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Joe McNally, "Suppressing a Lost Sacrament?"

"Suppressing a Sacrament?"

Joe McNally, Fortean Times/i>


The Ibogaine Story: Report on the Staten Island Project

Paul de Rienzo, Dana Beal, et al.

Autonomedia, pb, $20 , pp348, illus, appendices, index, refs, bib.

Fortean Rating — 4/4

Highly recommended.

Research into chemically altered states of consciousess seems to breed evangelism. One only has to look at the likes of Terence McKenna and his relentless proselytising on behalf of dimethyltriptamine (DMT) or the late D. M. Turner, and his boundless enthusiasm for almost every psychedelic under the sun, to see how workers in this controversial area seem to acquire an almost religious zeal for their particular substance of choice.

All this leads one to a certain scepticism when yet another chemical miracleworker comes along with their latest wonder soma. As forteans, however, we should feel obliged to assess each claim presented to us on its evidence; in the case of The Ibogaine Story, that evidence makes for compelling reading.In the late 1960s, hippie fellow traveller Howard Lotsof was given a dose of ibogaine by an underground chemist contact. The "chemist" warned him: "It's a 36 hour trip!" so Howard passed it on to a friend. One month later, the friend rang him in the middle of the night and said "You know that drug you gave me? It's not a drug, it's a food! We have to tell Congress..."

And so began Lotsof's induction into a very murky saga indeed, one which would apparently bring him into conflict with the authorities at almost every turn, while — he says — giving him the power to change some of the fundamentals of contemporary society.

Lotsof and his set began experimenting with ibogaine at a time when heroin and cocaine were first beginning to make serious inroads into the counterculture, and he rapidly discovered that this strange drug of his could, to all appearences, "cure" heroin addiction. There was none of the agony associated with "cold turkey", or the massive risks involved in methodone treatment; instead, addicts could expect to spend a day and a half lost in an archetypal psychedelic otherworld, where they would often claim to have met an entity which the authors identify variously with Philip K. Dick's VALIS/Zebra and the Yoruba deity Bwiti.

And the results looked good: the majority of those treated were, according to the authors, able to stay clear of heroin, even when living with regular users and watching them inject.

However, such non-approved psychedelic research could only go on so long without attracting official attention, and soon Lotsof found himself in serious legal trouble.

Since then, something of an underground had come into being around ibogaine; the same remarkable rate of cure, and the same astonishing level of efficacy continued to be claimed for it. However, there still seems to be little going on in the way of government-funded or approved research, which is where things take a turn for the conspiratorial. The authors, you see, contend that ibogaine is not just a cure for heroin addiction — it is nothing more nor less than a cure for addiction itself.

And this, they are sure, is why ibogaine remains suppressed; after all, unnecessary consumption seems to form the basis of the economy of much of the Western world, and without this deep-seated need to acquire, where would we all be?

This is the bare bones of the story here, but such an abbreviated summary barely does justice to the astonishing breadth and range of the authors' theories. There is a wealth of speculation on gnosticism, the birth of Christianity (from sunset on Friday to dawn on Sunday being, tantalisingly, around 36 hours), Bishop James Pike's ideas on a "lost sacrament" which brings in Philip K. Dick yet again, this time for his Pike avatar, Timothy Archer — Mithraism, quantum theories of intelligence, identification of iboagaine with the Vedic soma...

It has often been suggested in the past that American intelligence agencies are implicated in the spread of addictive drugs to the inner cities; if the authors are to be believed, their research attracted official attention because of the fear that this useful moneyspinner was about to be taken from them, and because it offered a realistic alternative to the officially-sanctioned and wholly ineffective posturings about a "war on drugs".

Of course, if all this were merely the rantings of another wild-eyed fringe group, churned out without reference to anything beyond its own little closed universe of spooks and black helicopters, it would simply be interesting — a curiosity. But it isn't; there are some 130 pages of appendices, references and articles backing up much of what the authors claim, or at least suggesting that they may not be as cranky as one might be tempted to think.

When stripped of its nearreligious zeal, what this book says is important, not least because it expands the debate over altered states into almost entirely new territory and raises a myriad of unsettling points.