Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA)

Degree Level





JoAnn D'Alisera

Committee Member

Kirstin Erickson

Second Committee Member

Ram Natarajan


Hallucinogens, Shamanism


Humans have been using hallucinogenic plants and fungi for thousands of years. Historically, people around the world have made use of these substances to aid in their spiritual development. Studies of the usage of hallucinogens in indigenous societies often use the term “shamanism” to characterize the associated system of belief and ritual practices. In popular understanding, shamanism is a religious system that features highly ritualized performances in which a practitioner (shaman) utilizes an altered state of consciousness to gain access to realms inhabited by spirits with the intent of recruiting their help to resolve a problem, cure a patient, correct a misfortune, or predict the future among other things. As it was historically used as a catch-all term for a variety of indigenous religious systems, it has been criticized as an overgeneralization at its best and racism at its worst. However, this has not stopped its growing popularity as a spiritual technique among Western spiritual seekers, a phenomenon referred to as neo-shamanism. While not all and perhaps only a minority of neo-shamanic practitioners utilize hallucinogens in their rituals, many Western users of hallucinogens such as ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms utilize ritual techniques and belief systems that are borrowed from indigenous spirituality. Western seekers are also attracted to places such as South America to participate in what they consider to be authentic shamanism. The growing interest in hallucinogens has also affected the medical establishment with a growing number of studies suggesting a psycho-pharmacological potential for these compounds. In this study, I examine the existing points of tension between indigenous hallucinogen use, neo-shamanic practices that borrow from the former, and the increased medicalization of these compounds through a critical review of the relevant literature.