Opening the Gates of Heaven: 4,000 years of Mystery and Medicine in the Andes

Often called “the heart medicine,” the mescaline-containing San Pedro cactus is a bright green thread that weaves through millennia of Andean spirituality, shaping the indigenous worldview perhaps more than any other plant. Today, native peoples and foreigners alike flock to Peruvian cactus curanderos for profound healing on physical, mental, and spiritual levels, and the ancestral medicine continues to co-adapt with Andean culture. Laurel Sugden will offer firsthand perspectives on the fascinating relationships between people and plants in the Peruvian Andes, and imagine how ancient knowledge surrounding sacred plants will inform the new wave of research in psychedelic therapy.

Laurel Sugden is a doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Studies supervised by Wade Davis and Zachary Walsh at the University of British Columbia. Born and raised in the enchanted Flathead watershed of Montana, she grew up with an appreciation for the medicine plants of the Rocky Mountains. She has traveled throughout Latin America and spent four months studying with San Pedro curanderos in the Peruvian Andes. Her research interests center on Andean cultural history, psychedelic therapy, and facilitating cross-disciplinary and multi-generational conversations that imagine the future of plant medicines in globalized society. She is in love with barefoot hikes, meditation, and cold-water swimming.