Thursday, August 20, 2015

Movie Reviews and more...

I have decided to organize some of my 'offline' research that is currently filling many notebooks here in my office, starting with the reams of notes I have taken from relevant movies.  This information has been baffling me in terms of how to synthesize and distill the important bits while letting the rest go, kind of like panning for gold dust in a very muddy river.. Anyway here goes! My comments are going to be kept in parentheses, to distinguish them from the information I am reporting from the films.  

Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines, (2013): directed by Oliver Hockenhull
(Through a series of interview with leading experts in their respective fields, this film discusses five medicines of interest to psychedelic research:  LSD, Cannabis, Psylocybin, MDMA, and Ayahuasca.)

" The film explores these socially taboo substances as adjuncts to psychotherapy, as crucial but neglected medicines, and as technologies of consciousness. ""...Neurons to Nirvana looks into why our society has created such a social and political bias against even allowing research to continue the exploration of any possible positive effects they can present in treating some of today's most challenging afflictions."(synopses both written by anonymous) (1)

"This film does not endorse, intentionally or otherwise, the use of any medicine of substance outside of legal, traditional and bona fide therapeutic contexts."

"In the popular press, hallucinogenics have been portrayed as a recreation, an escape, or as a dangerous invitation for abuse, but there is another side to the story... The truth is that more people die from taking simple pain relievers than from all illegal drugs combined, ...and almost none are due to psychedelics."

In the 50's, there was great hope that LSD might revolutionize psychiatric care.   After it became popular among young people, the feeling in the 60's was that things were getting out of control, and there was a need to 'put the genie back in the bottle,' to restore social control which seemed to be on the verge of breaking down.  "You do see out of the box with LSD," and so people started questioning the war in Vietnam (and other societal 'norms' having to do with racism, sexism, etc).

One researcher, Dr. David Healy, said, " ban a (medicine) you have to paint it as having extreme dangers linked to it."  (This is the essence of the societal taboos we see in place against anything that alters consciousness in unpredictable ways.  Alcohol, tobacco and coffee all alter our consciousness, but they are accepted because their effects are known - even though people can get hooked on these.  The main danger of these substances was the (unfounded and completely unscientific) fear that people would get hooked or addicted to them.  Secondly, the media hyped up fear that taking these substances would lead to people completely losing control and going insane.  This campaign of fear worked, and laws and restrictions started being imposed on this entire category of substances, leading to a complete ban on all research.)

How does LSD work?
Serotonin is part of the neurotransmitter system which modulates or regulates all other systems.  All senses except smell go through the thalamus, the gateway to the cortex, which is what puts your reality together.  LSD resembles serotonin in its effects on this system, and psychedelics stimulate connections between the emotional and the behavioral aspects of the brain, leading to understandings, insights, epiphanies, shifts in awareness, unitive states: these are all due to the serotonic connections.  In addition, the part of the brain that regulates information uptake - or the screening out of so much of what we experience - this is turned off.  Psychedelics are psych-integrators.  They change serotonin inhibition so that you 'get it all,' (all of the sensory data available to the brain instead of the censored version.)  As Ram Dass says (about unity states), "There is no other.  It is all one."

Psilocybin Mushrooms
Another researcher, Dr Steven Ross, MD, from NYU, is using mushroom therapy in the treatment of cancer.  He has found that in both the short term and over time, people with cancer who have undergone therapy with psilocybin mushrooms have experienced a lessening of anxiety.   People who came to the study were normal people looking to get through the suffering they were experiencing.  

Rick Doblin, PhD helped create the Good Friday experiment, which aimed to answer the question "Can (using) psilocybin catalyze a religious/mystical experience?"  The answer?  Unequivocally yes!  Here are a few quotes: "The experience that day demonstrated to me the reality of God's presence in all the world... I would say yeah, it did change my life."  "When you have this unitive mystical experience, because it's unitive, you identify with people who you might normally not... there is this core element that binds us together."   (It helps us to identify with "other" deeper than all the limiting/defining terms - gender, race, age, sexual orientation, nationality.)  Roland Grifftihs, PhD, reported that "...the experience at it's core is more real, and more true, than everyday waking consciousness."  "Most people are still endorsing that this experience is among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their entire lives." 

This mystical/transcendent/transpersonal experience can now be studied, scientifically.  (Dennis McKenna).  "We are just relearning how to let it be OK to call these kinds of experiences real," says Kathleen Harrison, MA, director of Botanical Dimensions.


(MDMA, street named Ecstacy, was a legal drug until the 80's.  Today one of the main issues with it is that kids get it off the black (illegal) market - they are going to use it regardless of its legality - but black market ecstasy is often very impure, cut with heroin, speed, and other substances.  And kids don't learn about using these substances in a safe way due to prohibition (and the mentality that teaching abstinence is the only proper approach to these substances.  In my opinion that's about as rational as telling a bunch of horny teenagers not to have sex.  A few might listen - but most of them are going to ignore you and think of you as an old prude - and then go and do what they want without any kind of supervision or instruction from their elders.)

MDMA is not an hallucinogen.  It floods the brain with serotonin and decreases anxiety, making it a good catalyst for psychotherapy.   Most scientists in the field insist that more and immediate clinical research is needed!  One such researcher says, "There is no other drug like this one.  It floods the brain with serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, making it an immediate acting depression and anti-anxiety drug.  There is no other known immediate acting, non-sedating, anxiallytic (reliever of anxiety).   This substance has been helpful in the treatment of PTSD, where the normal problem is too much anxiety or too much emotional numbing.  MDMA helps people revisit the trauma in a therapeutic way, and face their fears without being overwhelmed, while t the same time maintaining an emotional connection.  MDMA also enhances oxytocin, which is involved in bonding and empathy."

We need to be able to do clinical research on this in order to fully understand the risks and benefits. 

(This medicine has been known to reduce anxiety, promote sleep, and help with Parkinsons, Alzheimer's, nausea, arthritis, cancer, glaucoma, and childbirth.  Marijuana IS medicine - and yet it is still regulated as a Schedule One Controlled Substance, which means there is no scientific evidence that it has medical benefits. This is FALSE.  Requests to conduct studies determining its medical benefits have been denied - and then the government claims that there are no studies proving any health benefits!) "It's beyond hypocrisy..." says one researcher.

"Tobacco is the only substance that we sell in the US that when used as directed causes death.  Shouldn't we be incorporating tobacco into our drug policies?"

Some people feel that the reason these medicines are villainized is that they constitute the ultimate threat: they have the ability to 'break consensus trance' (under which our culture lives).  "It's not marijuana, the mildly mind-altering substance.  It's marijuana, the antithesis of the state..."

"It's a tragedy that our youth can only get that type of marijuana (high THC).  It can be a real problem for kids taking these substances without the proper set and setting.  There's a lot of learned knowledge that can be more readily be passed on in a regulated system.  On one hand we decry the scourge of drugs, then on the other hand we medicate the kids instead of dealing with their bad behavior, to control them,  instead of parenting, etc, basically teaching them to turn to drugs for every problem.  Then they find out that the drugs that are prohibited are much more effective than the prescription ones, so of course they use them!"  (This is a paraphrase)

Kathleen Harrison, from Botanical Dimensions, says, "Not all the rules are here to protect us."

To sum it up: "We fund studies on harm - we don't fund studies on benefit."  (In other words, studies showing the negative effects of these substances would probably be funded - studies showing the positive benefits are not even considered.  I remember reading about a doctor in England who carelessly remarked that more people have died from tobacco and alcohol use in one year than from marijuana in the entire record of human history - and he was ridiculed and threatened with the ruin of his reputation, just for speaking his truth!)


Jeremy Narbe talks about how the knowledge of these sacred plants came from the hallucinations of their shamans.  Dr Gabon Mate (accents on the a and e) talks about plants as teachers.  "Plants have substituted biosynthesis for behavior. They can be used to form a symbiosis between humans and plants." (Dennis McKenna) 

Ayahuasca has become popular in the Western world, but it is definitely not a party drug.  It is not anything you would do lightly.   No one uses this medicine frivolously (since it can make you suffer from extreme nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and can cause you to have to look at the darkest aspects of your psyche). Many people agree that this medicine has to be used respectfully, in a safe set and setting.   "But after it happens there's a kind of a clarity and lightness that's powerful, because what 's being purged are psychic contents you've been holding onto.  You're purging anger; you're purging pain; you're purging some false story about the self." Dr. Mate.

SSRI's - (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) - feel good drugs.
(These were included here to show the difference between taking a medicine like ayahuasca and a drug like Prozac.)
"The idea that we can medicate ourselves into a state of happiness encourages drug dependence and also people not to examine the foundations of the problems that make them feel bad in the first place because you can simply mask the symptoms."  Companies are not interested in something that can be given one or two times with huge (beneficial) effects.  "All these substances (peyote, LSD, marijuana, psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA, etc) are in the public domain and so can't be patented.  Prohibitive substances (like SSRI's) bring in much more money.  The government stance is if we can't patent it, let's prohibit it.  This creates a black market and it helps some people make a lot of money."

Gillian Maxwell, Keeping the Door Open, says these substances - medicines - are the antidote to the lack of meaning (in our culture).   Medicines: let's explore what I am, and let's understand it.  Drugs: let me get out of this reality. 

These drugs are misclassified as being addictive.  They are actually more helpful in curing addictions (one study of 2000 alcoholics were treated with LSD and 45% of them stayed off alcohol after 1 year - AA only has an average 10%  sobriety rate after one year.)(2)

The research and study of these substances has been completely shut down, not based upon scientific evidence but based on a prohibitic policy, and "...despite the evidence that these substances have been used for medical purposes for tens of thousands of years, ...because of government regulations, we're denying major aspects of our population access to medicines that they dearly need." 

It is possible and it would be interesting to use (psychedelics) not just for disease states but for the exploration of one's consciousness, for spiritual exploration, to enhance spiritual growth and empathy, to be better people.  "We are potentially the salvation of the planet and also potentially the destruction of the planet." Terrence McKenna.

"We're talking about transformation at every level: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual."

"In order to use these medicines you have to be 'rebel' enough against the taboo to look at the taboo, and the whole nature of a taboo is that it's an area of culture where we are told 'don't look there, it's not good to even look there.'" Kathleen Harrison

(If you are still reading, you can see why I am quoting so much from this movie! Good stuff, good information.  I will have to review it again to get the manes on some of the other quotes.  After they introduced a person one time, they didn't put up their name again - and so I have some quotes whose authors I have missed.  Will fix later.)

Ayahuasca - Vine of the Soul (2010): directed by Richard Meech
Kenneth Fupper talks about the globalization of Ayahuasca.  He says users are not criminals associated with illegal drug use.  Over the past 10 years thousands have tried this, and their spirituality and healing has been excised.  "Our culture is empty - it doesn't give people what they really need."  This medicine, "...can open up energetic barriers to help one live more optimally."  Another quote, "You just know that you are connected to something larger."

Religions demand faith.  But with ayahuasca you don't have to have faith - you have direct experience of the divine.  "Learning through plants is a cultural tradition that goes back hundreds if not thousands of years."  "It is a very powerful medicine that has to be placed and used in a proper way.  If not, it can create a psychological shock that can leave a trauma.  "Addiction is trying to complete yourself from the outside, to fill the void."

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the film: "Mysterium Tremendum - the feeling of being at one with the universe.  Religions say that this is not for the ordinary person.  But ayahuasca says no - it is!"  "It was the most spiritual thing I have ever felt in my whole life."   "I felt a kind of love I have never felt in my life."  "That literally broke me open - annihilated me..."  "It allows you to have a second chance at being yourself."  "It is very much about love.  Period."

DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010):

DMT (dimethlytriptamine) has profound effects on human consciousness.  it is 2 steps away from tryptophan, one of our amino acids.  All organisms have this plus two enzymes that lead to the DMT molecule.  Graham Hancock reports, "No one knows why it is there - why is it in our bodies/mammals/plants?"

Dennis McKenna says, "Wake up you monkeys - you are really screwing things up!" (I don't remember the reference for this quote but include it here as a bit of comic relief!  I am sure he was referring to the fact that the use of DMT is said to (potentially at least) expand one's consciousness into a unitive state, where 'we' realize in a profound way that everything in existence is connected, or is ONE - and then, presumably, with this consciousness we (humanity) could stop raping, plundering, killing, and ruining everything on this planet and instead use ALL of our resources to work together to reestablish balance and (possibly) avoid the impending apocalypse.  Just sayin'...) 

Jeremy Narby, PhD, has this to say: "With the help of two concepts which are traditionally opposed - science and spirituality - we humbly reintroduce psychedelics back into the cultural dialogue."  (What a quote!)

DMT is said to foster the entering and exiting of the soul from the body, much in the same way as fasting, chanting, meditation, and near-death experiences.  It is the active ingredient in the Ayahuasca brew, made available to digest by the addition of a plant which inhibits the body's naturally occurring MAO inhibitor.

So why is it and other substance like it illegal?  "In the Western world, we value alert problem-solving consciousness; a production and consumption mentality only.  We allow drunkenness as a respite but stigmatize and condemn other states of consciousness that don't conform to this." (paraphrasing here).

Daniel Pinchbeck, author, says that the era of the 60's was a failed initiation attempt.  People wanted to push to a new level of consciousness but there were no elders, no medicine men, etc (no one but the blind leading the blind.)

There is a part of the brain that is keyed to trigger and mediate the experiences of the transcendent -   the pineal gland - which some say is the interface between Spirit and matter.  In our culture, we have severed our natural connection with Spirit (and with the natural world).  We need the help of these plant teachers at this time to reestablish our natural wisdom: to investigate the biological basis of moral and ethical behavior; to better understand the universe (in all its dimensions); to discover new forms of medical treatment (free from greed, bias and fear/propaganda); to have life-changing spiritual revelations; and to use these natural tools which offer us the ability to seek greater knowledge.

"What we are looking for out there... is really in here... (pointing at brain)."  (We have to evolve in consciousness if we want to change the world - that old Einstein quote about how you can't correct a problem in the level of consciousness in which it was created...)

(My main take-aways from watching these three films: 1.  There are a LOT of very intelligent, knowledgeable and educated people in this country and in the Western world who are devoting their lives to scientifically studying these medicines despite the prohibitive laws, fear-based propaganda, and the potentially career-damaging jeering of their peers.  2.  There is a wealth of already amassed scientific evidence that in the very least supports further scientific study of these medicines and clinical trials to create viable treatment options for the diverse groups who would most benefit from their use; 3.  While many people include LSD, MDMA, and marijuana in the discussion of entheogens, in my personal definition, I only include naturally occurring, psychoactive plant-based substances.  So even though marijuana is naturally occurring, and while I believe it to have tremendous medicinal benefits, I am not including it in the scope of my book, mostly because in my experience with those who use it , it seems to often be (psychologically) addictive in nature, and also I do not have any traditional elders from whom to learn its proper use.  LSD and MDMA are both synthetic substances, and are therefore excluded from my considerations for the book.  Finally, I am debating about including psilocybin mushrooms in the book. Although they are entheogenic and completely natural, I do not know of any traditional ceremonies or elders who can teach me to use them properly (I have heard the Huichol in Mexico use them, but have not had the opportunity to participate there with that tribe).  Most of the mushroom experiences I know or have heard about range from a person taking some and going into nature alone, to taking them with a group of friends, to going to see a Dead show and partying and dancing their asses off.  I have experience with all of the above - and none of it compares to the intentional purposefulness of taking an entheogen for spiritual growth.  AND at the same time I did grow from my mushroom experiences, unguided and seat-of-the-pants as they were. So the jury is still out on that one;  4.  Things in this country are changing in respect to the legitimacy of studying and even using these medicines... (but not fast enough for me, I might add!), and the field of psychedelic research is gaining proponents, momentum, validity, and profound results.  May it continue to be so!)

(2) "The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous." The Atlantic.

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