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200px-dimethyltryptamine_27febLUMPENPROLETARIATGONZO:  Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, on the peninsula, in the 1980s, one could still be exposed early on to the lingering spirit of the 1960s counterculture, a culture of peace, love, and seeking (if not always finding) understanding, seeking to expand one’s consciousness.  So, of course, pyschotropic substances, which eventually permeated the dominant culture, were still around for adventurous persons, who were interested in expanding their consciousness, or altering their state of consciousness.  As late as the early 1990s, one could go to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, California, and find that it still looked a lot like the archival images we see of the 1960s and the Summer of Love.  One would see loads of free spirited people basking in the sun in the park at the end of Haight Street.  Many young people still dressed in hippie styles.  As one walked up and down the crowded Haight Street, one would hear subtle voices whispering soft words of solicitation, offering various mind-altering substances:  Doses?  Buds?  Sandoz? [1]

But one psychedelic compound, which even the most experienced have probably never heard of is DMT. [2]  N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (N,N-DMT or DMT, for short) is a powerful psychedelic compound of the tryptamine family.  Even the unexperienced will have heard of LSD, psilocybin, or maybe even peyote.  But few will have heard of DMT, which like cannabis, actually interacts with specific brain receptors uniquely evolved for this specific consciousness alteration.  In the case of DMT, this powerful psychedelic compound is naturally produced endogenously in humans and other species as well.  So, we actually can produce DMT in the human brain through meditation and other potentially hallucinatory experiences without ingesting any substances.  But what benefits or dangers does this psychedelic compound DMT present for humanity?  The American ruling classes seem to perceive only one benefit to any human activity: profit (i.e., capital accumulation).  Any altered states of consciousness, beyond brief respites involving alcoholic intoxication or drunkenness, seem to threaten unbridled profit motive and consumerism.  But, as the groundbreaking psychedelic 1960s generations have revealed, not everybody wants to revolve human life around profit motive and consumerism. [3]

A new documentary film, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, directed by Mitch Schultz and narrated by Joe Rogan explores this interesting psychedelic compound, which is derived from the ayahuasca vine, and has been reportedly used by indigenous peoples of the Amazon for thousands of years.  IMDB succinctly describes the film:  “An investigation into the long-obscured mystery of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a molecule found in nearly every living organism and considered the most potent psychedelic on Earth.” The film lifts its title from Dr. Rick Strassman‘s well-known 2001 book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences.  Dr. Strassman was a medical doctor, who specialised in psychiatry.  Dr. Strassman, who is featured in the film (along with many other academics), has published nearly 30 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and has served as a reviewer for several psychiatric research journals.  He has been a consultant to the US Food and Drug Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Veteran’s Administration Hospitals, Social Security Administration, and other state and local agencies.  The academic-laden documentary film is available through Netflix and other sites online.  Check it out.

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DMT: The Spirit Molecule (trailer)

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[1]  GONZO:  As a teenager, this was a fascinating playground to explore, especially given the history of the Haight-Ashbury district and being a young enthusiast of the consciousness-raising elements of 1960s music, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Doors (even getting to meet Doors drummer John Densmore as well as former Black Panther Dr. Angela Davis at a Free Mumia rally in San Francisco at the Civic Center Square).  But, eventually, Generation X seemed to threaten society even worse than the ’60s generation; and police on dirt bikes seemed to take over the hippie vibe in the Haight at some point in the 1990s.  The social remnants of the ’60s generation, at least in the Bay Area seemed to linger in the activist movements, such as the environmental and social justice movements.  Those remnants could most prominently be seen in the SF Bay Area around free speech radio KPFA based in Berkeley.  But, even there, as Lumpenproletariat readers will likely be aware, repressive forces and tendencies continue to beat back the spirit of the 1960s counterculture, which flickers like a candle in the wind, always on the verge of going into extinction.

The Psychotropic Substances Act of 1978 amended the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and Controlled Substances Act to ensure compliance with the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

[2]  See the following useful articles:

  • “The CIA, LSD, Shulgin & the DEA, DMT & Consciousness” by Media Roots, 16 NOV 2010.
  • “What Role Does DMT Play in a Psychedelic Rennaissance?” [republished from Scientific American] by Media Roots, 9 MAY 2010[Scientific American has removed, or changed, the link, which Media Roots referenced.  So, now, Media Roots only makes available the few paragraphs they quoted.]

[3]  What’s most interesting about this documentary film about clinical research into this psychedelic compound (not to mention others) is that capitalist modes of production, such as our American capitalist society, have no tolerance for states of consciousness apart from consumerism and hedonism.  The documentary film courageously takes on these, perhaps, controversial questions.  Psychiatrist Charles Grob, M.D., recounted some of the history of DMT’s growing popularity in the USA (c. 18:45):

In the early 1990s, the UDV established a branch of their church in the United States.  In the late ’90s, the U.S. Customs Department, along with the DEA, intercepted a shipment of ayahuasca.  The [UDV] church protested the government action.  The contended that it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  And the case was heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.  And in February of 2006, their decision was announced.  And it was a unanimous decision on the side of the UDV.

Interviewee (c. 19:00):

Why is it that the entire Western world—these substances, that have been found so interesting in hundreds of cultures for thousands of years are prohibited?  How did these [capitalistic] cultures, that consider themselves to be enlightened, democratic, and scientific, get to declaring plants illegal?  It can seem weird.  But there’s clearly something deep and revealing about the nature of these societies.

The film also cited British author and journalist Graham Hancock (c. 20:00):

Our society values alert problem-solving consciousness.  And it devalues all other states of consciousness.  Any kind of consciousness, that is not related to the production or consumption of material goods is stigmatised in our society today.

Of course, we accept drunkenness.  We allow some brief respite from the material grind.  A society, that subscribes to that model is a society, that is going to condemn states of consciousness, that have nothing to do with the alert problem-solving mentality.  And, if you go back to the 1960s, when there was a tremendous upsurge of exploration of psychedelics, I would say that the huge backlash, that followed that, had to with a fear on the part of the powers that be that if enough people went into those realms and those experiences, the very fabric of the society we have today would have been picked apart.  And, most importantly, those in power at the top would not be in power at the top anymore.

The American ruling classes seem to perceive only one benefit to any human activity: profit (i.e., capital accumulation).  Any altered states of consciousness, beyond brief respites involving alcoholic intoxication or drunkenness, seem to threaten unbridled profit motive and consumerism.  But, as the groundbreaking psychedelic 1960s generations have revealed, not everybody wants to revolve human life around profit motive and consumerism.  And, of course the backlash against the counterculture of the 1960s was first and foremost a backlash against the revolutionary politics of the time, which was sympathetic to anti-colonial revolutions around the world during that part of the 20th century.  Young people were becoming increasingly aware of the imperialist nature of the United States and the dominant capitalist powers.  Even the most honest civil and human rights leader couldn’t deny this fact, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, which is what surely marked them for clandestine assassination by the state.  On these points, Mitch Schultz’ documentary film falls flat, conflating the hedonistic usage of psychotropic drugs with the purposeful and measured usage, which allowed for consciousness expansion, cultural and political transformation, and a rejection of capitalist consumerism and imperialism.  Commentators are cited as saying that Timothy Leary, et al., sold us a false bill of goods because it was “ungrounded”.  They inordinately blame the state’s resistance to professional research on psychedelic substances on Leary’s advocacy, rather than the state’s own repressiveness.  And, of course, the serious and real political struggles and the leaders of the 1960s, which were criminalised, destroyed, assassinated, and driven underground by the state did not so much fail due to a failure of psychedelics or drug culture, which was only an element of a larger counterculture social fabric.  The politics of the time were crushed by reactionary government forces, leaving only the most implacable to go into hiding, and leaving the rest to conform to the status quo.

More recent research has revealed the cynical nature of the United States’ so-called War On Drugs, which began as coded language about law and order, but was clearly a reactionary response to a sociopolitical sea change in America coming from an overeducated populace during the post-World War II growth of the middle class, which benefited greatly from the Keynesian economic policies, which came after the Great Depression.  Giving us a sense of the Nixon Administration’s attitudes towards the Civil Right Movement, the Anti-War Movement, and activism, generally, advisor to President Nixon, John Ehrlichman is quoted by filmmaker Ava DuVernay in The 13th (2016):

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.  You understand what I’m saying?  We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana, and then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.  We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and villify them night after night on the evening news.  Did we know we were lying about the drugs?  Of course we did.  (c. 18:31)

The state’s refusal to allow clinical research in consciousness-altering substances cannot simply be blamed on their advocates.  Similarly, the United States has resisted engaging in useful research into cannabis and a whole host of herbs and natural plants, such as plant products, extracts, and other dietary supplements, which may prove to be scientifically sound and beneficial to human well-being.  Meanwhile, many drugs produced by the pharmaceutical industry are heavily advertised to people, even with disclaimers of dangerous side-effects up to, and including, death.  Oftentimes, the state will resist clinical research whilst allowing the public to be human guinea pigs.

Dr. David Nichols, a medicinal chemist, described the problems associated with the state’s resistance to clinical research on consciousness-altering substances (c. 23:37):

One of the tragedies, for me, is that that clinical research on these substances pretty much stopped around 1970.  And, for me, it’s especially tragic because I really believe that these substances played a major role in the development of our philosophy and thinking throughout the world.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that psychiatry, up until the 1960s, generally, had no concept that neurochemistry played any role in emotion or behaviour, which today seems really bizarre.  And the discovery of LSD and its potent effects on the psyche occurred almost contemporaneously with the discovery of serotonin as a molecule in the brain.  And it was really when people looked at the structure of seratonin and compared it with LSD that they really begin to think: You know, maybe neurochemistry plays a role in brain chemistry and behavioural states.  If LSD had not been discovered, I doubt we would have had any of the drugs we have, or at least not as quickly, as we do for treating depression and so forth.

In the film, Dr. Rick Strassman, who wrote the book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, described how DMT has presented an opportunity to break the repressive 40-year ban on clinical research in consciousness-altering substances.  (See “Dose-Response Study of N, N-Dimethyltryptamine in Humans” by Rick J. Strassman, MD and Clifford R. Qualls, PhD)  Notably, the film featured interviews with test subjects who underwent blindfolded clinical trials.  They described intense hallucinogenic experiences, which felt like interstellar travel through some Alex Grey-like hyperspace.  But they sort of glossed over the actual physical observations of the clinical researchers, apart from one description by a nurse, who described a scene out of The Exorcist.  Perhaps, theological spiritual experience, even if mythological, are our dominant reference points by which to interpret psychedelic experiences.  The interview subjects referred to fractal geometry, parallel universes, dark matter, and extracorporeal interstellar travel.  A theme, which emerged from the academics and scholars was that we ought not be dismissive about the potentialities for DMT to help us understand mystical experience, religious experience, and human moral evolution.  The film features mostly MDs and PhDs; so, it operates from an intellectually rigorous approach.  Interestingly, however, it shows that DMT has now entered segments of scientific disciplines, the practitioners of which, are giving a scientific articulation to what the “psychedelic pioneers” of the 1960s expressed.

In recent years, the ayahuasca DMT brew has been popularized by Wade Davis (One River), English novelist Martin Goodman in I Was Carlos Castaneda, Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, writer Kira Salak, author Jeremy Narby (The Cosmic Serpent), author Jay Griffiths (“Wild: An Elemental Journey“), and radio personality Robin Quivers.

Today, we can find retreats online advertising the healing properties of DMT.  It seems DMT has found some form of legal protections, either, under a religious freedom rubric or under the cover of capitalist profit motive.  If one is middle class enough, or bourgeois enough, to afford travelling to some retreat to partake in DMT experiences, than one is likely to be rooted firmly enough in the status quo to not have their fundamentally capitalistic mentality transformed to reject consumerism of hedonism.

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[Graphic image of DMT molecule by source, used via fair use.]

[22 NOV 2016]

[Last modified at 16:08 PST on 22 NOV 2016]

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