Psychotria mystica

15 Nov

Dr. Caio Soares knew at once that he had chosen the right place to begin his career as a psychiatrist. Where better to have the opportunity to explore the area that fascinated him: phytopsychiatry and ethnobotany? Nowhere else in Brazil was there such experience in the application of psychedelic substances to therapy of disturbed minds. This was a subject that fascinated the young, athletic-looking doctor from Rio de Janeiro, new to the northeastern state of Bahia and its capital, Salvador.

His job at University Hospital’s Department of Neuropsychiatry placed him under its director, the renowned psychiatrist named Ramon Esteves. This experienced veteran had made Salvador one of the leading centers of therapeutic innovation in all of Brazil. But his white-haired supervisor had developed a strong skepticism concerning the application of native Amazonian plant materials in their specialized field.

“It is too risky and uncontrollable,” he told Caio at their first orientation session at the hospital. “One cannot afford to move into that unlighted area with blind disregard for the potential dangers, my lad.”

Caio realized immediately that he faced resistance from his boss if he ventured too carelessly into the use of native, popular pharmapsychiatry.

I shall have to watch out for the unseen limits that exist in our profession, the novice practitioner told himself.

It was one of Caio’s first patients at the hospital who gave him the lead and the address of a group dedicated to application and experimentation with self-medication with herbacea from the rainforest.

“I tried several of their secret formulas in the form of tea made from combinations of different roots and barks,” confessed the neuropata from the bed in his expensive private room. “But I was unable to get any kind of relief from any of the mixtures that I drank with them.”

Caio smiled at the emaciated, nerve-wracked man, but said nothing. He had picked up information that he was certain he could make use of.

The light blue of the sky above the Bay of All Saints was different from the darker, liquid blue of the Atlantic below it.

On a day off, Caio found his way downtown to the historical neighborhood called the Pelourino with its cobblestone lanes and baroque squares and churches. He wandered down Rua Joao de Deus until he found the address he was looking for, a small, narrow shop with a sign overhead that read Herbacias.

With feelings of both excitement and trepidation, the psychiatrist entered, finding himself in a shadowy room packed with cases and drawers.

A small, elderly man with rimless glasses looked up at his potential customer, studying the slim man in white suit and modish straw hat.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked the presumed shopkeeper. “Are you looking for any erva or planta in particular?’

Caio stepped up to where the other stood behind an old, worn merchant’s counter. He began to speak in a careful, focused tone with a hint of uncertainness.

“Some with whom I have become acquainted here in Salvador recommended your establishment to me, saying that this was the place to learn about the possible benefits to health and happiness from your store of leaves, barks, and roots.

“You see, I am new to Bahia, having come from Rio recently to start a new job. My interest in natural remedies and therapies is a long and deep one, because I happen to be a medico and see suffering patients continually.

“My friend told me that there exists a private, informal group that meets in your shop when it is closed, and that its members are like me in exploring the possible capabilities of substances that you hold in inventory.”

The man behind the counter was silent for a time, as he considered what he should say or do.

“My name is Tiago Cabral. I was born in Salvador and have lived here all my life. My personal mission is to educate and supply the people who come to me with knowledge about medicinal herbs, plants, leaves, and roots. That has become the most important thing that I think and act on.” He stretched his arm across the counter, offering his hand to Caio.

Once they had shaken hands, the psychiatrist took up his primary reason for having come in. “Before I can decide what herb to purchase, I must learn much more about all the alternatives that are available. Only then is a decision based on accurate knowledge at all possible. What do you think?”

Cabral studied the stranger for a moment. “It happens that our group is going to have a meeting right here in the back of this shop. In fact, there will be a special speaker who is coming from South Bahia. It is an educated woman who has carried out explorations in search of unknown species she has discovered in the Atlantic Rainforest, down along the southern Cacao Coast.

“You are welcome to be present the evening after tomorrow’s. I am sure that you shall find it very interesting and helpful.”

Caio gave a bright smile. “I intend to come and listen,” he promised.

The newcomer was surprised that only half a dozen people, including himself, were present as an audience. Without introducing himself to anyone, Caio took a rear seat a little away from the all male group that was there to hear the speaker.

Tiago Cabral sat facing the audience. Next to him was a short, brown-skinned woman in a gleaming white dress. She was obviously mixed-race.

The shop-owner rose to introduce her. “My friends, as I promised you, we have as out guest this evening Senorita Camila Gomes, the owner of a herbal plantation down near Itacare on the Cacao Coast. She will tell us about a promising new species that she has found and hopes to make known to the Brazilian public, in fact to the entire world. I present to you the wise and compassionate Camila.”

As he returned to his chair, the planter from South Bahia rose and stepped forward to a small table set before the audience.

“I thank you for being here to hear me tonight,” she started, her voice weak but growing gradually stronger. “My plantation down the coast has for years been a producer of legally sold and distributed mood-changing herbs that have the natural power to change emotions from negative to positive. People all over Brazil enjoy the benefits of plants that give hoasca, jurema, chaliponga, virola, and yopo, among a variety of others. Almost everyone today is conscious of the ecstasy that can come to the minds of those who ingest the teas that are made from these medicinal plants. Doctors prescribe them to patients. Pharmacists are frequent costumers for what I grow on my plantation, originally devoted to cocao.

“But now I have a new species that I myself discovered in the Upper Amazon. It is a relative of the herb we know as chacruna, that is often put into mixtures with hoasca. I have named this previously unknown plant by the scientific term Psychotria mystica, because it can place its imbiber into a sort of transcendental trance. It uplifts a person’s mind onto a new, elevated level in which past difficulties and problems are completely forgotten. The effects of Psychotria mystica are marvelous and indescribable.

“That is why I have brought with me sample packages of the herb for each of you present tonight to find out for yourself the wondrous effects that it can have upon the functioning of the human mind.”

She ended her talk and opened a carrying case sitting on the small table, distributing the new herb to her audience, including Caio Soares.

That night the young mental therapist had a dream unlike any he could remember. The sights and colors that came to him were breathtaking wonders, giving emotions impossible at the time to identify or define. He viewed sights so new and different that they in time compelled him to wake up in a cold sweat.

Am I awake now? he questioned himself. Was that a dream I had or some kind of vision sent to me from elsewhere?

Caio knew instinctively that his making and drinking down of a large cup of tea brewed from the leaves that the woman from South Bahia had presented to him was the factor that had brought him what deserved to be named a revelation.

Yes, the psychiatrist realized, Psychotria mystica was the root, the cause of what his mind had given to him that night.

He rose out of bed, turned on a small light, and stepped over to his writing desk. With a pen in his right hand, Caio attempted to make a record of what had struck at him as he slept.

Who could help him interpret what he thought he had seen?

He decided to ask for aid from his supervisor at the hospital, Dr. Ramon Esteves.

The senior psychiatrist sat at his desk, his head bent over the words that Caio had typed out on a piece of paper used for patient records.

– My dream after drinking tea made from the newly discovered erva is difficult to describe in conventional language.

I appeared to be walking through a strange forest deep in the valley of the Amazon. Although it was not night, tree shadows engulfed everything on all sides of me. But all at once I came into a bright, brilliantly illuminated clearing. Blinding rays penetrated on all sides, forcing me to shade my eyes from their intensity. The colors about me on all sides were strange and novel, unlike what I was familiar with.

Nothing had its usual coloration. Hues possessed extraordinary originality and novel variations. I was astounded by what came within my sight. The trees and plants all about me were fantastically glowing. They burned as if they had swallowed up the sun itself. I felt like a newly born child who sees our world for the first time. Light flowed from every jungle object as if all of nature had been recreated and renewed. This was not the world I saw in daylight consciousness but something entirely different. This was not ordinary life that I knew and existed in, but a level, a plane that was higher and full of the light of previously invisible spirits.

I sensed an unfamiliar energy pulsating through the forest and myself, a force focused onto me by Psychotria mystica, brought into my life last evening.-

Dr. Esteves put the paper down on his desk, staring into the face of his young colleague for a time in total silence. It was Caio who spoke first.

“What do you think, sir? I want to explore the possible use of the substance for therapeutic purposes. What I experienced promises the possibility of uprooting depressive states of mind through reorienting established personality patterns. It might have capacities of redirecting and recasting neurotic formations into something different.

“The effects upon me myself were astonishing ones, I believe.”

Esteves suddenly frowned and furrowed his brow. “I think it best that you tell no one else of your experience with this plant, my son. It is obviously a potent hallucinogen. I do not want you to continue exposing yourself to such psychedelic wandering into dreamland.

“Abandon all contact with the plant and those who produce or use it. That would be the best course for you to take, Caio.”

With that, he handed the sheet of paper back to the crestfallen therapist.

Caio, burning with inner excitement and inspiration, sought out Tiago Cabral at his herbals store in the Pelourino sector. The small herberista welcomed him with sincere cordiality. “Yes, I myself have drunk the Psychotria and had the same kind of illuminating dream. There has been nothing this marvelous before, I believe. It is a genuine miracle plant, no question of that.”

“I must see and talk with Senorita Gomes. How can I find her?” said the young doctor with emotion in his voice.

Tiago smiled. “Fortunately, she plans to remain in Salvador for a few days. If you wish, you can find her at a downtown tourist facility. Let me give you the address, my friend.”

Caio was soon on his way to where the grower of Psychotria was staying.

“I wish to try the plant on certain selected patients of mine who suffer spells of profound, nearly suicidal depression. My hope is that your erva can transform them. I know personally what it has done for me.”

“And what is that?” inquired Camila with curiosity on her face, in her eyes.

He beamed with inner joy. “I do not recall feeling the way that I did, not from my earliest years of childhood. The world was reborn for me. It was all completely new and enchanted. I do not remember ever having had any similar event happen to me, and it all stemmed from my ingesting the Psychotrica.

“I aspire to bringing the herb into modern psychiatry.”

She gazed at him intensely, but dared not say a word more.

Arrangements allowed Camila to delivery a large plastic container packed with the newly discovered herb to Caio, who considered which of his hospital patients to treat with this substance. He spent time in his tiny office, perusing his therapeutic files. Where should he begin what might turn out to be a risky experiment in psychiatry?

His mind focused on a particular individual named Diogo Alvares. He had the characteristics that seemed appropriate for the effects that Psychotria had had on himself. Here was a case of severe manic-depressive syndrome, a mind that suffered long periods of excruciating pain rarely interrupted by the madness of enthusiastic, exuberant hyperactivity.

The first requirement was that of explaining what was planned to Diogo and winning his assent to drinking a brew based on the new erva from the Amazon.

“Are you willing to undergo this experience?” inquired Caio in a sober, serious tone. “There are no guarantees possible, because what we will be doing is totally new. Results are unpredictable, as they have to be.”

The dark-haired, dark-eyed Diogo grinned hopefully. “I am willing to attempt almost anything. What do I have to lose?”

“I shall give you your first Psychotria tonight, just before your bedtime. My intention is to stay here in the hospital all night, in order to keep a close watch over you.

“Tomorrow morning, we will find out what the effects on you turn out to be.”

The night was one of unending, constant monitoring of this one patient by the therapist. He saw no warning signs to alarm him. The sleep of Diego was calm and sound. There were no signs of anything unusual.

Caio himself made a cup of the herbal brew that he sipped, foreseeing the positive effects to come when he caught up on his rest.

Dawn finally came over the Bay of All Saints and Salvador. The patient awoke from his long, peaceful slumbering.

“How was your night?” asked Caio with anticipation.

“It was a wonderful delight, may I tell you, Doctor. I remember how I enjoyed a dream of floating high above the rainforest, into the clouds and the stratosphere. The world below me had a magical beauty to it, that I really saw for the first time in my life.

“All my painful thoughts disappeared in a flash of bright light. It was like having an experience that the mystics of old said that they had. Everything was new and totally changed. Nothing was the same as before. The heavy weight and misery of yesterday no longer tortured me. I am now a liberated creature, Doctor Soares, because of what this erva of yours did for me.”

Caio returned the smile coming from his elated patient. “I am so happy to hear that from you, Diogo. You and I are, both of us, on the right road now.”

Tired after his sleepless night and the following daylight hours of hospital work, Caio returned to his rented apartment anxious to get needed rest for himself.

He decided to make himself some Psychotria tea, certain it would provide him the joy and pleasure he wished to return to.

It was after three hours of solid, deep sleep that a vision unlike what he had had before surfaced in his dreaming unconscious mind.

Around him was a shadowed jungle of formless plant life. The sky was opaque and clouded with darkly threatening presences of some sort. A hollow silence hung over a scene that had no meaning to it.

Into the mind of the dreamer entered feelings of loneliness, desperation, and hopelessness. There was obviously a fatal threat surrounding him from all sides and directions. But it was too general to be identified or specified. The pain of irremediable desolation, unalterable ruination struck him to his core. Nothing in this vision held any value or had any purpose, let alone the dreamer himself.

Caio suddenly woke up, finding himself in an icy sweat.

What was happening to him? he wanted to know. No answer surfaced in his thought. But something had gone completely wrong.

The psychologist who had experimented first on himself, then upon a patient suffering depression, now approached a state of panic. Was Diogo going to fall into a similar reversal, a disappearance of the original ecstasy that occurred?

When he arrived at the University Hospital the following morning, the section nurse had a disquieting report for him concerning Diogo Alvares.

“Your patient fell asleep yesterday afternoon, slept all night, and has still not become conscious today, so far,” she told him with alarm in her voice. “We decided to ask Dr. Esteves to have a look at the man. He did so, then ordered us to have you told to go to his office as soon as you arrive.”

Caio first had a look at his unconscious patient, then headed for the office of his hospital superior.

Ramon Esteves rose from his desk as soon as the younger man entered his office. He did not ask Caio to sit down.

“Reports have reached me about this patient now in a deep coma,” said the head of the department with rising anger. “And I have learned how you administered a new, unapproved, and unproven erba teas to the unfortunate man.

“You knowingly broke the rules we work under with this wild experiment of yours. You have carried out something unethical and unprofessional.

“Dr. Soares, I immediately suspend you from your work in this hospital. There will be hearings held in which I intend to bring serious charges against you for the acts you have committed.

“Please this building at once, and do not return to duty while your offenses are judged and determined by our medical ethics board.”

Esteves sat down again as Caio rushed out of the office in a mental whirlwind.

Entirely disoriented, the suspended doctor decided to find Tiago Cabral and tell him how matters were falling to pieces for him. The man who had brought him into contact with Camila and her erva discovery should be able to give him some practical advice.

The shopkeeper’s face froze into a mask as he listened to the unhappy tale of what had resulted from the use of the Psychotria.

“I don’t know what I should do next,” said the psychiatrist. “Perhaps the wisest thing would be to talk all of this over with Camila, but she has returned back south to her plantation and is not available.”

A sudden idea occurred to Tiago. “Can you drive an automovel?” he asked.

“Yes, I can. But I don’t have one here in Salvador, unfortunately.”

“I own one, my friend, and I can lend it to you if you wish to take it down to Itacare. That would be the fastest way for you to find Camila. I have it parked in the alley behind the shop.

“Would you be willing to drive it down to her plantation?”

Caio gave a nod. “Certainly,” he told the herborista.

The highway southward along the coast required attentive driving.

By the time Caio found his destination, night had fallen and the land was covered with darkness. He parked the carro on the entrance path and walked up to the modest little farmhouse where a few lights were burning.

As soon as he climbed up onto the front porch, the door opened and Camila appeared, dressed in work shirt and pants.

“I heard the motor enter and then stop, so I knew someone was dropping by. Did you drive here all the way from Salvador, Caio?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Tiago lent me his vehicle to come here with. I have to talk to you, Camila. It can’t wait to a later time.

“Problems have arisen with the Psychotria.”

“Problems? What kind of problems?”

He drew a large breath and tried to explain as simply as he could, describing what had happened to his patient, his suspension from duty, and his own tragic dream reversal.

The more she heard, the more she pursed her mouth and lips into a grimace.

Only after he halted and silence fell did she express what she thought about what she had just heard.

“You should have been much more careful. I warned you about being too hasty. I could see that your enthusiasm was exaggerated and over blown. That always happens with something new like my Psychotria. Persons such as you are apt to let their emotions run out of control and run too wildly.

“You should have begun with very tiny doses and slowly built up to more and more. It is never good to go fast at the very start.

“It is going to be a hard lesson for you and I doubt whether anybody can now help you in any way. That is always the danger in my field: that we let our dreams race ahead of what is real and practical.

“I am sorry about what has happened to you, but there is nothing I’m able to do in any way.”

With that, she turned around and returned into her house, closing the door behind her.

Stunned and confused, Caio went back to the carro and climbed in.

He was soon back on the highway to Salvador, his hopes crushed by Camila.

The following morning, all the electronic media and newspapers in Bahia carried the same brief piece of overnight news.

Dr. Caio Soares, a Salvador psychiatrist, died in an carro accident north of Itacare on the coastal highway. His vehicle crashed off the road and fell into a deep forested ravine. Police suspected that he fell asleep while driving and lost control.

Those who knew him were shocked by this tragic announcement.

Most tagged it as accidental death, only Camila Gomes suspected that suicide had occurred.


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