Visionary plants have been use since prehistory by human beings. Consciousness expanding compounds were used all over the world in ritual, and spiritual contexts to induce a non-ordinary states of consciousness. These plants were very important to shamanic practices, healing ceremonies, rites of passage and the mystery of death and rebirth. These ancient cultures considered these plants to be sacred sacraments. In these contexts the sacred plants would bring the participant into the realms of the gods and spirits where they encountered non-physical beings and obtained information for healing. These visionary plants also have been reported to enhance intuition, extrasensory perception, and to receive other forms of non-local information. These groups of peoples also produced works of art which were depictions of the landscapes of the unseen world filled with spirits and colorful patterns. (Grof 2012).
Throughout history there has been written knowledge of these plants. In China there were reports of psychedelic substances as much as 3,000 years ago. There are ancient stories which involve substance many believe to be psychoactive such as the SOMA of the Vedas. There is a well know and long historical use of marijuana in diverse religious groups such as in Hinduism, Rastafarianism, Scythians. There were many different substances used worldwide. In Mexico there was the use of peyote (Anhalonium lewinii) sacred mushrooms (Psilocybe mexicana) and morning glory seeds (Rivea corymbosa). In South America the use of Ayahuasca. In Africa many substances were used such as Iboga And many more.
The spiritual lives of these peoples were dramatically influenced by the introduction of Christianity, the cruelty and religious suppression of these rituals and plants forced the traditional spiritual practices of these peoples to move underground. Despite the influence and cruelty of colonialism many peoples have maintained their spiritual practices through the centuries. Examples include the use of peyote in the Native American Church, the use of ayahuasca in the UDV (Unita De vegetal) and the Santo Domingo Church. These practices became legal in the USA through long legal battles despite the evidence showing thousands of years of use and despite the “freedom of religion” in the USA.
Mescaline was the first substance to be isolated in the west and was the first psychoactive substance people in the United States encountered. This occurred in the late 1800’s when there was incredible cruelty and lack of respect toward indigenous populations. This lack of respect led to total dismissal of the wisdom held by the indigenous Americans which could have opened the door to realization of the incredible healing potential of these substances. Kurt Beringer, author of the influential book Der Meskalin rausch (Mescaline Inebriation) published in 1927, concluded that mescaline induced a toxic psychosis (Grof 2012). This idea of toxic psychosis was the predominant view of these psychoactive substances in the western world and left their healing potential undiscovered.
Psychedelic research began in the West with Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD at Sandoz Laboratory in Switzerland in the year 1942. Hofmann discovered LSD when he was making derivative of ergot. Hofmann himself states that he was drawn to the substance for mysterious reasons and he believes it called out to him. When working with this new compound he accidentally ingested the substance through unknown means and he became the first person to experience LSD.
Never before in science had a single substance provided such a wide variety of uses across scientific fields. It influenced psychology, neuroscience, neuropharamacologists. This substance created unprecedented wave of enthusiasm in the world of science. This discovery was a golden era of research that could lead to major advances in understanding consciousness, neuroreceptors, and intricate biochemical processes in the brain. It also created the field of consciousness research.
At first LSD was thought to produce experimental psychosis and could be used as a valuable learning tool for psychologist. The idea was they could get a taste of the state of mind of the patients. They believed it would provide unparalleled information about psychosis and would lead to revolutionary new treatments. Researchers hoped LSD could provide the information to determine what chemicals or transmitters in the brain produce psychosis. It turned out however, that psychosis was not completely chemical in nature and we have yet to find a chemical treatment for schizophrenia.
Stanislav Grof the world’s most experienced and influential psychedelic therapist and researcher was introduced to LSD through this kind training program in the 1950’s. He experienced the mystical union with the source of creation and knew that there was more to this amazing substance then just psychosis. Grof developed a way in which to conduct psychotherapy with the use of LSD. Over many years of research he developed protocol for LSD assisted psychotherapy. He made incredible observations and positive results in treating clients. This treatment was a powerful tool for psychotherapists because of its ability to bring material from the subconscious level to awareness. It was also good for reaching patients who had been unresponsive to other forms of treatments such as sexual deviance, addiction and in easing the anxiety of terminal cancer patients.
LSD provided incredible new insights into art such as abstract arts, expressionism, fantastic art, visionary arts and provided insight in the artwork of other cultures. Many professional painters who were in the early LSD and creativity research made leaps in creative expression and their style became freer. They created new forms and could more easily tap into the collective archetypes. LSD was found to produce profound mystical and spiritual experiences which gave us insight into the spiritual cultures of the world. It gave us a new understanding of the shamanism, religion, the eastern spiritual philosophies and the mystical sects of world religions. LSD was also used by the military circles who explored the destructive potential of LSD. The worlds military researchers wanted to know if it could be used as a chemical weapon, a truth serum, to poison diplomats, brainwashing and much more. This led to incidents where the governments would even put LSD in the water supply of citizens without their knowledge to see how they would respond.
Grof was so influenced by the power and potential uses of LSD that he compares it to a microscope for psychology because it allowed psychologists to see deep into the subconscious and explore previously unavailable domains of the psyche. LSD is one of the ultimate tools for studying consciousness. LSD research was all going very well until the wide spread self-experimentation in combination with the use of LSD at Harvard triggered mass hysteria. The political system responded with total prohibition of psychedelic research and effectively stopped all research while illegal street use continued unimpeded. This stopped research for four decades. Rumors were going around that one dose of LSD could make a person go crazy for life in profound ways.
Before the mass hysteria Grof was able to do over a decade of research along with other researchers. New forms of therapy were developed most notably psychedelic therapy and LSD assisted psychotherapy. This research had led to profound expansion of the cartography of the human psyche beyond the biographical life. The extraordinary states of consciousness experienced by clients in LSD studies were beyond the explanation of conventional psychological theories at the time. This research also was the principal catalyst for the development of consciousness studies. Observation of these states of consciousness forced Grof to create new categories of consciousness which were directly contrary to his training and personal beliefs. These expanded realms of consciousness were reached out of necessity based on the observation of his clients. These new realms were the transpersonal and the perinatal.
Perinatal was found because many of Grof clients were experiencing images of birth and reliving trauma related to birth. The transpersonal realms are the indescribable realms which are beyond the self. This includes but is not limited to mystical union, past life memories, ESP, telepathy, receiving verifiable information about different time periods or about their bodies, ancestral karma. These are the realms spoken about by mystics, shaman and in various sects of Eastern religions.
Following this criminalizing of psychedelics and psychedelic research in the early 1970’s there was a new wave of experiential therapies which moved to the forefront in order to continue exploring consciousness without drugs. This took the form of holotropic breathwork, meditation, yoga, ritual, ceremony, sensory deprivation and other techniques. These approaches were each unique and held their own risks and strengths. This created a cultural and societal need to understand and contextualize these types of profound human experiences. Researchers hoped that these non-drug therapies would make psychedelic unnecessary and there would emerge therapies as effective as psychedelics which were legal and help people to grow in different ways. It became apparent at the end of the 70s that these non-drug techniques were very valuable; however, they did not make psychedelics unnecessary. These approaches were complimentary to psychedelic therapy in the eyes of many researchers. Many clients responded well to meditation and breath work but there were still significant portions of the population which were unresponsive to these therapies.
During this time and after, there was a strong underground movement for use of known and sanctioned drugs of psychotherapy and also there were new chemicals coming into existence. There were a number of chemists prominent among them was Alexander Shulgin. Alexander Shulgin was developing hundreds of new psychedelic compounds and was distributing them to psychotherapists. He was connected to this network of therapists by Leo Zeff. Leo Zeff and his activities were released in the publication The Secret Chief. This led to the discovery of the therapeutic potential of MDMA. Leo was impressed with MDMA and its power as a therapeutic tool. Zeff came out of retirement and began to train therapists to use this substance to help clients.
From mid 1970’s to 1984 about a half million doses of MDMA were given by psychotherapist in assisted MDMA psychotherapy context under the code name ADAM. This had never attracted the attention of the police. Then in the mid 1980’s a patient who had a session with ADAM realized that this would be a great money making drug. They changed the name to ecstasy and introduced it to recreational settings. This coincided with Nancy Regean and the drug war and MDMA was predictably suppressed and made illegal. This recreational use, just as in the 1960’s, led to the termination of therapeutic use of MDMA with trained psychotherapist but did not stop the illegal black market.
At Esalen there was an effort among therapists to protect the therapeutic use of MDMA. They conducted a safety study with MDMA so they could use it as evidence for its safety and therapeutic benefit. The study effectively proved the safety of the substance. This group of therapists and researchers were organized by Dick Price in an organization called ORUPA, The Organization for the Responsible Use of Psychoactive Agents. They were also working with Robert Muller who was with the UN. Muller believed that peace could not happen until we developed a global spirituality and could view others as beings like ourselves. He dreamed of a humanity that could view the whole Earth as being one organism. To sense the connection with all of life and we could find a shared humanity and shared spirituality and create peace. Mueller believed that the use of psychoactive therapies could cultivate a new spiritual awareness on Earth.
Through Robert Muller they sent out MDMA to monasteries and to other spiritual and religious based communities and spiritual leaders. These people found these substances to be very valuable and stood up to express the value of MDMA in court once it became illegal. In 1984 the Earth Metabolic Design Lab was the legal vehicle to protect the use of MDMA. The day MDMA was made illegal Rick Doblin walked into the DEA with a huge packet of information about the therapeutic use of MDMA. They had assembled psychologist, psychiatrists, religious leaders, lobbyists, legal professionals to protect the therapeutic use. The DEA was shocked that anyone would defend the use of this drug. They had no idea that it was being used therapeutically. EMDL won a hearing with a DEA administrative law judge who ruled that MDMA should be available as a therapeutic tool but it was only a recommendation which was rejected. EMDL sued several times and won several cases until they lost the final ruling and MDMA was made totally illegal and unavailable for therapeutic use.
In 1986 Maps was founded because there was no support for research from pharmaceutical companies or the federal government, only individuals or families would support this research. MAPS then became a psychedelic non-profit pharmaceutical company involved in research of psychedelic substances. The goal was to legalize the therapeutic use of MDMA and marijuana. They developed five protocols which were rejected by the FDA. In 1990 the group at the FDA shifted to a new group of people who put science over politics resulting in the first approval of research for psychedelics.
Today there is a renaissance of psychedelic research and is taking place all over the world. MAPS and the Heffter Research Institute in Santa Fe are the primary research organizations propelling this new wave of research. The head of MAPS is Rick Doblin a long time therapist who worked with clients using MDMA through the eighties. He has been creating a legal context for the legalization of MDMA and marijuana as sanctioned medicines. MAPS was founded to promote psychedelic therapy and is developing a strategy to pace psychedelic research and it’s reintroduction into the public awareness. The key according to Doblin is to get research going all over the world and have an image presented to the media through the lens of medical research. This approach was designed to avoid public backlash and has thus far been very successful. Charles Grob is leading researcher for the Heffter Research Institute and he did the first study on MDMA as well as studying ayahusca, and psilocybin.
This first study was pioneered by Rick Strassman and was measuring the physiological effects of DMT on the human body. This study was the first in four decades and ended the total repression of all medical research. Strassman wrote a book at the end of the study describing the experiences of the clients and the conclusions he drew from the research called, DMT Spirit Molecule. This study opened the door for a renaissance of psychedelic research which is currently underway.
Grob and Doblin organized a presentation for the FDA to do research with MDMA for cancer patients with anxiety. In 1992 the FDA convened and they opened the door for psychedelic research. The researches needed to do a phase 1 safety study and effectively proved it was sufficiently safe for therapeutic use which initiated a Phase 2 study.
The Heffter Research Institute was founded in 1993 and they began to study psilocybin for terminal cancer patients with anxiety. The HRI has begun to focus on the study of psilocybin. MAPS began to focus on MDMA therapy for PTSD based on a suggestion by the Mithoefers. Since that time there is now more research on psychedelics taking place around the world than ever before. They are focused on three areas. One is MDMA for PTSD. Second is psilocybin, LSD, MDMA for terminal patients with anxiety at the end of life. Three is ayahuasca, ibogane, psilocybin, MDMA, LSD for the treatment of addiction.
These illnesses were chosen because they are problems which have not been effectively treated by therapies currently available. The research is showing initial results suggesting that the psychedelic assisted therapy is effective for treating these disorders. The way these drugs are used in assisted therapy is different from the model of prescription medication because the client does not take the drug home, it can only be used with a therapist.
There are two area of science looking into these drugs. One is neuroscience the other is spirituality and meditation. There have been studies at John Hopkins studying whether the psychedelics assisted therapy can produce mystical experience. This replicated the experiments from the 1960s such as the Good Friday experiment with Walter Pahnke sponsored by Timothy Leary.
They were able to get psychedelic research to happen again at Harvard with terminal cancer patients symbolically showing that they had departed from the hysteria of the past. The other symbolic victory was to have a study with LSD because it was the most highly stigmatized psychedelic and this occurred in Switzerland for near death psychotherapy and Albert Hofmann was able to see his wonder child back in research.
Psychedelic studies are happening all over the world with MDMA there are studies in USA, Switzerland, Israel and study near approval in Canada, teams are seeking approval Jordan, Australia and England. There are end of life studies using LSD in Switzerland, Studies in the USA. For addiction there are studies in Canada with ayahuasca. There are ibogaine studies for opiate addition in Mexico and New Zeland. Neuroscience research on psychedelics is taking place in Switzerland, Barcelona with ayahusaca in capsule form and 2CB. There is a spirituality and mediation study in 2013 in Switzerland with Zen meditators who in the middle of a 10 day retreat with receive psilocybin and they will measure neurochemistry, levels of compassion and to see the effect of the ingestion is spiritual setting. There are safety studies in Germany and in the 1980s Russians were using ketamine but is now out of access for research because of street use.
MAPS estimates that we are about 10 years away from making MDMA or psilocybin and medicine for PTSD and anxiety related to end of life. There are still a series of scientific questions to be researched first issue is the double blind. The double blind study with psychedelics is very complicated because it’s easy to know if you have the placebo so instead they are doing dose response. In this there are 3 groups and they each get a different dose and the results will determine the effectiveness of a variety of doses.
Second, researchers need to do a series of small phase 2 pilot studies where they gather evidence for the design of larger phase 3 studies. The phase 2 studies will take 2 years and cost 2 million dollars and look at the treatment method and determine cultural differences. They are also investigating if MDMA more effective for a certain type of PTSD to find the ideal therapies for different clients. For example if MDMA is more effective for those with sexual abuse or for those with experience in war. Once this is complete MAPS will present the evidence to the FDA in order to gain approval for a phase 3 studies.
This presentation involves describing what you plan to do for the phase 3 study which will involve 600 patients in two studies and will take 5 years and 10 to 15 million dollar to complete. Then MAPS submits the information to the FDA and argue that it should be made legally available this takes an addition 2 years. Thus MAPS is 15 million dollars and ten years away from getting MDMA approved as a medicine.
In terms of marijuana, the research is obstructed by the federal government which has a monopoly on the supply of Marijuana for research. With MDMA there is no monopoly and thus MAPS is able to receive high quality substances for their studies. This is different with Marijuana because the supply has to come from one facility and the quality is very low and thus does not help in the study of Marijuana which is usually of much higher quality when distributed at legal dispensaries. Thus MAPS is not able to do the work through the FDA with marijuana and is involved in legal proceedings to sue the FDA. Psychedelic research is flourishing and the media has been supportive. It seems with the increase of medical information about these substances the public opinion is slowly changing.
By Transpersonal spirit
Cortright, Brant. Psychotherapy and spirit: Theory and practice in transpersonal psychology. SUNY Press. 1997.
Grof Stanislav, Albert Hoffman, Andrew Weil. LSD Psychotherapy, Maps Publishing CA. 1980, 1994, 2001, 2008.
Grof, Stanislav. Healing Our Deepest Wounds The Holotropic Paradigm Shift. Stream of experience Productions, New Castle Washington 2012.
Grof, Stanislav, 2012 and Global Consiouness, www.HealingourDeepest wounds.com Teleseminar aired, May 8 2012, Wisdom University Virtual Seminar.
Grof, Stanislav with Richard Tarnas, How Deep is Deep: Depth Psychology, Consciouness Research and Archetypal Astrology. Wisdom University tele seminar May 15 2012
Grof, Stanislav with Rick Doblin, Charles Grob, Micheal and Annie Mithoefer. The Psychedelic Renaissance: What the New Wave Of Psychedelic Research Can Contribute to Us Individually and Collectively. Wisdom University May 22 2012 tele seminar.
Grof, Stanislav and Grof, Christina. Spiritual Emergency: Breakdown or Breakthough. Wisomd University teleseminar may 29 2012.
Grof, Stanislav, With Erin Laszlo and Duane Elgin. New Frontiers for Science and Healing: Is Science Ready to Welcome Spirit? Wisdome University teleseminar june 5 2012
Grof, Stanislav with Bache, Chris and Jim Garrison. Healing Our Deepest Wounds teleseminar week 5 Dark Night, Early Dawn: Psychospiritual Perspective on the Global Crisis. Wisdom University June 12 2012.
Pahnke, Walter N. and Richard, William A., “implications of LSD and experimental mysticism.” Journal of religion and health No. 5, 1966, 175-208.
Strassman, Rick, DMT Spirit molecule