How to Change Your Mind (2022) s01e02 Episode Script

Chapter 2: Psilocybin

Take one. Mark.
Living with OCD
is very distressing.
You are in a situation
where you cannot trust your own senses.
I was looking for, really, any recourse
to try to improve the quality of my life
and um my relationship with my own mind.
I'm a human being.
It's hard to see doing something like this
as anything other than a bit extreme.
If you're looking for a small improvement
in your quality of life,
you probably don't embark
on something like this.
Oh, boy.
It's like every memory I've ever had,
I get to experience again
for the first time.
One in four people suffer
from some mental illness.
And in mental health research,
increasingly people are realizing
that these diagnostic categories
actually overlap a huge amount.
So it's really that perhaps
psychedelic therapy is getting
to the core
of different psychiatric disorders.
Mental health care is
in crisis right now.
We have rising rates of depression,
suicide, anxiety, um,
eating disorders, addiction.
It's absolutely incredible that something
as humble and inconspicuous
as a little brown mushroom
could change human consciousness.
Could make people more creative,
could heal them.
We present you the medicine.
- Thank you.
- May it be a meaningful journey.
I can't wait to see
what's going going to happen.
In 2010, I read about a very
interesting study to give psilocybin
to people who are dying of cancer.
Here were people facing their mortality
in this place of existential dread,
many of them paralyzed
by fear of death, or fear of recurrence.
And a single experience with psilocybin
had lifted the fear of death
from their shoulders.
Many of them describe this as one of
the most meaningful events in their lives,
occasioned by a mushroom,
a chemical in a mushroom.
How astounding is that?
As a journalist, my first instinct was,
"I have to talk to these patients."
This is dedicated to my Uncle Ray.
"All blades of grass, wood, and stone."
- "All things are one."
- Mm.
So I'm kind of curious
what this place means to you.
It's a place where I am grounded.
Of all places I'd like to be,
I'd like to be here.
And I'm grounded in my Catholic faith,
but I think I tended to look
at the negative side of life.
Cancer diagnosis has made it much worse.
So you're not like the automatic
candidate for psychedelics.
- Why not?
- You're
- What's wrong?
- You're
Uh, you know, you were brought up
in the Catholic church, you were 78.
Most people at that age
are kind of set in their ways.
And you were very open to
to taking a chance with something
that a lot of people would regard
as kind of risky.
Yes. Some of my friends said,
"Don't do it."
But the depression
if it could be alleviated,
why not try it?
The big dream is to start
to change
the way Western society approaches death,
To help people live until they die.
- How you doin'? Yeah.
- It was hard this morning.
The major aspect
is their suffering,
is their emotional
and psychological distress,
which takes away from the quality of life
probably more than
almost the physical symptoms.
And really in oncology we don't
address that, we don't talk about it.
And I feel like it should be
one of our primary missions.
I brought my pictures.
Oh, wonderful.
Kathleen Kral,
along with three other patients,
will receive a single high dose
of psilocybin
under the supervision
of doctors at the Aquilino Cancer Center.
This is the first cancer center,
in the world as far as I know,
that's doing uh
psychedelic therapy, you know,
in clinical research.
Remember, you can't mess this up.
And I'll see you soon,
I'll be right outside.
Were you nervous
about the experience?
I mean, this is something new,
you hadn't used psychedelics.
I like
I like things
that are different and unusual.
So you have a kind of adventurous spirit.
How does this adventure rank?
This is really,
really very far on the top.
- Yeah.
- Yeah.
Early opening up.
Something's happening.
There was extremely
beautiful music
which I was a conductor for.
My hands were in the air.
And then the chanting scared me
because I thought that Shiva was a devil.
Then, I had a vision of my ancestors
and I saw them at their weddings,
how happy they were,
at my own wedding, how happy I was.
And then, all the unfortunate,
sad things that went on.
These ferocious waves were going on and
and they scared me so much.
I thought that the waves were the cancer.
And then I decided,
"Teach me what you need
to teach me, waves,"
and I went into the waves.
The vision went on
and there was quite a bit of blackness.
You know, I I had the feeling
that I was inept,
that I could not bring forth life.
Forty-four years ago I had a miscarriage,
which was a very traumatic event.
And then there's this golden light
all around, suffusing everything,
and the Virgin Mary came to me
and she said,
"You don't have to worry
about that miscarriage.
I'm taking care of this baby now"
and I felt a tremendous relief.
I haven't thought
of that miscarriage in 40 years.
It's been hidden in the mind, I guess.
And now it's out, and it's free,
so I don't have to worry anymore.
It was so good having you by my side,
holding my hand when I needed it.
Giving me water. Thanks so much, Norma.
It was a privilege.
I came to the realization
that there is a spiritual reality
that pervades everything,
from the past, present now,
with the cancer, going into the future.
And we're all connected somehow,
and that place is a beautiful place.
There is a cosmos, a universe,
something out there around us,
in us, beyond us.
Personally, I do not see science
and spirituality as in conflict at all.
The spiritual dimension may be
beyond the current limits of science.
We're really talking about
what religions call revelation,
and, uh, as we study that scientifically,
I like to say
it's where science is meeting the sacred.
I was 23 years old once upon a time,
with the intent of studying theology.
Just behind the dormitory
where I was living,
there was a psychiatric clinic
where they were experimenting
with some drug I had never heard of
called psilocybin.
So I volunteered
You just relax.
We're here to take care of you,
don't fight.
And a very exquisitely beautiful
and meaningful state of consciousness
opened up in my mind.
And in many ways, the rest of my life
has been footnotes to that. Yeah.
I moved to Baltimore,
to the Spring Grove State Hospital.
In many ways,
the mecca of psychedelic research,
and giving psilocybin to cancer patients.
One of the most amazing things
with cancer patients,
to have these transcendental experiences,
is the claim
that they lose their fear of death.
There's a deep intuitive sense
that the universe is in good hands,
and they approach death
more with curiosity.
No rush, you know,
they'll treasure every day they can get,
but they don't have that anxiety,
fear of the unknown, that they had before.
It's, uh, for me,
a feeling of
everything's okay.
It's all gonna end well.
I've seen these things before.
My wife worked beside me
with many cancer patients
as a psychiatric nurse.
So, uh, when we had
to confront it ourselves,
we felt if any couple was prepared
to cope with it we must be, you know.
We did the best we could. Yeah.
Elsa lived very, very fully
for a decade after the diagnosis
of breast cancer.
And she had a very good death,
here at home.
Was very present with our two sons,
who were 11 and 13 when she died.
So we tried to apply to our personal lives
what we had seen.
The research at Spring Grove
flourished for nearly ten years.
Then came Nixon's war on drugs.
Despite the remarkable outcomes
with patients,
in 1970 psilocybin became
a Schedule I substance,
classified as a dangerous drug
with no medical use.
A few years later,
Spring Grove was shut down.
I happened to be the last person
to administer psilocybin,
in the spring of 1977.
The way I handled that was to tell myself,
"Trust, let go, be open,"
and to be curious
about whether the research
would come alive again in my lifetime.
This wasn't the first time
the mushroom had been suppressed.
Four hundred years ago,
another culture was threatened
by the power of plant medicine,
when the Spaniards colonized
the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
Since the Spanish conquest,
if you go back and read some of
the accounts from
the conquistadors and their priests,
they talked about people using mushrooms
and entering these transcendent states
using mushrooms in their worship.
The Mazatec Indians called the mushrooms,
"Flesh of the Gods."
That sounds a lot like the Eucharist.
This was terrifying to the Catholic church
and so they crushed it brutally.
And so rather than abandon their faith
in the mushroom,
it went underground.
On this day, on this night,
those who want to learn
to observe their body
Today in Mexico,
the consumption of magic mushrooms
is still technically illegal,
but law enforcement tends
to look the other way
when they're being used
by indigenous cultures.
She asks for strength,
she asks for kindness.
On this day, on this night,
on this day it will come.
Anselmo García Martinez is
a curandero, or healer,
working in a tradition that's been
handed down for more than 1,000 years.
Anselmo's great-grandmother was
the most famous curandera of all time,
María Sabina.
Her family were people of knowledge,
wise people through the Mazatec medicines.
To be closer to the "mere boss,"
which is part
of how we Mazatec believe in God.
Holy, Holy ♪
I am the woman ♪
Who looks inside and examines ♪
When she died, I was 12 years old.
I was a kid.
But thank God I got the chance
to experience a ceremony with her.
She would see us tripping
and she would laugh.
She knew we were her blood.
She knew we were the next generation.
What she handed down to us, that gift,
we continue to learn little by little.
María Sabina was a woman
who opened the door for everyone.
The story of how mushrooms were
rediscovered in the West is an amazing
one amazing story
in the history of psychedelics.
R. Gordon Wasson, who of all things
was a banker at J.P. Morgan in New York,
he also happened to be
a passionate amateur mycologist.
Actually, it was his wife
who was the real expert.
Dr. Valentina Wasson,
who'd been fascinated by mushrooms
since her childhood in Russia.
The couple had lots
of money as well as leisure time,
and they'd heard rumors
that mushroom cults
had survived
in the remote mountains of Oaxaca,
specifically in the town
of Huautla de Jiménez.
The Wassons made several trips to Mexico
to see if they could find any evidence
of people still using
psychoactive mushrooms
in a religious context.
We went into the Mazatec area,
far from the highways,
remote from Mexico City.
There we found these mushrooms,
I didn't know.
I'd never seen.
They were the sacred mushrooms.
And after several attempts,
he finally convinces María Sabina
to let him taste the "magic mushrooms,"
as they came to be called.
He has a ceremony
on the night of June 29th to 30th, 1955.
He has visions, he sees Romans
on chariots,
incredible architecture,
and he says that, "Feelings of ecstasy,
which I'd only read about,
were mine for the first time."
It's a really big deal.
He comes back
and writes an account of his adventure
that is published
in Life magazine of all places.
Now this is astonishing.
This is 1957 when it comes out,
thousands of words
in the biggest magazine in America.
This article,
when it's published, is a sensation.
A week later, Valentina published
her own article about the experience,
which appeared in newspapers
all across the country.
The combined circulation of the
two articles was in the tens of millions.
Wasson got in touch with Albert Hofmann,
the inventor and discoverer of LSD,
who was very interested
in psilocybin when he heard about it.
Wasson collected some on a subsequent
trip and shipped it off to Switzerland,
where Hofmann analyzed it,
named the active chemical psilocin,
and synthesized it.
Mr. Wasson was delighted.
He told us he'd love to take us with him
to Mexico, and show us this world
of wonders.
In 1962, Wasson brought Hofmann
with him back to Huautla de Jiménez
and presented María Sabina with the pills
that are now used in the research.
She ingested them and declared that they
were the same spirit as the mushrooms.
Valentina passed away in 1958,
but Gordon Wasson carried on
their study of mushrooms,
publishing four more books on the subject.
So María Sabina has become a legend.
She's the grandmother of psychedelics
in a way.
It should also be said,
María Sabina came to regret
having introduced Wasson to the mushrooms
because it had a profound effect
on her town.
After the article came out
and in the years to follow,
Huautla de Jiménez became a hippie mecca.
Bob Dylan goes.
George Harrison goes. Mick Jagger
I went to Mexico,
and a friend brought over
a bag of these mushrooms.
And I learned more about psychology,
about the human mind,
about the human situation
in the five hours after, uh,
eating these mushrooms
than I had learned studying,
doing research in psychology,
and treating people as a psychotherapist.
But more
and more of them came
because they wanted the medicine, right?
But they did not respect it.
And already at that time,
they blamed granny, great-grandmother,
"Because of her," according to the story,
"It's your fault
we're going through this."
I didn't see when they robbed me.
I don't carry anything in the world.
María Sabina's town
turned against her.
Her house was burned down,
her family was subjected to violence,
and ultimately she died destitute.
She suffered tremendously
as a result of introducing the world
to the magic mushroom.
But her legacy would live on.
The first time I heard
about psilocybin mushrooms
and became very curious
was when my older brother John,
on vacation from Yale in the 1970s,
went down to Mexico and South America
and came back
with these extraordinary tales
of finding magic mushrooms
and ingesting them.
I was just mesmerized.
But you didn't have to go to Mexico
to find magic mushrooms.
You could literally go into your backyard.
It was a big revelation that suddenly
these magic mushrooms grow all around us.
That's really a hat made out of mushrooms?
Yeah, it's made from this Amadou mushroom.
Um It's called Fomes fomentarius, it
grows on birch trees throughout the world.
In mushroom circles,
Paul Stamets is a legend,
which is remarkable considering
he's entirely self-taught.
He's discovered and named four new species
of psilocybin mushroom
and is the world's leading expert
on Psilocybes.
The genus is Psilocybe.
More than 116 species
are psilocybin positive.
Psilocybin is the chemical compound found
in the caps and stem.
When I was looking
for psilocybin mushrooms,
I was classically using the field guides.
I'd be in the old growth forest,
I'd be hunting in the fields.
So I spent literally hundreds of hours
looking up information
on psilocybin mushrooms.
My brother John was at
University of Washington Medical School.
John said, "I think I found
some psilocybin mushrooms.
And it's across from the police station."
There was a flush of mushrooms that,
to this day, I've never witnessed so many.
I looked at him, I said, "New species."
Of course, I needed to retain them
as herbarium specimens.
But my brother John and his friends
were like, "Okay."
"Um, we should test them."
We decided to eat about 40 or 50 apiece.
Twenty minutes, you have lift-off.
And then the experience
starts to unfold and starts to increase
and then suddenly, you know, we're looking
at each other and going,
"Oh my God."
It was like
we'd exploded into the heavens
and amazingly beautiful fractal patterns,
and dancing colors, and just waves.
The air becomes a liquid.
All these molecules
of everything around us
are speaking to us, and vibrating,
and suddenly you have the sense
of one giant consciousness.
This is an existence of vibrancy.
Of eloquence, of beauty,
of love that just strikes to the
to the very depth
of the meaning of you who you are.
Psilocybin mushrooms are the great
unifier across cultures and across time.
We have such
a narrow field of view of reality
and we have our blinders on,
but we're children of nature.
And maybe these mushrooms
are the portal for us
to go back into our primordial origins.
I think it's ridiculous
that a species can be considered illegal.
What What's the hubris of humans
to think that they can outlaw a species?
In the 1970s,
we lived in a high state of paranoia.
People were getting busted for drugs
or marijuana, or mushrooms.
So we started doing
a series of conferences.
Myself and some
other individuals organized
the very first
psychoactive mushroom conference, 1976.
There was an awakening
and the hunger for psilocybin mushrooms
was extraordinary.
The renaissance really begins
behind the scenes
with a handful of people
who had never lost faith
in the potential of psychedelics
like psilocybin to heal people.
Then in 1999 we did
the Millennium Mushroom Conference.
I brought The Merry Pranksters
and Ken Kesey
together with a psychedelic chemist.
In order to maximize
the effects of tryptamine
Trying to give academic discipline
and accuracy to the movement.
To make a case
that this was a legitimate medicine,
the key would be to get a scientist
of impeccable credentials,
not associated
with the psychedelic movement, involved.
Sometimes I'm asked,
what do I believe about psychedelics.
And my answer's simple,
I believe in the data.
I'm trained in psychopharmacology,
which is the convergence
of trying to understand
psychoactive drugs and behavior.
About 25 years ago,
I undertook a meditation practice.
And that just opened for me
this window and curiosity
about the nature of changes
in consciousness
and, uh, spiritual experience.
Roland had reached kind of
a crisis in his life, a spiritual crisis.
He had had
some powerful spiritual experiences
in the course of his meditation,
going to retreats.
And over time he lost interest
in what was going on in his lab
and he was actually on the verge of
deciding to go off to an ashram in India,
chucking it all.
Then I was introduced
to Bill Richards.
It was, uh, just a natural confluence of,
of expertise that came together.
About, uh, 1997, we put together
this protocol
to study psilocybin at quite a high dose
in healthy volunteers
who had never before
had a psychedelic drug.
I was fully prepared
for a flat-out rejection.
We know that Harvard certainly
ran a significant reputational risk
after Leary and Alpert kind of broke ranks
with a scientific approach
to studying psychedelics in the '60s.
And I can remember the first time I said,
"You know,
I'm gonna undertake this study
with, uh, psilocybin."
"You're gonna do what?"
Ultimately what won the day was
the credibility that Johns Hopkins gives
to science and scientific research
and so they green-lighted the project.
I had the honor of, uh,
giving psilocybin
to the first volunteer
and I remember him lying on the couch
with tears rolling out of his eyes,
just immersed in this incredibly beautiful
meaningful experience.
Shockingly, we had about 30%
of people saying that
that psilocybin experience
was the single most
spiritually significant experience
of their entire lifetime.
They'll compare that for instance,
to the birth of a firstborn child,
or they might compare it
to the death of a parent
in terms of the magnitude of the meaning.
And with very high probability,
the people who received psilocybin
had full-on mystical experiences.
So what's a mystical experience,
you might ask.
Because that doesn't sound
very scientific, does it?
Um, uh
But in fact, it is.
I didn't realize the researchers
had a way to measure spiritual experience.
But of course they do.
They have something called
the Mystical Experience Questionnaire.
So I'm gonna ask you a few
of the questions on the questionnaire,
and there's no right answer.
"Did you experience awareness of the life
or living presence in all things?"
- For sure?
- Definitely.
"Did you experience feelings
of universal or infinite love?"
Yes. Mary gave the feeling,
you know, that that went in.
- Yeah.
- Yeah.
And then, "Did you have the sense
that the experience cannot
be described adequately in words?"
Absolutely. Even though I've been
an English teacher most of my life,
the words cannot do it.
on the Mystical Experience Questionnaire
correlate very highly
with positive outcomes
a year or more later,
enduring positive changes in moods
and attitudes and behaviors.
You know, I still fall
into depression.
I still feel pain from the cancer,
but there's an underlying reality
that it's okay.
Often, I just sit there
and experience whatever is in the present,
in the absolute present.
There's an opening up to nature,
and people, and life.
And maybe there's one more day to live
and live it as well as I can.
What does psychedelic mean?
It means mind or soul-revealing.
They do truly broaden the lens.
All of a sudden, you realize,
"Oh my goodness.
There's all of this. I didn't know."
My job is to look at
how psychedelic drugs work in the brain
and to study
whether they can be clinically useful.
This was my dream, you know.
This was my passion,
and I designed a basic
brain imaging study with psilocybin.
And that's where we discovered
for the first time
that psychedelics appear
to be working on the Default Mode Network
in these high-level aspects of the brain.
The Default Mode Network housed the self
and the assumptions about the self.
The stories that we tell about ourselves.
And we know with psychedelics
that those stories break down,
we see through them.
And the truth is a lot of mental illnesses
appear to be a kind of defensive reaction
to uncertainty,
to give oneself more of a sense of,
kind of assuredness in the world.
Even if that means you develop something
like an eating disorder.
At least now,
you've got a bit more control.
You have your drug if you're an addict.
When we looked in the brain,
we saw the Default Mode Network
disintegrating under the psilocybin.
In breaking it down,
you would be breaking down self.
You think,
"Well, that doesn't sound that great.
Brain sounds as though
it goes into a chaotic state
and everything's kind of messy,"
but there lies the opportunity
to see things differently,
to move old beliefs and biases
out of the way,
so that you can zoom out,
you can see the bigger picture,
like an astronaut going up,
visiting the moon,
looking back on
the whole of the Earth now.
Oh my goodness,
this puts things in perspective.
Now, what's really curious
about this
and kind of sparked
my journalistic skepticism is
Wait a minute. That sounds like a panacea.
One treatment is actually going
to help with addiction,
anorexia nervosa, depression, anxiety,
OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
That's kinda That's suspicious to me.
But maybe they're all manifestations
of the same underlying problem.
The psychedelic is really pushing
against that defense mechanism.
It's saying, "Let go.
Let go of that maladaptive strategy
because it's not really serving you."
- Now
- 'Kay.
I'd like to play Seasonal Mood
by Allan Fields.
I am I'm gonna play it.
I think I was probably, you know,
in the ballpark of six or seven years old
when my OCD started creeping in.
As a child taking piano lessons,
if I didn't take my finger off the key
of the piano in the right way,
the practice session
would have been ruined.
For my teenage years and early twenties,
it got worse and worse.
It felt like someone following you around
with a radio constantly going
in your ear.
Just begging
for just a moment of tranquility,
for someone to turn that static off.
Checking that the stove was off,
three times, ten times, 20 times,
to appease this sense of, um,
just internal panic.
After my son was born, I remember
trying to put him down to sleep.
I'd take my phone out
and like turn on the flashlight
to try to look at him, really.
To make sure, okay, he's face up.
He's not gonna suffocate in his crib,
he'll be okay.
It makes you afraid of
the things that you love the most.
I was in therapy
and my medication
made me feel like everything was dampened.
It was like walking around
a little bit wrapped in pillows
or big blanket or something kind of fuzzy,
where you didn't really get to experience
the full intensity of everything.
I really didn't feel like
I could inhabit my own life.
I had been trying to do
a little bit of research about OCD,
and I saw that there was this study
at Yale University
trying to examine
the effects of psilocybin
on obsessive-compulsive disorder.
So I was nervous going in.
- Hi, Ben.
- Hello.
How are you?
Doing all right.
That day They prepare a room
which is super calming.
Ben, on a scale of zero to 100,
how are you feeling?
Zero being completely calm,
100 being in distress.
- Probably about 70.
- Seventy?
Yeah. I'm pretty nervous.
- It's okay.
- It's totally normal. It's normal.
They put the pill
in this nice wooden bowl.
It's a little blue pill.
To signify
the beginning of your journey.
There you go.
And then I began to feel
just a little off.
And it just started coming like this
unstoppable force.
I remember thinking,
no, no, no, no, no, no, no,
until it was obvious
that it was just upon me.
You know, it's a memory of an acquaintance
when I was a teenager who died.
He fell off a cliff.
I actually started falling with him.
He hit the ground and I kept going.
I shrunk, smaller,
and smaller, and smaller,
until all that was left
was this this little seed.
Like the nucleus of who I am as a person.
And then that disappeared.
And I died
Not a feeling of
seeing myself die
or an out-of-body experience.
I died.
And I became dirt.
And I felt what it was like to be dirt.
And I slowly grew into a sapling,
about six feet tall.
So wild.
I felt what it was like
to be in different seasons,
spring, and growing, and winter.
And as I was a tree
I watched
myself, my human self
my wife, my son,
and my dog walk by.
And me as a person reached out
and grabbed a twig off of me the tree
and played with it with my little kid.
Waved it around with him.
Man. See this still makes
me happy.
I mean, it sounds intense, but it's
It was truly joyous.
And as I let them go by,
I snapped back from being a tree
into my human body
and everything I'd ever lived
started coming back to me.
Reliving my son's birth.
Reliving my own birth.
I mean, whoa.
This is giving me my whole life back.
Over the course
of the next couple of weeks,
symptoms started to come up
and they felt unimportant and unnecessary.
Like, "Wait a second that I don't
That doesn't make any sense.
I'm just not gonna do it."
As though the process of
re-owning my own body
and mind and opting into that,
allowed me some say in the matter,
for the first time.
And it got better.
Every day since the study
was my best OCD day in my life.
And several months out,
my symptoms are, I mean, zero.
They do follow-up questionnaires
and it's
I just don't have OCD, clinically.
So I mean, I don't know how to express
a more radical transformation than that.
I think I'll always think of my life
in terms of
before the psilocybin session,
and after the psilocybin session.
I feel the same way
about the birth of my son.
It's a beautiful world out there.
Don't know if you've noticed,
but it's great.
It really is wonderful.
I want to see the work
with cancer patients really thrive.
I wanna see medicare coverage for it.
I want it to be fully legal.
I want it to be available
at a reasonable cost
for all those people
who don't have tie-dyed T-shirts,
and can't spell psychedelic,
and are never going to grow their
own mushrooms in their closets, okay?
I want it integrated into medical care.
If not in retreat centers
for any human being who would like
to have this experience
in a safe and legal way.
Excellent. This'll work. Good.
But one step at a time.
And with this,
we present you the medicine.
- May you have a meaningful journey.
- Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Today at Aquilino Cancer Center,
Bill Richards is working
alongside his son Brian,
a clinical psychologist
specializing in psychedelic therapy.
I think that what we've succeeded
in creating here
is the architecture and space.
And also the training and staffing
for this to be something that
is not this aspirational,
insurmountable goal
that only happens here or there
but, um,
how to really bring this
into the world in a meaningful way.
You know, I will have to die
one of these years myself,
but I know that the research
isn't dependent on me anymore.
And it's so beautiful that my own son is
one of the leaders of the vanguard here,
you know?
So we're gonna have as much fun as we can
as long as I can stick around
and, um, then he'll carry the ball,
you know?
We're holding the baton
together right now.
Well, it's a journey.
- What are you laughing at?
- Just the joy of life.
I'm glad you had
a significant experience.
Yeah, that's the understatement
of the year.
There are two kinds of science.
There's the one that only wants to look
at what can be easily measured
and ignore everything else.
And then there's the true science
that probes the very frontiers
of human knowledge,
and that's where
psychedelic research is right now.
When I grew as a tree
during my psychedelic experience,
it was in an actual place,
and it's about a minute walk
from my front door.
I go there almost every day
and I stand or sit,
and I try to relive bits and pieces
of my learnings from the session.
There is an element to this that's always,
I think, gonna be an unknown,
that's gonna be deeply personal
and that hopefully
always feels like magic.
I strongly believe
that psychedelic therapy,
especially involving psilocybin,
has the potential
to revolutionize mental health care.
But then I ask,
how exactly is that gonna work?
On one hand,
you have the pharmaceutical model
which is invent and patent a drug
that you have to take every day
for the rest of your life.
How are they gonna make money on a drug
that you take once or twice in your life?
How much can they charge for that pill?
And how can they own that pill
since it comes from a mushroom
that's been around for thousands of years
and was not invented in a lab.
So there are a lot of open questions.
For me, one of those remaining questions
was what was the experience like?
The time had come for me
to find out for myself.
This happened with an underground guide
and I started out
with two grams of dried mushrooms.
It was a giant mushroom
with a head the size of a golf ball
that was very hard to choke down.
And she put on the eyeshades
and she put on headphones to play music.
And she had Bach's
Unaccompanied Cello suites
piece of music I knew, loved,
had heard at funerals actually,
very sad piece of music.
And I experienced this piece of music
in a way I never experienced music before.
I felt like I was occupying the well,
this envelope of space
that was this cello,
to the point where I could
almost feel the horsehair
and the bow going across my body.
At a certain point,
I felt my sense of self begin to crumble.
I looked out and saw myself
explode into a cloud
of blue Post-it notes.
If you imagine a manuscript
being blown away by the wind,
you would run around trying
to gather it back together.
And um
And I felt no need, no desire
to collect all those Post-it notes
before they flew away in the wind.
It was like, "Fine, go."
"You've served your purpose."
And then I looked out again,
and I saw myself on the ground,
spread out like a little pool of paint.
I had to go to the bathroom
sometime later.
I don't know how else to say this except,
I produced a spectacular crop of diamonds
and fractal patterns
emerging from the toilet.
It was the most incredible thing.
And once I was done producing diamonds,
I felt confident enough
to look in the mirror.
I saw a skull
with skin pulled very tight around it,
but it wasn't my skull.
It was my grandfather's,
who I was close to,
and whose death was very painful to me.
He lived to be 96 and there he was,
and there I was and I had melded with him.
My self was gone.
The most surprising thing
about the event was how I felt about it,
that I wasn't panicked.
It was also about feeling reconciled
to death in a way I never had,
and it helped me to understand,
I think, what the cancer patients
I had interviewed had been through.
That they had arrived at this point
where they could observe their life
and the end of their life
as the most natural thing in the world,
and that without a self,
they would somehow merge
with something larger
and that would be their immortality.
But just think how much human suffering
could be relieved
if we have a new tool
that works on depression,
that works on anxiety,
the fear of dying, addiction.
That's a game-changer.
So far in my psychedelic journey,
I've explored LSD and psilocybin.
These two are considered
classical psychedelics,
but there are newer compounds
that change the mind in different ways.
The most famous of these is MDMA,
better known by its street name "ecstasy,"
the next molecule on my journey.
Previous EpisodeNext Episode