Mysticism in the lab

The Hopkins team zeroes in on the Goldilocks dose of psilocybin.

[Inadvertently posted as “admin”; I’m leaving it this way because there’s already a comment thread. MK]

Roland Griffiths and his colleagues at Hopkins have been studying what happens when you take a screened group of people with spiritual interests who have never taken any of the hallucinogenic (aka psychedelic, aka entheogenic) drugs and give them a few hours of preparation followed by a supervised experience with psilocybin, the active agent in “magic” mushrooms.

Earlier papers by the team showed that:

•About two-thirds of the volunteers had experiences that met pre-established criteria for major mystical events;
• About the same fraction later recalled the experience as “one of the five most spiritually meaningful” of a lifetime (with more than a third reporting “the most meaningful”);
• No one suffered any lasting damage, though some had a rough ride during the session; and
• Most of the participants thought the process had lasting benefits for their mood and behavior, and those opinions were supported by family members and friends.

A new study out today (again, in the journal Psychophamacology) tries to zero in on a dose large enough to give a good chance at a major experience but small enough to limit the risk of major stress. They seem to have succeeded; at the second-highest dose, two-thirds of the subjects had a profound experience and only one out of eighteen had intense side-effects. Again, the benefits of the process seem to be lasting.

The latest results have attracted a decent amount of attention: long, serious stories by Zachary Roth at Yahoo (whose story has drawn 34,000 Facebook links) and Maia Szalavitz at Time and shorter but quite high-quality pieces by Rachel Rettner at MS-NBC and Cassi Feldman at CBS.

What is strikingly about all four mainstream-media accounts is that they focus on health benefits. That reflects, I think, the mindset – also reflected in the drug laws – that drug-taking is either medical or “drug abuse,” with no third possibility. (Kevin Drum isn’t wearing the same blinders; his analysis is well worth reading, especially because he actually digs down into the data. Andrew Sullivan reports on his own experience, from a mystical rather than a medical viewpoint.)

There are really two different questions here: whether psilocybin and related materials can be used with reasonable risk and a good chance of success to produce psychological states that resemble classical mystical experiences, and whether they can be made safe and effective to treat diseases or relieve symptoms. The answers to those questions need not be the same.

The current study has nothing directly to say about therapeutic uses. It was designed to shed light on whether psilocybin can produce potentially life-changing experiences, and whether it can do so without undue risk. The answers seem to be yes and yes: again, for screened, prepared, and supervised volunteers.

Among the results of having a subjective glimpse of the Nameless might indeed be improved mental or physical health, reduced fear of dying among those with terminal illness, and positive behavior change such as giving up smoking. (The Hopkins team has a smoking study underway.) All of that would be good news, if true.

But, as C.S. Lewis remarks of claims that religion makes better citizens, there’s something very odd about asking whether the Staircase to Heaven can be used as a short-cut to the drugstore grocery store. What’s potentially at stake here is the availability to large numbers of people to experiences and insights historically limited to a tiny minority, and often deliberately protected by walls of esoteric practice.

Imagine that it were true, and known to be true, that many or even most adults could go through the sort of process the Hopkins volunteers went through and get where most of the Hopkins volunteers got. We’re not there yet, but imagine that additional research were to nail that down.

Now imagine going to a person with some spiritual interest – not a saint, but l’homme moyen spituel – and telling him, “For about the time and effort you would invest in a week in Cancun, you’d have a good chance of seeing something like the Beatific Vision. And when you were finished, you might well not be afraid to die.”

How many people would take you up on that offer? Would the laws allow it? Should they allow it?
What would be the impact, if the reported positive behavior changes also turned out to be real? We might witness, within a few years, the fulfillment of Moses’s prayer: “Would that all my people were prophets!” People unafraid to die might act differently than the currently accepted norm.

Just how much enlightenment can our current social order absorb? We may be on the road to find out.

[Updated to remove an ambiguity; when Lewis said “drugstore” (he actually said “chemist’s shop”) he was talking about the tendency to overvalue the immediately practical impacts of spiritual experience over the experience itself; as he wasn’t talking about entheogens at all, the word “drug” adds a confusion not present in the original passage.]

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36 thoughts on “Mysticism in the lab”

  1. Should the law allow it? Sure, the law should allow all manner of stupidity. In this case I suppose there’s no harm, as anybody who would take a drug induced hallucination as having something to say about the world at large, rather than just their internal fantasy life, is probably lost to reason anyway.

    “People unafraid to die might act differently than the currently accepted norm.”

    Doubtless, but do we really need a vast expansion in suicide bombers?

  2. Brett: Don’t you think that people’s internal lives – in both their unique and their shared aspects – might just have something to say about the ways they interact with the world at large? And ain’t they parts of the world, themselves?

    Also I question whether the production of suicide bombers is limited by the supply of the courage with which to face death, so much as by the supply of the dismay that dares not face life.

    These things said, I’m not really that optimistic about the prospects for chemical ‘enlightenment’ over the cognitive kind. Knowing first-hand how far an ostensibly cognitive or spiritual event resembled the experience of getting well monstered on mushrooms, however, could be an extremely useful skill, when it comes to telling objective from subjective events – a real-world power by no means to be despised, and not necessarily widespread enough already.

  3. I’m not really that optimistic about the prospects for chemical ‘enlightenment’ over the cognitive kind

    Per physicalism, there’s no essential difference.

  4. Daksya – I disagree absolutely: the informational structure of ‘administering a chemical’ (or broadcasting a Super Psychic Ray, or any hypothetical event of similar nature) differs radically from the structure of most perception or cognition. For one thing, the resolution is almost bound to be vastly lower.

    Its physical aspect doesn’t essentially differ from endogenous events of equally low resolution, like hormone release into the bloodstream, so I’ll gladly concede that if ‘enlightenment’ is considered purely as a context-free emotional state with no inherent correlation to percepts or symbolic thought, then it can be packaged in pill form.

    But that doesn’t sound like a much more interesting definition of ‘enlightenment’ than mere drunkenness per se. And whilst drunkenness can certainly be involved in attaining ecstatic states that might be considered ‘enlightened’, I never heard of a mystic so simple as to claim that it qualified as enlightenment all by itself!

    Or if I did, I must have been pretty drunk at the time.

  5. Breaking tethers will for the most part lead the once tethered to the mystical experience these volunteers seem to have had. The uncertainty of entering a drug experience is indeed part of the release-of-self process. While the effects of the drug are in full force, any number of transformational experiences will avail themselves upon the subject, but in the end, the subject will come down, and it is during this time of vulnerability that the subject can find himself isolated from familiar, inculcated norms, potentially leading to long-term behavioral and attitudinal change in the subject.

    I would submit the change may not always be positive!

  6. Having experienced what one might call “complete ego death” after taking LSD, I’d have to agree that the experience forever changed me. Not in ways entirely good, but definitely a different perspective on reality that led to intense existential inquiry.

  7. Gray Woodland – sorry, I don’t know what ‘informational structure’ and ‘resolution’ mean in terms of cognitive processes. All I was simply saying is that as per physicalism, consciousness is engendered by a physical process. So your enlightenment by cognitive means is simultaneously (or superveniently) a biochemical process, and enlightenment induced by a drug is a psychological phenomenon. Metaphysically, no difference. Just as not all attempts at “endogenous” enlightenment may be successful, a drug administration is not the initiation of auto-enlightenment, merely the setup of the internal environment.

  8. there’s something very odd about asking whether the Staircase to Heaven can be used as a short-cut to the drugstore

    Huh?

    I think you mean using the drugstore as a shortcut to the Stairway to Heaven.

  9. “Brett: Don’t you think that people’s internal lives – in both their unique and their shared aspects – might just have something to say about the ways they interact with the world at large? And ain’t they parts of the world, themselves?”

    Sure, I’m just not clear how deliberately subjecting yourself to hallucinations contributes to improving this. I think there’s a great deal of potential for pharmaceuticals to improve cognition, but this doesn’t strike me as an improvement.

  10. Robert Crumb did a cartoon where a suburban couple participates in “Bring an Indian Home Week” by inviting an old shaman to dinner. The old man gives them some mushrooms and they all sit in the room all night while full color is displayed (for the only time I’m aware of in “Zap Comix”).
    As the sun rises they stand naked on their porch waving goodbye to their new friend and the husband tells his wife, “You know I don’t think I’ll go to work today.”

    Enlightenment is not what the powers that be want the general population to expierience. They might be OK with people tripping if they think it’s just for a party high but if they think it might prompt people to ask serious questions… So shhh, mind expanssion is just a silly hippy myth.

    Now where ARE all those flashbacks they promised us?

  11. So Brett:

    Under the influence of psilocybin, the participants had an intense experience of the understanding that all people are equally loved by God.

    How is this going to make suicide bombers?

    They are notorious for thinking that some people are loved and some hated by God. Maybe giving them mushrooms would decrease, not increase, their risk of going out to kill others.

    And is this understanding hallucinatory? Are people equally loved by God? If it is an hallucination, what are the facts of the case?

  12. Brett: People make a big deal about hallucinations (as in seeing things that aren’t there) but the effect is more subtle. Hallucinogens induce a state of mind that causes a total immerssion in free association. You can’t help but see the interconectedness of everything. It puts you face to face with that “oneness” that Budists talk about. It is humbling and exhilerating (and exhausting).
    Whatever people get out of it everybody seems to agree that you can never look at the world the same way again. Just don’t do it too much or you might not come back.

  13. @Dennis: No pun on “drug” intended; edited to disambiguate. See update.

    @Brett: You’re at liberty to dismiss the entire mystical tradition as “hallucinations,” but there’s no basis for separating out the subset of visions that originate from psilocybin and other similar materials. The evidence seems to be that the experiences themselves are largely invariant to whether they’re brought about chemically, by other mind-manipulations such as fasting, chanting, waking, and dancing, or arrive entirely spontaneously. (See daksya on this point.)

    Note that the word “hallucinogen” is confusing, because in ordinary language we do not distinguish “hallucination” (literally, a “wandering” of the mind) from delusion. Hallucinatory experiences need not be, and mostly in fact are not, delusional. (Unlike, for example, global-warming denialism.)

    Brett’s comment raises a larger issue embedded in this site’s motto. Something he hasn’t experienced and doesn’t know anything about “doesn’t strike him as an improvement.” In one sense, of course, he’s entitled to that opinion. But we shouldn’t lose site of the difference between an expert, entitled to express an opinion and to have others take it seriously because he actually knows something, and the rest of us. When I express an opinion about, e.g., Pakistani politics, I do so subject to the correction of those who know more than I do. Sometimes – not nearly often enough – I make that point explicitly when I’m just sounding off.

  14. @Mark: Brett’s attitude is in keeping with being an ideologue. There is nothing to learn that differs from what he already knows, whether its his version of ‘libertarianism’ or his certainty that he has nothing to learn from such experiences despite the reports by and in many cases eminence of those who admitted it was useful- like Steve Jobs and LSD. One might as well talk to a “creation scientist” about the fossil record.

    In my experience trying to communicate with such people is a waste of time till they are willing to admit they don’t know so much that no different point of view has anything to teach them.

  15. If psilocybin could provide a chemical substitute for religion, humanity’s worst and most prevalent communicable mental illness, it would be wonderful. For that reason alone, I have absolutely no doubt that the drug warriors will never let it become even remotely legal.

  16. I’ve taken shrooms, and it was a pretty awful experience for me, even with being told what it was going to be like and having a friend with me. There were no “revelations” of any depth, just occasional pictures and often unrelated things would appear more “in sync.” But it was mostly just drawn out, boring, and made me feel incredibly stupid, and I’ve had better, more revelatory experiences eating a decent burrito. If it’s life-changing for someone else, fine, but whenever I hear someone talk about how great drugs are, I just assume they live an incredibly boring life.

    When people recommend drugs as a large-scale solution to unhappiness, you know that society has completely gone off the cliff. (What I mean is that the world has become so boring and mundane, that the only way people can think to solve it is to live in literal fantasy-lands, rather than, you know, actually doing something that might solve the problem on more than a superficial level.)

  17. I will say I have had one life-changing experience on drugs: when I didn’t know that I was ingesting them (my roommate had put strong edibles in a batch of cookies, left the apartment, and didn’t tell me), and I wound up an hour later in an ambulance with $6000 in medical bills after thinking I was having a heart attack.

  18. Shorter Sean: If it’s possible to use something foolishly and without benefit, anyone who claims to use that same thing wisely and usefully must be wrong.

    No one thinks that randomly chewing ‘shrooms is going to produce enlightenment. The question is whether there’s a safe, sane process that yields a high rate of benefit with a low rate of unpleasantness.

  19. The Hopkins group has safety guidelines for conducting research on these drugs. Selection of volunteers (psychiatric history, current medications, blood pressure, pregnancy, etc), study personnel (having at least two people to monitor the session, good personal skills), physical environment (clean but not too clinical, avoid glass lamps and furniture with sharp corners), preparation of participants (at least 8 contact hours between participants and study personnel over a one-month period prior to the actual session), having certain medications on hand for acutely emerging untoward events (such as spikes in blood pressure), providing assistance with going to the bathroom, and having a least one post-session meeting for discussing the experiences—all of these are part of what makes for responsible research in this area.

    Sean’s experiences show why this is necessary. There is an ugly history of the CIA and LSD back in the early days of the Cold War which shows the dangers of doing research wrong.

  20. “Brett’s comment raises a larger issue embedded in this site’s motto. Something he hasn’t experienced and doesn’t know anything about “doesn’t strike him as an improvement.””

    On what basis do you presume to know that I’ve never experienced anything of the sort? In fact, I have, though the drug in question was laughing gas. It was very powerful, but not as powerful as reason… Aided by the fact that nobody is stupid enough to take seriously the revelation that their dentist is really Porky the Pig.

    A site that, hilariously, refers to itself as “the reality based community”, is lecturing me on the need to take seriously the concepts generated by a chemically addled brain? What we need in this world is more rationality, more grounding in, yes, reality, not less.

  21. To Mark: Your original post seems to imply that you’re talking about using drugs for “enlightenment” purposes, unless I’m significantly misunderstanding your tone. I don’t question that “there’s a safe, sane process that yields a high rate of benefit with a low rate of unpleasantness,” as long as the “benefit” is pleasure. I just don’t think that the pleasure of taking drugs has any connection with “enlightenment,” at least as far as I understand “enlightenment.” I think the pleasure of drugs is rather empty, and I’ve taken my fair share.

  22. How many people would take you up on that offer?

    Nearly everyone.
    I always thought the next big boom is the domestic robot.
    This would help grow the economy in a non-destructive way in the interim…

  23. Note for NCG:

    They are recruiting healthy volunteers at this time. http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00802282?term=psilocybin&rank=5 has some information on eligibility criteria and whom to contact. It appears that the researchers have already completed some of the trial and have started to publish their results.

    This seems to be the only psilocybin trial currently registered for healthy volunteers. There have been other studies for patients with serious diseases and the psychological difficulties that often accompany them.

    One psilocybin trial (for anxiety in Stage IV melanoma) was suspended because the principal investigator could not get permission from his department to submit a protocol to the local IRB. There are other trials for which only cancer patients are eligible.

    Note for Brett: This is not trying out laughing gas in the dentist’s office. This is serious stuff for serious purposes. People who are facing major life issues with major illnesses deserve to have access to whatever may help them deal with those issues. I do not know why departments are hesitating to submit protocols to their IRBs but it is a damn shame that more and larger studies are not being done.

  24. @Brett
    Oh, so laughing gas is the same as psilocybin or some other psychedelic?

    Better let the dentists know.

    Your post is as much proof as anyone could ask for that you fit the impression I have gained from your comments – you already know it all, there is nothing worth while to learn from people with different views, and any distinction you do not already emphasize is irrelevant by definition.

    This, alas, is the level of analysis that prevails on much of the right: apples are grapefruit, and based on that I can write knowingly about oranges.

  25. “People who are facing major life issues with major illnesses deserve to have access to whatever may help them deal with those issues. “

    I have no particular objection to people getting stoned out of their gourds, I’m not the resident drug warrior here. It’s even a rational thing to do under some circumstances, and if my lymphoma comes back, it would be an attractive response to my impending demise.

    I just object to any suggestion that the results of getting stoned out of your gourd enlighten you as to the outside world. Genuine enlightenment comes from rational thought processes and empirical investigation, not psychedelic experiences. All the mushrooms in the world contain less genuine enlightenment than your average high school science class, for all that few people derive the benefit they should from the latter.

  26. Brett:

    There may be more to this question than your implied frame of reference encompasses.

    I do not think that “getting stoned out of your gourd” adequately captures the entire range of phenomena which occur in non-ordinary states of consciousness. This usage collapses into one category a variety of distinct kinds of mind states. Recreational use generally aims at getting the user to “feel high” for a while, but elation is not the same thing as a reorientation of one’s thinking about life and death and permanence and impermanence. The finding of Griffiths et al in 2008 was that the personal meaning and spiritual significance of the psilocybin experiences were still present 14 month later, and had induced lasting changes in behavior as well as attitude. The half-live of psilocybin and its metabolites (unlike the case with a drug “high”) are shorter by orders of magnitude than the lasting effects of the experiences which the drug facilitates. Therefore, “getting stoned” is an inadequate explanatory principle for what the Hopkins researchers are studying. Getting stoned is brain chemistry; the transformation of pain and grief is something else.

    Splitting hairs and creating spurious distinctions where no distinctions are justified are forms of sophistry, and should be shunned. But collapsing different phenomena into a single category is also an error to be avoided.

    The Hopkins researchers do not make any claims that psilocybin enlightens anyone about the outside world, where empiricism and reason are our best guides. You are correct to note that a high school science class presents information which mushrooms cannot ascertain. While true, this objection does not dispose of the issue at hand.

    The Griffiths paper is about the participants’ “attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance.” Meaning and significance are not properties of the outside world, but properties we attach to those properties. This places them at a different logical level than the laws of physics and chemistry. Meaning is not arrived at empirically but reflectively. The stars in the sky are empirically observed, and are there whether we like them or not, but the constellations are there because of how we connect them in our minds. It is at the latter level that the psychedelic experience tries to operate.

    The mystical experiences reported by the participants do not give them additional knowledge of reality, but transform the meanings they attach to reality. Their life narratives mean something different than they did before their mystical encounters with previously unmet parts of their inner worlds. The facts are still the facts, but their significance is transformed. Different meanings lead to different attitudes and different behaviors. Getting stoned does none of these things. It only leads to repetitions of the same behaviors again and again.

    Meaning can be transformed without the tools of pharmacology, but deep transformation generally requires some relaxation of our habitual mental constraints and the potentiation of our unconscious minds. In some way, we need to dissolve our conscious assumptions about what everything means, and allow our unconscious minds to suggest new connections between the dots. No new empirical data are discovered, but something valuable happens that does not happen in high school chemistry class.

    That “something” is what the fuss is about.

  27. In other words, read your William James.

    “Our normal waking consciousness, rational as we call it, is but one special type, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question – for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”

  28. On the usefulness and informativeness of hallucinatory states:

    We already know of one hallucinatory state which seems to be required for our kind of rational mind to function well – the dreaming phase of sleep. This is not an argument for dreaming one’s life away, nor for confusing things true in the dream with things true in the external world. Yet I can learn things from meeting St Lucy or Margaret Thatcher or my own late relatives in my dreams, quite independently of any belief that Lucy or Mrs T or my ghosts are really ‘out there’ in some given sense, or of any further hypothesis that their instance in my dream was somehow an instance of communication with the original. The examples are genuine, and each in some way has provided me with a modicum of something I might reasonably term ‘enlightenment’. No doubt a dream of Porky Pig could in principle do the same – though in practice, this might be almost as unlikely as finding Porky Pig and Dante equally transformative reading.

    Which brings us neatly through to the other extreme of the spectrum from magic mushrooms: that oft-useful and enlightening form of consensual hallucination called Art. The point of that isn’t to be mistaken for objective reality, either. Quite the reverse, to my way of thinking. The point at which art’s mistaken for objective reality looks to me very like the point where it ceases to have anything worth saying about it.

  29. I go with a definition of enlightenment which is “Freedom from Suffering”. So complete enlightenemnt is freedom from all suffering (not to be confused with physical pain.) Being unafraid to die does not meet the criteria of that definition, though it is nice to be free from that particular suffering/fear of dieing, we have to ask is it going to release people from all the other suffering and fears and phobias ignorant ways of looking at things?

    Is taking a little psilocybin going to do that? I don’t think so. It might cause a ‘little satori’ but it is certainly not a full enlightenment that ends craving, grasping, fear and aversion by cutting it off at the root. It is certainly not going to end a dualistic view of reality which creates that suffering. No doubt it will give an ‘experience’ (chemical induced) that ‘could’ create some changes for a time in some. Kind of open up the mind to view things differently for a time but then what? Chances are it isn’t a real solution and as such at best it might be a signpost along the way for some but is likely another dead end/diversion for others.

    I think generally taking chemicals and confusing them with enlightenment is a con game, one people pull on themselves. One still has to find the solution within. We live in a drive through, fast food, instantaneous culture and people think they can find enlightenment in the same way. Well the wisdom of the ages would indicate otherwise.

    As someone who used LSD and psilocybin in the 70’s I have to say it was a dead end. It did open my perception and change the way I viewed reality But that was not and is not enlightenment. Those who did the experiment I have no doubt will find the same thing. Remember for all the Ram Daas and Timothy Leary and Stan Grof supporters who had good trips there were many who had adverse experiences. It is a short cut to a place along the path and short cuts can come with there own problems.

    Interesting article.

  30. I think these substances failed to lead to permanent transformations because while they could demonstrate possibilities and offer a brief experience, they did not cause the changes in personal day to day habits of thought and perception that only come about (for most of us anyway) through diligent work. What they did do was provide a brief insight into a much larger context within which we all operated. And even brief insights can have lasting effects. As such, I think it safe to say that many, perhaps nearly all, Americans and European who got interested in Buddhist meditation and similar practices did so after first experiencing entheogens. They provided a foundation for the further growth in these practices that has occurred since.

    But even for many who did not become practicing meditators Buddhist or otherwise – such as myself – these experiences placed our daily priorities within a larger context, sometimes opened us to depths of emotional insight we had not believed possible, and did the same with experiences of beauty One interesting lasting result of these experiences for me was realizing that what we call normal daily consciousness is itself quite varied if we only paid attention.

    Because they did this, combined with the antics of such as Leary and the learning curve arising from encountering powerful substances with no cultural knowledge of how to handle them, these substances provoked a ignorant and fearful backlash. (Anyone remember how in some state legislatures during the 60s proposals to outlaw bananas were introduced after the rumor started that smoking banana peels would get you high? I do. Or that laws since passed outlaw substances that did not then exist if they had entheogenic effects? Passing laws against an experience that hurt no one rather than against actual demonstrated harm?)

    It is wonderful that finally intelligent and honest research is being done, research apparently verifying some of the work of people such as Stanislav Grof.

  31. I would be interested to see a study into the question of whether previous psychological tendencies, like depression or discomfort with new situations, would mean one were more likely or not to have a “bad trip.” (I’ve never had any kind of trip from drugs. I’ve just heard tell of them.) I guess it would be nice if there were no connection, since maybe those people need the enlightenment more.

    So, apparently you have to live in Maryland. Oh well. But thanks for the link!

  32. Some government agencies discriminate in employment against applicants with a history of use of illegal recreational drugs. This is the strongest argument I can see against use of illegal recreational drugs. Either you lie or you don’t get the job.
    The most interesting lesson I learned from LSD is that emotions are a chemical trip. I knew this in abstract, but observing drug-induced changes in emotional state really drove this home. Love, grief, fear, anger, satiety: these are drugs (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
    I recommend P. J. O’Rourke’s essay “Turn On, Tune In, Go to Work Late on Monday”, in __Republican Party Reptile__, and Solomon and Corbet, “An Opponent Process Theory of Motivation”, __American Economic Review__ (Dec. 1976).
    Overcoming any addiction (e.g., cigarettes, alcohol, heroin) teaches an important lesson that applies to other addction (any habit, really).

  33. “The most interesting lesson I learned from LSD is that emotions are a chemical trip.”

    Got that much out of a bout of depression that was ended chemically. (As though I hadn’t known it on an intellectual level already, thanks to an interest in neurobiology.) It might not be as much fun as tripping out, but it sure is informative having your brains unscrambled by a pill. (SAMe in my case.)

    I suppose I should walk back my remarks a little: You can gain a certain amount of enlightenment concerning your own inner workings through drugs, as long as you approach them in the right spirit. Where the wrong spirit would be thinking they’re telling you about something outside your head…

  34. Where the wrong spirit would be thinking they’re telling you about something outside your head…

    It so happens that the totality of one’s experience of things outside one’s head is mediated by things inside one’s head.

  35. Mark, has any study tried a similar experiment with cannabis? Prepared the participants for the experience, provided a safe setting, found an optimal THC/CBD ratio and dosage for each patient, etc… Although I’m sure psilocybin provides a more lasting effect, some cannabis users sure to do seem to put it on a pedestal.

    You know where I’m going with this. Does pointing out properties like physical dependence or similarities in intoxication traits to drunkenness allow us to hand wave away the notion that prepared experiences on other mind-altering drugs could have a positive impact on some users (even if not as long-lasting as the hallucinogens)?

    I.e. why should we careful hollow out exceptions in the drug laws to allow the use of one, while treating cannabis users as just seeking a cheap thrill? Maybe the law exceptions need to be tied more to the preparation and setting than the drug.

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