Surprise

Every psychedelic journey is a surprise. You never know which door will open when you take the pill. You might wind up in the Garden of Eden basking in rays of divine bliss or at the bottom of your own grave decomposing in the primal muck. A million destinations, a million trials and rewards, are all in there waiting for you with no guarantees.

That’s not the kind of result we normally hope for with drugs. With other chemicals—antibiotics, painkillers, recreational substances like alcohol or marijuana—the whole point is predictability. You want the hundredth dose to act just like the first.

With psychedelics, however, a single person can take the same dose of the same drug on two occasions and have two completely different experiences. Even veterans get butterflies when they swallow the pill. Fear of the unknown is human nature.

The uncertainty scares off some people who might otherwise benefit from a ride on the psychedelic train. When I discuss the subject with friends and acquaintances, many of them say “I’d be afraid of losing control” or “I’m too chicken.”

I think these people get it. They instantly understand the point of psychedelics. It’s not about flashing colors or surreal ideas. The point is to let go.

When you take a psychedelic substance, the drug grabs you up and pulls you out of your little room and your little ego and plops you down on the brink of the cosmic precipice and gives you a shove. Yeah, you can dig in your heels, but it’s much easier to take the plunge. For some of us, it may be our first opportunity to surrender.

There’s no way to know what lies beyond the wall of surrender, but many people report that it’s exactly what they needed. Perspectives and priorities turn upside down. Big fears and looming difficulties shrink to nothing while small details reveal their true beauty and importance. For a small investment of courage, the world is born anew.

I don’t think that anyone gets out of this life without letting go, even those who put it off until the moment of death. You certainly don’t need to take a pill. Many people shouldn’t. One way or another, though, all journeys lead to surrender. For those of us who have a hard time learning to let go—and that may be the majority of the human race—psychedelics offer a unique blessing.

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Sarah’s story of her psilocybin treatment for alcoholism

Here’s a moving interview with Sarah, a volunteer subject in the first research study in 50 years on the use of psychedelics as a treatment for alcoholism. The study was conducted at the University of New Mexico. Sarah received two doses of psilocybin along with therapy for alcohol dependence. In her interview, Sarah speaks of the profound changes that occurred in her life as a result of her experience with psilocybin. You can find a longer version of Sarah’s interview on the video page of the Heffter Research Insititute.

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Annie’s psilocybin therapy

For those wondering about the therapeutic value of entheogens, here’s an excerpt from the film The Medicine–Medical Research on Psychedelics. I found Annie’s story very moving.

“A woman diagnosed with terminal cancer is given a dose of psilocybin to curb severe anxiety in the context of a Harbor-UCLA medical study. Following treatment, anxiety and barriers in the woman’s personal relationships were significantly alleviated.”

 

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A ritual for taking entheogens

A ritual for taking entheogens

We gather today to join a great journey that began long ago when our ancestors discovered plants with the power to join earth and heaven. We remember with love the generations of brave men and women who went before us on the path of sacred chemistry.

As we prepare for the unknown, we’re grateful for the light that that came to us from Arthur Heffter through Albert Hoffman and Stan Grof into our own time with Alexander and Ann Shulgin and to those gathered here. May wisdom guide us.

Now it’s time to open the door and pass over the threshold. I accept this cup with gratitude to the science that offered it and to the spirit that formed my nervous system so that I might understand. I dedicate this work to the greatest good of our species and this planet.

So may it be. Now and always. Amen.

 

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Victor Stenger, physicist and author, dies at 79

Victor Stenger (source: Amazon.com)

I’m very sorry to report the passing of Victor Stenger, particle physicist and author of  books that question popular beliefs about science and religion.

Dr. Stenger was one of the few physicists willing to address the misuse of quantum theory in pop culture. In books like The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology and Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness, Dr. Stenger exposed the flawed understanding of popular writers and gurus who bend quantum mechanics to support their claims about spirituality and the supernatural. His prolific work, especially in his last decade of life, brought much-needed clarity to a confusing and emotional debate. In a time when anti-science is on the rise, we’ll miss his ability to communicate and his tireless devotion to scientific literacy.

I never met Dr. Stenger in person, but I was honored to collaborate with him on two book projects. He graciously offered to read and comment on the portions of my memoir The Maharishi Effect that deal with his subject matter and areas of interest. In return, I read and edited the manuscript for Quantum Gods, which includes a chapter that draws on my own work. During our conversations, he was extremely generous with his time and he bent over backwards to bring his expert understanding down to my level of comprehension. I’m wiser and happier for knowing him.

Victor Stenger’s books on Amazon.com

Victor J. Stenger on Wikipedia

Victor Stenger’s obituary at the National Center for Science Education

 

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Turn On, Tune In, Get Better

There’s an excellent article in Scientific American that summarizes the current state of psychedelic research. Turn On, Tune In, Get Better: Psychedelic Drugs Hold Medical Promise describes the benefits of psychedelic therapy for a variety of serious conditions including depression, addiction, and PTSD. Writer Roni Jacobson notes that the federal government makes it very difficult for scientists who study psychedelics to conduct necessary research. Nevertheless, the article states that “Psychedelic drugs are poised to be the next major breakthrough in mental health care.”

Source: Scientific American

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What a trip!

As I noted in my last post, I’ve been thinking about our psychedelic heritage, especially the bits of psychedelia that took up residence in mainstream culture. They’re everywhere and they seem innocent enough, but they can reveal much for those with eyes to see.

Take the phrase “what a trip.” People use this exclamation when they’ve done or seen something unusual that impressed them. Even Aunt Mabel, who got her opinions about psychedelics from Nancy Reagan, might say “what a trip!” after her first visit to the Mall of America.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find the term in its native context. Light shows are “trippy.” Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was advertised as “the ultimate trip.”

Go all the way down and you’ll discover the origins of the term in the intersection between psychedelic chemicals and the human nervous system. When you take one of the classic hallucinogens like LSD or psilocybin, the subjective experience can be like going on a journey. There’s a beginning and a middle and an end with sights and stages along the way, often unfolding in a narrative progression like a movie or a work of literature.

Compare the psychedelic trip with the experiences and slang terms of other drugs. When you take an intoxicant like alcohol or marijuana or cocaine, the resulting high is static. You take off into a state of euphoria or numbness and you stay there until it wears off. You get stoned, wasted, blitzed, blasted, bombed, fucked up, or otherwise rendered semi-conscious by words that imply violence and death.

With psychedelics, however, you travel, you go on a trip. Nobody talks about “tripping on Budweiser.”

We could stop here, but is there a deeper level of meaning? If so, we might have to forget about language and look to neuroscience. How do these substances act on the nervous system to produce the subjective experience of traveling?

That kind of question is way over my pay grade, but I’m going to take a shot anyway. I’m guessing that the “trip” experience is somehow related to the parts of the brain that produce the ego, the sense of self.

The ego connects and organizes our perceptions, thoughts, and memories. Normally, everything comes together in a single point of view. Under the influence of psychedelics, however, the ego can loosen its grip, resulting in the well-known phenomenon of the self dissolving into the universe.

Without the glue of ego, the perceptions and events that make up our experience may come apart, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle jumping out of the picture. We’re free to select and examine the pieces one at a time, to rearrange them in a creative pattern. The result could be a sequence or narrative.

What a trip!

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