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Promoting the American Scene:
The Actions of the U.S. Psychonaut Jon Hanna
Interviewed by Markus Berger
2006
Originally published in German in Entheogene Blätter 8: 402-407 (2003)
Citation:   Berger M. "Promoting the American Scene: The Actions of the U.S. Psychonaut Jon Hanna (Interview)." Mar 31 2006; Erowid.org/characters/hanna_jon/hanna_jon_interview1.shtml.
Currently, some Europeans understandably aren't in love with the United States. On a near daily basis, I hear anti-American sayings. But I can't understand these attitudes. Yes, I am aware of the actions of George W. Bush and his criminal puppets, but does this make all of Americans like these bad guys? Of course not!

Jon Hanna is one of the "good knights" of the U.S. psychedelic scene. Living in a small town in California, at 35 years old Jon is a book and journal author, an artist, and the producer of the legendary Mind States conferences. He has been doing a lot for his local community of psychonauts, but few have heard of his work beyond the U.S. In my opinion, people from all over the world need to begin work together for positive changes regarding attitudes and approaches taken toward entheogens. Hence, I want to introduce readers to some important activists involved with promoting such change. Let me begin by talking with Jon Hanna.

Markus Berger: Jon, please tell me a little bit about the history of The Entheogen Review. How long have you been working with this journal?

Jon Hanna: The Entheogen Review was started in 1992 by Jim DeKorne, author of Psychedelic Shamanism. After five years of struggling to increase the journal's subscription base, Jim only had about 200 hundred subscribers. He got burned out and turned the project over to some others. Since then, subscriptions eventually built up to about 600 to 700 subscribers. So it is still quite small and a labor of love, but it is doing a little better at reaching people.

My early involvement with The Entheogen Review was as an occasional contributor of "trip stories" or snippets of factual data that I came across. With Jim's last issue, he asked me to contribute a column describing where people could score the latest entheobotanicals, books, and other relevant materials. He knew that I kept on top of this sort of stuff, due to my book Psychedelic Resource List (PRL). Thus was born the "Sources" column, which acted as a periodic update of my book. At the time that I first started working on what became the PRL book, back in 1993 or so, there wasn't too much access to information related to psychedelics. So I had to dig around a bit. One of my great "scores" in this area was when I discovered a company called Drittewelle. They were operating from a mail drop in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and they would send 2C-B out to any country in the world. They weren't too concerned about the receiving country's drug laws, and they mailed the packages discretely. This was at a time when there weren't too many - if any, really - of Sasha Shulgin's creations widely available on the illicit or grey markets. So I suspect that there were a lot of people who were very glad to learn about that company.

I've been writing the "Sources" column since 1997, and designing the layout of The Entheogen Review since 1998, along with writing other articles for the journal. I guess that I consider myself a "psychedelic consumer advocate". Pyschonauts are sometimes be subject to scam artists, and due to the fact that their interests are "illegal", they frequently don't know who to complain to if they have been ripped off. They don't feel comfortable complaining to "the authorities" about such matters. A good example of what I am talking about is a scam that recently happened on a large scale with Mitragyna speciosa, an herb commonly known by the name kratom, which is native to Thailand. Kratom is used as an opiate substitute. The primary chemical that it contains, mitragynine, is a 4-substituted indole, similar in structure to psilocybin. And yet it is not psychedelic. When the plants leaves are chewed they are mildly stimulating, but primarily they produce effects that are opiate-like. The leaves taste pretty bad, so I doubt that chewing it will ever be too popular in the United States, but perhaps some other less distasteful method of consumption will be developed by psychonauts - as was the case with potent extracts of Salvia divinorum, which can be smoked for effect.

Kratom is highly illegal in Thailand, even though in some areas it is sold at market stalls with no problems. The impression that I have is that it is commonly used by the working class, who are said to feel that it is helpful in getting through a long hard day's work. And now some folks are looking at kratom as a possible replacement drug, to help people opiate addicts kick their addiction. Since the plant can't be legally be exported from the country it grows in, it has been hard to obtain elsewhere. The person who is to be thanked, who has done an enormous amount of wonderful work in making the plant more available, is Torsten Wiedemann in Australia. He runs the company Shaman Australis. He put a huge effort into propagating the plant via tissue cultures, and then he spread these plants around the globe. Recently a few companies in the U.S. have begun to offer the plants. Sadly, Torsten's good work may have inadvertently draw too much attention to kratom, as the Australian government has now decided to list both the plant itself, as well as mitragynine, as scheduled drugs.

Even though live kratom plants can now be purchased, the dried leaves - that people can immediately chew for their medicinal effects - have not been widely available. What with Thailand's extremely repressive drug laws, it is too risky to try to export these leaves. But recently a lot of dried "kratom leaf " flooded the market. Daniel Siebert, the Salvia divinorum ethnobotanist, noticed that the dried material that was being widely sold as "kratom" didn't match the published botanical description for the plant! The leaves being sold were covered in trichomes on both sides, which is not the way that Mitragyna speciosa leaves are supposed to look. So Daniel suggested to me that I should make readers of The Entheogen Review aware of this scam. I decided investigate a bit further. As I knew that mitragynine was a target compound for kratom plants, I located a reference standard of this chemical to see if the so-called kratom that was being sold contained any mitragynine. Tests were run, and the results were conclusive: the herb was bogus. Strangely, the bogus herb was being reported by a few people to actually be psychoactive in some manner. Nevertheless, its chemistry is totally unknown -it might contain chemicals that are toxic to the liver, or carcinogenic, or whatever. Selling a mis-identified herb for consumptive purposes is immoral on a couple of levels - not only are you ripping off your customer, but you might be poisoning him or her! I am thankful to Daniel for bringing this situation to my attention, so that I could look into it more and let others know what was up. The article that I wrote can be downloaded from the web at www.entheogenreview.com. I should mention that there is only one company in the U.S. that I know of which is now is selling correctly identified dried kratom leaf - Pure Land Ethnobotanicals. But there are several companies that are selling live plants,such as the Basement Shaman, Native Habitat, and Theatrum Botanicum.

Markus: Who are your readers and how popular is the subject of psychedelics within the American population?

Jon: Folks that read The Entheogen Review might be considered "hard core" psychonauts. These are people who want to know the latest information about new psychoactive plants. How to grow, extract, and process such plants - and what is generally going on in the realms of ethnobotany and chemistry.

However, I think that The Entheogen Review might appeal to a lot more people than those who are currently subscribed. The fairly low number of subscribers is probably because the publication has tried to keep a low profile and stay under the radar. And, to a degree, there will always be some people who are afraid to subscribe to this sort of a publication, fearing that the subscriber list could somehow end up in the hands of the authorities. In these days of "zero tolerance", neither publishers nor readers wants a knock on the door!

But the area of interest in psychedelics in general is just exploding. Never before have so many books on the topic been published. It is hugely expanding. I would attribute the recent burst of interest over the last decade in America to two books. These two books sparked enthusiasm in the early 1990s, after an era of repression during the 1980s - where the major book stores had all removed their "illicit drug books" sections. And the books were PIHKAL by the Shulgins, and Pharmacotheon by Jonathan Ott. Both of these are filled with valuable research and based in the scientific method. They showed that books about psychedelics need not be filled with blissed-out hippy poetry or metaphysical rantings.

These books were published at the perfect time - right when the world wide web was beginning to be used by the average individual. Increasing interest in the web lead to an increased interest in all areas of study. But in the field of psychedelics, the interest snowballed. Perhaps this has something to do with the computer revolution itself, and the fact that many of the early programers had experience with psychedelics. The medium being the message, and whatnot. Could computer-based communication have a built-in affinity for psychedelics that was encoded from the start?

So the web rapidly spread the psychedelic meme on a global scale. People who otherwise felt alone and sheltered could now share information and feelings about this topic for the first time. And then not only meet virtually, but also have "fleshmeets", where those from special interest e-mailing lists would get together for parties. The first time that I went to the Burning Man festival in the mid- 1990s, there were about 5,000 people there. I attended because I had learned about it through an e- mailing list called the Visionary Plants List. The moderator of that list, Andrew Edmond, told me that it was reading my Psychedelic Resource List which inspired him to start the e-mailing forum! Eventually that list morphed into the Lycaeum drug-information web site. These days, Burning Man attracts around 30,000 people, and it is very much a psychedelically-infused community expression of webbased communication. Of course, the rave phenomenon also gained momentum in America in the early 1990s, and the web helped spread this meme too. Currently, the site Erowid.org is at the forefront of providing data about psychedelics on the web.

Even those people who are fervently against illicit drug use agree that Erowid is the place to find non-biased factual information. It is pretty sad when American medical doctors no longer use government data, turning instead to a private-sector web site to get reliable information. Erowid is completely non-commercial and funded entirely by donations. I encourage everyone to become a member of this web site - send in donations! The folks who produce this site work 12 -16 hours a day on it, and they are certainly not getting rich. The site has over 20,000 content pages and gets nearly 30,000 unique visitors per day! Yet they only have around 700 dues-paying members - about the same as The Entheogen Review. Maybe this shows that while there are a huge number of people who are interested in psychedelics, there are a relatively small number of people who are willing to pay to keep themselves informed? To some extent this might be explained by the fact that people would prefer to spend money on a psychedelic experience, rather than on reading about such an experience. If they are gonna dump $30.00, they would rather have a tab of MDMA than a year's subscription to something.

Markus: The Mind States conferences that you produce [see www.mindstates.org ] are an important part of the international psychedelic science scene. Yet overall, this scene isn't very big. In my opinion the Entheogenic Reformation needs a longer time for its social manifestation. What chance do you see for the future of entheogens?

Jon: One of the primary reasons that the scientific community related to psychedelics isn't larger is because working in this area of interest is largely illegal. So you have an interesting situation, where major discoveries in the field are being made by enthusiastic amateurs, who might not have the credentials to publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals even if the topic wasn't illegal.The larger culture doesn't care, because they've bought the propaganda that "drugs are bad". Those people who do have credentials, that might be working underground in this area, will not publish because it could damage their careers. I expect that there is a lot of important work happening that we simply aren't aware of.

On the other hand, there are an increasing number of venues where people can publish anonymously or pseudonymously, such as The Entheogen Review. And of course the web is rife with anonymous selfpublishings. But then you come to the problem of accountability - if anyone can write anything they want and they don't have to stick their name on it, a reader might reasonably feel less confident that what they are reading is actually true. And, in many cases, non-credentialed researchers don't have the proper experience to create effective experimental situations. Even so, there is an amazing amount of primary research that is happening outside of the traditional educational and corporate arenas. The human pharmacological action of salvinorin A, the backpack technique of mushroom cultivation using hydrogen peroxide, an understanding of the "ayahuasca effect" and the multitude of analogue brews that followed - all of these came out of amateur research. The latest that I have heard about, although it still needs to be confirmed via replications by others, is a process that Donald Teeter has developed for propagating Amanita muscaria mycelium via a technique similar to that used with the kombucha "mushroom". The claim is that this technique can produce a never-ending supply of doses. If it really works as described, it is speculated that the ancient cultures who are believe to have worshiped A.muscaria as a god could have also discovered this. A whole lot of data related to soma then can be read in an intriguing new light.

Markus: What are your international activities?

Jon: Recently I've given talks on entheogen-related topics in Brazil at an Ayahuasca Healing Retreat, and then in Portugal at the BOOM Festival, which is a biennial psi-trance dance gathering. In 2002, I produced a Mind States seminar in Jamaica, which was a blast. I will likely be doing another such seminar in 2004 at some foreign local. I'm not sure at the moment where that will be; I'm looking into the possibilities - Bali, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, England, Fiji, Mexico, and the Netherlands, are all on the list. And I have recently been in communication with Hartwin Rohde, who publishes Entheogene Blätter in Germany. This is the German version of The Entheogen Review, which contains some translated content from the U.S. publication, but which increasingly has a lot of original content. Hartwin is doing a fabulous job with this, and our e-mail correspondence has kept me better abreast of what is happening in Europe. I'm also a member of the Entheogen UK e-mailing list out of England. Unfortunately I don't travel much, as I can't afford to. But I get around in the U.S. for talks on occasion. I recently gave presentations on psychedelic art in Arizona and Oregon, and later this year I will be speaking at Palenque Norte at Burning Man. Palenque Norte is a theme camp that was inspired by the Entheobotany seminars produced by Terence McKenna and Jonathan Ott in Mexico. Shortly after Terence died, these seminars were discontinued. So a number of the regular attendees felt that a good way to continue this lecture series was to move it onto the playa at Burning Man. I'll be giving a talk there regarding drug-inspired metaphysical beliefs, and then I will also be delivering another talk that will deal with guerilla farming techniques for sacred plants at a different theme camp called HeadSpace.

Markus: And you sometimes work together with the Multidiciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies?

Jon: I'm a huge fan of MAPS. The founder, Rick Doblin is an incredible man - quite driven. Where other organizations related to psychedelics have floundered, or failed, or never really gotten off the ground, the work that Rick does is consistent and encouraging. Rick is the bulldog, grabbing hold of the establishment's pant-leg, who absolutely will not let go. I believe that eventually the government will get tired of this and they will let him do what he wants. Ultimately, what he wants, is for MDMA to be available as a prescription medication. If anyone can pull this off, it is Rick. I consider Rick to be the saving grace of the psychedelic community; he is an inspiration. One criticism that I had with what MAPS was doing is that they were focused primarily on the medical applications for psychedelics. They were largely dealing with the use of psychedelics to treat illness. While there is nothing wrong with this, it didn't seem to me to exemplify a multidisciplinary approach. Personally, I am more interested in what people who are not ill can find to be beneficial from psychedelics. After all, this is the largest group of people that is currently using them! While the medical focus may be the best inroad to officially-sanctioned psychedelic use within our currently oppressive government, I felt that MAPS had sorta dropped the ball with regard to the many other beneficial uses that people have found for psychedelics. So I was very excited when Sylvia Thyssen, the then-editor of the MAPS Bulletin, asked me to co-edit a special theme issue of the Bulletin that dealt with the effect that psychedelics have on creativity. That issue can now be found online by visiting www.maps.org. Sylvia and I later got together again to produce another theme issue on the topic of "Sex, Spirit, and Psychedelic", which can also now be found online. We are currently working on a third theme issue that deals with the controversial topic of "Kids and Psychedelics". That one is sure to make some of the governmental anti-drug folks heads spin!

Markus: Let me ask about your book Psychedelic Resource List, which recently came out in its fourth edition. What do you think is the benefit of this book for foreign readers? In particular, German-speaking readers? To what extent do you involve the international scene with this publication?

Jon: If one can read English, then the book is valuable regardless of geography. Many of the items discussed in the book are available via mail order, and most companies ship world wide. Since the U.S. has some of the most restrictive laws surrounding psychedelics, there should be no problem to order something from an American company and have it imported into Spain, for example. With each edition of the book, I have tried to broaden the scope of what is covered and include more foreign companies. With this fourth edition, a lot of new companies in Australia and Germany were added. As far as Spain goes, there are at a few listings of relevance. Inner Traditions offers many of their books in Spanish versions, Libreria Muscaria is an excellent source for books and magazines in Spain, Yerba is covered - a Spanish marijuana magazine, and Caņamo of course!

Energy Control is a valuable harm reduction resource in Spain. There's the Societat d'Etnopsicologia Aplicada I Estudis Cognitus in Barcelona, which conducts research and holds gatherings. And then there is the BOOM Festival in Portugal,which also may be of interest to residents of Spain. Although the book focuses primarily on U.S. companies and organizations, it also covers companies in Africa, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Malta, The Netherlands, Peru, Switzerland, and the West Indies. There are quite a number of listings from Canada, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Most people in Europe inter- ested in the area of psychedelics should find the book to be useful. With the latest edition I have added an entirely new chapter on psychedelic art - something that can be appreciated regardless of what language one speaks!

Markus: The UNO want to set our world "drugfree" by 2008. This is a really stupid intention, because drugs are everywhere: in plants, animals, and humans. What do you think about those political aim?

Jon: Well,it is just ludicrous, isn't it? It is an absurd and impossible goal. If governments really consider the drug situation to be a "public health" threat, then the reasonable thing to do is to make drugs safer to consume. This means that they are taken off of the black market, offered in pure form, in regulated doses, and with plenty of information about the risks involved and what one can do to minimize those risks - such as not sharing needles, and using reasonable nutritional approaches to help curb any physically damaging or neurotoxic effects.

Markus: Do you have some special wishes or dreams that might help cause the Entheogenic Reformation to come about faster?

Jon: I wish that in the U.S. we could oust the jerk who wrongly calls himself our president -baby Bush, who stole the election. Ugh, what an embarrassment and a tragedy. I hope that the international community knows that many if not most Americans are opposed to this chump and his policies. Getting rid of him could help a variety of situations. But then I am not particularly hopeful about the immediate future surrounding the Drug War in the U.S.A. new head of the Drug Enforcement Agency is now in place,and she is apparently a hardliner - totally opposed to medical marijuana, and wanting the federal government to stop people who use the plant medicinally in those states where laws have been passed to protect this. She recently told a reporter from USA Today that she believes that Salvia divinorum is as bad as methamphetamine. She thinks that this ancient sacred plant is the next great health threat, and said that she plans to propose to Congress that they place it into Emergency Scheduling immediately. By the time people are reading this interview, it could already be illegal in the U.S. So I am not terribly optimistic for the future, with regard to the oppressive political climate.

But then again, in other parts of the world, drug policy seems to be headed in more reasonable directions. Spain is fabulous in this regard, as is Portugal. England and Canada are lightening up. More people than ever are learning the truth. More people than ever are using psychedelics, and largely using them in responsible way - at least I hope they are responsible. And there is more information available than ever about psychedelics; good, solid, factual information. I guess that I will keep doing what I am doing - writing and speaking on the topic, and trying to spread information by organizing the Mind States gatherings where folks can present their latest findings. Change will have to come eventually. But as you said, we may indeed need a longer amount of time to pass in order for the Entheogenic Reformation to fully manifest.

Markus: Thanks very much for taking the time to share some thoughts. Let us continue to work together to creating the new Age of Entheogens!

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