Michael Pollan’s New Yorkerpiece on the medical benefits of psychedelics is well worth a read:
As I chatted with Tony Bossis and Stephen Ross in the treatment room at N.Y.U., their excitement about the results was evident. According to Ross, cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months. The data are still being analyzed and have not yet been submitted to a journal for peer review, but the researchers expect to publish later this year.
“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants—that they must be faking it,” Ross told me. “They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death—they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”
Kleiman calls Pollan’s article “as good an introduction to the field as one could ask for”:
The central idea is that the mystiform experiences that psilocybin and other drugs can trigger under the right circumstances can be beneficial, not only in treating specific problems – end-of-life anxiety, for example, or nicotine dependence – but by enriching lives: making some people “better than well.” So far the studies are small, but the results are impressive.
It’s encouraging to see the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health taking a scientific attitude: cautious but interested. It’s discouraging, though – alas! – not at all surprising to see the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse responding to exciting research results by worrying about what might happen if someone tells the children.
The Dish has covered this subject extensively over the years. Update from a reader who contributed much of that coverage, especially on ibogaine:
The New Yorker‘s recent piece on psilocybin has been on my mind a lot lately. I had a lot of reactions to the piece, but the most lasting feeling was a deep sadness. I felt sad because I hoped this article would convince my 70-year-old parents to take psychedelics before they start seriously declining. The author, unfortunately, bends over backwards to make readers frightened of psychedelics.
It depresses me to accept that the cutting edge of psychedelic research is generations away from acknowledging an obvious truth: that psychedelics are an incredible gift to humanity that could help billions of people deal with the overwhelming intensity of life. We don’t need more expensive, intricate, double-blind experiments to know this. If we just approach what we already know without fear, then this is the only possible conclusion.
I have no doubt that psychedelics will one day be a completely normal part of a person’s life journey. It is just a shame that billions of people will suffer before we get there: and the people who suffer will be our family, our friends, and ourselves.
PS I am really going to miss you guys.
(Photo of Psilocybe Cubensis by Flickr user afgooey74)
I started reading Waking Upafter watching Sam Harris on Joe Rogan’s podcast. In it, Harris recounts his case against free will and mentioned that he thought that the self was an illusion. I am sympathetic to that view and in a manner believe it to be true, so I purchased Waking Up primarily to read his case on the question of self.
I can’t say I really came away with the tools to feel I can prove this belief. Harris writes in the mode of a skeptic and does so well. But nowhere does the book move fully beyond skepticism to proactive persuasion. So you ultimately end up with firm evidence that common conceptions of self are false, but then the final leap seems to be that moments of awe and the truth are … just self-evident. Something that just is. But some people aren’t going to interpret these moments in that way. Certainly many Christians will associate with the idea of divine light in these moments, as you do. People of other backgrounds will see it in other ways.
Another is more critical:
I love both you and Sam. I really do. I’m with him on the dangers and damage wrought by religion. With you on most political issues. But on this question from Waking Up, regarding the nature of the so-called “selfless” state of mind human beings sometimes experience during meditation or prayer, I’m afraid you are both wrong.
Andrew, why do you both seek transcendence so badly? For what you feel, what we all feel in these oceanic moments, is neither an experience of being flooded by God’s love (your view) or a glimpse into the underlying “selflessness” of consciousness (Sam’s view).
It is simply one way – one particularly harmonious and happy way! – that our particular species of primate experiences neuronal/electrical activity in our brains. We may speculate that meditation, prayer and the like probably have the effect of quieting activity in the left hemisphere and facilitating a more direct experience of the intuitive, non-verbal right hemisphere … something like that …
Whatever it is, it is most certainly NOT anything transcendent, nor showing us a “truth” about the selfless nature of the universe. It is part of what our limited biology, fashioned by millions upon millions of years of adaptation, does.
Why is it so hard for you, and now Sam too, to accept your body and brain for what they are: your ONLY portal to experience, limited as they are, sometimes impulsive and directed, sometimes undifferentiated and peaceful, but always YOURS, beautiful and mortal and precious.
It is always self, and that is okay. Andrew, I say lovingly: go with the love you feel, and you can leave out the “God” part. To Sam I want to say: go with the love you feel, and you can leave out the incoherent idea of some “selflessness” uncannily experienced by the self.
155 years after On the Origin of Species and this is still hard for people to accept. But once you do it is clarifying, and liberating. It’s all natural, all animal – all the way down.
Another reader wonders:
One question I would ask Harris: why do we have a sense of self in the first place? Despite its evanescent nature, it likely evolved over time through natural selection because it provided an evolutionary advantage at some point. It may very well be true that it is no longer useful to thrive in the 21st century, but to dismiss it out of hand and call it an illusion, without placing it in a scientific context, is kind of misleading.
Another reminds me why I am so fortunate to be a part of this blog-community:
For many years now I have had the experience of no-self (it is not my philosophy, it is actually my experience). This experience is almost impossible to write about, but I will do my best.
To begin with, it is not the case that my self vanished one day. Rather, I stopped identifying with the self. I realized that the self is a just thought that I am aware of, but the self is not what I am. The self has continued to exist as a thought that is very useful for survival and I expect it to continue to exist until death.
So if I am not the self, then what am I? I honestly have no idea. For many years, I felt like I was nothing. This sounds terrible, but it was actually very liberating. I did not feel like a dead, cold nothing, I just felt like I was no thing in particular. Compared with identifying as a separate person that is perpetually fearful, lonely, and confused, being nothing is wonderful.
Several years ago, I experienced a shift. I started to feel more and more like I was everything. The first time the feeling came on very strongly, I was sitting in Newark airport staring out at the Queens skyline. I experienced a unity between what I am and everything I am aware of: the beautiful sunrise, the sad buildings, the bagel I was eating, all my thoughts and feelings, etc. I felt like there was no inside and outside to what I truly am (even though I was aware of a self as a thought). For the first time in my life, I truly understood what it meant to love everything unconditionally. This feeling has never really gone away since then, although it is often more in the background of my experience while the self is in the foreground.
Regarding the apparent conflict between Sam Harris’s writings and Catholicism, I see them as emphasizing different partial truths. Harris, in line with meditative traditions, emphasizes breaking identification with the self. This can alleviate suffering, but it overlooks the unity of everything and the possibility of universal love. Catholicism, and other devotional religions, emphasize allowing the self to be “overcome by divine love” as you aptly put it. But when Catholicism insists on the existence of an eternal soul, it makes God something separate that exists outside of a person.
My own experience is that there is no separate self, there is only God, but a God does not exist apart from me. This is what St. Teresa of Avila calls “spiritual marriage” in the seventh mansion, or what Meister Eckhart meant when he said “my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing”.
Here are four other thoughts that seem important. First, I have no idea why this grace came to me. I am not a special person in any way. Second, I have no idea how common this realization is or if it is becoming more common. Third, it has not impaired my ability to live a normal life with a family and job. People often remark that I seem really calm, but otherwise I look like an ordinary guy. Fourth, I have no desire to evangelize about this. I am only writing about it now because I feel that your readers will benefit by hearing that freedom from self is possible.
Anyway, I don’t know if I did a very good job explaining myself, but this is the best I can manage. If you would like to push further on this, I would suggest interviewing an American teacher named Adyashanti. He speaks eloquently about these matters and his realization is very deep. And as always, I appreciate the chance to contribute to the Dish.
That reader also wrote an eloquent email about his experiences with ibogaine, a powerful psychedelic from West Africa. Follow the whole Book Club discussion here. And join in by emailing your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
IbogaLife, an organization in Costa Rica, seeks to help addicts transition from heroin to sobriety through a powerful psychoactive drug, ibogaine, which is derived from a Central West-African bush called iboga. Abby Haglage describes visiting IbogaLife ceremonies, where she witnessed a young woman named Grace undergo the treatment:
In the first stage of the ibogaine trip, which lasts four to eight hours, users experience fantasies like walking on water, through fire, or flying. In the next stage, which can last anywhere from eight to 48 hours, users contemplate—usually with images from childhood—the meaning of what they saw. It is during this time that many discover the underlying reasons for their addiction, and, ideally, work through them.
So Grace trances, we watch, the Bwiti music plays. She howls afraid, we play instruments to keep her calm. For many minutes, she’s frozen and silent. The faces of the village soft and solemn around her. Then suddenly, without warning, terror invites itself. Her eyebrows furrow with pain, her mouth falls open in shock, her hand reaching out to be saved. For the next few days, this is her reality.
A week after the ceremony, Haglage talked to Grace about her visions, which she described as “more uncomfortable than scary”:
Finding these things, seeing them, wasn’t easy. “My whole body was on fire. I was in so much pain,” she says. But living through them seems to have changed, at least for now, the way she sees the world. “What this did, it gave me a perspective. That was the whole point of my trip I think, perspective,” she says. “Decisions are not good or bad, but what you hold them up against. I have a choice if I want to keep using and that’s fine, but if I do, it’s going to suck. This is the only life I have, as far as I know, and I’d at least like to give it a shot.” …
As for the trip? “I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who is trying to have fun,” she says dryly. “If you want your body to explode into 1,000 pieces and rebuild itself into something beautiful, then yeah—but don’t expect it to be pleasant.”
As a recovered alcoholic with almost four years of sobriety (I’m 31 and luckily caught my disease early), this post truly hit home with me. When I initially sought treatment for my drinking at the behest of my then fiancee (now wife – thankfully!), I was one of those individuals who had never done anything other than drink a lot and occasionally smoke pot. I knew I had an addictive personality and wouldn’t be able to just dabble in cocaine, as some of my friends did in college. When I received details of the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that I would be going through for three months for my drinking, I learned that I would be in the program with people suffering from all substance based addictions, including heroin, cocaine, meth, alcohol, etc. and in many cases a combination of two or more.
I was initially very distraught about this, as I did not put alcoholism on the same level as cocaine addiction and definitely nowhere close to heroin. It was unthinkable to me that I’d have anything in common with individuals who suffered from those maladies. Admittedly, I was passing judgement on them when I myself had absolutely no foundation to do so. But society as a whole conditions us that way and the war on drugs only reinforces this stigma. Upon entering the program and successfully graduating, I found out just how wrong I was. Addiction is addiction – period.
Regardless of what substance my peers were addicted to, we could all speak candidly about our experiences, struggles, mistakes and breakthroughs, and we all completely understood each other. I grew closer to many cocaine and meth addicts in that program than I did to even many of the other alcoholics. Even in recovery circles such as Alcoholics Anonymous, there exist “closed” meetings where only those suffering from alcoholism are welcome. I’ve heard men boast of kicking out cocaine addicts who mistakenly came to a closed AA meeting. I never understood that.
I am hopeful that as society begins to normalize around the recreational use of marijuana, and as more and more stories pour into the public domain about otherwise respectable people (Rob Ford may be excluded from this group) struggling with all types of addiction, we can start realizing that there is absolutely no difference between these substances, just the degree to which each individual become enmeshed by them and how deep or shallow their respective “bottom” is. I genuinely wish Congressman Radel the best in his recovery … regardless which substance he is in the process of recovering from.
Another responds to a related post:
I have to weigh in on “Worrying Over a Wonder Drug.” Alec MacGillis writes, “The fact is, there is no silver bullet for the country’s growing opiate addiction problem.” But there is. You’ve posted about it before – it’s called ibogaine. It’s an instant cure for a variety of addictions, including opiate addiction. Obviously it doesn’t guarantee that users won’t return to addiction afterward, but it does remove the need for constant doses of opiates and opiate substitutes to be administered.
Another reader on that post:
I have two people very close to me who were addicted to opiates, and Suboxone (buprenorphine) worked very, very well in helping them get off the stuff. Financially it just about killed us, because the drug is expensive, and you have to take it for 3-6 months, although they do taper the doses as time goes on. My insurance didn’t cover it.
Watching addicted people using Suboxone get through the terrible opiate withdrawal symptoms made me a true believer. The benefits vastly outweigh the risks. I think the Times is looking for a big problem where only a small one exists. It would help if Suboxone was cheaper and more widely available. It truly is a wonder drug for many.
Update from another:
I’d just like to push back against the claim that ibogaine is an instant cure for addiction. From my experience, it is not. My heroin addiction muscled past its ibogaine encounter. I wanted it to work and payed more than my daily fix, which at the time was a several hundred dollar a day, to take the drug. In all honestly, ibogaine just made me feel really really sick to my stomach. After a long and mildly hallucinogenic trip I found myself perhaps more in thrall to opioids than before. I can guarantee you that was not the expected outcome.
I’m certain it works for some -I have friends who had other more positive experiences with ibogaine – but for me it didn’t do a thing. And of those friends who had better outcomes, I don’t think any of them would claim ibogaine was a wonder drug. Not that it matters, but I quit getting high when it became like a full time job working for a super shitty boss. In the end, it was just easier to quit than to keep showing up. I can say that in my case being a lazy man probably saved my life. I quit cold turkey, which felt like getting beat up while you had the flu, and it sucked.
I tried bupe later, after a narcotic relapse, and realized that for me the only way to quit getting high was to just quit getting high. That’s just me though, and I’m not gonna judge anyone who manages to stay sober regardless of the means.
Jesse Singal reviews a new study supporting the view that treating heroin addiction with heroin is more effective than methadone:
The [North American Opiate Medication Initiative] numbers are striking: A year after the start of the study, nearly 90% of those given heroin remained in treatment, while just over half in the methadone group did. … HAT, also known as heroin maintenance, is based on the premise that while methadone treatment is effective by many standards, most methadone users end up back on heroin or other opiates eventually—either with or without methadone supplementing their habit. Since the search for heroin is, in many ways, more harmful to society than the use of it, methadone may have important limitations as a means of mitigating the damage done by heroin addiction.
“It’s not controversial in either [Switzerland or the Netherlands],” said Peter Reuter, a policy analyst at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, “and in Switzerland it’s been there for so long that people have forgotten that it was once controversial.”
The Village Voice covered a far more controversial approach to heroin addiction:
Taken in sufficient quantity, [root bark from the tabernanthe iboga plant] triggers a psychedelic experience that users say is more intense than LSD or psilocybin mushrooms.
Practitioners of the Bwiti religion in the West African nation of Gabon use iboga root bark as a sacrament to induce visions in tribal ceremonies, similar to the way natives of South and Central America use ayahuasca and peyote. [Claire] Wilkins is one of a few dozen therapists worldwide who specialize in the use of iboga (more specifically, a potent extract called ibogaine) to treat drug addiction. …
Ibogaine and iboga root bark are illegal in the United States but unregulated in many countries, including Canada and Mexico. Wilkins, though, is hardly alone in her belief that iboga-based substances can be used as a legitimate treatment for drug addiction. Researchers at respected institutions have conducted experiments and ended up with hard evidence that the compound works—as long as you don’t mind the mindfuck.
A Dish reader talked about his mindfuck here. More ibogaine testimonials and resources here. Caption for the above clip:
Short sequence from my BBC broadcast documentary Detox or Die. This was for BBC’s “ONE Life” strand. A documentary biopic of my junk addiction that culminates in my attempt to detox with ibogaine. This African visionary drug has, however, been linked to several fatalities and has some rather unpleasant side effects. Heavy stuff but ultimately redeeming.
Sarah Palin said sorry seven times (last year), Limbaugh sunk to new lows, and Julian Sanchez explained why we love to hate politicians. Andrew called the death threats to Palin despicable, while Nancy Goldstein (and readers) scrutinized them. Clive Crook called Palin the anti-president, and she wouldn't even appear on Bill O'Reilly. Andrew pinpointed the divide in discourse is not between left and right but open and closed, while Mark Levin only suggested someone kill himself, not that they commit murder. Frum fought against paranoid narratives, Kate Pickert previewed the tone of next week's agenda, McWhorter railed against compromise, and Dan Amira didn't want Republicans and Democrats to sit together during the SOTU. Gary Wills connected Obama's speech to Lincoln's from Gettysburg, and Greg Sargent stressed Obama's smarts.
Andrew urged the GOP or Obama to take on tax reform, and Ezra Klein corrected the record on the "job-killing" healthcare bill. Ta-Nehisi explained slavery's social construct, Chabon jumped in on Obama's rain puddle in heaven, and the double space after a period is wrong. Computers can never copy human brains, meth travelled from Mexico, Pew predicted the fuel efficiency of cars in 2050, and it helped to know someone's name.
Thursday on the Dish, we rounded up the web's best reax on Obama's Tucson speech, where he called for a more civil and honest discourse, and Andrew characterized him as the most Christian president in recent memory. Conor proposed a civility pact for the blogosphere, Limbaugh's poster contradicted his defense, and this video evidenced how dangerous discourse has become. Andrew used "blood libel" in a historically appropriate manner, Joe Klein captured Obama's rhetorical power, and Politico dropped the ball. Sprung parsed Loughner's currency kick, Weigel made the case for enacting no Tucson-inspired legislation, Lee Woodruff shared the harder parts of healing a spouse's brain trauma, and more bloggers bucked against locking people up. Palin scrubbed her Facebook page in record time, Jennifer Rubin faulted her for surrounding herself with loyal amateurs, and even Jpod told her she needed to serious herself up. Chris Christie backed slowly away from her, and Palin's breath would keep Andrew awake tonight.
Tunisia had the Arab world on edge, Ethan Zuckerman wondered if it could be the next Twitter revolution, and the Internet captured the bloodshed and the spark that started it all. Andrew answered Greg Mankiw on what rich people deserve, Yglesias asked if the US caused the spike in global food prices, and Norquist kept conservative on a possible war in Lebanon. Pawlenty would reinstate DADT, and Serwer balked at the chaos it would cause. David Boaz summed up the CPAC controversy, climate change accelerated, and Palin intimidated future presidential candidates. Howard Gleckman pleaded for tax reform in the SOTU, the goverment could steal your tweets, and Jenny McCarthy couldn't let go of her vaccine conspiracies. Reihan hyped up the Florida Governor's new education reform proposal, and these were the five emotions invented by the Internet. Michael Chabon blogged, Wikipedia passed its own test, and it was hard to quantify the mechanics of beauty. A reader who wanted to adopt according to her own race defended herself, readers argued over neti pots and Sudafed, and a Cannabis Closet reader connected with "God." Chatroulette wanted to monetize more schlongs, Joan Rivers terrified Andrew, and a drag policewoman kept Baltimore on its toes.
Yglesias award here, VFYW here, comment of the day here, Glenn Greenwald's pledge drive here, chart of the day here, MHB here, and FOTD here.
(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty.)
Wednesday on the Dish, Andrew live-blogged Obama's moving speech in Tucson. He still didn't buy Palin's victimization, which tightened her grip on the base. Readers broke down her skewed logic on whether rhetoric can inspire violence, Ezra Klein seconded Andrew on what she should have said, and Steve Benen focused on the ever-opaque Palin model of interacting with the press. We worked Dan Riehl over for his vile discourse and moral grandstanding, and Jews apologized to Palin. The left also had a bullseye map, and Andrew nominated Boehner to revolutionize the right in tone. Clive Crook pushed back against anger, Mark Thompson grew tired of debate over debate, and a reader amended Buchanan's Yglesias nomination. Nate Silver applied statistics to threats and tried to understand the evolution of the gun debate. Choire Sicha couldn't compute how we identify crazy, and Shafer sized up Loughner's mugshot. Tony Woodlief feared for his own parenting habits, and readers balked at involuntarily committing patients. Serwer and Sullum rejected Loughner's schizophrenic connections to cannabis, Andrew pored over his gamer days and political obsessions, and we grasped at the science of Giffords' survival here.
John Seabrook marked the Haiti earthquake anniversary on a personal note, Brazil whooped the US in combatting poverty, Cowen explained why the French succeed, and Stieg Larsson's trilogy upended our assumptions about Sweden. Larison had concerns about South Sudan, Schwarzenegger never wanted a safety net, and conservates and liberals both thought the other was illegitimate. Readers offered more background info on adoptions, and on the war against meth. Ta-Nehisi feared for the film adaptation of the Great Gatsby, Jessa Crispin decoded Berlin through books, some compliments were never doled out to restaurant websites, and 50 Cent made mad money off of Twitter.
Tuesday on the Dish, Andrew seized on David Brooks' accusation that the media dared to politicize the attempt on Giffords' life and Joe Klein sided with Brooks. Andrew fingered the right's rhetoric not for partisan reasons but out of genuine fear for the future. Limbaugh came out swinging, and Andrew thought he seriously crossed the line, along with many other leading conservatives in America. Ailes took the high road with calls for his staff to tone it down, and Scarborough and Buchanan admitted they'd have apologized if the crosshairs were theirs. Andrew predicted this moment was made for Obama to take charge, since the right flagrantly refused to take any responsibility. Pawlenty dug in at Palin, and Instapundit mocked Pawlenty's masculinity.
Glenn Beck brandished a gun to "stand together against all violence," Andrew once found himself in the line of crosshairs (and they weren't Palin's), and Amy Davidson considered the blood on our hands. E.D. Kain understood Loughner as at war with reality, Larison saw pure nihilism, William Galston advocated for involuntary commitment to protect the rest of society, and Weigel predicted an armed Arizona. Henry Farrell likened the debate over rhetoric to the climate change fight, and McWhorter argued that was in part the Internet's fault. The National Review called for more civility, and Matt Taibbi accepted some of the media's blame. Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg proved civil discourse is possible, and Giffords' doctor updated us on her condition.
DADT caused blackbirds to die, Kevin Drum offered a toin coss for $1 million that most people opted to refuse, and Angry Birds weren't all fundamentalists. Tom Delay was sentenced under the same rules that apply to all Americans, and the drug war on meth made it harder for sick people to get cold medicine and more lucrative for the meth business to buy drugs. Sudan verged on becoming two separate countries, and rape ran rampant in Haiti's tent cities. Huckabee pulled ahead in Iowa, and Greg Ip called out Paul Ryan. We wondered if the U.S. should shill for Internet freedom, and Arran Frood imagined computerized nutrition. James McWilliams argued animals aren't objects for eating, and a reader corrected the record on a dying Vanuatu culture. This Cannabis reader (and grower) also donated to the political cause, and a new drug entered the Dish spirituality thread. Porta-potties impressed Canadians, and green apples spark bonobo orgies.
Map of the day here, MHB here, Yglesias award here, quote for the day here, sane conservatism watch here, FOTD here, VFYW here, and VFYW contest winner #32 here.
Monday on the Dish, Andrew unravelled the right's evasions on the assassination. The market for Palin tanked, Andrew wouldn't let her dismiss the shooting as non-political, and Frum didn't think Palin demonstrated any larger humanity with her response. Beck calmed Palin down by presaging an assasination attempt on her, and Conor didn't want to blame her for thinking politics was all a big joke. Palin's own adviser evaded responsibility for her actions, while even enraged football players apologize for their violent rhetoric, and Giffords herself predicted Palin's need to accept the consequences. The 9-year-old father spoke, crosshairs weren't the culprit, and some chalked it up to a silly poster, instead of the usual Grand Theft Auto excuse. Loughner's friend admitted his unstable mentality reminded him of the Joker's, but it wasn't pot that pushed him over the edge. Andrew disparaged gun violence worship, and Ezra Klein begged for a dialdown in the rhetoric of fear. Some feared we'd become Pakistan, and most were concerned that the shooting would hurt the essence of in-person democracy.
A reader hoped we'd see the gay intern who saved Giffords' life at the State of the Union, Jonathan Alter hypothesized how Obama will reference it in his speech, and Westboro church amazed us with this pure vitriol. We examined the roll of Giffords' religion and the possible American Renaissance connection with Loughner's motives. Jim Burroway didn't think it could happen so close to home, and Peter Beinart imagined if Jared Lee Loughner were named Abdul Mohammed. Stephen Budiansky wouldn't let the right off the hook, especially when threats against congressmen have tripled. Reader's asked how Loughner got a legal gun, and the blogosphere examined his weapon of choice. Jonathan Cohn and Vaughan Bell assessed our mental health system, and Joe Gandelman predicted a temporary calm in rhetoric.
Answering David Link, Andrew unpacked what CPAC's version of conservatism would look like if it weren't anti-gay. Andrew Bacevich traced the military-industrial complex from Ike's day to ours, Gordon Adams questioned Gates on defense cuts, and Serwer argued that those "cuts" are really an increase. Noah Millman reconsidered military intervention, Goldberg praised Obama's work on Iran, and on the flipside, sanctions forced Iran to use 40-year-old planes which often crash. Scary climate changed commercials don't work, some Home Ec classes used to practice on real babies, and California outlawed ironic Twitter impersonators. Roger Ebert reprimanded HuffPo for wimping out on Huck Finn, readers attacked Phillip S. Smith's review of the Cannabis Closet, and the Tea Party really is that insane on the debt.
I have been following your blog for some time, and I have really enjoyed the occasional post on psychedelics. I've read about psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca, but never about a plant that changed my life years ago: ibogaine. It is native to West Africa, and people who experiment broadly with psychedelics consider it the most powerful drug in the world.
During my junior year of college, I found myself sinking into a depression. On the surface, my life looked quite good, but something still felt wrong. I had been raised to believe that happiness came from successfully achieving your goals. I had achieved some fairly ambitious ones, and had acquired considerable respect from my peers, but happiness eluded me. Even worse, I had no hope that life would get better. I started drinking myself into blackness twice a week and watching a lot of TV, desperately hoping that one day I would feel better. When I decided to try ibogaine, I was nearing the end of my rope. Despite my antipathy towards drugs (aside from the occasional joint), I figured it could not hurt.
Ibogaine stays in your system for 48 hours, and the first 24 hours of my session were the most horrible 24 hours of my life.
Every single thought that I normally repressed came into my awareness – and I was forced to look at them without any filters. I saw that I had no idea who I was, and so I desperately sought other people’s approval. Everything I did, all my plans, were simply to make people give me positive feedback.
I also saw that everyone else was in the same boat. Society was one big lie – we all hide our suffering behind a façade of confidence and forced happiness, hoping that it will just go away. I saw images of people’s faces: friends, parents, teachers, politicians; and I saw the desperation hiding just behind their eyes. Finally, I saw how human beings are never truly happy. We may have a few moments of happiness in a long lifetime, but mostly we jump from one distraction to the next until death takes us. After 20 hours of visions like these, I drifted into sleep.
I woke up several hours later and sat down outside, staring into the trees behind my house. Physically I was fine, but emotionally I felt horrible. How could I possibly function in the world, knowing that life is a pointless joke? I realized I could not go back to my old self, but who would I be? I assumed my girlfriend would leave me, all my friends would grow tired of me, and my parents would stop loving me. And forget about a career. How could I possible compete with people who believed that success would bring them happiness? So I just sat in my deck chair, mentally preparing myself for a life of loneliness and menial work.
And then the bottom dropped out. Somewhere, deep down in my psyche, I accepted everything I had seen on ibogaine. I accepted that I did not know who I was; I accepted that all my previous plans were based on getting people’s approval; and I accepted that happiness cannot be achieved. And with this acceptance came an extraordinary bliss and that can only be described as religious. I saw light everywhere, and felt an intense love coming into me and through me. Over the next 24 hours, as the ibogaine left my system, this joy receded into the background and my normal mind slowly came back.
But I never returned to the person I had been before. A sense of peace is always there in the background, and while it can get obscured by the mind, it never goes away. I still don’t know who I am, but I don’t need to know. I stopped chasing after happiness, because I know happiness is my natural state. And my relationships did not fall apart; they were actually strengthened by an increase in love. Even my career in mainstream international economics has gone well. It turns out people really appreciate genuineness and authenticity.
This happened six years ago, and in this time I have come across many accounts of similar transitions; some with psychedelics, some with meditation or prayer, and some without any outside help. In comparison, my experience was relatively easy. Ibogaine was like a decade of psychotherapy and meditation rolled into one night, and while it was a horrible night, it saved me from years of suffering.
Another demonized "party drug" is getting a new looksie, as its potential as a medicine is explored:
MDMA’s partial rehabilitation is largely due to the efforts of Rick Doblin and his Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS has raised the money for the Mithoefer trial and other studies aimed at testing the medical or psychotherapeutic value of currently banned substances, and it has led the way through the bureaucratic maze that must be traversed to obtain legal approval for such research. Its ultimate goal is to make Schedule I substances such as MDMA, LSD, ibogaine, and marijuana available by prescription.
But some sick people could get better! MDMA, of course, began life as a medical psychiatric therapy. It was only when it gave people pleasure and helped them think through and resolve their emotional problems that the government decided to ban it.
There are also many valid criticisms of the occupation. But I have yet to read any cogent criticism that offers any better future plan than the one president Bush outlined Monday night. John Kerry’s plaintive cries to “internationalize” the transition are so vacuous they barely merit attention. The transition is already being run by the U.N.; very few countries have the military capacity to cooperate fully with the coalition, and few want to; quicker elections would be great, but very difficult to pull off on a national level before the end of the year. So what are Bush’s opponents proposing? More troops now? But wouldn’t that undercut the message of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis? A sudden exit of all troops? But no one – apart from right-wing and leftwing extremists – thinks that’s a wise move. Giving a future Iraqi government a veto power over troop activities? Done, according to Blair. The truth is: Bush’s plan is about as good as we’re likely to get. And deposing a dictator after decades of brutal rule could never have led immediately to insta-democracy. . . . What I’m saying, I guess, is that as long as the anti-war critics continue relentless negativism without any constructive alternative, they will soon lose the debate. Americans want to know how to move this war forward, not why we shouldn’t have started it in the first place. Right now, the president has the best plan for making this work. What does anyone else have?
Well, yes. I stand by every word. But things have moved on since then, haven’t they? The plan I outlined is now Kerry’s plan as well. (In fact, it’s closer to Kerry’s original plan than Bush’s.) And the insurgency has gained more traction and more manpower since May. And when we are facing an electoral decision six months later, criticism is anything but negative. My constructive point is that a new pro-war president will move things forward, and that the incumbent has proven himself incompetent. Time to hold someone accountable, I’d say. Glenn says he expected much worse. But did he expect no WMDs? Did he expect Colin Powell’s U.N. speech to be revealed as a tissue of untruths? Did he expect Abu Ghraib? Has Glenn ever fully come to terms with any of that? And the reason we all expected much worse from the invasion is that, in retrospect, we misread Saddam’s war-plan. He was far smarter than we were. We expected a brutal conventional battle. Saddam planned a strategic retreat and then an insurgent regrouping. And we were completely unprepared for it. The question is: why were we so unprepared? How were we out-foxed by a vicious old tyrant? And do we trust the same group of people to get it right this time? I don’t.
AS FOR MICKEY: It’s always pleasant to be dismissed as “excitable”. I do react to events instantly and with my emotions as well as my brain. And I reserve the right in blog-time to change my mind. But I have never been so excitable as to have argued last December that Kerry’s campaign was so execrably bad that he should withdraw from the race before the Iowa caucuses. Let’s roll the tape, shall we?
“Kerry Withdrawal Contest: In part for reasons described in the preceding item, Democratic Senator John Kerry, once proclaimed the frontrunner in the press, faces not just defeat but utter humiliation in the New Hampshire primary. Is he really going to soldier on to finish in the single digits and get clobbered by both Howard Dean and Wesley Clark, if not one or more other candidates? Shouldn’t he save his pride (and possible national political future, if only as a VP candidate) by withdrawing from the race before this harsh popular verdict is rendered? … But what can Kerry say that isn’t even more humiliating than seeing it through?” “I realize my wife Teresa needs me more than my country needs me”? That won’t cut it. “I’ve decided to take time out to learn the Web so I can compete in future campaigns” and “I’m entering rehab at an undisclosed location to recover from my vicious Ibogaine habit. I make no excuses” are too trendy. … Let’s harness the power of the Web and help Kerry adviser/speechwriter Robert Shrum with the dirty job that lies ahead for him. A copy of John Glenn: A Memoir to the reader who submits the best cover excuse that will let Sen. Kerry drop out of the presidential race before the voting actually starts while preserving his viability within the system. … Void where prohibited…
Would it have been possible last December 5 to have written something a) that “excitable” or b) that wrong? “Not just defeat but utter humiliation.” Hysteric, heal thyself.