THIRD WAVE PODCAST
The Potential Of Psychedelic Therapy
Dr. Neal Goldsmith
Our guest is Dr Neal Goldsmith, psychotherapist and author of “Psychedelic Healing: The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development”. We talk about how psychedelics can be used to break open the outer shell of our acquired personalities, and reveal the primal self inside.
Clearly psychedelics have had a big impact on Neal’s work and life, so he begins by telling us about his experiences. Although he took LSD in college, he didn’t particularly gain anything from it, as it was not taken in a particularly spiritual context. However, some years after college he decided to try it again (through a partner’s interest in MDMA), and this time it changed his life. It was an introspective and transformative experience, leading to his interest in psychedelics as therapeutic tools.
Neal’s personal breakthrough came as he realised that our personalities begin as flexible and adaptable when we’re young, but are set into a defensive shell as part of growing up. Psychedelics helped Neal see that this outer shell of personality could be broken to reveal a more primal, original form of self that is a truer reflection of identity. Later studies in the changes of personality traits reinforce this view that psychedelics can change our personality, even after it has set into the defensive shell of adulthood.
Although psychedelics are a powerful and reliable tool for producing positive changes in people, Neal believes the end result is more important. Facilitating a change towards awareness and maturation is something that psychedelics do very well; but it’s something that we also need to focus on as the end goal regardless of the way we get there. “We shouldn’t mistake the tool for the task,” as Neal says.
Neal discusses with us the stigma associated with drug use, and how some people may never approve of the use of psychedelics in achieving spiritual development, seeing them as a kind of “cheat” or “shortcut”. Neal believes that LSD is the most powerful pharmaceutical drug developed by humans – but also the most powerful spiritual sacrament. He says that the distinction between the two is spurious, and we must learn that these are just two different perspectives on the same thing.
Next, we talk to Neal about the future. In the information age, it’s unlikely that this Third Wave of psychedelics will fade away in a similar way to that of the 60s and 70s. As long as we keep talking about psychedelic research and spiritual development, psychedelics will always be in the public eye. But Neal believes that we are still a long way from being a totally open and accepting society – likening our culture to a two-headed animal, one part progressive and one part holding back. Although sometimes one of the parts is more correct than the other, they’re both needed for a balanced society.
Finally, Neal tells us about the split view of science and spirituality. He doesn’t believe in a dualist world, and states that we should learn to view science and spirituality in the same vein. After all, “There is just one psychedelic experience that we all share – we all just describe it differently.”
00:14 Neal Goldsmith: Basically, I’m a psychologist by training, I’m very applied-oriented however, I wanna have impact on the world, and I wanna, I got very interested in research and research utilization, ’cause a lot of research that gets done even if it’s good research just gets buried or ignored. The famous, “Not invented here syndrome.” In fact, that was broadly speaking, the focus of my dissertation in psychology was Applied Social Research, Policy Research Utilization or lack thereof, and so based on that focus, after a messy tenure fight, my supervisor at Princeton lost his tenure fight, and so after that, I’ve had enough academia, and I got a job at arguably the biggest university in the world, AT&T. And the guy who hired me at AT&T said, “Hey you know that research utilization thing that you did your dissertation on? Well we do the same thing here, but it’s research-based technology utilization.” And so for the next 17 years, I was a strategic planner in corporate America, focusing on emerging technology, greasing the skids for the implementation, deployment, utilization, diffusion, dissemination of the best of what is known research-based technology in that case. And of course, there was a lot of organizational change.
01:29 NG: I’m a psychologist, and so it was a great job, but when I was 40 and started taking psychedelics again, I realized that AT&T was paying me enormous sums of money to help them pick all of our pockets, ever more effectively. And so I took off. And it took a while, but eventually, I re-opened my clinical practice that I had at the master’s level, I got additional doctoral level training in psycho-synthesis and Imago relationship therapy and in yoga psychotherapy, and of course I was doing psychedelics about once a month at that point, mostly mushrooms. And I write about that in my book, “Psychedelic Healing.” And so I guess the thread that runs through it, that’s a little bit of background then, but the thread that runs through it and the connection between AT&T and psychedelics, really is the research utilization interest, and the interest in using the best of what is known, and being the most effective as the society. And so, research-based technology in corporations will help us be more efficient, hopefully not picking our pockets, but being more cost-effective for example, and then of course psychedelics is one of the most egregious examples of a lack of research utilization. Good, at least suggestive and now very strong research data coming in, which really hasn’t been translated into policy, and then the next step into change is practice.
03:01 NG: And that’s the process, research into policy into practice, and we have to get various symptoms of bias out of the process and make it as objective as possible. So that’s been my focus really throughout my career, and even in my clinical practice, I have a robust clinical practice now in New York. And the same thing is true, it’s again, it’s almost like the cognitive part of cognitive behavioral therapy, where there’s fact-based process change and again it’s research-based, but in this case it’s personal change. I think a bit more and more as a developmental process, developmental psychology really, that goes through step-wise, step-wise fashion goes through stages of development in the tribal setting those are facilitated by visionary plants during rites of passage. And so I focus a lot on developmental transition, so when I do it with young people, which I do a lot, ’cause of my book, teenagers in their 20s. A lot of times that’s the launch stage, launching from home to adulthood. And then of course, there’s various other stages through life of childbearing, etcetera. And so I think of things a lot in those terms. And psychedelics fit into that process of course as well.
04:16 Paul Austin: And so what’s been your role then specific in the psychedelics space if you could just speak a little bit to that in terms of that research utilization process? So your role potentially with Horizons, with the book that you wrote, that sort of thing.
04:27 NG: Sure. Well you know, I’m interested in, I’m a global citizen, like we all are, and I’m interested in pushing things forward. Putting my shoulder to the wheel. And so the research utilization focus as you pointed out, it’s really a public education focus, or a using the best of what is known focus, communicating that out. There’s lots of different ways to do it. When I was doing my policy research at Princeton, my dissertation work, it was about two interest groups, the directors of mental health organizations, who were gonna be given research on how to do it better, and whether they would adopt it or not. And then the staff in the mental health organizations, be it the state, local and federal we had, we studied, but then their staff that actually has to implement, they’re where the rubber meets the road. So those are my two interest groups there, but now, with the same dedication to research utilization and facilitating the emergence or the implementation of the state-of-the-art, the best of what is known, now there’s various other ways of doing it.
05:27 NG: I do it with individuals in my clinical practice. Of course, it really is a waking up process of seeing more clearly what reality and truth and facts are, so broadly speaking, that’s sort of like research or data utilization factual implementation. And then of course with the Horizons, which is the conference I’ve been hosting for the last 12 years, we’re going on 13th year now, Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics, it’s an annual research-based but not academic conference that we hold in the lower Manhattan in New York each year. So it’s research-based, ’cause we want it, again, to be factual, but it’s not for academics, it’s for the general public. So that again is a public information thing. So lots of what I do be it for individuals or public information or even research, I’m on stage a lot, not just for Horizons but also I’ve acted… I’ve been honored really, to act as host for the MAPS Psychedelic Science Conferences for the last three iterations, although I’m not affiliated with, nor is Horizons affiliated with MAPS directly.
06:33 NG: We’re brothers, siblings. And so I’ve done a lot of that work as well. And then, of course, this sort of thing, like what we’re doing today, this again, a public information, public education process of getting the word out and trying to… I was talking to somebody not too long ago at venue, that is, I’ve been talking to him about doing an integration group, a psychedelic integration group, monthly for people who have issues they wanna discuss maybe, difficult experiences for example. And this person told me, “Well there’s someone else that we have in mind as well.” And that person was, I said, “Well that person is gonna be better for you actually, because that person has more of a shamanic new age focus, and my focus is more sort of research based. I’m a PhD psychologist, and I’m very, very interested besides that, I’m very, very interested in research and data and policy change in society. And so you better go with the shamanic new ager, because it’s gonna be more appropriate for your audience really. So it distinguishes me a bit, and sometimes I lose a gig, but that’s okay.
07:39 NG: Well, first, though, I need to say that immaturity is not the only contraindication for the use of psychedelics, there are medical contraindications. I’m not a physician, so I can’t really speak with authority on that, but I can say though, that in general, if you have a family history of serious mental illness. If for example, if your mother was a schizophrenic, please don’t take LSD. Now there are people who’ve done research using LSD with schizophrenics. So it’s conceivable that in the future it will be, there’ll be an avenue for that application. But in the current state of development of psychedelic science, a history of serious mental illness in your family, the closer the worser, is associated with difficult long-term outcome. People are always so scared about psychedelics driving them crazy, and then they’re gonna be in the mental hospital for the rest of their lives, and that’s really not true, that’s misleading. For those people who are, if your mother was a schizophrenic, then potentially, and you are destined to become schizophrenic. The average age for the onset of schizophrenia is about 24, so if you were destined to get it at 24 and you’re experimenting with psychedelics in college, the data show that you might trigger the onset about two years earlier.
09:00 NG: So there is some research on that. However, when you screen out those people and the research studies, all the research studies do, and therapists should as well of course, when you screen out those people with that family history and you screen carefully, then there is no evidence to show that there are any long-term negative consequences. However, there can be short-term negative consequences that are similar to the other unfortunate long-term one, but however those people come back to baseline. So for all of us who might, who are not, don’t have a history of serious mental illness in our family and who have a difficult experience where we resist the effect of the drug, that’s what makes a difficult experience. It’s illuminative, these substances. And so if you’re not ready or for some reason it’s not appropriate setting for example, for you to look at these deep things inside you, then you may try to stop the process. And of course, it’s inexorable, ’cause it’s a drug, so you can’t really stop the process and with a significant dose, really the only thing you can do is sort of split, so that part of you goes ahead and trips, and the other part of you is dissociated from that. Of course, that’s not an ideal way to go and makes things much more difficult.
10:16 NG: However, when that happens, and the pendulum is, the gong is hit, and the pendulum is going on like this, for those folks, it tends to come back down to still, after a couple of days or a couple of weeks or a couple of months. So anyway, so that’s the medical part, as I know it. Again, I’m a PhD psychologist, not a physician, but I wanted to point, I’d be neglecting, derelict if I didn’t specify that, yes, there are indeed contraindications. When you think about it, psychedelics especially, if you think of LSD as the baseline psychedelic or uber psychedelic, if you will. Those substances are… You can think of them as the most powerful psychiatric medicine ever devised by humanity and the most powerful spiritual sacrament ever found by humanity. And so if you think about it that way, then why should it be so to speak, safe? Why should taking the most powerful psychiatric medicine on your own without supervision, without a psychiatric context, or spiritual context, why should that be so safe? It doesn’t make sense, really. So the fact that so many millions of people have taken psychedelics, with relatively few ill effects, testifies to their fundamental safety.
11:36 NG: However they’re not ultimately completely safe, and there are, like I said, are the medical contraindications, and then there are the other contraindications, like you said, immaturity. So that’s a joke. When I’m on stage sometimes I say no one under 40 should be allowed to take psychedelics, and since almost everybody in the audience is under 40, people are like, “Wait, what do you mean? What are you talking about?” And of course I say something like, “Well now that I’ve got your attention.” The real truth is, of course, that the primary non-medical contraindication is immaturity. And it’s funny, because it’s kind of a paradox because we take these substances to facilitate maturation, and yet immaturity is a contraindications, so I wouldn’t really call it a contraindication per se, but something that makes things, that we need to attend to that… And so we come back to the old two variables of set and setting, where your mindset is at.
12:32 NG: And that has mostly to do with intentionality and where you are or what setting you’re in. And so those will tell the tale really more. So in others words, if you’re immature, but you’ve got the right attitude of growth and you’re in an environment with people who love you that’s safe and protected, then I think psychedelics can be very helpful. But again, it’s not medical advice because there’s no approved medical context for these things right now. So I can only talk as a scholar, or as an observer of the research and the process rather than an expert at the actual medical process because that’s not been really specified all that well yet.
13:11 PA: So where does microdosing from your perspective, and we’ll kind of start to transition into this.
13:16 NG: Sure.
13:17 PA: What role does that play? Because obviously, a lot of our conversations so far, particularly with the last part was more about the high doses.
13:24 NG: Right.
13:24 PA: First of all, what’s your understanding of microdosing and what role can that play in the developmental process, compared to maybe higher doses?
13:32 NG: Wonderful question, and I love the fact that the community is looking at microdosing and there’s different things in the community that are being addressed. Microdosing is one of them, integration, psychedelic integration is another big topic that’s currently being addressed, and I’m so glad they are. First of all, definitionally. For me, it’s not to be rigid exactly, but there’s certain types of… Microdosing as a concept is relatively new. The last maybe 10 years or something like that, it’s been out there. And so there are other dose levels or categories of dose levels that already have names. So there’s full trip. Let’s take LSD for example. So a full trip for LSD, a clinical dose is about 125 micrograms. Excuse me, or 150. And for intractable cases like alcoholics for example, who tend to be more impervious to these substances sometimes they would… This is literature from the ’60s, sometimes they would double it. So they’d give him about 250 micrograms, which is a very substantial dose.
14:32 NG: So 125-150, what would be half a dose, then? Something like 50 micrograms. What is the just noticeable amount? The literature is a little vague on that, but the best authoritative source says that the just noticeable amount of LSD is 25 to 40 micrograms. Now, that’s about a quarter or a third, or something like that, of a full dose. Now, I have spoken to many people about that and many people say that they notice. And you are experienced and knowledgeable about microdosing as well, so you know this, that many people notice a psychedelic feeling at lower than 25 micrograms. So like I said, the literature is kind of vague on that. But somewhere in that range, maybe 10 or 15 or 20 or 25 or 40 micrograms, in that range is the just noticeable amount. So if you take an amount that’s just noticeable. So in that range, if you let’s say take 50 micrograms, which is pretty much guaranteed to be noticeable but mild, that’s already got a name. In fact, it’s got three names.
15:41 NG: Museum dose, concert dose, or a meditation dose. And as the names imply, those are doses that are mild enough so that you can go out in public. You can appreciate the beauty of a museum, of the art without being flat on your back, for example. And is concert, the same thing. You can navigate, but you can still have the psychedelic experience. So that’s got a name already, the just noticeable amount. And then, of course, there’s other dosages that have been played with, like homeopathic doses or spagyric, I think I’m mispronouncing that name, doses, which are way, way, way dilute. Way, way, way low, like 100 or 500 to 1 or even less. In some cases, people claim that there’s no substance in it at all, but it’s just the essence of the spirit of the substance. It’s not a theory that I’m really adhering to, but to represent it, that’s what some people say at those low, low or vanishingly low doses. So, for me, having defined all those other levels, the level of microdosing that’s generally accepted is to be just sub-noticeable.
16:48 NG: Just sub-noticeable, so that would be in the 10 or 20 to 40 or 50 microgram range. Just sub-noticeable would be something less than that. If you notice it at 20, then 15 or 10 would be perhaps just sub-noticeable. So I think there’s a very… We have an opportunity, really, in the community to clarify what a microdose actually is. So I will say that there are some people who have written in the literature about taking a microdose. Not the scientific literature, but in the popular literature, about having taken a microdose and that they felt all glowy and insightful, and they saw little glows and halos and stuff like that. Nothing really strong, but a little bit, just a little tiny bit to tune up their day and they really felt it. To me, that’s more of a museum dose than a microdose. For me, a microdose should be something, by definition, really, that you don’t notice, but that over a period of time, over a period of weeks or months, you begin to notice fundamental changes in your attitude, in your disposition, in your success in life, at least that’s the promise of microdosing.
17:56 NG: And I think the jury’s out on that. There are no data really yet. There’s some coming up at Imperial College, the Beckley Foundation is doing a nice study and I think there’s probably a couple more brewing, but so far, there’s no real data, so we don’t know whether microdosing at that sub-noticeable amount would have an action similar to Prozac. After all, they both deal with the serotonin system, so it’s conceivable. However, the research hasn’t been done yet, so there’s problems. LSD, I always say in my talks, is physiologically non-toxic that you can drink a tablespoon of it, which I do not recommend, please do not do that, because that’s like 500 doses or who knows what that’s 5000 doses, I’m not sure. But obviously, please don’t do that. However, I think so mentally, who knows what would happen, but physiologically I’ve been told and I understand that LSD is non-toxic. However, I don’t think there’s been research done to really validate that. And on a microdosing basis, if you take LSD on a… You shouldn’t take it every day ’cause of tolerance, but let’s say twice a week. If you do that for months, what is the effect, the cumulative effect of long-term, low-level exposure to even LSD, which I think is chemically most likely quite safe?
19:20 NG: We don’t know. And even more the case with other substances like, for example, MDMA. Now, MDMA, of course, you know is in a different category of drug, it’s not officially classified as psychedelic although it has certain psychedelic actions, and people generically call it a psychedelic. But MDMA is not. It’s actually a methoxylated amphetamine. Amphetamines in high doses, even methamphetamine, for example, famously, can cause hallucinations and things like that. So amphetamines can be psychedelic in high doses. And MDMA is kind of like a… It’s a methoxylated amphetamine, it’s one of those types of things. And as I said, it’s not psychedelic like LSD, but it is a trip, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now that, because it’s an amphetamine, has an amphetamine aspect to it, there’s some data to show that long-term exposure to even low doses of MDMA can cause heart valve problems.
20:14 NG: That’s all very, very basic research. It’s not even about heart valve problems. It’s about serotonin2B… I can’t remember the sub-category of serotonin, but that’s at issue. So, again, I’m not a research scientist either, but however I’m a research enthusiast. And here’s a wonderful example of more research really needs to be done, and scientists say this all the time, more research needs to be done. But in this case with psychedelics, it’s really a gap. And especially since they’re so important, so huge, so valuable, the potential for psychedelics is so enormous, it’s frustrating and irrational for us as a society not to be funding more research into these wonderful substances with such extraordinary potential. So as far as microdosing is concerned then, that’s how I define it. And then that’s an issue, a danger issue, about using psychedelics in that way. Now, of course, there’s a contrast or an interface interaction between microdosing and larger trips and we can talk perhaps about that too if you like.
21:20 PA: Yeah, let’s go into that a little bit more. I remember when we spoke over the phone, I think this was maybe about a year ago, you had mentioned a metaphor which really stuck with me, which is that a high dose is like someone is shaking you to get the message. It’s a really intense, jarring experience. Whereas a microdose is more of a whisper. And so while with the high dose experience, it can almost act as somewhat of a jet fuel for the developmental process, because of that reason, with high potential reward also comes a higher risk, at least from my perception. So I was just wondering if you could talk about that in terms of the developmental process that you’ve constructed or began to understood in terms of spiritual maturity. What is that relationship between lower doses and high doses and facilitating that process?
22:11 NG: Well, I have this image in my mind about… Obviously, I’m an enthusiast of psychedelics and I’ve taken them myself many times. However, I’m not the type of person who will take a huge dose of LSD and stay at home and trip on my own, so to speak. I like to trip on my own, but with more modest doses. With a high dose, I would never trip on my own. And the analogy I have in my head, the image I have, is you know those fast cars that they test on the Nevada Salt Flats? I think they’re called the Nevada or Utah Salt Flats. And they do it ’cause it’s an evaporated lake bed, and it’s just flat as can be and it’s level. And they do that so they can go really fast without running into bumps. So I think about that as an LSD trip, a large LSD trip, that you’re doing now 500 miles an hour on the Nevada Salt Flats. And there’s a pebble on the ground and you run over it with your tire, and not’s because it’s a big pebble, but because you’re doing 500 miles an hour, it destabilizes you and you go off track.
23:23 NG: So that’s the way I think about psychedelics in large doses. If it were a small dose, the pebble wouldn’t bother me. The pebble, of course, is some issue or problem that I’m thinking about that occurs to me while I’m tripping. On a high dose, I’m afraid that it might derail me and so therefore, I want assistance or a context for that. But however, I don’t think that under… The FDA has a criteria for approval of drugs. It’s safety and efficacy. Of course, addictive potential too, but safety and efficacy. There used to be a commercial, for, I think it was Anacin Aspirin when I was growing up. And the tagline at the end was, “Anacin: Safe and effective when used as directed.” Safe and effective when used as directed. So that’s the way I think about psychedelics, and it’s not a coincidence that the Anacin commercial used the FDA criteria safe and effective. And the psychedelics are the same way. They’re safe and effective when used as directed. Now, nobody’s got too many good directions as to how you should use psychedelics these days ’cause they’re illegal and they’re culturally illicit.
24:28 NG: But I think the research literature showed repeatedly for decades, for 60 years now, that under the proper conditions, and I’ll tell you what I think “proper” is in a second. As directed, psychedelics are not unsafe even at high doses. So they’re not inherently unsafe at high doses, however, under proper conditions. If you’re doing it yourself and you’re going to a concert and you’re with people you don’t know that well, and you’re kind of tired and feeling sort of shitty, and then you take a big dose of psychedelic, caveat emptor, that’s dumb, don’t do that. But if you’re in a Shamanic context perhaps with people you love, people you know well, who know you, if you’re in this therapeutic context perhaps, or even a homey, family, loving, friendly context.
25:15 NG: There’s different conditions that should be in place that will… Again, in the literature shows repeatedly that they’re safe when used in the proper way. First of all, I wanna dispel the rumor or the misunderstanding that psychedelics at the higher doses, at least the doses that have been tested clinically, are really unsafe. Clearly, obviously there’s more danger to run into bumps on the road, but the literature has showed that even those who have difficult experiences, who have really difficult experiences and need counseling afterward, don’t have long-term negative consequences. They’re counseled and they’re… They come down and they’re fine, they’re fine.
26:00 NG: In fact, people frequently find that even difficult experiences… Notice that I’m not saying bad trips, because people who find even difficult… Most people who have difficult experiences find some time later, even years later, perhaps that those were amongst the most valuable experiences they’ve had. So I really think it’s more accurate to call them difficult trips rather than bad trips, ultimately. But to your point about the interplay or comparison between microdosing and larger dosing. Before I bring the two into the discussion, I wanna go, now just talk about microdosing again. There’s one potential danger to microdosing. And I don’t mean like a scary danger, but a danger of ineffectiveness.
26:41 NG: It’s possible that we could get used to the experience. It’s possible that through microdosing… Like I said earlier, the hoped for outcome is that over a period of weeks or months, that you will notice salutory changes: Greater maturity, greater awareness, awakeness, etcetera. In a sense, the effect that a significant LSD trip is supposed to give you after, after, after. If you do it on Saturday, I don’t mean like even on Monday. I mean like on Friday. When there’s absolutely no substance in you for sure, chemically completely out of your system. And if you had a really good time, a really good experience, a really growthful experience on Saturday, by Friday, you’re still feeling wonderful. But it’s not because of the substance, there’s no substance in you anymore. It’s the after effect of the growth, of the insight, right?
27:33 NG: So that’s what microdosing promises to do without the big Saturday night, dramatic and potentially traumatic draining type experience. So that’s the promise of microdosing. However, it might not be the case. It may be that microdosing is toxic to be exposed to these substances over a long period of time. And then, of course, it also may be that behaviorally, that hoped for outcome is actually not the one we find. It might be that we become almost bought off, in a way, or inoculated to spiritual growth, or to the hard work. And we’re feeling pretty good. And by the way, a lot of people have talked about microdosing in the context of corporate productivity or creativity. And that’s a very interesting aspect to microdosing, that it’s associated with corporate, and it’s associated with high tech, for example, and things like that.
28:28 NG: Whereas larger doses are associated with dropping out. Now, I’m not advocating dropping out, but nonetheless they are. And I don’t mean dropping out like becoming a drop-out and smoking pot all day. I’m talking about looking at society with a more critical eye and becoming a not so willing participant in the corporate, capitalist, industrial military environment that we find ourselves in. Is it really such a great idea for people to find peace of mind and spiritual happiness working for AT&T and American Express? You know what I mean? I’m not saying that outright, as a… It’s not my position, it’s just a question I have. Microdosing might be wonderful. It might be in some ways the panacea or the cure for what ails us a society. It’s conceivable. I don’t put too much hope on any one thing, but again, I’m not closing my mind to it.
29:32 NG: I’m just saying that we need to be open-minded and critical, in the neutral sense of the word “critical.” Observant and look at the research and find out what really is happening. So I’ll give you one last example of that negative before I talk about the two together. The idea of the becoming inured or inoculated. I read an article not too long ago about Modafinil, which is Provigil. And in the article, they were talking about that and also the ubiquity of caffeine in corporate settings, because Modafinil is sort of a stimulant as well. The example they gave was your boss comes to you and says, “I want you to add up these numbers all day long.” And you say, “Ugh. That’s boring, I can’t do that.” And he says, “Well, you gotta do it.”
30:18 NG: So you say, “Alright, alright, let me get a coup of coffee first.” So you drink a nice big cup of coffee and then you sit down to add the numbers. And because you’re all wired and everything, the actual numbering process is kind of stimulating and you say, “Well, that’s not so bad after all.” 20 years later, you wake up and you say, “Oh shit, I’ve been using this drug, caffeine, to make my boring, unacceptable life more tolerable and less noticeable, more acceptable. I’ve been cheering myself up, so to speak, so I can endure the terrible aspects of this job.” Instead of saying, “These are terrible aspects of this job. I wanna go do a different job. I wanna be an artist or I wanna whatever.” And Modafinil, of course, in that article, they were talking, and it’s a cautionary tale, has potentially the same potential effect.
31:06 NG: Well, microdosing, again, has that same potential. Again, it’s not a claim, it’s just we need to really be careful that microdosing doesn’t, in a way play… And if that negative, if that fear is justified, if it does inoculate us and make us happy and peaceful in environments where we should be more protesting, then, in that context, psychedelic use is something that would be supported by the powers that be. ‘Cause they don’t want uppity people complaining and being rebellious and protesting, they want people who are gonna be good hard workers. So, there’s some danger of microdosing being the darling child of corporate America. So I really wanna be careful about that. Alright, so now let me talk about the way that the two might work together.
32:00 NG: Let’s say that microdosing is not quite as dire as I fear, but maybe perhaps not quite as a slam dunk or as demonstrably effective as we hope. Let’s say it’s somewhere in between. In that case then, you can imagine a situation where taking a more substantial, more challenging, more illuminating dose of psychedelics on a periodic basis might be very, very helpful. And enable you to use your microdosing in a way that will then enable you to change your reality, your job, your relationships, whatever, to match the new perspective or the more open-minded or clear-sighted perspective that you gain rather than using it to just allow you to feel okay while you do a boring job.
32:55 NG: There was these two schools of thought, that psychedelic was one or a few relatively large doses, you’re supposed to get religion, see God, and change your life forever, and then in Europe, there was the Psycholytic approach, not the psychedelic approach. The psycholytic approach, the root lytic is as an anxiolytic is meant to reduce anxiety while psycholytic is meant to loosen your psyche. Psychedelic of course doesn’t mean mind manifesting as it’s often translated, but psyche is the Greek word for soul. Now, this is soul with a small s, it’s not a religious term. It’s just the deepest part of us. So psychedelics manifest the deepest part of us. They are soul manifesting. And psycholytic is soul loosening.
33:39 NG: So someone came up with a suggestion that they have a type of therapy called psychedelytic where you have maybe once a year you have a significant or major psychedelic experience, and then on a monthly basis, you have model sized trips interspersed with psychotherapy and that would be a model for that’s similar in a way to the way microdosing and let’s call it macrodosing might be used in concert with each other.
34:06 NG: So I think the occasional use of a substantially enlightening or illuminating, let’s call it, dose of psychedelics is natural to Homosapiens. I won’t say Homosapiens ’cause it, certainly not since we evolved in the earliest days but certainly in terms of civilization, we’ve had psychedelics as co-evolvers. And of course, tribal societies have psychedelics in their rites, used in their rites of passage. So I think that the same is true today, so a significant dose of a psychedelic perhaps, at the timing of a rite of passage to help one unfreeze the old personality structure, and reconfigure, re-gell in the new personality configuration. I think that’s really the role for psychedelics, I think, should going forward in societies probably going to be three-fold.
35:07 NG: First of all, in psychotherapy because society is under stress, and so there’s lots of need for psychotherapy. And then in a lower doses as an aid to meditation and rites of passage where we need to loosen our prior configuration, and reconfigure in a different way. For me, where the dust settles, I think that’s sort of what we’ll see as the primary uses for psychedelics. Significant, profound, enormously important to individuals and the society. All three of those applications.
35:40 PA: Or addicted or whatever it might be, how can people re-contextualize their own perceptions of self to break out of those labels and understand that they’re simply going through a developmental process?
35:53 NG: Well, that’s a wonderful question that you ask. It’s a very fundamental deep question because really, I think the whole… I talked about the medical model earlier and about calling people, clients not patients because there are sick people, there are bio-genetic structural brain problems, ultimately, we find that the serious mental illnesses have that sort of structural genetic component to them. I think of those as difficulties with the hardware, there are obviously software implications as well but then the types of people I see the majority of people I call normal, normal neurotics, if you will, including myself, everyone else other than those medical disorders. You might call it software problems if you will.
36:48 NG: And so, that as do a child-rearing, with the childhoods we have, the personalities we’ve adopted as defensive structures. Now, I say it’s defense structures because those things get buried deep down. This happens when we’re babies, and we’re not cognitively or in any other way socially or physically mature enough to process that kind of stress, psychological stress that poor parenting puts a child under and so we’ve evolved a method of defense called personality. So if the parents are very mean we might become very compliant, or we might become very rebellious. Anything to keep us safe. But those are strategies adopted after birth. It’s not our fundamental definition of what we are.
37:36 NG: Personality is often thought of as who we are but it ain’t. It’s who we’ve become, if you will. And so psychedelics is a tool, psychotherapy more broadly. Psychedelics is an aid to that process, help illuminate the structure of that process, the structure of the process, how we organized it, why we did it, where it comes from, what purpose it served, what it was like way back then, when it was so stressful and we didn’t understand. And also, quite importantly, how different we are now? The key fulcrum in psychotherapy between that produces outcome, there’s lots of them, but I think the key fulcrum is time. That very difference between a one-year-old and a 31-year-old. I mean, that in a sense is what drives the success of psychotherapy because as a one-year-old, you’re rightfully scared, because your vulnerable. And when you’re 31, you don’t have to be so scared ’cause you’re not so vulnerable anymore, and it’s very simple, but it’s really fundamental and very important.
38:36 NG: Okay. All of that deep stuff that goes on is normalistic, it’s naturalistic, it’s human nature. I talked about rights of passage, you can think of it as step-wise development where you hit a wall and you run out of runway of being a child, now, you gotta become an adult, but it’s difficult so you have a rite of passage and almost overnight you’re transformed to the new configuration. Well, that’s not neurosis. And if somebody, if a young person is having difficulty down here beating their head against the wall, the vertical part of the stair, if you will, of the step-wise development and some misguided helping professional comes along and gives them a drug, then they go to sleep down there, they lean against the wall and they take a snooze. Instead of keeping to beat their head against the wall until they… A miracle should occur and then a dramatic transformation. A quantum leap, if you will. That’s reconfiguration taking place quickly.
39:30 NG: So medicalizing that natural process which includes difficult spots that are painful and difficult and produce anxiety or depression. Medicalizing that process is malpractice. Let the physicians and the psychiatrists medicalize and deal with the structural problems in our brains but for the rest of us who’ve had developmental experiential post-birth, postnatal, developmental issues let’s not medicalize that. Everybody goes through that process, okay? So what we have however, having said that though, now in our society, we have industrial society, we’ve got a very operant mechanistic, Cartesian, Descartes, not a spiritual view but stripped down sort of mechanistic view of the way things work, including of course medicine.
40:27 NG: And in medicine, it’s kind of okay to some extent, like giving an antibiotic or setting a bone. But with the psychiatric aspect of medicine or psychedelics in particular it’s really inappropriate to have that operant sort of mechanistic approach. Not because it’s philosophically wrong, but because it’s ineffective, it’s not true, it’s not as true, it’s true to some extent. Yeah, we have a mechanism but it’s not fully true, it’s not deeply true or more broadly true and therefore more helpfully true. So this view of people as being sick or as taking this operant kinda mechanistic pharmaceutical approach to personal development and to the struggles or challenges or roadblocks or dead ends to personal development is as I say malpractice and inappropriate. So I think what’s happening both in psychiatry and in psychology, but also in society as a whole, is this sort of… It’ll take decades, really for… And facilitated and helped by the re-introduction of psychedelics into western civilization. Now we are sort of awakening and not just as individuals through psychedelic therapy, but as a society.
41:45 NG: And psychedelics is helping that process. Globalization, the internet, there’s lots of things that are facilitating that transcendent process that we’re going through now, as a society, as a civilization. So I think it’s a redefinition of reality in a way and it sounds kind of woo-woo but I don’t mean it that way. Because right now we have an immature definition of reality as being largely, solely, solely mechanistic. And that we need to reconfigure that in a broader context. Just the way Einstein in relativity reconfigured Newton in a broader context. I mean, Einstein came along, he didn’t disprove Newtown, the apple still drops and gravity still works. But he reconfigured Newton in a broader context, and that’s exactly what’s happening in society and psychedelics are facilitating that process.
42:36 PA: It’s so fascinating that you brought this up, ’cause I just had… I did another interview earlier today with Bernardo Kastrup. Do you know Bernardo, at all?
42:43 NG: Not personally, but I know his work.
42:45 PA: And we talked about this exact thing this transition from materialism or physicalism is what he called it, into idealism and pan-psychism in terms of consciousness exists and everything and everything is sentient. And he talked about when Newtonian Mechanics became more mainstream in the early 19th century, and then you had Einstein who came up in the early 20th and how we still haven’t reconfigured or adapted to those new models. It was like everything that you were mentioning is just was like hitting on all those points.
43:19 NG: Yeah. Well you know, the only thing I would add to that is I would like to stress and emphasize, you said “Everything, consciousness is in everything” or something like that, and the word everything. Because everything, there’s still the thing, the thing, the physical object. We are still animals, we are still, we’ve got that foundation. And even though at the sub-atomic or the quantum mechanical level it’s all just patterned energy, and there really is no physical object. Nonetheless in our lives as animals, we can transcend. We don’t want to annihilate the ego for example. The ego is a wonderful tool. We need to recontextualize. Understand the ego better and really position our identity from the ego, where we placed it when we were under duress as children and reposition it back to our deepest selves, to our soul, spelt with a small “s”, where it originated.
44:18 NG: And in perfect parenting, which there’s never been of course, but in perfect parenting, it would be like sun shining on a seed, with optimal soil, optimal water, optimal sunshine and the seed would grow up completely straight and branch out in all the exact perfect ways like the perfect Christmas tree, if you will. There’s never been such a thing. But we can talk, it could be helpful to think about, “Well what would optimal parenting be? And what would be the effect of optimal parenting in theory?” And of course the effect of optimal parenting in theory would be the nurturance of the soul, up through developmental stages without having to resort to the defense mechanism of a personality. But again, that’s never happened and never will. But as a model for what the fundamental process is it’s very helpful to think of it in those terms as well.
45:06 PA: That really helps. Well, I just wanna, I wanna kind of hit on one last question to which is talking about, I remember reading this on your Facebook feed and we’ve had discussions about this before in terms of the way that psychedelics are currently being reintegrated into western culture and society is largely through the medical model. And from many people’s perspectives that’s, it’s an important step and a necessary step forward, but it also isn’t the end of the game. So Rick Doblin has been very public even about this and saying, the whole point of medicalizing MDMA is to eventually get it to become legalized, and whatnot, so that people who don’t suffer from PTSD, can also utilize it. So my question is just what’s your understanding both on a short-term level, so in the next maybe five to 10 years, but maybe also just in a kind of longer term abstract level, how will the reintegration of psychedelics into our culture change potentially the way that we approach medicine, but also just change the way that we contextualize our relationship with ourselves and things outside of ourselves?
46:18 NG: I said before the re-reintroduction of psychedelics. And it’s a cute catch of phrase to point out that psychedelics were in western civilization already in antiquity, and up through the first few centuries AD with the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece, for example, that used a potent LSD-like psychedelic, it’s said. So then, of course, there was the… So there was the reintroduction, it was already had been in place, then there was the reintroduction in the ’60s, which because of the confrontational nature of the approach, didn’t work, and caused a backlash, and now we’re in the re-reintroduction of psychedelics to Western civilization. And so far, society is having a pretty good trip this time and the data are coming in well, the process is sober and people are serious and professional and so… And thankfully, because the cohort has changed. In the ’50s, and ’60s, the heads of the FDA and the DEA for example, were out of the Bible world, in the ’50s and earlier, but nowadays the heads of those agencies, are, if not liberals, perhaps they are, but if not liberals at least they were down the hall in the ’60s in the dormitory from the guy who took LSD every day and he’s, or every week, and he’s a lawyer now.
47:47 NG: Or the other guy who took amphetamines to study and he’s a physician now. Or who knows what? So they may not approve of it, or they may not think it’s wonderful, but they know it’s not the devil’s work. And so, to their credit, the FDA, for example and others have allowed the research to proceed. They’re not funding it for example and that’s a problem. There’s lots of problems, but it’s a very different age cohort than it was back then. So anyway, the re-reintroduction is going fairly well now. You mentioned also that Rick said the reason, the whole reason we have medical is so that we can have legal. And I just… I understand the comment and I support it, but legal has to be defined.
48:30 NG: Because people think of legal as like, the catch phrases you buy, next to the aspirin in the drug store. And it’s gotta be specified that, again, these are very, very powerful substances, and there are various contexts in which they are most effectively or most safely used. Safety and efficacy once again. So if you look at the research data on MDMA for example, all the research studies are, the names of the studies and the way they’re contextualized and the way they’re designed, is MDMA-assisted or facilitated psychotherapy and psilocybin-assisted or facilitated psychotherapy.
49:04 NG: They’re all being contextualized in the context of some context. And in the medical model, it’s gonna be psychotherapy or there can be a shamanic model, more broadly speaking, in my opinion. But generally speaking, the substances, and they can be used alone, lots of people use them solo or with friends, they’re not, with good knowledge and understanding they can be used safely in that way, I guess as well. But it’s not optimal and it’s not as safe as it possibly could be. So as far as legalization is concerned, I think there’s two efforts already underway in Colorado and in Oregon for legalization of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy.
49:43 NG: And it’s not a legalization of psilocybin, like the medical marijuana legalization, where you have a dispensary and you can pick it up and take it home and smoke it. The psychedelic ballot initiatives aren’t being structured in that way. So when they are “legalized,” they will still be regulated. And remember, there’s lots and lots of dangerous things we do in society. Almost everything is dangerous in a way. And there’s various regulations and permitting or licensing processes that are associated with those. So you wanna drive a boat? You gotta take the Red Cross sailing course or whatever.
50:19 NG: You wanna do, life-saving, you gotta take the course, you wanna drive a car, you have to get a license, you wanna be a doctor, it takes many years and then, you get licensed. So skydiving, I don’t know what it is, an afternoon of training and then you can take a jump. So there’s various degrees of danger and various societal responses to them. And psychedelics are gonna be the same way. There’ll be some kind of regulatory approach to it. So now in terms of near-term and long-term you asked. It’s a great question, because people talk about that we’re in the psychedelic renaissance. The psychedelic renaissance. It’s not true. We’re in the psychedelic research renaissance. That’s true, that’s beautiful and true.
50:58 NG: And by the way, like I said, they don’t fund it, there’s not enough studies. You can count the number of studies on two hands really, or maybe two hands and two feet. There’s really not that many ongoing. And given the profundity, the importance, the potential of these substances, there should be hundreds of studies going on about psychedelics. So there’s lots of problems, but nonetheless, we are having what you can call, modestly refer to as a psychedelic research renaissance. But the psychedelic renaissance, without the research part as a modifier, hasn’t started yet, that’s gonna start in five or 10 years, when these substances, we hope will be rescheduled, not legalized but rescheduled and therefore made available.
51:39 NG: The highest schedule, Schedule 1, is where drugs that ostensibly have no medical value and are not safe to be administered even by a physician. So they’re not effective and they’re not safe and they may very well have addictive potential as well. So they put drugs that are bad. Now the classification system is fine. There are drugs like that. Unfortunately, Marijuana is classified for example as Schedule 1, well that’s absurd because we all know it’s not as dangerous as that even if it’s dangerous at all. And it may be dangerous, there may be some addictive potential for Marijuana, for example. So it’s not that they’re perfectly safe, but the way they’re assigned to the different categories is a political process unfortunately. With the categories, Schedule 1, there are drugs like that. Alright, well but every other schedule other than Schedule 1, a physician can prescribe it. Now that doesn’t mean that he can prescribe it and give it to you to take home. There’s regulations. So for example, Cocaine is Schedule 2, Morphine is Schedule 2, I’m trying to think of what else.
52:41 NG: There’s lots of drugs that are dangerous, but have some medical application and are safe to be used under the supervision of a physician according to the FDA, and those drugs are not Schedule 1. Okay. So once psychedelics are rescheduled from Schedule 1 to either Schedule 2 or in or even 3 perhaps, then they will be available much much more broadly. Now there will still be regulations and the physicians will still have to report when they use it and perhaps most likely they will not, of course, at first especially, they will not be allowed to prescribe it in any way that enables the patient to take it home. And it’ll have to be psychedelic-assisted or facilitated psychotherapy so it’ll have to be… It’ll be regulated those ways, but it will be available and once it’s available. And there were already training programs like the California Institute for Integral Studies, has a psychedelic training program for professionals. So there are already training programs in anticipation of re-regulation, of rescheduling. And so when that happens, then we get the wide broad scale re-reintroduction of psychedelics into Western Society.
53:52 NG: We get a variety, a thousand flowers blooming of different applications, applications that were explored in the ’60s that have not been explored more recently because of the political climate will begin to be explored again. And I’m hoping that… Those are at the sort of individual or clinical levels but of course at societal level, that’s when the psychedelic renaissance truly emerges. I think of it almost like, as a spiral. Where we begin down here in the tribal setting, happy as clams. This is all a bit of an exaggeration of course, but having psychedelics in our rite of passage, but dying at 30 of an infection. So we sort of developed our frontal lobes our opposable thumbs and our binocular vision, and we survived so much better, and now we’re not in the tribal setting anymore, we’re in an industrial setting, we live to be 90, but we are alienated from nature, Descartes. So now we have to heal the Cartesian split, come back to a sort of around the spiral all the way back to a sort of a neo-pastoralism. But one level up with our eyes open, Buddhist style this time. So that’s the broad scale process that I think we’re going through and the re-reintroduction of psychedelics as a facilitator is really significant.
55:08 PA: I think that’s a great way to end it. I think of the burning man ethos within that framework, the neo-tribalistic framework. And we’re seeing so many other representations of that as well like diet and the way that we exercise and the way that we sleep. We’re learning all these things about our evolutionary history as humans that we can now combine with like you said the IB and open mind of technology and we’re seeing this beautiful marriage, of modern technology with primitive wisdom. I know one of the things that I often think about is how great it would be to set up a neo-tribalistic community in an island off of Panama for example, I have a good friend who you know Anthony Adams.
55:51 NG: Oh sure.
55:52 PA: Who’s going down, I think next week, to visit an island in Panama that he’s trying to raise money for and then building out I think neo-tribalistic communities in places like that, will be increasingly popular as we move into this.
56:06 NG: Yes, and collectively affecting hopefully national and global politics as well. Look one thing I wanna leave you with is that for me the one word I use as a sort of a great model or lens to view all of this, is the word maturity or maturation. And so, what’s wonderful about that is that I’ve been talking about the individual, about psychotherapy, we’ve also talking about society. But those two things are surprisingly linked, not surprisingly, it’s not surprisingly or linked, but surprisingly similar. The maturational process, the stages of development, immaturity, getting back in touch with the past as individuals or as modern people in tribal settings, getting, taking tribal wisdom.
56:57 NG: There’s so many parallels or corollaries between the two correspondences, correlations and it’s very instructive, ’cause if you’re looking at the societal level, and you’re having some difficulty understanding it, overlay the individual maturation process and you say, “Oh yeah, right, we’re in our teenage years,” for example. Or if you’re looking at the individual and finding some difficulty in really understanding, overlay the cultural evolution on it. You say, “Oh yes, we’re entering modernism now,” or Descartes or something like that. So they’re useful models to help each other ’cause they really are integrally linked, so I’ll leave you with that.