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Molecules of inner-space: Dr. Rick Strassman and the science of pschydelics

PULP spoke with Dr. Rick Strassman, one of the Country’s leading psychedelic psychiatrists. Dr. Strassman was one of the first researchers to look at the medical implications of psychedelic drugs.

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Dr. Rick Strassman | rickstrassman.com

Dr. Rick Strassman | rickstrassman.com

PULP spoke with Dr. Rick Strassman, one of the Country’s leading psychedelic psychiatrists. After psychedelic research was stopped in the early 1970s due to psychedelic drugs being put on the restricted Schedule I list by the FDA, Dr. Strassman was one of the first researchers to look at the medical implications of psychedelic drugs on the human body twenty years later. 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently sent photos to earth of a previously unseen population of seven primitive galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 3 percent of its present age.  These photographs present a primitive portrait of the universe, 350-600 thousand years after the big bang. As our technological capabilities increase, with the help of instruments like NASA’s next-generation spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers and physicists will be able to penetrate even deeper into outer-space and pave the way for new insight into origins, primordial states of nature, and the history of physical reality to which we are descendents.

While physicists and astronomers reach further into the Cosmos, inching closer to the impression of the moment of creation, with eyes to the sky, instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope provide no vantage points into the invisible realities of dark matter and dark energy, which comprise 96 percent of the universe.  To physicists the landscape of inner-space or consciousness remains hidden and the contemporary models of physics that we use to think critically about reality, even those which acknowledge concepts like dark matter, dark energy, many worlds, and multiverses, lack the tools and vocabulary to describe the nature of the inferred invisible realities with any scientific credibility.  

The field of psychedelic studies, however, is one branch of inquiry leading humanity to begin penetrating into the ocean of inner-space, which some hypothesize to be the house of much of the phenomena illustrated in today’s cutting edge theoretical physics.  However, psychedelic explorations fall awkward into the domain of science, religion, magic, and taboo.  And naturally, these violently adversarial superstitions germinate skepticism around ambitions of unification.  

Psychedelic scientists study a colorful spectrum of topics.  From the effects of administered psychedelics on volunteers in spiritual, creative, meditative, therapeutic, etc, contexts to naturally occurring psychedelic experiences in similar sets and settings.

One special strain of psychedelic inquiry is the data collected on the effects of Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, the chemical cousin of psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms), ibogaine (psychedelic Tabernanthe Iboga root), mescaline (psychedelic Peyote cactus). In psychedelic circles the reputation of DMT precedes it.  DMT is known to be one of the most powerful and psychedelic compounds found in nature; and individuals who have experienced the compound vehemently testify to its unique effects.  For example, individuals have been known to experience a complete separation of mind from body, experiences of enlightenment, religious or mystical revelation, travel through multidimensional space, but also alien encounters. 

Noted expert and pioneer of psychedelic studies Dr. Rick Strassman is the first scientist to revive psychedelic exploration in the United States since the 70’s.  Strassman’s research involved the powerful naturally-occurring compound, DMT – N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Led to this substance through his earlier study of the pineal gland as a potential biological locus for spiritual experiences, he administered several hundred doses of DMT to approximately 60 volunteers between 1990 and 1995. He wrote about this research in the popular book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which has sold over 100,000 copies, has been translated into 12 languages, and is now available as an audio-book. It also inspired an independent documentary by the same name, picked up by Warner Bros distributing in Fall, 2011. With three distinguished collaborators, he co-authored Inner Paths to Outer Space, which looks more carefully at the common ‘other worlds’ experience that volunteers frequently reported during his research.

In a recent conversation with Dr. Strassman, we spoke in depth about the science and philosophy underlying his research.  According to Strassman, DMT exists “in body fluids of every mammal that has been investigated, including those of human.  The fact that there is an endogenous [naturally occurring] compound that seems to provide access to, for lack of a better word, spiritual states, suggests that we are hardwired for such experiences. In addition, DMT may be the mediator between the physical and spiritual. By spiritual, I mean a complex of experiences that partakes of a number of variables which combined in a particular manner elicit a constellation of effects that people refer to as spiritual. For example, extreme emotions, novel insights, the seeming separation of consciousness from the body, visions, voices, and so on. A rabbi and I were talking about DMT several years ago and he wondered about its relationship to a particular Hebrew/Kabbalistic concept that has to do with the most spiritual of the physical and the most physical of the spiritual. Perhaps DMT fits into that definition.  Alex Grey [a visionary artist] referred to my labeling DMT as the ‘spirit molecule’ as a conundrum or a paradox. I think that is an accurate portrayal of the notion.”

In scientific observations throughout Strassman’s research he subtly points to DMT’s chemical simplicity, as well as its apparent necessary role in the body.  Discussing the results of his study of DMT, Strassman explained to me that DMT is “made in the lungs of mammals and appears to be actively transported across the blood brain barrier using energy in order to get into the brain. The brain only expends energy in getting substances into its confines that it is unable to synthesize on its own and that are necessary for its function.”  Some of the Platonic arguments for the existence and immortality of the soul arise from similar principles of simplicity and necessity.  And while the jury may eternally be out, with regard to the reason for DMT’s influence on consciousness and history in humanity, Dr. Strassman teaches us DMT may be more productively understood as the biological common denominator underlying the soul and science.  So, from this context Dr. Strassman’s declaration of DMT as the ‘spirit molecule’ comes into focus, along with a tool set to prod into inner-space and the genealogy of the human experience of spirit and consciousness.  

One of the biggest obstacles facing further research of DMT, other psychedelics, and inner-space in American culture is the issue of integration.  DMT enters boldly into mass culture beckoning as a potential light bridging the gap between the separate and conservative world views of church, science, and superstition, a tough line to take.  

Nevertheless, Dr. Strassman in our discussion pointed out to me that “There are a number of ways DMT could be used in the West.  At one level, it can be used to help us understand the relationship between biology and consciousness; that is, what receptors are involved, what parts of the brain, etc., when DMT is drastically modifying consciousness. At another level, one could use DMT as a therapeutic tool to the extent that the therapeutic process, in whatever form, is enhanced through its administration.  If one looks at, for example, treating drug abuse like cocaine or methamphetamine within a spiritual context, one could see the spiritual properties of DMT having an effect. Or, if your model is primarily psychological, you could assess the effects of DMT on those functions of the mind that are involved in traditional psychotherapeutic change, and determine the effects of DMT on those functions. For those who are seeking religious or spiritual insights, or some acceleration of their spiritual practice, DMT could also be used in that context.  In fact, it is being used in that latter context, as in the case of the Brazilian ayahuasca-using churches that have legal permission to practice in the United States.”

However, the Schedule I status of psychedelic drugs remains a powerful stigma negatively influencing conventional wisdom on DMT; and these influences stifle much of the momentum built around research aimed at realizing the benefits psychedelics could have in Western culture.  So instead of studying the capacity a psychedelic compound like DMT might have on creative, psychotherapeutic, or enlightenment experiences, it seems that major arms of the federal scientific research and drug regulatory apparatus would prefer to study and promote more lucrative endeavors, for example, stimulants, anti-depressants, and drugs to combat impotence.     

Still, Dr. Strassman predicts that in time the West will be able to move past its deeply held cultural bias and integrate the study of DMT and other psychedelics using the models it is most comfortable with – the spiritual and the scientific. And as Dr. Strassman commented, “Generally, the scientific and the spiritual do not mix that well.  However, the psychedelic drugs are especially well situated to bridge that gap. For example, there are studies at Hopkins in Baltimore that are recently replicating and extending research that was done in the late 1960s and early 1970s suggesting that these drugs have spiritual import in those taking them who are inclined in those kinds of directions.  I think if the effects of DMT and other psychedelics are mostly kept within the spiritual and scientific models the West ought to be able to manage their effects relatively well. However, when one begins to assess and consider the role of endogenous DMT in our perception of reality, that is, more philosophic and epistemological point of view, things may get a little more controversial.”

The future for explorations into consciousness and inner-space is bright; and in our conversation Dr. Strassman explained the next wave of psychedelic research will entail repeating many of the first wave studies: terminal illness anguish/despair mitigation, substance abuse treatment, treatment of anxiety and mood disorders, and spiritual practice enhancement; “In addition, it would be of interest to assess effects of DMT in those who’ve had NDEs [near death experiences] or abduction experiences.  Or measure levels [of DMT] in people having those experiences, or those in spiritual states.  Another set of data might be to develop a camera that can photograph the contents of dark matter, and compare it to what a DMT subject reports at the same time and place.  We are getting close to being able to see the form and shape of images in one’s brain/mind using imaging technology.”

The road to a unified understanding of consciousness will lead us into the invisible dimensions of inner-space. And with eyes turned inward, psychedelic experiences may transform the human body into an instrument, like the Hubble Space Telescope, and allow the powerful machine that is the human body to collect impressions from the veiled horizons of our genealogy.  And, as Dr. Strassman concluded in our interview, beyond replicating past experiments, “Psychedelic centers ought to be established, where the full spectrum of the human scientific, religious, creative, artistic endeavor can be brought to bear on the psychedelic experience–where treatment, growth, aesthetic, heuristic studies can all occur under one roof.

Inner Paths to Outer Space: Journeys to Alien Worlds through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies

By Rick Strassman MD, Slawek Wojtowicz, Luis Eduardo Luna, Ede Frecska

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APRIL 1: Iceburg’s 17 minute investigation into April Fool’s Day

While April 1 should evoke a mandatory grin followed by a, “By-the-pecs-of-Poseidon, what’s that mega-crap on your shirrr – made ya look,” the scrolls of time tell us there were people who and events that replaced the frivolous, laid-back attitude that April Fools’ Day is celebrated for with the motivation to be forever recognized within the highest echelon of killjoys.

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Humor is to wellbeing as a tightened fist is to a lighthearted crotch-shot: they both leave you breathless, on your knees in a rejuvenating stupor (or in a red-rain of pain!), and eager to contribute to or reciprocate the joke (or low-blow) with giddy enthusiasm. 

With this month being helmed by All Fools’ Day, we’ve never been more accepting of the hysteria that comes with being barraged in the funny bone; regrettably, history doesn’t share our excitement. While April 1 should evoke a mandatory grin followed by a, “By-the-pecs-of-Poseidon, what’s that mega-crap on your shirrr – made ya look,” the scrolls of time tell us there were people who and events that replaced the frivolous, laid-back attitude that April Fools’ Day is celebrated for with the motivation to be forever recognized within the highest echelon of killjoys.

Those people and events include…  

The Pope Who Fooled the French

New Year’s Day was originally on April 1. No, really. Several ancient cultures, like the Romans and the Hindus, marked the now notorious day for practical tomfoolery as the beginning of the year because the date closely aligned with the Vernal Equinox, which is usually around March 20. 

In 1582 Pope Gregory “Me So Fresh” XIII ordered the use of the new calendar. It placed New Year’s in January, and when the change was made, rumor says that many of the French were either unaware of or rebelling against the date change and continued to celebrate New Year’s on April 1. These traditionalists became one of the most rotund butts in the history of jokes, and April Fools’ Day was born. 

The Volcano That Burst Forth (Probably Because It Took Offense to a Joke)

If we’ve learned a single piece of [mis]information from the science portion of our grade school education, it’s that a volcano’s ease to anger is only equaled by its unwillingness to be a comedic punch-line. You’ve at least witnessed parts of the eventful life cycle of a volcano on the Discovery Channel (before reality shows like Rise of the Stink People began oozing their irrelevance over the airwaves); its dome was seemingly sedated, calmly drooling its molten effluence down a thirty-degree grass patch at speeds that an infant in flame-retardant pajama bottoms could out-roll. Unexpectedly, like the quick snap of a sucker punch, the cameraman or the millionaire working pro bono as an expert in lava composition cracked a bad joke at the volcano’s expense, and all hell leaked, boiled, blew, and broke loose. 

This might have been the case on April 1, 1793, when a collapsing lava dome — Mayu-yama from Mount Unzen, an active group of volcanoes on Japan’s Kyushu Island — triggered a landslide that rioted through Shimabara City and belly flopped into the Ariaka Sea, creating a pant-fertilizing megatsunami that reached the titanic heights of 330 ft., which combined with the land slide killed an estimated 15, 000 good humored citizens. 

The man who offended the snoozing goliath with salty humor was never found (or existed), but if he was (or did exist), we’re assuming: (A) he was a white guy (because that’s provocative), and (B) he was a would-be galactic samurai, i.e. the megalomaniacal ancestor of Thomas Cruise Mapother IV (AKA Tom “The Pleasure” Cruise). 

The Novelist Who Sneered at a Royal Suggestion

You don’t tell royalty no, unless, of course, you’re Jane Austen (or a free spirit dying to experience exile). On April 1, 1816, Austen responded to a letter from the Prince Regent regarding a suggestion to write a historic romance by saying, “I could not sit down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life.” 

Maybe it was a joke: “Prince Regent, your story pitch is awful; I wouldn’t consider it unless my life was on the line… April fools!” 

Claire Harman, author of “Jane’s Fame,” talked on NPR on March 25, 2010, about Austen’s personality in addition to her popularity, and it turns out everything you’d imagine Austen to be is probably true: she was witty, cynical, and judging by her response to the Prince Regent, a little bit headstrong. 

Harman says that Austen’s fame was, in a way, rekindled by the biography written by her nephew. “James Edwards’ memoir of his aunt made her into a sort of sentimental object. You know, and people loved her as a person and as a character, as well as the books and sometimes instead of the books,” Harman said. 

The idea, however, that Austen had a meek and mild personality would not be accurate. Who would have thought?

“She wasn’t necessarily a nice person at all. I mean there’s really nothing in the letters to suggest anything other than a very sharp-witted and at times rather acid-tongued woman,” Harman said. 

So the whole “screw you Prince Regent” thing probably wasn’t a joke then. You go, girl! 

The Theory That Big-Banged Science

Melodramatic male studs who claim ladies to be the ficklest of life’s challenges need to escort Science on a dinner date or two: During the appetizer (cheese sticks), Science would intimately observe your surface area to get an estimate of your internal composition. She’d alleviate your physical insecurities by assuring, “Your name’s Pluto? How cute! I hear that small planets are in touch with their emotional side.” 

But the moment the dessert platter (Hazelnut Dacquoise with Chocolate Mousse served on an Astronaut’s face shield) lands on the table, she’d be all curled up on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, bragging about how she recategorized you as a Dwarf Planet, Science’s way of catapulting you into the “friend zone.” 

Science played the Steady State Theory in the same sort of way; prior to April 1, 1948, cosmological opinions were split between whether Steady State Theory or the Big Bang accurately described the origin and continuing development of the cosmos. But once the Big Bang Theory was officially proposed on the date listed by subjectively sexy, objectively brilliant geniuses Ralph Alpher and George Gamow in Physical Review through the essay “The Origins of Chemical Elements,” Big Bang began to gradually earn more favor within Science’s academic bedchambers. Science has been developing excuses to keep Steady State in the “friend zone” ever since. 

The Revolution That Preferred Loss-of-Life over Laughter 

Remember when McCarthyism was a thing? It was kind of a blip in American history. Luckily, China out did us. How often do you get to say that? 

Roughly ten years after the red scare settled down in America, the Cultural Revolution in China became the cool new trend. Just by chance, the nationwide witch-hunt for capitalists started on April 1, 1966. 

Admiration for market economies is no joke. 

This was the era of Mao Zedong and communism was at its peak. Zedong feared the country was headed in the wrong direction, so he called on China’s youth to put the country’s political ideology back on the right – well, left track. 

Nearly 1.5 million Chinese lost their lives and tons more felt the wrath of a large group of angsty, nationalistic teenagers. Take that, laws of supply and demand. 

By Leviathan Robb & Ginger Jones

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Profiles of our beloved supreme leaders – Kim Jong-Un, Paul Ryan and Chris Brown

Three men who want to rule the world and are the truest examples of what a supreme leader should be.

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Kim Jong-Un

At only 30 years old this bright individual is the supreme leader of North Korea. Not only has Kim Jong-Un legalized pizza he has also forced employees at the local gourmet restaurant, McDonalds to serve breakfast until noon. Sure he threatens people with nukes every day, what teenager who plays Call of Duty doesn’t? Kimmy is such an inspirational figure to local teens, they can really learn how to be a social success and loved worldwide.  Rumor has it that Kim has sent all local redheads to South Korea so that they can find Seoul—whatever that means. If your bratty little brace faced sweetheart won’t listen, why not pick up a copy of Kim’s new book, “The Nukes of Hazzard.”


Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan looks like a model straight off a package of Hanes boxer briefs—the look every politician strives for. Who cares if he has just graduated from pampers to public dampers. After recently announcing, “We are not going to give up on destroying the healthcare system”, his ratings went through the roof– taking with it your average American’s basic personal rights. Ryan is the guy you can go to with all of your personal problems, sure he won’t listen but you’ll be sidetracked by his baby blues. Like Kit-Kat give him a break! If Paul Ryan were an item at Big R he would be the perfect tool bag.   Paul Ryan has the kind of personality only a mother could love—which is totally in right now. 


Chris Brown

If young men want to know how to be the perfect guy look no further than Chris Brown. When Chris was a child listening to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” he took it to heart by utilizing the lyrics and incorporating them into everyday life.  Brown likes his women like he prefers his eggs; beaten and over easy. When Rihanna (Browns’ current girlfriend) told Chris that she wanted a “black guy” he misheard her and gave her a love stamp right across her face—now that’s love.  Recently, Rihanna had taken up a career in stand-up comedy at high school proms but soon gave up another one of her dreams due to Brown’s embarrassing behavior. Reports say he kept “beating her to the punch line.”

   

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Talking to the ‘that’s what she said’ girl at your mom’s house

Her name is Lauretta Scapini, and she is the “she” of “that’s what she said.” I ask her the hard questions.

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I recently sat down with a woman we all know, but few would actually recognize. Her name is Lauretta Scapini, and she is the “she” of “that’s what she said.” I ask her the hard questions.  

Iceburg: Hi Lauretta, thank you so much for meeting me today.

Lauretta Scapini: Of course, thank you for having me.

Ice-B: That’s what she said. 

LS: Yes, yes it is. 

Ice-B: Nice. So how did this whole thing get started? How have you taken the blame for so much, and please excuse my lack of decorum, but sluttiness?

LS: That’s a great question, thank you. Well, as many people probably know, the phrase “that’s what she said” gained tremendous popularity on the NBC hit show The Office. You know the one where the boss tries to screw over his employees?

Ice-B: That’s wh- um of course.

LS: I knew some of the guys on the set, you know, as a woman in my profession would–

Ice-B: Which would be what, exactly?

LS: Isn’t it obvious? I make wax sticks to light on fire. I’m a candlestick maker. 

Ice-B: Excuse me?

LS: It’s a very erotic field, and I mean come on, look at me. I’m a California “10,” which is like a New Mexico “87.” Don’t take it wrong.

Ice-B: None taken. So tell me more about being a candlestick maker and how that brought you to work with set guys at The Office.

LS: I’ve always been fascinated by my ability to mold wax into shapes, then just watch it burn. The scent combinations is probably the most exciting part of it. Anyway. I had a series of videos that were posted on YouTube that have since been removed where I walked the audience through the process of making candles, step by step. I know how men — and even some women — look at me, so I knew the best way for me to really market myself and my candles would be to play up my sexuality. So everything I said was meant to taken as euphemism. (Editor’s note: We love to take euphemisms.)

Ice-B: What would you say to those who criticize that sort of behavior? Discussions about who “she” must be inevitably turn to accusations of promiscuity and defamations of “her” character.

LS: It’s the cross I choose to bear. As much as I loved Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, I can’t help but feel more connection to the work and theory of Audre Lorde, specifically her discussions of intersectionality. As a beautiful, intelligent, mixed-race woman, I’ve found it frustrating to live and accept any sort of authentic experience that posits we live in simple binary oppositions that serve to differentiate men from women. Lorde maintains that there are a whole slew of categories and subdivisions for characterizing women because each experience is authentic and different and beautiful and can’t possibly speak to the whole experience of being a woman; of being a feminist. 

Ice-B: So by being overtly sexual, you’re helping women? I don’t understand. 

LS: We’re taught using the master’s tools. Our culture is a patriarchal one that we’re wholly dependent on. So I take what’s expected of me and blow it… out of proportion. 

Ice-B: Has it been hard? 

LS: That’s what I said. [Laughs] But yeah, it has been. It’s been a long, hard, road full of bumps and bruises, leather and lace– 

Ice-B: Ample alliterations. 

LS: Exactly. But my work isn’t done. We tend to categorize everyone: races, religions, genders, sexual orientations. If the world was meant to be black and white, we wouldn’t have colors. As much as women are forced into specific roles, men are, too. They need to know that they’re not sex machines, expected to fertilize the earth. And until I can get people to accept and own their sexuality, I won’t quit. I’m not finished yet.

Ice-B: That’s what he said.

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