I read a recent article in the New York Times about new research in treating depression with hallucinogenic agents (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/01/health/hallucinogenic-mushrooms-psilocybin-cancer-anxiety-depression.html). I found the article – excuse the expression – mind-blowing. And I suffered a flashback to a time 50 years ago when I, in my youthful stupidity, took LSD on two occasions. One was a very bad trip and I decided the experience was not for me. After I did research on the effects of hallucinogens on the brain, I decided it was for no one.
I was under the impression that experimenting with mind-altering drugs was a thing of the past, along with The Sixties, Timothy Leary and Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds. And I thought the dangerous notion of treating mental disorders with hallucinogens had been discredited, or at least abandoned. But I was wrong. It seems like the old adage forever holds true: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Today, there is a renewed interest in the use of hallucinogens to treat depression, accompanied by much hype, as The Times article indicates. I believe his resurgence is a sign, not of progress, but of our failure to understand brain science, and in particular, methylation. To say little about what is anxiety and depression, which they are studying.
The article published Dec. 1 in the Health section of The Times is titled, “A Dose of a Hallucinogen From a ‘Magic Mushroom,’ and Then Lasting Peace.” It reports on two experimental studies – at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and at Johns Hopkins University – in which cancer patients were given doses of psilocybin, an illegal hallucinogen. During the eight-hour sessions, patients were provided with eye masks, ear phones, programmed music, hospital setting, the whole panoply of the proper accouterments necessary for an “out of space,” serious experience. Their question: Can the drug reduce anxiety and depression in cancer patients?
The results: 80% of cancer patients “showed clinically significant reduction in psychologic disorders.” They often had mystical experiences which I would like to know much more about, because my explanation is quite different from those who write about it. Too often, in my previous research, those studying hallucinogens thought that mystical experiences were a good thing, beneficent and healthy. My view is different. It is dangerous for reasons to be explained in a moment.
But what if the psychologic disorders and physical aberrations such as cancer, are essentially the same thing; stemming from the same source and originating during the same evolutionary time frame. We have seen this many times over in non-cancer patients, and have also seen it with cancer patients. We have seen serious psychologic afflictions such as anxiety making their appearance during the earliest time frame, during gestation and just after birth. We have also seen patients who have been reliving those very early times who have incipient, inchoate cancer. Our research has not gone as far as to justify a hypothesis about anxiety and cancer but in my papers I have alluded to the possible relationship between them. Our future research into early trauma and cancer will delve into it much more strenuously.
Here is an important result of the Langone study: “The intensity of the mystical experience correlated with the degree that their anxiety and depression decreased. Why is that? The usual statistical studies which should explain it, do not.
The results of both studies were also released concurrently in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (December 16, 2016). I saw no reports on the deleterious effects of this drug on patients, which to me, should be a sine qua non of any research: Can it do harm? The mystical experience these patients underwent seemed to me, based on my own research, to be signs of overload. That is, the unleashing of mountains of pain which is not always evident, even to the patient with pain. What seems to happen is that the gating system, charged with suppressing deep pain militates to where it is needed to control the level of pain. That is, to keep the system from being overwhelmed by the input. Heavy pain becomes a beacon to guide the pain to where it is needed, to aid repression and keep us unconscious. Nevertheless, the impact of high pain levels weakens the defense system so that further use of drugs can produce a crack in the gating system, leading to strange beliefs, such as being at one with Allah. These ideas, like many symptoms, are signs of overwhelming input. That is, when defenses falter, symptoms appear to absorb the input. These symptoms such as migraine headaches, or hallucinations, are indicative of too much input into the neurobiologic system.
The input happens when the repressive gates weaken, allowing accumulated pains from the start of life into higher levels. What also allows this to happen is the use of hallucinogens which blast open the gates, allowing far too much pain into the system. Normally these pains stay in the neurobiologic “cage.” Bur forcing drugs into the system allows the influx of historic early hurts to ramify throughout the body and brain. The gates give way. The result is serious cognitive aberrations, such as mystical experiences, which are no more than ineffable, laminated loads of pain arising in vague and diverse, aleatoric form to higher brain levels. Once the pain breaks through, those higher brain levels are then forced to concoct esoteric ideas without form, as the brain starts to lose cohesion and boundaries.
What are these pains? Trauma during gestation, birth and infancy. A smoking, drinking mother. An anxious mother living in chaos. An impatient parent who demands too much from the baby. A carrying mother taking drugs or ingesting medicine that alters the baby’s metabolism. And on and on. They are too numerous to adumbrate.
When those pains suddenly break through after a lifetime of repression, they cannot be enumerated nor defined by the patient, not his doctor; hence, they are considered mystical. It should read “mystery” rather than mystical because that is what it is for the victim, who never sees himself as victim. He swears he has been liberated. “Liberated” temporarily from his pain, it seems.