from this New Yorker article by Michael Pollan about psilocybin:

Carhart-Harris doesn’t romanticize psychedelics, and he has little patience for the sort of “magical thinking” and “metaphysics” they promote. In his view, the forms of consciousness that psychedelics unleash are regressions to a more “primitive style of cognition.” Following Freud, he says that the mystical experience—whatever its source—returns us to the psychological condition of the infant, who has yet to develop a sense of himself as a bounded individual. The pinnacle of human development is the achievement of the ego, which imposes order on the anarchy of a primitive mind buffeted by magical thinking. (The developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik has speculated that the way young children perceive the world has much in common with the psychedelic experience. As she puts it, “They’re basically tripping all the time.”)

This article gives a lot of ammo to hippies:

He said that the N.I.M.H would need to see “a path to development” and suspects that “it would be very difficult to get a pharmaceutical company interested in developing this drug, since it cannot be patented.” It’s also unlikely that Big Pharma would have any interest in a drug that is administered only once or twice in the course of treatment. “There’s not a lot of money here when you can be cured with one session,” Bossis pointed out.

Interesting talking about psychoactive drugs in medicine: pretty fast you hit the boundaries of science:

PATIENT: What does this drug do?

DOCTOR: Well, medically, nothing, but it might… make you feel like your ego died and you’ve come into harmony with the great spirit of the cosmos?

We’re at the limit of medicine here, crossing over to religion or at least social anthropology.

If you’re taking mushrooms in a lab in a New York hospital, under medical supervision, that’s gonna affect your experience.  If you take them after traveling to southern Mexico, in the house of a curandera, and you’re open to the idea that a curandera might have some kind of power, you’re gonna have another kind of experience:

In 1955, after years spent chasing down reports of the clandestine use of magic mushrooms among indigenous Mexicans, Wasson was introduced to them by María Sabina, a curandera—a healer, or shaman—in southern Mexico. Wasson’s awed first-person account of his psychedelic journey during a nocturnal mushroom ceremony inspired several scientists, including Timothy Leary, a well-regarded psychologist doing personality research at Harvard, to take up the study of psilocybin. After trying magic mushrooms in Cuernavaca, in 1960, Leary conceived the Harvard Psilocybin Project, to study the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens. His involvement with LSD came a few years later.

In the wake of Wasson’s research, Albert Hofmann experimented with magic mushrooms in 1957. “Thirty minutes after my taking the mushrooms, the exterior world began to undergo a strange transformation,” he wrote. “Everything assumed a Mexican character.”

(would they have assumed a “Mexican character” if Hofmann thought they came from Cambodia?)

If you get mushrooms from your college buddy, and the point is to clown around in the park, you’re gonna have another kind of experience.  If you’re a true hippie open to the idea that mushroom spores traveled to Earth as a kind of message from some distant galaxy, that’s gonna affect your experience.

What about this context?:

In a double-blind experiment, twenty divinity students received a capsule of white powder right before a Good Friday service at Marsh Chapel, on the Boston University campus; ten contained psilocybin, ten an active placebo (nicotinic acid). Eight of the ten students receiving psilocybin reported a mystical experience, while only one in the control group experienced a feeling of “sacredness” and a “sense of peace.” (Telling the subjects apart was not difficult, rendering the double-blind a somewhat hollow conceit: those on the placebo sat sedately in their pews while the others lay down or wandered around the chapel, muttering things like “God is everywhere” and “Oh, the glory!”) Pahnke concluded that the experiences of eight who received the psilocybin were “indistinguishable from, if not identical with,” the classic mystical experiences reported in the literature by William James, Walter Stace, and others.

That ain’t exactly laboratory conditions – there’s lots going on here.  I get that there’s a double-blind, but do you measure: who cared more about Good Friday going in?  Who was further along on some kind of spiritual journey?

My own thinking on this much affected by ideas of Helytimes favorite Wade Davis.  Got more interested re: ayahuasca.  It’s one thing to take ayahuasca at a rented house in Malibu.  Another thing to go to the Amazon, where your surroundings are halfway a hallucination before you drink a thing.  Big difference how you feel here:


Vs. here:

shamans house

Old advisor at college, a wonderful eccentric woman, used to say she thought all pre-meds should be anthropology majors.

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