Pagan Studies - Reviews

A Modern Medical Take on Drugs and Shamanism

Inner Paths to Outer SpaceInner Paths to Outer Space:
Journeys to Alien Worlds through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies 


It’s been over forty years since Carlos Castaneda introduced a mainstream Western audience to indigenous spirituality and shamanism, in no small part through sensationalizing his interest in the ceremonial use of peyote. He was building on the pioneering work of ethnobotanist Robert Schultes and philosopher Aldous Huxley, who began writing about the spiritual dimension of “psychedelic” mushrooms and other entheogenic plants in the early twentieth century. Given the subsequent work on this topic by Terrance McKenna, Wade Davis, and others, and the suspicion and disapproval this line of inquiry usually meets, is there anything new to be said about the spiritual dimension of psychedelic plants?

According to doctors Strassman, Wojtowicj, Luna, and Frecska, there is plenty left to be said. These medical researchers bring years of experimental and experiential data together to paint a compelling picture of worlds undreamed of. Inner Paths to Outer Space presents a cogent and exhaustively supported synopsis of the cutting edge of consciousness research. Focusing on the psycho-integrator drug DMT, and its botanical source, ayahuasca, Strassman et al lay out the current science as a strong foundation for a new model of consciousness that begins to look a lot more like science fiction than science fact.


DMT and other entheogenic drugs, despite being categorized as narcotics, have demonstrated therapeutic effects in healing certain types of mental illness and trauma. In controlled therapeutic settings, with psychological support from trained counselors, entheogens have had a salutary effect on those suffering from post-traumatic stress and certain forms of psychosis. Subjects who have taken the drug in experimental settings report feelings of closure, resolution, forgiveness and peace as a result of their experiences under the influence, and these effects are sustained long after the drugs themselves wear off. These effects are almost identical to the experiences of people who partake of ayahuasca in traditional contexts. Curanderos in the Amazon are the inheritors of an ancient shamanic practice that utilizes ayahuasca as a transformative agent; these practices are now attracting more and more participants. The shamanic function of these rituals is to bring the subject back into balance and banish any spiritual “disease” that may be afflicting them. Comparing these two radically different practices that are yielding such similar results really lends empirical evidence of the therapeutic power of these compounds.

The authors believe there is demonstrable medical value here. However, they push beyond these findings into realms of speculation, using the data from DMT experiments to posit new models of cellular communication that borrow heavily from quantum physics. Furthermore, they investigate reports of extraterrestrials that make contact with the test subjects during their DMT experiences. These reports are shockingly similar in that the subjects are told that the chemicals themselves act as doorways to allow them to communicate. More fantastic is the notion that these plants were seeded on the Earth by such aliens precisely in order to allow humans to make contact.

Outside of its more fantastic claims, Inner Paths to Outer Space is valuable for explaining the human propensity for spirituality on a basic, cellular level. The drive to experience the mysterious springs at the heart of all great religious traditions, and delight in the mystery is revealed in the passion the authors have for their subject and in the beautiful visionary art the book also showcases. Highly recommended.


Leni Hester

Leni Hester's work has been included in Manifesting Prosperity and Women's Voices in Magic from Immanion Press, as well as Witches & Pagans. She lives, writes and serves the Ancestors near Denver, Colorado.

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