What if a drug was discovered that was effective in the treatment of anxiety (including the fear experienced by terminally ill cancer patients facing death), alcohol and tobacco addiction and depression and one that Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health and a neuroscientist, thinks should be studied? But what if, despite its promise, it isn’t being produced or marketed by Big Pharma. Don’t we as a community have compassion for all those who suffer and could be helped? Insel has the answer when he reminds us that “it would be very difficult to get a pharmaceutical company interested in developing this drug, since it cannot be patented.” Or in the language of economists, it can’t be “monetized;” profit first, empathy second.
Another problem with the drug is that it is too effective. Anthony Bossis, a psychologist at N.Y.U., pointed out that “There’s not a lot of money here when you can be cured with one session.” One would think that this drug is new and needs more study but that is not the case. Stanislov Groff, a former professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has been studying this drug since the 1960’s. He has written many books extolling the potential benefits of LSD. It would seem that in America where Big Pharma is concerned and compassion is in short supply, when the choice is love or money, if you’re suffering, you’re out of luck. Oh! You want to know what these hallucinogens and or drugs in general have to do with Simple Reality. OK! That is a reasonable request.
In 1953 Humphrey Osmond, an English psychiatrist, introduced Aldous Huxley to mescaline and it was Huxley who conceived of giving the drug to people who were dying. Osmond coined the term “psychedelic” which means “mind manifesting.” In 1963 Huxley, dying of laryngeal cancer, had his wife inject him with the drug when he was on his deathbed. The author of Brave New World experienced and learned something we would do well to revisit today.
LSD was discovered by accident by Dr. Albert Hoffman in Switzerland and was recognized as the most potent of the consciousness-changing drugs. “Not an opiate or a narcotic, LSD is a chemical able to produce profound changes of consciousness which, in healthily constituted persons, seem to leave no untoward after effects. And while it can give an ecstatic experience, at the same time it lends an extraordinary intensity of attention.” Did the mystic Gerald Heard mean in that last sentence that LSD could heighten present moment awareness?
As Heard continues notice how he seems to be describing Oneness, the present moment and the experience of the “observer” that many of us have in our meditations. “Time appears to have stopped, disappeared. What has now befallen the “voyager” is not merely that he is on the high seas with his ship in a vast calm, but that the ship itself no longer seems distinct from the infinite ocean. He stands outside of and apart from his familiar ego [false-self], all its protective barriers [reactive survival strategy] having been shed; and this can lead in some to transcendence experience [awakening], while in others to a deep panic. To those for whom the ego is their only possible self, the only possible mode of consciousness, its disappearance is a kind of death.”
We should note that most of the experimenters cited in this essay are operating in the context of P-B with their false-self evaluating the results. The conditions are such that an objective and profound understanding of the altered states of consciousness is unlikely. For a person already focusing on creating a new identity in a supportive context, the LSD experience can be much more positive. “It is true that mystics and saints have reported time and again, ‘out-of-this-world,’ indescribable experiences that did change their lives and bring a ‘better order’ in their living.” In other words their experiences were transformational in a positive way. How many of our heavily used drugs today offer such benefits?
Groff, a Czech-born psychiatrist, used LSD extensively in his practice in the 60s and 70s. Pioneers with open minds like Huxley and Groff had the courage to explore the unknown. Why don’t we know more about their obviously promising discoveries? Alas, in this country the Nixon administration shut down psychedelic research 40 years ago. Why?
The answer might be similar to why the content of Simple Reality is also not connecting with fear-driven Americans. Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explains why America’s paternalistic leadership might not want psychedelics used as “medicine.” “There is such a sense of authority that comes out of the primary mystical experience that it can be threatening to existing hierarchical structures. We ended up demonizing these compounds. Can you think of another area of science regarded as so dangerous and taboo that all research gets shut down for decades? It’s unprecedented in modern science.”
It’s not as if there are other conventional psychiatric drugs that are as effective in treating existential anxiety, not Prozac, not Xanax. Bossis said “People don’t realize how few tools we have in psychiatry to address existential distress … So how can we not explore this, if it can recalibrate how we die?” How indeed?
Not surprisingly, psychiatric drugs like Prozac affect the P-B “world of form” by altering long-term brain chemistry not by empowering the patient to undertake his own transformation. The Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire does evaluate the effect of psychedelics in a P-A context. “The questionnaire measures feelings of unity [Oneness], sacredness, ineffability, peace and joy, as well as the impression of having transcended space and time and the “noetic sense” that the experience is one that exhibits all six characteristics.”
We have to ask what percentage of those taking psychedelics have these experiences which were based in part on the descriptions in William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience written in 1902. In other words we Americans have had quite some time to investigate the possibility that we don’t know everything about the power of transcendence, our ability to distinguish reality from illusion.
“‘I don’t want to use the word “mindblowing,’’’ Griffiths [said], ‘but, as a scientific phenomenon, if you can create conditions in which seventy per cent of people will say they have had one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives? To a scientist, that’s just incredible.’”
In April 2010 Patrick Mettes, a 54-year-old television news director, learned he had lung cancer (which would ultimately cause his death), saw a front-page article in the Times headlined HALLUCINOGENS HAVE DOCTORS TUNING IN AGAIN. Toward the end of his life a few years later he described his experience and was glad he consented to use those hallucinogens. “From here on, love was the only consideration. It was and is the only purpose. Love seemed to emanate from a single point of light … no sensation, no image of beauty, nothing during my time on earth has felt as pure and joyful and glorious as the height of this journey.”
What about the more objective observations of others in the room with Mettes, Dr. Bossis, for example: “‘You’re in this room, but you’re in the presence of something large,’ he recalled, ‘it’s humbling to sit there. It’s the most rewarding day of your career.’” So perhaps when we learn to choose the identity that values love more than money, it will be much more than a rewarding day.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in the Simple Reality books:
Where Am I? Story – The First Great Question
Who Am I? Identity – The Second Great Question
Why Am I Here? Behavior – The Third Great Question
Science & Philosophy: The Failure of Reason in the Human Community