The Quietus just published a long piece by Peter Bebergal on Coil, John Coltrane, LSD and consciousness. Peter takes a contrarian point of view on LSD and consciousness. He doesn’t condemn drug users, and acknowledges its role in art, but is skeptical about its role in understanding consciousness:
[Hoffman] immediately recognised the possibilities for psychology, medicine, and maybe even religion. What he could never have known was that he changed the world. The amount that has been written on Hofmann, on LSD, and on the nature of the LSD experience, could seemingly fill the universe that one often imagines is in their fingernail when tripping on the very same drug. Certainly important work has been done, and the recent collapse of fearful prohibitions on research of psychedelic drugs could prove beneficial in exactly the ways Dr. Hofmann had hoped. But psychedelic drugs, despite their contribution to the spiritual revolution of the 1960s – a revolution that essentially changed the course of American culture and beyond – have become something of a drag on any attempt to understand altered consciousness.
It started with Aldous Huxley, who had once understood mystical-oriented experiences as being rare, requiring spiritual exercises, philosophical introspection, and maybe even a little bit of luck. In his writing on the mescaline experience in his now infamous but slight manifesto The Doors Of Perception, he became a kind of mystic turncoat, arguing that the experience was available to anyone. More damning, however, was his view on the primacy art once held to be the key to transformative experiences. After his own night sitting comfortably in his drawing room grooving on the patterns in the curtains, Huxley came to see art as a pretender to the throne of direct experience, calling it the method for “beginners”.
This reminds me of a piece by Erik Davis from a year ago. He who wrote:
And now there is a new competing narrative. Studies recently carried out at Yale, and published last month in the journal Science, have confirmed earlier reports that ketamine offers remarkable, nearly instantaneous relief for people who suffer from forms of major depression impervious to other treatment methods. Interpreting depression as a hardware problem largely caused by the loss of synaptic connections, the researchers argue that ketamine works by encouraging sprightly neural growth in brain regions correlated with memory and mood. Journalistic reports also linked this research with the development of a new vein of antidepressants, including Naurex’s GLYX-13, that have the neurone-fertilising power of ketamine without, as one report describes them, the ‘schizophrenia-like effects’.
Rarely has the new neuro-reductionism been so naked in its repackaging of human experience. Nowhere in the research or the journalism does anyone suggest that heavily depressed people feel better because ketamine sends them on a first-person voyage through profound, sometimes ecstatic, and certainly mind-bending modes of transpersonal consciousness whose subjective power might itself boot the mind out of its most mirthless ruts.
But I think the opposite is true as well: the psychedelic community needs to prepare for the possibility that hallucinogens are just drugs. That any therapeutic role they play can be replicated through less mind-warping means. Or, put another way: what if the “neuro-reductionists,” as Davis calls them, are right? What if they can succeed in creating an effective anti-depression drug without the disassociative properties of ketamine?
Part of the problem with banning hallucinogenic research for so long is that it’s allowed a community of pseudo-scientists to dominate the conversation about what the meaning these drugs are, raising expectations and creating dogmas about their effectiveness.
For example, you’ll run into people in the counter culture (such that it is) that believe ibogaine a 100% effective wonder drug for treating all types of addiction. But many ibogaine patients do relapse — which, to their credit, people who are actually involved in the ibogaine therapy community do openly admit. The truth there’s a dearth of scientific research on the substance and its efficacy. MAPS is trying to solve that problem. It might turn out that it doesn’t actually work. It could also turn out that it’s only effective for opiate withdrawal because it acts on opiate receptors, reducing withdrawal symptoms, and that the psychological effects of the 48 hour trip are not actually all that important. Or it could turn out that it works wonders for exactly the reason that psychonauts expect.
The point is, we don’t know, and that once rigorous, peer reviewed science gets back to work in the field, the come down may be harsh.