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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!

Sacred Plants in the Americas II

Sacred Plants in the Americas II

Sacred Plants in the Americas II: A Virtual Psychedelic Summit on the Globalization of Plant Medicines and Indigenous Reciprocity

We are very excited to share an amazing upcoming conference from our friends at the Chacruna Institute! Next April 24-25, 2021, they are hosting Sacred Plants in the Americas II, a global virtual summit exploring the globalization of plant medicines and indigenous reciprocity.

This revolutionary conference will bring together indigenous leaders from throughout North, Central, and South America as well as researchers, practitioners, community builders, and other experts from around the world. The summit will discuss the potential benefits and harms of the globalization of psychedelic plant medicines and explore how we can offer reciprocity to honor the indigenous cultures and traditions that these medicines come from.

Speakers include David Bronner, Belinda Eriacho, Anya Ermakova, Jorge Ferrer, Kathleen Harrison, Stacey Schaeffer, Glenn Shepard, Bia Labate, Clancy Canvar, and many more! 

Indigenous voices have often been marginalized in the contemporary psychedelic conversation, and this event seeks to spotlight these voices and the invaluable wisdom they carry. It is vital that members of the psychedelic community help support indigenous groups and the traditional spiritual and ecological knowledge they preserve and practice. 

They are offering a special 10% discount code for our community! Use the code “discount_synergetic” to register for tickets in the link below. 

Get your ticket

The Plant Spirit Summit

The Plant Spirit Summit

A new paradigm of healing is emerging at the intersection of psychedelic medicine and ancestral shamanic healing... Psychedelic medicine has been pushed to the forefront as the new frontier in psychotherapy, a new solution to the global mental health crisis.

Psychotherapists might say that its cause is widespread trauma, the outcome of an increasingly unequal capitalistic culture, exacerbated by financial uncertainty, and social isolation caused by the pandemic.

Shamans might say that the root lies in our separation from Nature and Spirit, and that the events of 2020 signalled a shamanic initiation of planetary proportions - a warning sign of a civilization recklessly out of balance and an urgent call for humanity to wake up. 

What if both are right?

Learn more at the Plant Spirit Summit on Feb 22-26, 2021, a free-for-all 5-day online event hosted by Lorna Liana of EntheoNation.

This transformational Summit seeks to explore the intersection of psychedelics & shamanism by facilitating bold, inquisitive conversations about the expansion of plant medicine shamanism and the future of psychedelic medicine. During the Summit, 40+ indigenous and Western speakers will share their priceless perspectives and concrete advice on how to navigate the Psychedelic Renaissance and Global Shamanic Revival, safely, responsibly, and with integrity.

Register for FREE Now to Explore the New Paradigm of Healing at the Intersection of Psychedelics & Shamanism

During this visionary 5-day Summit, you’ll hear from:

  • Ninawa Pai da Mata, spiritual leader of the Huni Kuin community of Novo Futuro, on the indigenous cultural renaissance catalyzed by the globalization of ayahuasca and their tribe’s decision to collaborate with outsiders. Filmed in the Kaxinawá indigenous territory of Humaitá in Acre, Brazil, during the Eskawatã Kayawai Festival, this mini-documentary shares their culture, shamanic medicine traditions, challenges, and hopes for the future. 
  • Wade Davis, celebrated author, anthropologist, ethnobotanist, and filmmaker, who talks about the impact of the Psychedelic Renaissance on contemporary culture, as well as about the Drug War’s destruction of Colombia and what he considers to be the ultimate sacred medicine of South America (not ayahuasca)
  • Nat Kelley, activist & actress (Fantastic Fungi Foundation, The Fast & the Furious, Vampire Diaries) and Alan Scheurman (Santiparro), musician / Shipibo-trained facilitator,  discuss the impact of COVID on the indigenous communities in the Amazon, and what it takes to create a global campaign of active reciprocity.
  • Bruce Parry, filmmaker and explorer, on the delicate nature of living with remote peoples, egalitarian tribal cultures, and his visionary experiences on iboga, ayahuasca, Bufo and ebene (yopo)
  • Françoise Bourzat, consciousness guide and author, who shares what happens when you integrate indigenous sacred mushroom ceremonies and Western psychology
  • Cecilio Soria Gonzales, Shipibo indigenous rights activist, on how the Comando Matico initiative is distributing plant medicine through indigenous communities to treat and prevent COVID
  • Shelby Hartman, co-Founder of DoubleBlind Magazine, leading publisher of psychedelic journalism, on the medicalization of psychedelics, and whether these emergent drugs are all they are hyped up to be
  • Jeremy Narby, legendary anthropologist and author of the Cosmic Serpent, with advice on how Western ceremony facilitators from the Global North can stop engaging in spiritual extraction of indigenous cultural wisdom, and give back in a meaningful way

Meet Your Host, Lorna Liana

Deep in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, Lorna Liana discovered her purpose and her divine calling while drinking visionary plant medicines with indigenous shamans. She was given a mission: “To leverage emerging technologies to preserve indigenous traditions, so that ancient wisdom can benefit the modern world, and technology can empower indigenous people.”

In pursuit of this mission, Lorna became an online business coach and new media strategist to sustainable brands, social ventures and visionary entrepreneurs, helping them attract their tribe and ignite a movement around their mission-driven businesses. Through podcasting, video blogging, and social media, she shares the stories of both indigenous people and the world’s foremost experts in psychedelic science, modern shamanism, and consciousness research to inspire each and every one of us to explore the depths of our minds, spirits, planet…and evolve.

Over the past years, Lorna has built EntheoNation as a digital nomad, living in Thailand, Bali, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and Spain.

About EntheoNation

EntheoNation is a leading psychedelic media publisher that publishes content about:

Ayahuasca - the visionary brew ceremonially drunk in indigenous communities in the Amazon since ancient times, and which has over the last decade begun its expansion throughout the Global North, prompting the emergence of neoshamanic circles and psychedelic integration specialists. Ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats, which are now available globally, have become increasingly popular among psychonauts from all walks of life, and just about anyone in need of healing deep-seated trauma, attaining profound spiritual growth and personal transformation, and finding direction in life.

Magic Mushrooms - the fantastically psychedelic fungi growing throughout the world, and consumed by early humans since at least 10,000 BCE; as one of the most available naturally occurring psychoactive fruits, they have been an integral part of the psychedelic movement for decades. Now, with mounting evidence of psilocybin’s effectiveness against mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, magic mushrooms are spearheading the wave of psychedelic medicalization, decriminalization, and legalization.

Sacred Reciprocity -  the expansion of ancestral plant medicines beyond their native geographic regions has swelled the number of Western plant medicine ceremony participants and facilitators… to the point where more non-indigenous people consume and facilitate ayahuasca than indigenous. What are the ramifications of this dynamic? How might we decolonize plant medicines and co-create a psychedelic community that is diverse and inclusive? What actions can we take to show solidarity for the indigenous movement? Explore these topics in the free Sacred Reciprocity School.

Join the conversation at the FREE Plant Spirit Summit on Feb 22-26, 2021, and discover how you can participate - safely, responsibly, and with integrity.

Visionary Art: The Intersection Between Psychedelic and Buddhist Art

Visionary Art: The Intersection Between Psychedelic and Buddhist Art

There is a thread that runs through the backbone of both spiritual and aesthetic insight. Individuals who undergo such moments seem to have experiences with certain characteristics in common, some of which include: a deep sense of understanding, a revelation of authentic essences, and an awareness of wholeness both in our world and in ourselves. Throughout our history, human beings have explored these visionary experiences and the links between them through artistic, spiritual, and religious expressions, but modernity has ushered in new opportunities to look at the vast range of works and reacquaint ourselves with their forms, perhaps even allowing us to uncover new aspects and interpretations of them. 

From this vast range of expressions, the artistic oeuvre of Buddhist traditions and the works they have inspired is of particular interest because of the emphasis they place on the inner world and their associated practices for introspection. These relate intimately and extensively to the type of experiences that produce psychedelic visionary art. Such a topic is of course a significant undertaking but even in the space of a brief article, we can explore some of the interesting examples available, as well as the intersections between them.

 

Aesthetic and Mystical Experience as Transductive Device

The artist as well as the mystic converts inner, concealed experiences so that they become accessible for the listener, audience, viewer, and so forth. They transform their perceptions of something necessarily residing within their subjective, phenomenological field and express them so that the meaning and perhaps the truth of their experience can be shared and communicated.

In the new edition of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, artist Alex Grey describes how “Visionary mystical experiences are humanity’s most direct contact with spiritual reality and are the creative source of all sacred art and wisdom traditions.”  He also notes the similarity between the meditative state arrived at by dedicated Buddhists and the kind of vision that many artists have experienced by utilizing entheogenic or psychedelic substances. Grey observes that those familiar with the psychedelic experience might recognize the representations of the physical world and the subtle visionary beings exemplified in the geometrically dense mandalas characteristic of Buddhist artistic traditions. 

 

The Buddhist Experience of Transcendence as Depicted through Visionary Artworks

A core tenet of Buddhist practice is to utilize meditation, mindfulness, and one’s own conduct so as to gain freedom from the pain and confusion that we invariably experience in our lives. In the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha we find phrases such as “Dwelling in the cave (of the heart), the mind, without form, wanders far and alone. Those who subdue this mind are liberated from the bonds of Mara.” Mara here refers to the bondage of passions, ill will, and ignorance that we experience in life. This liberation attained by those who “subdue” or “control” their mind often produces an experience of transcendence from mundane existence and has been the focus of many Buddhist artistic traditions. 

Tibetan and Nepalese Thangka paintings are works that represent Buddhist iconography and which are notably used as tools for meditative practice. In another essay from the same collection entitled “Buddhism, Shamanism, and Thangka Paintings”, anthropologists Claudia Müller-Ebeling and Christian Rätsch describe how “both the production and contemplation of a thangka help one to visualize the universal principles of life, represented in Buddhist (and Hindu) deities, bodhisattvas, and other beings.” These richly composed artworks are in some sense used as portals for practitioners to enter the numinous world lying beyond our quotidian perceptions.

Thangka Depicting Vajrabhairava, ca. 1740, Sotheby’s via Wikicommons

In the book, Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayana, author Mike Crowley takes an in-depth examination of Buddhist history, traditions, and iconographies to find evidence for the historical use of psychoactive substances during rites, ceremonies, and meditative practices. His compelling claims center on the mysterious substance amrita, a term first found in the Rigveda, and which became important to the traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism. Amrita is described as conferring immortality to those who drink it. His work indicates that orthodox interpretations of these terms have failed to understand the real possibility that these substances were more than merely symbolic devices, and perhaps corresponded to several psychoactive plants found throughout the Indian subcontinent and surrounding regions. It becomes clear from his exposition how the substances referred to in these ancient texts could have played an important role in the liberation that these traditions sought through their practices.

 

Psychedelic and Buddhist Visionary Art as a Paradigm Breaking Aesthetic

The revelatory nature of Buddhist artworks relates closely to the function of psychedelic visionary art. Grey writes of how “the best currently existing technology for sharing the mystical imaginal realms is a well crafted artistic rendering by an eyewitness.” From our contemporary vantage point, we stand as the beneficiaries of millennia of practices of this kind, and we have the opportunity to survey expressions that reveal the subtle forms lying behind countless artistic and/or mystical iterations. 

The expressions produced by such experiences reveal how we utilize symbols and gestures to allude to fundamental realities that we encounter, but they also point toward that which cannot be grasped by our limited capacity for lucidity and communication.

 

Featured Image: “Zig Zag Zen” by Miguel Eduardo (Seeking Soma Art)

Should Psychedelic Therapists Have Psychedelic Experience?

Should Psychedelic Therapists Have Psychedelic Experience?

Psychedelics are front and center of a new and rapidly growing medical industry that recognizes their profound healing potential. More and more people are taking psychedelics in clinical settings, with trained therapists guiding them through unpredictable terrain, helping them process and heal their wounds. 

However, as psychedelics become medicalized we are urged to explore the question: should a therapist have personal experience with psychedelics before working with clients who are on psychedelics? 

For those who’ve taken psychedelics and understand how utterly strange (and at times immensely challenging) the experience can be, the answer may feel like an obvious yes. While each psychedelic experience is unique, the thread that binds virtually all of them is their ineffability. Trusting someone to help you navigate that space can be difficult if they haven’t occupied it themselves. 

But as psychedelics intersect with western science, intuition alone cannot satisfy modern medicine’s inquiries around efficacy and safety. One possible solution is that space must be made for the perspectives of indigenous communities who’ve worked with psychedelic medicines for time immemorial and understand them in ways that transcend western epistemological frameworks. 

Western Medicine and Psychedelic Therapy

COMPASS Pathways, a UK-based mental healthcare company working with synthetic psilocybin, states on their website that therapists are not recruited based on their “willingness or desire” to take psychedelics. According to COMPASS, until evidence suggests otherwise, the best predictors of safety and optimal clinical outcomes are emotional maturity, compassion, and clinical therapeutic experience.

So far, there is no evidence within western medicine that suggests otherwise. Arguably, it is for lack of trying. As Elizabeth M. Nielson, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Guss, MD write in their article “Should Psychedelic Therapists Have First-hand Experience with Psychedelics?” for Chacruna, “no contemporary studies have systematically studied whether or how therapists’ first-hand experience with psychedelics affects clinical outcomes in psychedelic therapy.” 

When psychedelic therapy first garnered interest from medical practitioners in the mid-20th century, shortly after Albert Hofmann discovered LSD in 1943, researchers and clinicians “stressed the value of direct experience with a psychedelic compound” in order to be successful as psychedelic therapists, write Nielson and Guss. Hofmann wrote that first-hand experience would allow the therapist to truly understand the “strange world of LSD inebriation” and its related phenomena in their patients. 

But due to restrictive drug laws in the 1960s, and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, conducting those studies became virtually impossible. Psychiatrist and substance abuse researcher Herbert Kleber came the closest in the mid-60s when he designed a study that would compare the outcomes in patients undergoing LSD-assisted therapy treated by a therapist that had taken LSD themselves versus a therapist who hadn’t. The study was cut short when the Swiss laboratory Sandoz halted LSD production in 1965. 

Should Doctors Have Direct Experience with Psychiatric Drugs They Prescribe?

Today, with the mainstreaming of psychedelics and their burgeoning reputation as legitimate therapeutic medicines, questions around what constitutes effective psychedelic therapy can be more formally investigated. But the unique nature of psychedelic therapy, which, as Nielson and Guss write, is an “unprecedented blend of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic approaches,” doesn’t fit squarely with the already established western medical models. 

Contemporary psychiatry does not necessitate that a doctor has direct experience with any psychotropic medication they prescribe to patients. It’s a standard that, according to Nielson and Gus, hasn’t been fully examined. They say that as of June 2018, they were “unable to locate a single study on the relationship between psychiatrists’ personal use of pharmaceutical substances, their prescribing practices with psychotropic medicines, and/or effects on patient outcomes.” 

Furthermore, in the 1960s, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), in which a treatment is randomly allocated to participants and isolated from the doctors prescribing them, became the “gold-standard” for demonstrating the efficacy of pharmacological treatments. While this approach may be effective with drugs such as antibiotics, Nielson and Guss say that psychiatric medicine, in particular psychedelic therapy, are “poor fits” for the RTC research method because of the psychotherapeutic intervention involved. 

While psychoanalytic research and training values subjective personal experience, and doesn’t see it as potentially invalidating any research, pharmacological research values objectivity, and excludes personal experience as a source of knowledge. The “dual nature” of psychedelic therapy has generated “controversy regarding the relevance, importance, and danger of self-experimentation in the current psychedelic research,” write Nielson and Guss. 

Decolonizing Psychedelic Science

Healing with psychedelic substances is not exactly the uncharted territory of intrepid western researchers. Indigenous peoples have been the stewards of these medicines for centuries, and there exist rich traditions amongst various lineages involving the ceremonial use of plant medicines, in which shamans commune with plants as sacred sacraments. COMPASS’s claim that psychedelic therapists don’t necessarily need to be familiar with psychedelic modes of consciousness stands in stark contrast to traditional contexts in which only the shaman ingests the plant medicine.

As shamanic practitioner, Itzhak Beery, writes in his article “Are You Drinking Ayahuasca for the Wrong Reason?” for Lucid News, in some traditional contexts the shaman alone drinks the ayahuasca brew so that they may enter the “other world” and identify their patient’s ailment by penetrating both their physical and energetic bodies, clearing dark energies often with the aid of spirit animal helpers. Spirit worlds, energetic bodies, and animal guides are hardly the province of western science, a paradigm that fundamentally rejects intuitive wisdom in favor of rational, empirical knowledge. In her paper “The role of Indigenous knowledge in psychedelic science,” published by the Journal of Psychedelic Studies, Evgenia Fotiou writes that “in most cultural settings where ayahuasca is used, it is seen as an intentional agent, indeed a ‘plant teacher’, something that cannot easily be reconciled with scientific epistemology without broadening our lens.”

While western medicine enthusiastically embraces psychedelics, many believe we would be wise to meaningfully engage with indigenous perspectives, rather than uncritically appropriating these medicines into the current western framework, erasing those traditions. Fotiou argues that decolonizing psychedelic science “disrupts the legacies of colonialism and the systematic oppression of Indigenous peoples,” and could enhance western research efforts by widening its lens. For Fotiou, dismantling the hierarchy of knowledge systems that privileges western science above all others could allow for different perspectives and methodologies to coexist and contribute equally to psychedelic science going forward.

If this vision shared by Fotiou and many others is put into practice, it could help shed light on the tensions surrounding psychedelic therapy, and the challenges these medicines pose for the currently accepted medical standards. In the meantime, as Nielson and Guss suggest, the influence firsthand psychedelic experience has amongst psychedelic therapists and researchers deserves further investigation.

Image via Wikicommons: Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Session Room

On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

This article was originally written by Claudio Naranjo for Chacruna.net

A passage in Lao Tze’s Tao Te Ching states that when original harmony was lost, laws were created. I am sure that this is congruent with our contemporary knowledge of prehistory: We were equalitarian at the time when we were nomadic hunter-gatherers, while our modern political institutions of legislation and justice fail to give us justice or well being. Thus, it would seem that we should interest ourselves very much in that “original harmony” that our laws seek in vain to restore.

One way of moving in this direction, I have proposed,1 is by drawing a distinction between “normative ethics,” in which good and evil are defined by the obligations and prohibitions formulated by an authority, and “an ethics of virtue,” in which good actions are the natural expression of an inner goodness that has not been obstructed or contaminated by psychosocial aberration.

While the way to foster an ethics of virtue is therapeutic, since it is enough to remove the hatefulness or egocentricity that get in the way of natural wisdom and empathy for healing to take place, the way to foster a normative ethics is to intensify the threats and punishments that underlie the effectiveness of authority and its commands.

The now-long history of this attempt to make us good through rewards and punishment may be interpreted as a long experiment that has not yielded good results: paradoxically, the more we punish delinquency, the more delinquency we have. The more severe and punitive our penal system, the more our prisons are filled. And, as Jung observed, the more we are concerned with morality, the more immoral our society becomes. Yet, we continue to act as if this were not already obvious enough, and, surely, no politician would consider applying to society the Christian teaching of “not resisting evil,” and not responding to aggression with aggression, but with kindness and understanding.

It is instructive to consider in this context George Lakoff’s notion of an “ideology of the severe father.”  We may formulate such an ideology, precisely, as a belief that nothing can solve problems better than threats and punishment. If a child behaves badly, then, the mother may threaten him by telling him that she will tell Dad when he comes home, so that he will give him a corrective; or schools may threaten those who don’t perform well enough with expulsion and potential poverty, and criminals will be threatened with not only longer sentences, but death.

But, do we truly know that the way of severity, threats, and punishment works better than the way of understanding and support? Or is it rather the case that our society has been operating on a patriarchal bias?

In the realm of ethics, we may say that the patriarchal ideology of severity, already embodied in normative morality, is further intensified when morality becomes moralism.

The distinction between both is, more or less, the distinction between the original meaning of “puritan” and the more common contemporary and critical sense in which somebody may be criticized for being prudish. Yet, also in this case, historical perspective allows us to see that he Puritans were also puritanical in the sense of moralistic, and we are now aware of the dissonance between their sense of virtue and their ownership of slaves, their injustice toward the indigenous peoples, or their male chauvinism.

Nietzsche was the first to question seriously our universally accepted morality of good and evil; but today, psychology and clinical experience have allowed us to understand how conventional morality is moralistic and not an expression of health, but an example of what Freud called “reaction formation”: the covering up of repressed impulses with a semblance of correctness or perfection. In the Gospel we find the expression “whitened sepulchers” in connection with this hypocrisy that many people exhibit, seemingly without any awareness of it; the same metaphor might be applied to cultures, in which a collective sense of honor serves as a screen to hide a collective criminality—such as that of our economic system.

After this theoretical introduction, however, let me tackle the subject of the relation between psychedelics and morality, which I propose to launch with a set of complementary statements:

  1. Psychedelics are, by definition, immoral, since they have been forbidden and criminalized.
  2. Conventional morality, a complex of accusation-guilt-fear-duty and moralism, is normative ethics turned into custom, and only mimics virtue, but, in reality, militates against it, and constitutes a form of pathology that, because of its “normality,” passes for “healthy.”
  3. Psychedelics can heal conventional moral conditioning. This probably contributes to the opposition to psychedelics on the part of those who want to uphold conservative culture.

Now, I will develop my argument, seeking to demonstrate the various things I have stated.

  1. That psychedelics are regarded immoral we may take as a fact not needing further demonstration.
  2. Concerning the statement that “morality is un-virtuous,” let me say that, aside from Nietzsche and others who, since his time, have looked with suspicion upon the matter of good and evil, the earliest statement to this effect we have is the one we find in the myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis, where “original sin” is characterized as the eating of the forbidden fruit of “the knowledge of good and evil.”

If we take the fall from paradise as a deterioration of consciousness—for which our contemporary concepts are sickness and neurosis—nothing strikes the author of Genesis as more characteristic of such fall or sickness than “the knowledge of good and evil”—that we can also call a concern with morality.

Before going any further, I should respond to the many that may feel that “original sin” is an ancient superstition with little relevance to our real problems today. On the contrary, a concern about being good and about avoiding evil may be seriously considered to have been the most destructive force in human life and human history precisely, because—paradoxical as this may be and as I have already stated—the more we criminalize those we regard evil, and the more severe we become in our prohibitions, the more destructive we become. If we are prone to think of the idea of “original sin” as an irrelevant dogma, it is because the theologians of the past thought of it as a divine punishment that operated genetically. Many today know that the plague of a Universal Neurosis is transmitted from one generation to the next through a psycho-cultural process that operates through child rearing, socialization and education.

But why fuss about words, rather than just agreeing to the fact that a sort of plague (call it original sin or universal neurosis) passes from one generation to the next and seems to be inextricably linked to the issue of morality? It is not, then, that we have fallen from the paradisiac realm of morality, but, rather, fallen into morality—which is to say, into a life of prohibitions and obligations—which, in turn, presupposes an authority that demands and forbids, and, most especially, entails the will to inspire obedience, to subjugate, as well as presupposing punishment and the threat of punishment, which is the best tool for the domestication of the young.

In view of this, and also in view of the possible anachronism of speaking about “original sin” in the twenty-first century, or even of speaking of a Universal Neurosis to a population of “normotics”—who may be better described as zombies, for they have become too unconscious to recognize their unconsciousness, or even their destructiveness—I prefer to say that the gist of both original sin and universal neurosis, and thus the “heart of darkness” at the core of human suffering, is patriarchy: the invention of male dominance, along with the devaluation of motherhood and care, and the criminalization of pleasure and instinct, which has constituted the implicit counterpart to the domestication of children through effective, but sometimes invisible, violence.

Though I would need more time and space to fully develop my view of patriarchy as the root condition of individual and social pathologies, let me turn to my contention that psychedelics can heal the unacknowledged problem of morality. I emphatically re-state that nothing compares with the effectiveness of psychedelics when it comes to the cure of human “fallenness”; call it “original sin,”  “universal neurosis,” or “the patriarchal mind.”

To explain this, I firstly need to explain briefly that I use the expression “patriarchal mind” in reference to the intra-psychic aspect of patriarchy, through which the social phenomenon of patriarchy—a complex of authoritarian violence, instinctual repression, and the undervaluation of motherly care—is transmitted across the generations. While it is doubtful, I think, that we may be able to heal patriarchy, which is a social event of gigantic proportions, we may hope to heal the individual carriers of the patriarchal mind, and to this end, it is desirable that we also have some conception of its structure and dynamics.

While patriarchy is a social phenomenon, the root manifestation of which may be seen in the nuclear family and, more specifically, in what Roman law described as the institution of the paterfamilias, which establishes the ownership of the woman and the children by the father, we my say that the individual’s patriarchal mind is one in which an intra-psychic father-principle (superego) criminalizes the instinctual inner child (or id), and also has the effect of eclipsing our mother-like or compassionate potential through its warrior-like or conquering spirit. In other words: We may say that we are, as MacLean,2 proposed three-brained beings endowed of a reptilian on instinctive old brain, an affective mid-brain that we have inherited from the other mammals, and an intellectual forebrain that most exemplifies us as humans, but that, through the development of civilized life, we have come to identify excessively with our astute and clever rational mind to the detriment of our compassion and our inner freedom.

In light of such a model, then, we can say that psychedelics undermine the forebrain dominance that sustains the (moral) indictment of our natural or animal impulses and also our (immoral or predatory) preference for technology over compassion. It is as if psychedelics could anesthetize our “ego,” or controlling-repressive sub-self, and allow the expression of our natural empathy and our archetypal inner-animal; which is, of course, what empathogens and oneirofrenics do so specifically.

When we turn to the “classic hallucinogens”—mescaline, LSD-25, and psilocybin—it is not so much the liberation of the pleasure principle or our empathic potential that strikes us most, but the experience of transcendence or, to say it in modern terms, the “transpersonal realm”;  something that goes beyond our intellectual, affective, and instinctual sub-selves, and which spiritual traditions have variously called a deeper self, a deeper mind, a deeper reality, or truth, being, not-being, spirit, emptiness, Tao or God. This ineffable or empty realm of holiness or supreme value has always been regarded as something obscured by our imperfections, and is something that may be revealed to one who transcends the root of sickness that is the patriarchal mind.

What is the relation between the triune wholeness of our mind and transcendence—which may be more appropriately described as “mind-blowing” or “annihilation”? I would gladly consider this question next, but I am afraid that by now, I have come to the limit of the space offered me by the editors of Chacruna.

  1. Psychedelics in Light of Morality and Under the Shadow of Virtue. 
  2. MacLean, Paul (1990). The Triune Brain Evolution. New York: Plenum Press. 
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The Revolution We Expected book cover

Claudio Naranjo’s Last Written Work: The Revolution We Expected: Cultivating a New Politics of Consciousness

Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.

 

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