(Four Drug Culture Visions: Part 3)
…by Jerome Putnam
After the unjust prohibition on international, psychedelic research (from 1970 into the 1990s), the climate is back to optimistic again. There are no crazy scientists preaching LSD salvation or damnation anymore. Beside LSD, Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin), Ecstasy, Ayahuasca (DMT), Mescaline (Peyote cactus), Ketamine and Marihuana have been reintroduced as promising medicinal candidates to fight our modern western ailments – at the moment still only in “controlled” academic environments.
Many private research organizations like MAPS (“Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies”), Beckley Foundation, Heffner Research Institute, and “Council on Spiritual Practices” are also doing an excellent job on educating people about the current (crowd-funded) research projects and mobilizing a different world view, where people are allowed to consider healthier, faster and cheaper “alternative drug-enhanced therapies”.
Walter Pahnke: Pioneer of the Past
Unfortunately, Dr. Timothy Leary and his shady role in the psychedelic “movement” of the 1960s is still very present. He got disproportionate media attention as Mr. LSD leading quickly to discrediting the scientific, cautious approach to mind-altering drugs. But in the new millennium, conventional scientists like Roland Griffiths, Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, are successfully changing the image of psychedelics again. Griffiths was first very skeptical of the psychological healing effects of Magic Mushrooms that have been sensationally reported after one of the most famous drug experiment back in 1962, at “The Marsh Chapel (or: Good Friday) Experiment“, designed by Walter Pahnke, still a graduate student in Theology at Harvard at that time.
Walter Pahnke (1931–1971) with wife and child. He was a Minister, Physician, Psychiatrist and Psilocybin Researcher
For those who have never heard of either Roland Griffiths nor of Walter Pahnke, I highly recommend the following presentations.
Roland Griffiths’ TED-Talk in 2009:
Innovative Podcast on the “Marsh Chapel Experiment” in 1962: http://www.radiolab.org/story/257856-mind-altering-bliss/
The Main Result: Psilocybin (one of the active chemical components of Magic Mushrooms) is very likely to produce overwhelming, emotional, mystical experiences in every subject. So what’s the use of that? Some found lasting peace within themselves, and a deep conviction of what is really important and what they really want to do in life. 90% of the Divinity School Students who received “the real dose” of psilocybin really became preachers and some still are. None of those who got the Placebo continued on a religious path.
Marsh Chapel in Boston
Pahnke later worked as a physician and encountered many difficult family situations when working with terminally ill cancer patents. He discovered that giving the mushrooms to cancer patients (with long preparation and follow-up consultation) not only took away the fear of death but also led to the reconciliation of one’s fatality within the whole family, where everyone could communicate openly again. A moving case study can be read in Pahnke’s 1971 well-written paper “The Psychedelic Mystical Experience in the Human Encounter with Death”.
Psilocybin Creating the “Most Valuable Experience” in Life?
In 2011, Roland Griffths gave 18 healthy, unexperienced (“hallucinogen-naïve”), participants varying doses of Magic Mushrooms in a cozily decorated hospital room and let them listen to classical or world music. They were encouraged to lie back, close their eyes and relax. It’s going to be an intense journey with enough internal action and emotion. Fourteen months after the experiment, 94 percent of subjects (“volunteers”) said that it was one of the “five most meaningful experiences” of their lives; 39 percent said that it was “the most meaningful experience”.
Roland R. Griffths
At the highest dose, 78 percent of the volunteers classified it as within the top five of their spiritually most significant happenings of their lives, but those suffering anxiety, stress and fear episodes during their lives also showed signs of psychological struggle during the “trip”. These “bad trips” usually are reevaluated after the effect of the psychedelic has worn off. They can later be reinterpreted as having had a “good” purifying effect.
Psilocybin and other Psychedelics are currently studied as promising medicines (or “opening catalysts” in Psychotherapy) to heal Obsessive Compulsive disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Alcoholism, Depression, and Cluster Headaches and many more illnesses.
The Birth of Transpersonal Psychology
During the intensive research period in the 1960s two outstanding researchers made great discoveries of the vast potential that lies dormant in psychedelics: Stanislav Grof and James Fadiman, both connected to the birth of Transpersonal Psychology. In this new school of psychology, they not only try to integrate the personal but also the spiritual aspects of human experience. And they knew right away the importance of an experienced guide during the “experience” to accompany and regulate the unpredictable stages of the “psychedelic itinerary”. They have drifted away from the classical image of the distant, measuring, cold-hearted “observer-scientist” and have become creative, shaman-like organizers of spiritual happenings.
Stanislav Grof (born 1931)
Stanislav Grof discovered that many psychosomatic disorders can also be seen as “energy constipation”. In his transpersonal perspective he tried to free bioenergetic blockages, and relive and release past traumas (even going back to “birth trauma”). He (and his wife Christina) later developed the drug-free method of deep “holotropic breathing” to induce similar cathartic (cleansing) experiences. The importance of the free-flowing live-energies in your body-mind can also be found in Chinese Medicine with its concept of the universal life-force Qi 氣 and its intricate energy network.
Back in 1966, James Fadiman was researching on the use of psychedelics to enhance problem-solving creativity. The successful experiment was carried out in a facility of “International Foundation for Advanced Study” in California. But the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) abruptly interrupted this ingenious experiment in the same year “as a strategy in combating illicit use”. Yeah, right.
James Fadiman (born 1939)
During Fadiman’s “Problem-Solving Experiment” 27 male subjects (engineers, physicist, mathematicians, architects, a furniture designer etc.) were required to work “during the trip” on a professional problem they had been working on for at least 3 months. And the results were impressive: there were numerous, concrete technical and creative solutions obtained directly from the experiment (completion of a furniture-line design, design of a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new conceptual model of a photon etc.).
Fadiman examined the mood of the subjects and found a hightened capacity to restructure problems in larger contexts, an enhanced fluency and flexibility of ideation, a heightened capacity for visual imagery and fantasy, an increased ability to concentrate, a heightened empathy with external processes, objects and people, an ease in accessing subconscious data, a heightened motivation to obtain closure, etc. Several of the participants in this original study were contacted recently, and although long past retirement age, they were self-employed in their chosen fields and extremely successful.
Fadiman later co-founded the “Institute of Transpersonal Psychology” which later became Sofia University (California). He was also a Director at the “Institute of Noetic Sciences” that conducts research on meditation, parapsychology (extra-sensory perception, presentiment, telekinesis etc.) and lucid dreaming.
Outlook: DMT and Ayahuasca Tourism
Rick Strassman (born 1952)
The extremely powerful psychedelic DMT has been synthesized and isolated many times from different shamanistic ritual plants since 1931 by chemists and ethnobotanists. The charismatic psychonaut Terence Mckenna was an adamant “believer” of DMT in the 1980s. In 2000, Rick Strassman reignited the DMT research with his bestselling book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences.” These far-out, inner experiences seem to catapult you within seconds into “otherworldly dimensions”, but only for 5-15 minutes. The short duration (other psychedelics have a duration of 2-14 hours) led to the label “businessman’s trip”. Therapeutic uses are not in sight, but this substance might help understand the way we perceive or create reality.
Connected with DMT is the booming Ayahuasca Tourism into the South American Jungles that I will cover in my next and last “Drug Culture Visons” series. Ayahuasca has been used by indigenous tribes for thousands of years, similar to the cult of the cactus Peyote. I will also take a look at the recent legalization (and touristic) wave of Marihuana in South/North America and Europe.
P.S. (A Short Critique on Science)
I have once volunteered as a test subject in an Ecstasy study and found that the linear and dualistic measurements during “my” trip (or did it belong to “them”?) couldn’t appropriately capture the multi-layered psychedelic experience. Subjects (or: “Human Objects”) tend to get dehumanized, quantified and “used”. Talking about the importance of set and setting…
From my experience with the academic world, having sacrificed many of my young years to attending university classes, I truly know of the extremely hierarchical, rigid structure and group pressure mechanisms that prevail at universities. Even professors that conduct “serious” psychedelic research are not exempt from the trap of self-importance and elitist arrogance. But I still believe that a new approach to science – with the active participation of the general population – could lead to a improvement of that mismanagement. Crowdfunding only well-received research is a great step forward.
Many more science events, public lectures and charismatic, eloquent, creative, idealistic and courageous scientists are needed. I personally like the style of Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, research associate in the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College in London. Check out his video here:
Panel talk with representatives from MAPS (Rick Doblin), Beckley Foundation (Amanda Feilding), Heffner Research Institute (David Nichols), and “Council on Spiritual Practices” (Bob Jesse):
Excerpt from the great LSD documentary “The Substance”, interviewing volunteers from Roland Griffths‘ Psilocybin Study:
Interview with John Fadiman:
Interview with Stanislav Grof:
Interview with Rick Strassman from the Movie “DMT: The Spirit Molecule”: