Witch on DMT – For Science!

DMT is an iconic substance; one of the central ingredients of the magical potion ayahuasca, fuel for the entrancing soliloquies of Terence McKenna and the beautiful art of Pablo Amaringo. This powerful psychedelic was also the one that the fabulous Nikki Wyrd was injected with at the winter solstice last year – for science!

Nikki was a participant in an experiment conducted at Imperial College, London. In due course I’m sure she will publish exactly what happened, but she can’t share much at the moment because the experiment is ongoing (and no one wants to mess up the data). Both physiological and psychological information was collected, as subjects had the chance to take this often highly visual psychedelic in a clinical setting. The aim is to understand more about how this substance operates, its potential to help us explore how the brain (and mind) works, and the mechanisms by which it exerts its possible therapeutic effects.

brain

Actual pics of Ms Wyrd as psychonaut to follow once the research is complete!

Now anyone who has been paying attention to the fact that substances such as DMT have regularly proved (for millennia) both philosophically useful (in terms of helping people explore consciousness) and healing (in various ‘traditional’ psychedelic cultures) may wonder why we need such research? There are several answers to this, including the strategic one; that increased licensed use of psychedelics may lead to a wider social acceptance that these are valuable, rather than dangerous, substances. Another reason is that detailed scientific studies (this year will see researchers injecting people with DMT whilst inside fMRI brain scanners) can help us measure and understand exactly what happens to DMT in the body.

Science helps us to learn real data, supportable facts, which sometime challenge our assumptions. For instance; in the case of DMT it now considered something of ‘fact’ that it is produced in the pineal gland. The notion that this most visionary of chemicals is made in the third-eye chakra is a pretty cool one. This idea may have originated as a conversational suggestion from Rupert Sheldrake, and appears as a conjecture in Rick Strassman’s seminal DMT The Spirit Molecule. It’s an idea that is not without merit and it has to be said that today, 20 years after Strassman’s work, there is still research to be done on the chemistry of the pineal (at least judging by a kitchen conversation between Ben Sessa and David Luke I was party to a couple of weeks ago). However even if the pineal gland does make DMT, it appears unlikely that it could be the main source of endogenous DMT. That honour, it seems, belongs not to the ajna chakra but instead to the lungs.

A chemical cascade involving the enzyme INMT, which is always present in the lungs, could produce DMT in amounts  sufficient to create significant alterations in consciousness. The location of DMT production in the lungs also points towards an answer for why we have DMT in our bodies (and the bodies of many, many other living things) in the first place. It could be, as per the mythology, that DMT is there in order to let us crash into a universe of elves in order to impressed by their dazzling non-Euclidian architecture. It could perhaps have been encoded into us by some ancient alien race from Sirius or wherever, or sharpening Occam’s razor, or it could be something much more pragmatic and important to our biology.

What DMT is for in the body is the subject of some fascinating research by the charming Dr Ede Frecska. If you watch his video (filmed at Breaking Convention in 2015) you will get to hear what, for my money, is one of the best opening lines of any presentation on psychedelics: “I have a dream to have DMT in an ampule for IV use in every operating room, every intensive care unit, and every emergency vehicle.”

It appears that DMT acts to stop cells dying, it slows damage caused by oxidative stress and that’s why it is one of the few substances which are actively transported across the blood-brain barrier in humans (the others are glucose and vitamin C). As Ede explains in his engaging lecture there is a clear (and testable) chemical pathway, focused around the lungs, for our bodies to make DMT and for it to be rapidly absorbed by the brain for its neuroprotective benefits.

This scientific insight has lots of fascinating consequences. It means, for example, that we have a clear physiological mechanism by which the body could be flooded by psychedelic DMT at birth, perhaps at death, and when the body is under oxidative stress. Knowing this perhaps adds an additional layer to our understanding of the power of breathwork. Ritual practices such as full immersion baptism and many other body technologies for changing awareness may also make use of our endogenous DMT, encouraging the lungs to allow this psychedelic to persist in the bloodstream from where it is actively gobbled up by the brain.

I wonder whether the subjective effects of DMT echo what is going on at a cellular level? I wonder whether all those fractals, faces and, for some, the deep sense of the reality of the experience, is something that serves to stimulate us when we are in trouble? Small amounts of exogenous DMT certainly increase attentiveness, so maybe the call to ‘sit up and pay attention’ in the DMT trance is a turned up version of a biologically rooted ‘hey! Pull yourself together!’. At higher levels of endogenous DMT, the creation of an internal landscape, of the type we might encounter in the exogenous DMT trance, could be a property that serves to keep the operating system of consciousness running (i.e. awareness of an apparently objective external world) while the hardware (the brain) is under stress. Maybe DMT space is what the brain does until it can reboot, a hyperdimensional screensaver before normal consciousness comes back online? It is also interesting that current research suggests that DMT may have a directly healing effect on the brain (probably through its effect on the sigma-1 receptor).

Whether the effect of DMT on subjective experience is something that has been evolutionarily selected for, or whether it’s just one of those wacky epiphenomena (or the work of hyper-dimensional aliens…), is open to question. What is perhaps more certain, given recent research, is that those visitations by Guardian Angels, ancestors and other imaginal beings in moments of physical crisis (such as near drowning) could be visions made accessible by the production of DMT in the body. (Note, this isn’t the same as saying these things are not ‘real’ – whatever that means, see my article on the subject).

Many wonderful scientific insights into psychedelic substances will be presented later this year at the mother of all psychedelic conferences Breaking Convention. The lastest scientific investigations, funded by groups such as MAPS, The Beckley Foundation, and others, will bring cutting edge information to the conference. Add to this a goodly assortment of psychonauts, independent researchers, historians, shamans and others, and you’ve got a powerful psychedelic potion indeed! I’m pleased to know that some of the scientific data I’ll be hearing about will have been gathered with the help of practising spiritual psychonauts such as Ms Wyrd (who, probably, as a result of many years spent in meditation, was able to remain perfectly still during her DMT assay, producing electroencephalogram readings that were, according to the researchers, ‘impeccable’).

Finally, I hope and indeed pray that we can, as psychedelics ask us to do, keep our minds open as science and magic meet in our renewed quest to understand how best to use these marvelous substances.

Ahoy!

JV

STOP PRESS! More science news; a few hours before releasing this blogpost, a paper revealing the crystal structure of the human 5-HT2B receptor bound to LSD was published. Yet another speck to add to our ever-growing pile of knowledge.

 

 

Words from the Spirits: a few fabulous texts reviewed

Fulgur publishing were, some might argue, the first producers of ‘talismanic’ books (in the modern high-end esoteric literature sense of the term). Now, as publishers of the Black Mirror journal, Fulgur have pushed the ‘talismanic’ project to a whole new level.

Black Mirror itself is an academic research network which is devoted to the study of arts and occultism. This second edition (numbered 1) of their journal is out now and contains a wonderful range of essays. These include an esoteric practitioner perspective on the art of tattooing, a great essay on Le Bal, one of the final ballets of Sergei Diaghilev. The author of the paper, Katerina Pantelides, defines magic as ‘…the performance of desire’s total possibility to dissolve and transform one’s notion of selfhood.’ This is my new favourite definition.

There’s a brilliant essay about the work of Leonora Carrington, one of my favourite witch-artists. Then the perhaps better known (to occultists) Austin Spare, gets a very thoughtful treatment in relation to his neither/neither principle and the process of magical/artistic obliteration.

This is a properly academic journal and so the quality of the writing is excellent. A great range of contributors that manages to be intelligent and approachable (and occasionally funny).

As one might expect with Fulgur the edition is beautifully produced. Typography and images sit elegantly together, the illustrations and photographs are beautiful and, as is traditional, it’s bound to become a collector’s item. But what marks this is a cut-above the rest of those fancy occult tomes is the fact that this stylish volume contains peer-reviewed, academic, accessible, cutting edge, stimulating esoteric writing. It’s about as far from Ye Derivative Bok of Ye Spooky Sigil as it’s possible to get!

If you want to discover something that’s going to stimulate your left and right hemispheres equally, and take you to the cutting edge of the academic/occult interface, then a Black Mirror is what you need.

Not Robbie Williams

Not Robbie Williams

Psychedelic Press have also released a new journal. This is volume XVIII and maintains the same high-caliber writing as previous editions. There’s a cool academic style essay by mushroom wizard and cultural historian Andy Letcher. Then the tables are turned and Andy Roberts (author of Acid Drops and Albion Dreaming amongst other books, who usually does the interviewing) is himself interviewed. Some fascinating observations are made, and wild tales told!

There’s an excellent essay about the use of sensory deprivation and darkness as a means to attain the psychedelic state, including a personal account of the technique. Snuggled into middle of the volume there’s some quality modern psychedelic poetry, crowding into graphic novel panels and expanding into swirly, liberty cap illuminated text.

I therefore recommend Psypress Journal to all heads, counter-cultural historians and explorers of the wyrd.

Psilly picture

Psilly picture

Talking with the Spirits, edited by Jack Hunter and David Luke is a world-wide tour of spiritists, shaman, online clairvoyants and many other folk who spend their time trafficking with denizens of the Otherworld.

Each academic paper provides an introduction to, and often field world from within, traditions ranging from locations as diverse as Brazil, Cuba, Britain, Taiwan and many more.  Here the black mirror of ethnography is held up to the doings of occulture in a way that is intelligent and respectful. If you want to know about the spirits, and especially want to explore (in a chaos magic stylee) the underpinning ideas for different traditions, this is the book for you.

(I was particularly interested to note how in many approaches to the spirits these entities are not seen as occupying a ‘separate reality’ but rather as beings that exist in, and emerge from, the world.)

What Talking with the Spirits also provides are snap-shots of practice; such as in David Luke’s essay on the development of spirit possession in ayahuasca using groups, and the emerging social networking culture of internet psychics described by Tamlyn Ryan.

A recommended read for spirit botherers everywhere.

Spirit writing

Spirit writing

Meanwhile…I’ll review Part 2 of the Nemu’s End series, Neuro-Apocalypse in the next set of reviews. I have, after just a couple of pages, been sucked in by the Rev’s brilliant prose. I may be some time… 🙂

JV