Cinnamon and Gladish suspended for hallucinogenic-producing plant
Two tenured Miami University Hamilton professors, John Cinnamon and Daniel Gladish, face termination for growing a tree that has the ability to produce a hallucinogenic substance in the Miami University Hamilton Conservatory. But, the Miami chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is protesting the severity of the professors’ punishment.
According to letters sent to Cinnamon and Gladish from Miami Provost Phyllis Callahan, Cinnamon and Gladish both face termination for growing the tabernanthe iboga tree.
The iboga tree itself is not hallucinogenic, but the drug derived from its roots, ibogaine, is classified as a Schedule-I controlled substance, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Ibogaine has a high potential for abuse and cannot be medically prescribed.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) online list of schedule I controlled substances names both ibogaine and tabernanthe iboga as variants of one illegal hallucinogenic substance.
Ryan Young, assistant director of regional advancement for Miami, was first notified about the existence of the tree and its ability to be turned into a hallucinogenic drug, according to a report from the Miami University Police Department (MUPD). Young reported the tree’s presence to the Hamilton Campus Dean of Applied Arts and Sciences, Catherine Bishop-Clark.
Bishop-Clark did not respond to The Miami Student’s requests for comment.
In Young’s email to Bishop-Clark, which is cited in the MUPD report, Young said a student employee at the conservatory told him she was growing her own iboga plant and planned to consume its root to get high when the plant matured.
It’s unclear if either iboga tree possessed enough of the hallucinogenic to produce ibogaine or if the student knew enough about cultivating the plant to obtain the substance.
MUPD was notified of Young’s email and searched the conservatory along with the DEA for the tree’s presence.
The DEA and MUPD found the iboga tree, unmarked, inside the conservatory, according to the MUPD report. Brian Grubb, the conservatory’s manager at the time, was interviewed by officials at the scene and stated, according to the MUPD report, that the tree’s identifying marker was removed “because people were asking questions about it.”
Since investigating the incident, neither MUPD nor the DEA have charged Cinnamon, Gladish or Grubb. Cinnamon and Gladish have since been suspended and are awaiting further punishment. Grubb resigned from his position, sighting “pressure of termination,” according to a letter written by Miami’s AAUP president, Cathy Wagner.
Grubb did not respond to The Student’s requests for comment.
The iboga tree’s presence in the Hamilton Campus Conservatory was traced to Cinnamon, a professor of anthropology at the Hamilton Campus. Cinnamon specializes in the West African country of Gabon, where the iboga tree is used in the practice of the Bwiti religion.
Cinnamon and Gladish are both currently under suspension as they await punishment from the university. The terms of their suspensions prevented them from speaking directly to The Student.
“Dr. Cinnamon has no specific memory of receiving the seeds,” said Erin Heidrich, Cinnamon’s lawyer, “although he acknowledges that because of his academic research in Gabon, where the iboga plant plays a role in religious ceremonies, that he may have received the seeds while on a research trip or from an African visitor to his home.”
Heidrich said Cinnamon turned the seeds into the conservatory “as a matter of academic and cultural interest” and that “Dr. Cinnamon has no professional association with the conservatory and had no role in the cultivation of the plant.”
Gladish, a professor of biology at the Hamilton Campus, is the conservatory’s current director. Heidrich said Cinnamon gave the iboga seeds to the conservatory in 2004 and, as the director, Gladish oversaw the tree’s maturation.
Both Cinnamon and Gladish’s lawyers said that the professors were only interested in the tree itself, never the drug it could produce.
“Dr. Cinnamon knew of [the] plant’s existence but only saw it a handful of times on visits to the conservatory,” Heidrich said. “There was never any intention to try to extract ibogaine from the plant. Again, it is important to distinguish between a single plant specimen and ‘drug activity,’ which the university has refused to do.”
“What he was caring for was a plant,” said Mark Mezzabaum, one of Gladish’s lawyers. “He was not utilizing this plant because of its hallucinogenic properties.”
Other universities, such as the University of Colorado and the University of California-Davis, also have iboga trees.
Miami is seeking to terminate the two professors for violating the university’s Drug Free Workplace and Addressing and Reporting Illegal Activity policies.
Director of university news and communications Claire Wagner declined to comment further on the disciplinary status of the two professors.
The Miami chapter of the AAUP has created a petition objecting to the potential termination of the two professors as well as the former conservatory manager.
“The administration’s decision to terminate these employees is unreasonably harsh, overcautious, and insufficiently informed,” the petition reads. “The decision harms the Conservatory’s future, the students who would benefit from the institutional knowledge of the faculty, and of course, most terribly, Gladish, Cinnamon and Grubb, who soon may all be unfairly deprived of their income and their careers.”
Both Cinnamon and Gladish’s lawyers said they plan to appeal their suspensions and prevent their terminations. Heidrich said Cinnamon is currently on medical leave, and his case will resume once he returns. Mezzabaum said Gladish will have a hearing in the fall, but a date has not yet been set.
Sree Subedi, chair of the Social and Behavioral Science Department and Cinnamon’s supervisor, declined to comment.
Paul Harding, chair of the Hamilton campus Department of Biological Sciences, did not respond to The Student’s requests for comment.
Hannah Andersen and Samantha Brunn assisted with the reporting of this story.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Cinnamon gave seedlings to the conservatory. Cinnamon gave them seeds and not seedlings. Seedlings are seeds that have sprouted into small plants.