Scientists finally discover how to synthesize magic mushrooms' active ingredient, psilocybin

In 1943 Sandoz chemist Albert Hofmann became the first person to synthesize (and take) LSD. He was also the first person to isolate and identify psilocybin, the main psychedelic component in magic mushrooms, almost 60 years ago. "Yet no one has been able to unravel the enzymatic pathway the mushrooms use to make psilocybin, until now," reports Stephen K. Ritter of Chemical and Engineering News.

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New book about psychedelics and weird human experiences

David Luke, a University of Greenwich psychology lecturer and researcher of high weirdness, has a new book out with the compelling title of Otherworlds: Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience. Based on the blurb, it sounds like an absolute trip:

A psychonautic scientific trip to the weirdest outposts of the psychedelic terrain, inhaling anything and everything relevant from psychology, psychiatry, parapsychology, anthropology, neuroscience, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, biochemistry, religious studies, cultural history, shamanism and the occult along the way.

Staring the strange straight in the third eye this eclectic collection of otherworldly entheogenic research delivers a comprehensive and yet ragtaglledy scientific exploration of synaesthesia, extra-dimensional percepts, inter-species communication, eco-consciousness, mediumship, possession, entity encounters, near-death and out-of-body experiences, psi, alien abduction experiences and lycanthropy. Essentially, its everything you ever wanted to know about weird psychedelic experiences, but were too afraid to ask…

"Otherworlds: Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience" (via Daily Grail) Read the rest

Dissociative psychedelic Ketamine may help suicidal children

Ketamine is a short-acting dissociative anesthetic commonly used on animals and sometimes people. Of course it's also beloved by many psychonauts for its unusual dreamlike or "out of body" psychedelic effects. While Ketamine has been shown for years to help treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults, researchers at Yale School of Medicine now report that it has great promise as a fast-acting intervention for children in crisis. From Scientific American:

It was less dramatic to watch than I expected, but the kids were definitely high. There was a lot of giggling involved, and they often said that they felt like time was changing and that their bodies felt ‘funny’ and sometimes numb. Nicole, (a suicidal 14-year-old,) admitted, “I’m not gonna lie. I like the feeling of it.”

Perhaps more dramatic than the trips themselves, which happened in a carefully controlled procedure room with a psychiatrist and anesthesiologist ready to intervene if needed, were the interviews that came after. I could see the weight of depression lifted from these patients within hours. Adolescents who were previously ready to end their own lives became bright and hopeful. Psychiatry has never seen a drug intervention so powerful and fast acting. While most anti-depressants take weeks to work and offer modest improvement, ketamine offers dramatic improvement in less than a day...

Dr. Michael Bloch, Yale child psychiatrist and principal investigator of several controlled trials for ketamine for adolescents, points out that the drug is only used for select patients who have severe mental health problems that have not responded to other medications.

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Religious leaders tripping balls... for science

Psychologists at Johns Hopkins University are currently giving two dozen religious leaders psilocybin, the psychedelic drug in magic mushrooms, to, y'know, see what happens. From The Guardian:

Despite most organised religions frowning on the use of illicit substances, Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, a Zen Buddhist and several rabbis were recruited. The team has yet to persuade a Muslim imam or Hindu priest to take part, but “just about all the other bases are covered,” according to (study co-leader Dr. William) Richards....

“It is too early to talk about results, but generally people seem to be getting a deeper appreciation of their own religious heritage,” he said. “The dead dogma comes alive for them in a meaningful way. They discover they really believe this stuff they’re talking about.”

There is also a suggestion that after their psychedelic journey, the leaders’ notions of religion shifted away from the sectarian towards something more universal. “They get a greater appreciation for other world religions. Other ways up the mountain, if you will,” said Richards.

“In these transcendental states of consciousness, people seem to get to levels of consciousness that seem universal,” he added. “So a good rabbi can encounter the Buddha within him.”

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Today is the 74th anniversary of Albert Hofmann's first LSD trip

To celebrate Bicycle Day on April 19th, the date of Albert Hofmann’s — and the world’s first LSD trip in 1943, we are publishing this excerpt from the forthcoming interview with Michael Horowitz — the third installment of the Acid Bodhisattva series, coming soon to Timothy Leary Archives.

Images: from Lysergic World (April, 1993): Albert Hofmann in 1977 (above), and the route of his famous bicycle ride on LSD through Basel, Switzerland on April 19, 1943, from Sandoz Laboratories to his house.

Below, Leary's archivist Michael Horowitz reminisces about a car ride with Albert Hofmann and Timothy Leary in February 1972.

"Tim and I took the train to Basel where Albert picked us up in his car. He drove, Tim sat in the passenger seat and me in back, trying to manage a super 8mm movie camera with one hand and a tape recorder with the other. Albert told us that we were driving the route of his first LSD trip in 1943, when he bicycled home with his Sandoz lab assistant after testing 250 micrograms. Tim cracked up when I asked Albert if he still had the bicycle. I knew it was gauche of me, but I couldn't resist. A short time later Albert pulled over."

Here is an excerpt of the conversation between Albert and Tim, after they picked us up at the train station. On the way to Albert's estate we passed by his 1943 home.

Albert: That house is where we lived at the time. I never thought I would get home that day. Read the rest

BBC documentary on LSD microdosing

BBC News has a 15 minute documentary about people who take regular tiny doses of psychedelics drugs to deal with mental health issues, improve productivity, or just better appreciate what life has to offer.

From YouTube description:

Microdosing is when you take a tiny amount of psychedelic drugs - LSD or magic mushrooms usually - as part of your ordinary day. The drugs are illegal, and there is no medical evidence to say what the benefits or harms of it may be. But a small community of people in the UK are doing it anyway, and say it’s improving their lives. Some say it aids creativity and concentration and others argue it helps with their mental health problems. BBC Reporter Catrin Nye has been meeting the people that do it.

Here's my interview with Ayelet Waldman, who microdosed for a month and wrote a book about it called A Really Good Day. Read the rest

The daring doctors experimenting with psychedelic medicines

Rolling Stone's Mac McClelland tells the story of the physicians bravely breaking the law by treating patients with MDMA, ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, and other hallucinogens. From RS:

As an internal-medicine specialist, Dr. X doesn't have any patients who come to him seeking psychotherapy. But the longer he does the work, the more "I'm seeing that consciousness correlates to disease," he says. "Every disease." Narcolepsy. Cataplexy. Crohn's. Diabetes – one patient's psychedelic therapy preceded a 30 percent reduction in fasting blood-sugar levels. Sufferers of food allergies discover in their journeys that they've been internally attacking themselves. "Consciousness is so vastly undervalued," Dr. X says. "We use it in every other facet in our life and esteem the intellectual part of it, but deny the emotional or intuitive part of it." Psychedelic therapy "reinvigorated my passion and belief in healing. I think it's the best tool to achieving well-being, so I feel morally and ethically compelled to open up that space."...

"If we didn't have some idea about the potential importance of these medicines, we wouldn't be researching them," says Dr. Jeffrey Guss, psychiatry professor at NYU Medical Center and co-investigator of the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Project. "Their value has been written about and is well known from thousands of years of recorded history, from their being used in religious and healing settings. Their potential and their being worthy of exploration and study speaks for itself."

Optimistic insiders think that if all continues to go well, within 10 to 15 years some psychedelics could be legally administrable to the public, not just for specific conditions but even for personal growth.

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How LSD microdosing made a mega difference in one woman's mood, marriage, and life

Ayelet Waldman is a novelist, non fiction author, and former federal public defender. Her latest book is called A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. I interviewed her this morning.

Why did you start microdosing?

I started microdosing because I was profoundly and dangerously depressed. I have a mood disorder and for many, many years my medication worked great. I took it, I did what my doctor told me and everything was fine. But at some point my medication stopped working. I tried all sorts of different things. And nothing helped. I was getting worse and worse and more and more full of despair and more and more full of rage and more and more unstable and I became suicidal. I started doing things like googling the effects of maternal suicide on children and I was so terrified that I was going to do something to myself, that I was going to hurt myself, that I decided to do something drastic and something that some people might think is crazy -- I decided to try microdosing with L.S.D.

Did it work?

Oh absolutely. It worked for sure. It's sub-perceptual. In fact, if I told you right now, "Hey Mark, I slipped a microdose of LSD. in your coffee," you wouldn't even know the difference. The effect for me was instantaneous. My depression lifted right away. The book is called A Really Good Day because at the end of that very first day, I looked back and I thought, "that was a really good day." It wasn't like everything was perfect. Read the rest

Psychedelics can treat anxiety and depression, but there's a catch

Jan Hoffman writes about recent research into the effects on psychedelics such as psilocybin on anxiety and depression: "About 80 percent of cancer patients showed clinically significant reductions in both psychological disorders, a response sustained some seven months after the single dose."

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association, and Dr. Daniel Shalev of the New York State Psychiatric Institute are among leaders in psychiatry, addiction medicine and palliative care who endorsed the work. The studies, they wrote, are “a model for revisiting criminalized compounds of interest in a safe, ethical way.”

If research restrictions could be eased, they continued, “there is much potential for new scientific insights and clinical applications.”

Although cancer patients will not have access to therapeutically administered psilocybin anytime soon, the findings add vigor to applications to expand research in a multicenter trial with hundreds of participants.

Moreover, there are few side effects. But there is a catch: the experiences must be rigorously contextualized, written down, analyzed, etc.

Dr. Griffiths noted that patients received extensive support, which may have deepened and secured their life-affirming transformations.

“People will take psilocybin at a rave or at Burning Man” — the art and performance desert festival — “but the effect,” he said, “evaporates like water running through their hands.”

Set and setting and settlement. Read the rest

Johns Hopkins psychedelics research keeps finding medical uses

Johns Hopkins is among several institutions challenging a key tenet of outlawing psychedelics: that they have "no medicinal use." Baltimore Magazine examines the progress made by key researchers Roland Griffiths and Bill Richards. Read the rest

Psychedelic microdosing makes inroads in Silicon Valley

Once the domain of countercultural psychonauts, LSD and mushrooms in one-tenth doses are becoming more popular among you professionals, especially in the tech industry. Read the rest

Ancient psychedelic Ayahuasca's Brooklyn and Silicon Valley devotees

In the New Yorker, Ariel Levy explores the buzz around Ayahuasca, the ultimate artisanal psychedelic drug.

“I came home reeking of vomit and sage and looking like I’d come from hell,” Vaughn Bergen, a twenty-seven-year-old who works at an art gallery in Chelsea, said of one ayahuasca trip. “Everyone was trying to talk me out of doing it again. My girlfriend at the time was, like, ‘Is this some kind of sick game?’ I was, like, ‘No. I’m growing.’ ” His next experience was blissful: “I got transported to a higher dimension, where I lived the whole ceremony as my higher self. Anything I thought came to be.” Bergen allows that, of the nine ceremonies he’s attended, eight have been “unpleasant experiences.” But he intends to continue using ayahuasca for the rest of his life. He believes that it will heal not only him but civilization at large.

The process of making ayahuasca is beyond artisanal: it is nearly Druidical. “We pick the chacruna leaf at sunrise in this very specific way: you say a prayer and just pick the lower ones from each tree,” a lithe ayahuasquera in her early forties—British accent, long blond hair, a background in Reiki—told me about her harvests, in Hawaii. “You clean the vine with wooden spoons, meticulously, all the mulch away from the roots—they look so beautiful, like a human heart—and you pound these beautiful pieces of vine with wooden mallets until it’s fibre,” she said. “Then it’s this amazing, sophisticated process of one pot here and one pot there, and you’re stirring and you’re singing songs.”

She and her boyfriend serve the ayahuasca—“divine consciousness in liquid form”—at ceremonies in New York, Cape Town, Las Vegas, Bali.

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John Lennon on his first acid trip

In 1965, John Lennon, George Harrison, Cynthia Lennon, and Pattie Boyd were having dinner at a dentist friend's house. The dentist put LSD in their coffee without telling them first. When he revealed what he had done, John was pissed off, and rightly so. "How dare you fucking do this to us?" he said. Rolling Stone's Mikal Gilmore has the story and an animated interview with John about their first trip on LSD and the secret history of Revolver:

"It was as if we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a horror film," Cynthia Lennon said. "The room seemed to get bigger and bigger." The Beatles and their wives fled Riley's home in Harrison's Mini Cooper. (According to Bury, John and George had earlier indicated a willingness to take LSD if they didn't know beforehand that it was being administered.) The Lennons and Harrisons went to Leicester Square's Ad Lib club. In the elevator, they succumbed momentarily to panic. "We all thought there was a fire in the lift," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1971. "It was just a little red light, and we were all screaming, all hot and hysterical." Once inside at a table, something like reverie began to take hold instead. As Harrison told Rolling Stone, "I had such an overwhelming feeling of well-being, that there was a God, and I could see him in every blade of grass. It was like gaining hundreds of years of experience in 12 hours."

The couples ended up at the Harrisons' home in Esher, outside London.

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The healing power of ayahuasca

Michael Costuros is an "executive coach" in California's Marin County (birthplace of the hot tub) who every year takes a group of entrepreneurs to South America on a trip within a trip. Each spends $10,000 to hopefully leverage "the healing power of ayahuasca," Costuros says. From Chris Colin's feature in California Sunday:

Chris Hunter, co-founder of the company behind the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko, signed on in hopes that it would help him navigate some sticky professional relationships. Jesse Krieger, publisher of Lifestyle Entre­preneurs Press, wished for insight into growth strategies. Other participants included the founder of a financial technology company, the scion of a footwear empire, and a firearms executive looking for a pivot. Under the guidance of Costuros and a local shaman, they would participate in a San Pedro ceremony — San Pedro is another powerful plant-based psychedelic — followed by two separate ayahuasca ceremonies....

The participants — all men this year — spent their first day traveling to the retreat center, getting situated, and enjoying massages. At 8 a.m. the next day, they assembled in a small, open-air structure. Following an initial cleansing ceremony, they drank their first batch of medicine (fermented wheatgrass and dirt is how Krieger described the taste) and lay down on thin mats under a thatched roof. There they’d remain for ten hours.

The first 60 minutes of the ayahuasca ceremony felt like two weeks for (AirHelp CEO Henrik) Zillmer. Uncontrollable vomiting and feverish shivering aside, he was unable to move and watched helplessly as his mind departed his body and descended into a vast black hole.

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Watch a fantastic documentary about psych pioneer Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson is the founder of pioneering Texan psychedelic band the 13th Floor Elevators, an outfit that emerged in mid-1960s from Austin's underground scene and influenced bands ranging from ZZ Top and Primal Scream to The Flaming Lips and Queens of the Stone Age.

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Magic-mushroom drug lifts depression in first human trial

Nature Magazine reports that researchers from Imperial College London gave psilocybin to 12 people with depression. All the patients showed "a marked improvement in their symptoms." From Nature:

Researchers from Imperial College London gave 12 people psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms. All had been clinically depressed for a significant amount of time — on average 17.8 years. None of the patients had responded to standard medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or had electroconvulsive therapy.

One week after receiving an oral dose of psilocybin, all patients experienced a marked improvement in their symptoms. Three months on, five patients were in complete remission.

“That is pretty remarkable in the context of currently available treatments,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London and first author of the latest study, which is published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The equivalent remission rate for SSRIs is around 20%.

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Watch: 61-year-old takes magic mushrooms for the first time

This 61-year-old woman, who has never taken psychedelics before, decided to take 1 gram of psilocybe cubensis (a very small dose). In this video, shot by her son, we get to watch her go through the different stages of what seems to be a fairly strong trip, which lasts about four hours. She said she would not do it again with someone filming and interviewing her, but she said the experience helped her "reconnect with her real self" and that she might take it again with friends in the woods. Read the rest

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