Psychedelics are going mainstream. Here's your reading list.
- Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into psychedelics companies right now.
- With loosening restrictions on clinical research, new therapeutic modalities are being investigated for anxiety, depression, and more.
- The psychedelic literature is rich with anecdotal accounts and clinical studies.
Huxley on Psychedelics<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="860039e99016c9c251594b7ad04606db"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I6xp0XxVvOk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1786495503?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Am I Dreaming? The New Science of Consciousness and How Altered States Reboot the Brain</a> — James Kingsland</h4><p>Science journalist James Kingland takes a broad view of altered states of consciousness, including lucid dreaming, virtual reality, hypnotic trances, and microdosing (and larger doses) with psychedelics. His journeys with ayahuasca, LSD, and psilocybin recount intense personal experiences and are worthwhile for anyone interested in the science behind these substances. In the end, Kingsland reminds us the real work of any trip is done in sobriety.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In some ways the trip is the easy bit. The hard work starts when you try to integrate the lessons you have learned into ordinary life."</p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B015YMP9Z4?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs</a> — Richard J Miller</h4><p>Northwestern pharmacology professor Richard J Miller was exposed to the power of psychedelics while attending Woodstock. This "religious experience" inspired his career in pharmacology. He wanted to discover how substances can alter neurochemistry this profoundly. In "Drugged," Miller investigates a range of mind-changing substances, including coffee, opium, cannabis, and antidepressants. The chapters devoted to psychedelics provide a great overview of their clinical and spiritual applications. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The powerful effects of natural products such as <em>Amanita muscaria</em> or ergot suggest that they contain important chemical substances that, if isolated and understood from the structural point of view, might provide us with new insights into disease mechanisms or potential therapeutic opportunities for treating diseases." </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1585421669?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Hallucinogens: A Reader </a>— Edited by Charles Grob</h4><p>UCLA Medical Center professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, Charles Grob, was the first researcher approved to clinically study MDMA and ayahuasca in the '90s. His pioneering (and continued) work in these fields has pushed the field of psychedelic research forward. This 2002 collection features the writings of Ralph Metzner, Terence McKenna, Huston Smith, Rick Strassman, and an interview with Dr. Andrew Weil. The book closes with three exceptional essays by Grob on the psychology of ayahuasca, the politics of MDMA research, and psychiatric research with hallucinogens.</p><p>As Weil says of his experiences with psychedelics,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It can give you a vision of possibility, but then it doesn't show you anything about maintaining that possibility. When the vision goes, the drug wears off, you are back where you were, you haven't learned anything but you have seen that something is possible. It is then up to you to figure out how to manifest the possibility. </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0892819790?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers</a> — Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hoffman, and Christian Ratsch</h4><p><strong></strong>This 1998 encyclopedia of psychedelic plants and fungi is the bible of cosmonauts. Everything is covered: history, culture, pharmacology, therapeutic applications, regional distinctions, chemistry, maps, and tons of photos. This resource should be in any serious cosmonaut's library. While grounded in research and respectful of the cultures that practice plant medicine, the trio of experts also understand their broader context.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The psychic changes and unusual states of consciousness induced by hallucinogens are so far removed from similarity with ordinary life that it is scarcely possible to describe them in a language of daily living. A person under the effects of a hallucinogen forsakes his familiar world and operates under other standards, in strange dimensions and in a different time."</p>
American writer William Seward Burroughs (1914-1997), author of the cult novel "Naked Lunch."
Credit: Evening Standard/Getty Images<h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1620556979?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocbyin, and Ayahuasca</a> — Dr. Richard Louis Miller</h4><p>Richard Louis Miller has been a clinical psychologist for over a half-century. He's also the host of a popular syndicated talk radio show, where he discusses health, mindfulness, and politics. This platform led him to explore psychedelics in a broad scientific and political context. </p><p>This book is a collection of interviews from his show, featuring David Nichols, Stanislav Grof, Charles Grob, Roland Griffiths, Amanda Feilding, and Dennis McKenna. They cover a range of issues, such as MDMA as a therapy for PTSD, the efficacy of the current psychiatric paradigm, and psilocybin in depression treatment. These invaluable conversations include this important insight from MAPS founder, Rick Doblin.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fundamental problem with our drug policy is that it ascribes good and bad qualities to drugs themselves—"this is a good drug, that's a bad drug"—when really it's the relationship that you have with the drug that determines the value of it and whether it's harmful or helpful." </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002LCSVB0?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">The Doors of Perception</a> — Aldous Huxley</h4><p>Aldous Huxley's landmark 1954 book on mescaline remains fundamental to psychedelics advocates. Huxley wanted to experience mystic visions, a feat mescaline offered. Yet he never fell prey to the whims of useless metaphysics. This stunning essay details a political and spiritual thinker applying pragmatic as well as transcendental understandings of the psychedelic vision.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The other word to which mescalin admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open. The great change was in the realm of objective fact. What had happened to my subjective universe was relatively unimportant."</p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1608682048?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness</a> — Alan Watts</h4><p>When you get the message, hang up the phone. That summates the British philosopher's take on psychedelics. While his lane was more meditation and philosophy than drugs—though he was known for enjoying a drink—Watts has plenty to offer on altered states. Watts applies a critical eye to the slacker looking to get off on drugs, yet also recognizes the essential need for connection to nature in an ever-speedy society—this book was published in 1962. That's the thing about reading Watts: it always catches up to you, wherever you happen to be, trademark humor and all.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It is not really healthy for monks to practice fasting, and it was hardly hygienic for Jesus to get himself crucified, but these are risks taken in the course of spiritual adventures." </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0872864480?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">The Yage Letters Redux</a> — William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg</h4><p>This correspondence between two of the Beat generation's top writers is a gem. Burroughs spent months traveling around South America looking for the legendary ayahuasca (yage), long before private planes shuffled Silicon Valley execs to glamping retreats. That meant purchasing bootleg ayahuasca and having colorful run-ins with locals. Many remember Burroughs as a junkie—he had his moments—but the writer also meticulously documented the pharmacology of his drugs. Kerouac owned the road, but Burroughs claimed the sky.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Yage is not like anything else. This is not the electric euphoria of coke which activates the channels of pure pleasure in the brain, the sexless, timeless, negative pleasure of opium. It is closer to hashish than to any other drug. There are also similarities between Peyote and yage. But while hashish intensifies all sensual impressions, yage distorts or shuts down ordinary sensations, transporting you to another level of experience."<br></p><p><br></p><p><em><em>W</em><em>hen you buy something through a link in this article or from <a href="https://shop.bigthink.com/" rel="dofollow" target="_self">our shop</a>, Big Think earns a small commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.</em></em></p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Christians and Muslims that pick out unconscious patterns are more likely to believe in a god.
- Georgetown researchers found strong implicit pattern learning implies belief in a god.
- The study included American Christians and Afghani Muslims, representing two different religious and cultural backgrounds.
- Further research on polytheistic religious believers could provide insights into a cognitive basis of religion.
Why religion is literally false and metaphorically true | Bret Weinstein | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bb748b6454d9ea27e58c41be9c4b50f6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c0_J998UD9s?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The answer, according to their research, is yes. As Green <a href="https://gumc.georgetown.edu/news-release/study-suggests-unconscious-learning-underlies-belief-in-god/" target="_blank">notes</a>,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is not a study about whether God exists, this is a study about why and how brains come to believe in gods. Our hypothesis is that people whose brains are good at subconsciously discerning patterns in their environment may ascribe those patterns to the hand of a higher power." </p><p>Consciousness only provides a sliver of data that our brains pay attention to. Bottom-up processes operate below the conscious threshold, such as the biological operations that maintain our body's homeostasis. Threat detection and other forms of perception are also processed from the bottom-up, although, as the authors write, top-down processing is not an entirely separate domain. The two inform one another. </p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/how-does-intuition-work" target="_self">Intuition</a> is another example of bottom-up processing that appears in consciousness. We pick up signals from our environment and process it unconsciously all the time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Because individuals are not aware of such bottom-up influences, intuitions drawn from unconscious processing may instead be consciously interpreted via explicit belief narratives that provide a rationalized context for beliefs and behaviors."</p>
A general view of the beach and a surfer as photographed on March 20, 2014 in Marina del Rey, California.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images<p>Face processing, implicit racial bias, and pathogen avoidance provide further context. In fact, cleansing rituals likely evolved from an unconscious fear of disease. Our ancestors applied a spiritual dimension to their bathing rituals to make sense out of unconscious drives.</p><p>For this study, 199 (mostly) Christian volunteers in Washington, D.C. and 149 Muslims in Kabul watched a sequence of dots on a computer screen. They were tasked to press a corresponding button every time a dot appeared. Participants with strong implicit learning abilities began to unconsciously recognize patterns in the appearance of the dots, preemptively hitting the corresponding button <em>before</em> they appeared. None of the volunteers claimed to have seen a pattern, suggesting their guesses were unconscious. </p><p>The team observed a link between the strongest implicit learners and religious belief. Recognizing patterns before they appear is correlated with belief in a god. The team was surprised to discover such a strong correlation between two disparate religious and cultural groups, suggesting the potential of a universal theme. As Green notes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A brain that is more predisposed to implicit pattern learning may be more inclined to believe in a god no matter where in the world that brain happens to find itself, or in which religious context."</p><p>An interesting next step could be studying polytheistic groups, where pattern recognition is likely stronger. It's one thing to give credit to one god for everything, but quite another to assign a variety of divine figures for the relationships between natural phenomena. </p><p>The authors conclude that they cannot write off top-down processing as part of religious belief. Indeed, faith likes has multivariate influences. Still, this research details another cognitive basis of belief, highlighting common ground we all share regardless of the form of our deities. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
You actually score worse on memory tests.
- The idea of inhabiting someone else's body can be found in some of humanity's earliest mythologies.
- A team at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet conducted a body-switching experiment with 33 pairs of friends.
- The findings could have profound clinical implications down the road, such as in depression treatment.
Photo: Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock<p>While this might seem like a freaky and fun experiment, Tacikowski is <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200826110322.htm" target="_blank">looking at </a>the real-world applications of such a phenomenon.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"People who suffer from depression often have very rigid and negative beliefs about themselves that can be devastating to their everyday functioning. If you change this illusion slightly, it could potentially make those beliefs less rigid and less negative." </p><p>Tacikowski first wants to further investigate the neural correlates of body-switching. He's interested in how we construct the self in the first place. Once that's better understood, he believes clinical applications will naturally follow. </p><p>This sort of research also helps overturn an inherent biological impulse to separate body and mind. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes, we need to recognize both aspects of ourselves as continuous partners. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They are not aloof entities signaling each other like chips in a cell phone. In plain talk, brains and bodies are in the same mind-enabling soup."</p><p>Still, an unshackled imagination leads to great storytelling, like Krishna on a battlefield and Yogananda on a riverbank. There's no harm in such tales provided we recognize them as metaphors. Until then, we dream forward the possibility until science fiction again becomes real. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
In some countries, religiosity and pro-science attitudes are actually positively correlated, according to the results of a recent study.
- Americans have longed seemed to view science and religion as competing forces.
- A new study examined views on science and religion among roughly 70,000 people across 60 countries.
- The results showed that while many countries show a negative correlation between religiosity and science views, the correlation is far more consistent in the U.S.
Pixabay<p>The results showed that, for Americans, religiosity is consistently associated with negative views toward science. To find those associations, the researchers analyzed the results of nine studies that measured the religious-scientific views of 2,160 Americans. These studies measured things like interest in science-related activities, selection of science-related topics, general attitudes toward science and implicit attitudes toward science.</p><p>Americans who scored high in religiosity were much more likely to hold explicitly and implicitly negative views toward science. But that's not quite the same as being anti-science.</p>
Pixabay<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's important to understand that these results don't show that religious people hate or dislike science," study author Jonathan McPhetres told <a href="https://www.psypost.org/2020/08/study-suggests-religious-belief-does-not-conflict-with-interest-in-science-except-among-americans-57855" target="_blank">PsyPost</a>. "Instead, they are simply less interested when compared to a person who is less religious."</p><p>To find out whether this negative correlation exists elsewhere, the researchers examined data from the World Values Survey (WEVs) that was collected from 66,438 people in 60 countries. The results showed that while most countries did show a negative correlation between religiosity and science views, those correlations were smaller and less consistent than in the U.S. What's more, further analysis of five understudied countries revealed that religiosity is positively associated with science attitudes in parts of the world.</p><p>One phenomenon that was consistent across the world, however, was moral prejudice against atheists.</p>
Improving science communication<p>Why do Americans seem especially uninterested in science? The study didn't seek to answer that question, exactly. But the researchers did note that future research could explore why Americans show higher rates of biblical literalism and strong overlap between religious fundamentalism and politically conservative values. </p><p>But the key finding is that the belief that science and religion are inherently in conflict does not generalize around the world. This suggests scientists and science communicators are able to change attitudes.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There are many barriers to science that need not exist," McPhetres told PsyPost. "If we are to make our world a better place, we need to understand why some people may reject science and scientists so that we can overcome that skepticism. Everyone can contribute to this goal by talking about science and sharing cool scientific discoveries and information with people every chance you get."</p>
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>