Interview with Jonathan Ott

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Interview with Jonathan Ott Published in Hightimes, September 2001

He is the Author of Pharmacotheon, brings us the word “entheogenic”, which means substances which create spirit or god within us. It was a nice late summer afternoon in the year 2000, when we met Jonathan Ott in the flat of Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling in Hamburg, Germany. We talked about his plan for his new book, the cocain-business in south-america and of course aboute hemp.

HanfBlatt (Joerg Auf dem Hoevel and Achim Zubke)

We would like to begin with a funny introduction. First I would like to give you a present you probably never got before. Some say it is one of the most evil drugs on earth… What do you think about it? It is a bottle of Mariacron, the aunts drug!

Ott

Ahh, Weinbrand, genial. Is there some cannabinol in it?

 

HanfBlatt

No, it is just what our old aunts like to drink. We call it “Sprit” but it has no spirit in it.

 

Ott

Well, it has a beautiful label. And it is “vollmundig”. Danke.

 

Jonathan Ott

Jonathan Ott

Jonathan Ott with one of his favorite drugs: a chocolate cake.

HanfBlatt

With “Pharmacotheon” you have written a milestone in scientific literature on psychoactive plants and their chemical ingredients. The book is very precise and gives a clear view of what we really know about these plants. In “Ayahuasca Analogues” you give us useful informations on a vast array of ingredients, which can be made into a highly potent oral active brew. By the way you show the lunatism and impossability of criminalizing the natural. So your publications are as important as “Tihkal” and “Pihkal” from the Shulgins. What has changed since the publication of “Pharmacotheon” for you?

Ott

It was 1993 when I published “Pharmacotheon”, a second edition and Spanish Translation was published in 1996. But over all nothing has changed, I just keep going into more details. For example the Ayahuasca Book started as a chapter in Pharmacotheon and Grew into an entire book. I always wanted to follow that up with the same kind of psychoactive modelling, with bioassays, of the South American snuffs. I just finished another book, Shamanic Snuffs or Entheogenic Ewhires, which I shall publish in Switzerland, in English, very shortly. The German edition will come later. There I have the psychonautic modelling of 5-MeO-DMT and Bufotenin. It has not much about DMT, more about the three active principles of the major snuff families: Bufotenin, 5-MeO-DMT and Nicotin. So instead of Pharmahuasca you have Pharmaepéna which is the snuffed 5-MeO-DMT and Pharmayopo which is the snuffed Bufotenin. This work is completely new because no one has paid attention to the snuffs at all. And when Homestead and Lindgren, the Swedish chemists, first proposed the idea of the “Ayahuasca-effect” or this synergy between MAO-Inhibitors and Tryptamines, they were actually talking about the snuffs and only later was that extended to apply to Ayahuasca when DMT was subsequently found in Ayahuasca. I always wanted to go back to the snuffs, and the compounds snuffed in fact are far more active than orally. This was quite surprising. I did about sixty bioassays. I had to isolate the compounds first, because Bufotenin is a controlled substance…

HanfBlatt

… in the USA…

Ott

Yes, only in the USA, I think. But practically speaking, to get it is much simpler to isolate it, inasmuch as I have my own lab in Mexico. A lot has been written about bufotenin, mostly wrong, about its lack of psychoactivity or visionary activity, or whatever. But with Christian Rätsch and also with Manuel Torres, a colleague from Cuba who has studied the snuffs for more than twenty years now, we got more information. Torres asked us both to collaborate in his study, so Christian collaborated on the field work with the shaman in northern Argentina and I collaborated in doing the psychonautic modelling of the snuffs. First we studied the seeds and as reported in the literature, we found they have very high amounts of Bufotenin – up to 12,4mg) and almost no other tryptamines. Snuffing and smoking the seeds, we found that they were indeed very active. So I was very interested in isolating the bufotenin and then proceeding to a model of the snuffs. It turns out that bufotenin is indeed visionary and is about as active as 5-MeO-DMT when smoked (i.e. inhaled as freebase vapor). But its activity as a snuff is about the same as DMT, which is much less active than 5-MeO-DMT. And it is also orally active. So is 5-MeO-DMT orally active, without any MAO-Inhibitors, although a higher dose is needes. Lately I have been working on these problems. My recent work is a book I am writing together with Christian Rätsch, “Just say Blow. Coca and Cocaine, a scientific Blowjob”. It will be published next year in German by AT Verlag from Aarau, Switzerland, and in English by Entheobotanica from Solothurn, Switzerland.

HanfBlatt

Just one moment, please. Prost.

Ott

Prost.

HanfBlatt

The whole bufotenin issue throws a completely new light on the toad question.

Ott

Perhaps. I don’t think that there is enough bufotenin in any of these toads to have psychoactivity by itself. There actually are very low amounts of Bufotenin in the toads. They contain really high amounts of other toxic (that is, bioactive) compounds including phenylethylamines. Particulary there are cardioactive steroids that have a digitalis effect, very toxic. I don’t have enough experience with them excepting Bufo Alvarius, the only toad known to contain 5-MeO-DMT from 10 to 15 % 5-MeO-DMT in the “venom”, actually, a secretion of paratoid glands, which is very active smoked. But it is not just like 5-MeO-DMT when smoked, there are some other active compounds we still don´t really know about. Bufotenin is definitely active orally. There is evidence that the toads were added to “chicka”, tropical American wines, and portions, about which we don´t have any real theory. I don´t think it is bufotenin but something else that mithgt account for psychactivity.

HanfBlatt

Is it possible that it is absorbed through the skin, like the witches-Salbe.

Ott

Yes, it is possible, but I have not had experience with this. Nicotine of course is. Right now I am focussing on nicotine because that is a much larger issue. My snuff book has a major chapter on Epéna, generically various snuffs containing 5-MeO-DMT and other Tryptamines. Another chapter is on cebil and Nopo, which contains Bufotenin. The other major chapter is on Tobacco and nicotine-based snuffs. I have been long interested in Nicotine and normally I don´t use Tobacco; rather I take nicotine by itself, sometimes intranasally as a spray. So I am trying to solve some questions regarding Tobacco. In fact there is not enough nicotine in normal commercial cigarette to do much of anything. Nicotine by itself is like cocaine not an “addicting” substance by any rational definition of the word. There is no withdrawal syndrom and absolutely nothing happens when you use a lot then anruptly stop. Commercial cigarettes have maybe one milligram of Nicotine each and one might absorb half of it over ten minutes. I normally take ten milligrams in a single dose, and that is raughly equivalent to a whole packet of cigarettes.

HanfBlatt

And your recent work?

Ott

I am writing some technical papers for the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. The first already came out, called “Pharmahuasca”, they already have the ones called “Pharmaepéna” and “Pharmanyopo”. Then there is another one called “Pharmanubil” which is about the modelling of Tobacco-based snuffs. There are so many unknown plants that we can identify. As you can see from Christian Rätsch´s very excellent “Enzyklopädie der psychoaktiven Pflanzen” there are literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of visionary plants and we only know some of the basic ones. I lived in Mesoamerica for thirteen years now and in my garden of plants there are six really well known Mesoamerican Entheogens that are completely unknown chemical or pharmacologicaly. I just haven´t had time to bioassay them and of course we have to do that to study them. You don´t need laboratory animals, you don´t need a research grant, you don´t need a big staff in the university, you just need to understands this kind of activity and you have to try the plants yourself. Anyway. These plants are all very well known historically and they are not in any danger of disappearing. Mostly they don´t have any current visionary use so it is not a time-critical thing. I am focussing on South America now, because there are a lot of areas, e.g. in Brasil where you have some surviving use which is very much in danger. Additionally there is no or little historical background documentation like we have in Mesoamerica. So I am about to move to South America, perhaps Columbia, to simplify study of those plants and their use.

HanfBlatt

The US-Government is pushing a lot of money into Columbia.

 

J_Ott Chillum or German Urbock Beer?

 

Ott

Yes, they call it the “Plan Columbia”. What happened is: The US-Government is now controlling the Cocaine Trade to Europe and the Old World via Bolivia. The USA pretty much has taken over Bolivia, not so much militarily but economically, by buying the politicans and so the country. The Cocaine Trade is running by the US-Embassy. They have their own air-force hangar in the major airport in Santa Cruz. US-Military transports comes in and out almost every day and they can load and unload as they please and nobody knows what they are carrying. Officially this is drug-aid but in fact they are the ones who are controlling the Cocaine Trade. The USA has been trying for a long time to put Columbia out of the Cocaine business. Starting in the presidency of Jimmy Carter they set up the first contacts in Bolivia. Later in 1979 there was a major coup called “The Cocaine Coup” and the USA installed this guy named Luis Garcia Meza. Soon they were massively planting coca and building huge laboratories to refine cocaine. Before, this had all been done in Columbia. Before all the coca from Bolivia and Peru was taken to Columbia to refine, and the Columbians controlled the access to the US-market – the USA consume some 70 % of the world Cocaine output. Of course the US-military is involved in trafficking, especially during the Reagan administration. That was the major financing for the illegal war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Basically it has been a long process of putting Columbia out of business. Now the Columbian government is in bad shape because the rebels control half of the country and they control the coca-zone. So the government finally was forced to accept US-Military help, supposedly to fight the drug-war but in fact to take control of the drug production in Columbia. If the USA succees they will control the entire cocaine-industry out of Columbia and Bolivia. And in Peru the US-Government has major influence already. That’s the main reason why I haven´t lived in the USA for thirteen years. In this country, everything is justified by Puritanism, and this fake war on drugs is only an excuse for putting people they don´t like into jail.

HanfBlatt

The “War on Drugs” is still running. Is there a chance to get rid of it?

Ott

There is definitely a chance to get rid of it because it is on it´s on its last legs. It is still going really strong but the forces against it are growing. This war is against history, against ecology, against ethics, common sense and reality. I see it in more or less historical terms. Ten years maximum. The US-Drug Policy is increasingly unpopular everywhere. I think the situation will end up like it is in Holland or Spain. In Spain there is prohibition but you can possess three marihuana plants, up to fifty grams hashish, up to ten grams heroin or cocaine, and a hundred LSD-trips. That is considered to be personal-use posession. At most there is a fine, but it is not a criminal offence you can be arrested for. I am not in favour of legalization or any kind of deal with the government because that just means more taxes. I you legalize cannabis the big tobacco companys will control the market. And in archaic times tobacco was a very potent visionary drug and then it was turned into a vice – just enough to hurt people but not get them high. What I am in favour of is to decriminalizing the drug market. I am trying more and more to expose the extent of official involvement in drug-trafficking. There have been scandals throughout Europe and many other countries when the drug-war people exposed as beeing involved in trafficking and corruption. More people are realizing that their own governments are doing this. For the governments it is a great opportunity to get a lot of money and put people they don´t like into prison. My hope is not a new control system for substances controlled by any government. Now we have a really good offering – the prices are going down the purity is going up. Prohibition gives our people a cahnce to make a good living in the drug business, otherwise they´d have to compete with tobacco and alcohol companies. I would like a kind of a truce were there is no possibility of putting anyone in prison for this kind of business. And then just say: “O.k. you guys, the CIA, the DEA and the US-military, you can traffic with drugs but we wish to compete with you, and then see who will win”. I think this will not evolve by any kind of public agreement but just by attrition. Sooner or later there won´t be a political will to put more people into prison. They call the USA “The Land of the Free” but the country has 25 % of all the prisoners in the entire world, it has the highest prison rate per population, except for China. They are now over 2 million prisoners in the USA, most of them for drug offences, nearly one in every hundred people. It is very expensive, it costs more than to send people to a private university. There is hardly any family in the country that doesn´t know someone in prison, sometimes a family member or a close friend. These people understand all the lies about the war on drugs. It is not about justice or sending dangerous people to jail. The opposite is true, because meanwhile dangerous people are being released to make room in the prisons. The more people they put into jail the more people will know that this system is not about justice.

HanfBlatt

So the system will liquidize itself?

Ott

It always does. Everyone thought that the Soviet Union would last longer than it did. These things are like a Hollywood set, really strong ont thes outside but behind it is all flimsy scaffolding, rotting away. HanfBlatt Potemkinsche Dörfer. Ott Richtig. The Nazis fell down quickly and the same will happen with the US-government. In less than fifty years the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the world will be like the royals are now. They cut ribbons to open highways and factories and on independence day they come out to give a speech. But they don´t have real power because the real power is in the hands of the multinational cooperations. Gore, Schröder and so on will be seen as puppets that are representing these interests. The big companies are at least much better than national governments because they have a more global vision, operating as they do in many countries. They prefer to avoid problems with any countries. They are also more democratic; it is easier to bring down the director of a company than to change the leader of a country. All it takes is buying up stocks and voting him out. Soon these will be recognized as the real leaders of the world. A lot of people don´t like this idea, especially the socialists, but I think it is better if the power is frankly seen in this way. The weapons-industry will dry up and blow away because what feeds this industry is nationalism. In fact, this is the motor of the whole world economy, guns for drugs. When there are no national politicans up there who is going to make the guns?

Christian Rätsch and Jonathan Ott.

Christian Rätsch and Jonathan Ott.

HanfBlatt

Let´s make a jump. What kind of role does cannabis play for you?

Ott

It is not a thing I use day to day in my work, more a social indulgence. It is clearly the most widely used illegal drug in the world, by a factor of ten, even compared to Cocaine which is perhaps second on the list. Only in the USA the government counts 25 million users, perhaps there are twice as many. In Europe there are even more users. It is also a really important wedge-issue in the political transition which is going on because of the medical marijuana movement. Even the US-government has been forced to reschedule THC as Schedule II, it was on Schedule I were the marijuana-plant still is. And I think they will be forced to reschedule cannabis as well because to many people testify that pure THC (Marinol) doesn´t work as well as smoking dope. Smoking Marijuana does help them and it is cheaper. Eleven states have legalized it for medical use and they set up a sort of prescription system. But some politicians fight this to the very end. They resist to changing the laws on Marijuana because if they do the DEA loses its mission. 75 % of the US drug-arrests are for Cannabis. Also industrial hemp is another Force for changing the laws. In countries like Canada and Finnland Hemp was an important crop and it is starting to come back. These are major bridging issues that go beyond this whole “Hippie versus Alki” or whatever crap dogging Marijuana. It goes beyond that and the people can see it in other terms like “agricultural” and “ecological”. It is not an issue on what you prefer for getting high, it is a political issue. But of course Hemp is Cannabis. You see this really clearly in Mexico where I live. In Mexico they don´t care about cocaine, the whole country runs on cocaine. It is the drug of the political class, the right wing classes, the stock markets, in companies, in the White House, as it is in the drug scene. But Marijuana is treated as this really heavy thing because it is identify with the left wing intellectuals, students, university people and counter-culture and so it is a very much political issue which they don´t have with Cocaine, which is the very life-blood of politicans in Mexico, as in many countries.

HanfBlatt

 

Have you got an insight on the Marijuana issue in Spanish-speaking countries? Ott Spain has a very high cannabis-user rate and the Hashish has traditionally come from Marocco. It is really lousy Hashish, usually not even 2 % THC. Canamo, the Spanish HanfBlatt if you will, has done chemical analyses of Maroccan Hashish and it is really bad, it is like abd wild marijuana. But more and more people grow their own Cannabis. You can see this right now in the cities on balconies. And soon the situation will be better, but not for the corrupt regime in Marocco and the corrupt Customs system in Spain.

HanfBlatt

Let me interrupt you. What is the recent knowledge about what is responsible for the psychoactivity of cannabis?

Ott

O.k., see, that is not my speciality, I have a lot of literature about it but it is a big subject by itself. What needs to be done with that is that someone must do a psychonautic study on Cannabis, meaning you have to isolate all the potential active compounds, and there are many. It seems pretty clear that you have two classes of psychoactive compounds. You have the Cannabidiol-type of compounds which have a more sedative, physical effect, and thenyou have the THC-Isomeres, especially the Delta-1 (or Delta-9) which is very much stimulant and visionary. And there is at least one other active Isomere of THC, the Delta-8. But when you look in the scientific literature for the human active dose of Delta-1-THC you will find “Well, three to thirty milligram”. That is not good enough. That’s pretty imprecise. Another point is the application – orally, smoked, snuffed or injected? It depends on route, of course. One time at a seminar in Palenque, Mexico, a guy having cancer gave me a bunch of perles of Marinol. He gave me a 45 milligram dose. I took it all and I waited. After a while I even forgot that I had taken anything, it didn´t do anything at all! I feel that smoked, even a tenth of that would be a strong dose. I would suggest to someone who is doing the research on Cannabis: take a known sample grown from a Sensi-Seeds strain or whatever, grow it out and then do a chemical profile of it. Isolate all the different Isomers of the Cannabinoids and test something like ten different compounds in the proportions in which they are found, single and in combination. I suspect that there are more active compounds but the short answer to your question is we really don´t know and the knowledge we have is very imprecise. But we have a chance to know more about it now, that these Anandamide-type compound have been isolated and the so called Cannabinoid-Receptor has been found in the brain. All we need is human pharmacology and the only way to do that is in the basement labs of the counterculture. At least in the USA it is not possible to do this in a open research. In a land where they spend billions of Dollars yearly over 30 years, and still say that three to thirty milligrams is the active dose, while producing a medicine that doesn´t work, just to get around people smoking marijuana. Unfortunately we don’t know enough but it is easy to find out.

HanfBlatt

What are your preferred strategies of risk management when using entheogens and how is it possible to differ between just consuming and having something like a ritual act.

Ott

Well, basically, know what you are taking is the first thing. And second you have to control the situation where you are taking it. I am not a real friend of taking visionary drugs in the city or going to a disco or a rock concert, unless it is a very low dose with something you already know and know how to dose. But it also depends on the experience of the person. Paramount for me it is controlling the setting – it is best in a comfortable and safe environment where you are not going to be exposed to some unknown constingency, or people you don´t know and you suddenly have to deal with. It is good at home or a rural place. Of course the important thing is to know the substance and the dose and of course the black market doesn´t favour that at all. So it is easy to say for me because I generally know all the substances I take and normally I don´t take any pills from the black market although I have done that in my past quite a bit. These substances are not for everybody, some people are not good candidates for something like LSD or Mushrooms or Ayahuasca. People that tend to be really nervous, high strong and very relaxed usually are not good candidates. These substances are not for everybody. They can be wonderful and life changing for many people but they can also just hurt some people.

HanfBlatt

And the difference between consuming and the ritual act?

Ott

I have my own way of seeing that. A lot of people think that they need contact with shamans from the Amazon or Mesoamerica or wherever. I don´t think this is a good thing. It is not good for the shamans because in a lot of cases they don´t want this contact and you get phony people that become tourist-promotors. I try to foster a reason for shamanism to exist in the world today and I don´t think tourism gives that. It favors more a Hollywood movie type of shamanism. Additionally it is not a stable source of income because suddenly the fans will say “Oh, it is not the Amazon, there is something new elsewhere”. The mushrooms were big once, Ayahuasca is now and maybe it will be Iboga next. So that will hurt the people who depended on this, when suddenly this business goes elsewhere. A ritual does not have to be something from another culture or something archaic. What people need to do is to develop rituals that have meaning for them in their own lives. I am more in favour of that. It is just a question of seriousness and respect for the archaic nature and sacred nature. If you have that proper respect and a little bit of knowledge about it, well that will change your attitude towards it and that will breath more of a ritualistic attitude toward taking it. To me it makes much more sense for people in Hamburg to say: “Well, we take it in a circle” and so on, instead of looking at the Amazon and imitating that. It makes more sense to draw on German traditions, old shamanism and paganism from the area where one lives, in one´s own language and own context. Even if the substance is imported from somewhere else. To answer your question: It is a question of attitude and seriousness. If someone really respects it and takes it seriously that is a ritual act by itself, and that is more important than drums and feathers and belts. And it is enough ritual context. Not that there is anything wrong with taking this things just for fun, there is nothing modern or new about that, shamans do the same thing and always have.

HanfBlatt

But don´t wonder if you see the light.

Ott

In Mesoamerica we have very good historical documentation on the use of mushrooms, which describes using them for healing ceremonies, for state ceremonies, but also for celebrating a successful business, just like someone who drinks cocktails or snorts cocaine or smokes a joint. And also for big party-type settings the mushromms were used.

Christian Rätsch (comes in)

It is a party type setting now!

Ott

Yes?

Rätsch

Yes, there is a nice little crowd of people waiting for you. Oh, what is that?

 

Ott

A bottle of Mariacron.

Rätsch

Ahh, that´s the worst type of Schnaps you can get.

HanfBlatt

I told you that it is one of the most evil drugs on earth.

Ott

Only good for washing your hair? Thank you.

HanfBlatt

Thank you.

 

Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Jonathan Ott, Christian Raetsch

Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Jonathan Ott, Christian Raetsch

Veröffentlicht von

Jörg Auf dem Hövel (* 7. Dezember 1965) ist Politikwissenschaftler und arbeitet als freier Journalist u. a. für die Telepolis, den Spiegel und Der Freitag.

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