The Master Plant Experience

The Science, Safety, and Sacred Ceremony of Psychedelics

Maya Shetreat, MD

Difference Press

Washington, DC, USA

Copyright © Maya Shetreat, MD, 2023

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the author. Reviewers may quote brief passages in reviews.

Published 2023


No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, or transmitted by email without permission in writing from the author.

Neither the author nor the publisher assumes any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretations of the subject matter herein. Any perceived slight of any individual or organization is purely unintentional.

This book is for educational purposes only. The information in this book is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment. Some of the plants outlined here can cause harm or death upon ingestion, inhalation, or even topical exposure when not approached in a safe and appropriate way. Please be conscious and aware of risks associated with engaging with these powerful plants. Further, several are illegal to consume or even grow. None of the flora, fungi or synthetic compounds discussed herein should be ingested or cultivated without the guidance of a healthcare provider and exploration of their legal status in your area. Neither the author or the publisher can accept responsibility for any injuries or damages incurred as a result of the information contained in this book.

Brand and product names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

Cover design: Jennifer Stimson

Editing: Natasa Smirnov

Author’s photo courtesy of Michelle Johnson



To Gaia. May we celebrate the miracle of Me and We every single day.


Have you ever imagined how a baby feels as it travels through the birth canal to be born? After a comfortable, protected existence, it must feel terrifying, jarring, even painful to be expelled into the chaos of the unknown.

Then the baby emerges into a world so much more vivid and interesting and beautiful than the muffled darkness of the womb. We call this process birth, and we’re told that it happens only once, at the very start of our lives.

But this process doesn’t happen just once. Many times in your life, you may be expelled from your seemingly comfortable existence, often through pain or loss – of a loved one through death or separation, of a job or career, of a key part of your identity, of your health, by experiencing severe illness in yourself or someone you love. And through that pain, you transform.

As with birth, there is no going back to the old you. It is a kind of death of your prior self. But in dying and being reborn, you emerge into a world in which everything becomes clearer, more acute, and filled with possibilities that your old self could never have fathomed.

Rarely would anyone willingly commence such a journey through the birth canal, even if their prior existence wasn’t particularly pleasant. But you don’t always get to choose the moment of your coming to consciousness. More often, it chooses you.

As you go through the transformation, know that you are reawakening to your life’s purpose. Know with all of your heart that you are being held and guided through this process (even when it doesn’t feel that way). And most importantly, know that you will be okay. You are emerging.

I’ve certainly been there myself.

In the year before flying to the Amazon, I’d been saying to my then-husband: I feel like I’m dying. He reassured me that I was just tired – I had three young children, a dog, a busy medical practice, and an urban farm, and I was traveling and speaking around the country. Outwardly, I was a powerhouse. But as someone who had given birth to three children over the course of grueling medical training, I knew what tired felt like. This new feeling wasn’t physical, though I had no vocabulary to accurately describe it.

Was it emotional? Spiritual? Whatever it was, I knew that something was very wrong.

I was already well-known as an integrative adult and pediatric neurologist, herbalist, and urban farmer who worked with children and adults from all over the world to reverse chronic and refractory illness. I was an expert. And though I knew that focusing on my physical body wasn’t the solution, I had no idea where to start or even whom to ask for help. Though admittedly out-of-the-box, I was trained as a doctor and scientist. What I knew was that the answer was something far more intangible. It was my energy body. It was my spirit. It was my soul. And it was a deep knowing I couldn’t ignore – or rather, by ignoring it, I’d pay an impossibly high cost.

At the time, I felt all alone in this knowing. But eventually I learned I wasn’t. And since then, I’ve helped hundreds of people recognize they’re not alone in this discovery.

But many people still deny this knowing even once it’s revealed to them – at their own peril. In that denial, they feel isolated and alone even when surrounded by friends because they are literally not seen for who they are. For some, these unexpressed parts can get loud and manifest as very real mental, emotional, or physical symptoms: explosive rage, depression, anxiety, addiction, insomnia, chronic pain, and conditions including autoimmunity and neurological disorders, even cancer. We label people who are suffering with what we call “diseases” and offer them pharmaceuticals as though their problems are purely physical or mental. Then we wonder why so many of these people don’t respond to what conventional, integrative, and even mental health professionals offer. The root cause may be something else entirely.

To be fair, conventional and even integrative doctors get no education in what it means to be sick of heart or spirit, though it is as epidemic in medical practitioners as in everyone else. And this understanding is missing not just in healthcare. Since the European witch hunts, our society has systematically stigmatized intuition, sensitivity, spirituality, and the sacred. Even those who feel connected to the intuition or the sacred assiduously avoid referencing them for fear of being laughed at, discredited, or dismissed as being “woo-woo.”

Science – in all its linear, rational certainty – has become the only acceptable lens through which we can understand ourselves. If we can’t see or measure it, it doesn’t exist. Yet our lack of language to describe our invisible terrain makes it no less real. And without this vocabulary, we feel incomplete, limited in our ability to know ourselves, and we hunger for the invisible more than ever. No diagnosis, medication or therapy can address that sense of isolation from ourselves.

What was epidemic before 2020 – depression, anxiety, addiction, and suicide – became exponentially worse during the pandemic. When the numbers of overdoses shot up, doctors at first asked if COVID-19 made death to overdose physiologically more likely. The answer (obviously!) was no. It was profound loneliness and separation from community. One of my colleagues discovered that his mother’s rapid downward spiral into deep dementia during her nursing home lockdown miraculously reversed when restrictions were lifted. In truth, we may never know if the true body count of the pandemic was as related to extreme isolation from family and community ­– including forcing hospitalized patients to be without family to care, caress, or advocate for them – as it was to physical symptoms. We have limited ways to assess deaths of despair in their many forms.

The “unprecedented times” we’ve been living in since have been a period of spiritual initiation. In every great myth and story, the hero faces one or more moments of initiation – an often-harrowing experience that catapults them out of their normal, everyday life – that leads to a powerful spiritual awakening. They reach a new level of sensitivity and awareness that inevitably reveals a more authentic identity and gifts that they can ultimately share so their community can heal and evolve.

Such initiations can be individual and usually are instigated by a personal loss: of a relationship, job, home, or health. They can also be collective.

The pandemic, for example, jolted us from our normal daily existence. Finding our way back to normalcy – or what we imagined was normalcy – has been considerably harder. Quarantine eliminated many of the ways we self-soothe in the midst of discomfort. With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, most of us came face to face with our demons. In the process, we have felt displaced from our communities and our sense of identity.

Indeed, ancient mystics would not have seen that as a bad thing. They believed that being thrust out of normalcy held gifts.

They believed we should be periodically forced to evaluate whether the norm is really what we need or even want. So often, we stay in situations that are not best for us and don’t bring out the best in us because they feel safe and certain.

Yet 2020 reminded us that certainty doesn’t exist. Experts don’t always agree. Science is never settled. Medicine is an art. Governments don’t always have our best interest at heart. Even if these concepts are not new to some of us, we’re each forced to relearn these lessons again and again.

We believe ourselves to be more advanced than ever before. We’ve collected data and analyzed, researched, peer reviewed, and published protocols. But we haven’t mastered compassion. We haven’t learned humility. We don’t know how to be in right relationship – with ourselves, with each other, with the land, or with the invisible.

And to indigenous elders, certainty is not even a goal. There is no certainty. Being in a state of humility and not knowing is an achievement, allowing mystery to find us. To be in an ongoing conversation with mystery is in and of itself sacred.

Indeed, true science means letting go of being an expert, unlearning what you think you know, and being unattached to any outcome in order to allow for the unexpected. Science is an ongoing dance with uncertainty and a celebration of our ever-present relationship with mystery. It is no accident that many great scientists – Pythagoras, Maimonides, Tesla, Einstein – were mystics in their way. Science is but one language we use to describe the invisible world.

Master Plants are an indigenous way of referring to powerful, neuroactive flora, fauna, and fungi who instigate transformation within us and who are considered wise (and sometimes demanding) teachers and guides to humans. By connecting us to realms beyond this one, they remind us that we are never alone. Through reverence, humility, wonder, awe, gratitude and kinship, we can truly show up in a good way in our visible and invisible relationships, so that we never need to feel isolated or lonely again. And though Master Plants are by no means limited to psychedelics, this book will mostly explore the science, safety, and sacred ceremony of psychedelics.

Welcome to the Master Plant Experience.

Author’s Note 

The term “indigenous” does not refer to one monolithic group that corresponds to one cohesive viewpoint, but to diverse people and nations around the world, past and very much present – who possess just an array of unique viewpoints and cosmologies. Here, indigenous refers to those who still fundamentally operate from ancient traditions and a worldview of kinship, connection to place, and interconnectedness of all beings, rather than one hijacked by a modern, reductionist worldview.

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