The War on Drugs Halted Research Into the Potential Benefits of Psychedelics
In the fall of 1965, a 33-year-old father of three named Arthur King—a patient on the alcoholics ward at Baltimore’s Spring Grove Hospital—swallowed an LSD pill and laid back on his bed in a special unit called “Cottage Thirteen.” Sanford Unger, the chief of psychosocial research at the Maryland State Psychiatric Research Center, knelt beside King’s bed, holding his hand and reassuring the patient as he started to feel the drug’s mind-altering effects.
This was not a normal psycho-therapy session. During his 12-hour experience, designed to help stop his destructive drinking habit, King sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the photo of his son that he’d brought. Suddenly, the child became alive in the picture, which initially frightened him. Then King noticed that a lick of his son’s hair was out of place, so he stroked the photo, putting the errant strands back in place. His fear vanished. Later, Unger held out a small vase with a single red rose. King looked at the flower, which seemed to be opening and closing, as though it were breathing. At one point, Unger asked him whether he’d like to go out to a bar and have a few drinks. King didn’t say anything but was shocked when the rose suddenly turned black and dropped dead before his eyes. He never picked up another drink.
Fighting fire with Zen at Tassajara
Being at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the summer and the fall is being with fire, or at least co-existing with the possibility that a sudden fire could sweep through these rugged hills east of Big Sur and devour this historic Buddhist monastery and picturesque hot springs retreat.
That potentiality was certainly on the minds of 75 summer guests who heeded an evacuation order in late July and climbed into four-wheel-drive vehicles for the 14-mile, hour-long escape to tiny Jamesburg, where one finds the comforts of pavement and a road to Carmel Valley.
After burning for nearly three months and scorching an area four times the size of San Francisco, the Soberanes Fire was declared contained in October at a cost of at least $235 million, making it by some accounts the most expensive wildfire battle in U.S. history.
Calling all mystics
Researchers investigating beneficial new uses for psychedelic drugs have set their sights on what may seem an unlikely group of volunteer subjects — your local priest, minister or rabbi.
Scientists at New York University and Johns Hopkins University have already shown positive results in an expanding program where psychotherapists have used psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” to treat depression and acute anxiety in cancer patients.
Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, is leading the new research, which stems from findings that volunteers who’ve taken psilocybin in a wide variety of research settings often report profound mystical experiences.
Griffiths wonders whether these altered states of consciousness are the same as those reported by longtime meditators or highly religious individuals. And he now has a three-pronged research project that will attempt to answer that question.
The New Sexual
For most Americans, issues of sexual ethics and sexual morality have long been intertwined with the teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But today, growing numbers of people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious,” along with more liberal members of the nation’s churches and synagogues, are looking for a new sexual ethic—one that goes beyond the “thou shalt nots” of organized religion.
Many are searching for a more joyous, sex-positive theology. They are looking to see what their own sexual experiences tell them about spiritual truth—and to connect their spiritual and sexual selves.
This exploration raises as many questions as answers in an era of rapidly changing sexual mores. Today, once-closeted gay couples are living happily ever after in marriage; pornography formerly restricted by obscenity laws is available 24 hours a day for mass consumption online; teens flirt by “sexting”; and online dating sites facilitate everything from quickie hookups to clandestine extramarital activities (“Life is short, have an affair,” suggests Ashley Madison.com, a dating website specifically for married people). Without the sexual rules that once governed our relationships, how do we separate right from wrong? What makes sex “sacred”? What makes it “profane”?
The Next Sexual
The Rev. Ted McIlvenna, whose pioneering work in the 1960s helped inspire the sexual revolution and the gay rights movement, has a new crusade.
Next month, the 80-year-old Methodist rebel will lead a delegation of 10 sex experts to China to help an emerging class of financially independent Chinese women achieve female sexual empowerment.
“The second sexual revolution is about female sexuality,” said McIlvenna, a San Francisco preacher who owns what may be the world's largest collection of sex books, erotic art and vintage pornography. “And the women of China are starting to say, ‘What about our sexuality?’ ”
“Hello” in Cairo
“Issallam ‘alaykum,’” I proudly proclaimed.
All of us aging hippies and unrepentant cannabis connoisseurs
will be forced to face the fact that “we” are “them.” If
Prop. 19 passes, and California legalizes the recreational use of marijuana,
we must face the (rock) music and accept the fact that the counterculture
is now the mainstream culture.
a testing ground
Michael Pollan and Me:
Two journalists who’ve spent varying amounts of time teaching their craft at Cal give themselves an assignment that, in the end, blows away that well-worn rubric of “who, what, where, when, why.”
They are Michael Pollan, famous for his smart writing about food, and Don Lattin, a.k.a. me, known for my reverently irreverent writing about religion. Pollan
Working on separate tracks, we each spent three to four years interviewing many of the same experts and psychedelic explorers. We had amazingly similar experiences and came up with nearly identical titles. We even had some of the same hallucinations.
My book is called Changing Our Minds—Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy. It was released to little fanfare in April of 2017 by Synergetic Press, a tiny publisher in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
How San Francisco’s Summer of Love sparked today’s religious movements
Over the past few months, the Bay Area has been waxing nostalgic over the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love,” the 1967 season when “hippies” and tens of thousands of seekers, drifters and runaways poured into the city’s suddenly chaotic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
To many Americans, the psychedelic counterculture of the 1960s, which the Summer of Love came to represent, may seem like an irrelevant little experiment involving LSD, tie-dyes, free love, shaggy hairstyles and rock bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
It was all of that, but the mind-blowing revolution that rocked the streets of San Francisco that summer may also be seen as a new religious movement that profoundly shaped the lives and spiritual expression of millions of Americans who never dropped acid, grew a beard, burned their bra, or set foot in a hippie commune
Study: Drug-induced spiritual experiences help cancer patients.
Cancer patient Tony D. Head wasn’t sure he’d call it “God” exactly, but some extraordinary power touched him during his psychedelic-assisted therapy session.
“It was so powerful and so profound that it just took my breath away,” said Head,
“Whatever it was, it was a power that is in the universe,” he added after the session at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “I feel like it changed my life.
Patients in ecstasy clinical trial find drug benefitial
An Oakland attorney battling cancer and a Sausalito yacht broker with an equally terrifying disease sit side by side inside a cozy psychedelic psychotherapy center overlooking Mount Tamalpais. Andy Gold, the lawyer, and John Saul, the boat salesman, are perched on a piece of furniture both had gotten to know well over the past six months: “the tripping couch.”
Gold and Saul are among the first research subjects to complete a months-long clinical drug trial to determine whether psychological trauma sparked by life-threatening diagnoses such as theirs can be lessened through intense, five-hour sessions of talk and music therapy aided by MDMA —
Ecstasy therapy approved for trial in Marin County
Three decades after the U.S. government slammed the door on ecstasy, a team of Marin County therapists has gotten permission to use the popular party drug in a study designed to reduce anxiety among people with cancer or other life-threatening disease.
Dr. Philip Wolfson, a San Anselmo psychiatrist and longtime advocate of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, has begun recruiting for 18 people for his research project, which will be conducted over the next year in his cozy hilltop psychotherapy center overlooking Mount Tamalpais.
Effective Tool in
Nigel McCourry couldn’t sleep, and when he did, the nightmares about what he’d done in Iraq would wake him up.
McCourry, who had been there as a lance corporal in a weapons platoon in the U.S. Marine Corps, would stand at the window of his apartment in Asheville, N.C., until 4 or 5 in the morning, convinced someone was coming to get him.
The Second Coming of Psychedelics
Ric Godfrey had the shakes. At night, his body temperature would drop and he’d start to tremble. During the day, he was jumpy. He was always looking around, always on edge. His vibe scared the people around him. He couldn’t hang on to a job.
He started drinking and drugging, anything to numb out.
Years passed before a Department of Veterans Affairs counselor told him he had severe posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The former Marine had spent the early 1990s interrogating prisoners in Kuwait. Years later, he was still playing out the Persian Gulf War.
Counseling helped a little, but the symptoms continued. He went to rehab for his substance abuse, then tried Alcoholics Anonymous. “That went on for 10 years,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I hit rock bottom.”
To Forgive and
Couples on Ecstasy
Writer Ayelet Waldman was teaching a class on drug policy reform at UC Berkeley when she and her husband, the popular novelist Michael Chabon, decided that MDMA, the illegal party drug fueling those all-night raves, might also be a medicine that could save their marriage. They got the idea after Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, the psychedelic chemist and so-called “godfather of ecstasy,” spoke to her class.
That was about a decade ago. Since then, the couple have gone off once every few years for two-night getaways on the California coast, something Waldman calls “our marriage-recharging ritual.”
“We get up, go for a hike, and when we’re on our way back, about a half-hour from the hotel, we take the pills,” said Waldman, a former federal court public defender. “Then, for the next six hours, we talk about our relationship. When I tell my women friends about this, they softly say, ‘Yes.’ The men all go ‘Noooo!!!’”
Remembrance Lessons learned from
When I heard the news that the beloved religion scholar Huston Smith had died at his home in Berkeley, my mind drifted back to the lively conversations we’d had over the years sitting across from each other in armchairs near the light-filled bay window of his Colusa Street bungalow.
Most of my professional career was spent as the religion reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. Toward the end of my time covering the “Godbeat,”
Transcending depression without a script
“Didn’t the people in Brazil warn you about antidepressants and ayahuasca?” my friend asked as we sat down at the sushi bar in Berkeley. She’d already had several revelatory nights
drinking the psychedelic tea with a Peruvian shaman.
Former ‘Jesus freak’ traces the evolution of Christian rock
But all of a sudden, this was the devil’s music.
“I destroyed some of them with a hammer and took the rest to a used record store,” he recalled with a laugh. “I think I kept 10 classical music albums that I decided were not anti-Christian.”
Today, at age 65, Gersztyn’s religious fervor has mellowed; he rarely attends church and calls himself “an allegorical Christian.” But he has put together his love of pop music and photography to publish an illustrated, two-volume work titled “Jesus Rocks the World — The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music.”
Perched atop the rugged splendor of the California coast south of Monterey, the Esalen Institute is the mother church for people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Over the last five decades, hundreds of thousands of seekers have come to this incubator of East-meets-West spirituality looking for news ways to bring together body, mind, psyche and soul.
But today, as this iconic hot springs spa and retreat center celebrates its 50th birthday, a bitter dispute has broken out over its future. Like the many “seminarians” who come here after losing a spouse or a job, Esalen now faces its own midlife crisis.
Studying the art of gratitude
Publishers can't seem to print enough books with the words “gratitude” or “gratefulness” in the title. Scientists rake in millions of dollars in grants to study how feelings of gratitude might improve physical health and psychological well-being. And this weekend, hundreds are expected to attend a Pathways to Gratefulness conference at the Palace of Fine Arts to talk about cultivating gratefulness in their lives.
It was a decade of idealism
and divisiveness. Three years into the decade, Bob Dylan railed against
mothers and fathers throughout the land. Don’t criticize what you
can’t understand. Jim Morrison proclaimed we want the world, and
we want it … now. Much of this can be explained by demographics
and the arrogance of youth. Then there were the drugs, especially the
to be Chosen
Rabbi Capers Funnye, the spiritual leader of Beth
Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian
Hebrew Congregation in Chicago, doesn't look Jewish—at least
to some Jewish eyes.