Normalizing Psychedelics: An Interview with Matthew X. Lowe

Over the past few years, psychedelics are finally becoming more normalized, but for the most part, that just means psilocybin. LSD is still considered, even by many who are interested in the world of mushrooms and cannabis, to be a taboo substance. Unlimited Sciences and Matthew X. Lowe would love to change that. We chatted with him about the moves he’s been making to change the culture and bring psychedelics access to those who need it.

What is the history of the company, and how are you aiming to change these stigmas?

Unlimited Sciences is a fairly new company. We were officially launched in 2018. Most of what we’ve been doing until now is psilocybin research. We just concluded that study recently with Johns Hopkins University of 8,400 individuals enrolled, making it the single largest longitudinal study in the world on psilocybin. We started to analyze the data, and we are seeing some very promising results with reductions in depression and anxiety.

We’re looking at multiple different metrics including risks and safety profiles, dosages, and set and setting. We also have our ayahuasca study that we’re running this summer, and then we’re also looking to create a general registry of feedback about psilocybin. That registry will also include LSD, so we’re kind of expanding our research and exploring more ways that we can bring awareness about the risks and the benefits.

What are you doing to specifically change the way LSD and other more blacklisted substances are seen?

We all heard the horror stories and we kind of grew up with those stories and stigma. So really, on that front, the biggest thing we’re aiming to do is to raise education and awareness, not just about the benefits of these substances, but also about how to mitigate risks. And that’s one of the most important things that’s often overlooked.

On [one] hand, yes, we want to push this legislation through as quickly as we can, but it’s super important to not only understand the benefits and what they can bring, but also mitigate those risks, because as we know, there can be significant risks if you’re under- or uneducated about what could go wrong.

To help with that, we have a free call center where individuals can phone and ask questions, often related to how they can mitigate risks around cannabis use. And we want to do the exact same thing for psychedelics. The plan is to develop a call center where you can call in and ask questions about how much you should take. It won’t be medical advice, but it will be based on data-driven research. We’re trying to get as much data as we can, and the psilocybin studies have contributed significantly to that.

We’re also continuing to do outreach, and we write articles and present them at scientific conferences. We’re working extensively with psilocybin and then plan to delve into LSD. We aim to talk about and raise awareness on these topics through data-driven efforts so that we can provide objective, unbiased feedback.

How would you like to see people think about psychedelics 10 or 20 years from now?

Personally, I see it as a mix of more information, medical legalization, and some recreational legalization, to a certain extent. I can imagine substances such as psilocybin, for example, being treated very much like cannabis in the coming years. So, for substances where there have been far fewer documented risks, and where risk of an overdose is low, I can see those being recreational.

But for the majority of substances that I’m talking about, I would see them strictly as controlled within the medical space, and that’s because some of them can have quite a few risks. When you talk about things like psychosis, if you have a predisposition to that or a family history, even usage of cannabis can trigger that. So for things like ayahuasca and LSD, I see that being more in the medically regulated space.

What are some of the biggest benefits that you think humanity can get from these substances?

Personally, I think it’s endless. The most immediate ones are of course mental health. We have a mental health crisis, and the systems and medications and treatments we have today are failing for many. Up to a third of individuals suffering from depression have treatment-resistant depression. I hope that in the future, psychedelics won’t just be the last line of defense for mental health issues, but one of the first lines.

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Study Finds Genetic Link to Effects of Psychedelic Drugs

Common genetic variations in a particular serotonin receptor could be responsible for the varying effects psychedelic drugs have on different individuals, according to a recently published study from researchers at the University of North Carolina. The study, which comes at a time of reinvigorated research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs, could shed light on why the substances seem to have dramatically positive effects for some patients with serious mental health conditions while others find little therapeutic value in the drugs.

Bryan Roth, MD, PhD, led a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) to complete the study. The goal of the research was to explore how variations in this one serotonin receptor changes the activity of four psychedelic therapies. The laboratory research in cells showed that seven variants uniquely and differentially impact the receptor’s response to four psychedelic drugs—psilocin, LSD, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) and mescaline. The researchers believe that the in vitro research could be useful for determining appropriate mental health therapies for patients.

“Based on our study, we expect that patients with different genetic variations will react differently to psychedelic-assisted treatments,” said Roth, who leads the National Institutes of Health Psychotropic Drug Screening Program. “We think physicians should consider the genetics of a patient’s serotonin receptors to identify which psychedelic compound is likely to be the most effective treatment in future clinical trials.”

Psychedelics and Mental Health

Research published in 2020 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. A separate study published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. And last year, researchers determined that psychedelic users had less stress during lockdowns put in place to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior research has also determined that psychedelic drugs stimulate serotonin receptors in the brain. The 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor, also known as 5-HT2A, is responsible for mediating how a person reacts to psychedelic drugs. However, there are several naturally occurring, random genetic variations that can affect the function and structure of the 5-HT2A receptor. Much of the research into the effect that psychedelics have on mental health is inspired by the effect the drugs have on serotonin receptors, which bind the neurotransmitter serotonin and other similar molecules to help regulate mood, emotions and appetite.

Although they show great promise, psychedelic drugs do not seem to be effective as a treatment for everyone. Dustin Hines, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience in the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was not involved in the UNC study, said the research could shed light on why psychedelic therapies work well for some patients while others find little therapeutic benefit from the drugs.

“Genetic variation in this receptor has been shown to influence the response of patients to other drugs,” Hines told Healthline. “While psychedelic therapies can provide rapid and sustained therapeutic benefits for multiple mental health concerns, there are a proportion of patients who fail to respond.”

Hines also noted that differences in mental health conditions from person to person could also contribute to how well patients respond to both psychedelic and more traditional treatments.

“Some individuals with depression may have a genetic predisposition that increases the likelihood that they will experience depression in their lives,” Hines said. “Other individuals facing depression may have more situational or environmental contributions.”

The researchers at UNC noted that the study could help provide insight to clinicians considering psychedelics as a treatment for their patients and called for further investigation.

“This is another piece of the puzzle we must know when deciding to prescribe any therapeutic with such dramatic effect aside from the therapeutic effect,” Roth said. “Further research will help us continue to find the best ways to help individual patients.”

Results of the study were published last week in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

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Poll States 28% of Americans Have Tried At Least One Psychedelic Substance

The poll asked 1,000 adults to answer questions online between July 22-25, which revealed that 28% of Americans have used at least one of the seven psychedelic drugs included in the questionnaire. In order of most used to least used, the list of substances included LSD (14% of participants), psilocybin (13%), MDMA (9%), ketamine (6%), DMT (6%), and salvia (5%).

The poll notes that psychedelic acceptance is increasing, and more legislation is being proposed. “Recent shifts, both in policy and public opinion, suggest the tide in the United States may be turning toward increasingly favoring psychedelic drugs,” YouGov states. “In the past few years, a number of cities across the U.S., such as Oakland, California, have decriminalized psilocybin, also known as psychedelic mushrooms. This November, Coloradans will vote on whether to legalize the drug state-wide, and by January 2023, Oregon is expected to begin allowing its use for mental-health treatment in supervised settings.”

According to the poll, 42% percent of those who have tried psychedelics at least once have a family income of $100,000 or more, while only 34% have an income of $50,000 to $100,000, and 23% reported having an income of $50,000 or less. Forty-two percent also said they had earned a postgraduate degree, with 26% having graduated with an undergraduate degree, and 24% who have a high school degree or less.

In terms of age, 39% of participants who have tried psychedelics range between 30-44 years old, whereas 35% range between 18-29 years of age, and only 14% were over 65. Thirty-four percent of participants who have tried a substance identified as men, while 22% identified as women.

Regionally, the pattern of acceptance follows areas that have enacted psychedelics-related legislation. Thirty-seven percent of participants who have tried substances live in the western United States, with 34% in the Northeast, 23% in the South (other regions were not specified). Those who have experimented with psychedelics often live in cities (36%), compared to those who live in suburbs (26%), and rural areas (19%).

Other categories of definition explored people from different religions, those who live in other regions of the country, age, and other identifiers such as “very conservative,” “conservative” or “liberal.” The poll data shows that those who are liberal, which is defined by the 52% of participants, said that they have tried at least one psychedelic drug.

However, many of the participants still showed opposition to decriminalizing of some of these substances. Forty-four percent oppose decriminalization of psilocybin, 53% oppose decriminalizing LSD, and 53% oppose MDMA decriminalization. Overall, those who have tried one of these substances are more likely to agree that it should be decriminalized. “And while support for legalizing psychedelic drugs is relatively low among Americans overall, it’s much higher among people who have personal experiences with the substances—especially in the case of people who have used mushrooms.”

Those who have tried these substances also expressed support for medical initiatives that promote psychedelics as a medical treatment. “Recently proposed bipartisan amendments to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, suggested by Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, relax federal restrictions on research into psychedelic-assisted post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment for veterans,” YouGov wrote. When participants were asked about their support of research such as that initiative, 54% said they supported it and 18% said they were opposed. Sixty-three percent of those who hold a college degree supported research efforts for at least one psychedelic drug, but 49% of those without a college degree also support research. Sixty percent of participants who aligned as Democrat said they were more likely to favor psychedelic research, versus 54% of Independents and 45% of Republicans.

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Drugs and Intelligence: Famous Geniuses and Their Substances of Choice  

Recreational drug use is not generally regarded as a benchmark of intelligence; but maybe it should be. In addition to your everyday intellectuals, many notable, brilliant minds in science and technology have experimented with all sorts of illicit drugs – from marijuana to psychedelics, and even amphetamines. But what is the reason behind this? Do drugs breed intelligence, or are already intelligent people more likely to use drugs? Let’s dive deeper into this phenomenon, as well as explore a short list of famous geniuses who were very open about their love of psychoactive substances.  

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Drugs and the mind  

According to a 1970 British Cohort Study that reviewed data on nearly 8,000 people, there is a link (however indirect) between intelligence and recreational drug use. Verbatim, the results of their research stated that: “High childhood IQ may increase the risk of illegal drug use in adolescence and adulthood”. To reach this conclusion, the sample population had their intelligence quotient (IQ) tested at ages 5 and 10, then again at ages 16, and once more at 30. 

As per the results, the individuals with the highest IQ scores were more likely to use cannabis, cocaine and other stimulants, alcohol, psychedelics, ecstasy, or a combination of some or all of the above. This was especially true for female participants. When it came to women, those with IQ scores in the top 33% were more than twice as likely to have tried various drugs than those in the bottom 33%. Other studies over the years echoed these results, like this one from 2009.  

In addition to an obvious correlation between intelligence and drug experimentation, other studies have found that drugs and creativity are also connected. Creativity is often thought of as artistic only, but inventive and scientific innovation also falls under the umbrella of creativity; and one of the bedrocks of creativity is divergent thinking.  

Divergent thinking is a key factor in the ability to take creative thoughts and apply them practically, outside the mind. A handful of studies (although each of them small), paired with decades of anecdotal evidence, suggest that numerous different drugs can improve divergent thinking such as cannabis, LSD, ayahuasca, psilocybin, and cocaine.  

The next logical question, is whether there is a connection between intelligence and creativity, since both have a link to higher risk of drug use. The answer: yes, but only to a certain degree. Psychologist J.P. Guilford mentions that, “A high IQ alone does not guarantee creativity. Instead, personality traits that promote divergent thinking are more important. Divergent thinking is found among people with personality traits such as nonconformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, and persistence.” 

The general consensus is that IQ and creativity correlate positively up to a score of around 120, after which point that seems to level out. Meaning, a person with an IQ of 110 might be more creative than someone with an IQ of 90, whereas a person with an IQ of 130 or above would likely exhibit similar levels of creativity to someone with a slightly lower IQ, in the 110-120 range. As a hypothesis, I would suggest that those with higher IQs tend to see more possibilities, therefore increasing their odds of producing something original and useful (i.e., creative). But people with extremely high and genius level IQs are often thinking more analytically (convergent thinking).  

The Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis 

There aren’t too many theories as to why this is, but the one that makes the most sense to me is the Savanna-IQ interaction hypothesis. Savanah-IQ was introduced by psychologist and writer, Satoshi Kanazawa. His ideas are based on natural evolutionary adaptations. All life evolves to become better adapted to certain environments, this is true in humans and animals and it’s what has helped us not only survive, but thrive, for thousands of years.  

The Savanna hypothesis maintains that intelligence evolved as an adaptation to solve new and unfamiliar issues related to survival. While this is still incredibly beneficial to us, we don’t need to use our problem-solving skills in the same way our ancestors did. This leaves the people with higher intelligence and creativity with a need to generate their own novel intellectual and sensory experiences, and one of the easiest ways to do this is with drugs.  

According to Kanazawa, “Humans who leave their ‘savanna’ – or their natural environment, would be both intelligent and inclined to try new things, like alcohol and drugs. This link and hypothesis would be the reason why intelligent people do drugs; the mere fact that drugs are unhealthy would be less relevant than the fact that drugs are a more novel scenario for which we have a hard-wired response to want to try.” 

LSD and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double-helix DNA structure  

Francis Crick (along with James Watson) was responsible for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953; and he claims to have made this discovery while under the influence of LSD. He told numerous friends and colleagues about his experimentation with psychedelics, and said that during one trip he spent hours working to “determine the molecular structure that houses all of life’s information.” 

During a 2004 Daily Mail interview between Gerrod Harker and Dick Kemp, a close friend of Crick’s, Kemp mentioned that many of Cambridge University’s researchers at the time were using “small doses” of LSD as a “thinking tool”. He also stated that he is one of the friends Crick confided in about his double-helix discovery while using the drug.  

Thomas Edison and his cocaine elixirs  

Edison is best known for his inventions in fields such as electric power generation, mass communication, sound recording, and motion pictures. Less known is the fact that he enjoyed nightly cocaine elixirs to help him unwind. Now, let’s backtrack a little bit. In 1863, French chemist Angelo Mariani invented a drink that he aptly named “Vin Mariani”. The drink consisted of a Bordeaux wine infused with coca leaves. The ethanol from the wine would extract cocaine from the leaves in concentrations of roughly 7 mg per fluid ounce.  

Edison, who, aside from being a prolific inventor, was also a notorious insomniac – claiming to sleep no more than 4 hours per night. Knowing that he consumed Vin Mariani on a regular basis, it’s not hard to see why he suffered from lack of sleep. Edison claims the cocaine wine gave him energy and helped him focus.  

Therapeutics and cocaine, Sigmund Freud 

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for evaluating and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud used cocaine regularly, and not just for recreational aims – he believed it was a legitimate miracle drug that could be used for many things.  

In a letter he wrote to his then-fiancee Martha, Freud stated: “If all goes well, I will write an essay [on cocaine] and I expect it will win its place in therapeutics by the side of morphine and superior to it … I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion and with the most brilliant of success.” 

And he went on to do just that. In 1884, he published a review titled “Uber Coca”, which suggested the used of cocaine as a drug substitute in therapeutic treatment for morphine addicts. While now know that methodology can be problematic, his ideas of drug substitution therapies are still used to this day. 

Paul Erdös: Mathematics and amphetamines 

Erdös, who was born in Hungary, was perhaps one of the most well-known mathematicians who ever lived. He had a reputation for being a hyperactive insomniac who worked 19-hour days and would show up unannounced at his friends’ and colleagues’ doorsteps telling them to “open their minds” to mathematical concepts.  

According to him, the secret to his success was amphetamines, which he claims to have used on a regular basis. Nothing really explains his relationship with drugs better than the following excerpt from a book published in 1998 by Erdös’ biographer, science writer Paul Hoffman, titled “The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth” 

“Like all of Erdös’s friends, [fellow mathematician Ronald Graham] was concerned about his drug-taking. In 1979, Graham bet Erdös $500 that he couldn’t stop taking amphetamines for a month. Erdös accepted the challenge, and went cold turkey for thirty days. After Graham paid up — and wrote the $500 off as a business expense — Erdös said, ‘You’ve showed me I’m not an addict. But I didn’t get any work done. I’d get up in the morning and stare at a blank piece of paper. I’d have no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You’ve set mathematics back a month.’ He promptly resumed taking pills, and mathematics was the better for it.” 

Carl Sagan on cannabis, creativity, and space  

Carl Sagan – astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, and science communicator – was also a somewhat well-known proponent of cannabis use. He claimed that he smoked it regularly and that it helped substantially in his intellectual endeavors. He even contributed to an essay that was published in the 1971 book “Marijuana Reconsidered” in which he highlighted some of cannabis’ many attributes under the pseudonym, Mr. X.  

In his essay, Sagan wrote: “[T]he illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” 

LSD was a “big deal” for Steve Jobs 

On numerous different occasions, Steve Jobs has mentioned how significant LSD was to him. As a matter of fact, he claims that experimenting with LSD in the 1960s was one of the “two or three most important things he has done in his life”. Interestingly, he added that he often kept these experiences to himself because he feared that many of his friends, who weren’t experienced with psychedelics, simply would not understand.  

This sentiment is highlighted in his recent biography, in which Jobs even claims that Bill Gates’ lack of imagination is likely due to not having experimented with psychedelics. “Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas,” Jobs says about Gates. “He’d be a broader guy, if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” 

Final thoughts 

The connection between drugs and intelligence is still poorly understand, but one thing is proving relatively consistent: intelligent people are more likely to experiment with recreational drugs than those with below average intelligence. In addition to the people on this list, plenty of other well-known thinkers are reported to have used drugs throughout their lives and careers including Kary Mullis, Richard Feynman, and Albert Einstein (although I could not find any solid sources to back up the latter).  

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason for this, and there could be many, but overall it seems related to the fact that intelligent individuals tend to get restless with mundane, day-to-day situations. The yearning for new and unorthodox experiences is very human, and one of the most convenient (and honestly, one of the safest, if done correctly… big “if” there) ways to do this is by experimenting with drugs.  

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How ‘How to Change Your Mind’ Will Change Your Mind About Psychedelics

Netflix has no shortage of documentaries about psychedelics. In 2016’s The Last Shaman, a severely depressed actor ventures into the Amazon rainforest in the hope that a cup of ayahuasca can keep his suicidal thoughts at bay. Ram Dass, Going Home (2017) follows the last days of the eponymous psychologist, who was once ousted from Harvard for using drugs in his research. In Have a Good Trip (2020), A$AP Rocky, Anthony Bourdain, and other celebrities—both dead and living—share the stories behind their wildest psychedelic trips.

To these entries the streamer recently added How to Change Your Mind. Based on a 2018 book of the same name by the journalist and New York Times best-selling author Michael Pollan, this docuseries follows Pollan as he researches (and uses) 4 different psychedelic drugs: LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline. Unsurprisingly, the series quickly became a huge hit, trending in the streaming service’s top 10 ever since its release on July 12.

How to Change Your Mind is a captivating watch, even if you’re not remotely interested in psychedelics. This is largely thanks to Pollan, who is not only a likable host but a talented writer. Pollan began his career reporting on the relationship between people and plants, focusing mostly on the food industry. His beat eventually led him from ordinary plants to mind-altering plants, starting with insidious examples like coffee and tea and ending with full-blown psychedelics.

In the opening scenes of the first episode, Pollan refers to himself as a “late bloomer.” Born shortly after the infamous Summer of Love, his understanding of psychedelics was limited to the terrifying and exaggerated stories he’d been told by agents of the U.S. government. Later in life, journalism taught him to think for himself. Viewers now find Pollan, approaching his 70s, sitting cross legged in a field while a ceremonial leader shoots concentrated doses of tobacco up his nostrils. The journalist, quivering and groaning as though his body has been set on fire, tries his best to remain composed; he knows his trip is only just beginning, and the worst (or best) has yet to come.

The first episode of How to Change Your Mind is dedicated to the “first” psychedelic: LSD. Lysergic acid diethylamide, Pollan explains, was first synthesized in 1938 by Albert Hofmann. Hofmann, a Swiss chemist under the employment of pharmaceutical giant Sandoz, unknowingly synthesized the psychedelic while breaking down ergot, a fungus that commonly grows on rye. Hofmann suspects the substance must have accidentally entered his bloodstream through his fingertips, causing him to undergo the first acid trip in European history. The initially terrifying but ultimately pleasant experience motivated Hofmann to experiment further, ingesting quantities of LSD that would intimidate even the most seasoned psychonauts.

Unsure what to do with the new substance and curious about its pharmaceutical potential, Sandoz started an open research and development program, shipping LSD to any chemist, neurologist, and psychoanalyst interested in running experiments. These experiments continued into the sixties, until the U.S. government interfered. Detecting a link between the eye-opening drug and conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, Washington declared LSD a schedule 1 narcotic. Other countries including Switzerland followed suit, and all research was shut down.

Mainstream media, which previously covered LSD with unbridled enthusiasm, now presented the drug as a dangerous and addictive substance. News coverage focused exclusively on “bad trips,” presenting them as the only kind of outcome one can expect from LSD. Crying teenagers are unable to distinguish between reality and hallucination. Their panic attacks are so severe they have to be restrained by police or medical personnel. Though LSD is non-lethal and non-toxic, there is indeed a slight danger to it. For people prone to mental illness, warns Pollan, dropping acid might trigger their first psychotic break.

That’s not to say LSD is a shortcut to schizophrenia. For the majority of psychonauts, the drug causes a myriad of exciting, pleasant sensations. They say the only way to understand a trip is to experience one for yourself, but Pollan and the people he interviews actually do a pretty good job describing what they see and feel. Hofmann recalls that the Swiss landscape morphed into “kaleidoscopic” shapes and that acoustic perceptions were translated into visual ones. (How to Change Your Mind uses some cool CGI to show what this might look like). The Canadian psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond initially took LSD to better understand his psychotic patients, only to realize that acid trips were more mystical than maddening. Everything around him, the psychiatrist explains, acquired a profound sense of beauty and intrigue, so much so that he could spend all day contemplating something as unremarkable as a flower. Pollan agrees, adding that LSD makes you look at the world as though you are seeing it for the first time, the way you did when you were a child.

Indeed, many find that taking LSD puts them back in touch with lost or suppressed memories. One young man participating in a modern-day clinical trial in Zurich says he remembered being inside his mother’s womb where, the umbilical cord tightly wrapped around his little neck, he was forced to decide whether to survive or give up. This predicament, though strange, is hardly unique; from war veterans to sexual assault survivors, people say psychedelics allow them to confront—and, crucially—move past their traumatic experiences, healing themselves in ways that conventional psychiatry and medication cannot.

It is interesting that individuals from all walks of life use the same basic language to describe the emotional significance of their trips. They say LSD makes them feel “connected” to the world around them. Starstruck by the beauty and awe described by Osmond, they suddenly realize that they are but one small part of a much larger organism. This realization leads them to the conclusion that if they hurt someone else, or hurt nature, they are also hurting themselves—a train of thought which may explain why love plays such a central role in the psychedelic movement, and why so many young Americans ended up refusing to participate in the Vietnam War.

It is only in retrospect that we recognize the influence psychedelics have had on society. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, did not quit drinking until he was given a dose of LSD. According to Wilson, the drug changed his perspective on addiction and awakened his capacity to himself. To this day AA remains a deeply spiritual organization, and that spirit can be traced back directly to psychedelics.

Psychedelics also gave us the personal computer. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, famously referred to a college LSD trip as “one of the most important things in my life.” Like other entrepreneurs and artists who came of age during the Summer of Love, Jobs used drugs to unwind and open his mind to new creative possibilities. Pollan says it’s no coincidence that Jobs and other future tech titans took a liking to LSD, as both psychedelics and digital technology are all about dissolving boundaries and connecting people that would have otherwise been separated by space and time. Times haven’t changed that much either. If life on Wall Street continues to be defined by its normalization of cocaine use, Silicon Valley is still a place where employees can release their inner psychonaut without fear of being sacked by straight-laced superiors.

Today, research into LSD and other kinds of psychedelics is gradually resuming. Between the War on Drugs being unmasked as the witch hunt that it was, and the legalization of other previously persecuted substances like cannabis, researchers are once again able to legally handle their test subjects. How to Change Your Mind spotlights a number of contemporary studies, several of which are happening in Switzerland: the very country where Hofmann discovered LSD all those years ago. One team is looking at whether or not psychedelics could improve the mental state of terminally ill cancer patients. Another is finding out, once and for all, which areas of the brain are stimulated when an acid trip kicks in (one of these, spoiler alert, is the area of the brain that regulates our sense of self).

Once you finish the first episode of Pollan’s documentary, chances are you’ll stick around for the other three. Though they are all qualified as psychedelics, each substance influences the brain in different ways. Whereas LSD toys with our sense perception, its cousin MDMA straight up fills our heads with serotonin. The popular party drug does not cause us to see outlandish visuals, but feel an unprecedented amount of love. While LSD allows you to look at the world from a different perspective, MDMA enables you to see and accept yourself for who you are—yet another fascinating prospect for medical researchers. As for psilocybin and mescaline, you’ll simply have to watch How to Change Your Mind for yourself.

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Canadian Firm Seeks Approval to Manufacture MDMA and Other Psychedelics

A Canadian company that produces functional mushroom formulations for health and wellness has submitted a request to federal regulators that would allow it to manufacture MDMA and other synthetic psychedelic drugs. If the request made to Canada Health by Optimi Health seeking an amendment to its Controlled Substances Dealer’s license is approved, the company plans to manufacture MDMA, LSD, Mescaline, GHB and other psychedelics at its production facility in Princeton, British Columbia.

Optimi Health Corporation is a Canadian firm that produces psilocybin and other functional formulations at its two plants in British Columbia following the European Union’s standards for good manufacturing practices (EU-GMP). Operating under a vertically integrated business model, the company is engaged in the cultivation, extraction, processing, and distribution of functional and psychedelic mushroom products at its two facilities in Princeton, which cover a combined total of 20,000 square feet.

The company noted that with its major capital expenditures now completed, Optimi Health plans to expand its product offerings to include a wide variety of synthetic psychedelic compounds, leveraging its state-of-the-art cultivation facility and analytical lab in the process. The move aligns with the company’s transition to commercialization through standardized psychedelic drug research, testing, and product development via approved clinical trials and exemption-based applications.

Growing Market for Psychedelics

Optimi Health noted that ongoing large-scale studies including Phase III clinical trials into MDMA sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and a move to decriminalize drugs in British Columbia have led to an increased demand for psychedelics.

“Since our inception, Optimi has received a steadily increasing volume of inquiries related to the production of synthetic psychedelics from stakeholders within the sector, made all the more timely by recent developments,” Optimi Health chief science officer Justin Kirkland said in a statement from the company. “Our analytical laboratories were purpose-built to enable us to act as an EU-GMP compliant drug manufacturer for these interests, without in any way detracting from our primary goal of cultivating natural psilocybin.”

Optimi CEO Bill Ciprick said that the company’s EU-GMP compliant operational footprint and production capacity is unmatched in North America, adding that it would likely take new entrants into the psychedelics sector years and millions of dollars to meet Optimi’s scale and clinical efficiency.

“We have a strong idea of our position in the market and how the amendment fits with our strategic priorities,” said Ciprick. “We are filing this amendment following conversations with researchers and drug developers which have led to a high volume of requests for GMP-compliant synthetic psychedelics. The positive reports from trauma sufferers, including veterans groups, for whom substances such as MDMA might make a difference, mean that safe, scalable supply is going to be more crucial than ever to the success of psychedelic medicine.”

“As we continue with our planned year of commercialization, Optimi views the capacity to produce and distribute these substances as integral to our overall positioning and revenue generation within the sector’s supply chain,” Ciprick added.

The psychedelic drugs included in the Optimi request to Canadian regulators are N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (“DMT”); 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine (“Mescaline”); 2-(2-chlorophenyl)-2- (methylamino)cyclohexanone (“Ketamine”); Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (“LSD”); 1-(1-phenylcyclohexyl)piperidine (“Phencyclidine”); 4-Hydroxybutanoic Acid (“GHB”);  4,9–dihydro–7–methoxy–1–methyl–3H–pyrido(3,4–b)indole (“Harmaline”); 4,9–dihydro–1–methyl–3H–pyrido(3,4–b)indol–7–ol (“Harmalol”); Salvia Divinorum, Salvinorin A; and, 4-Bromo-2,5-Dimethoxybenzeneethanamine (“2C-B”).

British Columbia to Decriminalize Drugs

Last month, the Canadian federal government announced that it had approved a request from British Columbia to decriminalize possession of street drugs including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine for three years.

“Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis,” federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

Late last year, provincial officials requested an exemption from enforcing the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to test the impact decriminalization will have on British Columbia’s ongoing epidemic of overdose deaths. Under the plan, personal possession of up to a cumulative total of 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA will not result in an arrest, citation, or confiscation of the drugs. The limited drug decriminalization plan does not apply at airports, schools, and to members of the Canadian military, however.

“This is not legalization,” Bennett told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver. “We have not taken this decision lightly.”

Under the plan, possession of larger amounts of the drugs and the sale or trafficking will remain against the law. The limited decriminalization test program will begin on January 31, 2023, and continue until January 31, 2026.

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Higher Profile: Felon Filmmaker, Seth Ferranti, Gorilla Convict™

In the early 1990s Seth Ferranti was just 22 years old when he began a 21-year sentence in Federal prison for meeting supply and demand of two of America’s favorites, cannabis and psychedelics, namely LSD.

While serving time, he earned three degrees, an AA, a BA, and a Masters in Liberal Arts, with a focus on writing and journalism. While in prison Ferranti wrote and published numerous comic books on crime, penned 500 blog entries, 22 true crime novels—with many of the stories garnered from fellow inmates.

He began freelancing from prison for crime publications, telling the stories of gangsters, often from the criminal’s perspective, detailing the trials and tribulations of a failed War on Drugs, and a legal system seemingly damaged beyond repair.

Seven years ago he was released back into the general population as an adult, ready to continue telling the stories from the failed War on Drugs, with his first effort, White Boy, the true story of Rick Wershe, Jr., a 14 year old boy used by the FBI as an drug informant in the 1980s.

His own story is intriguing enough, with the ever humble Ferranti approached by filmmakers, stating, “I really haven’t finished my own story yet, because I still have a lot more to do and say.”

Courtesy of Seth Ferranti

Meeting Supply & Demand

Ferranti was what’s referred to as a military brat, with his family moving from state to state, with stints overseas. His biological dad was in the Marines and his stepdad was a Navy combat pilot; both served in Vietnam. His mother was taught at both the high school and college level, then taught special education kids.

“We were in California when I first smoked weed at 13, and from that moment forward I spent my time sourcing for more” he shared. “When I realized I could sell a little and smoke for free, distribution was a natural evolution. When we were in England I smoked Lebanese and Moroccan hash like it was going out of style.”

The family had been stationed in California, England, and Germany, but by the time he was a 17 the family was living in Virginia, and he took a deep dive into the distribution of weed.

“For a teenager who wasn’t even 20 years old, I thought I was a big dealer—but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t really that big of a dealer at all,” he said. “In prison I met dudes who easily shipped thousands of pounds more than me.”

Ferranti was strictly a weed and psychedelics guy, sourcing bricks from Mexico, and material from Kentucky, Florida, and Texas at $300 and $400 a pound. Moving the substandard bricks, calling them “commercial bud,” at $1,200 a pound.

“I used to fly down to Dallas, buy 50 pounds, and fly back to D.C. with it. That wouldn’t happen today,” he laughed.

At the height of his distribution he was supplying 15 East Coast colleges in five states, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland.

Grateful Dead concerts became a lucrative side gig, as he moved up to 20 pounds a pop in its parking lot parties—with 40 pounds of Kentucky outdoor said to have been moved during the Dead’s Madison Square Gardens concert alone.

“The feds said I sold one hundred thousand hits of LSD in the nine months they were investigating me,” he said. “Psychedelics were really my side hustle, though. I made more money on the weed, but I was busted for LSD.”

Meeting supply and demand is nothing new, and the ever-changing language of dealer to healer applies today, as more states get on board to legalize medicine and recreation—though it’s all the same thing.

Your endocannabinoid system doesn’t care that you want to get high, you are reaping the benefits. Even the psychedelics he used to move are now considered beneficial, with laws being reconsidered, and substances like MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms now being made legal and more readily available in treating depression, mental disorders, and more. Not just a good time for Dead Heads.

Courtesy of Seth Ferranti

Ferranti: Outlaw, not Criminal

In the summer of 1991 Ferranti was shut down, with Federal Agents arresting him, as said, not for his lucrative weed trade, but for the LSD.

Quoting Hendrix, “Castles made of sand slip into the sea, eventually,” Ferranti said at the age of 20, facing multiple decades in prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense.

“I was given two choices when they arrested me, cooperate or go to prison,” he said. “I chose the ‘fuck off’ approach, and went into hiding for two years. The U.S. Marshals put me on the Top 15 Most Wanted List, but, I’ve never felt like a criminal—because I don’t feel there’s anything wrong in using cannabis or psychedelics. I’ve always felt like an activist for weed and LSD. I’ve always felt like an outlaw forced to hide out.”

With a little money stashed away, Ferranti said he first fled to California, but ran out of funds in about six months, relocating to St. Louis, Missouri by train, via Amtrak.

As fate would have it, silver linings abound, and while in exile in St. Louis he met Diane Schulte, the woman who said she fell in love with him at first sight, just six months before his capture. Schule stayed with him through 21 years of incarceration, and is still by his side today as his wife.

“Diane was a Court Reporter, ironically,” he said. “My brand Gorilla Convict and the life I have in writing today would not have happened without her help. That’s the truth. I would have been just another frustrated writer in prison if she hadn’t of helped me. She established my blog, built my website, created my brand, helped me get things published, and has given me her love and support through it all.”

“She’s really been my Executive Producer on every project I’ve been involved with in film, and she’s my Assistant Director on set—until she gets too bossy, then I send her home,” he laughed.

Telling the Stories of Persecution

Ferranti’s factual film, White Boy, streamed on Netflix for one year, after an 18 month run on STARZ. As of this writing, it’s now streaming on Amazon and iTunes. This true story from the failed War on Drugs is poignant, with Ferranti already in development and pre-production with more stories from the front lines—his passion and now life’s work.

“We all know about the corruption of the courts, and the discrimination within the failed War on Drugs, but the stories need to be told on a grander scale,” he said. “It’s the only way to stop this war on people and plants, under the guise of drugs.”

Currently, he’s in post production with Tangled Roots, a documentary telling the stories of cannabis farmers to the north in Southern Humboldt, California—the legacy farmers now struggling with unreasonable ordinances and high taxes in a newly regulated market.

Courtesy of Seth Ferranti

“When I went up there to meet them all and film, I realized they are my tribe,” he shared. “Theses dudes are just like me, have gone though similar things, have the same stories of persecution and prison, and like me, jumped right back into the game. I may not deal any longer, but I’m still a cannabis and psychedelic activist—and always will be. Prison didn’t change that for me or for the farmers who have served time.”

Of the many projects he’s working on at different phases of development is a documentary titled, Psychedelic Revolution: The Secret History of the LSD trade, telling the story of the first days of Timothy Leary and others discovering, using, and being persecuted for psychedelics.

“My focus is on documenting the stories from the drug war the mainstream media won’t or can’t tell because of bad laws or out of ignorance,” he continued. “When I wrote true crime stories from prison I was punished by being put in the hole more times than I can say for telling the stories. But, it didn’t stop me, in the hole all there was to do was write.”

Looking back, he has little regrets. The once-straight-A student, the kid that played basketball, rode dirt bikes, and skateboarded as a run-of-the-mill teenager, may have detoured for the plant along the way, morphing into a character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but his focus remained.

“Returning to a 420-friendly world as a 43-year-old man was an eye opener,” he said. “They call me an OG now, because I sacrificed my freedom so my peers could partake.”

Out of prison, from the halfway house, he remembers looking in awe on the internet at the images of modern bud, dripping with trichomes, and all the different strains unfamiliar to him at the time.

“Seeing all this weed online reminded me of the first time I cracked open an issue of High Times, but now everything seems to be on steroids,” he surmised. “It’s a brave new world for weed, indeed. I just remember thinking I couldn’t wait to get out of the halfway house so I could smoke again. That’s the part that never changes, no matter how many times you’re put in a hole because of this plant, literally and figuratively.”

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From the Archives: Better Telepathy Through Chemistry (1977)

By D. Scott Rogo

Modern psychologists say we use only one-tenth of our brains. The French philosopher Henri Bergson speculated that the human brain in its full force was capable of knowing all that was afoot in the universe at any given moment, but that in order to permit our cave-dwelling ancestors to get on with the woolly-mammoth hunting and other business at hand, our front-brains learned to automatically censor 90 percent of the perceptions they received lest we succumb to the stupefying Sensurround effect of information overload. The English philosopher Aldous Huxley—an enthusiastic LSD and mescaline fancier—speculated that if Bergson was correct, technological progress had evolved to the point where humans had the leisure to cultivate the neglected 90 percent, and therefore history had given us the gift of psychedelics in the twentieth century to help us climb back into inner space.

Think what you will of Bergson and Huxley, one persistent fact is claiming the attention of a number of parapsychology researchers today as they try to burrow through to the seat of psychic power. LSD and other hallucinogens just might stimulate extrasensory perception, or ESP.

Of course, psychedelic plants have been gobbled up by soothsayers in search of prophetic copy since the Greeks and Aztecs, but science has long scoffed at the claims of barbarian holy men who thought they could see the future. It was not until 1927 that Dr. William McGovern, an anthropologist/explorer of the Amazon River, witnessed and described a native ritual involving a hallucinogenic brew distilled from the Banistcriopsis caapi plant:

“Certain of the Indians fell into a particularly deep state of trance,” McGovern wrote, “in which they possessed what appeared to be telepathic powers. Two or three of the men described what was going on in malokas hundreds of miles away, many of which they had never visited, and the inhabitants of which they had never seen, but which seemed to tally exactly with what I knew of the places and people concerned. More extraordinary still, on this particular evening, the local medicine man told me that the chief of a certain tribe in faraway Pira Panama had suddenly died. I entered this statement in my diary and many weeks later, when we came to the tribe in question, I found that the witch doctor’s statements had been true in every detail.”

The first controlled experiments of psychedelically-induced ESP date back to the Twenties and Thirties, when French investigators got into the act at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. They administered mescaline to subjects and then tested them to see how well they could reproduce sketches or words drawn in another room and sent to them telepathically. Apparently the experiments succeeded to some extent, because the Pasteur Institute researchers soon dubbed mescaline “the telepathic drug.” At the same time, private investigations were being carried out by Dr. Eugene Osty, a well-known French parapsychologist, to determine the effects of yagé on ESP.

Even Soviet scientists investigated the mystery. In Mysterious Phenomena of the Human Psyche, Leonid Vasiliev of the Leningrad-based Institute for Brain Research admitted that he too had experimented in hopes of finding a relationship between mescaline and ESP. Vasiliev, who carried out his research in 1946, was probably the first contemporary parapsychologist to explore the ESP effects of psychedelic drugs.

Only one subject was used for his experiments. She was a physiologist who, according to the Soviet scientist, “gave no signs whatsoever of possessing parapsychological capabilities.” The volunteer was given mescaline and two hours later, when she began describing intense mental imagery, Vasiliev asked her to psychically describe what objects were hidden in a series of black plastic boxes. Several of these trials were extremely successful. When the target was a postage stamp imprinted with a picture of the Central Telegraph Building in Moscow, the subject reported “A stone house. How did you contrive to hide a house in there?” A mass of red coral was described by the subject as “a red stain.” A small compass was likewise described as “something that is yellow, oval, hard, orange and tinkles.” A frog elicited the response, “Something alive.”

There can be little doubt that some of these impressions related directly to the objects in the boxes. Unfortunately, since Professor Vasiliev did not test the subject before or after her mescaline experience, we really don’t know how well she would have done on the ESP test in a normal state of mind. Despite the fact that this pilot study was promising, Vasiliev never continued his drug research.

LSD was synthesized in 1943 during a time when the study of ESP was still frowned upon in academic circles. Psychologists began studying LSD because it seemed temporarily to create the symptoms of psychosis. But as investigators began studying the LSD experience, cases of spontaneous ESP started cropping up.

Probably the two most active LSD investigators in this country have been the husband and wife team of R. E. L. Masters and Dr. Jean Houston. Although not originally interested in ESP, when some of their subjects started reporting extrasensory impressions during their sessions, they became intrigued enough to study it experimentally. One incident occurred when a young housewife was given LSD during a session monitored by the two investigators. As they recorded it in The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience:

“S-19 … complained in the course of an LSD session that she could see her little girl in the kitchen of their home and that the daughter was taking advantage of her mother’s absence to go looking for a cookie jar. S further reported that the daughter was standing on a chair and rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. She ‘saw’ the child knock a glass sugar bowl from the shelf and remarked that the bowl had shattered on the floor, spilling sugar all around.

“S forgot about this episode, but when she returned home, after her session, she decided to make herself some coffee and then was unable to find the sugar bowl. She asked her husband where it was, and he told her that while she was away, their daughter had ‘made a mess’ knocking the sugar bowl from the shelf and smashing it. The child had done this ‘while looking for cookies.’”

Another LSD-induced ESP experience was brought to Masters’s and Houston’s attention by a friend. He had been monitoring an LSD session during which his subject reported seeing a ship caught in ice in northern seas. She even saw its name written on the bow—the France. Three days later, local newspapers reported that a ship, the France, had been freed from ice floes near Greenland.

Since ESP experiences do seem to happen all the time, there is no way of telling if the above incidents were specifically prompted by the LSD. Even though these two cases seem to be scientifically controlled, they do not in themselves offer very strong evidence for an LSD-ESP relationship. So Masters and Houston began to explore experimentally the relationship to see if one really did exist.

For their first project, Masters and Houston tested 27 LSD subjects with standard ESP (Zener) cards. These are the well-known cards that J. B. Rhine developed and made famous at Duke University. The deck consists of a sequence of 25 cards, each of which is printed with one of five geometric symbols: either a cross, star, circle, square or wavy lines. By calling any sequence of 25 cards, the subject might be expected to get about 5 correct by chance. Jean Houston acted as agent and, sitting across the room from the subject, concentrated on the cards one by one, attempting to psychically influence the subject’s guesses. Twenty-three of the subjects scored at a level expected by the laws of chance. However, 4 of the subjects did seem to score above average, and only one of them continued to score well when tested later after the effects of the drug had worn off.

Masters and Houston soon discovered, though, that their subjects quickly wearied of guessing cards and became bored with the experiment. So they changed strategy. For a new series of tests they prepared slips of paper with more complicated images described on them. The agent, again sitting across the room from the subject, picked up the slips one by one and tried to send the image to the LSD-intoxicated subject telepathically. Better results seemed to be obtained with this more interesting method.

Sometimes the subjects were extremely accurate when they described what they thought was being mentally transmitted to them. When a target was a Viking ship tossing in a storm, one subject reported, “Snake with arched head swimming in tossed seas.” When the target was a tropical rain forest, the same subject reported imaging “Lush vegetation, exotic flowers, startling green—seen through watery mist.”

Masters and Houston approximated that out of the 63 subjects they tested, at least 48 achieved some success on at least one or two of the imagery attempts, while 5 had more consistent success.

One of the most systematic investigations into the effects of psychedelic drugs on ESP was a lengthy project carried out by two Italian investigators, Roberto Cavanna and Emilio Servadio. The team was an ideal one. Cavanna is a prominent pharmacologist, while Servadio is one of Italy’s leading parapsychologists. For their project, the two investigators utilized LSD and psilocybin.

Subjects for the tests were first selected during initial interviewing and then were invited to return to participate in the experiments. They were asked to sit in a comfortable room where they were given mild doses of one of the hallucinogens. After the drug had taken effect, they were asked to describe pictures sealed in closed envelopes. These pictures were surrealistic, especially designed to appeal to the unworldliness of the psychedelic experience. Among the target pictures were a baby doll’s head in a glass, a hand with a tiny hand emerging from between two of its fingers, a key held in clenched teeth, a foot balancing a glass eye and so on.

These “hits” were very scattered, and it is not difficult to believe that coincidence could account for them. So Cavanna and Servadio gave up their project, but they did write a monograph, ESP Experiments with LSD 25 and Psilocybin, which was published by the Parapsychology Foundation in 1964.

Because of the tight legal regulations on even scientific LSD research, the search for a relationship between psychic ability and the hallucinogens stopped prematurely a decade ago. Now, however, parapsychologists are focusing a not-too-disinterested eye on LSD-induced psychic effects thanks to some startling discoveries recently announced by one of this country’s leading LSD authorities, Dr. Stanislav Grof. Dr. Grof’s work is bound to reopen the entire issue.

Dr. Grof has been involved in investigating several different aspects of LSD over the years. He began his research in Czechoslovakia in 1956, and from 1967 to 1973 he continued his explorations at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. He is now associated with the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

Dr. Grof’s recent book, Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research, is creating quite a stir among both his professional colleagues and the parapsychologist community. He claims that he has witnessed an entire hierarchy of ESP effects. For example, he has stated that his subjects sometimes begin to identify with their own ancestors and “convey specific information that was unknown to the subject, and, in some instances, not even accessible to him at the time of the session.”

Other subjects, claims Grof, identify with animals and seem to gain an unexplained and apparently extrasensory understanding and knowledge of their physiology and behavior.

One of Dr. Grof’s most spectacular cases concerns a 50-year-old psychologist named Nadja who was undergoing an LSD training session. During her experience, she relived a series of events in the life of her mother and mentally reenacted a scene where her mother was hiding under a staircase in fear, when suddenly someone put a hand over her mouth. Asking her mother about the incident, the elder woman verified the accuracy of the scene as her daughter had relived it. Was this ESP or perhaps even genetic memory? Of course, genetic memory is an issue easily as controversial as ESP.

Dr. Grof worked more intensively with another subject named Renata, who during LSD therapy began reliving scenes from seventeenth-century Czechoslovakia. She described people, scenes, historical facts and architecture of the period, although she had never studied this particular epoch of Czech history. Grof himself spent hours trying to verify the impressions and facts related to him by his patient and gradually was able to corroborate a vast number of them.

He also reports, as mentioned above, that LSD subjects often seem to create a psychic bond with animal life: “It is not uncommon,” Grof writes, “for subjects reporting evolutionary experiences to manifest a detailed knowledge of the animals with whom they have identified—of their physicial characteristics, habits and behavior patterns—that far exceeds their educations in the natural sciences. On occasion, subjects have accurately described courtship dances, complicated reproductive cycles, techniques of nest-building, patterns of aggression and defense and many zoological and ethological facts about the animals they have experienced in sessions.”

Dr. Grof admits, all in all, that the experimental research on the LSD-ESP question has been mixed. Nevertheless, in light of the results of his own work, he offers no apologies whim concluding in his book that “states conducive to various paranormal phenomena and characterized by unusually high incidence of ESP are, however, among the many alternative conditions that can be facilitated by the drug.”

The reason for Grof’s success may lay in the fact that, unlike Cavanna and Servadio. he has never tried to force ESP out into the open. Instead he has simply allowed it to manifest itself in the course of his therapeutic work. This free and undemanding setting might be necessary for ESP to become evident.

Clearly, more research is needed. Even if a relationship between ESP and LSD—or any other drug for that matter—is found, what will it tell us about the ESP process? Whatever else it may be, ESP is an unconscious process, and the main problem is coaxing it out into the open. Drugs will never be the total solution, only a temporary catalyst. It is not the drug that helps manifest the ESP, but the state of mind the drug produces. If ESP is a product of a specific state of mind, as many parapsychologists now believe, then LSD will not be a means in itself. It will be a tool, to aid researchers in understanding farther reaches of the mind.

High Times Magazine, November 1977

Read the full issue here.

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From the Archives: I Was a Teenage Acid Exploitation Flick Fiend (1986)

By Roger Berrian

“TONIGHT!” roared the ad, “You are invited to a PILL PARTY. You will experience every jolt, every jar of a psychedelic circus… The Beatniks… Sickniks… and ACID HEADS… Their ecstasies, their agonies, and their BIZARRE SENSUALITIES…You will be hurled into their debauched dreams and frenzied fantasies!”

Sort of whets the appetite, doesn’t it? The copy was written for a classic 1966 exploitation film, Hallucination Generation. Most viewers did not realize, however, that the drug LSD actually made its screen debut six years earlier in The Tingler, a Vincent Price thriller in which the horrormeister employs the mind-bending drug to scare his wife to death in order to remove a slug-like parasite from her spine.

But The Tingler doesn’t really qualify as an acid flick because its focus is horror, not headtrips. The first true example of the genre is probably The Evil Pleasure, which hit the screens early in 1966. Set in the hippie ghetto of Haight-Ashbury, the film zeroed on the sex and dope lives of San Francisco’s Flower Children.

Acid and bellbottoms were next dropped in The Acid Eaters, a 1966 release that opened with scenes of dreary office workers performing daily routines in quiet desperation—typing mountains of paperwork, kissing the boss’s ass, etc. By flick’s end, the same group of uptight squares gobbles down enough micrograms to collectively hallucinate a 50-foot mound of pure LSD in the Mohave Desert.

In spite of its grand-slam finale, The Acid Eaters should not be confused with The Big Cube, the first cheapie to capitalize on a growing public hysteria over “acid contamination.” By 1967, the media prophets of doom were predicting that food supplies, soft drinks and even entire city reservoirs were in imminent danger of being spiked by acid-crazed maniacs. The unwitting spikee is played—of all people—by Lana Turner.

More than two dozen cheapies were filmed during the acid heyday, which lasted from 1966 to 1970. The LSD revolution proved a godsend for many producers of low-budget trash films. The box-office take from vampire movies was dwindling, and soft-core comedies set in nudist camps were losing their zipper-busting appeal. Desperate, the fly-by-nighters turned to the six o’clock news for inspiration. Hippies, Haight-Ashbury, long hair, free love, and drugs—particularly LSD—were selling soap on the tube. The producers smelled an easy buck.

“Porno filmmakers wasted no time exploiting the sexual aspects of the countercultural revolution,” notes Jim Morton, the 36-year-old author of Incredibly Strange Movies. When asked the title of the worst LSD movie ever made, Morton does not hesitate to answer: “Hippie Temptation,” he says gleefully. “I still drop by and see it when it shows up at the Red Victorian Theater.”

Hippie Temptation was not a drive-in trash film, but an hour-long CBS documentary made in 1967. “I think it was reported by Mike Wallace,” says Morton. “CBS sent a camera crew into Haight-Ashbury to report on hippies and the drug culture.” A copy of the show was later unearthed by dope film enthusiasts and released on the midnight circuit. According to Morton, it is far worse than any of the theatrical releases.

In the late 60s, the uninformed public was regularly assured that LSD would turn its consumers into permanently raving nutjobs. The angle was exploited in the horror-porn-acid reel Mantis in Lace, a 60s rendering of the old Jekyll and Hyde plot. Mantis details the sordid night/knife life of a hippie stripper turned acid-whacked ripper.

Courtesy of High Times

Low-budget acid flicks quickly became a staple at mosquito-infested drive-ins, where local yahoos arrived in eight-cylinder asskicking machines and budgeted their Buds through a barrage of such acidsoaked garbage as Alice in Acidland, Psychedelic Sex Kicks, and Depraved. Of the latter, Morton observes that shoestring director Andy Milligan managed to include practically every sexual activity in the film, climaxing with a girl high on LSD leaping from a window—a fairly common fate for hippie ingénues who dared experiment with the mind-blowing chemical.

Other acid cheapies from the Golden Age include: Unholy Matrimony, Wanda: The Sadistic Hypnotist, The Tale of the Dean’s Wife, Psychout, Satan’s Sadists, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. These films frequently shared the marquee with low-budget movies about other drugs like Mary Jane, 1967’s answer to Reefer Madness. The film starred fading teen idol Fabian as a do-gooder attempting to keep curious high-schoolers away from herbal temptation. Trashier still was Synanon, which hopelessly miscast Chuck Conners and Ossie Davis as heroin addicts struggling to kick the junk habit.

In late 1967, exploitation film pioneer Roger Corman took the psychedelic cinema to the masses with the first widely released acid epic, The Trip. Written by Jack Nicholson, The Trip starred Peter Fonda as an advertising executive who scores a hefty dose of micrograms from his groovy pal Dennis Hopper. The balance of the film details Fonda’s stoned-out visionary experiences. Michael Weldon, author of

In late 1967, exploitation film pioneer Roger Corman took the psychedelic cinema to the masses with the first widely released acid epic, The Trip. Written by Jack Nicholson, The Trip starred Peter Fonda as an advertising executive who scores a hefty dose of micrograms from his groovy pal Dennis Hopper. The balance of the film details Fonda’s stoned-out visionary experiences. Michael Weldon, author of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, believes The Trip is the number-one attitude flick of the 60s. He particularly enjoys the scene in the laundry room “in which Fonda sits on the floor making cosmic comments.”

The selling point of The Trip was not zen enlightenment, however, but inspired cinematography and special effects. “Corman admitted to having experimented with LSD before making the film,” says Weldon. Could be. But the inspiration for the retina-shattering effects used in The Trip probably stem more from Dali and Disney than Kesey and Leary. After the film’s success, acid film producers opened their wallets for even greater special effects budgets and the tripping experience became even more identified with richly kaleidoscopic colors. Morton is quick to point out that the most popular acid film of the late 60s wasn’t even about acid—it was 2001: A Space Odyssey. (It’s worth noting that although Hallucination Generation was filmed in black and white, the film’s high-attitude sequences contained blinding, multicolored, Pop-art vortexes.)

LSD movies, like the initial market for LSD itself, vanished in the early 70s. “Charlie Manson took all the fun out of it,” laments Morton, who also speculates the psychedelic comeback of the 80s will create an audience for new movies about an old but faithful chemical. This is a staggering concept. The special effects revolution generated by films such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, and others, opens the door to a brain-blowing Acid Film Renaissance. How about a sequel to The Trip filmed with such high-tech effects that the audience gets stoned just looking at the screen?! Now there’s an experience well worth waiting for! In fact, chemical-induced hallucinations have played a major role in such recent films as Altered States and The Emerald Forest.

On the schlock front, Invasion of the Girl Snatchers represents the first low-budget acid flick to appear in years. It opened in 1985. Like The Tingler, Invasion is really a monster movie, but if acid flicks are going to make a serious comeback, many may have to sneak back into the theaters disguised as horror pics. Nevertheless, judging by Invasion‘s promo hype (“teenage acid heads battle freaked out zombies!”), the future looks kaleidoscopically bright!

High Times Magazine, September 1986

Read the full issue here.

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From the Archives: I Was a Teenage Acid Exploitation Flick Fiend (1986)

By Roger Berrian

“TONIGHT!” roared the ad, “You are invited to a PILL PARTY. You will experience every jolt, every jar of a psychedelic circus… The Beatniks… Sickniks… and ACID HEADS… Their ecstasies, their agonies, and their BIZARRE SENSUALITIES…You will be hurled into their debauched dreams and frenzied fantasies!”

Sort of whets the appetite, doesn’t it? The copy was written for a classic 1966 exploitation film, Hallucination Generation. Most viewers did not realize, however, that the drug LSD actually made its screen debut six years earlier in The Tingler, a Vincent Price thriller in which the horrormeister employs the mind-bending drug to scare his wife to death in order to remove a slug-like parasite from her spine.

But The Tingler doesn’t really qualify as an acid flick because its focus is horror, not headtrips. The first true example of the genre is probably The Evil Pleasure, which hit the screens early in 1966. Set in the hippie ghetto of Haight-Ashbury, the film zeroed on the sex and dope lives of San Francisco’s Flower Children.

Acid and bellbottoms were next dropped in The Acid Eaters, a 1966 release that opened with scenes of dreary office workers performing daily routines in quiet desperation—typing mountains of paperwork, kissing the boss’s ass, etc. By flick’s end, the same group of uptight squares gobbles down enough micrograms to collectively hallucinate a 50-foot mound of pure LSD in the Mohave Desert.

In spite of its grand-slam finale, The Acid Eaters should not be confused with The Big Cube, the first cheapie to capitalize on a growing public hysteria over “acid contamination.” By 1967, the media prophets of doom were predicting that food supplies, soft drinks and even entire city reservoirs were in imminent danger of being spiked by acid-crazed maniacs. The unwitting spikee is played—of all people—by Lana Turner.

More than two dozen cheapies were filmed during the acid heyday, which lasted from 1966 to 1970. The LSD revolution proved a godsend for many producers of low-budget trash films. The box-office take from vampire movies was dwindling, and soft-core comedies set in nudist camps were losing their zipper-busting appeal. Desperate, the fly-by-nighters turned to the six o’clock news for inspiration. Hippies, Haight-Ashbury, long hair, free love, and drugs—particularly LSD—were selling soap on the tube. The producers smelled an easy buck.

“Porno filmmakers wasted no time exploiting the sexual aspects of the countercultural revolution,” notes Jim Morton, the 36-year-old author of Incredibly Strange Movies. When asked the title of the worst LSD movie ever made, Morton does not hesitate to answer: “Hippie Temptation,” he says gleefully. “I still drop by and see it when it shows up at the Red Victorian Theater.”

Hippie Temptation was not a drive-in trash film, but an hour-long CBS documentary made in 1967. “I think it was reported by Mike Wallace,” says Morton. “CBS sent a camera crew into Haight-Ashbury to report on hippies and the drug culture.” A copy of the show was later unearthed by dope film enthusiasts and released on the midnight circuit. According to Morton, it is far worse than any of the theatrical releases.

In the late 60s, the uninformed public was regularly assured that LSD would turn its consumers into permanently raving nutjobs. The angle was exploited in the horror-porn-acid reel Mantis in Lace, a 60s rendering of the old Jekyll and Hyde plot. Mantis details the sordid night/knife life of a hippie stripper turned acid-whacked ripper.

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Low-budget acid flicks quickly became a staple at mosquito-infested drive-ins, where local yahoos arrived in eight-cylinder asskicking machines and budgeted their Buds through a barrage of such acidsoaked garbage as Alice in Acidland, Psychedelic Sex Kicks, and Depraved. Of the latter, Morton observes that shoestring director Andy Milligan managed to include practically every sexual activity in the film, climaxing with a girl high on LSD leaping from a window—a fairly common fate for hippie ingénues who dared experiment with the mind-blowing chemical.

Other acid cheapies from the Golden Age include: Unholy Matrimony, Wanda: The Sadistic Hypnotist, The Tale of the Dean’s Wife, Psychout, Satan’s Sadists, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. These films frequently shared the marquee with low-budget movies about other drugs like Mary Jane, 1967’s answer to Reefer Madness. The film starred fading teen idol Fabian as a do-gooder attempting to keep curious high-schoolers away from herbal temptation. Trashier still was Synanon, which hopelessly miscast Chuck Conners and Ossie Davis as heroin addicts struggling to kick the junk habit.

In late 1967, exploitation film pioneer Roger Corman took the psychedelic cinema to the masses with the first widely released acid epic, The Trip. Written by Jack Nicholson, The Trip starred Peter Fonda as an advertising executive who scores a hefty dose of micrograms from his groovy pal Dennis Hopper. The balance of the film details Fonda’s stoned-out visionary experiences. Michael Weldon, author of

In late 1967, exploitation film pioneer Roger Corman took the psychedelic cinema to the masses with the first widely released acid epic, The Trip. Written by Jack Nicholson, The Trip starred Peter Fonda as an advertising executive who scores a hefty dose of micrograms from his groovy pal Dennis Hopper. The balance of the film details Fonda’s stoned-out visionary experiences. Michael Weldon, author of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, believes The Trip is the number-one attitude flick of the 60s. He particularly enjoys the scene in the laundry room “in which Fonda sits on the floor making cosmic comments.”

The selling point of The Trip was not zen enlightenment, however, but inspired cinematography and special effects. “Corman admitted to having experimented with LSD before making the film,” says Weldon. Could be. But the inspiration for the retina-shattering effects used in The Trip probably stem more from Dali and Disney than Kesey and Leary. After the film’s success, acid film producers opened their wallets for even greater special effects budgets and the tripping experience became even more identified with richly kaleidoscopic colors. Morton is quick to point out that the most popular acid film of the late 60s wasn’t even about acid—it was 2001: A Space Odyssey. (It’s worth noting that although Hallucination Generation was filmed in black and white, the film’s high-attitude sequences contained blinding, multicolored, Pop-art vortexes.)

LSD movies, like the initial market for LSD itself, vanished in the early 70s. “Charlie Manson took all the fun out of it,” laments Morton, who also speculates the psychedelic comeback of the 80s will create an audience for new movies about an old but faithful chemical. This is a staggering concept. The special effects revolution generated by films such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, and others, opens the door to a brain-blowing Acid Film Renaissance. How about a sequel to The Trip filmed with such high-tech effects that the audience gets stoned just looking at the screen?! Now there’s an experience well worth waiting for! In fact, chemical-induced hallucinations have played a major role in such recent films as Altered States and The Emerald Forest.

On the schlock front, Invasion of the Girl Snatchers represents the first low-budget acid flick to appear in years. It opened in 1985. Like The Tingler, Invasion is really a monster movie, but if acid flicks are going to make a serious comeback, many may have to sneak back into the theaters disguised as horror pics. Nevertheless, judging by Invasion‘s promo hype (“teenage acid heads battle freaked out zombies!”), the future looks kaleidoscopically bright!

High Times Magazine, September 1986

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