Thursday, 29 May 2008

Are we being kept in the dark about the nocturnal chemistry of the pineal?

It was 50 years ago this week that news broke from Yale that they had isolated a new hormone from the pineal gland, which they did not know the function of but which lightened the shade of skin when tested in frogs. They called it “melatonin”. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) was found to be endogenous (made in the body) and yet, largely because DMT is a legally controlled psychoactive substance and has been seriously under-investigated as a consequence, it still remains essentially hypothetical that it also created within the pineal gland. I gave a talk a couple of nights ago about the extraordinary experiential effects of taking DMT and the possible ontology of the entities commonly encountered with this substance, be they elves, aliens, demons, gods or angels.

The talk was sold out and people were turned away (although another talk has been planned), but the people who were present, some of whom were mental health professionals, were very curious to know what research was being done into the role of DMT in mediating mental health. DMT having once been a contender for potentially explaining the occurrence of certain mental disorders I was loathe to admit that, since the 1970s, prohibition has curtailed practically all psychedelic research with humans (although the tide is now turning) and virtually no studies have been done into the position of DMT in mediating mental health. However, the recent discovery of trace amine receptors in the brain for which DMT shows greater affinity for than does serotonin – its more common neuro-amine cousin – has lead to a paper in Medical Hypotheses by Michael Jacob and David Presti speculating on the role of DMT in mediating mental health and may lead to a resurgence of interest in this simple yet extremely potent endogenous chemical. Psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia have been linked to irregular levels of trace amines.

Also appearing in Medical Hypotheses, but 20 years ago, was a proposal by Jayce Callaway that, at night, serotonin becomes converted into DMT by the pineal gland and plays a central role in activating dreams. Are we being kept in the dark about our own nocturnal chemistry? Currently, although the role of melatonin in the regulation of circadian patterns is now far more understood than it was 50 years ago, the function and even the very presence of DMT in the pineal gland remains a mystery that threatens to challenge much of what we understand about consciousness, and yet remains actively ignored as a topic of legitimate scientific research because of its taboo status. Currently there are at least two very important questions that need answering about DMT. Why should substances that activate extremely potent mystical-type experiences be naturally occurring in the human brain, and why if they are present in our own brain are they placed in the most punitive legal category for controlled substances, thereby making everybody criminals?

References and links:

Callaway, J. C. (1988). A proposed mechanism for the visions of dream sleep. Medical Hypotheses, 26, 119-24.

Jacob, M. S., & Presti, D. E. (2005). Endogenous psychoactive tryptamines reconsidered: An anxiolytic role for dimethyltryptamine. Medical Hypotheses, 64, 930-937.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

DMT elves and higher-dimensional space

Coming back to the endless and unresolved issue of DMT entities, I thought it only reasonable to make mention of one of the seminal articles on the topic. Originally published in Psychedelic Monographs and Essays #6 in 1993, the article by Peter Meyer entitled “Apparent Communication with Discarnate Entities Induced by Dimethyltryptamine” puts forward a discussion of DMT entities, including elves, that accepts their existence at face value. Advancing on the proposal by Evans-Wentz that elves occupy “…a supernormal state of consciousness into which men and women may enter temporarily in dreams, trances, or in various ecstatic conditions”, Meyers suggests that “…the faerie world studied by Evans-Wentz and the space into which one may enter under the influence of DMT are parts of a common higher-dimensional space which transcends and encompasses consensus reality as understood at present”. As such, for Meyer, the DMT elves are real denizens of hyperspace. The entire article, later revised by Meyer, is well worth a read.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Moses: A Holy Land shaman?

If you orbit the same bodies in cyber space as me you will definitely have come across this recent article by Prof. Benny Shanon of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Putting the God back in the "entheogen" (a name for psychedelic substances used sacramentally, meaning “creating the God within”) this article by the leading expert on the cognitive psychology of ayahuasca visions brings the notion of sacred psychoactive substances to the very core of Islam, Judaism and Christianity – by investigating the extraordinary visions of Moses in the Old Testament.

In “Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis”, which appears in the inaugural issue of Time & Mind: Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, Prof. Shanon puts forward a highly plausible (although painfully unprovable at present) thesis that Moses was actually under the influence of a Holy Land analogue of ayahuasca (the highly visionary South American jungle decoction whose active principle is DMT), made from the Acacia tree and the Perganum harmala bush of the Sinai Peninsula. This is a fascinating article, which deserves some special attention, and will find an important home in the literature on the religious and spiritual use of psychoactive substances. Here’s the abstract and link to the full paper

Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis

A speculative hypothesis is presented according to which the ancient Israelite religion was associated with the use of entheogens (mind-altering plants used in sacramental contexts). The hypothesis is based on a new look at texts of the Old Testament pertaining to the life of Moses. The ideas entertained here were primarily based on the fact that in the arid areas of the Sinai peninsula and Southern Israel there grow two plants containing the same psychoactive molecules found in the plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca is prepared. The two plants are species of Acacia tree and the bush Peganum harmala. The hypothesis is corroborated by comparative experiential-phenomenological observations, linguistic considerations, exegesis of old Jewish texts and other ancient Mideastern traditions, anthropological lore, and ethnobotanical data.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Hofmann departs leaving colourful mystical legacy

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever received as many messages about any one thing more than the death of Albert Hofmann this week, aged 102. If the response to this one man’s passing is anything to go by he has left a beautiful shining rainbow-coloured smudge in the otherwise black and white history books. The rest of us barely manage a line or two... largely without highlighting. As one friend said, the great mage is now heading for the stars. For those of you who don’t know, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, was the inventor-cum-discoverer of LSD. Much is known and has been written about Albert’s discovery in terms of its general impact on psychology, psychiatry and culture at large, but less is known about Albert’s impact on parapsychology. An article published a couple of years ago to celebrate his hundredth birthday explores his influence, both directly and indirectly, on the field of paranormal research. A tribute to Albert Hofmann on his 100th birthday: The mysterious discovery of LSD and the impact of psychedelics on parapsychology.