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The long history of psychedelics in religion, from ergot-spiked wine to magic mushrooms


ABC RN /  By religion and ethics reporter Nicola Heath
In the last century, psychedelics have gone from being at the cutting edge of medical science, to a symbol of the 1960s counterculture, and back again.

Thanks to renewed interest among the academic community and changing social attitudes, we're now witnessing a psychedelic renaissance.

Psychoactive cacti, fungi, plants and synthetic compounds have been used to treat conditions such as PTSD and addiction, and administered to terminal cancer patients to alleviate existential distress and fear of death.

But the history of using psychedelics to achieve altered states of consciousness goes back even further than you might expect.

"These substances which we think of as new and products of the psychedelic 60s, in fact, do have a very long lineage," writer Michael Pollan tells ABC RN's Life Matters.

"They have been used for thousands of years."

And for much of this history, they've been used in religious rites and rituals – some of which continue to this day.

Ancient evidence of altered states

"Humans have been altering their consciousness with psychoactives from the very start," says Christian Greer, a historian of psychedelic spirituality and research fellow at Yale University's Institute of Sacred Music.

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