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Alien Information Theory (Book Review)

This post originally appeared on Blossom Analysis.

Alien Information Theory by Andrew Gallimore aims to explain how DMT will allow us to see a higher dimension of reality than we currently can do. The book starts by explaining the neuroscience of psychedelics in a very informative, imaginary, and grounded way. Then from chapter 9 onward the reader is launched into hyperspace and Gallimore tries to convey how we are part of a larger HyperGrid (of information) that DMT is able to connect us to.

A book that is very suitable (from my perspective) in explaining how psychedelics work (just as his excellent course on YouTube↗). But also a book that presents a theory that doesn’t seem fully formed yet (the latter chapters). With future experiments (extended DMT trips), more clarity could possibly be provided about the DMT-state and the ‘information’ that one is able to bring back from it.

If you want to learn more about the start of the recent DMT research, you can check out DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman.

Publisher Summary

“Since prehistory, humans have used a range of psychedelic drugs for communion with the gods, connection with nature, or for the pure pleasure and wonder they generate as they transform the mind and the world. But one natural psychedelic in particular towers above the rest in its astonishing power to replace the normal waking world with a bizarre alternate reality replete with a diverse panoply of intelligent alien beings. As well as being the most powerful, N, N-dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT, is also the most common naturally-occurring psychedelic and can be found in countless plant species scattered across the Earth. DMT carries a profound message embedded in our reality, a message that we are now beginning to decode. In Alien Information Theory, neurobiologist, chemist, and pharmacologist, Dr. Andrew R. Gallimore, explains how DMT provides the secret to the very structure of our reality, and how our Universe can be likened to a cosmic game that we now find ourselves playing. Gallimore explains how our reality was constructed using a fundamental code which generated our Universe — and countless others — as a digital device built from pure information with the purpose of enabling conscious intelligences, such as ourselves, to emerge. You will learn how fundamental digital information self-organises and complexifies to generate the myriad complex forms and organisms that fill our world; how your brain constructs your subjective world and how psychedelic drugs alter the structure of this world; how DMT switches the reality channel by allowing the brain to access information from normally hidden orthogonal dimensions of reality. And, finally, you will learn how DMT provides the secret to exiting our Universe permanently — to complete the cosmic game and to become interdimensional citizens of hyperspace. Alien Information Theory is a unique account of this hidden structure of reality and our place within it, drawing on a diverse range of disciplines — including neuroscience, computer science, physics, and pharmacology — to carefully explain these complex ideas, which are illustrated with full-colour diagrams throughout.”

Summary Review

Chapter 1 – The Code

Our reality emerges from a code programmed by an alien hyperintelligence beyond the confines of our 3-dimensional Universe. For want of a better term, we will refer to this intelligence – the author of the Code – as the Other.

This first chapter sets up the hypothesis that we (normally) only have access to a very small slice of what is really out there. That we are stick-figures living on a 2d piece of paper, and that a 3d world is actually out there. It is through DMT that we may be able to view this world and achieve “interdimensional citizenship and the resolution of the Game.”

From my personal reading and understanding of (among others) Daniel Dennett (e.g. Darwins Dangerous Idea↗) and David Deutsch (The Beginning of Infinity & The Fabric of Reality↗), I can concur on the idea that there is a certain ‘hyperspace’. There are infinite amounts of (always splitting) universes and with quantum computing we are starting to get the first grasp of how this works. But I also think that all our information and meaning-making is a bottom-up process. One in which more and more complexity is added and meaning emerges as things are combined.

This is further discussed in the book when Gallimore talks more about Conway’s Game of Life↗. I think I have the same understanding as him on that point. But not on the point that there are the ‘Others’, the ones who have developed the ‘Game’ that we’re involved in. In my understanding, there really is nothing more to it than quarks, atoms, molecules, humans, etc. No top-down plan, no ‘Game’, no ‘Resolution’, only bottom-up (cranes) processes.

So with that information/my perspective, the rest of the summary review.

Chapter 2 – The Universe as Digital Information

Gallimore defines information as “… the opposite of uncertainty: when you gain information about something, your knowledge of that thing increases and your uncertainty about it decreases.” He also explains it as selecting between different states, when you know it’s one – you have gained X pieces of information, X being the number of states you choose between. The number of yes/no (1/0) choices that you decide between can be seen as the number of bits of information you generate. For instance, electing one square on a chessboard equals six bits of information.

The rest of the chapter dives deeper into how even the smallest things in our universe are in essence just bits of information (it’s turtles information all the way down). “At its deepest level, deeper than the atom and more fundamental than the quark, the Universe is running a low-level computation.”

Chapter 3 – The Hierarchy of Complexity / The Complexification of Information

The universe can be seen as a computer (something that computes) that updates with every ‘tick’. This chapter illustrates this with Conway’s Game of Life and explains further how information has a certain hierarchy, that from very simple rules, you can get complex behavior.

This Numberphile video playlist is a good starting point if you want to learn more about Conway’s Game of Life (from John Conway himself).

The hierarchy put forth in this chapter is as follows:

  1. The Code: the fundamental code that generates the Grid
  2. The Grid: the fundamental structure of space consisting of Cells in specific states
  3. Fundamental particles: electrons, quarks, neutrinos, etc. Low order information complexes self-organised from the Cells of the Grid
  4. Subatomic particles: neutrons, protons. Higher order information complexes self-organised from fundamental particles
  5. Atoms: carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. Higher order information complexes self-organised from subatomic and fundamental particles
  6. Molecules: proteins, water, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, etc. Very high order information complexes self-organised from atoms
  7. Cells: smallest components of life. Higher order information complexes self-organised from molecules
  8. Multicellular organisms: higher order information complexes self-organised from cells

One could, of course, imagine even more levels that go beyond the 8th one here (e.g. social structures/network, countries, companies).

Chapter 4 – Living Information in a Digital World

This chapter touches upon how simple components together can have complex systems emerge from their interactions. This always happens at the ‘edge of chaos’, a place where it’s fluid enough that not everything is stagnant (not changing) or that all the activity is just random noise (no information). The four basic characteristics are:

  1. Many simple components (agents)
  2. Local, rule-based, interactions between agents
  3. No central control. Agents interact locally.
  4. Self-organisation and emergent behaviours

A definition of ‘life’ is quoted from Humberto Maturana and Francisco Valera, which states that “living organisms are distinct from non-living machines in that they are autopoietic, meaning ‘self-creating’.”

Chapter 5 – Waking Up in a World

As humans, with our awesome brains, continuously perceive the world around us. But we don’t do this as passive receptors, we also actively build (generate) a world in our own head. And we test our incoming information against this model. If you’re awake, dreaming, or under the influence of psychedelics, “your personal reality is always built from information generated by your brain.”

For a further discussion on how we perceive, or predict, the reality around us (and how psychedelics help us study this), I would recommend Carhart-Harris & Friston (2019) – which proposes the REBUS model, or Swanson (2018) which discusses the various psychedelic theories and their connections.

Chapter 6 – How to Build a World – Part 1

This chapter explains, in more detail, how information is generated in the brain (cortical columns, thalamocortical loop) and that sensory (external) information only slightly modifies this process.

Chapter 7 – How to Build a World – Part 2

The building of our world (model) is shaped both during your life and over the course of evolution. Some birds see more colors than we do as they co-evolved with flowers that provide nectar (and the birds provide pollination). And you can learn to better distinguish different flavors of food if you train this skill over time.

So what happens if you change the ‘weight’ of how you are building your world model. That is what the latter chapter are all about. They propose that under the influence of DMT you ‘tune in’ to a different (but still very much real) reality than during normal waking life.

Chapter 8 – Psychedelic Molecules and the Brain

In contrast to serotonin (a neuromodulator), psychedelics bind specifically/preferentially to (mostly) the 5HT2a receptor and make it more likely for cortical pyramidal neurons to fire. The frequency that becomes more active (especially under the influence of DMT) is called Gamma oscillations.

Two recent studied quantified this with EEG (Timmermann et al., 2019 and Alamia et al., 2020).

Normally, the intrinsic activity of the thalamocortical system provides the context of incoming sensory information, which is matched to this ongoing activity, selecting and amplifying states from the T-state repertoire. However, in the presence of a psychedelic drug, the inflated state repertoire means that sensory information may select completely novel T-states.”

If applied to someone’s memories (PTSD), thought patterns (depression), or capacity to generate ideas (creativity), this (to my best understanding) also explains how psychedelics can lead to positive outcomes, by making more (and more novel) ways of thinking possible.

Chapter 9 – An Introduction to Hyperspace

This chapter gives a very brief description of the DMT-world (a different (higher-level) reality). My personal gripe with some of the explanations here is that the entities (elfs, machines, etc) are described as ‘intelligent’ but without further clarifying in what way that is true. Other descriptive words used are: highly artificial, constructed, inorganic, technological. All words that could convey a certain meaning, but without further clarification don’t seem to provide much context or ‘proof’ (if possible) of why that should be the case.

The entities also seem very human-like. Be it elves, insects, or other entities. As described here (but also in other places) they seem closer to us than for instance the aliens in the movie Arrival (2016)↗. A question that I always have in the back of my mind is: In how far is it not just our brain connecting disparaging parts and ‘making a story’ just like it was doing before but now with more chaos and/or at another ‘frequency’ that is different than ‘normal waking consciousness’ in relatively predictable ways.

Chapter 10 – Information Flow Through the Grid

Under the influence of DMT, Gallimore proposes, we are able to tune into the alternate DMT reality. The latter part of the chapter explains how information flows up and downwards, and that with DMT this downward (from orthogonal dimension) information flow is attuned to.

How psychedelics work is explained in this very good and concise paragraph:

Psychedelics change your world by changing the activity of the cortical system and so change the information that constitutes your world. Your model of the external world is altered. Modern neuropharmacological techniques have revealed the binding of classical psychedelics, including DMT, to the 5HT2a receptor as being primarily responsible for these effects. Activation of this receptor causes pyramidal cells to depolarise, promotes gamma oscillations, and changes the patterns of information generated by cortical activity. These changes in information manifest as a change in the world you experience, which is the psychedelic state.”

Chapter 11 – Information Flow Through the HyperGrid

The reason why one could be able to pick up hyperdimensional information is (proposed to be) the patterns of activation in the Grid (our universe) that allow it to receive normally inaccessible information.

An analogy with Conway’s Game of Life and a visualisation of the 3d world as 2d (so the 4d becomes 3d) is used to further explain how this process takes place.

Chapter 12 – DMT and the Hyperdimensional Brain Complex

This chapter further explains how the brain changes to receive this information. The best analogy made here is “the differences between observing the patterns of ripples on the surface of water and actually being the water.”

Chapter 13 – The Mechanism of Interdimensional Communication

“DMT causes your brain to cease building the consensus world and start building the DMT world.”

The three phases are distinguished as:

  1. Bottom-up modulation – activation phase (5HT2a depolarising)
  2. Top-down modulation – gating phase (switching patterns, Alpha to Gamma)
  3. Transdimensional informational feedback loop – lock phase (positive feedback loops)

Chapter 14 – Structure of the Code

The Grid (level 2, chapter 3) is made from pure digital information, the Code (level 1). This chapter explains further how this is so and how higher dimensions follow from lower-order levels.

Chapter 15 – How to Build a Universe

Building a universe within which complex life will emerge is as easy as finding the right rule set. And as hard.”

Gallimore explains that we were not designed per se, but that we emerge on the edge of chaos. He does argue that there is an alien hyperintelligence (outside the Grid), but that it hasn’t purposefully made us humans.

We are playing a/the Game (see next chapter) and in a way DMT is the intelligence test to see if we know what is going on (if we can use DMT as a ‘technology’ then we’re smart enough to get out of the Game? (to be honest, I really don’t get where this is all coming from)).

Chapter 16 – The Game

The Game is explained along six different levels:

  1. Information
  2. Emergence (finding DMT)
  3. Transmission* (using DMT)
  4. Immersion
  5. Realisation (entering hyperspace, but only for a limited amount of time, minutes)
  6. Resolution (transcription) (staying in hyperspace and thus completing the Game)

* “Newborn children are ferried from a prenatal hyperspace to the lower-dimensional life they will gradually become immersed within …”

As noted in the introduction, it would be interesting to hear back when experiments with longer duration DMT trips (via IV administration) have been done and what comes out of it.

LSD: My Problem Child (Book Review)

This post originally appeared on Blossom Analysis.

LSD: My Problem Child by Albert Hofmann recounts the discovery, first trip, and dissemination of LSD from the perspective of its discoverer. The book describes the chemical history, the subsequent trouble with it leaving the lab, and Hofmann’s perspective on the effects LSD elicits.

Summary Review

Foreword

In the forward, Hofmann describes his childhood mystical experience and how it may be a solution to the spiritual crisis befalling the (Western) world.

“It is my desire in this book to give a comprehensive picture of LSD, its origin, its effects, and its dangers, in order to guard against increasing abuse of this extraordinary drug. I hope thereby to emphasize possible uses of LSD that are compatible with its characteristic action. I believe that if people would learn to use LSD’s vision-inducing capability more wisely, under suitable conditions, in medical practice and in conjunction with meditation, then in the future this problem child could become a wonder child.”

Chapter 1 – How LSD Originated

LSD was not discovered by accident, or at least not as is told in popular lore. Hofmann made the substance (LSD-25) on purpose as part of the research his lab (Sandoz) was doing. It was only by accident that he first discovered the psychedelic effects (by not carefully handling the substances).

The first chapter recounts his early work on ergots (fungi that grows on rye and similar plants). Hofmann also corrects another urban myth:

“Until recent times, epidemic-like outbreaks of ergot poisoning have been recorded in most European countries including certain areas of Russia. With progress in agriculture, and since the realization, in the seventeenth century, that ergot-containing bread was the cause, the frequency and extent of ergotism epidemics diminished considerably. The last great epidemic occurred in certain areas of southern Russia in the years 1926-27. [The mass poisoning in the southern French city of Pont-St. Esprit in the year 1951, which many writers have attributed to ergot-containing bread, actually had nothing to do with ergotism. It rather involved poisoning by an organic mercury compound that was utilized for disinfecting seed.]”

Ergots have been used as medicines since mid 1582 (first documented) but chemical analysis of the active substances took until 1907.

Hofmann’s research found it’s way to lysergic acid (“precursor for a wide range of ergoline alkaloids that are produced by the ergot fungus“). He first made LSD-25 in 1938, but based on a hunch, he resynthesized it in 1943. During this process he possibly had a bit of the substance touch his skin during crystallization. The amount of LSD needed for a subjective effect should be very small, Hofmann deduced. To investigate further her planned a self-experiment with 0.25 mg or 250 mcg/μg.

That day, 19 April 1943, he cycled home (Bicycle Day) in crisis and the report can be described as the first bad trip.

The chapter is concluded with the following observation.

“I was aware that LSD, a new active compound with such properties, would have to be of use in pharmacology, in neurology, and especially in psychiatry, and that it would attract the interest of concerned specialists. But at that time I had no inkling that the new substance would also come to be used beyond medical science, as an inebriant in the drug scene. Since my self-experiment had revealed LSD in its terrifying, demonic aspect, the last thing I could have expected was that this substance could ever find application as anything approaching a pleasure drug. I failed, moreover, to recognize the meaningful connection between LSD inebriation and spontaneous visionary experience until much later, after further experiments, which were carried out with far lower doses and under different conditions.”

Chapter 2 – LSD in Animal Experiments and Biological Research

Many experiments on animals were done to test the effects and toxicity of LSD. Hofmann notes that the effects are most pronounced in the ‘higher’ parts of the brain and significant dosages were needed to elicit effects in ‘lower’ animals. One interesting observation is that at a certain dosage the webs of spiders were better proportioned than normal, but distorted at higher dosages.

The dosage that kills half of the subjects (LD50) of LSD is 50-60 mg/kg for a mouse and 0.3mg/kg (300μg/kg) for rabbits. One elephant was given 0.3g of LSD and died a few minutes later, estimating (n=1) the lethal dosage at 60μg/kg.

Extrapolating that data to humans means that the range from effective (0.0003-0.001 mg/kg) to deadly dosage is about 300-600 fold. This low toxicity is also confirmed in a study by Haden & Woods (2020) that looked at three reports in which one person took up to 55mg (55.000μg, or 785μg/kg at 70kg) and lived to tell the tale (and even could stop a pain medication she was taking before).

LSD is absorbed completely through the gastrointestinal tract and thus injection won’t make the effects stronger. Hofmann also states that the molecules themselves are gone within a much quicker timeframe than 10-12 hours, the time the psychological/psychedelic effects persist. He states that the effects are of other mechanisms that LSD sets of. The dopamine and serotonin neurological functions are influenced by LSD.

See the research papers database on LSD for more on this topic.

Chapter 3 – Chemical Modifications of LSD

Chemical modification (looking for more valuable active properties or improved activity) was conducted on LSD. No other form was more active, most not being active at even 20 times the dosage. This was a feature that, together with the anti-inflammatory effect, led to the discovery and use of bromo-LSD (BOL-148) and Deseril/Sansert.

Chapter 4 – Use of LSD in Psychiatry

This chapter recounts the early use of LSD in psychiatry and a trip report by a self-experiment of a psychiatrist. The effects are compared to that of mescaline.

Sandoz then made LSD available under the trade name Delysid (D-Lysergsäure-diäthylamid), with the following disclaimer/description of properties:

“The administration of very small doses of Delysid (1/2-2 µg/kg body weight) results in transitory disturbances of affect, hallucinations, depersonalization, reliving of repressed memories, and mild neurovegetative symptoms. The effect sets in after 30 to 90 minutes and generally lasts 5 to 12 hours. However, intermittent disturbances of affect may occasionally persist for several days.”“Pathological mental conditions may be intensified by Delysid. Particular caution is necessary in subjects with a suicidal tendency and in those cases where a psychotic development appears imminent. The psycho-affective liability and the tendency to commit impulsive acts may occasionally last for some days. Delysid should only be administered under strict medical supervision. The supervision should not be discontinued until the effects of the drug have completely worn off.”

The (partial) loss of ego (“egocentric problem cycle“) and heightened susceptibility to the influence of the psychotherapists were two features that made LSD a potential ally during psychotherapy. This was utilized in two different ways, 1) psychotytic therapy (Europe, moderate dosage, repeated), and 2) psychedelic therapy (US, high dose, one-time).

Another way that LSD could be used was to study psychoses. Hofmann notes that LSD doesn’t elicit a true psychosis (the effects are different), but that it may still shed light on the biochemical origin of it.

Chapter 5 – From Remedy to Inebriant

“During the first years after its discovery, LSD brought me the same happiness and gratification that any pharmaceutical chemist would feel on learning that a substance he or she produced might possibly develop into a valuable medicament. For the creation of new remedies is the goal of a pharmaceutical chemist’s research activity; therein lies the meaning of his or her work.”

Alas, after that LSD became a beacon of the counter culture and it became a ‘problem child’ for Hofmann. The widespread usage (in the millions of dosages in the US alone) was not what he expected of such a strange drug. Subsequently, he (and other labs) had to work with health authorities on work that didn’t contribute to scientific discoveries. Sandoz eventually stops its distribution of LSD in 1965.

Hofmann stresses the dangers of LSD when not used in a medical context. As noted before, the drug is not toxic by itself, but psychologically it can be very harmful when taken outside the right set and setting. And LSD made and sold outside the (official) lab isn’t always LSD (accidental or on purpose).

Hofmann profiles Timothy Leary and a meeting between the two men on September 3rd, 1971. It was amicable but the two men didn’t see eye to eye on the need for widespread use (abuse?) of LSD.

“My impression of Dr. Leary in this personal meeting was that of a charming personage, convinced of his mission, who defended his opinions with humor yet uncompromisingly; a man who truly soared high in the clouds pervaded by beliefs in the wondrous effects of psychedelic drugs and the optimism resulting therefrom, and thus a man who tended to underrate or completely overlook practical difficulties, unpleasant facts, and dangers. Leary also showed carelessness regarding charges and dangers that concerned his own person, as his further path in life emphatically showed.”

The last part of the chapter is devoted to a sample of trip reports on LSD that captures but a small part of the possible experiences one can have with the substance.

Chapter 6 – The Mexican Relatives of LSD

Psychedelic (magic, teonanácatl) mushrooms have been part of South American culture for centuries. Hofmann recounts a short history and makes the link to how Psilocybe mexicana eventually found its way to his lab.

After failing to see effects in mice or dogs, Hofmann did a self-experiment with 2.4g of dried mushrooms (a moderate/high dosage). The following trip report took on a distinctly Mexican character.

“This self-experiment showed once again that human beings react much more sensitively than animals to psychoactive substances. We had already reached the same conclusion in experimenting with LSD on animals, as described in an earlier chapter of this book. It was not inactivity of the mushroom material, but rather the deficient reaction capability of the research animals vis-à-vis such a type of active principle, that explained why our extracts had appeared inactive in the mouse and dog.”

Eventually, his lab extracted two active principles, named psilocybin and psilocin (to which the former metabolizes). There are now many more active compounds identified, of which you can find more information on Psychedelic Science Review (compounds).

Another psychedelic was investigated, seeds named ololiuhqui (morning glory seeds). After describing the origin and history, Hofmann describes their final findings:

“Lysergic acid amide, lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide, and alkaloids closely related to them chemically were established as the main active principles of ololiuhqui. Also present was the alkaloid ergobasine, whose synthesis had constituted the starting point of my investigations on ergot alkaloids. Lysergic acid amide and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide, active principles of ololiuhqui, are chemically very closely related to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), which even for the non-chemist follows from the names.”

The coincidence that similar molecules were found in such different plants and fungi was something that was difficult to believe by his peers. But, me speaking here, if looked through an evolutionary lens, it may not be that unusual. Even something as complex as the eye has evolved tens of times and over the history of evolution it may be less surprising for these ‘coincidences’ to happen. For a deeper understanding on this topic I would recommend Dawkins and Dennett (amongst others) to read.

R. Gordon Wasson, whom Hofmann had been in contact since the investigations with magic mushrooms, invites him and his wife on an expedition to Mexico in the fall of 1962. On the expedition, they hope to find the plants (and molecules) behind the leaves of ‘Mary the shepherdess’ (hojas de la Pastora). It is eventually identified and named Salvia divinorum.

They eventually do and also find a curandera that is able to host a ceremony for them (as at that time it was taboo to give it to non-locals). The trip (not enjoyed by Hofmann because of an earlier upset stomach) was shorter but still similar to other psychedelics.

On the way back the party visits María Sabina, who earlier became famous after Gordon Wasson’s publication about her. There they consume the psilocybin pills they brought along and Hofmann enjoys a delayed trip with the hojas de la Pastora.

“María Sabina had said that the pills lacked the spirit of the mushrooms. I discussed the situation with Gordon, who lay beside me. For us, it was clear that absorption of the active principle from the pills, which must first dissolve in the stomach, occurs more slowly than from the mushrooms, in which some of the active principle already becomes absorbed through the mucous membranes during chewing. But how could we give a scientific explanation under such conditions? Rather than try to explain, we decided to act. We distributed more pills. Both curanderas and the curandero each received another pair. They had now each taken a total dosage of 30 mg psilocybin. After about another quarter of an hour, the spirit of the pills did begin to yield its effects, which lasted until the crack of dawn. The daughters, and Don Aurelio with his deep bass voice, fervently answered the prayers and singing of the curandera. Blissful, yearning moans of Apolonia and Aurora, between singing and prayer, gave the impression that the religious experience of the young women in the drug inebriation was combined with sensual-sexual feelings. In the middle of the ceremony, María Sabina asked for our request. Gordon inquired again after the health of his daughter and grandchild. He received the same good information as from the curandera Consuela. Mother and child were in fact well when he returned home to New York. Obviously, however, this still represents no proof of the prophetic abilities of both curanderas.”

“As we took leave of María Sabina and her clan at the crack of dawn, the curandera said that the pills had the same power as the mushrooms, that there was no difference. This was a confirmation from the most competent authority, that the synthetic psilocybin is identical with the natural product. As a parting gift I let María Sabina have a vial of psilocybin pills. She radiantly explained to our interpreter Herlinda that she could now give consultations even in the season when no mushrooms grow.”

Hofmann ends the chapter with a reflection on both the good and bad that has followed from the opening up about psychedelic compounds. On the one hand, it may/has/will help with scientific discoveries and mental health disorders. On the other hand, the tourism resulting from it hasn’t always been favorable and a part of the ancient customs may therefore get lost.

Chapter 7 – Radiance from Ernst Jünger

The last chapters of the book take a more personal tone. They describe how the substances and meetings with others on this topic have helped solve questions that Hofmann personally had.

This chapter recounts his inspiration from, and interaction with, the writer Ernst Jünger. The starting point was his book ‘Das Abenteuerliche Herz’. Subsequently, they correspond over letters and even have an LSD trip together in February 1951 and a comparison with psilocybin in 1962. On the latter, Hofmann notes: “The mushroom substance had carried all four of us off, not into luminous heights, rather into deeper regions. It seems that the psilocybin inebriation is more darkly colored in the majority of cases than the inebriation produced by LSD. The influence of these two active substances is sure to differ from one individual to another.”

Chapter 8 – Meeting With Aldous Huxley

Hofmann describes his meetings with Aldous Huxley, the author of (amongst other great books) The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. They conversed about psychedelics, their usefulness, and need to differentiate them from other ‘drugs’. The book ‘Island’ was inspired (in part) by Huxley’s meeting with Hofmann.

Mirroring the death of other psychedelic pioneers, Huxley went out tripping: “In the morning, when he was already so weak that he could no longer speak, he had written on a sheet of paper: “LSD—try it—intramuscular—100 mmg.” Mrs. Huxley understood what was meant by this, and ignoring the misgivings of the attending physician, she gave him, with her own hand, the desired injection-she let him have the moksha medicine.”

Chapter 9 – Correspondence with the Poet-Physician Walter Vogt

This chapter recounts the written correspondence with the physician, psychiatrist, and writer Walter Vogt.

Chapter 10 – Various Visitors

This second to last chapter describes various interesting meetings with people Hofmann graciously received at his house. As the discoverer of LSD, he saw it as his duty to meet with those coming to find answers, relate a story, or meet the man behind the molecule. Most of those interactions were positive, as were the visitors’ experiences with LSD.

Chapter 11 – LSD Experience and Reality

“Of greatest significance to me has been the insight that I attained as a fundamental understanding from all of my LSD experiments: what one commonly takes as “the reality,” including the reality of one’s own individual person, by no means signifies something fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous—that there is not only one, but that there are many realities, each comprising also a different consciousness of the ego.”

Hofmann states that LSD allow you to see reality from a new perspective. It allows you to change the receiver (you) as you tune into reality. And this allowed him (and millions more) to see the world not as the self (ego) being separated from the world, but as a part of the whole. Taking this other perspective, Hofmann sees how some (much?) of our industrialized wonders have also led to the destruction of nature.

This reconnection with nature is then also discussed in the light of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Rituals, probably involving psychedelics, that were held for almost two centuries.

“The cultural-historical meaning of the Eleusinian Mysteries, their influence on European intellectual history, can scarcely be overestimated. Here suffering humankind found a cure for its rational, objective, cleft intellect, in a mystical totality experience, that let it believe in immortality, in an everlasting existence.”

In the final pages, Hofmann also reflects on Christianity and meditation. Ending the book with the following: “I see the true importance of LSD in the possibility of providing material aid to meditation aimed at the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality. Such a use accords entirely with the essence and working character of LSD as a sacred drug.”

The Book

You can find a .pdf of the book on the website of MAPS.
(which clocks in at 102 pages if you get the reference)

Autism on Acid (Book Review)

This post originally appeared on Blossom Analysis.

Autism on Acid (How LSD Helped Me Understand, Navigate, Alter & Appreciate My Autistic Perceptions) is an amazingly personal book written by Aaron Paul Orsini and documents his transformational experience with a variety of LSD dosages and how they have helped him in his struggles with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The book can be best seen as a case-study and an invitation for more research to be done. That being said, it’s an incredible case study and one that under four hours (do get the audiobook Aaron narrates himself) will impact not only your mind, it will also touch your heart.

Summary & Review

Introduction

Aaron was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ADS) at the age of 23. Four years later, at the age of 27, he had his first Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) trip. This book documents his experience of living with ADS, discovering LSD, and learning to better manage his condition. Or in other words, it will explain the opening statement:

“[W]hen LSD met my ASD, I experienced incomparable relief for — and, in some sense, a near-total resolution of — my struggles with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Chapter 1 – Me Before LSD

Emotional awareness and emphatic access are two traits that people with ASD have trouble experiencing (to a varying degree, it’s a spectrum). Social interactions aren’t natural and fun, they are more often draining and confusing. Aaron recounts how he specifically experienced the world from this perspective. For him, social information and seamless interaction were out of reach.

“I am in no way joking when I say that before LSD, I felt more closely related to a robot or robotic learning algorithm than I did to a human being.”

For more background, you can find the DSM-V (psychologists/psychiatrists handbook of sorts) definition of ASD here.

Chapter 2 – Autism on Acid

The diagnosis of ASD came very late and Aaron battled with depressive symptoms for a long time before his diagnosis helped him better understand himself. But it wasn’t enough, and after the death of a close friend, Aaron retreated and bought a train ticket west.

His first trip was with a tab of LSD of around 150-250 micrograms. The trip gave him access to a world he had never experienced before. A world in which he could make connections. Instead of talking to a person, he was talking with a person. He could, for the first time, understand the nuance and detail of social interactions.

“In the initial hours of the experience, as the LSD began to take effect, I felt more and more connected… with the trees and breeze and sunlight around me. I experienced a deep moment of engagement. Yes. A moment of connection, with nature, with thoughts of my parents, my family, friends, and the whole of the human family and the broader web of life. And yes I know it sounds cliche to say but I was awash in a sense of deep, deep love for so many aspects of life.”

Aaron does a very good job of also describing the (legal) risks of taking an illegal drug, and discourages anyone from doing the same.

Chapter 3 – After the First Dose

This newfound access to emotions wasn’t just amazing, it also opening him up to challenging and intense emotions. But as he learned more about himself, he discovered the nuance of emotions.

“It was as if LSD had unclogged a lifetime of emotional constipation, and there I was, sifting through my mound of unprocessed mental sh*t. But the odd part about this was that, with the assistance of LSD, It was as if LSD had unclogged a lifetime of emotional constipation, and there I was, sifting through my mound of unprocessed mental sh*t. But the odd part about this was that, with the assistance of LSD, this type of inner emotional work seemed not very burdensome.this type of inner emotional work seemed not very burdensome.”

Chapter 4 – Integration

The LSD experienced needed to be integrated into his daily life and Aaron recounts how the ASD lens is much different from average. And that until his 27th year, socializing was on the bottom of his priority list.

“The closest I can come to describing what it’s like to have an ASD-affected brain would be to compare it to relying on a mailroom clerk who receives all of the envelopes in the mail but only ever seems to have no clue as to which envelopes ought to be opened first.”

Chapter 5 – Acceptance

Through his experience with LSD, Aaron was able to accept himself, to become his own best friend. In this chapter, and in later chapters, he recognizes that the ASD lens is just one of the ways of seeing the world, and a way that he does still values. One lens is not better than the other, they are just different perspectives.

“By alternating between the lenses of ASD and LSD, I gained an intimate understanding of not only a new way of seeing, but also, critically, a wholly new and novel perspective on the ways that I had always seen. I became aware of the ways in which I was aware, and unaware, of various aspects of the ever-available stimulus. In this way, I became capable of seeing my own biases, and conditioned patterns of belief, and so many other aspects of self that had become so familiar and ingrained that they had likewise become more or less invisible to me in my day-to-day perception.”

Aaron makes the great analogy to people who are deaf. A cochlear implant is awesome, but it’s also great to be able to turn it off when you’re riding the subway.

Chapter 6 – Immersion Therapy

One of the reasons for writing the book is to inspire researchers and therapists. Aaron’s experience may serve as a template of sorts that they can try and validate or update with a larger sample size.

Through experimentation, Aaron has found that 20-50 micrograms works best as ‘LSD-Assisted Immersion Therapy’. This is more than a microdose (sub-perceptual, usually 5-10 µg) and less than a full/psychedelic/macro dose (>100 µg). This dosage helped him most with social learning and development, without being too distracting/psychedelic.

“It was a variable dose range that seemed to work well for me; a range that would decrease my fear and increase my perceptivity but still allow me to re-root and more readily integrate insights into aspects of selfhood in real-time.”

He followed the 3-day (1 on, 2 off) protocol as proposed by James Fadiman (The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide). The rest of the chapter also describes the usefulness of other dosages (macro, micro), how to prepare it, and the preparation he undertook.

Aaron describes the LSD-Assisted Immersion Therapy as a place in which he could discover and change his conditioning maps, his routines and (unhelpful) (mental) routines.

“This process of use-testing and editing my conditioned behavioral responses allowed me to (1) recognize patterns of behavior, (2) consider potential root causes of the behavior (3) consider potential modifications to said behavior, and (4) test and integrate the behavior change IN THE MOMENT.”

Chapter 7 – What Now?

This chapter can be best described as a call-to-action, a thank you to LSD, and encouragement for more research to be done.

“LSD let me see & comprehend complicated social behaviors. LSD let me feel feelings and deeply sense the feelings of other living beings. From a single dose I woke up, from a numb and deafened black and white life, obscured by memorized maps. I fell in love with the dynamic full-color, heart-tingling, sensational, birational, expressive world of human beings being social. So – pretty please – with an fMRI image on top, please consider rescheduling so we can more readily research LSD.” (printed in a very large font)

Chapter 8 – LSD Research, Then & Now

The research on LSD and ASD is still very limited. Aaron has made available all his (up-to-date) notes and links on this website. Much of the research is from the 1960s, and good new studies have yet to be done. In the book, Aaron quotes four papers:

Chapter 9 – An Open Letter to Science

The final chapter highlights the resurgence of research being done with psychedelics. Aaron cheers this on (and donates the proceeding of the book to MAPS and Heffter).

“If I had a wish, I would wish that neuroimaging studies could continue to provide insight into what exactly happens during the psychedelic experience. I would wish that such studies could continue to reveal not only the neurological underpinnings of both psychedelic and autistic experiences, but also, in turn, the neurological underpinnings of the broader human experience. Because I strongly believe that by studying psychedelics and autism, we advance our perspective on the formation of perspectives, period. And I for one find that to be an exciting prospect indeed.”

Buy Autism on Acid

Next to the normal places, you can also get the (audio)book directly from the website. You can also collaborate/give feedback on this google doc.

To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic (Book Review)

This review was first published on Blossom Analysis.

To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic is a fictional book about starting a psychedelics research project/revolution, written by Ben Sessa.

Is there hope in psychedelic medicine? Can we dream bigger than just numbing patients (and doctors)? That is the underlying question in this fictional book by Dr. Ben Sessa. After reading the book you may take home some hope, some tingling of the possibility that MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics could help people become whole again. But if nothing else, you will get to know two, somewhat broken, men (the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) who start a psychedelic revolution.

Review

To fathom hell or soar angelic just take a pinch of psychedelic” – Humphry Osmond

Using a fictional book to describe a brave new world where psychedelics make a new introduction is an unique way of exploring this possibility. The book hovers between the esoteric and science-driven, between dream catchers and psychotherapy.

The world that is sketched could be best positioned at around the turn of the century, a moment in time where very little research had been done on psychedelics (since shutting it all down at the end of the 60’s). The way it’s revived, in a barn and with plenty of reference to The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary et al., was quite interesting.

The book, and the research mentioned, may best be seen as a proof of concept, an introduction to psychedelic therapy (it features several sessions with MDMA, LSD, psilocybin). The double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments are left for a future moment to transpire.

The critique of the ‘normal’ system is evident in Sessa’s description of current psychotherapy. He paints it as a system in which patients come back for years, don’t solve their underlying problems, and get dosed with SSRIs that don’t do much if anything. Oh, and the protagonist is fantasizing about killing his patients (don’t worry, it doesn’t turn into Hannibal). The alternative, psychedelic (psycho)therapy, is offered as a way out of this loop.

From my perspective, the alternative is presented without enough evidence and rigor (the double-blind studies that are left for the reader to imagine happening sometime in the future). After seeing positive results, the two psychiatrists are heralded as heroes in a presentation for their colleagues. It’s a fantasy that many in the psychedelics field may have, but unfortunately many have been burned too much before to have that level of hope (although it is likely to be justified in this case).

At the end of the book, things get turned up to 11. The second psychiatrist (Joseph Langley) is dying and in a flurry of science-y sounding words, they run tests and strange things happen. One is left to ponder what this means or why it’s related to psychedelic science, but I was none the wiser.

Other Works by Ben Sessa

Ben Sessa has also written The Psychedelics Renaissance, summarizing where we stand with research and sticking much more to facts this time.

Manifesting Minds (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis

Manifesting Minds is an anthology of articles from the MAPS Bulletin and is edited by Rick Doblin and Brad Burge. It contains the highlights of articles written until 2014, which are grouped per theme. The book does a great job of offering different perspectives, but for specific information one can best search on their website itself.

Quick Take

The essays are divided into eight categories. They are the following:

  1. Arts and Creativity
  2. Coming of Age
  3. Science and Medicine
  4. Therapy
  5. Sexuality
  6. Spirituality
  7. Ecology
  8. Technology

The essays range from articles written about the topic, to interviews and recollections of experiences. One learns about doing 2C-B with your children, doing (macro) doses of psychedelics and their relationship to extreme sports, and the connection between meditation and psychedelics.

Amongst the many authors are the luminaries like Ann ShulginRam DassAldous Huxley, but also lesser-known voices and perspectives like that of one of the MDMA trial participants.

As mentioned in the intro, the book provides some insights, but one could also find these by searching the MAPS Bulletin website.

One quote that stood out to me is the following in the interview with Aldous Huxley, speaking about a psychedelic experience:

You remember something extraordinary having happened. And to some extent you can relive the experience, particularly the transformation of the outside world. You get hints of this, you see the world in this transfigured way now and then-not to the same pitch of intensity, but something of the kind. It does help you look at the world in a new way. And you come to understand very clearly the way that certain specially gifted people have seen the world. You are actually introduced into the kind of world that Van Goh lived in, or the kind of world that Blake lived in.”

DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Book Review)

First published on Blossom Analysis.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman offers his account of a large scale study on the effects of DMT on the human brain and psyche. The book gives a detailed account of the research, how it came to be, the difficulties in getting it started, and the outcomes. Strassman puts an emphasis on the experiences of the participants and tries to fit them into categories and explanations. Although he makes several disclaimers that he ‘takes the experience at face value only as a thought experiment’ he often shines through that the second part of that sentence had been dropped.

Quick Take

From my perspective, the book is a great resource if one wants to understand what is involved with doing psychedelic research. Without a doubt, he has been responsible for restarting our interest in psychedelic research and paved a path through the regulatory jungle. The latter chapters where he decides not to further pursue research with psilocybin and LSD can be seen as a delay in developing the field, or possibly a blessing because of the non-optimal circumstances of room 531 where they were doing their research.

The experience described by the participants ranges from feelings of euphoria to episodes of terror. They see fractals, beautiful colors, and alien figures. As mentioned in the introduction, I think Strassman went too far in characterizing these experiences as ‘real’, or as being on another plane/place/universe that DMT lets us tap into. Is there not a better explanation to be found in the brain functions that get changed by adding a substantial amount of DMT.

By analogy, if we add caffeine, a lot of us become more alert and focused. If you add MDMA, many feel a warm embrace and safe. How things work in the brain specifically is currently being studied. But that doesn’t preclude one from stating that there are brain structures that let us identify faces, others that let us instinctively respond to patterns that seem dangerous (e.g. the shape and/or movement of a spider). What if DMT activates or brings to consciousness these parts of our brain. And, maybe even more plausibly, what if DMT evokes a dream state (many volunteers showed rapid eye movements (REM), like that in our most dream-prone sleep phase).

All that being said, it’s a great book to read and learn about what DMT does and how it has been studied in the 1990s. Much more research has been done since and the author of this post is less familiar with that. One could say that in general, the psychedelics-as-medicine framing has become much stronger (with very positive trials for psilocybin and MDMA in Phase 2 and Phase 3 of FDA approval). Who knows if DMT will have a significant role to play here too.

The Psychedelic Renaissance (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis

The Psychedelic Renaissance by Ben Sessa offers an enthusiastic, level-headed, and much-underappreciated overview of psychedelics and their potential. Written by psychedelics enthusiast, consulting psychiatrist, and co-organizer of Breaking Conventions. The book offers a good overview of what we know about psychedelics, what policies and counter-culture there has been, and what the current renaissance is poised to bring to the table.

The publication of this book in 2012 didn’t reach as wide an audience as Michael Pollan‘s How To Change Your Mind, but one could argue that it’s at least as well informed and good of an introduction as the latter. Or as one other reviewer wrote: “Broad in scope, honest in execution.

Summary

Introduction

Psychedelics have been viewed through many different lenses. A negative framing sees them as brain toxins or dangerous drugs of abuse. Another framing revers them as sacramental gifts. And, as you will read later on, tool to do research with and better understand the world around us (and inside us).

Chapter 1 – Personal Reflection

Ben Sessa missed the summer of love (albeit he was around for the second one in 1988-9 in England). He did have a stint as a hippy and later recounts sleeping atop an ancient Aztec pyramid. But he is better known for pursuing the research of psychedelics. Far from ‘career suicide’ (he is a child psychiatrist by trade), this has made him one of the main figures in this new field.

Chapter 2 – The Experience and the Drugs

Describing all psychedelics and their respective effects is quite the task. So for specifics, one would do better to go to Erowid or other sites that provide information about a specific psychedelic. Yet, in this chapter Sessa does a good job of describing the effects of psychedelics in general:

  1. Physiological effects: mostly mental, but heightened heart rate and blood pressure are common
  2. Heightening or distortion of perceptions in all sensory modalities: seeing more clearly (‘more 3-D’) or synesthesia (senses mixing)
  3. Altered sense of space and time
  4. ‘Cinematographic’ effects: seeing movies/stories play out (even with eyes closed)
  5. Regressive behavior and an increased recall of childhood memories
  6. Increased sensitivity to the feelings of others
  7. Religious or spiritual experience
  8. Being at one with the universe (oceanic boundlessness)
  9. Psychotic/delirious changes

The rest of the chapter deals with another classification and highlights the importance of set and setting. The chapter ends with a classification (and description of the most popular drugs) that is akin to another good introductory text Magic Medicine, which describes most psychedelics within roughly the same classification schema.

Chapter 3 – Early Pioneers of the First and Second Psychedelic Eras

There are three great eras of psychedelic culture.

  1. Around the start of the 19th century (1880-1930)
  2. The flower-power era of the 1960s (or 1980s in the UK)
  3. The current era starting around the turn of the 21st century

The first era was rather limited in scope and focussed mostly on mescaline.

The second era started with the discovery of LSD (Albert Hofmann) and also featured lots of therapeutic research being done with psychedelics (including MDMA). Most of the work was done with LSD and was used, amongst other things, to treat alcohol dependency. Aldous Huxley, Stanislav Grof, and Timothy Leary were others who were active in that period of time.

The LSD therapy around that time was quite successful. Although research standards and protocols were not what they are today, with over 50.000 sessions, with 4303 patients, there were but a handful of incidents. Alas, the recreational use of psychedelics is what got them banned eventually (chapter 5).

Chapter 4 – The Prehistory and Ancient History of Hallucinogens

Ben Sessa is very down to earth (spiritual, but not religious) and reflects with an open mind on the theories of Terence McKenna (Food of the Gods) and others who’ve ‘seen God’ through mushroom use. Religion and psychedelics might have originated at the same time (the former being influenced by the latter).

The chapter also recounts some of the psychedelic plants that might have been available to people at those times.

Chapter 5 – Hippie Heydays, Ravers and the Birth of Ecstasy

There were many reasons for the ‘rise’ of the hippie movement (end of second world war, Vietnam, wider distribution of LSD, etc). This first manifested itself in the US in the 1960s, but only later did so in the UK in the 1980s. The second era also did find its continuation in MDMA (with the ‘rave’ culture). Alas, this also gets banned (for the wrong reasons) and the research side of psychedelics starts a long period of hibernation (the illegal use, of course, is unfazed). It will be up to Rick Doblin (MAPS) and others to revive the research.

Chapter 6 – Psychedelic Creativity

“There are clear similarities between the typical traits of creative people and the subjective psychological characteristics of the psychedelic drug experience.” (here Sessa links to one of his own papers ‘Is it time to revisit the role of psychedelic drugs in enhancing human creativity? (2008)’.

The research back from the 1960s can, by today’s standards, only be seen as anecdotal. But the signs point towards a link between psychedelics and enhanced creativity.

Divergent thinking and the the ability to form novel ideas are part of creativity. This is enhanced by the presence of psychedelics (i.e. via changes in frontal lobe activity).

One of the studies mentioned is one by Oscar Janiger on creativity of visual artists. The 60 artists produced more creative (more expressionistic, sharper colors, more emotional) paintings. The painters also found the LSD experience to be “artistically and personally profound.”

Also see James Fadiman‘s book The Psychedelic Experience for more on creativity and psychedelics.

Chapter 7 – Modern Uses of Natural Plants and Fungi Psychedelics

Mushrooms, ayahuasca, cannabis, and ibogaine have been used for over 5000 years and we would be remiss to forget that. Sessa makes a strong statement at the start of the chapter that our current (Western) way of life wont do the planet (and ourselves) any good.

The latter part of the chapter also highlights lesser known psychedelic substances like the venom of a toad (5-MeO-DMT), Kava, Agara Leaves, and more.

Chapter 8 – The Psychedelic Renaissance Part One: Movers and Shakers

The chapter and the next look at who the people and studies are that are bringing back psychedelics to the forefront. The following lists are soon outdated and in the 2012 print (used here) is probably already very much updated in the 2017 version. Click on the links to learn more about them.

Organizations:

People:

Chapter 9 – The Psychedelic Renaissance Part Two: Contemporary Studies

It costs a lot of money to take a drug to market. Some quote numbers into the billions, but for MDMA it’s looking like it will be done for about $40 million. Rick Doblin, mentioned above, is the one leading the charge here. It’s interesting to see that in 2012 Sessa predicted 2022 as the year MDMA therapy would be available, this looks to be about right.

The research really has taken extraordinary leaps forward in the last 8 years. This chapter does provide a good snapshot. But you can better look at current publications or summaries of research.

And/or search for papers here on our website.

Chapter 10 – Psychedelics Caught in the Crossfire of the War on Drugs

Maybe the most dangerous thing about doing drugs is being jailed for doing so. It’s a billion-dollar war being fought against the population, against free thought, against changing your mind. So it’s to be expected that policy isn’t based on (exact) science, it’s based on what a politician read in the Daily Mail (newspaper) and sometimes justified with (bad) science.

In the chapter, Sessa focuses on on MDMA and how that has been banned. You can read more about that in Ecstacy.

Harm reduction services are getting more attention and who knows that one day some drugs will be available to use in therapy, or even recreational without fear.

Conclusion

Psychiatry needs psychedelics, and psychedelics need psychiatry.”

It’s possible to heal/help people with psychedelics and Sessa’s (and my) hope is that the science and practice will combine and that some day soon psychedelics will become a part of our global consciousness again.

The introduction needs to be slow, even boring. Sessa argues that we might even need another name for them (but it’s doubtful that this can happen). And slowly we might go from the medical model (bad to ok) towards also using them for exploration, expansion, joy (ok to great).

Food of the Gods (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis.

Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge by Terence McKenna is one of the most famous books in psychedelics. It explores our human history through the lens of psychedelics (psilocybin specifically) and forms a theory (stoned ape) that is both loved by some and not accepted in scientific circles. McKenna also argues that we have to restore balance to nature and ourselves (archaic revival).

Quick Take

The book is divided into four parts that describe the history, present, and future through McKenna’s lens:

  1. Paradise – How we used to live in balance with nature and how psychedelics co-evolved with us
  2. Paradise Lost – How the balance got lost and ‘dominator culture’ took over
  3. Hell – Critique of current day society and (synthetic) drugs
  4. Paradise Regained? – Ideas about ‘archaic revival’, getting back to nature

What stands out most is the confidence that McKenna has about his theories. He puts them forward as the answer for our evolution and for the cure to our current predicament. Yet a careful reading may question many of his assumptions. The idea that psilocybin may give you a broader perspective and new experience could very well be true. But that it may help with visual acuity is questionable, that you will be more sexual is not everyone’s experience, and traditional cultures were far from more peaceful than our current system (one needs only read a few pages in anything Steven Pinker has written).

Thinking or arguing that everything was better in the past also makes me think back to Plato. At that ancient time, and many times since, they thought that we had fallen from grace, that our current life was but a mere dud of the full potential. What I think is missing there, and with Food of the Gods too, is a recognition that we don’t have the answers, that there is no perfect society.

Many things are bad, even terrible, about our current society. But thinking back to a time where childbirth was the norm, a small infection meant death, and where war with the next tribe or city over was a given, doesn’t seem to be the answer.

The book is recommended to gain more insight into McKenna’s thinking and the broad set of ideas that one can have about psychedelics. But I would urge the reader to stay critical and take from the book what is useful.

TIHKAL (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis

TIHKAL by Alexander & Ann Shulgin is another (after PIHKAL) great biography and chemistry exploration by this amazing couple. You’re taken across the world, from small French villages to Brazilian villas. It’s humorous, opinionated, open-hearted, and overall a great read.

Quick Take

A book like TIHKAL is hard to capture in a summary. First, it doesn’t really explain much in the biography-side of the book. Second, the chemistry and subsequent description are great, but also something that is less well captured. Below is, therefore, more a summary of my interpretation of the themes that the book conveys.

Information Wants to be Free

Alexander (Sascha) is called in as an expert in various scenarios. One time he travels to Spain to help a defendant, another time he is called to Australia to testify as an expert, and one fun story recalls their time in Brazil teaching others how to make MDMA. In each case, he (or they) are there to provide information, to let people know the chemistry and help them make better decisions.

Yet at many moments, starting in the first chapter, they are confronted with a more and more restrictive law. One in which experimentation as a chemist is not possible. One in which drug development is hampered because you can’t make an ‘analog’ (defined so vaguely as to almost encompass any molecule).

Their previous book, PIHKAL, also tries to make information available, and that is probably what got their house raided.

Yet through all of this, I think someone can be hopeful. In some ways, information flows quite freely (e.g. I got this book, can write about it, you can read it). And some countries are wising up to the ‘war on drugs’. Heck, even America has legalized cannabis/weed at the state level.

Research into psychedelics is in full swing and for-profit companies (and probably some universities) are experimenting again with making analogs that might work better or in a different way than the chemicals already known. Who knows, many of the people involved here could have a copy of both books on their shelves. Let’s hope future legislators do.

Psychedelics Work, but How?

Ann (Alice) describes her use of psychedelics as a therapist (one with experience, not with any formal training). She enlightens the reader on how there is an underground layer (can I say cabal) of therapists who have developed therapy sessions around MDMA, MDA, 2CB, and even LSD. She talks about various sessions where the participant/patient takes MDMA and what some criteria are for when they use it (i.e. a long-standing working relationship).

What I didn’t read, and what Ann didn’t suggest, is that we know why they work. Scientists are hard at work trying to figure this out and at this moment (2020) we’re starting to get the first clues (e.g. increased neuroplasticity), but what we do know is that they work.

For whom is it most effective? When should we do it? For who shouldn’t we do it? What is a reasonable dose? And should we give it every week for 6 weeks (similar to what Ann did) or would one time be enough? With guidance, and if yes, how much?

These are all questions that we have at this moment. We might venture to guess at some answers. But what I read between the lines is that we need experience to learn. Experience that we can share (coming back to the information that wants to be free/spread). Experience to which we can apply reason, the scientific method, and a whole bunch of gut feelings.

Magic Medicine (Book Review)

Originally published on Blossom Analysis

Magic Medicine by Cody Johnson is a great exploration of 23 (categories of) psychedelic plants and substances. It takes an observational perspective in which it’s open to theories and traditions, but sticks to the science and actual description of the drugs’ effects. Both for people who are new to psychedelics and the more experienced, the book offers new insights to all.

Quick Take

Magic Medicine is divided into four parts:

  • Classical Psychedelics (serotonin-related/oriented)
  • Empathogenic Psychedelics (amplify emotions)
  • Dissociative Psychedelics (detached from your body)
  • Unique Psychedelics (others)

Throughout the four parts, you’re introduced to 23 psychedelics or groups of psychedelics. You encounter the well-known ones like MDMA, LSD, psilocybin (truffles), but also meet less familiar compounds like Mad Honey, DXM, and MDA.

Each chapter describes the effects of the compound (group), it’s short history, discovery, and possible medical applications. The author is careful in being not too optimistic or wish-full, yet at the same time does do a good job of describing how (traditional) cultures use the substances in rituals.

Throughout the book, you get the distinct feeling that all the different psychedelics offer unique perspectives (lenses/doors) into our perception. It’s thus such a shame that most are banned in many countries and that many don’t get to experience these different perspectives.

Below are my personal new insights and interesting tidbits from the book. Here I skip over the more obvious or well-known facts, so please do consult Erowid or another site to learn more about a substance, or give the book a read.

Part 1 – Classical Psychedelics

Chapter 1 – 2C-B and the 2C Family

  • Invented by Alexander Shulgin and Michael Carter in 1975 (see Pihkal)
    • Discovered when tweaking/changing the DOB/Dox family (see chapter 5)
  • Used in therapy, possibly still underground, for it’s lucid and gentle effects
  • 2C-E is known to be even more intense
  • 2C-1 and 2C-C are lighter, possibly more tactile

Chapter 2 – 5-MeO-DMT

Chapter 3 – Ayahuasca

  • Made from plants that contain DMT (Chacruna, chaliponga), and a carrier (caapi – contains harmala alkaloids)
  • Used in traditional healing a lot, but not many rigorous scientific studies on it’s healing properties (e.g. how good is it at kicking addiction)

Chapter 4 – DMT

  • Changa is a new way of smoking DMT by adding MAOIs that potentiate (increase power/effect) DMT’s effects
    • The onset is slower than smoking it pure, and more manageable
  • Used by Timothy Leary and friends, but then by injecting it
  • Best documented by Dr. Rick Strassman (60 volunteers, 400 dosages) in DMT: The Spirit Molecule

Chapter 5 – DOM and the DOx Family

  • Duration of 24 hours (12 to 36)
  • Produces a body high, tactile positive experiences, hallucinations (3-5 milligrams)
  • Also used by Richard Alpert (Ram Dass)
  • DOI is also used in PET scans (by replacing the iodine with a radioactive isotope)
  • DOI appears to be effective in preventing asthma in mice

Chapter 6 – LSD

  • Pure LSD is a white crystalline powder with no odor (but usually dissolved in water and add to ‘tabs’)
  • It’s a derivative of ergot (parasitic fungus on rye grains)
  • The Grateful Dead shows were used as a distribution network for LSD
    • The original audio engineer and financier, Owsley Stanley, was even a producer of it
  • MAPS (known for MDMA research) also studied LSD and anxiety in patients with terminal illnesses (paper)

Chapter 7 – Morning Glory

  • Of the thousands of variations only some are psychoactive (e.g. Turbina corymbosa, Ipomea tricolor)
  • Morning glory seeds are also used to treat excessive bleeding in postpartum women
  • Albert Hofmann was the one who discovered that he psychoactive morning glory seeds contained ergot alkaloids (like LSD)
  • Effects are similar to, but lighter, than LSD

Chapter 8 – Peyote

Chapter 9 – Psilocybin Mushrooms

  • Used in the Harvard Psilocybin Project (Timothy LearyRam Dass), but also mentions the good research done by Rick Doblin (of MAPS fame)
    • The latter showed that recidivism of prisoners was unchanged
  • Psilocybin is now actively being studied and shows much promise (depression, anxiety, OCD, quitting smoking, etc)
    • Mostly attributed to ‘resetting the brain’ and being able to ‘confront/revisit experiences’

Chapter 10 – San Pedro

  • Contains mescaline like Peyote, less well-known than Ayahuasca
  • One of the traditional uses is to find lost items

Chapter 11 – Yopo and Vilca Beans

  • These are seeds of the Anadenanthera trees
  • Used mainly in South America
  • Mostly used as a snuff that is inhaled into the nostrils
  • Contains bufotenine, also DMT and 5-MeO-DMT
  • People with schizophrenia and autism have significant concentrations of natural bufotenine in their urine
    • It’s unclear if this has any causal effect or is a byproduct

Part 2 – Empathogenic Psychedelics

Chapter 12 – MDA

  • Gordon Alles discovered amphetamine in 1927, MDA in 1930 (the A stands for amphetamine)
    • The effects lie somewhere between MDMA and cocaine or amphetamine
  • Before 1970, it was widely used in psychotherapy (notably by Leo Zeff and Claudio Naranjo)

Chapter 13 – MDMA

  • Almost 7% of American adults (20+ million) have tried MDMA
  • If alcohol is a social lubricant, MDMA is a full tune-up of body and mind, generating a sense of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being”
  • Frequent high doses (daily/weekly) is neurotoxic, moderate doses are not correlated with brain damage
    • Most deaths which are linked to MDMA are caused by other factors (too much water/overheating/co-drug use)

Part 3 – Dissociative Psychedelics

Chapter 14 – DXM

  • Dextromethorphan (DXM) is cough suppressant
    • The bad taste/syrup of cough suppressant is intentional, to prevent people from doing ‘too much’
  • Low dosage leads to euphoria, anesthesia, unusual bodily sensations
  • High dosage leads to profound out-of-body experiences

Chapter 15 – Ketamine

  • Now commonly used for anti-depressant effects in clinics
    • Also being studied for effects on alcoholism, opioid addiction, chronic pain
  • Stumbled upon” by Calving Stevens in 1962
    • Found as a derivative of PCP
  • “The synthesis of ketamine is quite complex, so the black market supply is most often diverted from legitimate sources”
  • Used by John C. Lilly (quite the mad scientist) who subsequently also invented the isolation tank (sensory-deprivation chamber)
  • Tried by 2.7 million Americans (close to 1%)

Chapter 16 – Nitrous Oxide

  • The smallest psychedelic, one oxygen atom attached to two nitrogens
  • Discovered (and then used by aristocrats) in 1772 by Sir Joseph Priestley
  • Tried by 16 million (5%) Americans
  • Dangerous is used irresponsible (gas masks – directly from container), safer if inhaled from a balloon
  • Used by William James (1842-1920) – father of psychology
  • Still being used for labor pain relief
  • Also being studied in combination with talk therapy for anti-depressant effects (pilot study)

Chapter 17 – Salvia

  • Salvia Divinorum is part of the mint family
  • Salvinorin A (the active ingredient) is the most potent psychoactive compound in all of nature
    • Half a milligram can do the trick
  • Usually made into a water diffusion, or chewed, but can also be smoked
  • Used as a back-up psychedelic by María Sabina (Mazatec healer)
  • Works by triggering the kappa opioid receptor (KOR)

Unique Psychedelics

Chapter 18 – Amanita Muscaria

  • Red mushroom with white spots (like in the Disney movies)
  • Used by traditional cultures in Siberia (specifically Kamchatka)
  • It can’t be cultivated but only grows next to birches or pines (other trees sometimes work too)
  • Fly agaric “produces stillness of mind, delusions often mistaken for reality, and a sense of detachment
  • Contains the active ingredient muscimol (and ibotenic acid which is converted into the former)
  • Can be extracted (read: drunk) from urine up to 5 times

Chapter 19 – Cannabis

  • The Cannabacae family (of which Cannabis is part) also contains hackberries and hops
  • The protein-rich seeds are now also being used for hemp sprouts, hemp milk, hemp oil (and hemp fiber)
  • In the medical context, there are positive effects on neuropathic pain, epilepsy, MS, and it’s anti-inflammatory
    • But, as the book notes, “Cannabis is not a miracle drug … most of its medical benefits remain anecdotal or speculative, and it does have real side effects.”

Chapter 20 – DiPT

  • Also discovered by Alexander Shulgin and Michael Carter, in 1980
  • Leads to auditory hallucinations, but usually not pleasant/enhancing
    • One early tester said “Piano sounds like a bar-room disaster”
  • But another also described being more aware of sounds in the time after experiencing the effects of DiPT

Chapter 21 – Fish and Sea Sponges

  • Some sea sponges contain 5-Bromo-DMT
  • The effects are psychedelics, but not per se pleasant
    • Usually, tightness in the chest is reported for instance
  • There might be many more aquatic animals that contain psychedelics, we are just not so familiar with most of them

Chapter 22 – Iboga

  • Traditionally found in Gabon, also being used in detox centers in Mexico, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Canada
  • Works both on serotonin and other receptors that lead to more dissociative effects
  • Used in small dosages as a stimulant
  • In higher dosages leads to the inability to stand, vomiting, photosensitivity
  • Lasts up to 20 hours, with after-effects for days
  • Howard Lotsof is responsible for promoting Iboga for its anti-addiction capability
    • He used it to kick a heroin addiction, as did 5 of 7 of his friends
    • But long-term results about the effectiveness of this type of treatment is still lacking

Chapter 23 – Mad Honey

  • Found in Nepal and Turkey
  • Happens when bees are in regions with azalea (a type of rhododendron)
  • One spoonful leads to mental high, sensations of movement, and spatial distortion
    • At higher doses, it leads to convulsions, hallucinations, vomiting, problems with breathing
  • Used multiple times in warfare (let the opposing party consume it)