Introduction

The use of hallucinogenic or consciousness-expanding plants has been a part of human experience for many millennia, yet modern Western societies have only recently become aware of the significance that these plants have had in shaping the history of primitive and even of advanced cultures. In fact, the past thirty years have witnessed a vertiginous growth of interest in the use and possible value of hallucinogens in our own modern, industrialized, and urbanized society

Hallucinogenic plants are complex chemics factories. Their full potential as aids to human needs is not yet fully recognized. Some plants contain chemical compounds capable of inducing altered perceptions, such as visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory hallucinations, or causing artificial psychoses that, without any doubt, have been known and employed in human experience since earliest man's experimentation with his ambient vegetation. The amazing effects of these mind-altering plants are frequently inexplicable and indeed uncanny.

Little wonder, then, that they have long played an important role in the religious rites of early civilizations and are still held in veneration and awe as sacred elements by certain peoples who have continued to live in archaic cultures, bound to ancient traditions and ways of life. How could man in archaic societies better contact the spirit world than through the use of plants with psychic effects enabling the partaker to communicate with supernatural realms? What more direct method than to permit man to free himself from the prosaic confines of this earthly existence and to enable him to enter temporarily the fascinating worlds of indescribably ethereal wonder opened to him, even though fleetingly, by hallucinogens?

Hallucinogenic plants are strange, mystical, confounding. Why? Because they are only now beginning to be the subject of truly scientific study. The results of these investigations will, most assuredly, increase interest in the technical importance of the study of these biodynamic plants. For man's mind, as well as his body and the organs of the body, need curative and corrective agents

Are these nonaddictive drugs of interest as "mind-expanding agents," as media for attaining "the mystic experience," or as agents to be employed merely as aids in hedonistic adventure?

There is, however, another aspect that engages the scientist's attention: Can a thorough understanding of the use and chemical composition of these drugs not lead to the discovery of new pharmaceutical tools for psychiatric treatment or experimentation? The central nervous system is a most complex organ, and psychiatry has not advanced so rapidly as many other fields of medicine, mainly because it has not had adequate tools. Some of these mind-altering plants and their active chemical principles may indeed have far-reaching positive effects when they are fully understood.

An educated public must be an integral part in such development of scientific knowledge, especially in so controversial a field as hallucinogenic drugs. It is for this reason that we offer the present volume—directed neither to the scientists who are deeply involved in research in this field nor to the casual reader, but to the concerned public. It is our belief that scientists—for the sake of humanity itself and its advancement—must make technical knowledge available to those able to take advantage of its presentation. It is in this spirit that we wrote Plants of the Gods, hoping that it may, in one way or another, further the practical interests of mankind.

Richard Evans Schultes Albert Hofmann

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