Posts tagged: psychedelics
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.
The cover of DMT: The Spirit Molecule
I’m reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods right now, and I’ll probably have more to say on it in the future. But I’ve just passed a part in the book where he talks about the Sekhmet Hypothesis, and wanted to get some thoughts down right now.
The gist of the Sekhmet Hypothesis, as explained by Morrison, is that every 11 years culture shifts as sunspot activity waxes and wains. At one pole is “hippie” culture characterized by longer pop songs, longer hair baggy clothes, psychedelics and an emphasis on peace and love. At the other pole is punk culture, which is characterized by shorter pop songs, short hair, tight clothes, stimulants and an emphasis on anger and rebellion.
Update: Iain Spence, the originator of the Sekhmet Hypothesis and author of a book on the subject left a long comment that’s worth reading. It appears, first of all, that Morrison’s punk/hippie description of the hypothesis is much oversimplified (or perhaps I misunderstood his interpretation of it, this is like a game of telephone - if you want the real scoop on the hypothesis, go to the source). Second, Spence has updated the hypothesis having admitted that he was wrong about the solar cycle aspect of it, among other things.
So it would go:
I could add the surge of mind fuck movies in the 90s, and their come back in the 10s, but as some readers pointed out in my earlier post on the subject, those types of movies didn’t entirely die out in the 00s. Also:
It’s really hard for me to accept that “punk” is the opposite of “hippie.” The 60s counterculture wasn’t always peaceful and non-violent, and the punks, with their love of Jamaican music, antiwar songs and their vegan and vegetarianism were a lot more hippie-ish than many gave them credit for.
It’s hard, given the number of exceptions to the formula, to swallow the idea that there’s a real, society-wide pull between punk and hippie every 11 years. Others have critiqued historicity before, and I don’t need to go there.
But there may be pattern of rising and falling tides of psychedelia, perhaps accompanied by a sense of optimism and energy that eventually dissipates. The 60s had acid, the 90s had ecstasy. And I’m hearing that DMT is becoming a common strong street drugs these days, and the new cool thing to listen to is apparently the sound of a modem slowed way down. We could be in for some weird times indeed.
Avi: What was your aim in turning to academic research on hallucinogens?
Dennis: For me, partly it was an exercise in self-redemption. I went to La Chorrera not really knowing any science, or really knowing very much about anything (I was 20 at the time) but thinking I knew a whole lot. The experience at La Chorrera taught me that I really didn’t know anything, especially anything about science. A lot of what we’d encountered at La Chorrera seemed to challenge all scientific paradigms. But rather than rejecting science outright I determined that I really should learn how to ‘do’ science before rejecting it. And so that’s what I did. I was also interested in the nuts-and-bolts aspect of what had happened to us. I committed the error that many people who work with psychedelics do, the notion that somehow ‘the trip is in the drug’. Of course it isn’t in the drug, it’s in the interaction between the drug and the brain/mind, and it’s mostly in the latter. But in some respects I thought if I studied the drug, how it works in the brain, and so on, that I might somehow arrive at an understanding of how it could elicit such experiences. Of course studying the drug alone will not do that; but I think that many neuroscientists still approach it from that perspective, which is why the picture of what these things ‘do’ will remain incomplete.
See the Technoccult dossier on the Brothers McKenna for much more.
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.”