Sunday, April 18, 2010

Psychedelic Psyciety**



This week, a New York Times article entitled, "Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning in Again", highlighted the fact that "hallucinogenic*" chemicals such as psilocybin are being used in psychiatric research trials at world renowned medical facilities such as Johns Hopkins and UCLA. The purpose of the trials was to measure how a person who is in crisis due to, in the case of the article, receiving a cancer diagnosis may or may not be affected when experiencing an induced psychedelic state.

In the United States, psilocybin is listed as a Schedule I substance. This means that our government believes the chemical psilocybin has no medical benefit to people. Below, is the definition of Schedule I thanks to
Erowid.org:

    Examples : LSD, MDMA, Marihuana, DMT, Peyote, Psilocybin, Mescaline, Heroin

  • The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  • The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

    Schedule I drugs may not be prescribed
In 2008, while attending the Horizons Perspective on Psychedelics Conference in NYC, Dr. Roland Griffiths, from Johns Hopkins, spoke to a packed and attentive audience at Judson Memorial Church regarding he and his colleague's research. At first, I was skeptical as to whether spiritual experiences could be induced in a clinical setting. I specify clinical, as one might logically argue that all spiritual experiences are induced through one means or other. I am not to judge the validity of these private, spiritual epiphanies, but I firmly believe that setting and tone often determine whether a person will have such an experience. To me, it is equivalent to someone swimming in a public pool versus swimming in the ocean, one is restrictive and confining and the other is expansive and free. I prefer the ocean.

Griffiths explained that they, too, considered set and setting. While the participants were, no doubt, in a hospital, Griffiths and his colleagues made certain to consider the fact that sterile exam rooms are less likely to aid one in achieving a positive psychedelic/spiritual experience. Colorful tapestries and wall hangings were used, among other props, to transform the space into something more like a cozy living room.

Last year, in 2009, I returned to Horizons and attended a day-and-a-half of entertainment and lectures on psychedelic drug policy and their uses in psychotherapy. Regretfully, I forget the name of the doctor who presented one of the most moving filmed interviews I have ever seen. The film showed a different doctor talking about her experience with cancer.

She was in her late fifties, perhaps early sixties. She was a medical doctor who had been diagnosed with a form of terminal cancer and was told she had only a short time to live. She explained that she was depressed, depressed enough to really have no desire to keep living or fighting, or to keep going through treatments. Cancer gave her the feeling that she was imperfect, somehow, that she was incomplete as a person, a failure. Then she entered into the psilocybin study.

She explained how the initial experience was a bit scary, but she also felt she had nothing to lose. Her few experiences with psilocybin had a dramatic effect on her outlook into life and death. So much so that her depression faded into complete contentment and she said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life, "I realized that I was
enough."

That was so beautiful to me. It meant, to me and all of us listening and watching, that we're not lacking and that we are perfect just the way we are. I suppose hearing the words come from a person who was absolutely dying had a greater impact. I cried knowing that I and most people in the world seem to, forever, be in a state of constant discontentment and dissatisfaction. We are always seeking and striving to be "more" and "perfect", never realizing that we were always perfect. And just think, it took a drug that the U.S. government lists as being of no benefit to people to help a dying person find peace in her last moments of this life.

She isn't the only person I have heard of doing this. In fact, I know of several people, who at their moments of death, not only wanted to take these substances, but who actually did. D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methamphetamine (MDMA), psilocybin, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). In hospitals, medical doctors shoot people up with morphine, so they're completely in some other world, unaware and unfeeling of their pain and the fact that they are dying. They die in silence, unable to express their fears, sadness, and words of love to those who are left behind. My grandfather died this way and I often wonder if his end of life could have been beautiful, like the doctor and others I know, rather than ending it in a fog of despair.

While my personal beliefs are such that we should legitimately educate people about drugs and create environments of safety and family; whereby, people grow into knowledgeable adults who choose their own paths in life, the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy is a promising first step into welcoming the benefits of promoting a psychedelic society.

I pray for the day when our children are no longer taught that legal means "safe" and "acceptable"
(in 2009, there were more than 22,000 alcohol related deaths), where cocaine and heroin are no longer lumped into the same category as LSD, DMT, psilocybin, peyote, mescaline and cannabis (substances that have NEVER KILLED ANYONE from their use alone and which have zero physical, habit-forming properties), and where I am free to make choices about what is best for me without fear that I or anyone can lose our freedom and liberty.

It's thanks to people like scientists Sasha Shulgin, Albert Hofmann, Roland Griffiths, David Nichols, and ethnobotanists like Terence McKenna, Christian Ratsch, and Rob Montgomery, and to drug policy advocates like Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
(which, just this weekend, held the biggest Psychedelics conference in 25 years in San Jose, CA) who have and will continue to tirelessly promote a commonsense approach to free our minds from believing we are anything less than perfect- as we are.



**Psyciety is a play on the word "society". *I place this term in quotations for the purpose of questioning the word, itself. A hallucination occurs when one sees something that is not there... a mirage of sorts. Psychedelic chemicals, however, do not induce hallucinations; rather, they alter our sensory perception. So, a bouquet of flowers to one under the influence of psilocybin is likely to seem much more vibrant and colorful. A hallucination would mean that the bouquet was never there to begin with.