THIRD WAVE PODCAST

How To Prevent Another Psychedelic Backlash

Episode 32

Don Lattin

Author Don Lattin joins us to discuss the direction of the psychedelic movement, and how we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. We hear about the psychedelic experiences that shaped Don’s interest in the spiritual, and how plant medicines have changed his life for the better.

Podcast Highlights

  • Don has extensive experience covering religion and spirituality for the SF Chronicle
  • Believes that to avoid another cultural backlash against psychedelics, we need to play by the rules
  • Natural psychedelics, used in traditional context, helped Don quit antidepressants

For years, Don worked as a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, writing about spirituality and religion. The large number of spiritual-but-non-religious groups in San Francisco gave him plenty to write about… and he was no stranger to the thriving psychedelic community. Since 2006, Don has been writing books about religion and spirituality, including “The Harvard Psychedelic Club” and “Changing Our Minds.”

Don believes that the counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s set back the acceptance of psychedelics, in some ways. Timothy Leary’s brash approach to spreading the word of psychedelic enlightenment is partially to blame, says Don. If we are serious about getting psychedelics accepted into mainstream society, we need to learn from the mistakes of the Second Wave of psychedelics.

To avoid provoking another backlash, we need to take a measured approach to psychedelics, Don believes. He highlights the work of research institutions like MAPS and the Hefter institute, who are careful to work within the system, and keep psychedelics within the view of mainstream science.

Despite the good work that researchers are doing, it will only take one big media scandal to set things back. So far the media has treated psychedelic research with a positive spin, says Don – but it could all change in an instant. Don paints a picture of the Third Wave of psychedelics as teetering on a cliff-edge. It’s going to be difficult, he posits, to keep everything on track.

We need to be especially cautious with promoting psychedelics due to the trauma they can induce if not used appropriately. A good example of this is Don’s first experiences with psychedelics. He first took LSD at 19, and describes it as a beautiful, profound experience – he saw God, Mother Earth, and the meaning of life. Merely a month or two later, he tripped again – but this time had a nightmare experience that traumatized him and left him suffering from flashbacks.

The experience meant that he avoided psychedelics for decades. Then he decided he wanted to experience psychedelic plant medicines in their traditional context, with guidance and support. His experiences with psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca were a world apart from his nightmare LSD trip from his youth, and have helped him to stop taking antidepressant medications.

Overall Don believes that we can change people’s minds about psychedelics if we use them responsibly, respect their traditional context, and promote their medical benefits. It will be possible to achieve a smooth transition into the Third Wave of psychedelics – but it might not be easy.

Podcast Transcript

00:29 Paul Austin: Hey, listeners, and welcome back to The Third Wave Podcast. For any of you first time listeners, my name is Paul Austin, and I’m the host of the podcast. For all of you consistent listeners, thank you again for tuning in for psychedelic podcast. So for this week I personally am back in my parent’s home, I’m spending a couple of weeks at home, actually, by myself. My parents are up in Banff and Jasper so I’m down shifting, taking some time off of work and trying to come to terms with what’s happened over the past six months, as it’s been a very busy and hectic and crazy and awesome last six months.

01:03 PA: But also, there’s a lot of new things to process and trying to figure out what’s next. I will be in New York for about a month, August 7th to September 6th or 7th. So if any of you listeners live in New York and you’d like to meet up for dinner or something like that, I think we could definitely do a meet-up, just send me an email or a message or something like that. But I will be in New York for one month working on a couple projects at Third Wave.

01:25 PA: One of which is we’re launching a microdosing online course to help people overcome certain barriers or hurdles that are currently preventing them from starting a microdosing regimen, as well as helping people who have already started a microdosing regimen to really get the most out of it. Because it seems as if microdosing is like jet fuel and for some people if they don’t know how to fully utilize it, create the appropriate container for it, it can also head in negative directions. We wanna make sure that people can create the best experience possible for themselves. So we’re building out an online course. We’re also looking at releasing a couple of physical things like a microdosing kit and a few other things, more details on that later. Anyway, that’s why I’m going to New York is to meet up with a couple of people who I’m working on projects with and shoot some HD videos for the microdosing online course that we will be releasing fairly soon.

02:12 PA: So, yeah, those are just some quick developments, internally. Let’s hop into this week in psychedelics and then after that I’ll get into details about our guest Don Lattin for this week. So, for this week in psychedelics, interesting news, a study partially funded by the Beckley Foundation has just been published, showing that alkaloids present in ayahuasca can help adult neurons grow. This was in-vitro, which is important to note. But it could be one of the ways that ayahuasca helps to treat depression by enabling neuroplasticity in adult humans. Preliminary results from the study were shown a few months ago by the Beckley Foundation, and we at Third Wave are now excited to get our hands on the full study. We will definitely write a review of the research very soon, and in fact, it will probably be part of a larger piece or a larger series about the potential for psychedelics to trigger neurogenesis or enable neuroplasticity, and the role that plays in alleviating symptoms of depression, or addiction, or other things like that.

03:06 PA: So this is some exciting news. It’s kind of confirming or validating some of my own presuppositions or hypotheses about what microdosing is doing. It’s definitely enabling neuroplasticity, it’s helping people adapt quicker, become smarter, and I think that’s likely because of what it’s doing to neuron growth. Second announcement: Videos from Breaking Convention are now up on the Breaking Convention YouTube channel, and we have the phenomenal Rosalind Stone who will be writing a review of Breaking Convention for Third Wave which will be published probably quite soon. So go to Breaking Convention’s YouTube channel if you wanna check that out. I don’t know if my talk personally has been uploaded yet. I checked a couple of days ago and it wasn’t yet up. Hopefully, they’ll get it up soon. So I gave a talk about microdosing as a tool for psychedelic normalization. It more or less hits on a lot of the same points that I made in an article published on both Psymposia and VolteFace about microdosing being the key to changing the cultural conversation about psychedelics. So Breaking Convention talks are now up.

04:03 PA: Our last little announcement. There is a DMTx research project, which is looking for volunteers or donation, the project aims to extend the DMT trip, using anesthetic techniques, in order to learn more about an extended state DMT experience and you can apply to be involved in that now at DMTx.org, D-M-T-X dot org. Typically, a DMT experience lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. It would be interesting to enter that head space for a longer period of time and understand really what’s going on, and I think that’s what this research is attempting to accomplish. DMT, I just read a piece the other day, or I saw it on social media, about how people are basically rigging e-cigarette vaporizers to now smoke DMT. It’s not something that I have personally done but it sounds really fascinating. I think DMT will become increasingly popular as people seek to heal certain things, and deal with certain things, but they don’t wanna go through a 12-hour experience like LSD or even a six-hour experience like psilocybin mushrooms. DMT can often enable you to break through certain barriers or confront certain traumas in a short period of time and then deal with them.

05:12 PA: In fact, when I had my first DMT experience, about a year and a half ago, in San Cristobal with a close friend, I went into a similar head space as when I had a bad trip on psilocybin mushrooms, five or six years ago, and it was dealing with the trauma that I faced when I was 20 years old when I got caught by the police for selling illicit substances, cannabis primarily. And that was very traumatic for me, and a lot of shit came about in my life as a result of that. About three months after that happened, three to four months, I took a high dose of psilocybin mushrooms with friends and had my first challenging experience, and it was because of dealing with that trauma and that shame that comes with living in our culture around drug use. And I never really dealt with that, completely. So often I would over compensate for my own enthusiasm about drugs as a result of not dealing with that. And it wasn’t until I smoked DMT, and I really didn’t even take off, like totally blasted off. I just went into this really, really weird head space, and I confronted that trauma again, and it was quick, just 10 minutes or so, and I came out of that and was able to process it and deal with it and have now been able to integrate that and move past that.

06:00 PA: And I think just kind of going off that note, this trauma that we all have, living in a sick weird culture where substances like cannabis and LSD aren’t accepted and that we are shamed and stigmatized for using them, that’s obviously a trauma that we’ve all gone through and that we’ve all been through as drug users, ourselves. So, my experience with DMT was really quite powerful. And if any of you have had similar experiences you probably understand what I’m talking about.

06:45 PA: Yeah, so this week in psychedelics, ayahuasca, neuroplasticity, in-vitro, videos for Breaking Convention and looking at extended state DMT experiences you can apply to be involved now. Let’s transition into the podcast for this week, which is with author Don Lattin who wrote, and is best known for writing, The Harvard Psychedelic Club, which I believe is up on my shelf right to the left of me. That was a big hit, maybe, 10 or 15 years ago, it was about Richard Alpert, who is now called Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Andrew Weil, and Huston Smith, who recently passed away, and the conflicts of their stories at Harvard in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

07:23 PA: And Don has recently published a new book called Changing Our Minds, which I found to be the most comprehensive book so far about the current state of psychedelic research. I met Don at Psychedelic Science outside of a conference hall, basically told him about the podcast, told him that I would love to interview him for the podcast to help continue to amplify the message that he’s bringing with his book. I think it’s a great book for anyone who’s interested in where psychedelics are right now in terms of the research that’s been going on with MDMA, and psilocybin, in terms of what’s happening with ayahuasca in the Amazon, in terms of what’s been going on with ibogaine treatment centers in Mexico, and other places, it really gives this full comprehensive picture of where psychedelics stand, and that’s why I wanted to interview Don.

08:08 PA: Basically, we talk about the direction of the psychedelic movement, how we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. You’ll hear the generational difference between Don and I within this conversation, which I think is interesting. And we also hear about the psychedelic experiences that shaped Don’s interest in the spiritual and how plant medicines have changed his life for the better. I really enjoyed this podcast. Don was a great person to talk to and I think it’s probably one of the better podcasts that we’ve published, and I think you guys will really, really, really, enjoy it. And if you do enjoy it, please leave a review on iTunes. That would mean a lot to us. And we also have our Patreon page at patreon.com/thethirdwave, if you’d like to become a supporter of our podcast. With that being said, I now introduce Don Lattin.

[music]

09:07 Don Lattin: For years I worked as a reporter at San Francisco Chronicle, a staff writer and a columnist. And I spent most of that time writing about spirituality, religion, humanistic psychology, for the newspaper. Everything from kind of the craziest images, thoughts you can imagine, to the Roman Catholic Church, which some people might say is a crazy thought.

[laughter]

09:29 DL: So I… In 2006 I took a buyout, an early retirement from the paper. The newspaper business was shrinking…

09:36 PA: Dramatically.

09:37 DL: Disappearing. Yeah, I was ready to get out anyway. I’d already done a few books. I was on an unpaid leave, working on another book called Jesus Freaks, nothing to do with psychedelics. And so I just took a buyout. So I’ve been working on books basically full time for the last 10 years.

09:54 PA: Okay, and what inspired… Let’s start with kind of writing about religion and humanism. What inspired that, how did you get into that originally?

10:03 DL: Well, I was sitting at my desk at the newspaper and the clouds opened and God said, “Don, come do my work.”

[laughter]

10:11 PA: Let’s spread the message, people need to hear it.

10:15 DL: I wasn’t known as one of the more religious, or spiritual guys in the office. Not that there are very many of those anyway in a newspaper office.

10:22 PA: Right. Sure.

10:22 DL: To tell you the truth one of the reasons… There’s actually a sort of a semi-serious answer about why I got interested in meditation and spirituality, which has to do with psychedelics and some experiences I had back in, originally, in college, which kind of opened me up to that. So that’s one reason.

10:40 DL: Another reason, probably the main reason was before that I was transportation writer at the newspaper. And I got really tired of writing about buses breaking down and the rapid transit system breaking down, going to meetings at the airport commission, or at the golden gate bridge district board. So I was looking for anything else to do and they were thinking about having a full-time religion reporter at the paper, which they hadn’t had for many years. And I don’t know if you remember the Jones Town Story: People’s Temple. It was a religious cult…

11:12 PA: Jim Jones.

11:12 DL: Yeah Jim Jones. 900 people died…

11:15 PA: Drank the Kool-Aid.

11:16 DL: And that’s where drank the Kool-Aid comes from. In a mass murder suicide. They didn’t know that some of them were murdered. They were mostly from San Francisco, so that was a huge story in San Francisco. And people forget that Jim Jones was not considered a crazy cult leader for most of his career. He was a respected minister, an aggressive minister in San Francisco. Disciples of Christ, a mainline church. So anyway the paper thought that if they would have had someone covering religion full-time they would have been more up to speed on what was happening with this guy. So that’s the motivation for the newspaper to start a religion beat again, or a religion… A specialist just in religion. So there’s lots of things going on and I had been writing about new religious movements, which is the politically correct way of saying cults. ‘Cause cult is a loaded word.

12:00 PA: Yeah.

12:00 DL: Cult is somebody else’s religion.

[laughter]

12:03 PA: Yeah like Mormonism, people would say.

12:04 DL: Yeah, well, I mean Mormonism is now considered a world religion. But it started, it was the most persecuted cult in history. I mean people were murdered, chased across the country. Mormon persecution is amazing, there were wars, there were literally wars, with the US Army and the Mormons. I mean. So yeah, there’s a fascinating history of new religious movements in America. It was basically founded by new religious movements, right?

12:31 DL: So I didn’t expect to write about it for more than a few years. My pattern was I’d write about a subject for a few years. You know, I’d do interesting stories, get bored and move on to something else. So that’s what I thought I would do with religion, but there was just so much to write about, especially in a place like the area, San Francisco Bay area. And I wound up doing it for 20 years. So there’s a lot of… There were a lot of reasons for it. I went into it as a journalist. Just great stories to tell. A lot of it was about politics, you know, religion in politics, the anti-abortion movement, the religious rights.

13:00 DL: There was a lot going on in the Catholic Church, including the sex abuse scandal, it was a huge story, I wrote a lot about that. But I also wrote a lot about people who called themselves spiritual, but not religious. And there are a lot of those in the Bay Area, it’s a very eclectic part of the country. And a lot of those people are… Or some of those people are interested in psychedelic exploration because those are people that are really about the experience of religion rather than the dogma and the doctrine, and denominations and all that. So, I’ve always been drawn in that area. So, the psychedelic… My work in the psychedelic field or the psychedelic story is kinda one part of that. I see it as part of this broader movement of people trying to connect mind, body, and spirit through any means, whatever means necessary. Whatever works.

13:45 PA: And do you think that might be partly responsible for the success of Harvard Psychedelic Club? And, kind of, what I perceive as happening now is what was a smaller counter-culture movement in the ’60s and ’70s, of this connection of mind, body, and spirit, seems to now be becoming more of a mainstream cultural phenomena, today. So I’m just trying to tie those pieces together in terms of how you have seen that grow in your career in terms of the interest in that?

14:09 DL: Well, I think… Why Harvard Psychedelic Club was a bestseller? I don’t know, that’s kind of a mystery.

[laughter]

14:15 DL: I wish I could figure it out and write another one.

14:17 PA: Just do the formula again, right?

14:18 DL: Really what is, is the publisher decides in advance that this is gonna be their favorite book. And that was a big publisher Harper Collins.

14:25 PA: Okay, gotcha.

14:26 DL: So, my other book, my last book was a very small publisher, Changing Our Minds. So, that’s the main reason, is the size of the publisher, and they decide this is a really interesting book, we’re gonna promote it. We’re going to send you on a big national book tour. We’re going to advertise. You know, so, a lot of it is, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in the publishing business today, and Harper Collins really was excited about the book and backed it and it really did great.

14:50 DL: But, it’s a great story and the subtitle of the book is how Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Andy Weil and Huston Smith killed the ’50s and ushered in a new age for America; new age is not my word. But anyway, that’s the idea that it really was kind of a turning point in the culture, a lot of ways in the early ’60s. I mean, politically, the whole sexual liberation movement, the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the psychedelic counter-culture, there was so much going on in the ’60s, so much change. And, also, so much divisiveness. I mean it was a really interesting time. And this was one way to kinda tell that story through the lives of these four guys. And in their own way, they really dig away the foundation for what later became known as, for lack of a better word, the new age movement or the spiritual but non-religious movement or integrative health with Andy Weil, and a new way of looking at religion, a more open eclectic way of looking at religious experience.

15:52 DL: And Huston Smith, who was the religion scholar of the four gentleman I profiled, he had a lot to do with laying the foundation for that, opening people up to this idea that it’s not just about my religion that’s true, other religions my have truth in them, too, and when you have a powerful spiritual experience it blasts you beyond these categories. So it was just a great way and as a writer, as a story-teller it was a wonderful way to humanize what was going on and just look at where these four lives intersected and then what happened. And so, I really enjoyed that format. It was the first book I wrote as a group biography. And that’s why I’m trying do it again with Distilled Spirits, which looked back on another generation.

16:38 PA: Now, what commonalities do you see between that? Because you did all that research and you probably lived through some of it yourself, in terms of…

16:44 DL: I did. I got the tail end of it.

16:45 PA: Yeah. Yeah. The ’60s and ’70s, what commonalities do you see between that time period and what we’re going through now?

16:50 DL: That’s an interesting question and I think a lot of what’s happening in the current psychedelic research movement, the psychedelic exploration movement, people are trying to sort of not make some of the same mistakes as we did in the first wave, trying to really not be counter-culture, trying to make this as part of the mainstream culture. And that’s what Rick Doblin is trying to do in some way in MAPS. And actually with the Heffter Research Institute, they’re even more concerned of staying mainstream. It was kind of an interesting different approach that those two organizations have, which are the leading funders of this new wave of psychedelic research.

17:28 DL: But it is kind of building on the work that was done in the ’50s and ’60s, there were literally thousands of research papers written about psychedelic drugs, and using it in a therapeutic context, or creativity, or just to understand the workings of the mind, or to understand mental illness. There was all that work that was done. So, what’s going on now is, this new wave of researchers are trying to build on that past and avoid some of the mistakes, some of them naivety, some of the grandiosity. You know, Timothy Leary was a brilliant guy, but he had a lot of character flaws and a lot of people blame Leary for actually setting back academic research. And there’s some truth to that, it was more complicated than that, but… So, it’s building on that past, that first wave and then learning from the mistakes.

18:20 PA: What do you think… Let’s dig into that a little bit more in terms of what happened in the ’60s. What’s your take? Why was there such a backlash against not only psychedelics, but general kind of these mindfulness practices, the integrative health, the meditation, which seem to be a cultural…

18:36 DL: Well, I don’t really think there was a backlash against the integrative health or meditation. I think that’s been building and almost mainstream. In terms of the psychedelics, what happened in the ’60s is the psychedelic counter-culture got kind of wrapped up with the political counter-culture. Politically speaking, I think what happened is, and this is actually clear, I mean the Nixon administration, they realized that they couldn’t throw people in jail for what they were saying, or thinking, they could throw them in jail for breaking drug laws.

19:07 DL: So, there was a very conscious effort by Haldeman, Ehrlichman, these are the guys who worked with Nixon, to basically use the drug laws to crack down politically on their enemies. And there was… There’s a… I can’t remember the exact quote, but it’s in my new book and it is basically, I think it was Ehrlichman, who was one of Nixon’s top, is saying that, basically saying that’s how we can go after these people. And there is this whole history of demonizing drugs, it’s often that there is a political agenda. You’re going after a particular group. Whether it’s Irish immigrants with prohibition and drinking, or whether it’s hippies and the new left in the ’60s. There was that, Richard Nixon famously called Timothy Leary the most dangerous man in America. To which Leary said, “I’m not worried. I have America surrounded.” Classic Leary line.

19:56 DL: So, there was that. But it’s not that simple. It wasn’t just political. The backlash against a lot of the psychedelic drug research was really part of a crack down on irresponsible drug experimentation, not just with psychedelics but with all kinds of new drugs, with Big Pharma. It was amazing how few controls and safeguards there were for using human subjects for drug research. I’m not talking about psychedelic drug research, any drug research. So there was some big scandals about huge problems and people dying and being disabled because of drug research, not psychedelic drug research. There was also the whole culture, the Food and Drug Administration was developing these guidelines to protect human subjects, which was a good thing.

20:37 DL: So it wasn’t just a political thing against psychedelics. It was really part of being much more cautious about developing new drugs, testing them, and bringing them to market, especially when you’re using human subjects. That was as much of it as the politics. So there’s a lot of factors in it. So it’s way too easy to blame Timothy Leary. What you can, in some ways, blame Leary for is the response that the universities had to it, because he came out of the university. He was a clinical psychologist at Harvard. He was an academic, so it became like poison for your academic career after Leary and Alpert got together at Harvard to want to research this stuff. So I think if you want to blame Leary, you can blame him for a lot of what happened in the university world. The bigger picture is more complicated.

21:23 PA: And I think that’s why some of the prominent psychedelic researchers from these institutions today will have that narrative because that’s their perspective, because they are trying to basically reinvigorate that work in these really qualified institutions. And so I think, I don’t think that narrative still exists in the psychedelic space, I think we’ve been working through it, but I know in the past there were some researchers who said, “Look, we don’t want to repeat the Timothy Leary mistake.”

21:48 DL: Yeah, maybe 10 years ago or 20 years ago.

21:49 PA: Yeah, yeah. What we’re going through now, do you see an ability to make those same mistakes? Or do you think the psychedelic space right now and where it is with what MAPS is doing and Beckley is doing, have we built in enough resilience? Have we learned enough of our lessons from the past that we will avoid what happened before? Or do you think there’s something going on with this whole far right political movement with Trump and everything that might bring that back?

22:14 DL: Well, that’s an interesting question. I think the research that is being done by MAPS and Heffter and Beckley, I’m not as familiar with the Beckley research, but from my understanding is, especially… Let’s talk about MAPS and Heffter in the US. They are being very cautious and very careful. They are following the FDA protocol to the letter, which is why it takes so long and is so time-consuming. And they’re basically trying to develop MDMA/psilocybin protocol that’s really designed for other kinds of drugs. Psychedelic drugs are completely different.

22:46 DL: So a lot of people question the whole medical model and the fact that they’re doing this at all and MAPS is spending $30 million and it’s taking 30 years to do this. Is that really the best use of their time and energy? And that’s an interesting question and I get that. In Changing Our Minds, I like to talk about it. A lot of people question that. But that’s the game we have to play. If you want to decriminalize these drugs, at least to the point that doctors can prescribe them and therapists can use them, you have to play that game. And everybody knows that’s not really the most efficient way to even test these things. Basically, we know these drugs can be safe to use, so it’s proving something everybody already knows.

23:23 DL: So I think they are learning from the mistakes, they’re trying to stay within the system. And Rick Doblin, more than anyone else, has devoted his life to working within the system, which is not what they were doing to the ’60s. People forget what a divisive time that was. What side were you on? Us versus them. The straight world and the hippy world. It was really more divided. And that’s a good thing that, I think, the mainstream culture is more open to this for lots of reasons. That was the first part of your question, I think, what was the other?

23:56 PA: What maybe… Going on that point, with the Trump Administration, because we are now seeing the same level of divisiveness, or it seems to be getting to that point.

24:03 DL: Right. The interesting… I was talking to Rick Doblin about this, and he said that actually Trump could help the psychedelic research because they deal mostly with the FDA, the Food and Drug and Administration, which is supposed to be apolitical. Compared to the Justice Department and the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, it is less political. They’re supposed to follow the science. Of course, relying on the Trump Administration to follow the science when they don’t even acknowledge global warming is another question. But because one of the things that Trump wants to do, and the new guy that Trump put in charge of the FDA, whose name is Gottlieb, it’s all about deregulating Big Pharma to make it easier for Big Pharma to bring new drugs to market. So it actually, in this counterintuitive way, Trump could help them because they’re trying to streamline the regulatory process to make it easier to bring drugs to market. So there may be this weird shift because of that. And in a funny way, it could make it easier for them to bring MDMA to market. On the other hand, the DEA does have to issue licenses for this research.

25:11 DL: And that’s the Justice Department, and that’s Jeff Sessions who is clearly a big anti-marijuana crusader. I would be more worried if I was concerned about marijuana, medical marijuana issues than I would about the clinical trials with psilocybin and MDMA. Basically, no one knows. It’s a very volatile situation, and the fact is this research that is going on with MDMA and psilocybin is pretty far down the food chain when it comes to what they’re worried about.

25:41 PA: There was a piece that I read that mentioned that same… I think it was a quote from Dave Nichols who basically was saying the same thing.

25:47 DL: Right. But you never know, because the other thing that could happen, and I talked about this at the MAPS conference at a session about rebranding psychedelics, and all you need is one big scandal, one big media scandal, and that could set this work back. Somebody dying or some type of sex abuse scandal involving a therapist and MDMA. And the media coverage has been very positive for the most part, in the US at least, about this. But I worked in the news media my whole career, I know how it can turn. The news media can turn on people who are on movements. We love to build things up and then knock them down. So we’re in the building up, normalizing, mainstreaming stage. And all it takes is a relatively small problem to be blown out of proportion, that it could set this work back, especially if there’s somebody who wanted to use that for other reasons to go after it, or to further delay approving these medicines.

26:41 PA: ‘Cause some of the reasons that I think of is… I think as MDMA and psilocybin become more… The research really, really comes out, and it’s very clear to a more mainstream audience, it clearly, especially in the United States, it threatens other interests. By and large, pharmaceutical industries who are quite profitable off of the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications that they prescribe. Do you see that playing any sort of role or would it be…

27:02 DL: Well, I think that’s one reason why there’s not a lot of funding going into it from Big Pharma ’cause it’s hard to make money on it if you’re talking about a drug that’s only used maybe three or four times. The expensive part of this work is really the therapy, it’s the therapist’s time. You’re not gonna make that much money on the drugs themselves. But I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to set it back, whether they have power to really do that.

27:27 DL: I would worry more, like I said, about now that they’re ramping this up in the so called “phase three trials”, where you’re gonna have less experienced therapists, you’re gonna have a lot more people, much harder to supervise it. It’s much harder to be careful about making mistakes, that now that you’re going to have hundreds of people at sites all around the country doing this rather than the A team, the first people. Like the Mithoefer’s in South Carolina who didn’t want the [unclear speech] to work in their absence. Almost by definition, there are going to be problems, there’s going to be some mistakes made. There’s gonna be some bad outcomes. Which is not surprising. You’re dealing with people who are either addicts or alcoholics, they’re depressed. You’re dealing with a difficult population of patients here. That’s not a reason to stop it or slow it down. Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but I just kind of see it shifting somehow. I hope I’m wrong. I really hope I’m wrong. I just know how the world works, and how the media world works, that I’m a little worried about it.

28:30 PA: One thought that I have on that. It seems to be media is also shifting in a way where media in the ’60s and ’70s was largely centralized.

28:37 DL: That’s true, yeah.

28:37 PA: And there was more television. And I feel like one of my hopes is the reasons why we might see this movement continue to build is because a lot of now media outlets, they’re smaller in nature and they’re more dispersed. And so I see this also playing into the difference between where urban people, well educated people, we could say, are getting the media compared to people who live in more rural areas. So I would almost wonder if there might be a backlash, for example, in rural America, with a news company like Breitbart, but not so much with a news outlet like the Economist or something that more panders to an urban crowd. So I wonder about that difference…

29:18 DL: Yeah. There is a whole media landscape and I forget that being old school.

[laughter]

29:23 PA: That’s why I’m here.

29:24 DL: Printing in an old print dinosaur. No, back in the days when the networks… They totally set the agenda. And even in the newspaper business. The San Francisco Chronicle, which was the main paper, you set the agenda. ‘Cause back then, the TV stations would just read the paper and that’s how they’d decide what to cover. But it’s a whole different world now. It’s a whole different world.

29:46 PA: It is. Well, let’s get back into a little bit more about your story and talk about the initial psychedelic experiences you had, because you mention those in the Harvard Psychedelic Club, I think, towards…

29:56 DL: Yeah, yeah. And a little bit in the new book, too.

29:58 PA: And then you go into those in the book. So if you could talk a little bit about those initial experiences and what then carried the interest for you into doing them now, like the ayahuasca experience and things like that.

30:08 DL: Well, I don’t put my own story at all of Harvard Psychedelic Club until the end, I put it in an afterword. And yeah, I had… 20, 19 years old, I had some very powerful experiences with LSD, a girlfriend from college on a cliff in Big Sur, where we thought we saw God. We melted into Mother Earth, we melted into each other. We were convinced that we had found the meaning of life and truth and our soulmate, and we would melt together whenever we touched for days, weeks after that. I was completely amazed and had some very powerful mystical experiences of awe and wonder and gratitude and oneness.

30:50 DL: And then about a month or two later, we had another trip, the trip from hell, a bad trip from hell, and split up. And for me, that kicked off a very difficult time for a few months in my life. I was just starting college and I was having flashbacks, which I thought… I used to think was nothing but propaganda. But weeks after I’d taken any drugs, including pot or anything, I was hallucinating. I came out of that saner in the end, but I was really scared to death that I had damaged my brain, that I would be that way forever. And I kept it a secret because I would’ve been thrown in the loony bin if people knew what was going on in my head. I stopped driving ’cause I couldn’t trust the red and green lights. It was a really difficult time.

31:30 DL: So those two trips were the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. And still, to this day, I can almost say that. And I just wish I would have had a guide or a therapist or someone to just talk to then. And that’s why I think this work is so important with trained therapists to work with people. Because a bad trip is not necessarily a bad trip, but you have to have someone you can work with, process that, look at some of the reasons behind that, and I didn’t have that. And so that’s one reason why I think this work now is so important. But after six months or so, I went back and I dabbled with psychedelics in college in my 20s. I basically stopped for 20 or 30 years. And then started work on Changing Our Minds, I felt like I needed to try to experience these drugs and plant medicines in the context as close as I could get to what I was writing about. So, not recreationally, and not with my girlfriend on the cliff at Big Sur. So, as well as I could do it, I set it up so I had therapists, trained therapists with MDMA, with psilocybin. I used the actual mushroom rather than the synthesized psilocybin, but basically it’s the same drug.

32:37 DL: I went to Brazil and did an ayahuasca circle there, two circles there. Came back and joined the underground ayahuasca network in Northern California. I visited a UDV church, a Brazilian church that uses ayahuasca legally, a church that can legally use it. I did some work with ketamine, which has been used… One of the uses right now with ketamine and depression… Ketamine is not technically a psychedelic, but in the proper dose you can definitely have an out-of-body, psychedelic…

33:09 PA: It’s a dissociative, right?

33:10 DL: It’s a dissociative, but you can have an out-of-body expansive experience, like you can have with a high dose LSD trip, or with the 5-MeO-DMT, the so called toad medicine, which I also tried at a clinic in Mexico as part of my research. And then, there were some similarities between the ketamine and that. Even though one is a classic hallucinogen and one is not, but it’s all about intention and use and dose. So in the book, in Changing Our Minds, I really… It’s not about my trip, I really wanted to focus more on the research, the researchers, the scientists, the volunteers who were doing this. But I thought it was important for me to understand it and to write about it a bit, so I do share some of my own experiences and how it helped me with my own melancholy moods. I basically got off anti-depressants while I was doing this research on this book. And that wasn’t my intention.

34:00 DL: People warned me, “If you’re gonna take ayahuasca, you should get off anti-depressants,” as if you really wanna be careful. And so I did, and I never went back on. And through a combination of various sacred plant medicines, I’ve been able to stay off of them for a couple years, and feel better than I did before on the traditional anti-depressants. It’s funny, ’cause I didn’t set out to do that, it just kind of evolved as I did the work on the book.

34:29 PA: That’s phenomenal to hear. And stories like this, which I think are so important to hear, because we have a lot of this research coming out. And research is critical and it’s really laying the foundation for what we’re doing, but it’s story telling that I think will help the psychedelic space and movement evolve into maybe even what you were talking about with re-branding psychedelics. We have the research and it’s going to be… Hopefully, if we can minimize problems in phase two trials like you were saying… Now it’s more and more… I tie it into what the gay movement did through the ’70s and ’80s.

34:58 DL: Yeah. Look at the changes there. Like gay marriage, 10, 20… I wrote a lot about that as a journalist ’cause a lot of the more liberal denominations were having their own debates about having church weddings for gay people and lesbian people. And it’s amazing how fast that all changed. Or marijuana legalization. It’s incredible what could happen.

35:20 PA: These different mediums we have, again coming back to media, of story-telling, I think enables people like yourself or people like myself, even a podcast like this, where people are getting the media from now is changing. And I think the more that we can now start to surround all the psychedelic research with these impactful stories. For example, I know MAPS will have people who went through the phase two trials, veterans who cured their PTSD. I did an event in Portland, Oregon, a couple months ago, a microdosing talk, and after that I did a psychedelic stories with Psymposia. And we had one of the people who went through the phase two trial who came up and said, “Hey, I went to my doctor when I came back from a Iraq. He basically told me that my PTSD was incurable. He said, ‘Go on the list of these pharmaceuticals and you can maybe manage the symptoms.'” And he went through the phase two trials and he was cured.

36:05 DL: Yeah. In Changing Our Minds, the first chapter is about Nigel McCourry.

36:08 PA: That’s the guy who was… Yes, exactly.

36:11 DL: Yeah, same guy. Yeah, and he has a very powerful story and what happened to him in Iraq was horrific, when you read the whole story. And with Nigel, I was able to look at the video tapes, or the film of his sessions, with his permission, of course. So as a storyteller, it was great. You’re in the room with them. So I go into a lot of detail in the first chapter of the book, which is called “Wounded Warrior”, which is exactly what happened to him, and then how he was treated and the conversations he had. Looking at it in real time was fascinating ’cause it goes on for six, seven hours. So yeah, you’re right, storytelling is a big part of this and the work you’re doing work, the work that I’m doing, I think, is important work.

36:48 DL: And it’s also people coming out of the closet. You mentioned the similarities between the gay rights movement. People were willing to say, “Yeah, okay… ” Even if you broke the law. I basically admit breaking the law in this book. If they throw me in jail, it’d be great for book sales. [laughter] Careful what you ask for. But that’s a big debate within the scholarly community, ’cause people are hesitant or doctors are hesitant to admit that ’cause they could lose their medical license. So I understand there’s still reasons to be cautious, but at the same time, what I’m seeing, just in the two, three years I’ve been working on this last book, people are agreeing and saying, “I’m gonna… ” Donors, for instance, are coming out of the closet.

37:27 PA: I just saw an article, I think it was on Vice or… It was about this immigrant who came to the United States and is now the biggest philanthropist for psychedelic research and talking about his story and how basically his psychedelic experience completely helped to heal a lot of… I think he was Jewish and maybe he came over to the United States when he was very young because of what was happening with Holocaust, and helped to heal some of that ancestral trauma and what was going on there. So when you have more and more people who are coming out and talking about this, it’s important. Now, one question to add to that for you is you are still the Bay Area, is that correct?

38:01 DL: Yes.

38:02 PA: And you’ve spent much of your life there?

38:05 DL: Most of my adult life, yeah.

38:08 PA: Exactly. Now, we also noticed there’s another trend going on in terms of tech and Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs came out and said that LSD was one of the three most impactful things that he’s ever done. Tim Ferriss is this guy who wrote this book “The 4-Hour Workweek“, has a really long podcast, and he’s been very forthright about psychedelic use. Based on your understanding of the Bay Area and having lived there for a long time, what role do you see tech having, and possibly unfurling some of these things to evolve? What’s your take on that?

38:35 DL: It’s interesting. Microdosing is the trip du jour, everybody’s talking about that, and I was a little skeptical because I’m paid to be skeptical, I’m a newspaper reporter, right? But then I tried it, and there is something to it, I think. I tried it with mushrooms. So there is that. I don’t know. The tech world, there’s so much going, it’s such a complicated thing going on economically, with the stratification in wealth that’s happening in the Bay Area, with the tech… I’m really down on it, in a lot of ways, the social impact it’s having, housing prices, so it’s a complicated question. I don’t see tech as the savior by any means. But I think the most direct impact it’s having is some of the big donors, and all this work is privately researched, even though the government could benefit from it, if they could fund treatment for PTSD with 800,000 veterans on disability. 800,000.

39:29 PA: Oh, my god.

39:29 DL: 800,000 for PTSD and other brain related injuries, it’s the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghan war. The government should be funding this, but they’re not. And a lot of the money is coming out of the Silicon Valley, billionaire elite. I think that’s the main way that Silicon Valley is helping. It’s the money.

39:46 PA: It’s the money. My other take is, also I think we’re starting to see a turn… At least this is my hope. ‘Cause the tech world has been known for a level of elitism and what you’re talking about with gentrification. There seems to be more and more public stigma coming out against some of these zero-sum, win-at-all-costs methods. For example, Uber, recently has been going through this with all this backlash against their very patriarchal, aggressive methods. The CEO just stepped down. And Lyft now is coming into that, and Lyft is a public benefit corporation. They’re doing a lot of things that are socially sustainable.

40:22 PA: So I also wonder if there will be a… My hope, I don’t know how true this will be… If we can create containers for some of these tech leaders in which they have certain transformative psychedelic experiences, maybe that also creates more compassionate leaders. Because from my perspective, it seems like tech… No, tech is building the new world in which we will live. It’s not quite yet, but Google and Facebook and all these things are where we spend our attention and time now. My hope is that if we can inculcate values in those people with psychedelics, then maybe that will lead to a more compassionate world. But maybe that’s just idealism.

40:57 DL: I hope you’re right. A lot of people would say that’s what supposedly happened in the ’60s. We were convinced that the world was changing. We were going to, quote, win. And then look what happened: The ’80s, “Just Say No”, Ronald Reagan; years of ridiculous, endless, unnecessary wars, stratification of wealth in society. The vision did not pass.

41:15 PA: Pan out.

41:16 DL: It didn’t. I’m glad young people like you are optimistic, though.

[laughter]

41:22 PA: You’re still a little pessimistic, though?

41:23 DL: I am.

41:24 PA: And that’s okay.

41:25 DL: I am. I am. But I’m hoping, and I’m hopeful. I’m also hopeful. But that’s the direction I tend to go in.

41:32 PA: Is more pessimism?

41:35 DL: That’s why I was on anti-depressants for all those years, that’s where I’d go. [chuckle] Now that I’ve gotten back into psychedelics, that’s opened me up to… It reminds you, there are so many different ways of looking at the world. And our little narrow slice of how we perceive reality is so narrow and limiting. I think a lot of people from my generation… I’m pushing 64 and we had transformative experiences with the psychedelics back in our youth. And then maybe we raised a family, we got careers, we put that aside. Now, I think some people are rediscovering that. As, obviously, we face our mortality, and have a little more time to maybe play with that stuff more. [unclear speech], we were born the same month in same year, November of ’53.

42:24 DL: We were both talking about that one time. I think there is a lot of interest in the Baby Boomers. And that’s a huge slice of the population. That’s why a lot of these changes in the ’60s with the demographics, so many people came of age at the same time, all these post-war babies. And I’m right smack-dab in the middle of the baby boom, ’53, so I’m right in the middle of it. Of course, the other thing that’s happening, is a lot of the Baby Boomers are running things now. They’re running government agencies. They’re running corporations.

42:49 PA: They’re running media, sometimes.

42:49 DL: They’re running the media. I think that’s another reason why there’s more openness, there’s warmness.

42:56 PA: It’s kinda this next evolution, and hopefully there was a level of learning from the ’60s and ’70s. The other thing that gives me hope is, like you were saying, there are 800,000 veterans who are on disability. And I think we are at a point in time where our governments are becoming increasingly bankrupt. We just keep going into more and more and more debt.

43:16 DL: That’s billions and billions of dollars.

43:17 PA: And if you have something that can cure that, I think we’re getting to a point where we’re trying to find more efficiency in what we’re doing. My hope, again this is just my hope, is that with MDMA being very safe, that possibly then it will be accepted as a treatment because of how it’s rebranded. I think, again, this comes back to what MAPS is doing, and how they’ve approached it is so important.

43:38 DL: And even if the government doesn’t have compassion, let’s hope that they do for these wounded warriors, just from an economic point of view it’s in their interest to at least… It’s not for everyone. This therapy is not for everyone, but it’s for a lot of people. It can help a lot of people. And it’s time to let it have its day.

43:56 PA: I think so. I think that’s a good point to end on. But before we end, if people wanna find your book, if people wanna find your material, what’s…

44:03 DL: My new book is titled “Changing Our Minds”, the subtitle is “Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy” published by Synergetic Press. You can order it from your local bookstore, independent bookstore, which I encourage. You can buy it through Amazon if you want, online. And my website, if you want to reach out to me, it’s www.donlattin.com. D-O-N L-A-T-T-I-N. It has my contact information, where I’m going to be speaking about the book. That’s where you’ll find me.

44:32 PA: Perfect, well thanks so much for doing this.

44:33 DL: Thank you.

44:33 PA: And I’m glad we could fit it in at the conference. It was great to meet and talk.

This Week in Psychedelics

A Study partially funded by the Beckley Foundation has just been published, showing that alkaloids present in ayahuasca can help adult neurons grow. This could be one of the ways ayahuasca helps treat depression.

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The DMTx research project is looking for volunteers or donations – the project aims to extend the DMT trip using anaesthetic techniques, in order to learn more from the experience. You can apply to be involved now!

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