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

    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. Dr. Alicia Danforth presented one of the most moving filmed interviews I have ever seen that came as a result of her work at UCLA with Dr. Charles Grob's Harbor-UCLA cancer anxiety trial with psilocybin. The film showed a neuropsychologist, Dr. Annie Levy, talking about her own experience with terminal cancer, Little Pieces of a Big Dream, Participants' Stories from a Cancer Anxiety Study with Psilocybin

Annie was a doctor who had been diagnosed with 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

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 not killed from their use, alone, even in pretty high doses, and which have no 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.


  1. Thanks for the article. It caused a quantum moment. Or two.

  2. I too liked your write up! Sadly its true. My dad died in a stupefied fashion though a bit more lucid than what you describe. Regarding Cancer: Check out this great film The Beautiful Truth:

    about the work of a renegade DR. who's work is still shunned by those practicing "Medicine" ( I hesitate to call prescribers of medications, doctors) to this day.

  3. Whatever one's perspective on the psychedelic medicines, I think the story and history of psychedelics and their suppression has important implications for understanding the course of U.S. society in the second half of the 20th century.

    It seems clear, and very sad, that enemies of the psychedelic movement were more afraid that the "druggies" were right than they were that the "druggies" were misguided. What was dangerous to the status quo was spiritual revival that questioned not just political norms but the social hierarchy. People who know we are "enough" are not enthusiastic competitors for conventional forms of success or compliant participants in the institutions that dole out such success.

  4. Here's a link to follow the progress of Roz Dauber's film that featured Annie Levy:!/group.php?gid=133283712635
    And here's a link to the Horizons 2009 talk: (P.S. I'm not a doctor, just a Ph.D. student, and Annie was a neuropsychologist- not a medical doctor.) Blessings, Alicia

  5. Wow, thank you all for your thoughtful comments and links. Alicia, Thank You for the link to Roz Dauber's film, that was so very nice of you. Its poignance and relevancy into how Real the need to continue public policy and medical advocation and exploration in how psychedelics benefit is made clear, and it is so emotionally moving.

    Ms. Saunders, your response is beautifully written. I agree with you. Psychedelics is a movement of consciousness, which for some is spiritual and life-changing. People fear change to the status quo. Your last sentence made me laugh... I so wanted to be a part of that "institution" that creates mainstream society when I was younger and more idealistic about how I could change the system from the inside. Nope! It's a long struggle for independence and freedom; I believe we are having great success in our evolution and hope for a future where those drumming their own beat will be regarded as heroes.

  6. You sick and twisted girl. Taking substances which allow one to experience god directly and allow us to have profound spiritual experiences is bad and wrong. That is the job of qualified licensed to talk to god specialist, like the pedophilic Catholic Priests.

    I mean how will you know if you are talking to the Right God. How will you know if you are using the approved language? And how will you know you are putting the correct interpretation on what is said? Not to mention the correct outfits. I mean to you wear the proper slippers from Prada? The Pope approve model?

    My God chaos would be the rule of day! Levels of fear, hatred and distrust would plummet! There might even be dancing and dancing in the streets. "Hey buddy you're blocking the Benz. I've got places to go and people to see!"

    Next you'll be preaching about positive self-worth, which we all know leads to good vibs, good feelings and there will be massive layoffs as the sales of wrinkle creams and valium plummet.

    I mean heroin was invented by Bayer the people who bring you Baby aspirin, a name you can trust your children to. When they took those heroin dusted wafers out of communion, the world started to go to hell in a hand-basket. Do you realize what a good handbasket cost?

    And now where am I going to find a cliff to jump off of in Florida! The dump is the highest place in Ft. Lauderdale. That's going to stain my pope-baby pradas.