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Are Plants Conscious?

Are Plants Conscious?

It’s often the things we take for granted that have the most potential to provide significance and meaning in our lives. Like many things in our environment essential to our being and our becoming, plants are commonly overlooked, and so it might not feel natural or even useful to ask, are plants conscious? It can come as a surprise to learn that more than ninety-nine percent of all biomass on our planet consists of plants. They have an enormously consequential presence in our lives and yet in many ways we can easily misunderstand the nature of these fascinating beings. 

When we raise the question of what it is like to be a plant, a different picture begins to emerge, though we must remain aware of how easy it is for us to project the qualities of our own subjectivity into the answers we come up with. 

The specific question of whether plants are conscious remains open and our approach to answering this query informs the type of answer we arrive at. In the recently published book, The Mind Of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, a diverse group of authors, poets, naturalists, and social scientists examine their own connections to plants and elaborate on the questions and answers that these relationships produce. The editors of this collection intend to “inspire fresh ways of seeing—of feeling and of being with—the photo-synthetic personae with whom we share this precious, imperiled planet.” It is with this spirit of openness to a new phenomenology that our questions will prove most rewarding and conducive toward gleaming whether plants are conscious, and what we can learn from their intriguing and mysterious experience.

What is Consciousness?

A clear definition of what consciousness is has continued to elude consensus and, much to the dismay of apostles for scientific materialism, there continues to be ample disagreement regarding whether their current theories can accurately describe the faculties of consciousness displayed by earth’s organisms. 

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines consciousness as “the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings.” If we think of consciousness as the state of being aware of one’s surroundings it seems that plants qualify, after all, many plants direct the growth of their roots based on the amount of nutrients they encounter in soil and they extend their branches toward the direction where light emanates from. However, more nuanced definitions of consciousness include the ability to be aware of oneself, and to be intentional, or to have volition. Even with these more demanding constraints on the definition of consciousness, it is not immediately apparent that plants can be disqualified. Although consciousness is evidently and notoriously difficult to explain, certain characteristics of what we consider consciousness have been clearly observed within plants

Examples of Plant Consciousness

In recent years the debate over whether to classify plants as conscious or not has developed with several factions presenting evidence and making competing claims. There have been important publications that support the idea that plants are conscious including a study published last year in the journal Nature which examined the patterns of growth exhibited by the common bean as it sprouts and seeks a feasible path for its limbs. The researchers found a difference in how the beans grew when placed in a pot with a cane which they could grab hold of or when placed in an empty pot. This seems to suggest that the plants have some kind of sense which allows them to know if there was anything for them to climb on or not. 

Arguments Against Plant Consciousness 

There are of course many scientists who for several reasons believe that we cannot properly call plants conscious. Many of these points are outlined in a paper published in 2019 in the Journal Cell in which a group of biologists and plant physiologists argue that consciousness is too complex of a state for us to attribute it to the plant behavior observed. One of the authors of that paper, Lincoln Taiz, is a botanist working at UCLA who believes that proponents of plant consciousness fail “to consider the importance of brain organization, complexity, and specialization for the phenomenon of consciousness.” 

Monica Gagliano, a professor in the School of Biological Studies at the University of Western Australia, and co-editor of The Mind of Plants, responds to this by pointing out that if plants are conscious we should not expect the mechanisms by which consciousness is correlated in physical systems to necessarily be the same.

Rethinking Plant Intelligence

Plant Neurobiology is the recently developed field of study that looks at “how plants process the information they obtain from their environment to develop, prosper and reproduce optimally.” By rethinking plant intelligence, this field is providing new perspectives for how we view and relate to plants. Botanist Stefano Mancuso is Director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology which proposes renewing our view of plants by understanding them as “information processing organisms with complex communication throughout the individual plant.” The areas which Mancuso and his colleagues work on include plant behavior, plant intelligence, and plant signaling. In their research, they take the view that “plants are dynamic and highly sensitive organisms… capable of a refined recognition of self and non-self…”

The legacy of Western historical perspectives continues to be challenged and it seems in some ways science is approaching a closer balance with the view held by Indigenous knowledge for time immemorial that plants are conscious and even teachers. Let us accept that we are invariably influenced by the underlying ontology that we absorb and uphold. But, let us also acknowledge that our own mysterious capacity to reflect in consciousness allows us to play with our imaginative capacity and thus perform both measurements and interpretations of what consciousness is like on the far side of our subjective divide.

The Mind of Plants Book Launch Event

World renown ethnobotanist and researcher Dennis McKenna, PhD, will give an introduction at a global, live-stream event to celebrate the publication of The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, on October 28. 

The Mind of Plants event will feature the book’s editors, John Ryan, Monica Gagliano, and Patricia Viera as well as reflections from José María Pout, whose illustrations bring the plants to life throughout the collected works. Multi-instrumentalist January Kultura will also provide a deep listening experience for event attendees.

Learn more and register here.  

 

Introspection, Integration, and the Expansion of the Self through Psychedelic Journeying with Dr. Kile Ortigo

Introspection, Integration, and the Expansion of the Self through Psychedelic Journeying with Dr. Kile Ortigo

Author and award-winning clinical psychologist Dr. Kile Ortigo, speaks with Synergetic Press about his recently published book Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration. Throughout the conversation, Ortigo reflects on what spurs our introspection, the benefits of becoming more comfortable with uncertainty, the role creativity plays in the process of individuation, and some of the pitfalls commonly encountered on the journey of integration and existential meaning-making.

Marco Orozco: The first question I have for you is broadly about your path towards arriving at the introspective journey. What is it about either introspection or psychedelics specifically, that ignited a spark in you to pursue writing Beyond the Narrow Life?

Kile Ortigo: So much of the book and of my work comes from within, it’s very much an authentic expression of my sense of curiosity and interest in so many different things about life. I knew I was going to do psychology in high school, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. And then when I got to college, there was just so much joy I had in learning not only about psychology, but a lot of the other things that are in this book, like film to mythology, Joseph Campbell, and Carl Jung. 

Getting exposed to that at a young age very much inspired me. But I realized when I started to specialize in clinical psychology, a lot of these ideas and approaches, the depth-oriented transpersonal stuff, were kind of passé. And, really, if I didn’t go outside of the Department of Psychology, I probably would never have heard about Jung, certainly not about Campbell, despite enjoying Star Wars. This book was an opportunity to bring these big ideas back into the fold because there are such powerful, transformative, transcendent, mystical-like experiences that can happen during a psychedelic journey. It was an opportunity to bring back the depth of the psyche to modern psychology and to integrate the things that we’ve learned in the field for the past several decades. 

Personally, it was a prime opportunity to synthesize many of my deeper interests, passions, and favorite fields of inquiry in a way that I hope is helpful for people and their own path of discovery and meaning-making in life. It was a creative project, first and foremost, but one that I believe can be useful in our individual journeys of what Jung called “individuation,” the lifelong process of personality growth and the striving for wholeness that we all can go into if we choose to say ‘yes’ to that journey.

MO: I ask because it seems like introspection and conscious meaning-making are not something that always come easily to everyone, not everyone is drawn to do this naturally. I’m curious if you see this book as being for people who have a kernel of introspection or self-reflection already planted within them? Or is it something that you’ve also written with people who haven’t had that experience in mind?

KO: I wanted to cast as big of a net as possible for the book while recognizing that if someone has zero interest or motivation to do deeper self-reflection, or to ask profound questions and tolerate ambiguity, this would be a hard book for them to read and work with. At the same time, people who by their own character proclivities don’t self-reflect a lot, often come to a point in life when they confront situations where it feels like the rug was pulled out from under them. It could be because of a tragic accident, a loss, or a major change in career. Or, even a very positive mystical experience can do this. Those people, when they hear what Campbell referred to as the ’Call to Adventure,’ a signal that there’s more out there than our everyday sense of mundane reality, which is not a reflection of reality itself, but our relationship to it, that those people when they hear that call, they can say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But however they respond, it’s an opportunity to go deeper, a realization that there’s more beyond one’s typical everyday ego awareness.

In approaching Beyond the Narrow Life, readers who are deeply self-reflective can do the activities independently on their own. But if someone needs additional support, I wrote it in a way that two or more friends can do it together. That helps with motivation, or it could help if you have a coach, and of course, if you have a therapist. This book is an opportunity to deepen relationships, which are often simultaneously important to people and challenging. There are all these different pathways, one can walk with or without the book when developing a relationship to its contents and using its exercises. That sense of connection to the inner mystery, of the psyche, and the mystery of our relationships and our shared reality, I think, is an exciting prospect for people who have never opened up to question some of these things.

MO: My next question is about ‘meaning making’ and finding meaning, and specifically, how the psychedelic experience and these potential medicines bring us closer to a more meaningful way of making choices and utilizing our consciousness and our freedom to make choices. What is it about the psychedelic experience that can bring us closer to a sense of ownership over our choices?

KO: It depends on the person and where they’re at in their life. The majority of people who are going to be reading this know about set and setting, the medicine, the dose, intentions, the importance of all those things. But part of that ‘set’ is just one’s internal psychological makeup, and life experiences. And for someone who is feeling a lack of meaning, or blandness about life, psychedelics can open the mind to color, possibilities, and depth which can be very meaningful. 

 

Wherever meaning is found in our personal values, in our worldview, relationships, community, etc., there’s always responsibility that’s tied to it. Psychedelics invite us to wake up to what intuitively feels meaningful and important to us, and then it’s up to us to try to apply that sense of meaning to our life, knowing that it’s never going to be perfect. Meaningful living is not a destination, rather it’s a process that unfolds.”

 

That meaning could be very individual, but often it involves a sense of interconnectedness, not just with other people, but with nature and even the cosmos. Sometimes psychedelics serve to shake up our sense of meaning, especially if it was rigidly defined, revealing that it may not be a core source of meaning. Psychedelics can create challenges around meaning or lack of it, as well as within the theme of responsibility, which is very important in existential psychotherapy. Wherever meaning is found in our personal values, in our worldview, relationships, community, etc., there’s always responsibility that’s tied to it. Psychedelics invite us to wake up to what intuitively feels meaningful and important to us, and then it’s up to us to try to apply that sense of meaning to our life, knowing that it’s never going to be perfect. Meaningful living is not a destination, rather it’s a process that unfolds.

MO: This ties into something I wanted to ask, which is that it feels like in our world and media, a lot of people are seeking to arrive at answers definitively. In your experience, how does psychedelic journeying help us become more comfortable with uncertainty and doubt? More comfortable with the accepting of our experiences as a process rather than a means to some end?

KO:  For most of us, confronting uncertainty and ambivalence breeds anxiety, and that anxiety may be conscious or unconscious. When it’s unconscious, it gets transformed into something else. Sometimes it’s the opposite, an overconfidence in our worldview and sense of self. And psychedelics can certainly challenge us. What would be helpful in preparing for a journey, and in life more generally, is to increase our tolerance for ‘not knowing,’ and recognize that we cannot know everything.

 

Even with the tools of history, scholarship, and science, there are always going to be mysteries and unknowns. And that certainly applies to our individual lives as we think about the future, which can breed anxiety for many people. It’s important to be able to think about the future, while also being able to stay grounded in the present.

 

Even with the tools of history, scholarship, and science, there are always going to be mysteries and unknowns. And that certainly applies to our individual lives as we think about the future, which can breed anxiety for many people. It’s important to be able to think about the future, while also being able to stay grounded in the present. There’s a similar argument to reflecting on the past; everything has to be in balance and finding that balance is an individual journey. But by just avoiding these topics, we’re not actually doing ourselves any benefit, because it’s a temporary pushing away of the anxiety. This avoidance of decisions, while we’re still making them day to day, may mean staying in a job that’s unfulfilling or that has a negative impact on the environment, as an example.

These questions are hard to ask and reflect on but to gain insight and make meaningful changes, we need to do that. If we can tolerate and recognize anxiety, fear, and frustration as temporary, emotional experiences, they don’t have to control our behavior or decisions. If we can tolerate them, they usually dissipate and don’t become as strong. There’s a litany against fear in Frank Herbert’s Dune that I think is a great mantra. It communicates how our grounded awareness can help us move beyond automatic, primordial fear.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration, I will face my fear, I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone. There will be nothing, only I will remain.” 

I found this after I wrote the book, but it’s an example too of the importance of stories and mythologies in helping us relate to the human experience, both its promises and perils.

MO: Jung suggests to certain patients to go into art-making, speaking about how that can transform us, or how it has the possibility of helping discover unconscious content. Part of that brings me to this question of what Stanislav Grof speaks of when he talks about the role of facilitators in journeying or healing. That is, activating what he calls the ‘self-healing intelligence’ within each of us. I relate that to something that comes through me when I’m making music or art in some way. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on this self-healing intelligence that takes place within us, and how that is manifested or expressed through psychedelic journeying.

KO: Jung talked about it as the capital S, “Self.” It’s an archetype of the psyche’s wholeness, often experienced in its broadest form as an inner godlike image. But the idea is that the Self is the totality of our unconscious and conscious parts. Parts include our conscious identity and ego all the way to what Jung described as complexes, our individual manifestations of archetypal patterns and relationships. Art is helpful in exploring unconscious content because words can create their own prison of abstract, intellectualized meaning-relations. It’s important in exploring our human experience of the psyche to look beyond words, and look at other types of symbolic relationships. Art is a great way to do that. 

You mentioned being a musician, and music is something that’s great for our accessing of emotions and expressions of self, for listeners and musicians. Of course, we know music tends to be a very important factor in psychedelic journeys and holotropic breathwork sessions, etc. 

The creation of art is a process of trying to bring to fruition some inner vision or drive for creativity that can come from the Self or other parts of our psyche. It’s a translation from the image or symbol in our mind to outward expression. But it can involve some pain and risk because the final product doesn’t always match our inner vision.

Even so, there’s a way to do creative work while acknowledging any perfectionism that can emerge when we’re at the edge of our skill. Certainly, my book felt impossible at different times as I was writing it. But for anything to be created, we must recognize such barriers and fears while remaining committed to the creative process. Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero With a Thousand Faces that after going through the initiation and receiving their boon, the hero works to create an ‘elixir of life,’ some symbol that is healing for not only themselves but also for their community. Art is an elixir of life. It is uplifting to us, not that it needs to make us feel great all the time. Healing by engaging with art, whether by creating it ourselves or by deeply appreciating the art of others, is a worthwhile endeavor.

MO: What would you describe as some of the pitfalls of psychedelic use? The recreational use of psychedelics can awaken something deeper in people. Do you have any advice for people who utilize psychedelics outside of therapeutic settings, and are searching to make their journey more profound? 

KO: I think it important to emphasize that psychedelics are, as Stan Grof said, nonspecific amplifiers of the psyche, or unconscious content. There are sometimes parts of ourselves that are out of balance, or that we are simply not prepared to confront. 

That’s why in psychedelic-assisted therapy and in Indigenous and spiritual communities that use psychedelics, there are protocols or rituals in place to create a safe container for the journey. For example, it is important to have someone who is sober, trained, experienced, not new to this work and is very familiar with all the depths of the psyche, from the rosy to the complex, shadow side of things. Some people are using these substances because they read Michael Pollan’s book, or they hear about it from the New York Times without access to trained professionals from whatever tradition to support them in that work. 

 

The healing and transformative aspects of these experiences are often relational and involve a realization of interconnectedness. There are certainly lots of people that can have deeply meaningful experiences outside of clinical and spiritual contexts, but that’s not everyone.

 

The healing and transformative aspects of these experiences are often relational and involve a realization of interconnectedness. There are certainly lots of people that can have deeply meaningful experiences outside of clinical and spiritual contexts, but that’s not everyone. There are risks that are involved, and without getting into specifics, things can go wrong. Many things went ‘wrong’ in the 60s in the West and in America, for example. I don’t, however, want to emphasize the negative. At the end of the day, people ought to respect the power of these substances and experiences, and by putting in the work to set up safe protocols, many of the risks can be mitigated. 

This is part of what we call psychedelic harm or risk reduction. We need to educate our communities and make sure that we go about all of our life experiences as mindfully and respectfully as possible. In the book, I use the term ‘ego whiplash’. Namely, ego whiplash is when one delves into the depths of the mind and then goes back to everyday life immediately after as if nothing had happened. Sometimes after chasing ego death, people can have this ironic ego inflation that results. In our exploration of the Self, it’s easy for an inflated ego, inflated sense of self-importance to get brought into being. This is where we see self-proclaimed ‘shamans,’ and people who – I think often with good intentions – don’t realize the depth of complexity and breadth of experiences that people can have. Even Terence McKenna, the prototypical psychonaut, was seemingly fearless, but he had a journey that really shook him to his core and he couldn’t bring himself to talk about with others.

MO: This book is clearly a workbook with so many exercises and journeys within it. I’m curious as to what the process of creating it was like. I imagine that it required an enormous amount of introspection for you. And I’m also curious about how the process of writing changed you?

KO: The initial idea for the book was like a lightning bolt of insight and positive creative energy. Following that, I had to engage in the hard work of actually writing, refining, and going into the depths. The process involved a lot of ups and downs, especially because I started writing this book two and a half years ago. I did the bulk of the in-depth work last year (in 2020) when I began writing about death, loss, impermanence, loneliness, interconnectedness during the pandemic.

Besides giving me more time to focus and dedicate to the project, the pandemic gave me a sense of this parallel process of doing the work while I was writing it and creating a guide for other people. It’s part of my own ethics and sense of authenticity, to not ask or suggest to others something that I wouldn’t be willing to do or haven’t done myself. That was very much a part of these exercises and activities. This was from my own deeper reflections, explorations, and meaning-making process. But it has been a joy to pour so much life force into this book, and to see the energy coming out the other side when starting to hear the impact it’s having on people’s lives. That’s deeply meaningful to me and absolutely why I felt like I needed to do it. In many ways, really, the book was written through me, not simply by me. And now it’ll have a life of its own.

What is Psychedelic Justice?

What is Psychedelic Justice?

As psychedelics integrate into dominant culture, the question of what forces will shape the direction of the psychedelic renaissance is front and center. Those of us who believe that psychedelics can help transform society by allowing us to operate out of the sense of interconnectedness they inspire are being challenged to define and embody, the values that drive this growing movement. 

In the past few years, the term “psychedelic justice” has surfaced in a multitude of psychedelic spaces as a lens for addressing deep-rooted injustices within the community, and cultivating a movement that serves the needs of everyone – particularly those who have been historically marginalized and oppressed.  

In this spirit, the upcoming anthology Psychedelic Justice: Toward a Diverse and Equitable Psychedelic Culture, edited by Bia Labate and Clancy Cavnar, compiles essays written for the Chacruna Institute that examine a myriad of issues facing the psychedelic community through the lens of psychedelic justice, and offer solutions for mending them. Among the wide spectrum of topics explored in this anthology are diversity and inclusion, reciprocity, abuses of power within psychedelic spaces, policy, sustainability, capitalism, and colonialism. 

Below are some instances of the term’s usage, and is by no means an exhaustive list of when and how the notion of psychedelic justice resonates.

Psychedelics and Drug Policy 

Back in 2017, Jag Davies, at the time the communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance, used the lens of psychedelic justice to discuss why decriminalization is a necessary step towards repairing the harms of the drug war, which has incarcerated thousands of people yearly for using psychedelic substances, and disproportionately impacts “young, nonwhite and socioeconomically marginalized” people. 

As research into the therapeutic benefits of these medicines becomes legitimized, heading towards legal medicines for those who have access, the notion of psychedelic justice begs the question that Davies posed: 

“What would it mean if we end up in a world where psychedelics are legally accessible for a privileged few, while communities who have historically suffered the worst harms of prohibition remain criminalized? For social change to be truly transformational, mustn’t it lift up those who are the least privileged among us?”

Since 2019, movements to reform drug policy have sprung up across the country, and psychedelics have been decriminalized in Oakland, Washington, DC, Santa Cruz, Somerville, Ann Arbor, Cambridge, and the state of Oregon, with currently active decriminalization bills and ballot initiatives in motion across the country. Many of these movements have broadened their scope to include all drugs, not just psychedelics, a move that aims to dismantle psychedelic exceptionalism and the hierarchy of drug users, and seeks to protect all forms of altered consciousness. 

Capitalism and Psychedelics 

The question of what values are shaping this renaissance is of particular concern regarding the booming psychedelic industry, which is projected to reach $10.75 billion by 2027. What does it look like when psychedelics enter a competitive market whose strictly profit-driven logic dictates that ruthless competition trumps the spirit of open-sharing and cooperation? 

Historically, psychedelics have been researched and developed by those in the underground – the “outlaws,” as Erik Davis puts it in his essay “Capitalism on Psychedelics.” The “writers, healers, freaks, and wizards” who made up the underground and gathered at psychedelic conferences oriented themselves around the values of sharing information, mutual respect, and operating out of service for the community of substance users, explains Davis. 

Today, the emergence of psychedelic companies that operate in the traditionally capitalist spirit of snuffing out competitors and monopolizing a profitable product is enormously troubling to many in the psychedelic community who align with the values described by Davis, including Johns Hopkins researcher Bob Jesse, who spoke about the merging of psychedelics and capitalism at the 2018 “Cultural and Political Perspectives on Psychedelic Science.”  

“When given under propitious circumstances—with a measure of grace,” Jesse said of psychedelics, “some would say they fairly reliably lead to experiences which are frequently beyond words and frequently change lives. When that phenomenon occurs, it is my wish that that happens in the best possible, cleanest space, being held by people who are very clear about their motives.”

Psychedelics and Reciprocity 

While some companies profit off psychedelics, they lack, as Celina De Leon writes on Chacruna, “any clear channel for reciprocity toward Indigenous and traditional communities where these practices originate.” The ritual knowledge surrounding these sacraments is foundational to Indigenous communities in the Americas that continue to this day and inform the Western medical perspective of psychedelics. 

“The very protocols that exist today draw upon many of the perspectives and insights that leaders in the field experienced while engaging with these substances, either directly with Indigenous communities or in so-called ‘underground’ settings,” writes De Leon. Directly supporting projects that are “indigenous-led or facilitated by individuals that have long-standing relationships in indigenous and traditional plant medicine communities is a great step,” suggests Leon, who points to these initiatives

Listening to Indigenous voices is crucial as we continue to benefit from the plant medicines that play an integral role in their traditions. This has been made abundantly clear in the realm of drug policy, where the justice of decriminalization is complicated by the issue of peyote scarcity, which affects the Indigenous communities for whom the cactus has served as an ritual sacrament for centuries. 

The National Council of Native American Churches (NCANC) and the Board of the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) definitively voiced their stance on the matter in a 2020 statement, saying that due the peyote shortage, which is impacted by the peyote black market and unsustainable harvesting practices, peyote should not be included in decriminalization efforts, which would likely lead to further destructive behavior. 

As they write in their statement, “For non-native persons who want to avail themselves of relationships with entheogenic healing medicines that don’t harm the very fragile peyote population in south Texas or disrespect the spiritual and cultural norms of our Indigenous peoples, they should look for alternative medicines.

Prejudice and Abuse within Psychedelic Spaces

Although the psychedelic experience may contribute to increased empathy towards others, psychedelic communities are not immune to prejudice and abuse. Now, as society faces a reckoning for the oppression and abuse that marginalized groups have faced for decades, the psychedelic community, too, is being tasked to co its own shadow side, and address these inequities. 

Up until recently, the public face of Western psychedelic discourse has been dominated by white men. While the likes of Terence McKenna, Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts are formidable voices, a movement whose representation reflects the same biases of Western society at large, can only be stunted by such a limitation in the long run, as it only reinforces the same age-old structural inequities. Whether conscious or unconscious, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are still prevalent and are structurally embedded within these communities. 

Psychedelic science, for example, is still plagued by a lack of diversity and representation, both among researchers and participants. “People of color and women are uncommon in leadership positions in the psychedelic research community,” write clinical psychologist Monnica T. Williams and Chacruna founder Bia Labate in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies, “and few people of color are included as research participants in psychedelic studies.”

And as psychologist and psychedelic researcher Alex Belser points out, psychedelic research is still informed by heternormative stereotypes about gender roles, with research from past 15 years treating cisgender, straight people as the default.

Although it is exciting to witness the culmination of decades of drug policy advocacy and clinical research, the psychedelic science movement struggles with many of the same social issues that plague healthcare in general,” write Williams and Labate.

Psychedelic spaces are not immaculate respites from abusive behavior, either. Sexual abuse at the hands of shamans in traditional ceremonial contexts is unfortunately not uncommon, with a number of individuals sharing their accounts of being sexually exploited by someone they entrusted with their healing journey. Even in clinical psychedelic therapy, sexual abuse is not unheard of. 

It may be difficult to reconcile the bathed-in-pure-love sensation of a psychedelic experience with abusive, toxic behavior at the hands of those facilitating it, especially when they are perceived as being part of a more spiritually evolved tradition. 

Increasing awareness of sexual abuse and exploitation by ayahuasqueros and other healers has been disconcerting for the psychedelic community, where ‘shamans’ are often idealized and romanticized,” writes somatic sex educator Britta Love on Chacruna. “The medicalization of psychedelics will no doubt mean we soon find our legitimized Western psychedelic gatekeepers just as imperfect as their indigenous and underground counterparts.”

***

“If the psychedelic renaissance is to grow and be able to bring healing and benefits for humanity, it has to include everybody,” shared Labate at the 2019 Bioneers Conference. 

Her words reflect a core essence of psychedelic justice: the commitment to transmuting the blissful oneness felt by any one individual during their psychedelic journey into an enduring ethical compass with which they navigate and serve their communities, and the values they are unwilling to compromise as the psychedelic movement grows. 

 

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More about Psychedelic Justice 

Cover of Psychedelic JusticeRadical, cultural transformation is the guiding force behind this socially visionary anthology. Its unifying value is social justice. It guides us in cultivating a psychedelic renaissance that represents everyone, honors voices that have been suppressed for too long, and envisions a more beautiful tomorrow through a psychedelic lens.

Psychedelic Justice highlights Chacruna’s ongoing work promoting diversity and inclusion by prominently featuring voices that have long been marginalized in Western psychedelic culture: women, queer people, people of color, and indigenous people. The essays examine both historical and current issues within psychedelics that many may not know about, and orient around policy, reciprocity, diversity and inclusion, sex and power, colonialism, and indigenous concerns. We believe the book can be another tool to help Chacruna and its allies continue to push for justice and inclusion in the greater psychedelic culture.

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Synergetic Press and MAPS Form Copublishing Partnership

Synergetic Press and MAPS Form Copublishing Partnership

Synergetic Press and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science (MAPS) are pleased to announce they have entered into a copublishing relationship effective May 1, 2021 which will greatly expand the availability of education about psychedelics and psychedelic therapy. 

Since MAPS began their mission to open pathways for legal, cultural, and medical contexts for people to benefit from psychedelics in 1986, they have published many pioneers in the psychedelic movement including Stanislav Grof, Albert Hofmann, Myron Stolaroff, Claudio Naranjo, Torsten Passie, Beatriz Cauiby Labate, Phil Wolfson, and Annie Oak. As with MAPS, Synergetic Press has been a leading publisher of cutting-edge books in the field of psychedelics and consciousness. The collaboration rests in the mutually held value to make these authors’ knowledge more accessible to a broader world-market. This newly formed alliance, along with Synergetic Press’ other copublishing partner, Transform Press, places Synergetic Press as the leading publisher in the field of psychedelics.

“Now that the psychedelic renaissance has overcome political and financial obstacles to research, public education is the most important need,” says Rick Doblin, Ph.D., founder and executive director of MAPS. “MAPS is delighted to partner with Synergetic Press to expand the reach of our publications so that people all over the world will be better prepared as psychedelics move into the mainstream.” 

The first title to be published under the copublishing arrangement is Psyche Unbound: Essays in Honor of Stanislav Grof, to be released in October 2021. Edited by Rick Tarnas and Sean Kelly, Psyche Unbound honors the life and legacy of Grof, a founder of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering figurehead in the practice of psychedelic therapy. Included are essays from a vast array of notable thinkers including Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, Fritjof Capra, Frances Vaughan, Thomas Riedlinger, John Buchanan, Jenny Wade, Ralph Metzner, Paul Grof and Arlene Fox, William Keepin, Jorge Ferrer, Gerry Goddard, Ervin Laszlo, Christopher M. Bache, Tom Purton, Gregg Lahood, Jeffrey Kripal, Michael Mithoefer, and Charles Grob.

“I have watched Rick Doblin over three decades take on what seemed impossible, that is, to change people’s minds about psychedelics and pave a path to decriminalization, regulation, and medical research,” shared Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, and CEO at Synergetic Press. “Today, he and his team have succeeded at getting very far down that road. The MAPS imprint has curated the leading voices of the industry, funding and publishing pioneering work in the field. We are proud to bring the groundbreaking books from MAPS into our catalog.”

With this agreement, the MAPS backlist and new titles will be distributed to the trade through Synergetic Press and their distributor, Publishers Group West, part of Ingram Publisher Services.

Celebration of the Pioneering Legacy of Sasha and Ann Shulgin (Watch Online)

Celebration of the Pioneering Legacy of Sasha and Ann Shulgin (Watch Online)

On June 26 & 27 City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, Synergetic Press and Transform Press hosted a free, two-day virtual symposium celebrating the pioneering legacy of Sasha and Ann Shulgin for the launch of the first Shulgin book since 2011, The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact

Bold explorers of the frontiers of neurochemistry, Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, master psychopharmacologist, along with his wife Ann, during their lifetimes, helped usher into being a major paradigm shift in the way we view the exploration of human consciousness. Through a series of sessions comprising lectures and panel discussions, we will explore the many aspects of the legacy of Sasha and Ann Shulgin and pay tribute to a man known to many as one of the great pioneers of the exploration of human consciousness.

Speakers included Ann Shulgin, Brigitte and Dr. Stanislav Grof, Michael Pollan, Dr. Mariavittoria Mangini, Dr. David E. Nichols, Dr. Rick Doblin, Dr. Erika Dyck, Dr. David Presti, Bob Jesse, Hamilton Morris, Dr. Janis Phelps, Dr. Bill Richards, Dr. Kile Ortigo, Mike Margolies, Leonard Pickard, and Dr. Paul Daley among many others.

The event was recorded and links to each of the five sessions are below. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Session 1: The Shulgin’s Pioneering Psychedelic Research (12:00 PM-2:00 PM PDT)

  • Host: Peter Maravelis, introduction to event and reflections on City Lights relationship to consciousness studies
  • Moderator: Bob Jesse – researcher, engineer, convener of the Council on Spiritual Practices
  • Dr. Stanislav Grof and Brigitte Grof – Stan Grof is the world’s leading researcher in psychedelic therapy, breathwork, and the exploration of non-ordinary states of consciousness, with wife and psychotherapist, Brigitte.
  • Dr. David E. Nichols – co-founder Heffter Institute, Chair in Pharmacology at the Purdue University College of Pharmacy
  • Dr. Paul Daley – Chief Science Officer and Chemist, Alexander Shulgin Research Institute
  • Wendy Tucker – Publisher, Transform Press, daughter of Ann Shulgin
  • Connie Littlefield –  filmmaker, producer “Better Living Through Chemistry,” documentary
  • Earth and Fire Erowid – cofounders of the non-profit Erowid Center, largest and most visited collection of information about psychoactive substances on the web
  • Ann Shulgin, Honored Guest

Watch Session 1

Session 2: Stories from the Edge: Trailblazers in Psychopharmacology (3:00 PM-5:00 PM PDT)

  • Moderator: Dr. Mariavittoria Mangini – family nurse-midwife for 25 years, author of numerous papers on historiography and social impacts of psychedelics
  • Allan Badiner – editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
  • Dr. Erika Dyck – Professor and a Canada Research Chair in the History of Health & Social Justice
  • Dr. George Greer – psychotherapist, cofounder Heffter Research Institute, pioneer in MDMA medical research
  • Dr. Dennis McKenna – ethnobotanist, author, founder of the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy
  • Keeper Trout – ethnobotanist, conservationist, curator of the Shulgin Archive Project

Watch Session 2

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Session 3: Currents in Psychedelic Research & Regulation (12:00 PM- 2:00 PM PDT)

  • Moderator: Hamilton Morris – chemist, filmmaker, and science journalist
  • Dr. Rick Doblin – co-founder, CEO, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
  • John Gilmore, Chairman, MAPS, cofounder Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Amanda Feilding – Founder and Executive Director of the Beckley Foundation
  • Cosmo Feilding, CEO, Beckley Psytech, Limited
  • Leonard Pickard –  chemist, author, former research associate in neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, and Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Analysis Program at UCLA
  • Dr. Paul Daley – CEO, Chemist, Alexander Shulgin Research Institute and Dr. Nicholas Cozzi – professor of pharmacology, research scientist

Watch Session 3

Session 4: Psychedelic Psychotherapy & Social Impact (3:00 PM-5:00 PM PDT)

  • Moderator: Dr. Janis Phelps – Dean of Faculty at CIIS for the graduate departments in the School of Humanities and Social Science; founder and director of the CIIS Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research
  • Dr. David Presti – professor of neurobiology at UC Berkeley
  • Dr. Kile Ortigo – clinical psychologist and founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, author of Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide For Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration
  • Dr. Bill Richards –  psychologist in the Psychiatry Department of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, consultant/trainer at sites of psychedelic research internationally
  • Annie Oak – Managing Editor, Lucid News, journalist, long-time public health activist, developed risk reduction strategies for event organizers; cofounder of Woman’s Visionary Council

Watch Session 4

Session 5: Towards a Sane and Healthy Future (6:00 PM-8:00 PM PDT)

  • Moderator: Mike Margolies – psychedelic community catalyst and conversation creator; Founder of Psychedelic Seminars (psychsems.com)
  • Bob Jesse – researcher, engineer, convener of the Council on Spiritual Practices (CSP.org)
  • Michael Pollan – NYTimes bestselling author of How to Change Your Mind, cofounder UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics
  • Ann Shulgin author, collaborator with Sasha Shulgin, with her daughter
  • Wendy Tucker – Publisher, Transform Press
  • Dr. Julie Holland – psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology, author of numerous books, most recent Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, From Soul to Psychedelics

Closing statements with Dr. Paul Daley, Ann Shulgin, Wendy Tucker, and Keeper Trout, sharing about the work of the Shulgin Foundation and forthcoming publications at Transform Press.

Watch Session 5

Celebrating Our First Copublished Book with Transform Press

The Nature of Drugs presents Sasha Shulgin’s popular San Francisco State University course on what drugs are, how they work, how they are processed by the body, and how they affect our society. The course also delves into social issues and reactions involving drugs, and discussions of governmental attempts at controlling them and features Sasha’s engaging lecture style peppered with illuminating anecdotes and amusing asides.

”Alexander Shulgin was many things, but first and foremost he was a teacher: he taught students, law enforcement, physicians, and eventually the world through the publication of his books PiHKAL and TiHKAL. This is Alexander Shulgin at his sharpest and most passionate. Emboldened by the emergency scheduling of MDMA and the passage of the Federal Analogue Act only three months previously, he offers a series of discursive lectures on medicine, pharmacology, human physiology, philosophy of science, astrology, alchemy, law, and linguistics. This text is a precious opportunity to attend a class taught by one of the great scientific thinkers of the 20th century and an indispensable primer for understanding the immensely complicated subject we call ‘drugs.’” ―Hamilton Morris

Get your copy!

Bicycle Day 2021: The First LSD Trip

Bicycle Day 2021: The First LSD Trip

In order to help you celebrate Bicycle Day 2021, we’re publishing an excerpt from the comprehensive biography on Albert Hofmann, Mystic Chemist, written by his close friends, the recently deceased Lucius Werthmüller, and the late Dieter Hagenbach, with a foreword from Stanislav Grof. Additionally, we are offering a 20% discount on the book with the coupon code “bicycleday2021”. The offer is valid until May 1st.

Bicycle Day: LSD Finds Its Discoverer 

Albert Hofmann had to know and decided to undertake a series of experiments, beginning with a test on himself on April 19th, 1943. Again he proceeded with great caution and chose a dosage of 250 micrograms, the smallest amount of ergot alkaloid deemed to have a noticeable effect.

But once again, strange and, initially, decidedly frightening images overcame the chemist, this time more acutely than before. According to his lab journal, his experiment began at four twenty in the afternoon when he ingested “0.5 cc of ½ pro mil tartrate solution of diethylamide peroral = 0.25 mg tartrate. To be taken thinned with ca. 10 cc water.” At five pm he notes: “Beginning dizziness, anxiety, disturbed vision, paralysis, urge to laugh.” Two days later he adds: “Cycled home. Severest crisis from six to eight pm” and refers to a special report because he can barely record the last entry. He is at once certain that his experiences on April 16th stemmed from the unintentional ingestion of a small amount of LSD-25. The experiences were the same, but this time more intense and profound.

During the war, fuel was difficult to find. Gasoline was rationed and available for very few private vehicles. Indispensable commercial vehicles such as tractors and trucks were fitted with wood gasifiers. At that time, even in Switzerland, only a few wealthy could afford an automobile and taxis were not available. That is why Hofmann did not have someone drive him home; instead, his lab assistant, Susi Ramstein accompanied him by bicycle. He had the impression that they made little headway, but she later assured him that they cycled very fast and she had to pedal hard to keep up with him. The rows of houses took on threatening forms, the street seemed wavy, and the few persons they met changed into distorted shapes. The distance between the laboratory and his home was ten kilometers, with a few gentle inclines on the way.

Once they reached his house, Hofmann asked Ms. Ramstein to call his doctor and to bring him a glass of milk from the neighbor woman as an antidote: He feared a fatal poisoning. Dizziness and faintness alternated. Exhausted, he went into the living room and lay on the sofa. Just as on the way home, the familiar surroundings in the cozy home looked distorted and eerie. The walls and ceiling appeared to bend and arch, furniture took on grotesque forms and appeared to move. He asked for more milk. He hardly recognized the neighbor who brought him more than two liters of milk. Instead, he perceived her as “a nasty, insidious witch with a colored mask.”

Hofmann found the transformation of his inner world at least as unsettling as those in his surroundings: “All my efforts of will seemed in vain; I could not stop the disintegration of the exterior world and the dissolution of my ego. A demon had invaded me and taken possession of my body, my senses, and my soul. A terrible fear that I had lost my mind grabbed me. I had entered another world, a different dimension, a different time.” His body seemed to him without feeling, lifeless and foreign. “Was I dying? Was this the transition?” were the agonizing questions that pressed in upon him and persisted.

Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann showcasing the molecular structure of LSD

He thought of his wife and three children who, precisely on this day, had driven to visit his in-laws in Lucerne. Would he ever see them again? Would he die without being able to say farewell? How would posterity judge him? That a young head of a family had been recklessly careless and risked leaving his young family fatherless? Had his obsession with research-driven him too far? Hofmann was certain that he had not acted carelessly, and had always conducted his research prudently. Did this mean the end of the career that had begun with such promise and meant so much to him and promised so much more? “I was struck by the irony that precisely lysergic acid diethylamide, which I had brought into the world, was now forcing me to leave it prematurely.” His situation struck him as a most appalling and terrifying, hardly comprehensible tragedy.

It seemed an eternity had gone by for him before the doctor arrived and Ms. Ramstein could report the self-experiment at the Sandoz laboratory. Although Hofmann believed the worst of his desperate experience was over, he was not able to formulate a coherent sentence. Dr. Beerli, who had come in place of Hofmann’s regular physician, Dr. Schilling, found no indications of any abnormal condition or poisoning. Respiration, pulse, and blood pressure were normal. He helped Hofmann move to the bedroom to rest, but refrained from prescribing any medicine as none seemed indicated. This reassuring diagnosis had a positive effect. Within a rather short time, the anxieties and terrifying images subsided and gave way to “feelings of happiness and thankfulness.” Hofmann began to enjoy his involuntary excursion into unknown and unfamiliar realms of consciousness. With closed eyes, he saw a wonderful play of color and forms: “a kaleidoscopic flood of fantastic images dazzled me; they circled and spiraled, opened and closed again as fountains of color, reorganizing and crisscrossing in constant flux. Particularly remarkable was how any acoustical perception, like the sound of a door handle or a passing car, transformed into optical perceptions. For each sound, there was a corresponding, vividly shifting form and color.”

By late that evening, Hofmann had recovered sufficiently to describe his remarkable adventure to his wife, Anita. She had left the children with her parents and returned home after receiving a telephone call about her husband’s breakdown. With the return of some tranquility to the Hofmann house, the exhausted chemist went to sleep. The following morning, he felt physically tired, but mentally refreshed and fit. “A feeling of well-being and new life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted marvelous, an extraordinary pleasure. When I went outside, the garden was still damp from a spring rain, and the sun made everything sparkle and gleam in fresh light. The world felt newly created. All my senses vibrated in a state of high sensitivity which lasted throughout the day.” All in all, Albert Hofmann’s experiment on himself, the first LSD trip in history, ended gently. He had discovered the most potent psychoactive substance yet known.

Hofmann’s first experience contains many elements and descriptions that would be found in thousands of later reports of comparable trips. This first self-experiment contained two decisive factors in the course of any psychedelic experience, later designated as “set and setting” by the American psychologist Timothy Leary. “Set” referred to the mental and physical state and expectation of the consumer and “setting” to the atmosphere and surroundings during the session. Hofmann’s experience became a positive one after his doctor told him that he need not fear he was on the threshold of death or permanent damage from a life-threatening poisoning. He had no frame of reference for what was happening to him and no certainty that his condition would normalize a few hours afterwards. He at least remained aware the entire time that he had undertaken a self-experiment. “The most frightening thing was that I didn’t know if I would regain my normal state of mind. It was only when the world slowly began to look normal again that I felt exhilaration, a kind of rebirth.”

Albert Hofmann Bicycle Day 2020 (Photo- Jakob Krattiger; illustration from “Das Basler Buch”)

Photo by Jakob Krattiger; illustration from “Das Basler Buch”

Albert Hofmann was impressed by his discovery10 and by the intensity of his experiences during that first self-experiment with LSD-25 which would long resonate for him. He knew of no other substance with such profound psychological effects at such a low dosage that so dramatically altered experience of the inner and outer worlds in human consciousness. Hofmann found it remarkable that he was able to recall details of his LSD intoxication and explained it with the hypothesis “that no matter how perturbed someone’s worldview was at the height of the trip, the part of consciousness that registers experience was unimpaired.” He was equally amazed that he remained aware of it as an experiment on himself yet was unable to voluntarily alter it and banish the “LSD-induced world.” Just as surprising and welcome was the absence of any noticeable hangover afterwards; rather he felt left in excellent physical and mental condition.

Three days later, Hofmann presented his detailed report to Arthur Stoll and Professor Rothlin, the director of the pharmacological department. “As might be expected, it met with incredulous astonishment,” he recalled. They both immediately asked him whether he had made an error in dosage. It was clear to them that no psychotropic substance was known to be that effective at a micro dosage level. The last doubts were erased only when Rothlin and Stoll both cautiously tried dosages of LSD one-third the strength of Hofmann’s trial dose and had nearly as impressive results. In subsequent trials, Hofmann never ingested a comparable dosage again and described 250 micrograms as an “overdose.” He was astonished that the “tripping generation” of the sixties considered his first dosage to be the standard measure.

His spectacular bicycle ride from the Sandoz factory through the outskirts of Basel and on beyond the city limits to his house became the stuff of legends. Since 1984, April 19th has been celebrated as “Bicycle Day” among pop-culture LSD fans. It was initiated by Thomas B. Roberts, emeritus professor of educational psychology. Americans in particular found the idea of a bike ride while on LSD amusing and admirable. Back then, hardly anybody in that land of boundless possibilities used bicycles and certainly not in the condition Hofmann was in on his original trip.

Looking back, Hofmann thought about the circumstances and significance of his discovery: “From a personal perspective, without the intervention of chance, I think the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide would not have been discovered. It would have joined the tens of thousands of other substances that are produced and tested in pharmaceutical research every year and are relegated to obscurity for lack of effect and there would have been no LSD story.

However, in light of other significant discoveries of the time in medical and technical fields, the discovery of LSD could be considered less a matter of chance than of being called into the world as part of a higher plan.

In the 1940’s, tranquilizers were discovered and proved to be a sensation for psychiatry. As their name expresses, tranquilizers cover up emotional problems whereas LSD is at the opposite pole of pharmacology; it reveals problems, making them more accessible to therapeutic intervention.

About the same time, nuclear energy became technically usable and the atomic bomb was developed. A new dimension of threat and destruction had been created compared with earlier energy sources and weapons. That corresponds to the increase in potency in psychotropic drugs such as mescaline to LSD, of a factor of 1:5,000 to 1:10,000.

One might suppose that the discovery of LSD was not a coincidence but drawn to attention by the Weltgeist. From this perspective, that would make the discovery of LSD no longer a matter of coincidence. Further reflection might lead one to think that its discovery was predetermined by a higher force and emerged as people began to contemplate the prevalence of the materialism of the past century; LSD, an illuminating psychotropic drug, appearing on the way to a new, more spiritual age.

All of this could suggest that my initial decisions leading up to finding LSD were not a product of free will, but were guided by the subconscious mind which links us all to the universal, impersonal consciousness.”


20% Discount on Mystic Chemist

mystic chemist albert hofmannMystic Chemist begins at the start of the twentieth century, in the Swiss town of Basel which is evolving from a popular health spa into a major industrial city. The story concludes more than a century later, after celebrating Albert Hofmann’s 100th birthday. It tells the unique story of a soon to be famous scientist, highlighting his academic journey, his research at Sandoz, and then, as the discoverer of LSD, his meetings and interactions with illustrious writers, artists, and thinkers, from all over the world, whose common interest is a fascination with the new wonder-drug. Luminaries like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Richard Alpert appear on the scene and Hofmann begins a prolific correspondence with them and other interested parties. Sometimes he sends a sample, other times he hears of their “trips” on LSD or other psychedelic substances, like mescaline or psilocybin. From the beginning, he takes a positive view towards efforts by physicians and psychotherapists to include LSD in new approaches to the treatment of illnesses. He sees the “psychedelic” potential of this “wonder drug” as beneficial to all. And he expresses his conviction that mystical experiences and trips to other worlds of consciousness are the best preparation for the very last journey he and every one of us well must eventually make. At the age of 102, Albert Hofmann dies at home. His vitality and open-mindedness stay with him until his last breath. The life of Albert Hofmann, the Mystic Chemist, is a testimony to how one can reach a great age all the while remaining physically and mentally fit and spiritually aware.

Get 20% off the paperback version of the book using the discount code “bicycleday2021”. Offer valid until May 1st, 2021.

Get Mystic Chemist 20% off!

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