What LSD Can Teach Us About Ourselves And The World
It is hard to discuss what effects LSD has on the mind and the self when so little is known and when so much is speculated about both. Is it the mystical non-place where the rising ape meets the descending angel or is it just chemical shenanigans going on in our brains?
LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide, is an organic compound that is one of a family of alkaloids synthesized from lysergic acid derived from a fungus found on cereals called ergot. LSD has its humble beginnings as a mould that infects rye.
IN THE BEGINNING
While searching for a respiratory and circulatory stimulant or analeptic, LSD-25 was discovered by the Swiss chemist Dr Albert Hofmann in the laboratories of the pharmaceutical company Sandoz. LSD or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was synthesised in 1938 using lysergic acid derived from ergot. Originally thought to have no real therapeutic value it was held in abeyance until 1943 when Dr. Hofmann decided to conduct further research. During the preparation of a fresh quantity, he inadvertently absorbed a tiny amount, probably through his fingertips and had a mild and pleasant fairy tale hallucinogenic experience, strong enough though for him to have to go home from work. His curiosity piqued he decided to conduct a formal test and three days later he swallowed 250 micrograms in a water solution. Unknown at the time, because it was the first trip ever taken by a human, the dose was 5 times that needed to bring about hallucinogenic effects in an adult. He recorded having an intense hallucinogenic experience that both terrified and elated the curious scientist. The effects although certainly novel still didn't seem to have any practical applications and it was shelved again.
United States scientists began wide human experimentation in 1950 to see if LSD could be a treatment for several afflictions such as schizophrenia or psychosis. At the same time, the CIA was testing it on human subjects to see if it had military applications as an incapacitating drug or death without weapon. None of these studies found a use for LSD and it was a curiosity tested only in psychiatric hospitals being used in experimental psychotherapy. LSD came to the public's attention when Dr Timothy Leary started the Psychedelic Research Project at Harvard University in 1960.
In 1962 the US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) restricted research into LSD. Unsurprisingly it appeared as a street drug the very next year. The same year Tim Leary was fired from Harvard due to his outspokenness on the use of psychedelics. By 1970 LSD had exploded onto the contemporary world scene and even though it was a Schedule 1 drug it was unashamedly discussed in magazines and was openly praised by artists and musicians.
LSD became less popular over the next few decades and was replaced as the recreational drug of choice by the rising availability of cheap cocaine. Being substantially cheaper than the drug of the day, ecstasy, LSD had a resurgence in the late eighties with the rise of the Manchurian Beat followed in the early nineties by an emergent rave culture.
As an interesting historical footnote. The effects of eating foodstuffs made from ergot-infected rye have been recorded since at least 1095. Humans and other mammals can develop "ergotism" which can be a severe pathological syndrome known in medieval times as St. Anthony's Fire. Some historical events have been blamed on ergot poisoning such as the Great Fear in France during the Revolution. Bog bodies have sometimes been found to have ergot residue in their stomachs hinting at ritualistic use of ergot alkaloids similar to those used by the Ancient Greek Eluesinium Mystery Cults.
NOTHING BUT THE FACTS
A recent crowd-funded research project by the Beckley Foundation, an organization that researches psychoactive substances, has revealed for the first time what the brain looks like when taking LSD.
"We are finally unveiling the brain mechanisms underlying the potential of LSD, not only to heal but also to deepen our understanding of consciousness itself", said Amanda Feilding the director of the foundation.
20 healthy volunteers attended the clinic on two separate days. One day they were given 75 micrograms of LSD on the other day a placebo.
Each volunteer was then examined using cutting edge and complementary brain mapping techniques: Arterial spin labelling, resting state MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) magnetoencephalography and blood oxygen level dependant measures. Between them these scans measure the functional connections within and between brain networks, neuronal activity, brainwave activity and blood flow.
Under the influence of LSD the brains hierarchical structure was shown to be reorganized so that different parts of the brain communicated directly with each other rather than being edited, filtered and prioritized.
Interestingly the parts of the brain that process hearing, attention, movement and vision were seen to be more connected, giving the appearance of a more unified brain. There was a marked decrease in connectivity between the parahippocampal gyrus and retrosplenial cortex which suggests that these systems are where information is prioritized and are the parts of the brain where the sense of self and ego reside. These reductions in connectivity correlated to feelings of ego dissolution and altered meaning. The areas of the brain experiencing heightened connectivity may explain the intensely visual nature of the LSD experience and why there are the common experiences of hearing colours and seeing sounds. The author of the study Professor David J Nutt enthused "The drug can be seen as reversing the more restricted thinking we develop from infancy to childhood. The study could pave the way for LSD or related chemicals to be used to treat psychiatric disorders and could pull the brain out of thought patterns seen in depression and addiction.
The practical efficacy of LSD, although not studied, can be alluded to through historical experience. Nobel Laureate Francis Crick was on LSD when he announced in The Eagle pub in Cambridge that he and James Watson had discovered the double helix structure of DNA.
Just like scientists in the 50s, some notorious tech geeks in Silicon Valley to this day take LSD to let their genius roam in an environment unfettered by preconceptions in an effort to discover the next big thing.
Musicians and artists have often used LSD as an aid in the creative process. Hendrix said he painted colours when he made music and Eminem openly rapped about LSD use.
LSD is used in microdoses by extreme sportsmen to enhance visual acuity, focus and reaction times. Along with cannabis, LSD helped to spawn the alternative youth movement of the sixties and the ensuing tidal wave of cultural change.
NOTHING BUT THE ABSTRACTS
It is hard to discuss what effects LSD has on the mind and the self when so little is known and so much is speculated about both. Is it the mystical non-place where the rising ape meets the descending angel or is it just chemical shenanigans going on in our brains? Either way LSD does give us a full sensory glimpse of our unique place in nature. That we are at once part of and yet still stand out predominantly in a balancing act that humans are still yet to master. LSD can give a glimpse of the majestic empathy we need to show each other and everything on the planet if we are to take the next great leap in human evolution.
Cyberspacial virtual connectivity rapidly forges ahead on an exponentially re-expanding wave. This unprecedented superconnected virtual organism of human beings and information is displaying similar properties to the brain during the psychedelic experience. Hierarchical structures of business and government are being eroded by the connected self, governing social networks and peer critiqued micro markets. The common themes that reach across cultures and demographics are the true value of the psychedelic experience. An awareness necessary for the crisis management of a hyperconnected world hurtling towards singularity and the possibility of a catastrophic environmental systems failure cascade. The psychedelic experience hints at something shared in the human genome that calls for joyful and attentive cooperation. Elation is the common theme. Empathy, respect, joy and beauty the common message.
The experience of the dissolution of the self when psychedelically immersed eases the realization that the future will not be "survival of the fittest", still using the antiquated mantra of bigger, stronger, faster, better. The future, as Buckminster Fuller insisted, is bound to be survived by the cooperators. The Gaia experience is common when taking LSD where the importance of the self is put in perspective. It is profound and sometimes scary but the mental aspect it provides hints at the possibility of the whole species pursuing a set of mutually beneficial goals.
We are the captains of spaceship Earth becoming increasingly aware of a suicidal lifestyle addiction. LSD and other psychedelics may enable the human race to face the future unafraid and united, sharing excellent mental and planetary health. Together navigating with aplomb a new mutually imagined map for interaction with each other and the world. A system that encourages only health and happiness for all and no longer favours the conditions that cause depression or addiction.
If the question is, "Do LSD and psychedelics as a family matter?" Then the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" Not only in the act of personal and global transformation but also clinically in the treatment of brain disorders.
LSD and psychedelic drugs in general are part of the human experience and we have got to create a more sophisticated way of dealing with them other than simple prohibition if we are to move ahead as a unified species.
It seems fit to close with a quote from the father of LSD Dr. Albert Hofmann:
"From my LSD experiments, including the very first terrifying one, I have received knowledge of not only one, but of an infinite number of realities. Depending upon the condition of our senses and psychic receptors we experience a different reality. I realized that the depth and richness of the inner and outer universe are immeasurable and inexhaustible, but that we have to return from these strange worlds to our homeland and live here in the reality that is provided by our normal, healthy senses. It's like astronauts returning from outer space flights: they must readjust to this planet.
Written by: Guest Writer
|Find out about our writers|