(TFC) – Interest in medicinal use for psychedelics is exponentiating within the confines of American consciousness. Perhaps successes in medical cannabis aided the humble psychedelics to transcend cultural stigma, but that’s less important.
What’s important is compounds like LSD and psilocybin have qualities besides medical benefits. Namely, the psychedelic experience: a journey through the self, outer world and, some report, those beyond. Psychedelic research oftentimes introduces scientists to a “god-line” separating simple medical curiosity, and “the other”. How is western– particularly American–science to navigate the god-line? Is our culture prepared for the consequences of crossing it?
Dr. Rick Strassman, who’s conducted groundbreaking psychedelic research, is no stranger. In the 90’s, Strassman received DEA permission to administer dimethyltryptamine (DMT) to volunteers in a tightly controlled hospital setting. He ultimately chronicled this in the book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, later adapted into a documentary. Numerous factors ultimately ended the study, including eerie volunteer experiences.
DMT is a naturally occurring brain hormone thought to be involved with the pineal gland. The obscure organ–sometimes called the third eye–sits deep within in the brain’s center. In reptiles, the literal third eye possesses a lens and retina. Although the organ in reptiles is believed to control temperature, it’s equally obscure in purpose.
DMT’s exact bodily function is similarly ambiguous. It must be important though, given its presence in all earth life from plants, to animals. Strassman noted how the human brain allows DMT past barriers which block most other molecules. Almost as if the brain craves DMT, which Strassman found keenly interesting.
This uncanny bypassing of the brain’s built-in security checkpoints seemed to defeat any notion of the compound being a disorder catalyst. If concentrated in the form of smoke or liquid, DMT produces profound psychedelic effects in the human animal.
Dr. Strassman’s volunteers recounted eerily similar experiences without having compared notes. They by and large came from a variety of unrelated backgrounds. Some were married couples; single people with lucrative careers, cafe barista’s who partied, yoga practitioners, etc. While smaller doses appeared more physical–even cleansing–larger doses blasted them towards other-lands.
Although DMT is sometimes smoked, Strassman injected through the veins of volunteers. This was done instead of muscular injections, which were historically unsuccessful. Both smoked and injected DMT produce a quick 15 minute or so trip, after which travelers are normally shockingly disorientated. Oftentimes, upon coming down, it takes a bit to realize that so little time passed. Strassman’s volunteer’s, as well as most people who take DMT, feel experiences last hours or longer.
It became quite regular for volunteers to explore seemingly convincing worlds populated by equally convincing entities. The visions persisted regardless of whether eyes were open or closed, and even superimposed over the “real world.” Anything indigenous to these realms often attempted communication with volunteers.
Many of the entities encountered under the influence of smoked or intravenous DMT appear to be expecting the individual. Some reported the presences describing DMT as a “technology” for communication between two worlds. Not only that, but entities were overjoyed that humans discovered said technology.
Strassman’s volunteers often reported gifts or machinery prepared specifically for their arrival. Sometimes beings noticed them, other times they appeared hard at work. When drank in the traditional brew Ayahuasca, that same experience elongates to hours instead of minutes.
Dr. Strassman expressed uncertainty as to what is just in our heads in a VICE interview. “It makes sense to me to suggest a spectrum of phenomenon”, Strassman suggests. While some of the experience may consist of our essence–thoughts, fears, and memories–other bits may come from elsewhere. Such notions invoke old questions regarding human consciousness western science often discounts.
“Without our personal experience and biological makeup”, suggests Strassman, “we’d be unable to decipher what it is we are seeing.” Ultimately, Strassman admits, “it’s impossible, though, to have a pure culture of one or the other.” Encounters with non-material beings proved shaking enough for Strassman to speculate on their origins in his book. Interestingly, none of them reduced the question to “just your brain on drugs”.
For this thesis, he pulled on physics concepts and quantum mechanics to shed light on the strange encounters. Some idea’s involved parallel dimensions, quantum-computing, and non-material entities possibly bouncing back and forth. These were speculations, however, and Strassman confessed his lack of complete understanding of such concepts.
Regardless, one thing was abundantly clear by study’s end. DMT brought everyone it touched during those trials to the god-line. It forced Rick Strassman to consider radical new ideas in order to reconcile it. He also advised his colleagues to be brave, and do the same if seriously considering future research.
–The God-Line Today–
That was in the 1990’s, and researchers today will inevitably be faced with that same line. With normalization of American cannabis on the horizon, psychedelics are getting a redeeming shot. Both archived and modern research indicate psychedelics have a wide range of medical uses.
According to Vox, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression all can be treated with psychedelics. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and psilocybin–found in mushrooms–are the main focuses of modern research.
Though still of interest, DMT has taken a backseat. Among other things, this is due to how much of that experience is outside the scientists control. Medical uses for DMT are also more slippery, and not as consistent as other options. Not only that, but it’s alien terrain is scarcely explored. The same, in terms of historical context for western researchers, can’t be said about LSD or mushrooms.
Inquiry has also uncovered the uncannily paradoxical relationship between “psychosis” and psychedelic experiences. Scientists have long attempted to use psychedelics as models for mental illnesses like psychosis. Dr. Strassman considered these models, and described some in his book.
Similar connections have been drawn with avid users of cannabis, though these too are under investigation. When used in the DMT study, however, no models using psychedelics as a model for mental illness fit with the phenomenon observed.
When researchers at London’s Imperial College experimented with LSD, their findings were also difficult to reconcile. Although volunteers exhibited signs of “psychosis-like symptoms”, they conversely were more optimistic. Some even craved intellectual stimulation more than before experiments began.
Traditionally, a mental illness is disruptive,non-beneficial, and to be treated out of existence. Volunteer’s for the LSD study didn’t need said help, despite having taken the drug. In fact, the head of the study–Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris–stated, “it would be wrong to oversell the relationship between the psychedelic experience and psychosis.” Carhart-Harris points out the “genuine insights” people experience when exposed to psychedelics.
Any cognitive mechanisms behind these phenomena are under investigation. Carhart-Harris suspects some “psychosis-like” traits may arise in trip-induced “cognitive looseness”. Most psychedelics, but particularly LSD, is known to stimulate creativity in some users. Cognitive looseness may create a spectrum, out of which something like psychosis may arise. Other things like stimulated thinking or new thought patterns may also rest in this “spectrum”.
–Traditional Shamans As Masters Of The God-Line–
Other researchers spending time with indigenous people’s are offering other ideas. Many, such as Graham Hancock–journalist turned explorer and writer–report the psychedelic traditions of shamans worldwide.
Shamans often are selected in teen years, after experiencing phenomenon worthy of medication in a western mindset. Traditional cultures, however, deeply value the shaman’s insightful strangeness and his brews or snuffs. Shamans, by definition, are fluent in the psychedelic language. They’re masters of the god-line who’ve combed it’s confines for thousands of years.
It’s those very same shaman’s who told Hancock unanimously what western culture’s problem is. “You’ve severed your connection with spirit”, they insist. It’s a downward spiral manifesting in the destruction of nature, and cannibalization of one another.
Whether you buy that or not, it’s difficult to deny a pounding momentum towards reconnecting with what’s lost. Climate change protests are getting more visible and cannabis reforms stampeding. That’s not including mobilizations like that against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The resistance at Standing Rock, North Dakota is perhaps the most audible, purest expression of this idea. A marathoning migration back towards something many feel is missing in our culture. Respect and co-reliance with nature, and a want to fill a void unsatisfied by rigid religious doctrine.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.” —Terence Mckenna
It’s a momentum linguist, author, ethnobotanist, and psychonaut Terence Mckenna called the “transcendental object at the end of time.” Mckenna fancied the idea of an object at the end of time pulling human history and it’s collective events–good and bad–towards it. That’s a far out idea, but one with philosophical value. It attempted to explain a quickening in times and events which Mckenna commented on regularly during lectures in the 1990’s.
Mckenna himself likely knew the god-line, as he’d traversed the psychedelic realm more than many. He was no stranger to speaking very candidly on the psychedelic, and the role government has robbed it of in our culture. Mckenna also fancied another philosophical inquiry he called “the archaic revival.” In short, it’s the rejection of linear values which ultimately rails against an establishment.
Counter-cultures of all kinds including climate protest, cannabis reform, and the DAPL resistance all fit into this paradigm. Archaic revival, Mckenna felt, was something inherently psychedelic.
In fact, those who venture through said experience are most susceptible to the momentum. Such avenues of inquiry will plague science the more it chooses to dabble in psychedelic research. Ultimately, the end result may echo one final quote from the late Mckenna. It regarded psychedelics, our culture, and perhaps even the god-line itself.
“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”- Terance Mckenna