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Can one blissful moment change your life? Producer Andy Mills introduces us to Reverend Mike Young, a man who can pinpoint a pivotal handful of minutes in the 1960s that he claims did just that. As a college student, he was part of a study in which theology students were given psilocybin (a.k.a. magic mushrooms) in a church basement during a Good Friday service. This might seem ridiculous, and in fact, it wasn't long after that the use of these kinds of drugs for both science and recreation was banned. Nonetheless, we follow our curiosity to some current psilocybin experiments that demonstrate the powerful and surprising effects of psychedelic drugs. Dr. Roland Griffiths and Charlie Bessant help us pin down these hard-to-describe, intense feelings of rapture. And Andy finds himself reassured about a deeply personal experience from his own past.

READ MORE:

Reverend Mike Young, A Preacher's Poems

Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations

Two of Roland Griffiths' ongoing studies:

Guests:

Roland Griffiths

Produced by:

Andy Mills

Comments [58]

Donald Wilson from Bellevue, Washington

Religion means literally a form of worship. It has nothing to do with some emotional experience but rather from showing respect for someone or something.

The idea of religious experiences is just a misnomer. You could call them spiritual experiences, but the emotion is not what makes an experience real, it is the person behind the emotion. Like the joy of learning some new truth about the universe, what makes the joy valid is the truth, not the feeling itself.

May. 01 2014 06:11 PM
Lawrence P from Portland

Using substance for psychotherapy is interesting, using it for religious or spiritual is very media inspired shallowness at its most boring. If you take inspiration from a magazine that has advertising and answers then you will be a person who is probably laughed at by the employees of the Mcjob that cranks out your life choices and ideas that you call your own. Want to experience intense profound god and demon events, seek out intense trauma during childhood. Dissociative disorders will make you a genuine holy being. I know it isnt so fun and not many tee shirts to make money from in this, but it is a realm of powerful intities and deep secrets of the universe. Not that it is worth anything that deserves even a bookdeal. It is where most of the magic in this world emerged from, Just kids that were raped and neglected and so on. Just sad, not really the basis for a secret society one would think. or deep beliefs.

Apr. 04 2014 08:58 AM
bernard from canada

Magic mushrooms are the link between consciousness and mother Earth

Feb. 15 2014 07:24 PM
Tim

The subject of hallucinogens having the potential for spurring a profound and life-changing experience is well worth exploring, as I know from having such experience many times, but it's been done so much more effectively in other discussions that yours here seems woefully inadequate and even a bit lame. Whatever causes it to occur, it is certainly not cheapened if you give yourself to it and explore with some purpose.

When Jad and your guest can dispense with the annoying use of the word "like", you might learn to articulate such seemingly ineffable experiences with more precision, richness and insight. And calling this a "religious experience" immediately gives it a spin that I think is unfortunately off-base. I prefer the term "spiritual" which is less tied to organized and codified religions such as Christianity. As it is, the segment seems more frivolous than genuinely awed by such experience, and that's unfortunate. But I'm glad to know that serious research into this kind of experience may be taking place after such a long legal prohibition.

Dec. 30 2013 11:44 PM
Jeffrey Vyain from East PA

This is the best podcast from you guys that I have heard, and I am a fan of pretty much all of them. I would love to see you guys dig further into these topics. There are certainly other sources for it, but I always appreciate your delivery. Maybe a great topic to dig into would be DMT, ayahuasca, maybe near-death experiences (I think you've dug into this a bit, if I recall correctly). Maybe linking common tribal cultural beliefs/themes with the shamanistic experience. Iboga in Africa vs Ayahuasca in Peru vs that brief moment of cultural enlightenment in the 50s/60s in pop culture. Maybe DMT studies over recent years. Just some ideas...

Anyway, thank you, great show! Looking forward to more.

Dec. 29 2013 03:53 PM
Ceel from Switzerland

Thank you for this. I was wondering if anybody knows where I could find the Howard Thurman's entire "preach" (starts @ 2:07). I'd be curious to listen more attentively to him.

Dec. 29 2013 02:55 PM
Jim Harris from Philadelphia PA

WOW. Great show. This topic deserves more exploration in the media. I took LSD in the 1960's and also experienced that sense of oneness. Hearing that others did, too, only validates my experience. It's like a dream; you can bring some stuff back to the waking world but some of the deepest truths stay on the other side. One great question raised - does the availability of transcendental experience trough a pill mean that we are all chemical which will die with our corporeal body, or is the drug merely a round-trip ticket to a larger dimension?

Not enough has been written about this subject. ("Storming Heaven," is an up-closel account of Timothy Leary's years as Guru-in-Chief. Entertaining, if not scientifically valuable.) Unfortunately, much of the use of psychedelics occurred in unsupervised, party-hearty-like situations, which was (in hindsight) pretty dangerous.

I will be TUNING IN for more!

Dec. 29 2013 02:36 PM
john

I just listened to this podcast and would like to add my two cents worth. Whether the experiences described in the show are a result of a religious epiphany or drugs is moot. We know that many of the drugs we use (or try to avoid using) such as benzodiazepines and narcotics work because there is a chemical already present in the brain that does the same thing. Endorphins in the case of narcotics and GABAergic chemicals in the case of benzodiazepines. The brain is wired to process and deal with certain amounts of pain and anxiety. Runners can get "high" with natural release of endorphins, and relaxation techniques can activate GABAergic systems. Do I condone drug use? Nope, I have been in medical practice for a few decades and have never seen anything good come of regular use of pharmacologic doses of these chemicals. As a tool to look into the workings of the brain, I think it is fascinating. I am a little surprised that Radiolab didn't explore/emphasize that aspect of the story more. I look to Radiolab to inform me especially on all things brain related. Many shows have explained (or tried to) what is happening in the brain on a basic level, with regards sleep, anxiety, morality, etc.

Dec. 29 2013 11:00 AM
Pete from Mountain View, ca.

I went to BU from 1966 - 1970 and discovered the "bliss" of mescaline while a student there. Didn't trip at Marsh Chapel, but I have to say the expanded consciousness described here (http://www.mescaline.org/synth/index.htm) is exhilarating and eye opening... Most profound hilarity, special effects, spiritual feeling of oneness.

Years later in wild places in nature I felt very similar. Had the same thoughts I later discovered William James had 100 years before...

Now I reach similar states thru meditation - and my objectives have changed from hallucinations to insights.

I would recommend trying it with people you feel safe with in a comfortable environment. You will never be the same after a sunrise on the beach.

Dec. 28 2013 08:36 PM
Ruby from Las Vegas

I did psilocybin in the 60's In Las Vegas and I think you are right, might be a good thing to experience now at this stage.

Dec. 28 2013 05:27 PM
Martha from Las Vegas

I would personally love to volunteer for a psilocybin experiment. At 62, I think the experience would be very helpful in preparing me for the next chapter in my life.

Dec. 28 2013 04:59 PM
larry from nyc

I was very happy to hear the show and read the comments. The "experience" and the bliss, unity, and certainty, that comes after the death of the ego, beyond time(and therefore space)is not a trick of psilocybin. The fact that it happened to me after using a small amount of pot, and has happened to many others under many circumstances demonstrates that it is just a possibility of being human, and not a delusion of a particular substance. It is always present in every one of us, occasionally that which keeps us blind to it is stripped away, leaving us in a state of Grace.

Dec. 27 2013 11:22 AM
Patrick

I'd like to talk about my psilocybin experience. It's something I don't talk about a lot because people tend to scoff or dismiss my account, but something genuinely extraordinary happened to me after my first experience with psilocybin.

I grew up in an extremely religious household. My family was very dysfunctional, and my home environment was frighteningly hostile. Everyday was a struggle. I was also homeschooled, so I scarcely had an escape.

Needless to say, I was an anxious kid. I was not only consistently depressed, but I was socially anxious as well. Attempting to make friends and hang out with friends was agonizing for me. I really wanted to be with people and have friends, but I would get violently ill every time I tried. I was a loner and socially inept. I had severe anxiety problems, and I can't really express how bad it was at the time.

I must've been around 18 years old when I tried mushrooms for the first time. I did a lot of research on the internet about them, fascinated by them.

After a long search, I finally came across some. I seized the opportunity.

I was very impatient to wait for any of my friends to be ready to do them with me. So, I decided to take them alone in my room at night. I took a relatively small dose, just to test the waters. I took a little over one gram. That's it.

Nevertheless, the experience that followed shook me. I was alone, so I spent most of the experience in bed with my eyes closed under dim light being introspective.

I was finally able to fall asleep about 5 or 6 in the morning, and when I woke up, I was no longer tripping, but I noticed something different about myself–something that still moves me to this day when I think about it. I stepped outside to go meet with friends and... it was gone...

The anxiety, the physical illness, the depression, the fear... it was all gone... It has stuck with me to this day. At the time, I couldn't believe it. I felt so different. It's really stunning to have that feeling... I'm serious when I say that it was as if I was in a straight-jacket my whole life, and taking mushrooms was like someone finally deciding to come unbuckle me. I felt liberated. The best part of the experience was the moment I realized I was no longer anxious the day after the trip. I really saw the world with new eyes.

I also quickly deconverted from Christianity not long after my experience in favor of a more humanistic and zen worldview, which changed my life and my perspective. The change was largely due to realizations I had under the influence of mushrooms.

I owe mushrooms my life, and I really hope that it can be used to benefit the lives of others. I'm living proof of its medical potential.

Oct. 31 2013 02:26 AM
Rick McPeak

Thanks, Andy, for this thoughtful peace on religious experience. I thought the questions by Robert and others represented pretty accurately the concerns most of us would have. I wonder what those who are open to using the mushrooms might have in common.

Sep. 06 2013 03:40 PM
Paul D. from Clinton, NJ

Having gone through the drug culture years and having taken every kind of drug available at the time with the exception of heroin and some other opiates, I can honestly say that taking psilocybin mushrooms gave me the most intense and meaningful "spiritual" experience. It has given me and insight into reality which has stayed with me for over 40 years. However; insight is not transformation. I still struggled with my hangups, screwed up relationships, cop-outs, resentments and the myriads of issues that afflict each one of us. I believe this is the failure of substance induced mystical experiences. You get the experience of reality and its unifying nature but it doesn't offer you a framework for transformation. I've read each of the above comments and none of them clearly state that the person who wrote them has become a better, more loving, less selfish human being because of their experience. So although I see some value to the experience, it fails in the practical sense. I did eventually have a transformational experience. That came about several years later when I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It has been His presence in my life that has changed me. I stopped doing drugs at that time and I can honestly say my life has improved immensely in all dimensions: relational, emotional and spiritual. He is the incarnate Reality that psilocybin allows you to glimpse and He, by giving up His life for you allows you to enter in His reality, the Reality of God.

Aug. 04 2013 07:59 AM
Jennifer

I believe what everyone is experiencing is simple The Truth/Reality that we are ALL ONE. Every religion teaches this because it's true.
Taking hallucinogens just briefly strips off all the materialistic, moralistic stuff we carry around to survive in society.

Jun. 08 2013 04:31 PM
Elanor Rigby

Here's some straight up brain science on this subject:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8SS6DvU_0U

Psilocybin doesn't "re-wire" the brain, but it does change blood flow in a significant way.

May. 30 2013 08:11 PM
bruce from denver

This is the first time that I was slightly disappointed with a radiolab show. I felt that the treatment of the subject matter gave too much credence to the idea that psilocybin was a "drug" and "artificial." Roberts comments in particular seemed narrow minded, especially since his knowledge was so limited. It seemed that even though an obvious conclusion was staring us in the face: namely that the "religious" experience described in the show was more likely a RESULT of early people's use of naturally occurring psychedelics and not the other way around as it was implied, the show seemed to go out of its way to no go there, most likely out of fear that they would be seen as "pro drug."

Apr. 30 2013 08:52 PM
Melissa

You can't say a person became a Unitarian Universalist minister and try to pass that off as the fact that he had a profound religious experience. It's perfectly acceptable to be a Unitarian Universalist minister and be atheist, agnostic or have any other world view. Was he Unitarian Universalist before this experiement? Or did this experiment contribute to his choice to go in that direction instead of in the direction of the religion of his upbringing?

Apr. 21 2013 02:14 AM
Murli from California

Last Saturday, I left my place in Oakland and drove six hours south. I was on my way to church. Actually to a service, aka meeting, under a Native American Church chapter. For me the use of peyote is an integral part of my life. My ancestors from northern Mexico and southern Texas and New Mexico have been using peyote for a very long time. In fact, the people have been using peyote and mushrooms to commune with spirit long before there was a US and Mexico. So I thoroughly enjoyed the show has I made the drive to connect with my dear friend peyote. Thanks

Apr. 03 2013 02:17 AM
CB

I recently saw this MIT video that reminded me very much of the psychedelic experience -- of what skin -- (and other surfaces) looks like during the experience. The sense of seeing further into reality than you usually see is captured here in a way that was pretty startling:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/02/27/science/100000002087758/finding-the-visible-in-the-invisible.html

Apr. 01 2013 02:25 PM
ctoth666

Either you've taken psilocybin mushrooms or you haven't. Either you've taken LSD or you haven't. Either you've taken ayahausca or you haven't. Based on our life's experiences, everyone falls into two categories: the have and the have nots. When you "have not" experienced something, you simply cannot provide reliable testimony about that experience. You have no credibility, and all of your points are moot. I have tried all of these substances, so I can come to valid conclusions about them, whereas someone who hasn't tried them cannot come to valid conclusions. This is the nature of life. We are the sum of our individual experiences. Without direct experience, knowledge is only hypothetical and nothing more.
To have never tried an illegal drug and then push an anti-drug agenda is naivety beyond compare. I would argue that it makes no sense, and I pity you if your reasoning skills are that poor. What's so fascinating to me is that the overwhelming percentage of psychedelic drug users will not report that psychedelics are harmful, while the majority of people who abstain from using them will report that they are harmful. That pretty mush says all you need to know. Psychedelics are amazing, and it saddens me deeply when I hear or read comments that condemn them. The ignorance and the fear sadden me. I use the following scenario: imagine if you lived under a rock your whole life, and when you finally emerge you stumble upon a patch of psilocybin mushrooms. You do not know what psilocybin mushrooms are, and more importantly, you are unaware that they are illegal. You pick and eat the mushrooms, and you proceed to have the most amazing experience of your life. If you were a rational person, what would you do next? Would you harvest more and continue to consume them, or would you destroy them? Which reaction is more logical?
The lack of critical thinking that some people demonstrate is staggering. The only reason for someone to think that mushrooms are harmful is that they are illegal, because they use the logic that they were made illegal because they are harmful. "Mushrooms are illegal, therefore they mustn't be a good thing." If mushrooms were never made illegal, would you still have the same attitude? Probably not. No offense, Dave, but you are a moron, although you are apparently very happy to be one. But in this case, ignorance isn't bliss.

Mar. 30 2013 06:29 PM
andrew from canada

Interesting segment! There way one phrase in the interview which stood out, which was the mentioning of 'rewiring the brain' especially when it comes to addiction. In Vancouver, Dr. Gabor Maté has been using the hallucinogen Ayahuasca to treat addiction, saying it rewires the patients brain. CBC has a good documentary on it, http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episode/jungle-prescription.html

cheers!

Feb. 11 2013 12:46 AM
Stella YC

I greatly enjoyed this podcast, but was a little disappointed with how dismissive some of the speakers were about mushrooms. What I found lacking in the discussion were the historical and cultural background behind psychedelic mushrooms. Psychedelic mushrooms originated in the Oaxaca region in Mexico, where they were viewed as medicinal. Taking these mushrooms was a complex ritual, completely unlike the Western stereotypes of 'druggies' or 'stoners'. It was not an easy "quick-fix" as mentioned in the podcast but a long and challenging process. The way that I've come to think of it is that under the influence of psychedelics, the mind is more open to making different or unexpected connections and associations, which can be helpful in developing new ways of thinking, breaking old habits, and having those inspiring "moments".

Feb. 01 2013 11:24 PM
JP from St. Louis, MO

Just listened to the Bliss episode. Enjoyed it. I agree that the knowledge accessed is already in us, not the drug itself. I have had these experiences, twice, and not under the influence of any substances whatsoever. In fact, I've never taken psychedelics, even though I am of the generation that would have and often. We don't understand what's happening, bc a) it's not funded research --it's considered fringe science, in the same way as telepathy and psychic abilities are; b) we have intense cultural and political aversion to accessing some kinds of truths, such as those that overlap with faith. (we also don't fund research into the harms of GM food-plants and for strangely similar reasons.) Still, the ability of psychedelics to help people access what is already there is explored in several films and, most recently, in the TV show Fringe. Interesting connection to your story is that Fringe main character's name is Walter Bishop (Walter, researcher in your story; Bishop, religion + scientific knowledge connection). Coincidence? Prob not :)

You should do another that takes this topic further. Humanity would benefit greatly from bringing forward new epistemologies --or resisting old in some fashion.

Jan. 31 2013 12:03 PM
deometer

Nailed it, m0x1e. Which also explains why they are classified as "Schedule I" and so violently suppressed by those who benefit from those activities you mentioned.

Richard M. Doyle - who wrote an excellent book on the subject called "Darwin's Pharmacy - called that experience of "divine connection" an "ecodelic insight." He also emphasized that:

"It's persuasiveness seems to hinge on an experience of this interconnection as well as an understanding of it."

The direct experience is the key. And it's not in the "drug," it's in us. One participant in another '60s study, which focused on stimulating creativity, had this to say:

"I would not have believed what transpired had it not really occurred to me."

Another, this:

"I encountered an amazing presence, and felt a complete sense of the perfection in everything."

That was a study conducted by Dr. James Fadiman, whose efforts were/are outlined in this fantastic long-read article (and who would make for a great Radiolab guest):

The Heretic
http://www.themorningnews.org/article/the-heretic

And the late Alan Watts actually has an excellent essay on this very topic:

Psychedelics and Religious Experience
http://deoxy.org/w_psyrel.htm

It was a bit discouraging to hear Jad and Robert take the typical dismissive approach, but it did lead to some good responses from Andy. They are smart guys, but it exposes the limited/materialist/reductionist worldview that many like them ascribe to. I too would like to hear an episode dedicated to a range of entheogens (after which Jad and Robert have undergone safe/controlled sessions themselves). I also invite the hosts to explore this site where, while the experiences aren't induced by psychedelics, reinforces the reality of these "bliss" experiences (Andy, if he's reading this, might be particularly interested):

The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences
http://www.issc-taste.org/arc/dbo.cgi?set=arc&ss=1

Most interesting are those instances of “Cosmic Consciousness” and the effect it had on the experiencer:

My Experience of Cosmic Consciousness (best of the bunch)
http://www.issc-taste.org/arc/dbo.cgi?set=expom&id=00004&ss=1

And a few more:

Cosmic Consciousness Experience at Age 16
http://www.issc-taste.org/arc/dbo.cgi?set=expom&id=00067&ss=1

Expansion of Self in the Antarctic
http://www.issc-taste.org/arc/dbo.cgi?set=expom&id=00001&ss=1

In the words of William James:

"No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves those other forms of consciousness quite disregarded."

Jan. 23 2013 11:53 AM

RadioLab just scratched the surface of the varieties and importance of the psilocybin experience. I think the most important part of entheogenic experience is the insight of the divine connection we have with all living things. In our society, there is so much distraction from real experience. Our conscious moments are hijacked by so much that doesn't matter, and we lose sight of the really important things. I believe that anyone who comes in contact with divine experience will have a complete aversion to awful things like war, the destruction of the planet for material gain, or divisive language that breeds hate.
I think entheogens deserve an entire episode.

Jan. 17 2013 08:13 PM
Jeremy

I hope this episode inspires Jad and Robert to give psilocybin a try!

Radiolab is always such a wonderful and inspiring show.

It could only be improved by them having a glimpse into the infinite.

Jan. 14 2013 02:23 PM
Chad from Denver

Andy - thanks for your amazingly heartfelt recollection of that christian campfire moment. I grew up in a non-religious house and then found Jesus at 14 through a friend of mine. I spent the next 15 years becoming a hard core evangelical and missionary and recall various out-of-body experiences where prayer and devotion lifted me onto new plains. I never had any drug experiences that replicated these, but I didn't have access to much of that. Now that I've left the faith and live as an atheist, I can safely say I'm less regretful of deluding myself and more thankful of discovering how important it is to understand what I believe.

Jan. 11 2013 09:11 AM
Isabella sisneros

Star guided and open minded
Tolerant of commotion
Revealing secrets of creation
With a single drop of this magic potion

Hydroplaning I'm high on existence
This is a self chosen path
One full of societal resistance

A level achieved through blind faith and experimentation
Vibrations and frequencies, patterns of elevated sensory
Its a psychedelic philosophy
We're exploring mental spaces through curiosity

But be careful not to get caught up, or lose touch
It's easy to over analyze and get stuck
Enter realms of psychosis and ideas other may dub insanity
A place where it's possible to lose all social credibility

Life, the poetic battle for truth verse cerebral fantasy
It's the duality we face
a risk we take when playing with altered states

Don't let these words scare you from making the decision of expanding your cognition through
Entheogenic assistance
For some make the claim it's a doorway to divine conception

A helping hand to self awareness
Insight into cosmic interconnection
A dimension for personal expression
A place that may reveal secrets of creation

Jan. 10 2013 02:17 PM
nobody from Planet Earth

They keep calling the mushroom the drug. All food have drugs in them. But to keep calling a mushroom a drug creates a negative attitude towards use of the mushroom.
The publics opinion is drugs are bad and medications prescribed by a physician are good. And if you keep calling the shroom a drung then it is bad because you are just taking it to get high and not a natural medication.

Jan. 08 2013 11:02 PM
rarcher from portland, or

ALL experience = altered consciousness
ALL
you eat
it changes your brain chemistry
changes how and what you perceive your body, your surroundings and as well as your non-tangible/invisible "self"
you read a book
same thing
you exercise
same thing
you watch tv
same thing
you listen to a song
same thing
you have sex
same thing
heck, even LOOKING at or THINKING about someone you find sexually attractive
changes your brain chemistry
alters your consciousness
etc, etc, etc

experiences on "drugs" have just as much validity as experiences on food
or in love
or whatever happens to affect your mind at the moment
ESPECIALLY when we can replicate experiences among people with no prior experience and no idea what to expect

unless of course you actually believe there are people living in your telephone

Jan. 08 2013 06:23 PM
Jack from Los Angeles

Dave,
Although you are injecting chemicals into the body and you consistently say they are fake and not real experiences, compare and consider someone who has brain damage or a mental illness. The chemical structure within their brain is totally different from the norm, thus making their experience in life extremely different than ours. Is this somehow not real? Someone with autism, whose brain is wired a little differently, their experiences are not real? After all, it's just firings in the brain. Is your only gripe that people choose (as opposed to just "naturally" being this way) to put this chemical into their body to alter their "natural state"? If so, that is rather silly logic. If that's the case, then consuming alcohol, fats, sugars, or virtually anything that alters the brain, if only temporarily is "artificial" in your world. Temporary euphoria felt by consuming chocolate, having sex, breathing the polluted air around you all create chemical changes inside your body, but I suppose those are all fake? We are chemical beings, and all chemicals (of which the entire world is made of) effect us as or first and foremost sense/input. It would seem your problem with it is simply its strength, otherwise you should crusade against nitrogen, sugars, adrenaline, insulin and the whole periodic table. For the record, I don't have a huge opinion one way or the other about this type of drug use and research, but your logic is fatally flawed.

Jan. 03 2013 09:57 PM
Adam from Denver

Well

There is a part of the world that we can not reach with words...
May help to read the first 4 books of Carlos Castaneda.

Enjoy

Jan. 02 2013 07:43 PM
chanio from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Religion and Consumption
I agree that religion is a state in life. And consumption is a way of achieving something just by buying. Or without doing the necessary steps to approach to something. So, consumption believes in labels and statistics. Because they need a fast approach to what it has to be consumed. Like learning about somebody before becoming a friend. That is not the way!
Drugs are like keys. Old keys with special shapes to fit a lock.
The fact that it may affect us, means that there is a natural 'lock' or understanding of it's effects on our natural body.
These states can be achieved naturally without drugs, at special moments. Those moments are basic in our lives.
Religion is called to the effort of people that had an experience and try all their lives to explain to others. But real religion is just the understanding of something in a very personal way. When you really understand something, you never doubt about it again.
So, esoteric exercises or drugs are similar in that they trigger these inner experiences with or without drugs.
"Be careful about what you wish!"

Jan. 01 2013 12:16 PM
Neil from Connecticut

This Dave guy is so full of propagandist ideas. He thinks anyone even mildly sympathetic to a reevaluation of psychedelic compounds is a 'drug pusher.' Sounds like he's straight out of a rigorous 72-hour D.A.R.E. class. The reason for his extreme thinking is obvious - he's victim to the 'It can't be, therefore it isn't' delusion. That's pure close-mindedness. No matter what people say about psychedelics - scientists or regular users - Dave will continue to zealously bark his dogma that these chemicals produce inauthentic, negative, and meaningless experiences. Experiences *all* stem from the human mind and human perception. Novel states of consciousness, in the case of these experiences, are therefore in no way inauthentic. People have these experiences, therefore they are real to them. Labeling them hallucinations is terribly inaccurate and stigmatizing. What are you implying when you call these experiences mere hallucinations? Are you saying they are in fact *not* relevant and meaningful to the people who have them? Are you saying people *don't* have mystical, life-altering experiences even though they ascribe their life-changes to the drug experience? You can't discount the visions one has and the things he or she goes through and learns simply because it isn't triggered by external stimuli such as a sight or sound.

What it comes down to is the fact that you, without any authority from knowledge, attest the authenticity, and moral correctness of average waking consciousness over these states. Logically, your opinions are worthless as **you have never had one of these experiences yourself!** You don't know the science (nobody yet understands it all) nor the experience itself so please get off your D.A.R.E sponsored soapbox.

I recommend you look up Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose's theory called Orch OR (Orchestrated Objective Reduction). It hypothesizes a deep connection via particular brain structures and biology between consciousness and quantum physics. This theory challenges the conventional 'model' of consciousness and has implications for our understanding of all states of consciousness, these included. As you begin to grasp the abstract concepts of the theory and its meaning, you will surely question the assertion that these visionary experiences are random, artificial, meaningless, and silly hallucinations due to chaotic neuron activity. Orch OR suggests a fundamental profoundness about consciousness that independently, yet fittingly, resonates with the experiential understanding of users of mushrooms, LSD, peyote, DMT, Ayahuasca, Ibogaine, and even cannabis.

Jan. 01 2013 04:00 AM
Paul Storm from Maui

Dear Jad & Robert,
This is in reference to the Bliss episode of Radiolab. I was particularly interested the religious experience as it relates to psychedelics. Jad, I believe you had issues with the religious experience in a pill concept. This may be due to the word religious. You might find the concept easier to grasp if you substitute the word spiritual for it. Religion injects too much My God, Your God, and omnipotence vs omniscience into the discussion.
From listening to the show, I’m guessing none of you nor the gentleman running the more recent clinical study have ever actually taken any psychedelics. As the preacher said, the experience is at a level above words, so it is difficult to explain. But you think at that level sometimes when you dream so I think you can get a feel for it.
People have had spiritual experiences using outside stimuli for ages. It might be intense meditation, or physical exertion to extreme or often drugs. Psychedelic drugs have been here longer than we have. The spiritual experience is simply attaining a new level of enlightenment. An understanding at a basic level of the universe. Hence the recurring theme of Oneness with everything.
The two biggest tenets of the trip or psychedelic experience, are that you mind runs at hyperspeed much like when you are dreaming (or having a vision) allowing you to process input from your senses differently and in much greater complexity, and you can’t lie - not even to yourself. Much as in the concept of judgement by God, or spiritual enlightenment lies cannot exist. There is nothing to hide behind. All is exposed. LSD was originally developed by the military as a truth serum.
These two things will allow for a spiritual experience nearly every time - at least for a while. I found that every time I took psychedelics I found answers to my basic questions about existence. I stopped doing the drugs when I ran out of big questions. If only truth is allowed, and you can process data at hyper rates you will discover universal truths by merely observing the world around and inside you. This is not unlike deep meditation. I found being outside in the natural world vastly superior to being inside during these experiences because the things like our houses and the things in them became very crass and simplistic - like a 4 year old’s drawing - compared to the complexity and intricacy of nature. My walls might have dozens of pictures on them but the trees had billions of leaves, each one different and fascinating in its own right.
The downfall and the saving grace of psychedelics is that their effects are temporary. Most of us are not meant to live in that state. We will forget to eat. But occasional excursions into the world of universal truth can be a great asset to our lives.
The doctor in your story didn’t need to test all those subjects. He just needed to talk to some old Hippies.
Love the show.
Aloha,
Paul

Jan. 01 2013 03:37 AM
Mike

Robert seemed concerned with the idea that a drug induced experience could have psychological effects that endured beyond the physical effects of the drug - as if the brain was somehow physically altered by the drug. I think that this change is no different than the case where someone points out that what appears it be an outline of a wine goblet is actually two faces. Once you see the two faces you cannot not see them ever again. It is insight, induced by the the new perspective.

Dec. 31 2012 12:54 PM
Ai from canada

Some of the visual experiences described sound like they could be reproduced through hypnosis. The part in the podcast that describes people quitting smoking through a change in perspective sounds a lot like a hypnotic experience.Perhaps a RADIOLAB episode about the therapeutic uses of hypnosis might interest listeners.

Dec. 30 2012 04:31 PM
Willy from California

As a long-time listener, I have to say, this subject of psilocybin by Radiolab seems very primitive, naively skeptical, and uniformed. Ultimately in this topic there are those who have experienced it and those who have not. And to those who have not, trying to explain it is like a lifelong vegan trying to explain the experience of meat. I would very much respect a segment of the pod-casters reporting their own experiences on psilocybin, but at this point, I doubt their bravery to do so, and unfortunately have lost a great deal of respect for them in that regard. Well, I guess they can just move on to areas where they have a modicum of insight... shame.

Dec. 30 2012 06:49 AM
Willy from California

As a long-time listener, I have to say, this subject of psilocybin by Radiolab seems very primitive, naively skeptical, and uniformed. Ultimately in this topic there are those who have experienced it and those who have not. And to those who have not, trying to explain it is like a lifelong vegan trying to explain the experience of meat. I would very much respect a segment of the pod-casters reporting their own experiences on psilocybin, but at this point, I doubt their bravery to do so, and unfortunately have lost a great deal of respect for them in that regard. Well, I guess they can just move on to areas where they have a modicum of insight... shame.

Dec. 30 2012 06:48 AM
Willy from California

As a long-time listener, I have to say, on this subject of psilocybin by Radiolab seems very primitive, naively skeptical, and uniformed. Ultimately in this topic there are those who have experienced it and those who have not. And to those who have not, trying to explain it is like a lifelong vegan trying to explain the experience of meat. I would very much respect a segment of the pod-casters reporting their own experiences on psilocybin, but at this point, I doubt their bravery to do so, and unfortunately have lost a great deal of respect for them in that regard. Well, I guess they can just move on to areas where they have a modicum of insight... shame.

Dec. 30 2012 06:47 AM
Bob

Dave -- For all of your endorsements of "reality" and the science discussed here, your comments don't seem to be based on science.

I personally have never used any illegal drugs. But I wouldn't discount the fact that some drugs may produce positive results in some people under controlled circumstances. If I didn't believe that, I'd have to discount modern medical science.

The definition of "drug" is arbitrary. They are chemicals--and ALL chemicals will have some impact on your body and thus your experience of the world. Don't you ever feel different if you eat a meal heavy in fat or in sugar versus one that is more well-balanced? These are chemicals, which may produce physical reactions along with psychological ones.

This may seem like a different thing, but these are all chemical reactions. Even a response of a mother to a newborn baby is largely a result of chemicals being released to a particular stimulus, which alter mood, heighten various experiences, etc.

Have you ever had an enjoyable dining experience? Perhaps a succulent venison chop, seasoned and cooked to perfection, along with some perfect sauce and vegetables to complement it. Many people react with delight and a feeling of contentment that radically alters their mood. But you would say--"That's all just a sham. It's just stagecraft, a chemical fog altering perception. It isn't REAL." We might as well just gnaw on a raw piece of a deer struck down by a car on the side of the road, along with a few "dead plants" on the side, rather than the perfectly prepared venison in a fine restaurant. Isn't the chemical wizardry of the chef "fake"--not presenting a "real experience" of the world?

Our experience of "dead deer with dead plants" could be further altered by atmosphere--provide fine table linen, glassware, etc., good service, have the chef plate the dish so that it is beautiful. If you don't like fine dining, perhaps you find that euphoria cheering on the sidelines at a baseball game while downing a particular kind of hot dog and beer.

The people in this study had a different set of chemicals and then were immersed in a religious setting that would offer a profound experience for Divinity School students. Their experience was enhanced by the chemicals they consumed. I'm not going to discount their experiences as "not real" any more than I'm going to say that my wife's change in mood when she eats a piece of good chocolate or some creme brulee is "not real." And I'm certainly not going to say that when she does so, she isn't "experiencing reality" or whatever.

If the effects were OBJECTIVELY positive--and, in the present study, apparently had a positive psychological impact that has lasted for decades in many cases--why should a scientist care if a temporary subjective experience is partly the result of chemicals from drugs or from chocolate or from fine food or from the brain's evolutionary response to release certain chemicals when a parent views a child?

It's all chemicals.

Dec. 29 2012 04:43 PM
Dave

>Whether you take meaning in life from your child being born or from a quite evening with psilocybin mushrooms, neither is more or less 'real'.

Sorry, kids are real. Totally connected to life. A real experience.
Injecting chemicals into your brain which randomly cause neurons to fire off in random ways, is not.
Those that don't know the difference are either salesmen trying to sell more drugs, or users trying to validate their own silly habit.

Religion, drugs... all a fog that covers reality and prevents you from experiencing the very real wonders of it directly.

Shows like RadioLab actually show you how the plain ol' world is amazing. And our connection to the very first thing that ever lived and through our genes to our kids and the future, and that you are a very real link in all this, is more mind blowing and satisfying than any drug or religion could fake.

My advice? Keep on listening to RadioLab, read books like a Short History To Everything, understand the world and nature and your place in it for what it is: special, magical, unique, one of a kind... and then you'll never have the need for drugs or religion to fake spirituality, you'll just have a very real one right inside you that is based on truth and reality, and not lies and chemical stagecraft.

Dec. 28 2012 03:59 PM
Eve from in exile from Garden of Eden

One of my insights on 'shrooms was that they're like the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. They give you all kinds of spiritual insights, but it's effortless. Real spirituality isn't dazzling hallucinations or bliss but little increments of character development.

Dec. 27 2012 11:32 AM
Eageralto from Rainville, USA

All I could think about when listening to this segment was what I'd heard of Timothy Leary's early experiments with LSD as a sort of brainwashing drug. As I recall, he proposed that, in the proper setting and with the proper chemical (he clearly favored LSD), a user was particularly prone to respond to a suggestion made at the "peak" of their high--and that this could be used for great good (e.g. reducing criminal behavior, treating addiction, etc.). He noted that problems arose when the setting was wrong, the quality of the chemical was poor, or when the suggestion was negative. He claimed a fantastic "success" rate at the time, prior to his work being criminalized.

Everything I heard in this episode seemed a direct affirmation of his work, especially in his early years. Are we prepared to reconsider his contribution to field?

Dec. 24 2012 10:25 PM
John from Seattle

Dave,

On what basis do you determine one particular set of chemical reactions in a skull to be more or less "artificial" than another? I posit that your assessments of authenticity reflect nothing more than your own perspective.

Whether you take meaning in life from your child being born or from a quite evening with psilocybin mushrooms, neither is more or less 'real'. Yes, babies can be empirically verified, and the revelations about the nature of the universe while on mushrooms are not going to withstand scientific scrutiny, but that is entirely beside the point. Both of the experiences themselves are in fact authentic experiences. They both occur, and they both are of importance to those who experience them.

You could reasonably argue that any 'religious experiences' at all are meaningless, worthless, devoid of utility or authenticity (and I suspect that anyone who has had one would strongly disagree), but arguing that one sort of religious experience is more or less authentic than another is, well, very silly.

Dec. 24 2012 09:43 PM
Greg Schneider from Angwin, CA

What assumptions underlie the use of words like 'real' and 'reality' in this segment? I submit that they are the assumptions of Materialism, a metaphysical commitment to the idea that the only real things in creation are matter and energy, things locatable in space and time. It is a position belied by all our efforts to persuade each other as if humans can assess reasons and make choices based on reasons. In the cosmos of Materialism there are no reasons or choices, only causes. The ‘snake oil’ being pushed here is not drugs but a confused metaphysics under the cover of the fashionable machine metaphors of current cognitive science, e.g. “rewiring” at “machine-code level.” Somehow this flourish of mechanistic rhetoric gives Andy Mills an assurance of something “real” in his experience, salvageable from the presumed unreality of his former Christian life by means of its similarity to the chemically-induced experiences he narrates in this segment. But Andy’s choice(s) to leave his natal Christian faith entailed 'reprogrammings' of his brain no more or less 'real' than the 'reprogrammings' of his now-deceases friend's brain at 'machine-code level' involved in his friend's choice to express his desire to become a Christian there around the campfire. And these divergent choices with their correlated changes in brain state are no more or less real than the change in brain state experienced under the influence of drugs by the gentleman who succeeded in making good on his choice to stop smoking. Cognitive science is an exciting and useful field of inquiry for many reasons. Among them is its promise of helping us better understand how the human cosmos of agents, reasons, and choices emerges from the material cosmos of objects, events, and causes. But the misleading use of the word ‘real’ in this segment, combined with the uncritical deployment of all the machine metaphors, obscures that promise.

Dec. 24 2012 12:32 PM
dave

Ethan,

Looks like you have all the talking points and sales pitches down pat.

Sorry, experience via a pill is not an experience. All fake. All artificial. All a con.

Look at those poor chaps in church who because of chemicals playing tricks in their brain they took a path in religion, while those without chemicals, who were actually dealing with reality, chose not to.

Without the extra stagecraft, they saw the religious service for what it was, a nice little gathering, with some nice songs and nice stories. Nothing more, nothing less. But with the extra stagecraft of chemicals, it becomes something it isn't in reality.

I don't like cons. And people selling snake oil that promises life changing experiences is the oldest con in the book. All it is is chemicals creating hallucinations, which are what they are, hallucinations, not real. The meaning you put on them only exists in your mind, and is invented, not real.

Dave

Dec. 24 2012 01:29 AM
ethan from Boston

Dave,

We need to make distinctions between responsible use and abuse of mind altering substances. Any pharmacologist will tell you that the differences between heroin and psilocybin are pronounced despite their similar classifications by the DEA. What has passed for drug education in the United States for the past 50 years is mostly an elaborate mechanism to increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies by classifying certain drugs as harmful (those which can't be patented). The use of mind altering substances is part of our collective cultural heritage and appears to be a piece of our basic humanity. I believe there are no cultures aside from the Inuit who do not incorporate "drugs" into their social customs and religious traditions. Psychedelic drugs were a substantial and promising avenue of inquiry for psychiatrists prior to their criminalization. SSRI's became the drugs of choice for the psychiatric establishment merely because they could turn consistent profits for the pharmaceutical companies; they are used on a habitual basis by patients over indefinite periods of treatment. Psychedelics can lead to substantial recovery from psychiatric illness with a single usage. The resurgence of psychedelic interest and research is actually far broader than Radiolab represented. In addition to multiple psilocybin studies there has been recent research into iboga for the treatment of alcoholism, MDMA for the treatment of PTSD, and other longterm studies of psilocybin.
It remains that the experiences had in altered states of consciousness are just as "real" as those had on the natch: experience itself is an exercise in relative subjectivity. Please don't denounce the life changing experiences of others simply because you choose not to have them. I've yet to have children and may ultimately decide not to but I totally recognize the potential for personal transformation in staring into the eyes of your newborn child. If the net result of transcendent experience is a new perspective of ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves, I'm not sure it matters what route we take to get there and we should support each others right to choose our own paths...

Dec. 23 2012 10:34 PM
dave

Keith,

Typical pusher response using the old bully tactic. "Try it you'll like it" Is this what your dealer said to get you on board his product?

Also, typical "guy who knows everything about drugs because he abuses them" response. As if you need to do heroin to determine that it is not the best thing to add into your life. I always find these guys funny. Guys who are "experts" on drugs because they abuse them. Too funny.

But let me use your sales tactics on you.

Have you ever tried life without the need for pills to create artificial experiences? No? Well try contributing to the subject when you are more informed.

The fact remains that drugs are fake spirituality. Pretend. Childish really. Just a bunch of chemicals playing tricks on your brain. Whereas looking into your child's eyes and seeing your genes continuing on from their long journey from the very first living thing. That is as real as it gets.

Dave

Dec. 23 2012 08:55 PM
Keith from Boston

Dave- it sounds to me like you have never tried mushrooms or any entheogens. Try contributing to the subject when you are more informed.

Dec. 23 2012 06:22 PM
dave

This was the first RadioLab where I think they missed some main points, and was very one sided, and thus the show came off of more of a sales pitch for those who sell drugs, rather than something objective.

In the church experiment, it is clear that the drugs involved where nothing more than a form of stagecraft. All churches use stagecraft to heighten their effect, and the drug use involved just did the same for those test subjects. It just provided a bigger bell and whistle for those involved in the show that a religious service is and thus they were more affected by it. RadioLab missed considering this obvious point.

In the case of the reporter telling his own tale of feeling good when someone joined his religion during a sing along. That is simply the very real effect and force of belonging to a group and having others validate your group by adding one to it. One may say that the religion business is based on this simple human need of belonging, and it is very powerful at full strength - a sing along for example. The reporter missed this obvious point.

In the end, drugs only provide a fake high, and illusion of an experience in a pill form. It is far better to live your life in reality and experience real things, and not have your brain be hot wired by fancy fake stagecraft.

Pity RadioLab couldn't have show both sides of drug use, and pretty much became the typical "gee whiz" user, being amazed at the dealer's sales pitch, without ever being skeptical.

But it was good to put drug use in the same world as religion. As they both promise revelation but actually provide artificial highs, with the only objective point in the end to enrich the people selling promises for profit.

And finally, how you can have a show on drug abuse, and not at least mention a few of the bad side effects? I had to not play this episode for my son as it was so one sided and pretty much said "you gotta do this, it is a great experience." Thanks RadioLab for being so irresponsible. Very disappointed.

Dec. 23 2012 04:41 PM
pemba from japan

psilocybin is not artificial, robert!

Dec. 23 2012 03:44 AM
Dana

Thank you for this. I think we need to remove the stigma on entheogenic substances (especially psilocybin and ayahuasca) so that we can begin to use and study these tools in an informed, safe, respectful manner. All the talk of gun control these days... I can think of no better form of gun control than working on ourselves with these substances.

Dec. 20 2012 06:52 PM
Tony

And Robert, psilocybin is no more "artificial" than you and all your thoughts and experiences.

Dec. 20 2012 11:23 AM
Tony

Taking psilocybin mushrooms is the best decision I ever made. No spiritual experience has come close. This isn't "popping a pill"; does Robert not think that plants and fungi are imbued with the spirit of what we call "God"?

Dec. 20 2012 11:19 AM
Michael

Part of why I am an atheist now is that when I was younger and taking LSD and psilocybin on a fairly frequent basis I found that I could have fundamentally mystical, religious experiences when ever I took the hallucinogens. These seemed every bit as authentically religious and meaningful to me as any experience I had that did not involve them.

Those experiences are no less meaningful to me now decades later than they were then, I just find less need for a god to explain what I experienced. The "meaning" remains even after the meaning changed.

Dec. 20 2012 01:30 AM

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