give ER a more scholarly spin. When one reads something on the Internet, there are rarely any bibliographic citations to back up the information provided. The Internet is a seething cauldron of misinformation on the topic of entheogens, but most people don't realize this. As well, the lack of privacy on the Internet is disturbing. I'm generally not the paranoid type. But sooner or later I think that the shit is going to hit the fan with regard to crackdowns on those who belong to e-mail lists and who visit Internet web pages dedicated to illicit drugs. It has already started to happen. The DEA has subpoenaed information from web site owners, and this information has been used to make arrests. This is why ER does not have a web page or e-mail access. We are quite happy to operate through first-class snail mail, where there are still a few laws that protect an individual's privacy. ER does not make its subscriber list available to anyone for any reason. People are a hell of a lot safer subscribing to ER than they are surfing the net.

As far as other projects go, I've recently completed Salvia divinorum and Salvinorin A - The Best of The Entheogen Review, 1992-1998. This book not only brings together everything that has ever appeared in the pages of ER about Salvia divinorum and salvinorin A, but it also includes new commentary, an annotated bibliography of relevant texts, videos, and audio cassettes for further study, an annotated compilation of Internet-related resources, and a current source list and price comparison for nearly every known company that sells Salvia divinorum plants, leaf, and extracts. The interesting thing about this compilation is that it relates what was known about Salvia divinorum in a historic manner, starting from the time when people didn't really know how to ingest the plant properly, and were reporting no effects!

WB: What do you think the future legal status of Salvia divinorum will be? Any thoughts on how best for the community to insure its continued legality?

DA: It's hard to say. There are those who postulate that Salvia divinorum will never become popular enough to warrant it being made illegal. The experience produced by this plant is frequently reported to be so bizarre that, "one try is enough, thank you." Many people in the entheogenic community feel that Salvia divinorum will continue to be treated in the same manner as the Datura species and Amanita species are. These plants appear to be ignored by the law simply because the plants themselves seem to legislate "restricted use."

On the other hand, I've heard that the manufacturer of "Herbal Ecstacy" has taken an interest in Salvia divinorum, and plans to mass-market it. This abhorrently unenlightened approach could spell doom for the plant. Advertising of this sort could convince the "club" crowd that S. divinorum is just another "recreational" drug, similar to MDMA or Cannabis. If this happens, casualties may abound. S. divinorum can cause people to get up and move about erratically, without any idea of what they're doing in our reality. In this condition, people can quickly become a danger to themselves and others. It is always best to have a "sitter" present when one uses this plant. Mass-market S. divinorum to the club scene, and all it will take is a couple of accidents for the media to step in and demonize it. Look what happened with GHB. Overdoses on "liquid ecstasy" (GHB) were recently featured on a late-night mainstream TV drama. GHB has now become the target of fictionalized anti-drug hype, as well as the horseshit spread by the "news" media.

WB: I noticed in the Autumnal Equinox issue of ER, in an article on cacti, you wanted to test the validity of a statement made by Peter Stafford that peyote is psychoactive when smoked, so you smoked 650 mg of dried San Pedro cactus. I admire this willingness on the part of an editor to bioassay a substance to get the facts straight for an article. Are there other plants/compounds that are rumored to be psychoactive that you plan on ingesting and reporting on in future issues?

DA: Well, my test was actually in regard to a correspondent's claim that Trichocereus pachanoi was active when smoked. I included the quote from Stafford for two reasons. First, it was something in print that implied that mescaline in cacti was active when smoked. Second, it illustrated the fact that what most people are actually doing is smoking a combination of mescaline-containing cacti and Cannabis. My feeling on this is that it is very unlikely that the tiny amount of mescaline present in whatever cactus was smoked could possibly have any psychoactive effects. Consume mescaline orally, and the average dose is 400-500 mg. That's a lot of material, and it's a hell of a lot more than is going to be present in any cacti that someone smokes. So my conclusion was simply that any effects caused by cacti smoked with Cannabis are likely due to the Cannabis, and not due to any mescaline that may be present. K. Trout has also smoked peyote, peyote tar, and isolated mescaline crystals, without having any psychoactive effects.

Trout doesn't shy away from bioassays either, to test out the purported activity of botanicals. We got an exciting letter from a subscriber in Japan that was published in the Summer Solstice issue, which related information about possible ibogaine-like activity from Voacanga africana seeds. After researching potential toxicity issues (which were presented in this issue of ER in tabular form), Trout bioassayed the same number of seeds as the correspondent used. The effects that he experienced were minimal, but they presented hints that a larger dose might provide an interesting entheogenic experience. The strange thing is that, according to the literature, these seeds should not be active at such low doses. There is nothing reported that shows that they are likely to have an alkaloid content high enough to support an entheogenic effect at these doses. Still, the alkaloid content of plants is variable, and it is possible that the correspondent had stronger seeds. Just as an example, a batch of Anadenanthera colubrina seeds recently tested out at 12.4% bufotenine! This is an unbelievably high amount of alkaloid for any plant to have. So it can happen. Obviously more work needs to be done on V.africana seeds, but in a very careful manner. Some of the alkaloids in V.africana are cardiac stimulants, which could be dangerous in large amounts. We try to make sure that we always point out any potential dangers to those who might choose to experiment with putative entheogens. The "let's swallow a handful of seeds and see what happens" mentality so often found on the Internet just doesn't cut it.

I realize that I haven't really answered your question. As far as plants that I am personally interested in trying out, I would have to say that I have always been intrigued by the "lesser known" plants. Lagochilusinebrians is intriguing - I've made several half-hearted attempts to track this plant down, but it doesn't seem to be available commercially. A diterpenoid compound was isolated from it in the late '50s, which may be psychoactive, perhaps even similar in action to salvinorin A. It's an unknown at this point. I've always been fascinated by the reported activity of Mitragyna speciosa, but a source for the plant seems to be lacking in this case too. It has been used as an opium substitute in Asia. However, M. speciosa is really an enigma. It has been reported independently as a stimulant and as a depressant, and it contains at least 22 alkaloids, many of which are indoles. The main alkaloid present, mitragynine, is a 4-substituted indole (similar to psilocybin and ergine), so it has been postulated that M. speciosa may also have visionary effects! Another plant that intrigues me is Mesembryanthemum tortuosum (also known as Sceletium tortuosum). It has been reported to have been used as an inebriant by the Hottentots and is supposed to have euphoric effects. Actually, Will, I have your "Sources" column in ER to thank for locating source material for this plant, which for a long time seemed unavailable. As well as listing Sacred Succulents as a seed source, and Botanic Art in the Netherlands as a plant source, you also recently mentioned to me that dried herb is now available from OM-CHI Herbs, where you live in Oregon, right?

WB: I believe so. Are there additional changes you want to make in ER in the future, or any other regular features you hope to incorporate?

DA: I'd like to have at least one interview per issue, but this isn't always easy to arrange. I'm also considering the inclusion of a visionary plants gardening feature that would be written for each issue by a different guest columnist. A number of subscribers have written in to say that they would like to see more provided on how people actually use entheogens to better their lives. Not just "trip reports," but rather explanations of methods or patterns of use that provide beneficial effects in real-world situations. I agree that these types of articles would be valuable. But to an extent, we can only work with what we are given. If people aren't sending in this sort of information, it is hard for us to include it. Unfortunately, since most of my time is spent editing, filling orders, and dealing with correspondence, I don't have the time to write as much as I would like on this and other topics. But I certainly encourage anyone who has something to say on these matters to share!


The Entheogen Review is only available by subscription: $25 (USA), $35 (foreign) for one year (four issues). Cash, check or money order made out to The Entheogen Review should be sent to: The Entheogen Review, 564 Mission Street, Box 808-T, San Francisco, CA, 94105-2918. A limited supply of back-issues are available. Send a #10 self-addressed stamped envelope for their current catalog.

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2002-02-20 00:00:00