With Issue Two of The Nexian currently in the final stages of production, The Nexian publishing collective wishes to share a teaser from one of the forthcoming features. This issue of The Nexian places a special emphasis on psychedelic research in its myriad of forms. In Issue Two you will find topics ranging from underground psychedelic research, to sanctioned psychedelic research, to surprising revelations that, according to the Controlled Substances Act, America's citrus growers may be running the largest drug production ring in the world, and much, much more!
To whet the appetites of those who have been eagerly awaiting the release of this issue, we are proud to present a brief excerpt from The Nexian's exclusive interview with Dr. Rick Strassman, a psychedelic researcher who needs no introduction. Although, in the event you don't know who he is, it would be in poor taste to leave you uninformed, so...
A quarter-century ago, Dr. Strassman performed the first new human studies with psychedelic drugs in the US since the implementation of psychedelic prohibition some 20 years prior. His research involved the powerful naturally-occurring compound, DMT – N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Led to this substance through his earlier study of the pineal gland as a potential biological locus for spiritual experiences, he administered several hundred doses of DMT to approximately 60 volunteers between 1990 and 1995. He wrote about this research in the popular book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which has sold over 100,000 copies, has been translated into 12 languages, and is now available as an audio-book.
Without further ado, a glimpse of The Nexian's interview with Dr. Strassman:
Why do you suppose 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine, or other active endogenous compounds have often been ignored as potential “spirit molecules,” if they are also present in normal metabolism, very potent, and could induce strong psychedelic experiences? Is it possible that, perhaps in combination with DMT, these other tryptamines and beta-carbolines present in the brain play a role in certain states of consciousness as well?
One of the reasons is that the published and legal research that took place with these substances occurred within the biomedical model, in particular the psychiatric model. During the first wave of human research in the 1950s and 1960s, there was very little interest in non-pathological altered states. That is, the altered states of interest for psychiatric research were the psychoses, in particular schizophrenia. Therefore, nearly the entire effort of the biomedical research field was directed towards explicating a possible role in psychosis for psychedelics, either endogenous or exogenous. For example, there was great interest in the role of LSD in precipitating psychoses, determining the presence and effects of endogenous LSD-like compounds, and the development of blockading agents for such endogenous compounds that might have efficacy as antipsychotics. After the discovery of endogenous DMT, scientists likewise sought to determine if synthesis, metabolism, and sensitivity to endogenous/exogenous DMT differed between psychotic and normal subjects.
During those years, the field of spirituality within psychiatry was mostly disparaged and it is only recently that research into the biological bases of spiritual experience--as for example in the field of neurotheology--has seen some acceptance within medicine. In addition, the occasioning of spiritual experience through the use of psychedelics has attained a foothold within mainstream psychiatric research, again however, raising a certain amount of anxiety within the orthodoxy.
The presence of endogenous mind-altering compounds that you refer to above cries out for an explanation. The presence of psychedelic substances in the human body suggests a role for them in both normal and abnormal states of consciousness. In the case of DMT, for example, the brain expands energy transporting it across the blood brain barrier, something it does only in cases of substances necessary for normal brain function that it is unable to synthesize on its own. Other such compounds include glucose and certain amino acids. Thus, one might postulate a role for DMT in maintaining homeostasis of perceptual, emotional, cognitive, and other mental functions that constitute subjective experience in all its ramifications--the waking state, dreams, psychosis, near-death experience, and so on.
At the same time, however, exploring the role of endogenous mind altering substances might be seen by some as a slippery slope towards an epistemological can of worms. In other words, how much of our perception of reality is constructed? This is even more the case now that we know that the genes and enzymes necessary for DMT synthesis are active in the retina. This suggests that not only is consciousness in general affected by endogenous psychedelics but also our experience of the visual world. I think there is a natural tendency not to rock the boat any more than necessary by digging into these issues in a serious, rigorous, and fearless manner. We may not be especially comfortable with what we find out.
Certain recurring themes/archetypes seem to be especially prevalent in many people’s DMT-induced experiences; including alien and carnival themes, along with ancient Hindu or Egyptian iconography, architecture, deities etc. Do you have any thoughts on why these particular themes seem so common?
I believe that the content of the DMT state--the imagery, feelings, verbal communication, and so on--are the means by which certain information is attempting to be conveyed to the person in that state. Everyone has particular perceptual and cognitive building blocks that are both hardwired and softwired; that is, constitutional and acquired, or biologically determined and the result of experience. Without the contents of the DMT state it would be impossible to convey any information. The medieval Jewish philosophers, whose work I have been studying, consider the contents to exist within what they refer to as the “imaginative faculty.” Then the “rational faculty” extracts whatever information it can from those contents.
While one could invoke psychological explanations for the appearance of aliens as representing something with which the individual does not feel any identification with, this is only the beginning of the interpretive process. In other words, what information is that “alien” object or force attempting to transmit? Perhaps it is also the case that Hindu or Egyptian iconography and so on are simply those building blocks that people who take DMT may be more familiar and comfortable with in symbolizing or garbing the informational content of the state.
Of course, this sidesteps the notion that under the influence of DMT people may travel in time or space to distant and/or ancient Egyptian or Hindu worlds.
Could you elaborate on your upcoming book, DMT and the Soul of Prophecy, which relates the DMT experience to your study of the Hebrew Bible?
First, I should introduce what follows by noting that my definition of prophecy differs from the general one in circulation. It also differs from the academic and even religious definitions current. I define prophecy as any spiritual experience recorded as taking place in any figure in the Hebrew Bible. While most people think of the canonical prophets as experiencing the typical prophetic state—figures such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah— many non-canonical figures also experienced visions, voices, interacted with God and angels, but did not preach nor leave behind books named after them. In addition, foretelling or forecasting is not necessary for the definition of prophecy. Many people who experienced prophetic states in the Hebrew Bible never foretold, and many canonical prophets foretold but their prognostications never came to pass. Thus, while foretelling may occur within a prophetic state, it is not necessary for its definition. And, many people predict without being prophets; for example, meteorologists.
Two elements of my volunteers’ experiences collided with my pre-existing beliefs regarding the types of states that they would enter into as a result of a high dose of DMT. One was the unassailable conviction that the experience was as real or more real than everyday reality. This conviction was counter to all of the other models I brought to my study: psychoanalytic, Zen Buddhist, and psychopharmacologic. The other was the highly interactive and relational quality of the experiences. Both my volunteers and I assumed that the highest state one might attain after a large dose of DMT would be a unitive, formless, content free, a-conceptual state in which one’s ego merged entirely with the ground of all existence. However, nearly the opposite was attained; that is, volunteers maintained a sense of self (perhaps even stronger than usual), could interact willfully with the objects and forces perceived within the state, and retained extraordinarily detailed and highly specific memories of what took place.
I began to look for scientific explanations for these findings which suggested that DMT revealed, rather than generated, the contents of the world that volunteers entered into. I invoked modern notions of dark matter and parallel universes as potential locations for externally objective parallel levels of reality that the volunteers were now able to perceive due to the chemically altered receiving characteristics of their brain-mind complex. While this had the advantage of ultimately being empirically testable, such tests seem to me to be performable only in the relatively distant future. In addition, a “scientific” model didn’t necessarily address the meaning and the message contained in the perception of these alternate levels of reality. In other words, I was again struck with the mantra, “If so, so what?” How do we make sense of what we see, how do we understand it, and most importantly how does it help us?
I decided to look into more overtly religious models that also have investigated altered states of consciousness in which one enters into apparently freestanding parallel levels of reality. As I mentioned, Buddhism posits the fundamental unreality of the visions one attains during meditation on the way to a formless enlightenment experience, so I looked elsewhere. Latin American shamanism posits the objective reality of the invisible realms that become manifest during highly altered states. However, I find the ethical shortcomings of much of this tradition problematic as well as their emphasis on individual spirits rather than the source of those spirits; in other words, what one might refer to as God. Any model that is going to get any traction in the West has a greater chance of success if it can integrate and utilize the predominant theological Western mindset.
Various loose ends came together in such a way that I turned to the Hebrew Bible and after a while, its notion of “prophetic consciousness” began impressing itself upon me as a viable alternative to shamanism and Buddhism. In the prophetic experience, one sees visions, hears voices, experiences extreme emotions, flies through space, attains new insights, all within the context of interacting with an external objective parallel level of reality which is at least as real, if not more so, than everyday reality. It is highly interactive and the relationship between one experiencing prophecy and the contents of the prophetic state is highly dynamic. Even more important, the prophetic message is extraordinarily well-articulated, consistent, and addresses in a highly verbal manner essential human concerns. These include the nature and activities of God, how to optimize our relationship with the spiritual world, and how to optimize our relationship with ourselves, the natural world, and the larger social sphere.
Read the rest of the interview in The Nexian: Issue Two. Coming Soon!