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Shifting or Supporting States of Consciousness with Herbs
17 April 2012
7:42 pm
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owenokie
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Just to get this forum started.

 

There are a whole number of ways in which plants can alter states of consciousness. 

 

1) Entheogens such as Ayauasca or Peyote. Not part of standard herbal practice. However, Ayauasca is being used as part of an addiction treatment by a French Psychiatrist running a treatment center in Peru called Takiwasi. Psilocybin mushrooms are being studied at John Hopkins university with terminal cancer patients.

2) Herbs that alter mood: these are various nervines, relaxants, sedatives, etc… Skullcap, Valerian, Damiana, Passionflower, Lemonbalm, etc…These may be anxiolytic, anti-depressant, stimulant, etc…Usually immediate effect

3) Nootropics: these are herbs that support consciousness and cognition: Bacopa, Gotu Kola, etc…These have more long-term effects

4) Adaptogens: HPA axis regulation and supporting healthy stress response plays a role in supporting higher states of consciousness. These are more long-term effects.

5) Essential Oils: complex effects on consciousness and used in energy work and meditation. Lavender for example is known to promote alpha-brain wave states (associated with relaxation and certain types of meditation). These work very quickly.

6) Herbs that support meditation: certain herbs are used to support meditation in Ayurvedic and Chinese traditions. These include green tea, Shisandra, Holy Basil, Bacopa and Gotu Kola. Skeletal muscle relaxants, respiratory stimulants (to assist with deeper breathing), essential oils (supporting alpha-brain wave patterns with lavender), and adaptogens, can all have an effect as well and thereby support entering into and resting in certain sates of consciousness.

7) Indirectly: effects on general health and well-being will be reflected by our states of consciousness. Its hard to be in an relaxed, open-hearted, alert state when our intestines are griping, but some fennel, might clear this up in short order.

8) Specific indications, drop-dosage herbs, homeopathic effects, “energetic” effects. Many herbs have the ability, in some schools of herbal medicine, to match up to individual with very specific symptom/character patterns and to shift these patterns in a certain direction. In the 20th century this could be seen in the work of the Eclectics and Homeopaths. Today Matthew Wood has some interesting material on this subject. It’s also part of the Ayurvedic and Chinese and Tibetan systems of medicine. In large part this could be seen as using herbs to shift an individual into a higher, freer, more adaptive, healthier way of being, by removing certain blockages or supporting certain patterns/body system/emotional systems/physiological patterns, etc.). The return to harmonious functioning allows the individual to enter into a wider-range of states of consciousness, increases their flexibility, their ability to interact in an open and healthy way with their environment, and potentially facilitates access to states of consciousness that were blocked off, repressed, or inaccessible. 

 

So the question is, what is the role of states of consciousness and using herbs that effect states of consciousness either directly or indirectly in an Integral Herbal practice? Is this one of our places of entry into working with the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a client?

18 June 2012
6:02 pm
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Mark Jack
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A very interesting topic you have started, and you do a good job of it!

So I am considering how this gets put into practice. On the most simple level we pretty much all use plant substances to affect our state, whether this be coffee and tea, sugars (and indeed perhaps all foods to some extent), etc. As herbalist we can do a better (healthier or more effective) job of this with the range of herbs at our disposal and help clients to more life affirming states, but the question is what is the effect long term (where the effect needs to be long term, rather than just a temporary period of stress for example).

Like you say “using herbs to shift an individual into a higher, freer, more adaptive, healthier way of being” by really matching a herb with a client, or through increasing health and therefore having a positive impact on states of consciousness are both ways to have a long term effect if successful. And doing this is likely to be in line with the wishes of most patients, even if they don’t formulate it as such – who doesn’t want to be more alive! Temporarily helping a client with maintaining a positive state may also help them get what they need to get done in life, or show them a different way of being, and in so doing the patient through a change in their outlook or circumstances may then spend more time in more positive states. Looking at myself I can see that being better able to manage my state when tired or stressed can lead to better health choices and then better states later on.

Then there are approaches that with the majority of patients wouldn’t be appropriate but that a few may actually wish for, such as herbs to help with meditation. I think with Integral Herbal Medicine supporting meditation and meditative states is a huge thing as it is such a big part of Integral Health, not just helping healthier or more expanded states of consciousness, but also helping the development of stages of consciousness – the development of a client as a whole. However I am having difficulty imaging how herbs could help with this for the majority of people, for example, giving a fundamentalist christian herbs to drink before they pray?!

Then finally there are the least appropriate or practical group of plants to be using – the entheogens! Of course in some cultures they are very important for the development of a persons life and spirit and I can certainly understand that and see the usefulness of them, but they are not without their problems and it would be irresponsible (and in many cases illegal) to suggest or use them. So not at all practical for Herbalism today! Perhaps in the future they may be used (and research is being carried out still), but for now it is not really up for discussion. I also think there would have to be a lot of skill used in using them even if it was ever an option – and I think there would be agreeance with this in cultures that do use them.

 

Writing all this I realize that getting more clarity around what I am referring to as ‘states’ would be helpful, i.e. whether emotional states, spiritual states (witness, non-dual, etc.), other subtle body states, functional states etc. 

Another thing that occurs to me is the question of how much one should be altering states of consciousness or in what circumstances – for example – having a pick-me-up every time one is feeling down does not seem like such a great idea. 

Finally, a slightly tangental thought – do you know about if any of the other older systems you mention (Ayurveda, Tibetan etc.) would give different doses depending upon what level they were working upon – for example when matching something very specifically to an individual drop doses would be enough, but when focusing on a less specific level would give larger doses, or more interestingly yet whether they would be giving small drop doses or suchlike when addressing issues to do with the subtle bodies and larger doses when focusing on the gross bodies? I have wondered before about the sometimes huge variations in dosage practices of different herbalists and well to a point I can agree that some things work better for some herbalists than another, that still there must be some best practices amongst all that and that the truths in each could be extracted and put in their right places!

18 June 2012
6:09 pm
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Mark Jack
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As a bit of a postscript, I think a helpful approach to exploring this more would be first to understand the types of states, changes of states, the roles they play in health and life, and how they develop. Then to look at what the needs are or what could be gained by working with them, how they can be worked with holistically, then to look at where herbalism could help. Just a thought…

29 August 2012
1:30 pm
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owenokie
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I don’t know about the dosage question and its certainly a mystifying one! Certainly there is a tendency for larger doses for acute conditions and smaller doses for long-term conditions, however that’s as far as my knowledge goes. Worthy of further investigation.

 

The Integral Psychology book is very clarifying in regards to states (as is Core Integral). I’m not sure whether herbs will have specific actions in these regards or simply have a supportive effect on meditation in general (and its up to the practitioner and other conditions what state they access). I think as Structures/Levels/Waves are the other part of this discussion: part of our role as midwives of healing and transformation is supporting an individual in developing through this journey…accessing states is part of this process, and supporting optimal health is another ( a firm foundation is helpful when attempting to climb to the next rung): herbs that support cognition for example (gingko, gotu kola, bacopa), or of course general health and wellbeing, or reduce stress (nervines) or improve stress response (adaptogens), can help clients moving up the hierarchy of needs as described by Maslow – a client constantly concerned with an illness may not have the energy free to work on their personal growth and transformation (even if they don’t see it this way). Adaptogens, by modulating stress response, can help an individual function from a place of well-being that is going to result in a more adaptive response to life (more fluid, better cognitive capacity, more creative, more compassionate and empathetic, better at communicating, etc). Here skills like meditation and heartmath may play a vital role.

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