Psychedelic ‘Antibiotic’ Therapy for Mental-Micro-Organisms
Psychedelic ‘Antibiotic’ Therapy for Mental-Micro-Organisms
By Dr Joseph Langley MD MeO MRCCAP
Psychiatrist and Sensory-Normalisation Pineal Realignment Therapist, San Francisco, USA
(This article first appeared in the Psychedelic Press journal)
Mental health clinicians of all persuasions broadly share the same goal: we want to see the development of viable treatments for relieving the burden of mental illness. We want decent, worthy inputs for our patients that can be used safely, effectively, cheaply and widely on our clients, as driven by the wishes and motivation of the patients themselves. It is my direct understanding of my patients’ experiences that encourages me to call for research into these psychedelic drugs as clinical tools. I firmly believe that medicines such as LSD, Psilocybin, Ketamine, Cannabis, DMT, MDMA, Ibogaine and the magic sage Salvia Divinorum can and must be used by the medical profession. We owe that much to our patients.
Psychiatry Has Become Lost. Perhaps we all have:
I did not witness the first wave of interest in psychedelics in the 1960s. My clinical experience has arisen out of a medical training in the 1990s. My life, like that of all professionals today, is primarily one of staring at computer screens plugged into the exponentially rocketing information super-highway that links all academics everywhere with everyone else in world; transmitting all things grand and happening, topics of enormous and vital importance, nestled alongside every triviality of total inconsequence the world has ever known. Because I am too young to have been there from the beginning of the psychedelic movement I know that psychedelics are not for Luddites but rather for those courageous technophiles of the twenty-first century.
All my working life I have been alongside people with mental illness and I know that no two patients are the same. There is only one form of schizophrenia – it’s the one in the patient before me. But my colleagues and I, with our medical models, have become lost. Some anti-psychiatrists (with whom I share great sympathy at times) would even go so far as to say the entire profession is lost and the politicians and general public who perpetuate the problem are the same.
Look at the Western world and the apathetic, brainless, ignorant, mindless zombies we have become. In the UK no one can even be bothered to protest any more. Where have the street protests of the nineteen-sixties gone? The endless emails and anti-government Facebook pages I get sent daily are no substitute for a real protest. What could be more vacuous, after all, than a demonstration via Twitter? We are all sitting in a tepid bath and it is not getting any warmer.
Mental Illness is an Infection:
So what do those of us who work with psychiatric patients need at our disposal to assist us with healing the sick? My answer is simple: antibiotics. But not those that tackle micro-organisms. Rather those that tackle mental-micro-organisms. Mental illness is an infection. One is born with a genetic susceptibility; one picks up the pathogens from one’s environment and then one passes these on to others. Unfortunately none of our current psychiatric drugs are antibiotics. None of them get inside the brain to neutralise these mental-micro-organisms infecting the mind. At best our treatments mildly treat the symptoms of the disorder – like taking an aspirin numbs the pain without treating the cause of a headache or a handkerchief mops up your running nose without actually attacking the virus. In psychiatry we have nothing that actually kills the cold.
So our doctors struggle onwards in their psychiatric clinics. We follow our follow-ups, we watch them soldier on. Our sugar pills occasionally soften the blow and return our patients to some level of functioning but the infection grumbles on. What we need to do is wake up the brain! Shake it in a way that is both subtle and yet so staggeringly focused that the beauty of consciousness – of illness – is revealed for all to see. We need a fine-tooth comb to pick apart our psyche, not an SSRI-antipsychotic-mood stabilising sledgehammer. We have to get right down inside those untidy thoughts and give the house a proper spring clean. And I don’t mean just straighten the rug – we need to lift up the cushions and go down the back of the sofa!
Psychedelic Culture and Consciousness:
I want to put things in perspective. It is not possible to talk about psychedelic drugs without understanding the context in which these drugs float in human history. The media tells us that psychedelics started in the 1960s; they are synonymous with hippies and dropouts. LSD has brought us Dead Heads, acid casualties and – as far as the right wing newspapers are concerned, erroneously – probably schizophrenia itself. They have certainly brought us no good. And we are encouraged to accept that the only state of consciousness except this typical waking state worth experiencing is that of alcohol intoxication.
But we cannot ignore what is known about ancient civilizations using psychedelic drugs as sacramental plants and about the continued non-Western cultures that still employ such practices. This notion that the drug-free state is the purest or most spiritual is a relatively new concept. Spiritual psychedelic practices have persisted for hundreds of thousands of years in virtually unchanged rituals all over the world. Mushrooms are much older than beer as an intoxicant for humans. The drugs and plants that produce these visionary states are part of life – not just human life but all life; they grow everywhere around us, anywhere you care to look. They are natural, they are beautiful and they are living amongst us. And for those ancient or non-Western users today these special plants and fungi continue to form an important part of society.
It is only very recently that a Christeo-centric idea has emerged telling us that sobriety is necessary to reach God. Those indigenous populations – who the media tell us are crazy – that use plants to commune with their spirits think we are crazy for sitting in front of our computers wondering why we are not experiencing the life of the spirits. But of course we use this argument to validate our own cause. We say they are heathens, less civilized and less advanced than ourselves. We think they are backward. But look at where we have advanced: TV talent shows, shopping malls, blood for oil. Spiritually, mentally and culturally, have we advanced at all or have we have actually receded?
And all this because Jesus, Mohammed and a few others think we would be better off if we were sober when we commune with God. Sober from the effects of a truly transformational potion. But there are Bwiti tribes in Africa, Shamans in Siberia, Native Americans in New Mexico and Amazonians, Pagans and ‘heathens’ everywhere who wonder how we could possibly imagine reaching God without the sacrament. And yes, we look at them and them at us and we say of each other how very ignorant they are.
New-Age Crystal-Gazing Tree-Hugging Mumbo Jumbo:
Let’s face it: the Western world is struggling. It’s hard to say when the regression started – maybe the beginning of the industrial revolution, maybe the Victorians or perhaps more recently. But we are certainly on the way down – and at a terrifying pace. For all our technology and liberal understanding we are still blinded by greed. The ego, the human brain; that elusive spark of sentience that held such promise as a unique survival resource is now letting us down. We sit by and gorge ourselves to death on our own self-importance whilst the true communalistic understanding of archaic civilizations is being lost.
Or am I being too harsh? I suppose it’s not all bad in the modern world. Technology has brought us some advantages. We generally have less disease, improved infant mortality (if one is lucky enough to live in the West) and I would even grant that some aspects of modern society have advanced a little too – on the surface at least – with some emancipation of the races, sexes and sexuality – not that the fight is close to over for any of those groups. But after several thousand years of increasingly complex political and religious systems and repeated attempts at organizing populations into manageable structures, we still seem so far from a Unified Theory of Everything, a universal dogma of understanding that all humans can access in order to find our common roots. The Islamists, Jews, Buddhists, Christians and the rest are all at odds with one another and are all in decline. Neither capitalism nor communism has worked. In fact, without wanting to sound like a scaremongering evangelist – it really does sound like the human race is doomed.
But I am no new-age crystal-gazing tree-hugging mumbo jumbo hippie spouting vacuous naval-gazing prophecies for the planet’s future. I will leave the evangelism to the Scientologists. I am a scientist. And psychedelic drugs have a place in the world of science and medicine. The 1960s’ drug revolution was an important time in history, for sure. Many people back then had some fun for a few brief years. These fascinating chemicals stripped away their egos and exposed their true selves for those brave enough to take them. A few select voyagers opened the door to an archaic past and pointed the spotlight on the modern world. But then that door shut so quickly and the fantasy faded. The cancer of oblivion set in and thereafter nothing – especially not kids on LSD at rock concerts – was going to halt that tide.
The politicians who repressed the sixties’ protests had an easy time of it. Hollers of stoned kids fell on deaf ears and the hippie movement dug its own grave. The authorities, laboring under an erroneous belief that money could save the world didn’t need much to get back on top. And relying on the drugs themselves to open the eyes of the disbelievers was naivety in the extreme. No, the dream was over and the drugs had failed. These drugs, which could have been part of society’s survival, were not enough to halt the decay once the ball was rolling and the dollar had set in. Critics of LSD, of course, used its lack of success at changing the world as validation that the drugs don’t work. They were right too. LSD did not enlighten the world – at least, not enough people and not for long enough.
But that was not the fault of the drugs – and nor was it a measure of LSD’s lack of efficacy. The simple reason we failed to turn on the world fifty years ago was because there were not enough of us. Sure, there were handfuls of starry-eyed kids on acid trudging the pavements and there were a few writing poetry and tangerine sky pop songs about it. But how many were truly altered by the drug’s effects? How many had enough of an enlightenment to not be seduced back into the machine? LSD in the 1960s was too little too late.
The truth is that psychedelic drugs were then and still are today the appropriate moral choice for the survival of humanity. And this time around we need to be a lot cleverer about how we go about getting the message across. Last time LSD and her cousins merely whetted the appetite. They were nothing but a craze, a stylish trend. Society did not get the chance to allow the drug to sink in and change its consciousness at the very core. No, this time we need to use the field of medicine to get these spiritual sacraments into society. Sadly the dollar bill has won the first battle but we must not be allowed to win the war.
Spirituality will never compete with capitalism; whatever religions say. It never has been able to and it certainly can’t do it now. Money always wins. But what we can do is appeal to people’s need for better, more efficient and effective health care and then, only then can we sneak transpersonal change in through the backdoor.
Mental disorder needs routing from the nations of the West. Psychiatry needs LSD. And what is more we won’t get there by harping back to the philosophies of the East. That one was tried in the sixties and it didn’t work; today the East’s consumerism is worse than the West. No, we need to embrace the cancers of the West with modern developments of the West; with science and medicine.
Geeks with Mice Are All Very Well, but Where Are The Gurus?
On the face of it psychiatry made the only choice it could when it developed alongside a gradual divergence from humanity’s archaic past. After all, it was probably better to live within societal norms than outside them. People don’t want Witch Doctors, they want medical doctors. We can’t beat them so we have to join them. But we need a willingness to learn and we need healthy skepticism. Drug geeks and students buying their Research Chemicals online and swapping trip reports are all very well but when is the movement going to seriously challenge the authorities?
We have had some really good challenges from the past. Timothy Leary, that brilliant hard-drinking Harvard psychologist, was perhaps the greatest known, and most misunderstood. Unfairly remembered as a populist media figure rather than a true academic; the multifaceted Leary certainly leaves some dirty footprints through psychedelic folklore. But there is no doubting the contribution he made to humankind’s map of inner space. His marvellous books, eruditely written, espouse the urgent need to challenge the traditional values of strangulating consumer-driven culture. Fifty years ago he recognised the suffering of mental health patients and the profession’s need for a greater understanding of their problems. And now, when we are yet further advanced towards oblivion than Leary could have ever dreamed, his words are even more pertinent.
Unsurprisingly Leary made a lot of enemies with this level of insight. The FBI dubbed him ‘Americas Most Wanted Man’ and he was eventually sentenced to thirty years in prison for a minuscule amount of marijuana. Although he well and truly pissed off the authorities – which is never a bad thing – he spoke brilliantly to the new generation of young people and became their martyr, their raisin d’être; a pied-piper calling for obliteration of the ruling older classes. But Leary was not an anarchist, or an untidy punk out to destroy the order of culture. On the contrary, he was driven by the greats of art, music and literature and his message was one of love and peace across all divides.
Leary’s voice came directly from the psychedelic experience itself, from an extraordinary compilation of mental landscapes where there are no social rules, no nations or religions, indeed no ego or boundaries of any kind. All matter and concepts are dissolved in this magical place; time and space spiral away to nothingness and one is left with the human soul stripped bare. From that viewpoint the petty conventions, the ‘games’ as he called them of everyday non-psychedelic life appear as mere jokes, playthings adopted by the hung-up world of squares. Sure, one cannot dwell forever in this miraculous playground – to do so would be incompatible with the basic biological drives – but for Leary regular travel to these exquisite lands was an essential and healthy pastime recommended for all. Indeed, he and many of his contemporaries looked at the state of the modern world and advocated psychedelic escape as an essential prerequisite if the human condition was to ever to rediscover its lost identity and drag itself back from the brink of ecological and social destruction.
And Leary was not by any means the only psychedelic pioneer. Pre-Leary, before the popular media turned psychedelics it into another version of ‘getting kicks’ many writers, mystics and artists discovered the wonders of LSD. At first it was considered a sacred tool; a divine sacrament. Doctors saw LSD as a medicine, an indispensible instrument for accessing the human psyche. In the 1950s writers provided wonderful accounts of experiences with psychedelic drugs. In the spirit of William James they extolled the religious virtues of LSD. Meanwhile clinicians began constructing maps to be used by their patients in their journeys. Scholars everywhere approached the psychedelic experience with the curiosity of a child.
Aldous Huxley’s drug classics The Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell and Island, were all written well before – and indeed prompted – the conception of the popular ‘drug culture’. Huxley’s numerous commentaries on social, religious and mystical observations, novels, poems and travel writings came from earlier in the century altogether. Huxley was a man of immense intellectual prowess; the epitome of crystallisation of thought in writing. His eye for detail and sublime austerity puts him up there with the best of today’s theoretical physicists in their quest for a macroscopic-microscopic universal answer to everything. He distils the fundamental nature of human experience from psychology and the arts all the way through to brutal libidinous id and paints the truest picture about what it is to be this human animal. This infinitesimal analysis makes him a fond grandfather of the psychedelic movement; partly because the bulk of this psychedelic writing occurred long before he took any hallucinogenic drugs.
But personally I am always left frustrated by the likes of Leary and Huxley. Indeed, the fact that they and many others attempted to turn-on the world, but the world still turned out this way rather adds to the gloomy state of affairs. After all, it was the computer geek children of the sixties who spawned the capitalist 1980s and right through to the present day where now any hope of a rebellion is lost in the mists of sham social networking. I am a child of the 1970s, I grew up in the eighties and came of age in the 1990s. Is this present situation my fault?
Today’s generation of young people is dead; but they are not the Dead Heads of the sixties. So let’s not confuse the noble sixties sentiment of being laid back with the modern curse of apathy. In the sixties people were laid back because they protested against having to do what was expected of them. They fought for the right to be laid back! Today’s youth are content to just push the buttons and toe the line, so long as there is a steady supply of nullifying food, television and consumerist gadgets to distract their flabby brains from engaging with the wider world.
We have ended up with Huxley’s nullified utopia rather than Orwell’s dystopia. For God’s sake we could do with a little dystopia, it might liven us up a bit. Our kids today have the world on a plate in front of the TV; obese, brainless, hopeless, spunk-less, empty lost causes eating their processed horsemeat convenience dinners. And if we are not careful their children will be even worse; measuring the passage of time between their next fix of junk food and purchase of plastic land-fill trinkets of no lasting value.
The Irrevocable ‘Brain Damage’ of LSD:
But all is not lost! The LSD experience never fails to induce weighty change. And once glimpsed those visions will alter the user permanently so they will never see the same world again. The insights learned are irreversible, forever tainting the outlook on life, lurking around every corner, popping up again and again until the day one dies. Forevermore clouds will be greater in depth and flowers will exude not only their perfume but will also sing their colours.
But if this is true, is it not a scary prospect? We humans fear the irrevocable. There is nothing worse than finding oneself lumbered with irreversible memories. The capacity to forget, to erase, delete, is a fundamental gift of the passage of time. If LSD provides such a profound life-changing experience that can never be forgotten then does this not throw up all kinds of nightmarish outcomes that almost don’t bear thinking about?
What if I’ve permanently broken my brain?
What if I never come down and stay like this forever?
What if I have gone insane?
These are commonly uttered phrases during that first LSD trip – tremblingly reflected to oneself alone in the bathroom mirror when one has broken away from the partying throng of friends for a moment of solitude (even though one was warned by one’s friends not to spend too long staring at the mirror).
Psychiatrists know all about the phenomenon of psychological experience inflicting permanent brain damage. They spend their working life subtlety tweaking the mental states of their patients, watching them stumble and fall, seeing them failing to attain levels of understanding and resolution about important hidden aspects of their past lives. They know better than most about the impact of repressed childhood memories on everyday consciousness and how these pernicious recollections propagate lifelong functional decay. Damaged childhoods corrode insidious tunnels through people’s lives, burning everything in their path with concentrated sulphuric erosion. Our patients’ thoughts, their irredeemable memoirs of harrowing traumatic incidents are carried around in their skulls as an ever-present trickle of pervasive negative influence. It is impossible to escape ingrained traumatic memories exerting powerful control over one’s self-esteem. They undermine confidence, acting as a constant daily reminder of one’s uselessness.
I have worked with patients aged ninety-nine still spouting the same dated opinions and attitudes handed to them by their parents when they were three-years-old; negative comments, snide remarks first directed at a vulnerable toddler then reinforced over the years, which have embedded themselves into the very core of the recipient’s personality. Comments that even after a lifetime of attempts to dispel them through all kinds of chemical and psychological tricks of the mind continue to eat away at one’s reason, leaving patients twisted, detached and unable to make intimate connections with other humans. So don’t talk to me about irreversibility.
It is the job of psychologists, psychotherapists and us psychiatrists to provide a safe and trusting platform by which patients can explore these repressed memories, bring them to the surface and stare them in the eye. But in my experience this process, our mainstream techniques are so often ineffective. People are just too well defended, too robust and practiced at dodging any superficial attempts to uncover their past. Their sanity depends on their staying mad. So try as they might, even if they really want to break through, their minds will not let them. To truly face these demons they would have to go crazy.
This is how the brain works, godammit! Sigmund Freud knew it – as did Plato and Shakespeare. And by the mid 20th century all our best science was consistently validating it. Every human has defences, they are essential, useful, even, but they can also be the cause of misery. They are the brain’s autoimmune reaction and psychiatry has never had a decent immune suppressant.
So to a psychiatrist the concept of permanency of experience, be it from LSD or anything else, is nothing to fear. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – today’s modern scourge, underlying many if not almost all anxiety problems – is about the damage wreaked on the human brain by the tragedy of experience. Knowing this makes me less, not more, concerned about the possibility of irreversible changes wrought by a psychedelic drug. After all, LSD’s acute effects are small fry compared to the deleterious consequences of the most havoc-inducing irreversible experience of them all; that of childhood. On the contrary, if LSD really can alter the brain, re-boot one’s life experience and modify one’s blueprint permanently then this is of immense and profound importance. It means personality change – a true fundamental shift in outlook – is possible.
But can the system really be retuned back to default factory settings? If so, if psychedelic therapy can indeed offer psychiatrists such a fabulous therapeutic tool, then what an incredible opportunity for clinical intervention it could be! It is, in fact, the ultimate opportunity for psychiatric intervention. All other treatments – the paltry CBT-based psychotherapies and the transient effects of mainstream psychiatric medications, are insignificant next to a possibility such as this. Permanent change is not something to be feared, it is truly desirable. If it really is this good then LSD surely is the Holy Grail. A well-planned, well-facilitated, guided clinical LSD session provides nothing short of seeing a person going mad and completely lose their mind. But crucially it is the old mind that is lost; because from now on they start building a new one.
The psychedelic experience is far from madness. The psychedelic state is a perfectly safe, controlled state. It doesn’t even fit the description of a temporary psychosis. Even in the most profound moments of LSD’s mental unraveling the patient can always be reminded that they have taken a drug and they know this. No matter how intense the experience becomes the patient understands this is a self-induced, temporary intoxication. That kind of insight is not at all analogous with true psychosis. The psychotic patient cannot, by definition, be reasoned into understanding their experiences are delusional. Taking LSD really is not like being crazy. So rather than thinking of the psychedelic state as being a foreign, external state of mind, it is more accurate to think of it as an intense form of reality; a sort of endogenous, internal glimpse of super-reality. One could argue, even, that taking LSD is the very furthest from being mad that one could ever get in one’s life and the very closest to being utterly grounded.
Indeed the only similarity the psychedelic experience has with madness is that it appears to unlock the unconscious mind and provide a massive outpouring of repressed material. Because although this primordial avalanche of repressed psychic material is short-lived, it is remembered. With expert guidance the patient can draw upon it and benefit from it. The material can be used to resolve and integrate those previously inaccessible parts of the personality. It is a revelation when, as a psychiatrist, for the first time, one discovers the power of these drugs and how they might help one’s patients.
Psychedelic drugs appear to be nature’s ‘reset buttons’. They provide a unique mechanism for retuning the human brain in a manner quite unlike anything the psychiatric profession has ever seen before. This drug LSD is quite simply incredible. And by that I do not mean it lacks credibility. Because that is perhaps the most amazing aspect of all; it is entirely credible and scientifically justifiable. It makes sense; we know how it works, it has irrefutable, reproducible, systematic and predictable validation.
Conclusion and Illusion about Collusion with the Delusion:
So, no, all is not lost. There is a way out of this. It is not too late to open our eyes. We can do it again through the creative, intelligent and focused introduction of psychedelic drugs into medical practice. We can direct the careful use of these mental-micro-organism antibiotic chemicals to show the world their eyes need to be opened. And we will do it. We will take on our stuck caseloads one patient at a time. We must bite the forbidden apple and allow its beauty, its visionary magic to show us the world as it truly appears. We have the power and resources to transform the medical landscape. And for those psychiatrists who look at their patients with a degree of despair they need to wise up and gain the knowledge needed to take this next step forward. There is a future for psychedelic psychotherapy. We’ve been given the tools; now let’s find a way forward to open minds.
Psychedelic ‘Antibiotic’ Therapy is a composite, fictional piece from Dr Ben Sessa’s new novel To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic: the story of a psychiatrist overcoming his disillusionment with current medical models with the aid of psychedelic substances.