Review some of the key controversies around "entheogens": what are some of the prevailing understandings of the use of these kinds of substances in ritual? How have such 'drugs' been considered sacred and/or profane?
For thousands of years, humans have found ways to alter their state of consciousness and attain psychedelic and hallucinogenic experiences. These experiences are usually provided through the use of substances that have today been termed as ‘drugs’. Simply, a drug is a substance that, when absorbed into the body of a living organism, alters normal bodily function (Kaffeeverband, 2001). In many cases, these drugs alter the conscious state of the user by affecting the central nervous system. These substances can occur naturally in certain plants and mushrooms, such as cannabis, while more recent chemical advances have refined synthetic substances designed specifically to act as hallucinogens. Examples of such substances include LSD and heroin.
The use of drugs and other substances within a religious context is certainly not a new concept. When used in context with religious rites of passage or practices, these substances become known as ‘entheogens’. Etymologically, ‘entheogen’ translates literally as “God inside us”(Poir, 2009). The term ‘entheogen’ is given to substance used in a religious context, so as to differentiate it from recreational drug use. Strictly speaking, entheogens are predominantly psychoactive substances, although there is evidence of the use of depressants and stimulants by some cultures in religious practices. Entheogens can be used in spiritual, religious or shamanic contexts, depending on the belief systems of those using the substances. The use of entheogens can be dated back as far as 8000 BC, as stated by Giorgio Samorini who supports this theorem with cave paintings found in Algeria depicting a man