Posts tagged: psychedelics
Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, who has died aged 88, was a pioneering and fearless scientist, but his chosen discipline – the design and synthesis of psychedelic drugs – was one of the most maligned and least understood. Shulgin invented hundreds of new psychedelic drugs, which he tested on himself, his wife, Ann, and friends, documenting their preparation and effects. But he wasn’t satisfied with mere discovery – he argued passionately for the rights of the individual to explore and map the limits of human consciousness without government interference.
He was most famously responsible for the emergence of one of the world’s most enduringly popular recreational designer drugs, 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, also known as MDMA, or ecstasy. He did not invent it, since MDMA had been designed by the pharmaceutical firm Merck in 1912 in a bid to produce a blood-clotting agent. However, Shulgin was responsible for creating a new and easier synthesis of it.
Full Story: The Guardian: Alexander Shulgin obituary
Erowid profile with lots of information, interviews and other links.
And here’s a documentary about Sasha and Ann Shulgin:
The Quietus just published a long piece by Peter Bebergal on Coil, John Coltrane, LSD and consciousness. Peter takes a contrarian point of view on LSD and consciousness. He doesn’t condemn drug users, and acknowledges its role in art, but is skeptical about its role in understanding consciousness:
[Hoffman] immediately recognised the possibilities for psychology, medicine, and maybe even religion. What he could never have known was that he changed the world. The amount that has been written on Hofmann, on LSD, and on the nature of the LSD experience, could seemingly fill the universe that one often imagines is in their fingernail when tripping on the very same drug. Certainly important work has been done, and the recent collapse of fearful prohibitions on research of psychedelic drugs could prove beneficial in exactly the ways Dr. Hofmann had hoped. But psychedelic drugs, despite their contribution to the spiritual revolution of the 1960s – a revolution that essentially changed the course of American culture and beyond – have become something of a drag on any attempt to understand altered consciousness.
It started with Aldous Huxley, who had once understood mystical-oriented experiences as being rare, requiring spiritual exercises, philosophical introspection, and maybe even a little bit of luck. In his writing on the mescaline experience in his now infamous but slight manifesto The Doors Of Perception, he became a kind of mystic turncoat, arguing that the experience was available to anyone. More damning, however, was his view on the primacy art once held to be the key to transformative experiences. After his own night sitting comfortably in his drawing room grooving on the patterns in the curtains, Huxley came to see art as a pretender to the throne of direct experience, calling it the method for “beginners”.
This reminds me of a piece by Erik Davis from a year ago. He who wrote:
And now there is a new competing narrative. Studies recently carried out at Yale, and published last month in the journal Science, have confirmed earlier reports that ketamine offers remarkable, nearly instantaneous relief for people who suffer from forms of major depression impervious to other treatment methods. Interpreting depression as a hardware problem largely caused by the loss of synaptic connections, the researchers argue that ketamine works by encouraging sprightly neural growth in brain regions correlated with memory and mood. Journalistic reports also linked this research with the development of a new vein of antidepressants, including Naurex’s GLYX-13, that have the neurone-fertilising power of ketamine without, as one report describes them, the ‘schizophrenia-like effects’.
Rarely has the new neuro-reductionism been so naked in its repackaging of human experience. Nowhere in the research or the journalism does anyone suggest that heavily depressed people feel better because ketamine sends them on a first-person voyage through profound, sometimes ecstatic, and certainly mind-bending modes of transpersonal consciousness whose subjective power might itself boot the mind out of its most mirthless ruts.
But I think the opposite is true as well: the psychedelic community needs to prepare for the possibility that hallucinogens are just drugs. That any therapeutic role they play can be replicated through less mind-warping means. Or, put another way: what if the “neuro-reductionists,” as Davis calls them, are right? What if they can succeed in creating an effective anti-depression drug without the disassociative properties of ketamine?
Part of the problem with banning hallucinogenic research for so long is that it’s allowed a community of pseudo-scientists to dominate the conversation about what the meaning these drugs are, raising expectations and creating dogmas about their effectiveness.
For example, you’ll run into people in the counter culture (such that it is) that believe ibogaine a 100% effective wonder drug for treating all types of addiction. But many ibogaine patients do relapse — which, to their credit, people who are actually involved in the ibogaine therapy community do openly admit. The truth there’s a dearth of scientific research on the substance and its efficacy. MAPS is trying to solve that problem. It might turn out that it doesn’t actually work. It could also turn out that it’s only effective for opiate withdrawal because it acts on opiate receptors, reducing withdrawal symptoms, and that the psychological effects of the 48 hour trip are not actually all that important. Or it could turn out that it works wonders for exactly the reason that psychonauts expect.
The point is, we don’t know, and that once rigorous, peer reviewed science gets back to work in the field, the come down may be harsh.
DMT: The Spirit Molecule author Rick Strassman’s organization the Cottonwood Research Foundation announces:
We’re excited to announce the acceptance for publication of a paper documenting the presence of DMT in the pineal glands of live rodents. The paper will appear in the journal Biomedical Chromatography and describes experiments that took place in Dr. Jimo Borjigin’s laboratory at the University of Michigan, where samples were collected. These samples were analyzed in Dr. Steven Barker’s laboratory at Louisiana State University, using methods that funding from the Cottonwood Research Foundation helped develop.
The pineal gland has been an object of great interest regarding consciousness for thousands of years, and a pineal source of DMT would help support a role for this enigmatic gland in unusual states of consciousness. Research at the University of Wisconsin has recently demonstrated the presence of the DMT-synthesizing enzyme as well as activity of the gene responsible for the enzyme in pineal (and retina). Our new data now establish that the enzyme actively produces DMT in the pineal.
The next step is to determine the presence of DMT in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the fluid that bathes the brain and pineal. CSF is a possible route for pineal-synthesized DMT to effect changes in brain function. Successfully establishing DMT’s presence in this gland adds another link in the chain between the pineal and consciousness and opens new avenues for research.
Previously: Scientific Evidence of Psychedelic Body Fluids
Great profile of Oliver Sacks from The Smithsonian magazine:
It’s easy to get the wrong impression about Dr. Oliver Sacks. It certainly is if all you do is look at the author photos on the succession of brainy best-selling neurology books he’s written since Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat made him famous. Cumulatively, they give the impression of a warm, fuzzy, virtually cherubic fellow at home in comfy-couched consultation rooms. A kind of fusion of Freud and Yoda. And indeed that’s how he looked when I spoke with him recently, in his comfy-couched consultation room.
But Oliver Sacks is one of the great modern adventurers, a daring explorer of a different sort of unmapped territory than braved by Columbus or Lewis and Clark. He has gone to the limits of the physical globe, almost losing his life as darkness fell on a frozen Arctic mountainside. He’s sailed fragile craft to the remotest Pacific isles and trekked through the jungles of Oaxaca. He even lived through San Francisco in the 1960s.
But to me, the most fearless and adventuresome aspect of his long life (he’s nearing 80) has been his courageous expeditions into the darkest interiors of the human skull—his willingness to risk losing his mind to find out more about what goes on inside ours.
I have a feeling this word has not yet been applied to him, but Oliver Sacks is a genuine badass, and a reading of his new book, Hallucinations, cements that impression. He wades in and contends with the weightiest questions about the brain, its functions and its extremely scary anomalies. He is, in his search for what can be learned about the “normal” by taking it to the extreme, turning the volume up to 11, as much Dr. Hunter Thompson as Dr. Sigmund Freud: a gonzo neurologist.
Someone recently asked on Reddit: Reddit: Has a monk ever taken DMT and the results been recorded?
I like this response:
Fascinating mental states can be attained through meditation, but Buddhists don’t really go for an attitude of exploring trippy phenomena. The purpose is to get over the endless craving for pleasurable mind states. So adding more uncontrollable stimulation is basically just adding more confusion. Of course, you can turn any situation into a practice, so if you find yourself dosed with DMT, don’t panic – just actualize great prajna wisdom and stay grounded in the hara!
In 2006 two men cooked and ate a fish which they had caught in the Western Mediterranean. Minutes after ingesting the fish frightening visual and auditory hallucinations began to overcome them. These intense visions lasted 36 hours. The fish they had caught was a Sarpa Salpa. A species of Sea Bream which is commonly found off the coast of South Africa and Malta and can induce ichthyoallyeinotoxism, a condition also known as hallucinogenic fish poisoning.
I recently learned that Vice columnist Hamilton Morris is assembling a team to capture and analyze a live sample of Sarpa Salpa. Morris is a writer and filmmaker and expert in anything psychoactive. In his column for Vice, Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, he mixes his subjective experiences with insights into pharmacology, neurology and chemistry. In one column he traveled to the Amazonian jungle to have the secretions of a “shamanic” frog burnt into his arm. In another he traveled to Haiti to be dusted with the voodoo “zombie” poison Tetrodotoxin. He is currently working on a complex research project about extremely obscure information related to psychoactive mushrooms.
I e-mailed Hamilton to find out more about his trip.
Stephen Baxendale: Do you have any theories on what causes the fish to be hallucinogenic?
Hamilton Morris: The sea is a rich source of halogens. Scientists have found a variety of marine iodo-tryptophans and chloro-tryptophans in compounds like the plakohypaphorines and some amazing sponge derived tryptamines, like 5-bromo-DMT, which has been demonstrated to have “antidepressant-like” activity in rodents and is possibly psychedelic in humans. It seems that many of the sponge derived tryptamines are of microbial origin and same is true for more complex compounds like TTX and probably the byrostatins. So I think it is likely the fish ingests some kind of a microorganism that biosynthesizes the compound, which may behave as a classical serotonergic psychedelic or may have some messier deliriant effects, based on the case reports either could be possible.
Do you plan on ingesting the fish yourself?
If I have positively identified the species as Sarpa salpa I will carefully ingest it, starting with 1µg of fish and incrementally increasing the dose.
Do you think consuming hallucinogenic fish will ever catch on as a recreational drug?
Well it was already popular in the Roman empire so it’s really a question of whether it will make a comeback.
Stephen Baxendale is a writer from Liverpool, England. He specializes in lowlife literature and fringe journalism
Photo by Steven Van Tendeloo / CC
Last year Vice interviewed an anonymous chemist/ neuropharmacologist who invented a few new designer drugs similar to ketamine or PCP, most notably methoxetamine which is becoming increasingly popular. Sort of the Alexander Shulgin of disassociatives.
On the medicinal uses of ketamine:
I discovered a long time ago that ketamine and cannabinoids helped my phantom hand. I’m quite convinced these classes work by distorting body image so severely that you phase out triggers for the pain. I have experienced profound proprioceptive distortions after intramuscular PCP injection, as if my whole body were a proportional model of the sensory homunculus. But in a sense, what I feel is not hallucination or a distortion, I actually find dissociatives corrective, that is, they make the phantom disappear. This is not just an idiosyncratic response on my part; there are at least three articles published on the effectiveness of ketamine in treating phantom-limb pain. It’s dished out by British pain-management clinics for just that purpose in the form of a nauseatingly artificial lemon-flavored linctus. Needless to say, the whole lot of it gets squirted up the arse to bypass my taste buds, but even this has its drawbacks… like sticky, sugary bum cheeks!
On being hospitalized after going into a catatonic state while testing 3-MeO-PCP:
And what happened when you were released?
That was the final straw for my partner, and she said she would not sit idly by and watch me self-destruct. When I came home she was gone, Nesbitt was still dead, and all of the arylcyclohexylamines I had been researching had been confiscated and destroyed.
That’s really terrible. Alexander Shulgin always felt that the dissociatives had no use as psychotherapeutic drugs, and John Lilly found that even when you think the effects of ketamine have worn off there is a lingering undercurrent of dissociation that prevents you from reaching baseline.
And despite the fact that I knew all of that, I still ignored what should have been indicators that I was slipping. The arylcyclohexylamines light up too many of the reward systems in the brain, with the dopamine-reuptake inhibition, the NMDA antagonism, and the µ-opioid affinity. They lend themselves to abuse and escape to fantasy. I used to find myself raving about chemicals I had only tried once or twice, saying they were Huxley’s soma or moksha, or Polidamma’s Nepenthe. I’ve come to realize that dissociatives have a really dark side to them that classic serotonergic psychedelics don’t.
This interview with former Process Church of the Final Judgement member Timothy Wyllie where he talks about PCP.
Trip Receptacle was “a series of three 3-hour shows consisting of all-psychedelic, all-entheogen radio.” It includes interviews and talks by Timothy Leary, Terrence McKenna, Sasha Shugin, etc.
According to researchers Jack Cowan (of the University of Chicago) and Paul Bressloff (of the University of Utah) visual hallucinations reflect “the pinwheel pattern of brain cells that process lines, curves and other geometric shapes, providing a remarkable view of the physical architecture of the visual cortex.”
"It’s almost like seeing your own brain through a mirror," Cowan said. "You’re basically seeing patterns that your own brain is making."