One obvious way to grow is to travel, but what if you can’t leave the house? With psychedelics, you don’t need to leave the house to take a trip. In this episode, Peter McGraw sits down with a psychedelic educator and community leader, Ashley Booth, to talk about the history of psychedelics, their potential to help with a variety of mood disorders, and their promise to be a way to help people make profound positive changes in their lives. They are joined by Shane Mauss, a comedian who has tried lots of psychedelics and has a comedy show about his experiences.
Note: This episode was taped prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet it seems especially fitting as the pandemic is causing people to re-evaluate their lives.
Listen to Episode #20 here:
Not A Solo Trip
It’s been great to see Solo’s audience grow so fast with many people seeking to excel in their single lives. The growth has been fueled primarily through word of mouth, so please keep telling friends, family and colleagues about the show. This episode was done prior to the Corona pandemic, yet it seems especially fitting as this situation has caused many people to reevaluate their lives. One obvious way to grow is to travel, but what if you can’t leave the house? With psychedelics, you don’t need to leave the house to take a trip. In this episode, I sit down with a psychedelic educator and community leader to talk about the history of psychedelics, their potential to help you with a variety of mood disorders and their promise as a way to help people make profound changes in their life. We are joined by a comedian who has tried lots of psychedelics and has a comedy show about his experience. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.
Our first guest is Ashley Booth. Ashley has been a psychedelic educator and community leader in Southern California since 2014. She’s the Founder of the Southern California Psychedelic Society, the Aware Project and a Cofounder of InnerSpace Integration. In 2016, she left a previous career in environmental science and is collecting her hours to become a licensed psychedelic-assisted psychotherapist. She’s a Cofounder and Clinician at the California Center for Psychedelic Therapy and a Co-Therapist on the MAPS-Sponsored Clinical Trials of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. I swear all of this will make more sense after you’ve read this episode. Welcome, Ashley.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
My second guest is Shane Mauss. Shane is a professional comedian who specializes in comedy about science. He hosts the science podcast, Here We Are, and is touring with two shows. One is Stand Up Science, a half comedy and half science show. The second is called Head Talks, which is a special psychedelic version of the show. The topic is psychedelics, not psychedelics being done. You can find him in the documentary film, Psychonautics. He’s a good friend and he’s a special contributor to my new book, Shtick To Business. Welcome, Shane. This is one of my most loosely-prepared Solo episodes because I only have a few things that I want to make sure that we cover, and I’m open to hearing what you have to say as you are the experts.
A pizza planner.
I am a planner. I’ll tell you the ideas that I’d like us to cover. It would be great to hear a bit about the history of psychedelics, what they are, what they do and a little bit of putting them in context. This is something that Shane does in his hilarious stand-up show, a good trip. I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the medicinal uses of psychedelics and stuff that you’re doing, Ashley, with all those acronyms, institutes and so on. I think there’s some really cool stuff that’s happening in the world that I don’t think a lot of people know about. I’d like us to talk a little bit about the use of psychedelics as a tool to enhance our life perhaps. The reason I want to talk about that last one is that I think that solo living, living unapologetically unattached and going against the grains in the norms of society requires a different perspective. One thing that seems clear to me is the psychedelics can help people gain a different perspective and not in me just gain a different perspective, but be comfortable with a different perspective.
It can reliably give you a different perspective, whether that’s good or bad, that’s dependent on the sentence setting and the different experiences.
What you do with that and the meaning you make out of it.
Let’s have that be something that we get to closer to the end and let’s start a little bit about history. What is a psychedelic? What are some of the psychedelics? How did we get to where we are now?
It’s being called the psychedelic research renaissance.
It’s a little bit starting to hit a bit of the mainstream. I think smart people are using psychedelics.
It’s now become autonomous with like Silicon Valley.
I think we’re using them smarter. Maybe that would be the way I would phrase it.
The reason why I say it is like people from the world of academia, people from the world of business, people from politics, not just rebels. It’s not just hippies. I could be wrong, but who wants to start?
It’s funny because I didn’t know any of this stuff when I started my own psychedelic use. I was just being rebellious when I was a kid trying to do everything my parents didn’t want me to do, being disinterested and dissatisfied with life. I stumbled on mushrooms. I was trying to have some kicks and be rebellious.
Don’t do drugs. I want to do drugs.
None of that messaging and propaganda worked on me at all. It had the exact opposite effect. Lo and behold, fortunately it was psychedelics that I stumbled on early on because I had these profound insights and revelations about myself, humanity and social interactions. Before I did psychedelics, I thought the world was a confusing and bizarre place. I thought human nature was rather bizarre. I was fascinated by the concepts of how big our universe is and all this stuff, these things that I wasn’t taught early on in my religious upbringing. Psychedelics were the thing that opened everything, along with the psychedelic experiences usually like this big appreciation of nature, the universe and your place in it. It’s a lot of blind leading the blind situation. Psychedelics made me be like, “I wasn’t crazy. I was right for thinking that a lot of our behavior is strange and weird.” I didn’t start learning about the history of psychedelics until I started putting together a show about them much later on in life.
You dabbled in them, had some benefits and then it stuck with you until you started studying science and then decided to do comedy about science and psychedelics.
I don’t know tons about the traditional use of psychedelics. It seems like there’s some strong evidence that psychedelics have been a part of human life for thousands of years at least that people have been using psychoactive substances. The thing that I find the most interesting is how we got into the stigma that we’re at now, which a lot of that came out of the ‘60s in some of the laws that were imposed because they were legal for the most part before that.
Let’s talk about what psychedelics are and what are the different versions of them or some of them at least.
Psychedelics are a certain class of substances that cause a shift in our perception. I like to think of them as more of in a spectrum because there are lots of things that change the way we feel or our emotions. We drink coffee and that makes us feel differently. We drink alcohol, that makes us feel differently. Seeing that in a spectrum also, helps us see there are good things and bad things to all substances. Opiates can be good for pain management. It can be bad when they are abused. Caffeine can be good in certain contexts and not good in others.
Shane reaches for a cup of coffee. For example, if I were drinking coffee, that would be a huge mistake.
For psychedelics, one of the things that I think is different than others is that they tend to come with a certain level of perspective change. Stan Grof, who’s a researcher that’s been around for many decades and was part of that first wave of research. He, coined the term holotropic. I like that phrase because holo means wholeness and tropic means moving towards. He considered the types of activities and substances that do that move us towards wholeness. Meditation, things that are self-reflective that help us bring more awareness to ourselves and psychedelics have this ability to be able to bring in mind spaces that bring this self-awareness and maybe a reflection on where we’re not in our wholeness.
I believe the word, psychedelic, itself means mind-manifesting.
The word, psyche, comes from the Goddess of Love, which I like that interpretation even better because it’s not just mind, but there’s an emotional component to it. I like to keep that history of that word in mind too, not just psychology, psyche and psychedelic, but they’re all from the same root and it’s in love.
I’d be surprised if I would have a science podcast had I never stumbled onto psychedelics. When we say mind-manifesting, maybe a more palatable way of saying it is a window into the subconscious. A lot of what early mushroom experiences were for me and throughout my life, in my creative processes and understand it. A lot of times it’s the shower thoughts that you have, the stuff that’s right on the surface clearly or your brain’s been churning away on this for a while and then something clicks into place and you have this insight, which is usually exciting. Whether that’s a right or wrong insight is one thing that bears out over time and whether you act on it and what you do with it, it’s one thing.In the present, we are in what is called a 'Psychedelic Research Renaissance.' Click To Tweet
Those are the moments that I think most people in life are part of what makes life exciting and special is when you’re like, “I got it. I figured out that thing.” Psychedelics, for me, are often just that on steroids, where you’re hoping for a couple of those experiences a few times a month regularly in life. A psychedelic experience can have 30 of those in a given evening or one life-changing one. It’s also why people dismiss a lot of the psychedelic. Hearing it second-hand does seem rather silly because a lot of times it’s the stuff that a friend could tell you or someone that you cared about could tell you. It’s one thing to know something intellectually but then feel it, make it a part of who you are and experience it on an emotional level. A lot of the psychedelic takeaways sound like something that’s already embroidered in your grandma’s decorative pillows somewhere like, “Home is where the heart is.” I get it now.
For someone who’s reading who hasn’t done psychedelics, this probably so far sounds rather peculiar, but we’re going to get a little bit deeper into this. It seems to me there’s this notion. I might use the term, an insight and it might be an insight that sticks. It’s not just that you begin to see yourself in the world differently, but it may then have a profound effect on how you behave. That seems to be one of the elements of psychedelics.
I think a lot about intrinsic versus extrinsic change. Someone can be like, “You should be drinking less,” and that’s coming from externally, but if you have an experience that’s coming from intrinsically inside of you and you’re like, “I do need to drink less,” then that’s a change that’s going to stick because it’s coming from your inner self rather than someone telling you.
I read the Michael Pollan book, How to Change Your Mind. I was like, “Michael Pollan’s writing about this, this is going to hit the mainstream,” because he’s been useful in taking ideas and putting them in the mainstream. I remember an anecdote that he tells in the book, you two may remember it better than me, but it was someone who was a smoker, an alcoholic or something like that, and did some trip if it was mushrooms or something else. They had that insight, which is, “I need to stop doing this.” Everybody in the world was like, “We’ve been telling you that.” The insight came by way of, “I realized how beautiful my life is and that if I keep doing this behavior, I’m cutting that short,” and then that stuck and that person was able to do what is difficult for people to do, which was to stop doing that thing rather quickly.
Which is interesting too in the history of AA, because one of the first steps is believing in something bigger than yourself. The person that founded AA or one of the founders, Bill Wilson, got into psychedelics and he found that having the psychedelic experience helped with that first step. He was a proponent of having LSD be the first step in AA, which doesn’t get publicized for obvious reasons.
The friends of Bill took that little part out of it.
Speaking to the same point here, there’s something that needs to shift within us that causes that change. I do want to get back to your question around, what are psychedelics?
We know mushrooms are a psychedelic, not all mushrooms.
Psilocybin-containing mushrooms are psychedelic, LSD, mescaline containing cactus, ayahuasca, DMT. Some of you may not have heard of some of these.
I think all of those that you’ve mentioned, people probably have heard of until DMT.
Ayahuasca is still a little lesser-known.
Let’s come back to that. The ones that are getting a lot of research attention that are cousins of psychedelics but in the same family are ketamine, which is being shown to be effective for treatment-resistant depression. I do ketamine-assisted psychotherapy at the clinic that I work at, so we can talk about that more. MDMA, which is also recreationally known as ecstasy, that’s also not necessarily traditional psychedelic, but is now being used in research surrounding using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. I’m also part of the clinical trial associated with that. Those are the layout of some of the ones that are the most commonly talked about. They all have different properties and different ways that they work.
In terms of the length of the trip, the intensity of the trip, how you ingest them.
The types of things they might act upon. MDMA tends to be affecting the emotional system much more because it works by releasing serotonin. The existing serotonin in your system and it floods your system. It also releases oxytocin so you have these bonding hormones and that contributes to the therapeutic usefulness of it, whereas a lot of the other traditional psychedelics mimic serotonin and work on the same serotonin receptors. Ketamine doesn’t even work on serotonin. It’s more of a dissociative, but at higher levels it is more psychedelic.
Let’s talk about mushrooms because that seems like the most common psychedelic recreationally. Those two are the ones that people are most likely to know and then LSD, but most of what people know about LSD, they think about “The LSD.” They think about the ‘60s and people doing these trips.
Me not being a conspiracy theorist in any way, some of the thinking behind why these laws got put forth in the first place was it was a political motivation. Nixon tried to target people that weren’t voting for him, trying to target the drugs associated with the groups of antiwar left and to marginalize them and so on.
Certainly, LSD hasn’t been part of human history. It’s made in a laboratory, but peyote, mescaline, mushrooms, ayahuasca are grown in nature.
I also mentioned iboga, which is a plant from Africa that’s now being researched to help people detox from opiates. These plant or fungus-based psychedelics, there are cave paintings thousands and thousands of years ago with people with mushrooms and things. This has been a part of most human societies since before recorded history and has played large parts even in Western history. The Aleutian mysteries in Greece, people would have a pilgrimage to this place and have this strange experience. That was part of this rite that went on for 2,000 years or something like that in Greek history. There are roots but then Western culture lost those with the pressure of religion coming down. I think our culture in the United States is born out of that. A lot of the traditional cultures that used peyote, the Native Americans or ayahuasca in South America were repressed by the colonizing culture.
Shane, you have a joke about peyote.
I do talk about how maybe this is the least amount of psychedelic use in human history, certainly over the last 10,000 or 20,000 years or so. Also, I do want to make a point when you mentioned iboga. In case any reader is like, “They’re trying to dress this up in a little science-y outfit or something to justify partying and having a good time.” Iboga is something that you need to be in a desperate situation to attempt it. I remember Rick Doblin, the Founder of MAPS, I was thinking about doing iboga during my documentary. I asked him and I was like, “Rick, I’m thinking about doing it, but I’ve heard it can be a 12-hour nightmare.” He’s like, “No, it can be much longer.” A lot of these experiences aren’t for shits and giggles, maybe shits in some cases, but these are often difficult experiences.
That’s the importance of also informing people before they go to a music festival and try ecstasy, mushrooms, or LSD for the first time being aware. Fortunately, now there are a lot more organizations like DanceSafe and Harm Reduction at these places because a lot of people think like much like you’d drink to blow off some steam, dance, more, and party. You do MDMA at a concert, it can be an amazing time, but also shit can get real. You can have troubling childhood memories coming up or making these hard realizations that in a therapist’s office are fantastic to explore. When you’re at a psytrance festival or whatever, it can be a difficult environment.
One of the things that I think is interesting about what we’ve touched on so far is you can garner the insights that we’re talking about through years of therapy, for example. What psychedelics may offer is, I hate to use the word shortcut, but an opportunity to have something earlier faster.
I like to call it a catalyst because it’s making things happen a bit faster, but you still have to put in a lot of work. You don’t get to shortcut the work, you just might be more aware of the work that you need to do. I think that with the rise of psychedelics and seeing this as like, “We have to be careful not to see them as this magic pill.” When people treat it that way, then they don’t tend to get a lot better because they don’t realize that they need to put work in to make the changes happen. For one thing, it’s easy to be like, “I need to be treating my body better.”
Once you get out of that experience, then you’re like, “Now I need to put steps into place to make sure that I’m keeping this insight alive and turn it into a level of discipline.” The crossover between Eastern mysticism and meditation and why those got brought into the culture and sought out by people that had done psychedelics in the ‘60s was because they do pair well. You have these big insights. You have these unitive experiences and then what do you do with that? How do you maintain that sense of openness or connectedness later?
In terms of a catalyst, a personal example from my own experience is what I found to happen reliably, not every time, but some of the best experiences that I usually had by myself. I’ll have depressive states often when I have a zillion different project ideas. Here are three different ideas for a book I was sharing with you the other day. Here’s a new show idea. I’m going to be pitching a TV show tomorrow. I always have six different projects and I feel like depression is pumping the brakes on like, “Before we go one direction, this might be the next five years of your life. Let’s pump the brakes and evaluate all of the perspectives,” but then I fall into this analysis paralysis where I’m just thinking about these things.
I don’t know what to act on. I found that that something like mushrooms has been like, “Here’s a clear, this one.” It was already something that if I gave it a few more months, I probably would have fallen on like, “This is the book or the new show that I want to take on the road.” It speeds that along and it gives me the motivation and usually gives me a little bit of clarity on like, “Here’s how I would make that path work.” It makes me able to see the path a little further down the road and make a decision on which one that I want to do. The next day and then the following week, I need to start, otherwise it’s just a nice idea.
Psychedelics, long history in humanity cross-culturally, used for various reasons whether it be religious, fun insight and beyond, part of the ritual and so on. In the ‘60s, it became criminalized in the United States for the reasons that you’re alluding to. One of the things that were happening to my understanding was there was a fairly substantial amount of science that was happening at the time also that was exploring the usefulness of psychedelics in terms of helping people who are struggling with all sorts of things.
A lot of the research, especially with LSD, was not acknowledged. It was one of the most highly researched single substance at the time. There are thousands of papers written on LSD.
That’s where it started as a therapeutic aid, decades before.
Are these top universities?
There wasn’t any stigma at that time. The people that developed it sent it out to people to be like, “What do we use this for?” People were testing it on all sorts of things. It was a very exploratory time without the level of stigma, but also not the same level of research rigor that we have now.
That’s something I think that’s important. A lot has happened when it comes to experimental methods that have improved in the last 50 years. That work has some flaws in it. It doesn’t wipe out the promise that psychedelics reveal or that the research reveals.
MDMA was more modern in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s and that was first used as couples’ therapy before it hit the streets and became recreational.
Were psychedelics given this designation as a Schedule 1 drug?
In 1970 was when all the drugs got scheduled.
Does it mean there’s 1, 2, 3 and 4?
In Schedule 2, there are cocaine, amphetamines, pain pills.
What else is in 1?
One is the worst?
Yeah, it’s the most restricted. The way that they schedule things is, does it have a potential for abuse? Does it have medical use? The tricky thing about psychedelics is that they put it into that scheduling system, ignoring all of the research that had been previously done on it, saying that there is no medical use. They clamped down on all the science so you couldn’t prove if it had medical use or not. It’s this catch-22 where they put it in this category and you can’t prove that it is there or not. There was already plenty of research to say that there was use.
If this was a public health thing, you could just as easily make something a Schedule 2 or Schedule 3. Cocaine is very illegal and you can still go to jail if that’s an effective deterrent, which is probably not, but regardless if that’s what the point is. You can have those penalties in place still making something a Schedule 2 or Schedule 3. The only thing that Schedule 1 effectively does is make it so that it’s near impossible to do research.
To pull into a bigger context of drug policy, in general, there’s been so much criticism. The Drug Policy Alliance, a group that’s been arguing for a different approach to drug regulation for a long time, is drug use a criminal issue or is it a health issue? The way that we’ve structured everything shapes the way that we’re viewing everything in general and the way that we view these contradictions like how tobacco and alcohol are completely unscheduled. They’re not even on the system. That’s something that I like to keep in mind too. Are some of these things and a lot of the ways that people use psychedelics and MDMA is to blow off steam? While it’s good to do that in a safe environment, it’s also good not to demonize that because people do need to have fun, to recognize, and to celebrate life.
Rick Doblin, who I love the way he says it, “Stop thinking of them of things as recreational use, like you’re escaping from something. What if there is also celebratory use? Because one of the things that psychedelics can elicit is this rekindling of a childlike sense of wonder in the world.” MDMA creates a sense of connection with people and those are beautiful things. That doesn’t need to be that I have some diagnosis that I need to address. That is just me being able to be more present, alive and connected with the world and the people around me. There’s a complexity here that I think we need to grapple with. Is it not just, are drugs good or bad? Is recreational use good or bad? It’s how we approach it, the mindsets that we do it, and having a more nuanced conversation that our drug policy so far has not been able to make space for.Many psychedelics are off-patent so the FDA won't recognize them as treatments for mental illness. Click To Tweet
I like that idea about that childlike wonder. I often joke that getting older is a double-edged sword because the lows aren’t as low, but then the highs aren’t as high. You’ve experienced a lot of things in the world and you’re less surprised by life a lot, both good and bad.
I’m a little psychedelic like it gives you a fresh set of eyes on things. You get to re-experience life over. Like the example that you used of the person realizing, “Life is beautiful.” Kids don’t need to be taught that.
They realize how life is beautiful always. I want to get into some of the medicinal stuff, but for a moment, one of the things that I think is interesting about psychedelics is that they don’t seem addictive like tobacco, alcohol and so on are. Shane, you have a joke about this that I thought was both insightful and funny.
These experiences can be difficult. Rather than like, “I better not drink today,” and then come 8:00 PM you’re like, “Maybe I’ll have a couple.” Psychedelics are the opposite. Oftentimes I’m like, “Today’s the day. I’m going to do it. I have marked my calendar. I’ve been planning this,” and then it comes a time like, “Maybe not today, maybe next week.” It’s almost the exact opposite experience. My joke and my act are how I do as many psychedelics as I can work up the courage to force down my throat, which is usually eight times a year, nervously taking a handful of mushrooms like, “Take your lessons.” That’s the opposite of addiction behavior.
The other thing with what Ashley was saying that I never thought about until later on in life, and I’ve talked with a bunch of different scientists about this, unrelated to psychedelics just in that study addiction and study other substances. Part of when you start to demonize something, then the user has a demonized perception of that. If you take alcohol, for example, and you have a problem with alcohol. Every time you drink, you’re like, “I’m doing this again,” and that’s your perception of it. Where the same person can have the same amount of drink and be like a social person. In the same way, you give someone an opiate. I would certainly never tell anyone to get into opiates, but you give someone an opiate at a hospital and they’re like, “I’m managing my pain. I’m doing this in this way,” is one thing.
Once they start having a demonized view of it, that’s when it often leads to addiction of like, “Now I’m doing this thing that I’m not supposed to do,” when you’re doing it on the street or something like that. In the same way, when people think like, “Psychedelics, you see all these. I watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and you have all these crazy hallucinations and stuff.” You’re much more likely to have that experience if it’s been suggested. I had time, which is like most regular-ish psychedelic users or more experienced users. Usually, depending on the substance, but say mushrooms, are rarely even having any hallucination, maybe a little sparkle on the edges of things or something like that.
This is starting to change, not because Michael Pollan wrote this book, but because people are nowadays using better science to investigate the benefits of psychedelics for things like the stuff that you’re doing, Ashley, with PTSD and so on.
There was a shift in perspective because MAPS has been around for many years.
What does MAPS stand for?
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, it’s a nonprofit drug company, which I don’t think that exists anywhere else in the world. They were working on this science for so long and then there was a shift at some point when the people at the FDA, there was a shift in the administration and they allowed more research to be done. That thawing started to happen. From there, more research has been able to become more available. The thing is that now though, because these are Schedule 1 substances, you can’t get government funding to research them. All the research is being done, MAPS has been getting donations from private donors.
There are other companies that are coming on that are bringing their own funding to do this. There’s no research. What I’m excited about is that once we can get some of these substances through the FDA system, show that they are safe and effective for certain conditions, then that’s going to force the government to change the scheduling of those substances. It’s going to allow government funding to be able to be applied for and then put towards the research. That will be when we will have the research renaissance because then all these questions that we had to scrounge money to get small sample sizes to answer, we’re going to be able to get this funding and do the research. That’s going to be when the floodgates open, at least on the research end.
Imagine instead that psychedelics worked, not only as dangerous as the people back then that put these laws into place. Say they were more dangerous, say mushrooms were this surefire away to become insane and everything, you would still want science to look into it. It’d be like, “There’s this Coronavirus. Stuff seems dangerous. Let’s make it a Schedule 1, so that no scientist can ever study the Coronavirus.” It’s insane.
It’s anti-science, the foundation. My background before I got into this level of research was in environmental science. One of the things that are carried through as a core principle in myself is curiosity. If I take something and it makes my brain different, I want to know more about that. That is interesting. Why would we shut down curiosity in the scientific process of discovery just because there’s political fear?
That’s fair. The thing that’s going to get it changed is if the indications are that it is useful. Can you give a few examples of some of the early work in what is it suggesting?
I’ll speak to the MAPS work because that’s the freshest and I know the most about right here. As far as MAPS goes, the FDA process of getting a drug made into a mass medicine goes to these different phases. Phase one is when you’re doing beta testing on healthy volunteers to make sure that it’s at least safe enough. You then go to phase two and you start to use the drug on a particular population that you’re looking at. For MAPS, it’s for people that have PTSD. Treatment-resistant PTSD was what they did mostly in phase two. Once they show that is safe enough and show effectiveness, which it did in phase two clinical trials, they could show that people with chronic treatment-resistant depression, which means they had PTSD on average of ten years. Between 50% to 80% of people approximately, after 2 to 3 treatments with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and associated therapy around it, 80% of people were not diagnosable with PTSD. Those are huge numbers.
That’s not even mentioning that the other percentage or something like 98% had lowered PTSD. They still had PTSD, but they had lower symptoms than when they had started, almost near 100 people that it’s working or improving.
What’s interesting is that it continues to improve. Their scores kept dropping 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years later, which is speaking to a completely different model of medicine. We’re not symptom managing anymore. We are getting to the root of the symptoms and we’re supporting the system to heal from that place, which is more of a true healing place.
Where’s the profit in that? That’s the tricky part. If you can’t sell someone a pill over and over, they stop taking it, they become suicidal. A pharmaceutical company can’t hold a gun to your head and make you take their pill, but they can give you a pill where if you stop taking it, you’ll hold a gun to your own head. It’s a clever way of keeping people buying your product. How do you monetize a psychedelic, which is an experiential change rather than a chemical change?
Psychedelics are all off-patent. Even if you were going to make the drug, the thing is that who is going to put money into putting things to the expensive, millions and millions of dollars, to put this through the FDA system? Ketamine has been in an interesting place. Ketamine is a Schedule 3 drug. It’s been used for decades and decades for anesthesia. It’s safe to use it on children to do surgery. Some people realize that it was also helpful for people that had depression. The thing is that ketamine’s off-patent and to get the FDA to acknowledge that ketamine is a safe and effective treatment for depression, someone has to take it through the whole phase system of the FDA, which is expensive. If it’s an off-patent thing, no one’s going to spend money to do that, which means if you don’t have the FDA saying that this is an approved treatment for depression, then the insurance companies won’t cover it.
You have a very effective treatment based on academic research to show that this is an effective treatment for treatment-resistant depression, but the insurance companies aren’t going to cover it. There are companies that have now made a slightly different version of ketamine where they’ve patented that certain pathway to make one-half of the ketamine mixture so that they can patent it, make money off of it, and then they charge a lot of money for it. It highlights some of the flaws in the system that we have in drug development and for wellness. While it is great that we’re putting things through all these different hoops to show that they are safe and effective, which is great, but then what is that holding back from treatments that are effective but that aren’t going to make people money.
I could tell both of you are disillusioned, upset by this situation and system, and having to fight through it. There does seem to be some hope. In the same way that marijuana was a Schedule 1 drug and it still is, but you can walk down the street from where I live and buy it because it’s a state. There might be some other ways around some of the stuff and progress happens slowly.
It’s going to happen with different tracks because as we’ve seen with cannabis, there is a medical route, and that’s going through the system. MAPS is one of the few groups that’s trying to take cannabis through the FDA system to prove that it is a medicine and get it rescheduled in that way, which is unusual that no one else is doing that, but the MAPS is. It’s not even a traditional psychedelic.
It also serves as a gateway. You do it with marijuana, now you have a playbook to do it with other psychedelics.
Probably, MDMA is going to beat cannabis, point taken, but the other routes are religious use in terms of the peyote, ayahuasca and mushrooms being used in ceremonial settings. There’s also freedom of your own mind, freedom to have an experience that isn’t speaking to this libertarian view of this stuff. I get to do what I want to my own body.
I don’t think any of this stuff is going to work as quickly as it should. Those are nice paths and it’s like, “We can show these things,” but I go and talk to my parents or people back home and we’re like, “This helps with people’s PTSD.” The problem is with the culture is most people don’t give a fuck about mental health issues. You talk about religious rights while these are these niche groups that are cults that are possibly challenging our important organized religion. There’s like, “No one wants to be one of these new-age hippy softies. The world is tough and scary. You’ve got to be tough and scary.” That’s a lot of where I came from. If you want to get people in my upbringing onboard, if there were a sliver of a chance that there was even an indication that once in a while psychedelics made an erection harder, they would be legal tomorrow. All of the old white dudes with dick problems making these laws in the first place would be like, “Be careful because you could potentially go crazy.” “I’m going to go crazy if I don’t get my dick harder.”
All you have to do is get data on secondary variables. You just ask a number of questions about their home situation, economics, sex life, everything else and anything. Erection problems are a stress thing. If you don’t have PTSD or you don’t have depression anymore, it’s going to improve your erections. You don’t tell anyone the underlying thing, you just make the headline, “Psychedelics makes dicks harder,” and you have Brett Favre do a commercial, “I was having problems and I ate mushrooms. Now, I can throw the ball through the tire.” That’s how you get people on board with psychedelics. That’s the pathetic nature of the human condition that we live in. Think I’m kidding and I am, but I’m serious.
They’re not mutually exclusive. The thing that I find fascinating is this idea that you can have these treatment effects that are profound, robust, fast and so on, especially as you said treatment-resistant. There’s the average reader of this blog. There’s a personality scale called the Big Five. Someone who reads Solo is probably high on what’s called openness to new experiences. Choosing to live a solo life or enjoy your single life for its opportunity suggest that you’re open to new experiences because this is something that the world’s closed off to.
Maybe you don’t need psychedelics, your relatives are giving you a hard time at Thanksgiving.
Ashley could probably even speak to that openness. There have been studies about this.
Some of the research has been interesting, specifically with that Big Five. Traditionally, people have thought that once you get older, your personality is set.
It’s introversion, extroversion is one, agreeableness is another, neuroticism is another, conscientiousness and then this one we’re talking about. It’s openness to new experiences.
Some of the research that came out of Johns Hopkins around using psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, they found that on the spectrum of openness, they became more open after their psychedelic experiences. That was a fundamentally big finding because everyone thought that people’s personalities couldn’t change.
Let’s talk a little bit more about this idea of enhancing. This is not for someone who has addiction problems, depression, PTSD, but lives a good life, wants to live a remarkable life to keeping in line with the goal of this show. How might psychedelics help that person?
A normal Peter McGraw, no problems, nothing to work on.
I’ve got my issues.
This is an important point. I know I’ve talked with Rick about this and this is something now coming up in these communities, much like science has gained this appreciation for this positive psychology stuff. Maybe not just focusing on the problems all of the time, but making a good life better. Silicon Valley is a bunch of accomplished people looking to be more accomplished.
Certainly, if you want to try to enhance your creativity, if you want to try to have some insights, you want to make some pivot in life.
Improve the relationships within your life, improve your relationship with yourself, these are all things that we’ve seen both anecdotally and in the research. It’s gaining self-awareness and agency over how you want to live your life. Because you can’t change anything until you know what you’re doing.
Let’s suppose someone reads this, they read some of the literature including this little overly wordy but well-written book by Michael Pollan. He’s excited about this stuff and they want to give this stuff a try. Because I have Shane, I know some of this stuff. There’s this idea, this notion and setting matters, so mindset and then where you are matters. Coachella’s probably not the right place to do this. The idea of having a guide is also something to consider.
A lot of times, all you need is someone to get your water when you need it who are not under the influence of psychedelics.
I have limited experience with psychedelics because Shane has done all the psychedelics or nearly all the psychedelics. He sometimes visits my house and brings stuff over. He had brought mushrooms over and they were in my freezer for two years. I wanted to do. I was comfortable with it. I knew that it was safe. I wasn’t worried about the stigma or anything, but there never was a good time. Also, I wanted to do them with Shane because if you talk to Shane, he’s like, “I’m great at this sitting stuff.”
It was one of my worst days because I was going through lots of depression myself.
That sounds like it could be a nice time to be there for someone else.
I did. I took some of these mushrooms on a Sunday afternoon in April and had a good mushroom trip. It was a mild one. We underdosed me a little bit. In hindsight, I could have taken some more. It was good. I had a great experience and I can say that there were three things that I noticed with it. One is it helped to have Shane there because he talked me through like, “Your stomach might get a little bit upset here. It’s just your body recognizing that this foreign thing is in here.” At some point he said, “We might want to go for a walk, get out of the house, get out into nature.” I was like, “I was going to suggest that.”People are mistaken by assuming there's one single unified meaning in life. Click To Tweet
I felt like I was buzzing. I had a lot of cognitions and ideas that I normally wouldn’t. There’s this walk I do in my neighborhood. I probably have done the walk 1,000 times. I’m not exaggerating. It’s like a 25-minute walk and it takes you through a part of this little what’s called the growing gardens, where people can have their little plot of land, where they might grow some vegetables and fruits and so on. I wanted to do that walk under the influence. I don’t know if that’s the right word. I’ve done that walk 1,000 times and we’re walking along it and I go, “Let’s go in.”
We walked all the way through the growing gardens. I never once considered walking in there. Shane pointed out like, “This is the thing that happens.” He had to go do a show and said, “You might want to do some journaling, do some writing,” as I was coming down later in the evening. I was journaling. I would say I had one of those insights that you were alluding to. When we were walking through Boulder, I ran into this guy, Andrew, who lives in Boulder. He’s like a highly-evolved Boulder person. I chatted with him for a bit and while we walked away, I said, “Andrew is one of the more generous people I know. He’ll tweet, “I’m going to the airport. Does anybody need a ride?”
I was like, “I never would do that because I don’t want to deal with giving someone a ride. I just want to get to the airport.” That night, I was journaling and I was talking about running into Andrew. I started writing about generosity. I formulated a plan in which I could, because of my solo lifestyle and because I don’t have to pay for children. I have resources. I thought about how can I be more generous with the people I love in my life, in a way that doesn’t just give them money, but helps them enhance their life in some way. In the days and weeks afterward, I approached these people in different ways and offered to help them with something that, in my opinion, would have a 10X. Not every dollar you spend is better.
One of them was simple, “I have a friend, she’s a teacher. She had knee pain.” I said, “You’ve got to go see Charlie Merrill,” who was a previous guest on here. “He’s the best. He can help you with your knee pain.” She’s like, “I can’t afford Charlie. He doesn’t take insurance. He doesn’t need to take insurance because he’s the best.” I paid for a couple of sessions for her. In two sessions, he cured her knee pain. It costs a few hundred dollars or whatever, but curing someone’s knee pain is worth thousands and thousands of dollars. I had a good experience with it. It helped that I had someone there to keep me company and was willing to talk about what I felt like were interesting things that I wanted to talk about and so on. For me, I’m open to this idea more generally. I think that it’s because of the stigma, I don’t think people know how to approach it, where to approach it. What reactions do you have to that story? What advice do you have for people who might want to try to replicate something like that?
I’m amused and it’s telling that you didn’t mention that one of your hang-ups was the law. You said the stigma. I think that’s interesting because we’re getting to a place now where we have this level of freedom of speech that we haven’t been able to have before. Because there are many people that are approaching this stuff, that there’s a level of safety in numbers I think too, but also predominantly, the people that are using this stuff are white people.
They’re not the people you throw in jail, that is exactly right.
If the African-American population was getting into ayahuasca, I think that the authorities might be thinking about it in a different way. It’s something to throw into the mix here. It’s interesting too.
I recognize the privilege that I had in doing that and the privilege I had in talking about it. I also feel like it’s important to talk about. It wouldn’t be right for me to have a show about psychedelics and how they’re potentially useful and helpful, and me having had tried it had a positive experience and being too much of a chicken shit to talk about it.
I didn’t think you were going to tell people. I’m proud of you. There are things popping up. I sometimes go and I am a special guest or help facilitate-ish a little bit at this Micah Meditations in Jamaica, which is a mushroom retreat. There are ones in Amsterdam. There are many people flying down to Peru that it’s becoming problematic in terms of sustainability, but then also people setting up that did ayahuasca once. They’re like, “This is what I’m going to do. Come to Crazy Eddie’s Ayahuasca Hut. We’ve got big Gods. We’ve got small gods. We’ve got colors and every smell,” and they have a nice website or whatever.
You’re saying that someone who might want to try this could go out of the country and do a retreat?
There are. For people that are not planning to be outside the country that do want to find more information, there’s so much information online that it can be overwhelming. What I recommend is that there are a growing number of psychedelic societies in every big city in the United States at this point. That can be a great way to connect with other people to get your questions answered by people that have more awareness around this stuff or more experience and talk to a live person. I will say that it’s rude to go to those societies, to ask people, try and score drugs at the group meetings. Don’t do that, it’s inappropriate. Running a psychedelic society myself, we’re trying to create a space for open conversation, but making sure that we’re also being careful.
The other nice thing is unlike, “I’m going to take a chance and save up thousands and go to Jamaica or something like that.” It’s almost like, “You want to get into comedy? Go watch an open mic.” You don’t need to get on stage necessarily. You can go to these communities. You can hear people’s experiences. You might find out that like, “There are some weirdos but not nearly as many as whatever you thought in your head. It’s not some days didn’t confuse.” A lot of these people are exceptionally thoughtful and successful people at everything. You’ve been to my shows and seeing the audiences that come there. You might just find a bunch of interesting new friends too without ever doing psychedelics.
These are obviously people that are open to new experiences. What was interesting for me was part of it, having a friend like Shane and hearing him talk about not only the good but also the bad experiences. When it’s away in the darkness, it can seem scary and it can seem demonized. Once I realized that as we said, people in the academy, entrepreneurial folks, folks who are high-achievers are finding this as a useful way to spur new levels of creativity, to make improvements in their life. I’m more connected to those people that I approached with this offer, so to speak. It helped demonstrate how much I love them and so on, aside from a sitter getting the right setting, mindset and dose.
I can do a little PSA announcement after we go over this topic. Did you want to talk about dose? Start low and slow.
The research that you’ve got to do yourself can be overwhelming but it’s at least a better world. When I was a teenager, there were not any resources online. Now, there are.
Go to Erowid, The Third Wave, the Aware Project website, we have a lot of talks, information, and we created a whole sitting safe guide. For people that are navigating the newish harmonic movement, if you are looking to find someone to sit with, how do you make sure you’re being safe in that process?
Can you articulate why it’s important to have a sitter? I feel like if I had done that dose of mushrooms, I probably would have been fine. What is the benefit of a sitter?
You may not have known if you’re going to be fine and that anxiety, that perception and being by yourself and wondering like, “I’m feeling a little off. Am I going to feel more off?”
That can spiral.
The presence of the guide can help ease some of that.
Making sure that your setting is as safe, secure and comfortable as you can make it. These can amplify emotions that you’re feeling. If you’re feeling a little nervous, then it can get amplified. We’re ushering in a culture here that doesn’t have any psychedelic. We don’t have elders. Our culture lost our psychedelic elders thousands of years ago because of these things had been persecuted for so long.
Shane, you’re my psychedelic elder.
I’m like, “How did I get to be a psychedelic elder at the age that I am?” We’re all here. That Ram Dass quote that I love is like, “We’re all here walking each other home.” One model of how psychedelics could be implemented into our culture in the future in a post-drug war age is that maybe instead of having a driver’s license, maybe you get a tripper’s license and you have to go to tripper school or something and you have to learn, how do you handle the anxiety that comes up? How do you handle paranoia? How do you handle, “I think I’m God and I’m going to be a Messiah?” These standard things that happen and I’m making fun of it, but learning these skillsets so that then maybe you graduate and then you can do it on your own.
The parallel a little bit is weed. For a lot of people, they never did marijuana because it was illegal. Now in certain states, it’s legal. Now they’re adults trying this stuff. They’re figuring out.
I think that there needs to be a lot more harm reduction. Many people are eating these edibles and then they have these challenging experiences that get psychedelic and they aren’t prepared for that. They don’t have that skillset to be able to manage themselves, to know how to dose themselves or an industry that has a good dosing scheme. Why would you put a psychoactive thing in cookies? It’s like, “I want to eat more cookies,” that makes you want to eat cookies. I don’t get it.
My point in bringing that up is that what’s happening is there are a lot of people who are figuring this out. I have friends who are like, “5 milligrams is too little, 15 is too much, 10 is a sweet spot.” Another person is like, “I need to do 35 milligrams in order to have anything happen.”
How do you know that?
Until you start to experience it and you’re better off to go a little too low to start then a little too high. Before we get to your PSA and wrap this up, I’m going to ask you two to speculate knowing that speculation. This is a show that has a positive view of single living. It’s designed around this idea that single life provides the opportunity, time, energy, resources to do different things, whether it be to travel the world, build a new business, make art. Think differently about the world and think about other ways that you can enhance your living. Do you see a path for psychedelics helping someone who wants to try to do that? What is the path?
For that specific demographic?
Suppose someone is tussling with this idea. It’s first of all, people are not talking about it. You and I talked about in a different show, Shane. You’re the person at Thanksgiving dinner, you’re the single person at the table and yet you’re happy with your life and everyone’s telling you that you shouldn’t be happy with your life. There’s a person at every Thanksgiving dinner across the country, they’re all having a similar experience, maybe to a certain degree where they’re more or less comfortable with it. I’m sure there are other ways to explore this and do this, but might psychedelics be a way?
I think that it’s in the same spectrum of having therapy or on the same issue. How do you make meaning of your life? How are you moving through the world? How are you standing within your own boundaries, within whatever it is that you want in your life and staying, being able to communicate how you want to live your life? It’s similar.
Even things like a lot of single people might be like, “I don’t want to die alone,” or something like that. I want someone to care for me when I’m older.
Half of us die alone, just go on record.
I’m not saying anyone’s right. I’m saying this is what I hear. There are no guarantees your kids are going to be helping you out in any way when you’re old. A lot of these experiences are good at taking a deep look at that. What your fears, what your hang-ups might be around mortality. That’s a fairly common experience thinking about how short life can be, what life is about and how to create your meaning in life. At the end of the day, I think that what a lot of people misunderstand as a lot of people assume that there’s one, unified, single meaning in life and we’ve got to find it. It’s that single goal that we’re all going to get to. Life is based on context and much of it is just creating our own meaning. Psychedelics are all a whole about that like, “This is all open to interpretation and I can build on my own interpretation.”
Hearing you two react to this, I realize I’ve asked the wrong question.
We’ll give you one more chance.
I appreciate it, then I’m going to cut myself off. I think the question is single or not, what I hear is if you want to live a remarkable life, psychedelics have the possibility. In the same way that therapy has possibilities, the way that reading philosophy introspecting and so on have the ability to give you some clarity about how beautiful life can be, how you might make a positive change in your life and so on.
If you’re married and you want to live a single life, MDMA is a terrific cuckold, much more pleasant than usual divorce proceedings. It’s much more heart-opening experience where you’re able to reveal the things that have been hard to talk about in the past.
I’m a fan of and I don’t watch much TV but I do enjoy the show Mad Men. Psychedelics come up in Mad Men as the show transitions into the ‘60s away from this ‘50s-focused culture. Roger Sterling marries this young woman and has a bad marriage. They both do LSD and decide to get divorced, while on the trip.
I didn’t even like doing MDMA until I finally did it because I had done it in some party settings. I guess it’s fun, but I’m not getting out of it what I expect. I do psychedelics to learn, investigate, and become more curious and creative. I wasn’t getting that. I’d done it a few times because I didn’t enjoy it. I did it with a significant other and it was life-changing. The way in which you’re able to open up about those things and have an honest conversation about that stuff but in a way, that’s coming from a loving place and accepting place.
Much of the nuts and bolts of some of the MDMA experiences inhibiting the amygdala and shutting down that same anxiety and fight or flight response. It seems to increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, which is a lot of where this fancy processing and language stuff is coming from and decision making. Potentially, theoretically you’re able to look into things with less fear and anxiety than you would normally and be more thoughtful about it than normal because of the change of blood flow in your brain in that period of time.
Also, you’ve got a raging hard-on.
A lot of cuddling.
Ashley, can you wrap this up with your PSA and any other thoughts that you have?
When engaging with psychedelics, this is a mental health issue fundamentally. While there may be getting to more religious, spiritual places, if you’re dealing with any kind of mental health condition, I highly recommend that you get support. There are a growing number of people that are mental health providers that are psychedelically friendly. Specifically, with people that might have a history of bipolar or have a family history of bipolar or schizophrenia, it doesn’t cause breaks. At least that’s what the data’s been showing. If there’s a predilection for it in your family or in your genetics, it can cause a problem like that. You need to be careful. Another thing that I think fewer people realize too, is that personality disorders don’t seem to be affected or improved remarkably by more mood disorders.
If someone who’s a narcissist does psychedelics, that might compound the narcissism. Personality disorders are problems around insight around your own behavior. These surprisingly don’t give people that have that block in insight, enough insight to let maybe the disorder go away or at least not on their own because they can enhance the echo chamber. That’s why there are a lot of people in the psychedelic community that has tried these things. They know something’s not right and then they try psychedelics, but then it’s just compounding the problems that they’re already having. You get a lot of people that are hungry for healing themselves in the psychedelic community and that causes a lot of interesting characters.
Something to keep in mind, these are not panaceas. We don’t have a cultural heritage that knows how to hold this thing. We need to proceed with prudence and get connected to the community because there is that knowledge out there. There are elders out there. You just need to connect with them. There are a growing number of people that are becoming elders. We’re all learning how to do this together and little bits from other cultures that have not lost their cultural traditions. It’s different when you bring that into our culture. The traditional shamanism only applies to a certain extent when you’re looking with modern Americans. We’re going through an evolutionary process here and it’s going to take a while and it’s probably going to be bumping in certain times as we learn how to integrate these things back into our culture again.
I’m glad that you said that. There are two things that I want to respond to. One of the things that I keep noticing as I work on this show is the importance of mental health. That it’s often easy to be isolated, especially as a single person. As we’ve already talked about within the show, the stigma with regard to getting therapy, getting help and so on. I want to have an open and honest conversation about how therapy has helped me, how I think that it can be a useful path for people even if your problems aren’t that profound. If this can serve as an additive benefit, I think that’s great.
You should be doing this with the help of a professional. The other one, and this is this idea, get connected to a community. I like this idea of solo but not alone. Single people are more connected across a greater number of people in a greater number of ways than people who are partnered up. This issue should be no different. That is finding the experts and make the team. I like your last thing is having an accountability buddy. Be prudent about this thing because I think it’s a fascinating development that’s happened and it feels like it’s happening fast.
We’ll see what happens because when I started the Aware Project a few years ago, we were one of the first psychedelic societies in the United States. Now, there’s a whole bunch of them and there’s media stuff going on around all this stuff. The science is still plodding along at the same speed. The cultural awareness and hunger for this stuff are growing beyond exponentially. I don’t know how this is going to play out. MDMA therapy is not going to be available for a few years if it passes through, but even then, unless you have severe PTSD, most people are not going to have access to this. It’s going to create an interesting dynamic for a while and put a lot of people going into the underground to get guides with no regulation under there. A lot of people are like, “I had this one experience and now I want to become a guide.” There are still a lot of things that we need to be cautious of and to hold this. While the movement’s growing and this awareness are growing, we still need to be careful that it doesn’t get destabilized.
I think this is a nice step in the right direction to have an open, honest conversation with some experts. I thank you, both, for your time.
Thanks so much. Cheers.
- Aware Project
- InnerSpace Integration
- California Center for Psychedelic Therapy
- MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy
- Here We Are
- Stand Up Science
- Head Talks
- Shtick To Business
- Stan Grof
- How to Change Your Mind
- Charlie Merrill – previous episode
- The Third Wave
About Ashley Booth and Shane Mauss
Ashley Booth has been a psychedelic educator and community leader in Southern California since 2014. She is the founder of the Southern California psychedelic society, the Aware Project and a co-founder of InnerSpace Integration. In 2016, Ashley left a previous career in environmental science and is currently collecting her hours to become a licensed psychedelic-assisted psychotherapist. She is a co-founder and clinician at the California Center for Psychedelic Therapy and a co-therapist on the MAPS-sponsored clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD.
Shane Mauss is a professional comedian, who specializes in comedy about science. He hosts the science podcast, Here We Are, and is touring with two shows –one is stand-up science – half comedy and half science show – and the second head talks (which is a special psychedelic version of the show). You can find him in the documentary film Psychonautics. Shane is also a good friend and special contributor to my new book, Shtick to Business.
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