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Giovanna Calabrese

The psychedelic between neuroscience and shamanism

Long before Aldous Huxley spoke of the ‘doors of perception’, numerous enteogenic substances were used throughout the world to access states of consciousness in which to experience a different reality.

In antiquity, such states were the prerogative of those within the community who played a particularly important role as spiritual guides, connecting the visible and transcendent worlds, and their use was subject to an initiation rite. Often these individuals acquired the ability to care not only for bodies but also for souls, where there was in fact no separation between the two.

In the 1960s-70s, some of the active ingredients responsible for altering the state of consciousness were synthesised in the laboratory and the term psychedelic was coined: manifesting the psyche.

Since the 1990s, numerous receptor and brain imaging studies have attempted to define the mechanisms of action of these substances in the brain, so much so that psychiatry is considering reintroducing them as drug therapy.

This presentation will illustrate the neurophysiological effects of these substances and the subjective effects, attempting to put the two planes in parallel, in order to arrive at an integrated understanding of the relationship between the physical and psychic planes.


Physician, transpersonal psychotherapist, PhD in psychiatry. I have always been involved in quantitative research in the biomedical field, studying in-vivo brain metabolism in psychiatric and neurological disorders, and qualitative in the transpersonal field. Former editorial director of ITJ, lecturer at ITI.