Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Consciousness on Psychedelic "Medicines"

Michael Pollan, Terry Gross (NPR); Ananda, C. Quintero, CC Liu (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Your Brain On Psilocybin Might Be Less Depressed

What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
The way [psilocybin is] being used [by research scientists] is in a very controlled or guided setting.

Set and Setting
"...They [scientists] don't just give you a pill and send you home; you're in a room. You're with two guides, one male, one female. You're lying down on a comfortable couch.

What do you want, monsters?
"You're wearing headphones listening to a really carefully curated playlist of music -- instrumental compositions for the most part -- and you're wearing eye shades, all of which is to encourage a very inward journey.

"Someone is kind of looking out for you, and they prepare you very carefully in advance. They give you a set of "flight instructions," as they call them, which is what to do if you get really scared or you're beginning to have a bad trip.

What are you here to teach me, monster?
"If you see a monster, for example, don't try to run away.

"Walk right up to it, plant your feet and say, 'What do you have to teach me? What are you doing in my mind?'

"And if you do that, according to the flight instructions, your fear will morph into something much more positive very quickly."
On how psychedelics can help change the stories we tell about ourselves
"The drugs medicines foster new perspectives on old problems. One of the things our mind does is tell stories about ourselves.

"If you're depressed, you're being told a story perhaps that you're worthless, that no one could possibly love you, you're not worthy of love, that life will not get better.

"And these stories -- which are enforced by our egos really -- trap us in these ruminative loops that are very hard to get out of. They're very destructive patterns of thought.
"What the drugs plant-medicines appear to do is disable for a period of time the part of the brain where the self talks to itself.

"It's called the default mode network, and it's a group of structures that connect parts of the cortex -- the evolutionarily most recent part of the brain -- to deeper levels where emotion and memory reside.

Do drugs, mostly psychedelics, not too much. 
-Pollan's feared future tombstone engraving
Time travel
"And it's a very important hub in the brain and lots of important things happen there: self-reflection and rumination, time travel.

"It's where we go to think about the future or the past, and theory of mind, the ability to imagine the mental states of other beings and, I think, most importantly, the autobiographical self.

It's a whole new way to look at cyclic time.
"It's the part of the brain, it appears, where we incorporate things that happen to us, new information, with a sense of who we are, who we were and who we want to be. And that's where these stories get generated. And these stories can be really destructive, they trap us.

"...This network is downregulated [with psychedelics], it sort of goes offline for a period of time. And that's why you experience this dissolution of self or ego, which can be a terrifying or liberating thing, depending on your mindset.

"This is what allows people, I think, to have those new perspectives on themselves, to realize that they needn't be trapped in those stories and they might actually be able to write some new stories about themselves.

"That's what's liberating, I think, about the experience when it works.

On how psychedelics can help dying people face their deaths
How A Psychedelic Drug Helps Cancer Patients Overcome AnxietyProzac [a toxic fluoride SSRI synthetic antidepressant] doesn't help when you're confronting your mortality [susceptibility to death, being mortal].

"But here we have something [in entheogens] that occasions an experience in people -- a mystical experience [which Alan Watts describes as coming from the root word mu or mum, shush, that which can't be spoken] that somehow makes it easier to let go.

"And I think some of it has to do with the fact that you do experience the 'extinction' of yourself and it's kind of a rehearsal for [pleasant] death.

"And I think that may be part of what helps people, that they [these entheogenic substances] expand their sense of what is your self-interest. And your self-interest is something larger than what is contained by your skin. And when you have that recognition, I think dying becomes a little easier.... 
LSD Gets Another Look As Alcoholism Treatment
"There's no way to prove this, obviously, and it's a question that really troubled me as an old-fashioned materialist skeptical journalist.

"It's like, 'What if these drugs are inducing an illusion in people?' I got a variety of answers to that question from the researchers. One was, 'Who cares if it helps them?' And I can see the point of that.

"The other was, 'Hey, this is beyond my pay grade; none of us know what happens after we die.' And others say, 'Well, this is an open frontier.'...

"The experiences that people have are very real to them -- they're psychological facts. And one of the really interesting qualities of psychedelic experience is that the insights you have on them have a durability...

"This isn't just an opinion; this is revealed truth, so the confidence people have is hard to shake, actually.
On a Johns Hopkins study on the use of psilocybin to help people quit smoking
"Smoking is a very hard addiction to break [by design, thanks to the Tobacco Industry]. It's one of the hardest addictions to break.

"[I wanted to understand] how, after a single psilocybin trip, they could decide, 'I'm never going to smoke again' based on the perspective they had achieved."
"And they would say things like, 'Well, I had this amazing experience. I died three times. I sprouted wings. I flew through European histories. I beheld all these wonders [past life memories?].

"I saw my body on a funeral pyre on the Ganges. And I realized, the universe is so amazing and there's so much to do in it that killing myself seemed really stupid.'

"And that was the insight. Yes, killing yourself is really stupid -- but it had an authority it had never had. And that, I think, is the gift of these psychedelics.
On his own experience tripping on magic mushrooms

"I had an experience that was by turns frightening and ecstatic and weird. ...I found myself in this place where I could no longer control my perceptions at all.

"And I felt my sense of self scatter to the wind -- almost as if a pile of Post-Its had been released to the wind -- but I was fine with it. I didn't feel any desire to pile the papers back together into my customary self...."

Howard Bloom started '60s?
"Then I looked out and saw myself spread over the landscape like a coat of paint or butter. I was outside myself, beside myself, literally, and the consciousness that beheld this...was not my normal consciousness, it was completely unperturbed. It was dispassionate. It was content, as I watched myself dissolve over the landscape.

"What I brought back from that experience was that I'm not identical to my ego, that there is another ground on which to plant our feet, and that our ego is kind of this character that is chattering neurotically in our minds.

"And it's good for lots of things. I mean, the ego got the book written, but it also can be very harsh, and it's liberating to have some distance on it. And that was a great gift, I think."
  • Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for NPR broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper, and Scott Hensley adapted it for the Web.

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