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The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios
45 Years with Shamans, Ayahuasqueros, and Ethnobotanists
- by Marlene Dobkin de Rios Ph.D.

360 pages.
Publisher: Rock Street Press, 2009

Reviewed by Margaret Bartley

Dr. de Rios, a medical anthropologist, spent close to forty-five years researching the use of psycho-active plants by the curanderos of South and Central America. Her enthusiasm and love of the subject comes through every page, as she details her explorations in the jungle, and the work with the numerous healers she worked with, all while the outside world crept ever closer to the edges of the ancient ways in the jungle

I found the first two-thirds of this book a fascinating read. Toward the end, she started talking about her experiences as an expert on hallucinogenic plants during the incipient days of the War on Drugs, in the 1970s. Her open hostility to allowing modern Americans access to the marvelous plants seemed contrived and out of character, at least as she was portraying herself and her work, earlier in the book. I kept waiting for her epiphany, that our modern world also needs this medicine. Instead, the last third of the book displayed a thinly-disguised animosity, bordering on contempt, for her fellow Americans, as she continuously lambasted what she calls "drug tourism" to south America, mostly for the use of Ayahuasca.

I kept waiting for her to propose some rational translation from the indigenous practices to more contemporary uses of these traditional medicines. Instead, she seems unrepentant to the end, defending her role in the Drug Wars, that send totally peaceful people to jail for no good reason. And I started getting really irritated by the way she continued to rail against people who travel to South America for the healing properties of the plants and the people. In her opinion, it appears the people from modern society are just a bother that should be done away with.

It would have been much better had she taken a more productive approach, and talked about how society could successfully integrate the teachings these plant medicines have for us all.

She did talk about the use of these plants on patients in a burn unit at the University of California at Irvine, but I didn't get a sense of what happened to that program, or if it is expanding to other locations.

It would be nice to have some follow-up. But most important, it was as if she felt that modern people have no need for the mind-freeing release these plants produce.

Her story is heart-felt, and I very much enjoyed reading it. She has obviously done some deep research, and her experiences are worth reading.