Ann Arbor: Extraordinary Entheogenic Pioneers, Bridge Builders, Wonder Workers in the 21st Century

Building on their efforts to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics in 2020, Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council members named September “Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.” Councilmembers Jeff Hayner and Kathy Griswold, who co-sponsored the legislation, explained their reasoning: “With the assistance of our local advocates, we decided that September because September is when we passed our resolution effectively decriminalizing these plants, that September should be our local month, and that’s basically what this entails.”

The legislation was written to bridge the gap between modern medicine and entheogenic practices associated with indigenous populations. With regard to the medical aspects of fungi and other psychedelic plants, the legislation states:

Whereas, the FDA has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to Psilocybin for use in major depressive disorders; Psilocybin has been shown to ease treatment resistant depression, end-of-life anxiety, and cluster headaches, Ibogaine has been shown to be an effective treatment for opiate addiction, and Ayahuasca studies are currently underway to better understand its ability to address depression, and substance dependence;

In a parallel nod to the entheogenic traditions, the legislation states:

Whereas, The use of entheogenic plants/fungi has been shown by scientific and clinical studies and traditional practices to be beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals and communities in addressing these conditions, as well as personal spiritual growth;

Whereas, Practices with entheogenic plants/fungi have been considered sacred to human cultures and human relationships with nature for thousands of years;

RESOLVED, The Ann Arbor City Council advocates increased awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of entheogens for mental health, personal and spiritual growth, as well as honoring the long standing ancestral practices and relationships with these entheogens.

A bridge over Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan

This legislation is in keeping with the legislative and legal framework of Washtenaw County. Eli Savit, the elected Prosecuting Attorney for Washtenaw County, tweeted on January 12: “Today, I’m pleased to announce that we’ll no longer be charging cases related to marijuana or entheogenic plants (naturally occurring psychedelics). We’ll also—categorically—be supporting expungement of old records relating to those substances, if someone’s legally eligible.”

The move by the Ann Arbor City Council is also in line with Proposal 1, the Michigan Taxation and Regulation of Marihuana Act, passed in November of 2018, making Michigan the 10th state in America, and the first in the Midwest, to legalize recreational cannabis. And much like a splash in a pond moves water in outward waves, the Ann Arbor legislation will have impacts on surrounding areas.

Julie Barron, co-director of Decriminalize Nature Michigan and executive director of Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor said, “September is gearing up to be a wonderful month here in Ann Arbor and throughout the whole state of Michigan,” she said, adding that it’s “likely that Decriminalize Nature Grand Rapids will introduce their [psychedelics decriminalization] resolution to its city commissioners in September, and the vote is looking very promising.”

Efforts like those of Ann Arbor and Oregon are important milestones, not only in stemming the tide against the war on drugs, but also as an acknowledgment of the value of entheogenic practices specifically, and recognition of the ancient wisdom inherent in ancient indigenous cultures in general.

As Dr. Kenneth Tupper, an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, writes, “New scientific research is showing that psychedelic plants and substances, many of which have been esteemed in traditional indigenous cultural practices, can stimulate wonder and awe, foster divergent thinking and open-mindedness, and reduce anxiety and depression when used carefully and respectfully” and that these “phenomenological markers of both mystical and psychedelic experiences—are neglected in the cultural institution of modern schooling.” 

By reconnecting to our collective ancient past, by embracing entheogenic plants/fungi, we are building a spiritual and cultural bridge that unites us in a common cause: the apprehension of the grandiosity of life and the deep reservoirs of mystical wisdom that can inform a society seemingly bereft of meaning and a call to a higher purpose. In doing so, we can rebalance and repurpose our individual quest for a more meaningful life. 

Really, what’s at stake is reestablishing a sense of wonder about life. This sense of wonder is crucial to not only long-term motivation, but in building a more humane and caring society, one connected by a deeper sense of spirituality that transcends cultural and religious identities. Robert C. Fuller, Caterpillar Professor of Religious Studies at Bradley University and author of several books including Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality, captures this zeitgeist eloquently, writing:

“Wonder, like joy and interest, is characterized by its rare ability to elicit prolonged engagement with life. Experiences of wonder succeed in motivating creative and constructive approaches to life by imbuing the surrounding world with an alluring luster. Experiences of wonder enable us to view the world independent of its relationships to our own immediate needs. They thereby foster empathy and compassion.” 

Kudos to Ann Arbor City Council for taking the first step into this wonderment. 


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