Psychedelia (2021) Movie Script

I felt this connection
with everything,
especially with nature.
I have understood for a
long time that change is part
of the essential nature of the
universe and that I've always
been afraid of change.
But today, I felt deeply
that change is a gift.
I wish I could
put it into words.
It was a sense of connectedness
that runs through all of us
and also a sense of the strength
of it and the power of it.
Mystical experience has been
a part of human nature as far
as we know.
And most major religions
and religion traditions,
at the core, were about
a mystical experience.
Mysticism is unlike a belief
in something or knowledge
based on what someone tells you.
It's the direct
experience of that thing,
what's been called the ground of
being, to quote, Paul Tillich,
in Hinduism, or in Christianity,
It's a direct
experience with all
that is with nature, with
God, as some would call it.
The word psychedelic
means "mind manifesting,"
and it came from a poem.
"To fathom hell
or sorrow angelic,
just take a pinch
of psychedelic."
The word psychedelic
was coined by a psychiatric
researcher named Humphry Osmond
in a letter to author Aldous
Huxley in 1956, before
Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey,
or the hippie movement.
And yet the use of
psychedelics goes back long
before the 20th century.
For as long as humans have
been roaming the Earth,
they've ingested and worshipped
these mysterious plants.
In the 16th and
17th centuries,
when the Spanish conquistadors
arrived in the New World,
they were horrified
by what they observed.
They saw the native people
using a vast pharmacopeia
of native plants for purposes
of healing and divination.
And this was
entirely in conflict
with the orthodox,
rigid belief system
that conquistadors
brought with them.
The mushroom ceremonies
happened at night.
They involved invoking
spirits, divining the future,
looking for lost things.
And there were women who were
doing the ceremonies as well
as men.
So so many things,
probably, about that culture
was shocking.
And certainly, in
Christianity, the power
is given to priests who
speak on behalf of God.
And so the thing that is
scary about psychedelics
is that it gives power
directly to people.
The inquisition,
in the year 1616,
formally condemned the use
of hallucinogenic plants
and stated that the punishment
for anyone who would use such
plants, whether they be
natives or immigrant Spaniards,
was death by the cruelest
methods available.
In 1938, as Europe stood
on the brink of world war,
a chemist working for a
pharmaceutical company
in Switzerland made a
most unusual discovery,
one that would alter the
course of human events to come.
Albert Hofmann was,
from a young person,
very focused on nature, kind
of a nature mystic almost.
And he worked at Sandoz
Pharmaceutical Companies.
And they were looking-- in
1938 is when he invented LSD.
It was also from ergot,
which is a fungus that
grows on wheat and barley.
He was looking at
various compounds
where he could start
with what was in ergot
and manipulate them
in different ways.
And LSD-25 was the
25th variation.
And in 1943, five
years later, he
had what he called a peculiar
presentiment that there was
something worthwhile in LSD-25.
He accidentally
ingested some,
because you don't need that much
LSD to get into your system.
And he had a really
unexpected experience.
It wasn't anything
that blew his mind,
but it was enough that
he paid attention.
It was on a Friday.
And so he went home
over the weekend.
And on Monday,
April 19, 1943, he
decided that he would
do a planned experiment,
and he would take
an amount that he
said was so small that he
thought nothing would happen.
But he wanted to
be extra cautious.
And that turned out
to be 250 micrograms,
250 millionths of a gram.
Which 100 micrograms is
usually enough for someone
who's naive to LSD to have
a full-blown experience.
Some of the symptoms
occurred immediately,
and very soon to become very,
very strong, very intense.
And I became anxious, and I
asked my laboratory assistant
to accompany me home.
And then, we went home by
bicycle because it was wartime,
and of course, I had no car.
And I reported about
this bicycle ride
because I had the feeling
that time would stand still.
It's quite an
extraordinary property of LSD,
and yet that's a very,
very deep meaning.
If you have such a deep
affect of your whole body,
of your consciousness,
of your senses,
LSD must attack the very center
of our psychic existence.
Hofmann feared that his
nightmare would never end,
that he had permanently
damaged his mind,
and wondered what his wife and
children would think when they
returned home to find a
madman in the living room.
Slowly, the effects wore off.
And after a night's rest,
he entered his garden,
where everything was
teeming with life.
Woke up the next day and
felt refreshed, rejuvenated.
He found things to be
novel and interesting.
He went back to the lab to
figure out what had happened.
Nobody had thought that anything
in terms of the microgram range
could create an effect.
But in fact, he discovered
this very potent compound.
And then, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals
tested it in animals
for safety and
toxicity, then tested it
in some of the members of
Sandoz Pharmaceuticals.
But in 1943, Hofmann became
temporarily psychotic through
accidental ingestion
of the drug.
The door swung wide
open for research
into the nature of the
schizophrenic process,
and in a larger sense, into
the biochemistry of psychosis.
They believed that it might
be a tool to help psychiatrists
understand the inner
experience of their psychotic
or schizophrenic patients.
So they packaged samples
of LSD and shipped them out
to the leading psychiatric
researchers around the world.
I'm going to give you this
cup that contains lysergic
acid, 100 microgram.
--suggesting that they
try this compound themselves,
that it was a
psychotomimetic drug,
that it would induce the kind
of psychotic experience that
their patients were going
through and would better help
them understand and so
better help them treat.
How you feel?
Well, I feel very fine.
I feel very buoyant and
light and resilient.
I feel as though this
chair is not solid.
It seems to be--
I have a feeling
that my hands are not
resting against this chair.
And I see flashes of
color quite a bit.
I see this rug,
for example, seems
to have an awful
lot of complements
of violet and yellow.
It seems to feel that
I'm going to watch it.
Now, as it turned out, the
experience is not at all like
what the inner experience
of a schizophrenic is.
Now, when you look at
your hands, do as I do.
Close your eyes, and just
concentrate on your hands.
There it is.
I feel these lovely colors
vibrating all over me.
Oh, it's lovely.
Any lines?
Any forms?
Just like the
shimmering water, you know?
You can put
your hand down now.
Come on.
Describe it.
Oh, I don't know.
It's just giving, and--
you don't know.
You want to give yourself--
you want to give yourself
as much as you can.
There's all sorts of things
happening during a psychedelic
One thing is that the
5-HT2A receptor, which
is the psychedelic receptor, is
being stimulated quite a bit.
And that's mostly serotonin.
But then it turns out
that if you stimulate
the 5-HT2A receptor
enough, it actually
creates a receptor couple
with a whole other transmitter
system, which is oxytocin.
They form what's called a dimer.
They dimerize, and they
create a receptor complex.
In a couple, when you
fall in love with someone,
there's a lot of oxytocin,
and you're open to them,
and you're bonding with them.
With a mother who's
nursing a baby,
and there's like
maternal infant bonding,
oxytocin is there for that.
I feel very benevolent.
I mean, I feel as though I
have no enemies in the world.
And this is very lovely.
And that sense of oneness and
unity and connection signifies
sort of the peak of a
psychedelic experience.
And when you come away from
that, you come away changed.
The insight that I was
getting from traditional
and classic Buddhist meditation
was similar to the insight that
I'd finally arrived
at under the acid.
The lesson was
form is emptiness.
There's a sense of
emptiness and transitoriness
in all perceived phenomena.
And there's no need
to get hysterically
hung up on any thought
form, no need to grab.
And there is no enlightenment,
no wisdom, no illumination,
no god, no identity, no
self, no reference point,
that any grabbing for a
reference point is vain.
And that's one of
the first things
you think when you
get high anyway,
that even if you
didn't get high,
you'd be seeing the same
reality, that in a sense,
acid is not necessary.
And that's why it's OK.
In the early 1950s, as LSD
research was in its infancy,
little was known in the West
about naturally-occurring
In 1953, author
Aldous Huxley was
given mescaline, the active
ingredient in the peyote
cactus, under the supervision
of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond.
Huxley later wrote about this
experience in the seminal book
"The Doors of Perception."
And in New York City, a
very unlikely character
helped bridge the gap between
the ancient traditions
and modern America.
R. Gordon Wasson was a
very successful businessman
and banker.
He was a vice
president of JP Morgan.
As a young man, he met his
future wife, Valentina,
who was Russian.
And she had a great interest and
enthusiasm for the collection
of edible mushrooms.
While on their honeymoon
in the Catskill Mountains,
Valentina leaped with excitement
after spying a cluster of wild
mushrooms growing in the forest.
She sounded off the
species name in Russian
and insisted that they prepare
them for dinner that night.
Wasson, of Anglo-Saxon
heritage, was brought up
to believe mushrooms were
poison and was horrified
at his wife's enthusiasm.
This difference in
cultural attitudes
became the catalyst for Wasson's
lifelong interest in mycology,
or the study of fungi.
And then, in the early
'50s, a friend of his wrote him
a letter suggesting he look
into an extant mushroom cult
in the central
highlands of Mexico,
where he had heard that there
was use of hallucinogenic
Now, this came as quite
a surprise to Wasson
because at this
time, the early '50s,
it was not believed that
there were such things
as hallucinogenic mushrooms.
We went into the Mazatec
area far from the highways,
remote from Mexico City.
There we found that
rotten bagasse,
as it's called, bagasso,
covered with mushrooms.
These mushrooms I didn't
know, had never seen.
They were the sacred mushrooms.
After much difficulty,
and by some accounts,
manipulation on
the part of Wasson,
he eventually found entry into
a velada, or mushroom ceremony.
The curandera, or
healer, was a woman
named Maria Sabina,
who represented
a long line of
underground healers
left intact since the
days of Spanish conquest.
And we were seeing
incredible sights.
All your senses
are rendered acute.
We say that you see visions.
You see hallucinations.
But that doesn't begin
to tell the story.
The hallucinations
are only part of it.
You hear sounds.
You smell things.
The night was thrilling.
The visions were not
blurred or uncertain.
I felt that I was
now seeing plain,
whereas ordinary vision
gives us an imperfect view.
I was seeing the archetypes,
the Platonic ideas
that underlie the imperfect
images of everyday life.
The thought crossed my mind.
Could the divine
mushrooms be the secret
that lay behind the
ancient mysteries?
Could the miraculous
mobility that I was now
enjoying be the explanation
for the flying witches that
played so important a part
in the folklore and fairy
tales of northern Europe?
These reflections passed through
my mind at the very same time
that I was seeing the visions.
For the effect of
the mushrooms is
to bring about a vision of the
spirit, a split in the person,
a kind of schizophrenia.
Unbeknownst to Wasson,
his trips to Mexico were
infiltrated by a group with
more nefarious interests
in the mind-altering
effects of psychedelics.
In their neverending
search for the miracle weapon,
CIA operatives searched here
in the remote mountain areas
of southern Mexico for what
up to then had been considered
a myth, magic mushrooms.
And so Gordon Wasson was
unwittingly participating
in this sort of military
use of psychedelics.
They used this man, a
part-time chemist with the CIA,
to dupe this man, a
vice president of a bank
and an amateur mycologist,
or mushroom expert,
to try to get to the magic
mushrooms and turn them
into a drug.
They gave it to several
different chemists to try
to figure out what was in it,
and nobody could figure it out.
And so they called
on Albert Hofmann,
since he had invented LSD.
And they asked him
could he figure out
what was in the mushroom
that made it so psychedelic.
It would be the amateur,
R. Gordon Wasson and his
colleagues, who would win
the race and develop the drug
psilocybin from the
magic mushrooms.
I think that is very
strange that LSD is not just
a laboratory product.
It is closely related with
this old Indian magic drug.
That means that LSD belongs
pharmacologically, chemically,
to the group of the sacred
magic plants of Mexico.
It's a very important finding.
Wasson was friends
with Henry Boothe Luce,
who was the publisher
of "Life Magazine."
He told his friend Luce
about his experience,
and Luce encouraged him
to write up his account.
That was really the first word
out to Western civilization
that psychedelic mushrooms
indeed existed at all.
And it really stimulated
growing interest
and led to the psychedelic
explosion of the '60s.
Wasson's influence became due
in large part to an enigmatic
Harvard psychologist
named Timothy Leary.
Though he became known as the
most dangerous man in America,
he might have been described
by others in the year 1960
as a New England square,
a hard-drinking Irishman,
or by himself, an atheist
psychologist in the midst
of a midlife crisis.
Timothy Leary was a
very prominent researcher
at Harvard.
His California
Personality Inventory
is still being used today.
He was sort of a pied piper.
During his early
years at Harvard,
Leary was in the throes
of personal crisis.
His first wife had committed
suicide on his 35th birthday,
reportedly after a
strained open marriage.
It was during this time
that he described himself
as an anonymous
institutional employee who
drove to work each morning in
a long line of commuter cars
and drove home each
night and drank Martinis,
like several million
liberal, intellectual robots.
Inspired by Wasson's article,
Leary traveled down to Mexico
with a colleague in
1960 who had found
some mushrooms from a
curandero in the mountains.
Leary later said
that he learned more
about the brain and
its possibilities,
and more about psychology,
in the five hours
after taking the mushrooms
than he had in the preceding 15
years of studying and doing
research in psychology.
When he got back to Harvard,
he got permission to do
research with psilocybin.
And that was the beginning of
the Harvard Psilocybin Research
And that was really
the beginning
of formal research,
attempted clinical research,
of psychedelic agents
in the United States.
Timothy Leary had two
research products that could go
to the Harvard Psilocybin
Research Program.
It was a Good Friday
study with Walter Pahnke.
It was a remarkable
study and groundbreaking.
They had given
psilocybin and a placebo
to 20 graduate
students in theology,
comparing their experiences to
genuine mystical experiences
found throughout millennia,
through mystics and saints.
They arranged to have
access to the Marsh Chapel.
It was Good Friday.
They were in a basement chapel.
And the service from
upstairs in the main chapel
was being piped through.
The Reverend Howard
Thurman was the minister,
who was Martin Luther
King's mentor--
this incredible dynamic
speaker, orator.
You, Pilate, standing for
Rome, are the universal coward.
I, standing for the kingdom of
God, have braved everything,
lost everything, and
won an eternal crown.
They developed a scale
of mystical experience.
Some of the items are a noetic
quality, intuitive quality
of understanding things,
transcendence of time and space
as we know it, a sense of
unity with all living things
internally as well.
I shall die.
But that is all that
I shall do for death.
Of the 20
experimental students,
nine out of the 20 people
had a mystical experience.
And eight out of those
nine had the psilocybin.
It was the first study
showing that these agents,
these medicines,
these sacraments,
can produce an experience that
was found throughout millennia
in various religious traditions.
One young man had
a kind of nervous--
I was going to say
nervous breakdown,
but it was actually
positive for him.
So he was so blown away by
this spiritual experience
he was having that he kind
of ran out of the chapel.
And he was trying to
run to the, I think,
the dean or the president's
office to proclaim everything
that he had learned.
And behaved rather bizarrely
out in public until the sitters
found him and retrieved
him and brought him back.
And he actually had to be
sedated with a tranquilizer.
So that's kind of an
interesting piece of history
that didn't get reported.
The object of this
presentation is to demonstrate
the effect of MER-17,
a new blocking agent,
against the development
of LSD-25 psychosis.
We have used two healthy
graduate students in psychology
as subjects.
When Sandoz discovered the
psychoactive effects of LSD,
they also observed that it
deepens sort of introspective
insight and can be
used in psychotherapy.
So it's a really unique
history in the area of drug
research in that there was a
heyday of psychedelic research
extending from the 1950s
through the early '70s.
Back then, any psychiatric
researcher or clinician could
write Sandoz to get a sample
of LSD to test it or to use it
It was legal and available.
And that really began
the big experiment
with LSD that lasted
close to 30 years.
In carefully
controlled experiments,
interesting results have been
reported on the therapeutic use
of LSD with the mentally
ill, the drug addict,
the terminal cancer patient, and
in the VA hospital in Topeka,
Kansas, a special research
program for alcoholics.
We bring them
in on one Monday,
and they spend one week of
getting acquainted and having
all the tests and
examinations done.
The second Monday, we
give them a small dose
of LSD in the five-man
ward, together.
Then, the third Monday,
we give them a larger dose
individually and have
each one of them cared
for by one of these teams.
And this is where we aim for
the so-called psychedelic
The best clinical outcomes
are with subjects who,
during the course of what
was often just a one-session
treatment, during that session,
had a psychospiritual epiphany,
a mystical-level experience.
I know I kept fighting
the religious music.
I didn't know why
then, but Dr. Koren
kept urging me to find out
why I was fighting this.
And I remember I was just
really scared to death.
And I just reached up,
and it was like somebody
grabbed me and brought me up.
And I interpret this as for
the first time in my life,
I wanted love.
And I think this is the thing
that was probably my biggest
problem is that I thought
everybody was forcing it on me,
and I wasn't going to let them.
The amazing thing about LSD
is very much its evolutionary
nature, is that it seems
to concentrate in areas
of the brain that relate to
mammalian and reptilian stages
of evolutionary development
which are then experienced
by the person, the fact also
that people become aware
of the fact that man is not
just a single-dimensional being
in a physical body but
exists as a being over many,
many lifetimes at many levels
of consciousness beyond
the physical.
And I do feel that,
in the future,
there will be
centers where people
will be able to go to prepare
people for any kind of turning
point or crisis in their
life, such as along the lines
of the incredible
powerful research
that Stan Grof and Walter Pahnke
did at Spring Grove Hospital
with terminal cancer patients.
This is a mental institution,
Spring Grove State Hospital
in Baltimore.
It is one of four places
in the country where
research on LSD
treatment continues
under federal sponsorship.
The tablets in Ott's hand each
contain a microscopic trace
of LSD.
To an observer, the atmosphere
seems closer to faith healing
than medicine.
So the way in which they
really refined the approach is
that they used a two-person
team, often a male-female.
They pioneered eight-hour
therapy sessions, sometimes
even longer.
It was this very expressive,
supportive environment.
It isn't so much the drug
as the drug in the context
in which it's used,
the expectations,
how the person is held
safely while they're under
the influence of it, and the
interpretation that's made
I was here under LSD.
This went on for a million
miles on both sides,
an endless deep
and eternity onto.
And it was just one of
the fears I had buried,
and it was a fear
of being left alone.
We get very stuck in
our ways and sort of rigid
in our thinking.
One of the things
the psychedelics do
is they increase
cognitive flexibility.
You become less rigid in
how you think they quiet
down the default
mode network, which
is sort of the self-obsessed,
self-serving, how am I doing?
Who am I?
Am I liked?
What did I do yesterday?
What am I going to do tomorrow?
And the psychedelics sort
of quiet this narcissism
and neuroticism and allow
other parts of the brain
to get more active or to
connect with each other.
I feel beautiful.
All right.
I feel squashed
with beautiful.
That's a really powerful,
useful experience to have.
And it can help people
out of a dark place.
If you hadn't
been prepared for it,
if you hadn't gone through
those weeks of preparation,
would LSD have meant as much?
If I was ill before, I would
have been ill, it seems to me,
beyond repair.
I would have been so
frightened without the guidance
and the trust and
the preparation.
It would have been
a tragedy, horrible.
I got interested in LSD
therapy when I was in two-year
public health service at the
public health prison hospital
in Lexington, Kentucky.
At that time, there was
really no good treatment
for narcotic addiction.
Recidivism rate was
extraordinarily high.
I think people leaving Lexington
had a 90% relapse rate.
And I had read about the
studies with alcoholism.
And I thought
perhaps LSD might be
useful to provide some lasting
change for narcotic addiction.
In looking at the
literature at that time,
it looked like
that therapists who
had used LSD themselves got much
better results than therapists
who had not used LSD themselves.
So I decided to do
a controlled study.
I would give LSD to a group of
narcotic addicts at Lexington
who volunteered for the study,
without having ever taken LSD
myself, to see what impact
that the experience might have
on their relation
with other prisoners,
with authority figures, with
insight about themselves.
And then, my plan was to
then take the LSD myself
under supervision from staff at
the Addiction Research Center
there who were
experienced with the agent
and do a second group.
But unfortunately, when I
was getting ready to do that,
the company that made LSD,
Sandoz, decided to recall it.
This was around 1965,
1966, because LSD
had become a street drug.
And on streets like this,
transactions involving me take
place all the time--
illegal, of course, but
my tabs and caps and sugar
cubes that dissolve in your
mind as well as your mouth
are selling every day.
Drop a cap on me,
man, and drop out.
But watch it, because the
trip can be a trap, too.
You never know where a
ticket with me will take you.
Just as pioneers of
psychedelic research were
beginning to understand
its therapeutic potential,
LSD began to leak out
of the laboratory.
The two figures most
responsible for its expansion
into the American culture lived
on opposite ends of the country
and were from equally
different backgrounds.
On the West Coast, Ken
Kesey was introduced to LSD
in the late 1950s as part of
the CIA's MK-Ultra program.
At the time, I was
training for the Olympics.
I made it to be an alternate.
As a wrestler?
Yeah, as a wrestler.
I'd never been drunk on beer,
let alone done any drugs.
But this is the
American government.
I had a neighbor who
was a psychologist.
He was booked to do the
experiments that Tuesday.
He chickened out.
He says, you want
to do them? $20.
Show up.
They gave them to me.
I did them on every Tuesday
for six or eight months.
The government wanted
somebody to look in that room.
They said, hey, we
got a great room.
We discovered this nice room.
Let's get somebody to go
in there and look it over.
Kesey would go on
to write "One Flew over
the Cuckoo's Nest" partly
based on these experiences,
and later, to host the so-called
acid tests with the Merry
And by that time, the
government had said, OK,
stop that experiment.
All these guinea pigs that we've
sent up there into outer space,
bring them back
down, and don't ever
let them go back up there
again, because we don't
like the look in their eyes.
I give the CIA total credit
for sponsoring and initiating
the entire consciousness
movement counterculture events
of the 1960s.
And on the East
Coast was Timothy Leary,
the now-former
Harvard psychologist.
He began to distribute
the drug beyond his research
He began to speak quite
openly to the press.
He signed an agreement
promising that he would not
give it to any undergraduate
students but only to graduate
students who were using it
for some appropriate academic
And Tim Leary honestly--
I don't think he ever met
a rule he didn't like.
And that rule
quickly was broken.
The Harvard
Administration found out
and summarily dismissed him.
And he became the apostle
preaching the religion
of psychedelic drugs.
We teach the science
and art of ecstasy.
We teach people how
to turn on or how
to go out of their minds.
By turn on, we
mean tune in to get
beyond your routine
ways of thinking
and acting and experiencing.
We often say that we're teaching
people how to use their head.
The point is that in
order to use your head,
you have to go out of your mind.
What were your feelings
when people like Timothy Leary
and Ken Kesey--
Ken Kesey with his pranksters
and Timothy Leary, obviously,
with tune in, turn
on, drop out, what
were your feelings, as the
chemist who had created this?
I was quite astonished,
because when I had discovered
these very deep effects of LSD,
never would I have believed
that it would be a pleasure
drug on the street--
never would have believed.
The indians believe that you
should take the mushrooms
only if you are prepared.
And then only do the
mushrooms bring you
in contact with the gods.
If you are not prepared,
then it makes you crazy,
or you may even die.
That is a belief of the
Indians based on thousands
of years of experience.
Drugs are subversive, and
psychedelics are the most
subversive of all the drugs.
And he was labeled
most dangerous man
in America because of these very
powerful and very subversive
drugs and ideas.
Many of my colleagues have
maintained a rather harsh view
of Leary.
They blame him
for the repression
of psychedelic
research in the '60s.
We shouldn't lose
sight of the fact
of the degree to which
psychedelics in the culture
were associated with a very
vigorous antiwar movement.
The kind of turn
on, tune in, drop out,
that phrase gets a bad rap.
But if you look at what
was happening at the time,
I think the call
was for young people
to not buy into the status quo.
Some people talk about the
counterculture as being this
romantic, even
religious movement,
that you're talking about using
these means to free yourself up
from the distractions of the
world so that you can transcend
it and think about ultimate
questions about human
And that's really what Leary
was totally talking about.
What we're thinking
about is a peaceful planet.
We're not thinking
about any kind of power.
We're not thinking about
revolution or war or any
of that.
We would all like
to be able to live
an uncluttered life, a
simple life, a good life,
and think about moving the
whole human race ahead a step.
They're taking
it in sugar cubes.
It's being dropped
into their punch.
They're going to institutions.
They're swell for the
rest of their life.
God, no, no, no, no!
Authorities felt they
had a public health crisis
on their hands.
And these were also
catalysts for change.
And the changes
they were inducing
were often perceived in
a very threatening manner
by those in authority.
This moral decay weakens
our resistance to the onslaught
of the communist
masters of deceit.
We've got to do
something about this.
Don't you think so?
The drug war is based on
demonizing drugs and demonizing
drug users.
Nixon said that the two
main enemies that he had
were the Civil Rights
Movement and the hippies.
And so while you couldn't
criminalize the ideas
that they were
struggling for, you
could criminalize the
drugs that they were using.
We must wage what I have
called total war against public
enemy number one in
the United States,
the problem of dangerous drugs.
Richard Nixon declared war
on drugs, and Congress, in 1970,
passed the Controlled
Substance Act,
which essentially put all
serotonergic hallucinogens,
like LSD and psilocybin, into
this very restrictive category
of Schedule I, which means
highest addictive liability,
no therapeutic utility.
And that was really the
beginning of the war on drugs
that we now have for
the last 40 years, which
has created a real problem.
At the time, something like
123 million prescriptions were
written by psychiatrists and
doctors for tranquilizers.
And more people are
killed in car crashes
because they're drunk
then die because of LSD.
What kind of drugs are OK and
what aren't is a very political
Abuse of hard drugs began to
replace mind-expanding agents,
and LSD faded from the culture
almost as quickly as it had
exploded into it.
By the 1970s, all remaining
psychedelic studies
had been shut down.
In 1972, '73,
I had left school,
and I got a job as a research
assistant in a dream research
study at Maimonides
Medical Center in Brooklyn.
And my job was to stay up all
night and monitor sleep EEGs.
And every time our
subject went into a dream,
I would wake them up
over an intercom system,
ask them what was going
through their mind,
and tape record the dreams.
But this also meant I had a
lot of time during the night,
and I love to read.
And one of the researchers
in his office, he
had a tremendous collection
of books and articles
on psychedelics.
And I read voraciously.
Now, at that time,
my father was very
concerned about what he thought
was my lack of direction.
And he had told me
that when I figure out
what I wanted to do with
my life, I should call him.
It didn't matter what time
of the day or night it was.
He wanted me to call him.
So there I was, at 2 or
3 o'clock in the morning,
just so impressed by
what they had done.
I felt I wanted to do this also.
I woke him up from a deep
sleep, and I said, Dad,
I figured out what I want to do.
And he said, well,
what's that, son?
I said, I want to
study psychedelics.
Well, why is that?
Well, they're fascinating.
There's so much we could
learn about the brain, about
the mind-brain interface,
about mental illness.
And there are these
extraordinary treatment models.
And people who conventional
treatments cannot help or help
with this model.
And he said, well,
son, there might
be something to what you say.
But no one will listen
to you unless you
get your credentials.
My personal background
really has a lot
to do with Timothy Leary and the
use of psychedelics in society.
I had been born Jewish in 1953.
I was raised on stories
of the Holocaust.
And then, as a young
boy, I was involved
in going to school during
the Cuban Missile Crisis.
This idea that there
could be nuclear war
and wipe out civilization
was also very traumatizing.
The final step for
me was Vietnam,
and I was in the last
years of the lottery.
And I was a Vietnam War
protester, a draft resister.
And so I first tried
LSD in '71, but I
had a very difficult time.
And I couldn't really handle
my psychedelic experiences.
I went to the guidance
counselor at my college,
and I was so lucky.
The guidance counselor
took me seriously.
And then, he said that this
was an important exploration
that I was doing.
And he gave me a
book to read, which
was a manuscript copy
of "Realms of the Human
Unconscious, Observations from
LSD Research," by Stan Grof.
When I read this book,
everything fell into place
for me.
I saw this therapeutic
use and also
the spiritual aspects of it.
And I felt, OK,
this is a response
to the craziness of the world.
It seems to me that
since the French Revolution
and the Enlightenment,
man was put at the center
of the universe.
And certain difficult
notions of God,
on which one was
dependent, were put aside.
And that notion of man being
at the center of the universe
led to the industrial society
that we have around us, led
to a great deal of energy.
And the LSD experience
and what we've
been through in the
'60s has brought us
to a whole new
philosophy, that man
is not the center
of the universe,
that we're simply the
transformative energies,
and that we live in a
sort of cosmic ecology
for which we're responsible.
And this is, to my mind,
the great challenge that's
in front of us, to
take the consciousness
and the individual
headspace that we've all
managed to develop and now
begin asking ourselves,
what is it all for,
and how can we use it?
We're now in what you can
consider a second renaissance
of psychedelic research.
There are a handful of centers
in the US, universities
that are conducting
research studies.
Probably the reinitiation
of psychedelic research,
I would really credit
Rick Strassmann.
Rick Strassmann had been one
of the doctors that I'd worked
And he decided that he would
submit a protocol for DMT,
looking at it as potential
cause of schizophrenia.
A psychotomimetic model, so
it means mimicking psychosis.
And so it's a way for
a government agency
to feel OK about funding
psychedelic research.
So the Pilot Drug Evaluation
Staff approved this study
in 1990--
--and really kind of
reinitiated the field,
I would say.
And then our work
here, Roland Griffiths
got it started not long after.
In 2006, the Hopkins team
set the standard for scientific
rigor by publishing their
landmark study "A followup
to Walter Pahnke's and
Timothy Leary's Good Friday
experiment," concluding that
under the right setting,
psilocybin can reliably
induce a mystical experience.
I knew nothing
about Johns Hopkins.
I didn't know anything
about Baltimore.
I didn't know Roland Griffiths.
I didn't know any
of these characters.
And I ended up going to grad
school out in California where
we were doing a study
with meditators when
Roland's paper was published on
mystical experiences promoted
by psilocybin.
And I just remember
saying to my advisor,
I was like, that's
where I'm going next.
Katherine MacLean's
research on openness,
that was a really big deal, that
study, because it was always
thought that your personality
is your personality.
How novelty-seeking you
are and how open you are,
that's just who you are, and
those things don't really
But what the Hopkins
trials showed
was that people do
become more open,
and you can actually measure
it on a personality test.
And that's a big deal.
70% of people were saying,
this is among the five most
personally meaningful
experiences of my life.
I would ask people,
what does that mean?
And someone might
say, well, gee,
when my first child was
born, my daughter, that
changed my life forever.
And recently, my
father passed away.
That was big.
It's kind of like that.
It was around 2006, and I
had just taken over as the head
of the Division of Alcoholism
and Drug Abuse at Bellevue.
As an addiction
psychiatrist, I'd
always been interested
in these compounds
because they just seem different
from other drugs of abuse.
They didn't behave like cocaine
or amphetamine or tobacco.
They seemed
completely different,
yet they were labeled as
the most addictive drug.
So I always thought
that there was
something interesting
and different about them.
At the time, one
of my supervisors
was Dr. Jeffrey Guss.
I saw that Albert Hofmann's
100th birthday was being
celebrated in
Basel, Switzerland.
I must do what Huxley
wrote me in a letter.
What you take in by
vision experience
you must give out in daily life.
And that is now the
task which I try,
the feeling to be a part
of the universe, which
I got by LSD experience.
This feeling is always
present in my life.
When you think about
what people thought about
in the '60s, that LSD is
going to make you drop out
of society, Albert Hofmann,
who discovered LSD,
was married for 79 years, had
a career at the same company
for almost his entire life,
and was an inspiration to quite
a few of us.
Sort of on a lark, I went
to this conference because I
wanted to meet and see
the people that were doing
psychedelic research.
And it was there that I
first met Charles Grob.
Administering a psychedelic
to cancer patient with anxiety
had not occurred
since the early 1970s.
And I felt this was an
ideal patient population
to really start off with
because the early literature was
so impressive.
And all of this, from
FDA through the hospital
committees, took several years.
But I was patient,
and I was persistent,
and I felt this was really
a worthy effort to make.
And in the end, we got the
approvals we had requested.
When I was at NYU, I was
working at Bellevue for nine
years, running the
psychiatric emergency room.
I met with the chairman at
the time, a guy named Robert
Cancro, And I
talked to him a lot
about what was going on
at UCLA or at Hopkins
and saying that there was
really enough people at NYU who
are interested that we should
try to do something in NYU.
In the 1970s, I came across
the literature on psychedelics
and entheogens, and I also have
a long interest in palliative
I'm a palliative
care psychologist--
and how we die in this
country and the death anxiety.
And it felt the perfect match.
At first, we were
just an education group.
But after meeting Charlie
Grob at UCLA, I asked him,
so this is really
possible to do this,
and you can make a
career out of this?
And he said, yes, and
it's all about doing it
correctly and
carefully and avoiding
mistakes made in the past.
So we decided to do it.
My name is Estalyn
Walcoff, and I work
as a psychotherapist.
My name is Dinah Bazer.
I teach figure skating.
My name is Nick Fernandez,
and I work as a clinical
research coordinator in
a psychiatry department
at a hospital here in New York.
I'm an adult
literacy teacher,
part-time at the public library.
I was diagnosed five years
ago with a type of lymphoma
that was untreatable.
And not only was it untreatable,
but everybody who had had it
had died from it.
It was aggressive.
I was diagnosed with
leukemia when I was 17 in 2004.
And it was during my
senior year of high school
when I was just getting
ready to go to college.
I received the official
diagnosis in December of last
year, so just about a year ago.
And it changed the
course of my life,
because I went from being a
physically active 17-year-old
to a cancer patient.
When the chemo was over, I
thought, oh, let's celebrate.
I thought I would
want to celebrate.
And when the chemo was over,
I didn't want to celebrate,
because that's when
the fear set in.
That's when you start thinking,
when will the other shoe drop?
When will this come back?
Always in my life, I've
been an anxious person.
And naturally, when I
was given that diagnosis
my anxiety shot up.
And even though years and
years and years keep going by
and I'm still OK,
I know very well
that this could
return at any moment.
I really went to work on
myself because I thought that
if I were going to die much
sooner than I had planned,
then I wanted to
understand myself better.
I wanted to understand
spirituality better.
I wanted not to
have a bitter heart.
And I wanted to be open.
So I did what I could
for the past five years.
And I came across a
post about this study.
I read it once,
and then I closed it.
And then I read it again, and
I said, I qualify for that.
So I traveled down to New York
City for an initial screening
I traveled down to New
York City several times
for psychotherapy sessions
with my two psychiatrists.
After several sessions
of therapy and careful
preparation, participants
are given psilocybin
in a comfortable living room
setting under the guidance
of their therapist team.
After a brief ritual,
they are encouraged
to lie down on the
couch, wear eye shades,
and listen to classical
music in order
to create an inward experience.
Having mentioned that I had
taken psychedelics in my 20s,
the whole object was to see
how beautiful nature was,
to hear how wonderful music
was, to see what could be seen,
to touch what could be touched.
So this was very, very different
because the whole thing
that I was going to be
experiencing was my own mind.
There was an immersion
into complete chaos,
360-degree chaos, where I had no
idea of up, down, left, right.
Initially, it was
absolutely terrifying.
I think I could
compare it to being
in the hold of a ship that's
in a storm-tossed sea.
I also began experiencing
great emotional pain,
in particular because I had been
listening to a Black spiritual.
I felt I could hear the
pain in that woman's voice
who was singing the song.
And it brought to me the
whole gestalt of slavery
and what that is to pull
people out of their homes
and treat them like animals.
And I sobbed and sobbed
and sobbed because of that.
And the ability to just
be held by my mentors
and do that greatly,
greatly relieved me.
And I believe it was Tony
who took my hand and said,
it's all right.
It's all right.
Just go with it.
And the further
I went into it,
the more it became evident to
me that the chaos could not
maintain its magnetic draw on me
nor its strength when I stayed
The worst pain and the worst
fear and the worst anxiety
turned into something
that has opened,
which is the most precious
thing I've ever known.
It was a sense of connectedness
that runs through all of us
that I never knew, and also
a sense of the strength of it
and the power of it.
It looked like very dense
and beautiful clouds that were
almost like in the jigsaw
puzzle fashion that were backlit
by a moon that I could not see.
So they were crevices of
faint light through it.
And these eyes were
searching me out.
I felt it was a manifestation
of an alienation I had long
carried through my
whole life that was just
trying to lay claim to me.
I felt very profoundly
that there was no one
that they could find.
I saw my fear.
I pictured it.
I don't think this
was a hallucination.
I pictured it as
a dark mass there.
I, like, screamed,
"Get the fuck out!"
I will not be eaten
alive by this fear.
And once that happened,
it was just gone.
The fear was gone
and didn't come back.
And it still hasn't.
I had this feeling
coming over me,
and the thought was of
compassion for myself.
It touches me the most.
That's such a gift.
I needed to stop talking and
look inside and find that I was
part of it.
I was part of everything.
I was part of God,
that you are, too.
Everything is.
And you can call it
whatever you want to.
I don't usually call it God.
I just call it the one.
And that's the best thing that
can ever happen to you, ever.
We co-evolved on the planet
with cannabis and with poppy
and psilocybin mushrooms.
These things have been on
the planet since we have,
as far as I can
tell, which means
we've co-evolved with them.
And psychiatry is
kind of failing.
Many, many people are
taking sleeping pills
and anti-anxiety meds
and antidepressants
and for a really long time.
I really think there's a
better way to treat addiction
or to treat the sort of
despair and anxiety and malaise
that many of us are
feeling more and more.
We need a different
perspective, and we
need that sort of
overview effect
that the astronauts get when
they see that every one of us
is just on this blue ball
hurtling through space.
I think that psychedelics
give you that perspective.
And so I hope that they can
engender more cooperation,
more us versus them,
more of this idea
that separation is an illusion,
and that we all sort of
have the answers
for our own growth
and for the healing
of the planet.
If people could know how
connected they really are,
connected to spirit and
connected to each other
and connected to nature, so much
of their fear would dissipate.
So much of their
anxiety would dissipate.
And I just know that
if, in the future,
this could be used
with all patients,
under the direction of mentors,
shamans, psychotherapists,
it would make for a
much happier world.