Just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, those wicked Afghani find yet another way to get high. Apparently, smoking scorpion is all the craze down in Kandahar.
Crushing, drying and then smoking black scorpions can give effects similar to mescaline. But before you run to the pet store: the trip can last for days. Read all about it here.
Macdonald notes that in Afghanistan even the ubiquitous scorpions can be used for intoxication. Tartars in Bamiyan province prepare scorpions by smashing them between stones and letting them dry. The main part of the tail, with the sting, is then crushed into a powder and smoked with tobacco and/or hashish (marijuana).
A friend of Macdonald’s who witnessed a man smoke scorpion in the Afghan town of Peshawar described the reaction:
The effect was instantaneous with the man’s face and eyes becoming very red, “much more than a hashish smoker” …. He also seemed very intoxicated but awake and alert, although he stumbled and fell over when he tried to rise from a sitting position …. the smoke tasted “sweeter” than that of hashish, although … it smelled foul, and the intoxicating effect lasted much longer. (1, p. 247)
As with most drugs, anecdotal reports of scorpion’s effects vary widely. It is likely that the numerous Afghan scorpion species have divergent psychoactive properties. Scorpion has been reported to keep one awake, cause severe headaches, and rival the effects of a “strong mescaline trip.” (1, p. 248) One Kabul man who had smoked between 20 and 30 times reported the effects to last three days. During these periods he had difficulty opening his eyes, his head spun, and he had constant visual hallucinations.
Here’s a video of a guy eating scorpions to get high:
Here’s a great-looking documentary about the legendary re-inventor of, among others, MDMA (xtc): the Berkeley resident Alexander Shulgin (1925). A psychiatrist, pharmacologist and chemist, Shulgin not only popularized MDMA by inventing a new synthesis method, thus jumpstarting the electronic music rave revolution, but an enormous host (about 230) of other psychoactive drugs. These include the 2C family, such as 2C-b and 2c-e. Together with his wife Ann Shulgin, he has collected and published his knowledge in the books PiHKALand TiHKAL.
Shulgin is, quite probably, one of the most influential chemists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And responsible for countless enlightening and liberating experiences for millions of people. Thus, a true hero, out there in the ranks with Albert Hoffmann, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Aldous Huxley, Simon Vinkenoog and other great minds.
I haven’t yet seen the entire thing but the first minutes look promising. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprising), Shulgin and his wife Ann come across as very kind, patient people. Even though they’ve tested literally hundreds of drugs, they themselves are not really fond of the scene they’ve set off, but would rather try things out in the vicinity of their home.
- Edit: Also check out this last interview of Shulgin with VICE Magazine (he has been in retreat since then).
Always wanted to experience the blending of the senses, like famous synesthesiasts Vlladimir Nabokov, Kandinsky, Pharell Williams and Richard D. James before you? If you don’t have the natural predisposition (or diathesis) you could venture into the world of psychedelics, but if mind-altering substances are not your cup of tea this new device provides the solution. It’s the Synesthesia Mask, developed by Team Syneseizure. It allows you to feel images captured on a webcam in realtime.
In the past 48 hours we have learned about everything there is to know about the life of Steve Jobs from the countless obituaries. Most attention has obviously gone to his role in the evolution of Apple Computer. Other popular topics were his business and marketing genius, his difficult personality and even his love life. Some articles also briefly mentioned his conversion to Zen Buddhism and his experimentation with LSD in the 1970′s. This piece by Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan focuses on that topic. It highlights the impact that Buddhism and experimentation with mind-altering drugs have had on his creativity and how Steve Jobs can be seen as an example of the other America, the America that lies beyond the narrow idea of the “Christian Nation” as it was constructed by conservatives in the past decades:
Steve Jobs, who died yesterday, combined in himself all the contradictions of the Sixties and of Bay Area experiments in consciousness. It seems to me entirely possible that the young Jobs would have joined the OccupyWallStreet.org protests.
He is a one-man response to the charge that the counterculture produced no lasting positive change. Jobs’s technological vision, rooted in a concern for how people use technology or could use it more intuitively, profoundly altered our world. He used to say that those who had never had anything to do with the counterculture had difficulty understanding his way of thinking.
I’d be interested to know how that happened. There is very little Buddhism in India. Tibetan Buddhists have centers in places like Varanasi (Banares) in North India, because these monks are political or cultural exiles from Communist China. The Dalits or ‘untouchables’ of western Indian have had a conversion movement to Buddhism. Jobs is said to have gone with a college buddy to see a Hindu guru devoted to the monkey-god, Hanuman. I really wonder whether the Buddhism was not encountered in the US rather than in India, though the trip to India may have influenced his decision.
In the same period, he was doing psychedelic drugs like LSD, which he later said were very important to his creative vision.
Indic spiritual traditions were important to Jobs, especially Buddhism. The quest for states of altered consciousness, which characterized some in my generation, was central to his creative vision.
The DOS operating system was something that only an engineer could love, a set of odd commands entered on a blinking line against a black backdrop. Jobs preferred icons, and changed computing forever. He, at least, was convinced that without the liberal social and spiritual experimentation of his youth, his creative vision would not have been the same.
The conservative backlash of the past 30 years has put hundreds of thousands of people behind bars for drug use (though not for alcohol use, the licit dangerous drug), and Rick Perry’s insistence that the US is a Christian nation is an attempt to erase the Steve Jobses from American history. Herman Cain’s Islamophobia is an attempt to exclude people like Jobs’s biological father from American legitimacy. But you can’t take a Muslim Arab immigrant, a Hindu guru, Buddhist monks, and some little pills out of this great American success story without making nonsense of it. Multiculturalism and cultural and religious experimentation, not fundamentalism and racism, are what make America great. Jobs showed that they are not incompatible with that other American icon, business success. Contemporary conservatism has given us over-paid and under-regulated financiers who add no real value to anything, unlike Jobs. If the Perrys ever do succeed in remaking the US in their own image, it will be a much reduced, crippled America that can no longer lead the world in creative innovation.
Psychedelic drugs, Markoff argues, pushed the computer and Internet revolutions forward by showing folks that reality can be profoundly altered through unconventional, highly intuitive thinking. Douglas Engelbart is one example of a psychonaut who did just that: he helped invent the mouse. Apple’s Jobs has said that Microsoft’s Bill Gates, would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once.” In a 1994 interview with Playboy, however, Gates coyly didn’t deny having dosed as a young man.
Thinking differently–or learning to Think Different, as a Jobs slogan has it–is a hallmark of the acid experience. “When I’m on LSD and hearing something that’s pure rhythm, it takes me to another world and into anther brain state where I’ve stopped thinking and started knowing,” Kevin Herbert told Wired magazine at a symposium commemorating Hofmann’s one hundredth birthday. Herbert, an early employee of Cisco Systems who successfully banned drug testing of technologists at the company, reportedly “solved his toughest technical problems while tripping to drum solos by the Grateful Dead.”
“It must be changing something about the internal communication in my brain,” said Herbert. “Whatever my inner process is that lets me solve problems, it works differently, or maybe different parts of my brain are used.”
Burning Man, founded in 1986 by San Francisco techies, has always been an attempt to make a large number of people use different parts of their brains toward some nonspecific but ostensibly enlightening and communally beneficial end. The event was quickly moved to the desert of Nevada as it became too big for the city. Today, it’s more likely to be attended by a software engineer than a dropped-out hippie. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, are longtime Burners, and the influence of San Francisco and Seattle tech culture is everywhere in the camps and exhibits built for the eight-day festival. Its Web site suggests, in fluent acidese, that “[t]rying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind.”
Gilmore doubts, however, that a strict cause-and-effect relationship between drugs and the Internet can be proved. The type of person who’s inspired by the possibility of creating new ways of storing and sharing knowledge, he said, is often the same kind interested in consciousness exploration. At a basic level, both endeavors are a search for something outside of everyday reality–but so are many creative and spiritual undertakings, many of them strictly drug-free. But it’s true, Gilmore noted, that people do come to conclusions and experience revelations while tripping. Perhaps some of those revelations have turned up in programming code.
And perhaps in other scientific areas, too. According to Gilmore, the maverick surfer/chemist Kary Mullis, a well-known LSD enthusiast, told him that acid helped him develop the polymerase chain reaction, a crucial breakthrough for biochemistry. The advance won him the Nobel Prize in 1993. And according to reporter Alun Reese, Francis Crick, who discovered DNA along with James Watson, told friends that he first saw the double-helix structure while tripping on LSD.
EDIT: Slate just published an article on the topic as well.
Here’s one interesting facet highlighted of the broad studies currently being undertaken at some prominent US universities into the effects of psychedelics on depression treatment: lasting personality change. See our earlier post The return of psychedelic research in medical science for more background.
Both Discover Magazine and the science blog LabSpaces report about one result from the clinical experiments done at John Hopkins University with prescription of the hallucinogen psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms). Sixty percent of the 51 participants in the study (pdf) show a measurable lasting personality change, in the part of personality known as ‘openness’ – defined as openness to new ideas and experiences and an ‘awareness of self and others’. The openness trait in people includes traits related to creativity, imagination, feelings, aesthetics and general broad-mindedness.
Measured on a model of personality features used in psychology, consisting of the character traits neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness, only the latter was shown to have increased even a year later. This is significant, as lasting personality change usually doesn’t occur that much in adults.
A single high dose of the hallucinogen psilocybin, the active ingredient in so-called “magic mushrooms,” was enough to bring about a measureable personality change lasting at least a year in nearly 60 percent of the 51 participants in a new study, according to the Johns Hopkins researchers who conducted it.
Lasting change was found in the part of the personality known as openness, which includes traits related to imagination, aesthetics, feelings, abstract ideas and general broad-mindedness. Changes in these traits, measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, were larger in magnitude than changes typically observed in healthy adults over decades of life experiences, the scientists say. Researchers in the field say that after the age of 30, personality doesn’t usually change significantly.
Personality was assessed at screening, one to two months after each drug session and approximately 14 months after the last drug session. Griffiths says he believes the personality changes found in this study are likely permanent since they were sustained for over a year by many.
Nearly all of the participants in the new study considered themselves spiritually active (participating regularly in religious services, prayer or meditation). More than half had postgraduate degrees. The sessions with the otherwise illegal hallucinogen were closely monitored and volunteers were considered to be psychologically healthy.
“We don’t know whether the findings can be generalized to the larger population,” Griffiths says.
As a word of caution, Griffiths also notes that some of the study participants reported strong fear or anxiety for a portion of their daylong psilocybin sessions, although none reported any lingering harmful effects. He cautions, however, that if hallucinogens are used in less well supervised settings, the possible fear or anxiety responses could lead to harmful behaviors.
Griffiths says lasting personality change is rarely looked at as a function of a single discrete experience in the laboratory. In the study, the change occurred specifically in those volunteers who had undergone a “mystical experience,” as validated on a questionnaire developed by early hallucinogen researchers and refined by Griffiths for use at Hopkins. He defines “mystical experience” as among other things, “a sense of interconnectedness with all people and things accompanied by a sense of sacredness and reverence.”
Personality was measured on a widely used and scientifically validated personality inventory, which covers openness and the other four broad domains that psychologists consider the makeup of personality: neuroticism, extroversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Only openness changed during the course of the study.
Griffiths says he believes psilocybin may have therapeutic uses. He is currently studying whether the hallucinogen has a use in helping cancer patients handle the depression and anxiety that comes along with a diagnosis, and whether it can help longtime cigarette smokers overcome their addiction.
A recent study found that most people treated with a single high dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychoactive mushrooms, showed a long-lasting change in personality—namely, an increase in openness. One of five broad measures of temperament used by psychologists, this quality is generally defined as openness to new ideas or experiences, awareness of feelings in the self and others, and is strongly tied to creativity and aesthetic appreciation. This is one of the first studies to link a single treatment with a drug in a laboratory setting to a long-lasting change in personality.
Although it might seem hard to believe, given the vagaries of spiritual experience, psychologists have a relatively well-defined and established definition for a “complete mystical experience:” one in which a person experiences a sense of unity with the world and other people; feelings of blessedness and sacredness; a sense of inner presence or divine force; and the feeling that what is perceived is “more real” than ordinary reality, among other qualities. Results by the lead author of this study, Johns Hopkins University researcher Roland Griffiths, have shown this can come about by taking psilocybin. But similar (or indistinguishable) experiences can occur through non-drug means, such as through prayer, fasting, sex, sensory-deprivation, etc.
People who had a “complete mystical experience” during their psilocybin trip scored significantly higher on measures of “openness” more than a year afterward. Those who didn’t have a complete mystical experience did not score significantly higher on these same measures.
Researchers say that the mystical experience brought about by drugs like psilocybin is likely responsible for the long-lasting change in openness, which the researchers say they think is permanent.
Spiritual experiences and personality traits are hard to measure. The link between psilocybin, mystical experiences, and changes in personality are also poorly understood. The results shouldn’t be taken as definitive proof that psilocybin causes permanent changes in personality.
Psilocybin can be dangerous, especially in people with underlying mental conditions, and the researchers don’t advise anybody to try this at home. Even in a carefully controlled setting, about one-third of the participants in the study experienced high levels of anxiety after taking the drug. But through the help of the study “guides” and the calming atmosphere of the controlled trial, everyone overcame the anxiety and not a single participant reported lasting ill effects from the experience
We’ve devoted attention to the subject on this blog ever since we started it, but here is once again an article from a high-profile online magazine about the renaissance in scientific research on the beneficial effects of psychedelic drugs on the state of mind of people diagnosed with illnesses such as terminal and recurrent cancer. Salon has a must-read story about the uptick on studies into this matter across top-notch universities.
If you still think subjects like psychedelic drugs are for hippies living in the 1960s, think again. As previously written about in, among many others, the New York Times, The Globe and Mail and TIME, and reported about on CNN and BBC, psychedelic research is currently in its second big phase, with medical scientists and psychotherapists from Harvard, NYU, John Hopkins, Berkeley and several European universities running research programs on it. Psychedelic drug conferences are also increasingly being convened.
This Salon article describes research projects at John Hopkins, NYU and UCLA attempting to pinpoint how psychedelics alleviate fear and anxiety in patients. In controlled settings, lsd and psilocybin are administered in order to provide consciousness-expanding experiences. Patients report very existential experiences, and come down from the trip feeling better equipped mentally to deal with sickness and death. This is, therefore, a subset of the field of palliative care.
For people interested in it, the article also provides some historical background featuring such drug luminaries, writers and philosophers as William James (The Variety of Religious Experiences), Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Brave New World, Island), and Timothy Leary. But the point to drive home is that unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, psychedelic research is currently conducted with a twenty-first century scientific focus, with a rather circumscribed goal. The goal no longer is to reform society, but to help people through appliance of medical science.
What for me was new in this piece was the info on how the current research programs on psychedelic drugs came about. Either way, I highly recommend this article if you want to know more about this highly interesting subject.
Kristof Kossut arrived at an unlikely address for his first psychedelic experience. The 60-year-old New Yorker and professional yachtsman opened the door not to an after-hours techno party, but to the bright reception room at the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research, a large spa-like space occupying the second floor of New York University’s College of Dentistry. Kossut was among the first subjects of an NYU investigation into the question: Can the mystical states of mind occasioned by psychedelic drugs help alleviate anxiety and depression in people with terminal and recurrent cancer?
Shortly before Kossut’s arrival on the morning of his session, two clinic employees entered a high-security storage room, which just happens to face a painting of a white rabbit. From a massive steel combination safe they removed a bottle containing one gram of synthesized psilocybin, the psychoactive agent animating the 200-member fungus family commonly known as “magic mushrooms.” The duo carefully measured the small container against the previous day’s weight, as if securing a store of weapons-grade plutonium. They then pill-pressed an amount of powder containing 20 milligrams of the molecule, first identified in 1958 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman, most famous for his other psychedelic synthesis, LSD-25.
They delivered the pill to a converted exam room gutted of its dental chair and refitted for comfort with holistic panache: plush pillow-strewn sofa, Persian carpet, Buddha statuettes, books on spirituality and mysticism, a high-performance sound system. Only the ceiling lighting track betrays the former identity of New York City’s federally sanctioned psilocybin room.
Receiving the pill is Dr. Stephen Ross, a 40-year-old assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical School and the cancer study’s principal investigator. Ross has a precise scientific manner softened by an upbringing in Southern California, where his mother (also a doctor) took him to hospice centers as a child, sparking an interest in end-of-life issues. Now director of the addiction division at Bellevue, Ross is among the youngest of a new generation of psychedelic researchers. With his cancer study still two years away from publishing results, he is already looking ahead to testing psychedelic treatments for drug addiction and alcoholism.
For now, Ross is fully focused on treating existential anxiety in people like Kossut, who lies on the couch, ready for his initiation into the psychedelic mysteries. In the research jargon, Kossut is “psychedelic naive.” After swallowing the pill Ross presents — in the cap of a ceremonial ceramic mushroom — all he can do is close his eyes, lose himself in the preselected tabla drum and sitar music, and try to remember the advice to not fight it, to move ever deeper into the light, to let go …
“It was absolutely incredible,” remembers Kossut. “The first rush was a little scary as I realized it wasn’t the placebo. That passed and next I was crossing boundaries of time and space and reality. I felt this weightlessness, this sense of being close to an unspeakable beauty that was unlike anything in my experience. For the first time since my diagnosis, I was not afraid of anything. The wall of depression that was building up day by day, the fear that I was going to die soon, that my daughter is only 8 — all those things disappeared. I wanted to stay there. I wanted it to last longer.”
It did. More than one year after his psilocybin session, Kossut reports greatly improved states of emotional and psychological well-being. “I walked out of the session happy, unafraid of death,” he says. “I don’t know why, but a transformation took place after being in that peaceful place. I relaxed. I started enjoying food again and was able to gain weight. The session taught me to be fully in the present. I’m optimistic. Mentally and physically, just better.”
This glowing report — based on a single dose of a naturally occurring, non-addictive, low-toxicity substance — sounds impossible. Surely one pill can’t succeed where months of traditional psychotherapy and antidepressants usually fail. According to science, that’s not how drugs work. It’s foreign to the model. But high success rates in ongoing concurrent studies at NYU and Johns Hopkins strongly suggest that Kossut’s psilocybin-assisted psychological rebound is no fluke. So do the findings of a pilot project conducted by Dr. Charles Grob at UCLA. Between 2004 and 2008, Grob administered psilocybin to 12 cancer patients suffering fear, anxiety and depression. His data, published last year in the Archives of General Psychiatry, showed long-term diminished anxiety and improved mood in every subject. The NYU and Johns Hopkins studies build on Grob’s pilot program with more subjects and higher doses. Midway through the research, their results are just as strong, signaling larger, multi-site trials to come.
This is the subdued, clinical language of a psychedelic science renaissance quietly entering its third decade. If its practitioners and advocates avoid the utopian claims and liberationist rhetoric that defined the LSD gospel of the 1960s, this is no accident. A new generation of psychedelic researchers understands that public and official support depends on exorcising the ghost of Timothy Leary, whose democratic acid crusade grew out of and ultimately helped destroy the first wave of psychedelic science in the 1950s and ’60s. Their goal is not to promote the legalization of these drugs or tout their value for everyone, but to revive the once-great and now largely forgotten promise of psychedelic science. And that just might, among other things, change the way we confront and think about death.