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Etho-Geological Forecasting 
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Motoji Ikeya

Interview with Dr. Motoji Ikeya
By David Jay Brown


Dr. Motoji Ikeya is a Japanese interdisciplinary researcher, using electron spin resonance (ESR) in geosciences and radiation dopsimetry, with a research interest in the cause of unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes. His laboratory experiments at Osaka University have shed an enormous amount of light on the possible mechanisms that may be operating during this unexplained phenomenon.

Dr. Ikeya majored in Electronics and then Nuclear Engineering at Osaka University. He worked at Nagoya and Yamaguchi Universities, was a research associate at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. He is a recipient of the Asahi Newspaper Grant for Encouragement of Science (1981) and the 4th Osaka Science Prize in 1986.

Dr. Ikeya’s major field of specialization has been in quantum geophysics. He has researched Electron Sin Resonance (ESR), which is used for dating geological and archaeological materials, and in the future these techniques may be used for dating materials on icy planetary bodies. He has also researched radiation dosimetry and assessment of the paleo-environment. Dr. Ikeya began his earthquake precursor studies after the Kobe Earthquake in 1995.

At Osaka University Dr. Ikeya was chair of the Quantum Geophysics Laboratory, and is the author of more than three hundred scientific papers. He was Professor of Graduate School of Science at Osaka University’s Department of of Physics since 1987, and of Earth Space Science since its foundation in 1991. Dr. Ikeya retired from Osaka University in 2004, and is now helping young people in ESR on a part-time basis.

Dr. Ikeya is also the author of *Earthquakes and Animals: From Folk Legends to Science* (World Scientific, 2004), which is the most important book on the subject of unusual animal behavior and earthquakes since Helmut TrIbutsch’s classic work on the subject *When the Snakes Awake*. This meticulously researched work is an interdisciplinary treasure trove of folk legends, historical anecdotes, interview surveys and subjective reports, geophysical science facts, and most importantly, a fascinating summary of Dr. Ikeya’s own laboratory research. (To order a copy of Dr. Ikeya’s book click here.)

Ikeya’s laboratory experiments were conducted to see if exposure to an electrical field or electromagnetic pulses could elicit animal behavior similar to what has been reported prior to earthquakes. Ikeya’s experiments produced very interesting results. For example, fish showed panic reactions, and earthworms moved out of the soil and swarmed when current was applied. These are very similar to the behaviors that are reported before earthquakes. Dr. Ikeya’s work also sheds light on other mysterious pre-earthquake phenomena–which he was able to recreate in the laboratory–such as strange plant growth, earth-lights, fogs, atmospheric distortions, and unusual phenomena with electric appliances, such as televisions and cell phones.

I interviewed Dr. Ikeya on October 12, 2004. Dr. Ikeya has a great deal of curiosity, open-mindedness, and the rare ability to bridge scientific disciplines. We discussed how his laboratory experiments help us to understand the causes of unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes, why so many scientists are resistant to this idea, and whether or not a reliable earthquake forecasting system is possible.

David: What motivated you to start studying the relationship between unusual animal behavior and earthquakes?

Dr. Ikeya: The Kobe earthquake in 1995. I live 30 km from the epicenter and thought it strange that many earthworms dug themselves up in my small garden. At the time, I did not know the legend that a number of emerging earthworms is a sign of a large earthquake. Many people noticed this, including my neighbors.

David: How have your laboratory experiments with electric fields and electromagnetic pulses helped to shed some light on what may cause unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes?

Dr. Ikeya: First, theoretical calculation of EQ light, which was seen by my graduate students and associate professor. EQ clouds and fogs in legends may naturally be produced in super-cooled atmosphere. Then, it dawned on me that animals might be sensing such atmospheric discharge and electric field as electric field effects.

David: How do you think animals detect electromagnetic waves, and why do you think this cause them to behave in peculiar ways?

Dr. Ikeya: Electric fields may be sensed by the force on the animal’s hair. Induced current in the body may cause changes with some neurotransmitters.

David: Your research provides strong evidence for the theory that electromagnetic changes are causing the unusual animal behavior and other unexplained phenomena that are sometimes reported to occur prior to earthquakes. Do you think that this is just one possible explanation or the only one?

Dr. Ikeya: Probably most of the unexplained phenomena (80 – 90%) reported by lay citizens would have electromagnetic causes. Old legends of bent flames, and rice cooking anomaly, as well as animal and plant anomalies, are definitely electromagnetic in origin. However, the Moses’ 
phenomenon [reports that great bodies of water will suddenly and temporarily split apart, creating a valley to the ocean floor, and two massive walls of water] is due to natural hydrodynamic causes.

David: Why do you think so many scientists are resistant to the idea that unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes is a real phenomenon?

Dr. Ikeya: Because there are people who link trivial events to large earthquakes, and afterthoughts are inevitably involved in the statements by lay citizens, especially at a distance larger than 100 – 200 km for a
M7 earthquake. I explain this in Chapter 5 of my book *Earthquakes and Animals*.

For countries like New Zealand, the focal depth is 50 km or so. 
Electromagnetic (EM) intensity would be less, and so there would be less unusual phenomena. Granite bedrock in Japan might play a role due to the involvement of piezoelectric quartz grains, while basalt may generate less intense EM waves. Fluid movement in the boundary of granite might be responsible for the generation of EM waves, rather than the piezoelectricity.

David: What do you think are the most important experiments that still need to be done in order to shed more light on the nature of mysterious earthquake precursors?

Dr. Ikeya: Experiments of less intense EM exposure to human being, which is not allowed since we are not medical doctors. Some people might be very sensitive.

David: Do you think that it is possible for observations of animal behavior to ever be part of a reliable earthquake forecasting system?

Dr. Ikeya: No! Once we know that EM pulses are responsible, electronic detection will be better at forecasting earthquakes than observations of animal behavior. However, additional information about unusual phenomena–collected by an automatic observation system, rather than a collection of reports from lay citizens–would increase the reliability of a forecast of a disastrous earthquake. Collected data on cattle healthcare from farms in different areas, which are transmitted over the Internet, may be useful for studying the cattle’s response to weather changes, including an impending earthquake. They may provide additional information.

David: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Ikeya: I am a visiting professor of nano-science at the Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research on a part-time basis since my retirement. There is no job at the university if a professor is behaving unusually. However, I am developing my theory on generation and propagation of seismo-electromagnetic signals (SEMS) since my book, *Earthquakes and Animals*, is for the general public. Scientists need some mathematical equations that explain the phenomena quantitatively. 
It is a bit tough for an old professor to work on two entirely different subjects, though both

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Etho-Geological Forecasting

Etho-Geological Forecasting:

Unusual Animal Behavior & Earthquake Prediction

by David Jay Brown

There is much anecdotal evidence suggesting that some animals have the ability to detect sensory stimuli which humans can not– even with our most sensitive technological instruments. That many animals have access to a perceptual range exceeding those of humans is scientifically well-established, but it also appears that many animals have sensory abilities not currently explained by traditional science.

For example, British biologist Rupert Sheldrake has documented on videotape how some dogs appear to anticipate the arrival of their owner. Regardless of the time of day that the owner begins their journey home, some of these dogs appear to sense their human companion coming without receiving any known physical signals, and wait for them next to the door or window. Homing pigeons also have remarkable abilities to navigate to their desired location using abilities that are not fully understood.

Many pet owners claim that they have powerful “psychic” bonds with their pets, and often describe their connection with the animal as “telepathic”. Like Dr. Dolittle, a lot of people believe that they can communicate with animals. Some people even claim that their pets have precognitive abilities, while others notice their animals act in peculiar ways just before an earthquake strikes.

I personally experienced the latter phenomenon myself prior to a Los Angeles earthquake in 1990. I was in graduate school working on the fifth floor of the USC Neuroscience Building’s Learning and Memory lab with several other students, and three calm rabbits. Suddenly the rabbits became noticeably agitated. They started hopping around in their cages wildly for around five minutes, right before a 5.2 earthquake sent the whole building rolling and swaying.

After my experience with the anxious rabbits I have learned that, since the beginning of recorded history, virtually every culture in the world has reported observations of unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes (and– to a lesser extent– volcanic eruptions), but conventional science has never been able to adequately explain the phenomenon. Nonetheless, the Chinese and Japanese have employed such sightings for hundreds of years as an important part of anationally-orchestrated earthquake warning systems, with some success.

Perhaps most significantly, on February 4, 1975 the Chinese successfully evacuated the city of Haicheng several hours before a 7.3 magnitude earthquake– based primarily on observations of unusual animal behavior. 90% of the city’s structures were destroyed in the quake, but the entire city had been evacuated before it struck. Nearly 90,000 lives were saved. Since then China has been hit by a number of major quakes that they were not as prepared for, and they have also had some false alarms, so their system is certainly not fool-proof. But never-the-less, they have made a remarkable achievement by demonstrating thatearthquakes do not always strike without warning.

Helmut Tributsch’s beautifully written classic work on the subject of earthquakes and unusual animal behavior– When the Snakes Awake– details numerous consistent accounts of the phenomenon from all over the world. Although these behavior patterns are very well-documented, most geologists that I have spoken with at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) don’t take it very seriously. The official word from the USGS is that there aren’t any earthquake prediction techniques– unusual animal behavior observations included– which perform any better than chance.

In fact, the notion that odd animal behavior can help people predict earthquakes is perceived by most traditional geologists in the West as folklore, or an old wives tale, and is often cast into the same boat as sightings of poltergeists, Elvis, and the Loch Ness Monster. The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, considered an understanding of the relationship between unusual animal behavior and earthquakes to be an esoteric form of Secret Knowledge. That such strong support for the application of this knowledge exists in the East– in long-lived civilizations like China and Japan– is testimony to the reality of the phenomenon, as they have witnessed many more earthquakes in their long histories than has a comparatively young country like the U.S.

But not all Western geologists are close-minded with regard to the phenomenon. James Berkland– a retired USGS geologist from Santa Clara County, California– claims to be able to predict earthquakes with greater than 75% accuracy rate simply by counting the number of lost pet ads in the daily newspaper, and correlating this relationship to lunar-tide cycles. This maverick geologist, has been meticulously saving and counting lost pet ads for many years. Berkland says that the number of missing dogs and cats goes up significantly for as long as two weeks prior to an earthquake.

Gravitational variations due to the lunar cycles, he says, create “seismic windows” of greater earthquake probability. When the number of missing pets also suddenly rises, then– bingo– a quake is likely to happen. Berkland said he thinks the USGS won’t accept unusual animal data because it doesn’t jive with their current scientific paradigm and hypotheses, to which, he says, their precious egos are overly attached. (Researchers who attempt earthquake prediction are often lumped into the same category as fortune tellers and scam artists by traditional geologists.) It is not surprising then to hear that Berkland was suspended from his position as Santa Clara county geologist for claiming to predict earthquakes– such as the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in Northern California, which was preceded by numerous reports of odd animal behavior.

Unusual behavior is difficult to define, and determining if there is a characteristic behavior is not a simple, clear-cut process, although there are some distinct patterns which have emerged. For example, an intense fear that appears to make some animals cry and bark for hours, and others flee in panic has been reported often. Equally characteristic is the apparent opposite effect of wild animals appearing confused, disoriented, and losing their usual fear of people. Some othercommon observations are that animals appear agitated, excited, nervous, overly aggressive, or seem to be trying to burrow or hide.

Although the majority of accounts pertain to dogs and cats, there are also many stories about other types of animals in the wild, on farms, and in zoos; including horses, cows, deer, goats, possums, rats, chickens, and other birds. The behavior has been reported in many other animal species as well, including fish, reptiles, and even insects. Deep sea fish, for example, have been caught close to the surface of the ocean on numerous occasions around Japan prior to earthquakes(Tributsch, 1982).

Some fish– catfish in particular– are reputed to become agitated before earthquakes, and at times have been reported to actually leap out of the water onto dry land. Snakes have been known to leave their underground places of hibernation in the middle of the winter prior to quakes, only to be found frozen on the surface of the snow. Mice are commonly reported to appear dazed before quakes, and allow themselves to easily be captured by hand. Homing pigeons are said to take much longer to navigate to their destination prior to earthquakes. Hens have been reported laying fewer eggs, or no eggs at all, and pigs have been observed aggressively trying to bite one another before earthquakes (Tributsch, 1982).

Bees have been seen evacuating their hive in a panic, minutes before an earthquake, and then not returning until fifteen minutes after the quake ended. Even creatures such as millipedes, leeches, squid, and ants have been reported to exhibit abnormal behavior prior to earthquakes (Miller, 1996).

These strange behaviors generally occur anywhere from moments to weeks in advance of a quake. Most of the people I have spoken with who have witnessed this phenomenon, observed the strange behavior within twenty-four hours of a quake, although some observations occurred more than a week before the quake struck. Berkland has suggested that there are possibly two primary precursory earthquake signals– one several weeks before, and the other one just moments before the quake. A lot of reports appear to confirm this.

A number of theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, and what the precursory signals that the animals are picking up on might be. Because many animals possess auditory capacities beyond the human range, it has been suggested that some animals may be reacting to ultrasound emitted as microseisms from fracturing rock (Armstrong, 1969).

Another candidate is fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field. Because some animals have a sensitivity to variations in the earth’s magnetic field (usually as a means of orientation), and since variations in the magnetic field occur near the epicenters of earthquakes (Chapman and Bartels, 1940), it has been suggested that this is what the animals are picking up on.

Marsha Adams, an independent earthquake researcher in San Francisco, claims to have developed sensors that measure low-frequency electromagnetic signals which allow her to predict earthquakes with over 90% accuracy. Adams suspects that low-frequency electromagnetic signals– created by the fracturing of crystalline rock deep in the earth along fault lines– are “biologically active”, and that her instruments are picking up the same signals that sensitive animals do. As a result of this technology (whose details are a corporate secret), she says that her system makes unusual animal behavior observations obsolete.

Fish have a high degree of sensitivity to variations in electric fields, and because telluric current variations have also been noted before some earthquakes, Ulomov and Malashev have suggested that this is what the fish may be reacting to. Some organisms respond to changes in the polarity and concentration of atmospheric ions, and they suspect that this sensitivity enables some animals to detect the air-ionizing effects of radon released from the ground in advance of certainearthquakes.

Tributsch has suggested that a piezoelectric effect may be at work here. When certain crystals, such as quartz, are arranged in such a way that pressure is applied along certain of the crystal’s axes, the distribution of positive and negative ions can shift slightly. In this way pressure changes produce electrical charging of the crystal’s surfaces. On the average, the earth’s crust consists of 15% quartz, and in certain areas it can be as high as 55%.

According to Tributsch, the piezoelectric effect of the quartz is capable of generating enough electrical energy to account for the creation of airborne ions before and during an earthquake. This electrostatic charging of aerosol particles may be what the animals are reacting to. Animals, also observed acting unusual in similar ways prior to thunderstorms, may have evolved a sensitivity to electrical changes in their environment (Tributsch, 1982).

The effects of radon gas on the level of air ionization explained above, can also be expected to change the field gradient, and dozens of animals have been shown to be sensitive to changes in the electric field gradient of the atmosphere (Chalmers, 1967). Other possibilities are that the animals are actually experiencing a form of pre-cognition, or they could be perceiving and responding to stimuli that currently science has no way to measure. (Support for the notion of pre-cognition is increased when one compares the reports of unusual animal behavior described in this article, with the even more puzzling reports of strange animal behavior reported in England during World War II. Dr. Sheldrake told me that animals were said to act unusual prior to aerial bomb raids, long before they could have possibly heard or felt the vibrations from the approaching aircrafts.)

Some people say that they feel an uncomfortable pressure in their head, or a persistent headache that lasts for weeks, which suddenly vanishes moments before an earthquake. Because magnetite has been found in some animal brains, Berkland thinks that it is possible that animals may be reacting to their own headaches caused by changes in the earth’s electromagnetic field. He said that a dog was observed chewing on willow bark– from which aspirin in derived– prior to an earthquake, and he believes that this was an attempt by the dog to self-medicate himself for the headache. He also told me that some people with MultipleSclerosis– a disease caused by improper insulation around the electrically-conductive fibers of the nervous system– experience an increase in symptoms weeks before an earthquake.

Other mysterious phenomena are often connected with earthquakes. The regular eruptions of geysers have been interrupted. Well levels have been reported to change, or the water in them has been known to become cloudy. Magnets have been said to temporarily lose their power. Many people report that there is suddenly an unexplainable stillness in the air, and that all around them becomes completely silent. Strange lights are often seen glowing from the earth, and unusual fogs have been reported. These phenomena are all consistent with the notion that the odd animal behavior may result from changes in the earth’s electromagnetic field, or the release of electrically-charged particles due to intense pressure on crystalline rock. (More puzzling is that a number of people claim to have sighted UFO’s hovering around earthquake sites.)

Another possibly related point of interest is that electrically-charged ionic particles have been shown to change neurotransmitter ratios in animal brains, and since charged ions may be released prior to some earthquakes, it has been suggested that this may explain the two seemingly-contradictory behavior patterns I discussed above, where in normally-calm pets seem to become frightened, and wild animals often appear to lose their sense of fear (Tributsch, 1982). These neurotransmitter changes could possibly help to explain another related phenomenon. I’ve noticed that earthquakes themselves (like solar eclipses) sometimes trigger an intense consciousness-altering experience. People often feel energized, emotionally open, and acutely sensitive following earthquakes. Powerful bonding experiences often occur between people in the aftermath of a quake, although this is likely to be true for any natural disaster that people share.

But subjectively earthquake experiences often take on dream-like qualities, or have a sense of unreality about them, perhaps because our most cherished notion of what is safe and solid in the world– the very ground upon which we rest– becomes wobbly and unstable. Our whole sense of reality is shaken with the earth, as one is suddenly lifted up out of the mundane, and thrust into the center of what seems an immensely important drama.

California and Japanese residents, like other people living along major fault zones on this planet, don’t need to be reminded of the devastation that an earthquake can bring, and currently Western science doesn’t have any reliable means of forecasting these earth-shaking events. Tens of thousands of lives are lost globally, and billions of dollars in property damage occur on average every year as a result of earthquakes. Any clues that may be used to help us predict when and where the next quake is coming should be approached with an open mind.

I am currently researching this phenomenon as part of a larger international study of the “psychic” powers of animals, and the material I gather will be used in a forth-coming book. Heading this project is revolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake, former Cambridge Don and research fellow of the Royal Society in England, and the author of such popular books as A New Science of Life, The Presence of the Past, Rebirth of Nature, and Seven Experiments that Could Change the World.

I am presently looking to get in touch with anyone who has observed unusual animal behavior prior to an earthquake, or who has experienced any type of paranormal phenomena with their pets. I can be reached at: P.O. Box 1082 Ben Lomond, California USA phone: (408) 336-1924 email: dajabr@well.com

 

The Earthquake Prediction Page has lots of informative links on the subject.

James Berkland can be reached at: 14927 East Hills Drive San Jose, CA 95127 (408) 258-1192 A subscription to the newsletter Syzygy can be obtained for $40. Back issues are $4.00 Berkland’s QuakeLine can be reached at: 1-900-844-JOLT ($1.49 per minute)

Marsha Adams’ earthquake prediction service can be obtained through: Time Research Institute P.O. Box 620198 Woodside, CA 94062 (415) 851-1104

Ted Miller’s Earthquake Prediction Handbook is a treasure trove of hard-to-find information on unusual animal behavior and earthquakes. It is available for $11.95 plus $3.00 (U.S. currency, $2.00 additional if outside USA) from: Info-Pub 4434 University Pkwy. Suite K-213 San Bernardino, California USA 92407

References and Further Reading:

Evernden, J.F. (ed.) Abnormal Animal Behavior Prior to Earthquakes. U.S. Dept. of Interior Geological Survey, Conference I. Convened under the auspices of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, USGS, Menlo Park, CA, 23-24, September 1976.

Hatai, S. and Abe, N. “The Responses of the Catfish, Parasilurus ascotus, to Earthquakes.” Proc. Imperial Acad. Japan, 8, 1932, pp. 374-378.

Miller, Ted, Earthquake Prediction Handbook, Info-Pub, 1996.

Sheldrake, R., Seven Experiments that Could Change the World, Riverhead Books, 1995.

Suyehiro, Y. “Unusual Behavior of Fishes to Earthquakes.” In Scientific Report, Keikyu Aburatsubo Marine Park Aquarium, Vol. 1, 1968, pp. 4-11.

Suyehiro, Y. “Unusual Behavior of Fish to Earthquakes, II.” In Scientific Report, Keikyu Aburatsubo Marine Park Aquarium, Vol. 4, 1972, pp. 13-14.

Tributsch, H., When the Snakes Awake, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1982. (Unfortunately this book is currently out of print. However, it can be found in most university science libraries.)

Ulomov, V.I. and Malashev, B.Z. “The Tashkent Earthquake of 26 April, 1966.” Acad. Nauk. Uzbek, FAN, Tashkent, 1971.

Charles Tart, Ph.D.

Exploring the Near-Death Experience: An Interview with Charles Tart, Ph.D.

By David Jay Brown

Charles Tart, Ph.D. is a psychologist and parapsychological researcher. He is best known as one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology, for his psychological work on the nature of consciousness–particularly altered states of consciousness–and for his scientific research into psychic phenomena.

Tart earned his Ph. D. in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963. His books Altered States of Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychologies have been widely used as academic texts, and they were instrumental in allowing these areas to become part of modern psychology. Some of Tart’s other popular books include States of Consciousness, On Being Stoned: A Psychological Study of Marijuana Intoxication, and Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People.

Tart’s most recent book The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together is the best book that I’ve read about integrating science and spirituality. Tart clearly and patiently demonstrates precisely how new scientific evidence is breaking down outdated paradigms, and he believes that the scientific evidence for psychic phenomena is helping to bring science and spirit back together. He says that his “primary goal is to build bridges between the scientific and spiritual communities and to help bring about a refinement and integration of Western and Eastern approaches for knowing the world and for personal and social growth.”

Tart is currently a Core Faculty Member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, emeritus member of the Monroe Institute board of advisors, and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, where he has served for twenty-eight years. To find out more about Tart’s work, see: www.paradigm-sys.com 

I interviewed Charles on December 16, 2009. Charles is a very eloquent speaker, and he speaks about anomalous phenomena with great precision. We spoke about near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and how psychedelic experiences and other altered states of consciousness are similar to and different from a typical near-death experience.

David: How did you become interested in studying altered states of consciousness?

Charles: I think that part of it was just curiosity. Ever since I was a child I’ve wondered how my mind worked.

David: Can you describe what a near-death experience is commonly like?

Charles: I can always refer to people Raymond Moody’s list of fifteen characteristics that are important in every near-death experience (NDE). But to sum it up in a shorter fashion than that, it happens like this. You think that you’re dying. There are periods of unconsciousness, and commonly–but not universally–you find yourself floating up above your body, which may be in an operating room. You go through the very powerful psychological shock of hearing your doctor pronounce you dead. That’s quite a heavy psychological proclamation. (Laughter) Then, if the experience develops further, I’d call it an out-of-body experience (OBE), because during an OBE you’re fully conscious. Then the NDE goes on to become an altered state of consciousness, not just a feeling of being outside your body. Now, of course, in real life there are times when it’s hard to decide whether an experience is a NDE or just an OBE, but those are the ideal cases.

David: I thought that an OBE usually implied an altered state of consciousness.

Charles: No, the typical thing about an OBE is that a person feels like their mind is perfectly normal, and therefore the situation that they find themselves in is ridiculous and impossible. This is different than being in a dream, for example, where you’re (from our waking perspective) out of your body all the time. When you’re dreaming, you don’t know that you’re not occupying your physical body in a normal way. You’re in dream consciousness. And it’s the clarity of consciousness in an OBE that causes people to think that this simply can not be really happening. People generally feel perfectly awake, perfectly consciousness, and yet they’re floating up to the damn ceiling. So they automatically think, this just can’t be happening!

David: I’ve had OBE-type experiences with psychedelics–such as DMT and ketamine–but I was unquestionably in an altered state of consciousness at the time, and it seemed more like going into other dimensions of reality, which I guess is closer to dreaming than the type of OBEs that you’re describing. With all my psychedelic use, I’ve never had an experience where it felt like my normal mind was just floating above my body. I find that absolutely astonishing that people have that experience.

Charles: Yes, that’s the archetypal OBE; the mind remains clear. There are a lot of psychedelic experiences where the concept of what it means to be in a body can get pretty hazy. We call that an OBE, but I think that can be confusing. I like to get clarity in the descriptions that we’re talking about, and that’s why I say that this feeling of your consciousness being clear, normal, and logical is characteristic of the OBE.

David: How is a NDE similar to and different from a psychedelic experience?

Charles: I wish that I could say we have a lot of studies that have made detailed phenomenological comparisons, but of course we haven’t.

The NDE is, of course, centered around the fact that you think that you’ve died, which is a pretty powerful centering device. It usually includes the feeling of moving through a tunnel, toward a light, contact with other beings, and a quick life review. A psychedelic experience may not have all of these characteristics. Some of the characteristics may be present, but certain details of the NDE may be missing, like the quick life review or the speedy return to normal consciousness. Now, this is interesting. This is one of the very vivid differences between psychedelic experiences and NDEs. With NDEs you can feel like you’re way out there somewhere, and then “they” say that you have to go back, and bang! You’re back in your body and everything is normal again. With psychedelics, of course, you come down more slowly, and don’t usually experience a condensed life review. So that’s what the major difference is. But psychedelic experiences also reach over a far wider terrain of possibilities.

Let me tell you something about the life review. It’s extremely common in NDEs for persons to undergo a life review, where they feel as if they remember at least every important event in their life, and often they say every single event in their life. Sometimes it even expands out into not only remembering and reliving every single event in their life, but also into knowing psychically the reactions of other people to all their actions. For some it must be horrible, because it seems that you would really experience their pain. I very seldom hear people say anything about a life review on psychedelics. Yeah, occasionally past memories have come up, but not this dramatic review of a person’s whole life.

David: Do you see any similarity in the consequences, or the aftereffects of a NDE and a psychedelic experience? Do they have any similar consequences, or long-lasting effects for people?

Charles: The are sometimes consequences that overlap and are mutual, but I would say that the NDE is more powerful. It’s more powerful in the sense that a person may make more drastic changes in their lifestyle, or in their community, if they try to integrate the acceptance of the NDE and make sense out of it. It’s also more powerful in the sense that it’s more liable to cause more lasting changes. A psychedelic experience can also have powerful life-changing effects. But let’s face it, some people can pretty much forget their psychedelic experience afterwards, much less alter their lives. It can simulate certain aspects of the NDE, but it doesn’t carry the same force that the typical NDE does.

David: This actually rings true with my own experience. My psychedelic experiences were pale compared to the time that my car went over a cliff.

Charles: Ah, okay. I didn’t know that you had a NDE.

David: For about a year, the experience allowed me to appreciate life in a completely new and joyous way, and it eliminated my fear of just about everything, including death. However, this new state of perception faded away after about a year. I’m wondering what sort of biological value or psychological function you think that NDEs have?

Charles: To the people who have them, they usually feel that they’ve gotten profound insight into the way that their life ought to be, just from that one experience. With psychedelics, again, there’s a wide of  range of experiences. It can range from a low sensory-enhancement level–where you see a lot of pretty colors and images, and afterwards you just say, now let’s go out and get back to work–up to really deep levels of insight into the nature of one’s mind. So there’s a very wide range of experiences that are possible with psychedelics.

But with NDEs there is the feeling of being absolutely beyond one’s life experience. This raises interesting possibilities then because not everybody who comes near death reports having had a NDE. Could there be a lot of NDEs that are psychologically repressed? Does this happen sometimes? It’s an interesting discussion I’ve been having with some of my colleagues. If you do or don’t recover a memory of this state, how do you know if it’s something that really happened or not? It’s possible that our minds might make something up, or repress certain experiences, so it’s tricky. But it’s also quite interesting that some people come close to death and don’t report having a NDE.

David: What sort of relationship do you see between the NDE and various altered states of consciousness?

Charles: (Laughter) You’re asking me about my life’s work, David. My really active research has been on altered states of consciousness. I began my research on dreams and hypnosis and it was very fascinating stuff. I loved the laboratory work that I was doing, but I slowly became aware that there were a lot of other methods for altering consciousness, and a lot of different altered states. So I had to stop specializing so much, and tried to get a feeling for that whole spectrum, including psychedelics, and learned about methods like meditation. We also included emotional states of consciousness. So your question is almost like asking, what’s the relationship of life to life? You’ve got to narrow it down more specifically. (Laughter)

David: I guess I was just looking to see if there were any aspects of a NDE that are common in other altered states of consciousness, or whether you think there’s something really unique about a NDE.

Charles: Oh, I think it’s pretty unique. Very few people have had a near-death experience, and say, well, there was a little element of this and a little element of that.

David: I’ve heard of some situations where people had hellish NDEs.

Charles: Yes, there are a few like that. The fact that there are only a few is disappointing to right-wing Christians, who think the majority of people should get a taste of Hell, because that’s what they deserve. But it’s very rarely reported. The rarity of reports might be because they actually are very rare. Or it might mean that a lot of cases, if you look at them more closely, are partially forgotten or not reported quite accurately. A NDE could also be very scary to some people who are really afraid of OBEs or altered states of consciousness. Or it might be that they are much more common than we think, but people just don’t report them. Can you imagine someone saying, “I almost died and God told me that I was going to Hell.” That’s not a very good way to enter a social relationship. (Laughter)

David: (Laughter) No, I guess not. Charles, what do you personally think happens to consciousness after death?

Charles: After doing more than fifty years of professional work with consciousness now, one of the things that’s really been interesting to me is that its become more and more clear that there’s an aspect of consciousness that appears to transcend physical or material reality. At the same time, it’s also clear to me that a lot of our ordinary consciousness is very dependent on being shaped by the nature of our bodies, or at least by our brains. Clearly, that shaping is completely gone from one’s reality after death.

I was once asked what I thought about the evidence for survival after death, and I summed it up by saying this. When I die, I expect that I’ll probably be unconsciousness for a bit–but I expect to recover from it. On the other hand, I’m not quite sure that the “I” that will recover from death will be the same “I” who dies. I think that there’s going to be some major changes in whatever survives, and this is a gross generalization.

There is a very large body of literature about the possibility that consciousness survives death, and I’ve been running a discussion group with many of the world’s experts about this  for years. The commonality of the NDE helped to decrease my bias against what I thought was an impossibility. However, I think that although consciousness probably survives death, it probably doesn’t survive in quite the same form as we’re used to. However, if people merely believe in an afterlife it may influence their interpretation of the evidence.

David: I think that it’s just so fascinating that, depending on how one looks at the situation, there’s an abundance of evidence both for and against the survival of consciousness after death. Like psychic phenomena, I think that a big part of what people usually believe about what happens to consciousness after death is based more upon their spiritual or philosophical assumptions than on an examination of the scientific evidence.

Charles: I should also add here too that I’m one of the few people who tried to say, let’s rationally look at the phenomena that might suggest survival, and try and make sense of it–with a little proviso that ordinary rationality is not the only way to understand something. That was very hard to do, and very few people, I think, are anywhere near objectively looking at the evidence at all. Most people form a belief, stubbornly try to protect it, and don’t want to look at anything that might challenge that belief.

Earlier in this conversation I said that I’d like to see a fair, evidence-based comparison between the NDE and other states of consciousness, but I discovered that people, even doctors, aren’t usually interested in asking questions that challenge their beliefs. But this is not science. To me, everything is open to examination. Everything. Now, this doesn’t mean we can really see everything, but we have to look at everything–even those areas where we have a lot of emotional investment.

 

Roland Griffiths, Ph.D.

Psilocybin Studies and the Religious Experience:
An Interview with Roland Griffiths, Ph.D.

By David Jay Brown
Roland  Griffiths, Ph.D is a psychopharmachologist and professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. Although  Dr. Griffiths’ psychopharmacology research has been at the cutting-edge of neuroscience for over thirty-five years, he is probably best known for having led the landmark study with psilocybin, published in the August, 2006 issue of Psychopharmacology, under the title, “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.”

This study confirmed what many people had long suspected, and it also helped to join Dr. Griffiths’ two most passionate personal interests–neuroscience and meditation. I interviewed Roland on December 18, 2009. Roland was very gracious, reflective, and appeared to choose his words carefully. We spoke about his research with psilocybin, his interest in spiritual experiences, and how psychedelics may provide help for people who are dying.

David: How did you become interested in doing psilocybin research?

Roland: : I’m trained as a psychopharmachologist. I was trained in both experimental psychology and pharmacology. For the past thirty-five years, I’ve been doing work in both the animal lab and the human lab, characterizing the effects of mood-altering drugs, mostly drugs of abuse. About fifteen years ago, I took up a meditation practice that opened up a spiritual window for me, and made me very curious about the nature of mystical experience and spiritual transformation. It also prompted an existential question for me about the meaningfulness of my own research program in drug abuse pharmacology.

On reflecting about the history of psychopharmacology and the claims that had been made about the classical hallucinogens occasioning mystical and spiritual experience, I became intrigued about whether I could turn the direction of some of my research program toward addressing those kinds of questions. Through a confluence of interactions and introductions, I first met Robert Jesse of the Council of Spiritual Practices, and he introduced me to Bill Richards, who had a long history of working with these compounds from the 1960s and 70s. We decided that we would undertake a research project characterizing the effects of psilocybin.

The initial study that we undertook was really a comparative pharmacology study aimed at rigorously characterizing the effects of psilocybin using the kinds of measures that have been developed in clinical pharmacology over the last fifty years — measures that we had used extensively in our past research. However, we added another piece to that study, which came from my interest in spirituality. It really provided an opportunity for me to start reading about the psychology of religion, and looking closely into kinds of measures that might tap those type of experiences.

So the final publication of that first study, which came out in 2006, really reads as though it were intended to focus exclusively on mystical experience. The title of that paper, “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance,” underscores the most interesting finding from the study. But, in fact, I went into that study, although very curious about spirituality, completely agnostic about the outcome of the study. I didn’t believe, necessarily, that psilocybin would occasion compelling mystical experiences of the type that I had become so interested in through mediation.

David: : How did the findings from the first study motivate you to do additional research, and can you talk a little about the more recent psilocybin studies that you’re involved in?

Roland: : After completing our first study and then publishing a 14-month follow-up report, we conducted a psilocybin dose-effect study in healthy volunteers that we have yet to publish. Currently, we have a study in anxious cancer patients that’s ongoing (www.cancer.org), and, with Matt Johnson, we are also conducting a small pilot study examining psilocybin-facilitated cigarette smoking treatment. We also just initiated a study that will focus on psilocybin and spiritual practices. We will be giving psilocybin to people who are interested in undertaking meditation, and spiritual awareness practices, to determine how a psilocybin experience impacts their engagement with those practices.

Let me back up just a little bit. The first study showed that psilocybin can, with high probability, occasion mystical-type experiences that appear virtually identical to naturally-occurring mystical experiences that had been described by mystics and other religious figures throughout the ages. We knew that these mystical-type experiences spontaneously occurred occasionally, although unpredictably. It seems that the frequency of such experiences increase under conditions when people fast, meditate, or engage in intense pray or other kinds of ritual or spiritual practice. However, these experiences still occur at relatively low rate.

What our studies are showing is that such experiences can be occasioned at relatively high probability. In the most recent study that we conducted, more than seventy percent of our volunteers had complete mystical experiences as measured by psychometric scales. An important implication of demonstrating that we can occasion these experiences with high probability is that it suggests that such experiences are biologically normal. Another important implication is that It now becomes possible, for the first time, to conduct rigorous prospective research, investigating both the antecedent causes as well as the consequences these kinds of experiences.

With regard to antecedent causes, it becomes possible to ask what kind of personality, genetic, or disposition characteristics increase the probability of these experiences. We described some of the consequences of the mystical experience in our first study, and certainly they’ve been well described in the broader literature on religion, mysticism, and entheogens. These involve shifts in attitudes and behavior, and some cognitive functions that appear quite positive.

Our interest in examining the effects of psilocybin-occasioned mystical experience in anxious cancer patients was that it appeared to be an immediately relevant therapeutic target. It’s very common for patients with cancer to develop chronically and clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression that have a significant negative impact on quality of life. The existing pharmacological and psychological treatments for depression and anxiety in patients with cancer and other terminal illnesses, are currently very limited. Epidemiological data show that spirituality has a protective effect on psychological response to serious illness. We also know that spiritual well-being is negatively correlated with hopelessness in cancer patients, and that cancer patients are interested in addressing issues of spirituality.

Importantly, there had been substantial previous work in cancer patients in the 1960s and early 1970s with LSD and other classical hallucinogens. Research had been done by Bill Richards, Stan Grof and others at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. In fact, Bill’s Ph.D. thesis research focused on this topic. So there was a very good clinical sense that cancer patients would be an interesting target group. Also, having personally looked closely at the spiritual experiences that people in our first studies had reported, it seemed obvious to me that psychologically distressed cancer patients were a very appropriate group to study.

David: : Have you seen anything in your sessions that influenced your understanding of, or perspective on, death?

Roland: : The hallmark feature of the mystical experience, that we can now occasion with high probability, is this sense of the interconnectedness of all things — a sense of unity. That sense of unity is often accompanied by a sense of sacredness, a sense of openheartedness or love, and a noetic quality suggesting that this experience is more real than everyday waking consciousness. I believe that the experience of unity is of key importance to understanding the potential existential shifts that people can undergo after having these kinds of experiences.

Within the domain of the psychology of religion, scholars have described two variations of this experience of unity — something called “introverted mystical experience” and another called “extroverted mystical experience.” The extroverted version of this sense of unity was assessed by items in one of the spiritual questionnaires that we used, the Hood Mysticism Scale. I’ll read you a couple of items. One is, “An experience in which I felt that all things were alive.” Some of the others are: “An experience in which all things seem to be aware.” “Realized the oneness of myself with all things.” “An experience where all things seemed to be conscious.” “An experience where all things seemed to be unified into a single whole.” “An experience in which I felt nothing was really dead.”

So this feature of mystical experiences point toward the nature of consciousness, and an intuition that consciousness is alive and pervades everything. From there, it is not a great stretch to contemplate the possibility of the continuity of consciousness – or, more traditionally, immortal soul. Such an experience can break down a restrictive sense of being defined by your body, in a total materialistic framework. So I think that it’s these subtle and not-so-subtle perceptual shifts that could be at the core to rearranging someone’s attitude about death.

David: : Is this why you think that psychedelics can be helpful in assisting people with the dying process?

Roland: : It’s very common for people who have profound mystical-type experiences to report very positive changes in attitudes about themselves, their lives, and their relationships with others. People often report shifts in a core sense of self. Positive changes in mood are common, along with shifts toward altruism — like being more sensitive to the needs of others, and feeling a greater need to be of service to others. It is not difficult to imagine that such attitudinal shifts flow directly from the sense of unity and other features of the mystical experience — a profound sense of the interconnectedness of all things packaged in a benevolent framework of a sense of sacredness, deep reverence, openhearted love and a noetic quality of truth. So it’s quite plausible that the primary mystical experience not only underlies changes attitude toward death specifically, but also changes attitudes about self, life, and other people in a way that’s dramatically uplifting.

David: : What sort of promise do you see for the future of psilocybin research?

Roland: : I’m trained as a scientist, so I’m very interested in all of the scientific questions that can be asked of this experience. I’m interested in the neuropharmacology of the experience. I’m interested in the psychological and physiological determinants of this kind of experience. And then I’m interested in the consequence of this kind of experience — not only for healthy volunteers, but also for distressed individuals who might have a therapeutic or clinical benefit.

Now, whether or not unpacking those scientific questions will lead to approval of psilocybin as a therapeutic drug, I don’t know — and, in some ways, it’s not important one way or another.

For me, what’s most important is understanding the mechanisms that occasion these kinds of experiences. So I will not argue the future is with psilocybin per se. But it does appear to be an amazingly interesting tool for unlocking these mysteries of human consciousness. As we get a better understanding of the underlying neuropharmacology and neurophysiology, it may be that better compounds or nonpharmacological techniques can be developed that occasion these experiences with even higher probability than we can right now with psilocybin.

Frankly, I can’t think of anything more important to be studying. As I’ve said, the core feature of the mystical experience is this strong sense of the interconnectedness of all things, where there’s a rising sense of not only self-confidence and clarity, but of communal responsibility — of altruism and social justice – a felt sense of the Golden Rule: To do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And those kinds of sensibilities are at the core of all of the world’s religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions. Understanding the nature of these effects, and their consequences, may be key to the survival of our species.

David: : That was precisely the point that I was trying to make when I edited the MAPS Bulletin about ecology and psychedelics. Psychedelics have played such an important role in inspiring people to become more ecological aware.

Roland: : Yes, that follows from the altruistic sensibility that may flow from these types of experiences. Ecology can become a big deal with these experiences. If you really experience the interconnectedness of all things and the consciousness pervades all things, then you have to take care of other people and the planet, right? And to bring this back around to death and dying, if everything is conscious, then death and dying may not be so frightening. There is a big and mysterious story here.

Jacob Teitelbaum

Understanding and Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:
An Interview with Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum

By David Jay Brown

Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is a board-certified internist and a leading researcher in the field of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM). He has a specialized practice for CFS/FM and pain patients in Annapolis, Maryland, and is director of the Annapolis Research Center for Effective CFS/FM therapies. Dr. Teitelbaum is also the author of several books, includingFrom Fatigued to FantasticPain Free 1-2-3!: A Proven Program to Get You Pain Free Now!, and Three Steps to Happiness: Healing Through Joy

Dr. Teitelbaum received his medical degree from the Medical School at Ohio State University, and in 1980 he became Board Certified in Internal Medicine. For over two decades he has worked with CFS/FM patients. His motivation to specialize in this area of medicine began with personal experience. In 1975, Dr. Teitelbaum had to drop out of medical school when he himself contracted CFS/FM, and this had a profound influence on the course of his medical career. Although he recovered enough to resume his medical school training a year later, CFS/FM symptoms persisted for many years, and this motivated him to become an avid reader of the scientific medical literature, where he came across many studies that he not learned about in medical school. 

Applying this research, Dr. Teitelbaum began to treat his patients with nutritional and herbal therapies, hormonal supplements, anti-infectious treatments, physical therapy measures, and sleep support. Much to his surprise, these previously untreatable patients started to improve dramatically. Dr. Teitelbaum was amazed as his general internal medicine practice began to fill with patients who were flying in from around the country. He has now effectively treated approximately 2000 patients with CFS/FM related disorders.

In addition to having written several books, Dr. Teitelbaum has written numerous articles on CFS/FM, including the recent landmark paper “Effective Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia–A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled, Intent to Treat Study,” published in the Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Dr. Teitelbaum has also designed a line of nutritional supplement and support formulas, and all of his royalties from the sale of these products goes to charity. To find ot more about Dr. Teitelbaum’s work visit his Web site: www.endfatigue.com

I interviewed Jacob on October 11, 2004. Jacob is open-minded, curious, and very enthusiastic about alternative medicine. He has a very upbeat perspective on life in general, and he laughs a lot. We spoke about the etiology of chronic fatigue syndrome, the relationship between CFS and FM, how to sleep better and increase mental clarity, and other effective treatments for CFS/FM.

David: What inspired your interest in medicine, and how did your experience with chronic fatigue syndrome in medical school influence your medical career?

Jacob: I’ve wanted to be a healer since I was a little kid. I tend to be very empathic, and if somebody was hurting I could feel what they were feeling. When I was seven or eight years old I still remember how I’d want to hide behind a corner, and just wiggle my finger and make people who were hurting feel better.  So that’s always been my goal. If you look at my high school yearbook, you’ll see that it says that’s what I’m going to be. I’ve felt this way for as far back as I can remember. Part of being a Jewish kid is the expectation that you’re going to be a Jewish doctor, but that’s my nature. Part of being empathic is being a healer.

Because I had chronic fatigue syndrome in medical school, I was forced out of school for the year. It also forced me on the road. I was basically homeless, because my dad had died when I was about seventeen and I had no money. I had a scholarship, loans and work study, but since I was out of school, I had none of that, and I couldn’t work because I was too sick. So I was homeless, and I was living on the road. I discovered that on the road you meet fascinating people. I met all these healers and fascinating people along the way–people who were teaching some fascinating areas I had never heard about in medical school.

Also, I grew up in an old Eastern European Hassidic family, and Hassidic community, so the healing arts are very natural. Science is natural, and using healing was natural. So these things were all becoming second nature, as I met people that were teaching energy medicine, naturopathy, all different things along the way. So I healed up enough, in part because of that–probably in large part because of that. I think that’s why I recovered, as opposed to staying sick, was because of the energy work that I was doing and learning. It really kept me open to that as I learned the hard science, instead of just getting closed down. In medical school they would teach that anybody who does any of this stuff is a quack, but I knew better.

Using the chakra system, I could do an energy scan, feel a tumor, and send the person for a test and find it there. You see people get better. You see it and experience it. Then I would also look at the medical literature aggressively for just about everything, not just prescriptions, but also for natural remedies. In my training this encouraged me to not just look at the three main journals, and a specialty journal, that most doctors read, which are basically paid for by the drug companies. They’re basically big advertisements for the medications. They think it’s science, but what they ignore is that if the drug company pays for the study it has a much greater effect on the outcome then whether it’s placebo-controlled or not.

The medical journals wouldn’t dream of publishing something that wasn’t placebo-controlled, but what they publish is almost only articles related to medications that are paid for by the drug company, or by people who are working for the drug company and getting money from them. So it’s a big advertisement, and that creates a selectivity and bias that’s just very strong against natural remedies. And that’s all doctor’s hear about. But I would look at studies from literally dozens of different journals. I discovered that the smaller journals don’t draw as much drug money, and they do more basic research. They’re much more open to just publishing what science shows works, and just giving the straight data. So it got me interested in being open-minded to natural remedies as well as prescriptions.

I learned to recognize that there are many tools in the healing tool kit. In medical school all you come out with is a hammer, and everything looks like a nail. But when you start to do comprehensive medicine, you have a hammer, so if you have appendicitis you can do surgery. But if you have back pain, instead of having to cut the person open, you can give nutritional support or hormonal support. You can use willow bark, for example, which has been shown to be more effective than Motrin. You almost never have send anybody for back surgery, so you don’t have to whack everybody with a hammer. You could use gentler things that are more effective and more appropriate, because you have an entire tool kit.

Around five years ago there was a forest fire and my office burned down. It just took it out, and I saw this as a good thing. The universe knew I was about to burn out, because I’d been doing all that research, writing, lecturing, and teaching, in addition to running a practice, raising my five kids and the rest. The universe knew I would either burn out or the office would burn down, and it always take care of me. So the office burnt down. It gave me a chance to sit back and think, okay, what do I want to rebuild out of the fire? What do I want to let stay in the ashes? So that’s all good stuff. But when the office burnt down I had over 14,000 research study reports in my files that went up in smoke, and that’s only a tiny percent of what I read, because most studies aren’t worth the bother. Now I still know the stuff, because it’s in my head. However, when it first went down, it left me feeling like I got kicked in the stomach.

But this stuff is all accessible anyway, and it actually turned out to be a good thing. So this is what my work is based on, and when people say it’s not evidence-based medicine, and that they see no evidence that natural remedies work, that’s because they won’t look at the thousands of studies that show that it works. (laughter) Then they they can honestly say that they haven’t seen any evidence. It’s like Sgt. Shultz in the old Hogan’s Heroes. He would say, “I see nothing!” Well, that’s what the priests of high medicine are like in academia and the rest. It’s like they see nothing, and they will support no data that shows natural remedies work. If anybody does a study they will peer-review it into the ground, coming up with nonsense reasons to not publish it. If it is published, they question the journal, and they won’t look at the data. Then they can honestly say that they don’t see anything. But it’s a religion. It’s scientism, and basically, if they had their way, they would keep people from having access to a vast panoply of safe and effective therapies.

David: Can you talk a little about what you’ve learned about the etiology of chronic fatigue syndrome?

Jacob: Yes, chronic fatigue syndrome is basically like blowing a fuse. It’s like the

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Dennis McKenna, Ph.D.

Shamanic Medicines & Eco-Consciousness:
A Conversation with Dennis McKenna, Ph.D.
By David Jay Brown

Ethnopharmacologist Dennis Mckenna, Ph.D. is one of the world’s experts in tryptamine hallucinogens. He received his doctorate in Botanical Science in 1984 from the University of British Columbia, and was a primary organizer and key scientific collaborator for the Hoasca Project, an international biomedical study of ayahuasca. McKenna has conducted extensive ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian Amazon, has helped to develop natural products into medicines, and is the author of more than 35 scientific papers. McKenna also coauthored The Invisible Landscape with his brother Terence. To follow are excerpts from a recent interview that I did with Dennis about ecology and psychedelics, followed by an excerpt from his essay “Ayahuasca and Human Destiny.” The complete interview that I did with Dennis will appear in my forthcoming book, Renaissance of the Mind, and his complete essay, along with references, is available at:www.maps.org/news-letters –DJB

David: I’m curious about what type of relationship you see between psychedelics and ecology. Do you see psychedelics playing a role to help increase ecological awareness?

Dennis: I do. I talk about this in my essay “Ayahuasca and Human Destiny.” I think that this is probably what’s going on, and it’s not just with ayahuasca–it’s with all of these psychedelic plants that are used in shamanic traditions. Rather than use the term “entheogen,” which has one kind of connotation, or “psychedelic,” which has another connotation, I prefer the term “shamanic medicine.” The term hallucinogen doesn’t fully describe these plants either, and, in fact, it kind of misdescribes what they’re about. But I like the term “shamanic medicines.”

In a sense, these are plants that are at the core of a set of indigenous practices, having to do with deliberately inducing altered states of consciousness, in such a way that one can learn from those altered states. Whether, in fact, this actually involves supernatural realms, or some sort of super-consciousness, I don’t know, but that is really what shamanism is about. And I think that what we’re seeing in the millennia-old association between shamanic medicines, or psychedelic plants, and humans is essentially a symbiosis, a form of co-evolution.

This is nothing really that unusual in the plant kingdom. Plants and fungi make a large variety of so-called secondary molecules. There’s an enormous chemical diversity of these secondary compounds, and they’re not essential for life because they don’t occur in all species. But in the species that do make them, they serve a function–and the function that they serve is basically a messenger function. In a sense, the secondary compounds are a language for the plants. It’s the way that plants communicate with other organisms in their environments and maintain their relationships. In some cases the communication is quite simple. It can be something like a repellent, or a defensive compound. But when you’re interacting with organisms that have complex nervous systems, it gets a little more interesting, a little more complicated, and I think that bottom line on the evolutionary scale is that these plants are teachers.

This isn’t really a scientific theory. It’s more a personal belief, I suppose–but it’s one that is verifiable to an extent. These plants are trying to teach our species about nature, and about how we fit into that. In some ways, you could say it’s essentially a conduit to a community of species’ mind. Or, if you subscribe to the idea that all of the species on the planet are organized into something like a conscious being, like Gaia, then these are the tools that let us communicate directly with Gaia, directly with that consciousness. This is done for all sorts of reasons, but partly, I think, to understand both nature, and the processes that go on within it.

For example, shamans use psychedelic plants all the time to understand the properties of other plants that they may use for curing or other types of activities. So there is a library of information out there, and psychedelic plants are kind of like the operating system that lets you access that and understand it. So I think that’s part of the purpose of these things.

I think that the other part of the message–at least in my own personal experiences with psychedelics, and in many other people’s–is that Gaia, if you will, through these plants, through these substances that seem so close to our neural chemistry, is trying to tell us to wake up, to realize the context in which we inhabit this ecology, and reorder our thinking accordingly. The message is that we’re part of nature, and that we have to nurture nature. We have to be humble, and, as a species, we’re not particularly humble. And we have to understand that we don’t own nature, and nature is not there for us to exploit, deplete, and destroy. We have to rediscover a different attitude toward nature, a different way of looking at nature, and living in nature.

And I think that in indigenous cultures, where psychedelic shamanism plays a role, they don’t really have a problem with this. This is why their cultures can be sustainable, and they can live in natural ecologies for long periods of time without really depleting their resources or spoiling their habitats. I think that the message, in some ways, has gotten more desperate. Or maybe it’s our perception that it’s more desperate, as Western culture has become more estranged from nature. And a lot of very peculiar attitudes have cropped up in Western culture, that have now been propagated globally, which I think are very unhealthy and very threatening to the stability of the planet.

So if there is an intelligence resident in nature, that communicates to us through psychedelics, it’s getting a little hysterical. It’s like, hey pick up the phone and listen! There’s important information that you need to hear. So I think that’s where the connection comes with ecology, in connecting with this planetary consciousness, for a number of reasons. One of the things that psychedelics do–and this has been well elucidated through neurophysiology and neuroscience–is they activate (or perhaps in some way they suppress) those parts of the limbic system, those parts of the brain, that are involved with defining the boundaries between the self and the world. They dissolve those boundaries, and we invest a lot of time in defining who we are and what separates us from everything else out there–when, in fact, this is an illusion.

We know that we are all part of a continuum, and a model that’s closer to reality is to realize that we are all one. It’s not simply a cliché. In some ways, that’s a more accurate understanding of how we are and how we fit in the world than the idea that we’re just individual particles separated by barriers from everything else. And I think one thing that psychedelics teach, as many other spiritual traditions do, is that we’re all one, and that it’s an important lesson to learn–especially at this stage. We’re not going to save the planet, we’re not going to fundamentally change the way that we relate to nature, until we take that lesson, understand it, take it to heart, and try to express it in the way that we live and the way that we think. Psychedelics teach many lessons, but at this historical juncture I think that this may be the most important one for our culture, and for our society.

I think that back at the end of the 60s, two things did more to change our perspective as a race, as a species–of who we are and what our place in the universe is–than probably anything else previously. One of them was psychedelics. The other one was going to the moon–or, more specifically, that first photograph of the Earth from space. I think that the first time that we were able to look at ourselves, in a sense, from out there and realize what a small planet we are–what a small part of the totality our supposedly very important affairs are–was a very humbling experience. That helped to put us into perspective, or, at least, in sum they did. I really think that those two things were what sparked, or initiated, what we might call eco-consciousness.

Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw – 2

Truth, Freedom, and the FDA: An Interview with Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw

By David Jay Brown

Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw co-authored two of the first and most widely read books on the subject of human longevity–Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach and The Life Extension Companion–which triggered a large amount of popular interest in the subject (including my own), and their many television talk show appearances have reached a large number of people over the years.

Although, perhaps, the ultimate goal of medicine all along, the idea of extending human life in otherwise healthy individuals was a relatively novel concept for most people when Pearson and Shaw published their first book back in 1982. How many people could have predicted back in the early eighties that in just a few years after the publication of Pearson and Shaw’s groundbreaking book that there would be such a huge worldwide interest in life extension, anti-aging, and preventative medicine? Pearson and Shaw were not surprised by this new and growing interest and had, in fact, been anticipating it.

Pearson and Shaw have been studying life extension since 1968. They are largely self-educated. Pearson graduated from MIT with a triple major in physics, biology, and psychology, and Shaw graduated from UCLA with a double-major in chemistry and zoology. However, most of their knowledge comes from consuming scientific and medical journals with a voracious appetite, talking with colleagues, and experimenting on themselves. In this manner, they have become two of the most well-informed people on the planet regarding the biochemical mechanisms of aging, and they continue to study it full- time. Pearson and Shaw then apply this knowledge in designing nutritional supplement formulations for their own use, some of which are available commercially.

Pearson and Shaw have also been very politically-active over the years with regard to protecting people’s rights in America to access nutritional supplements, and to easily obtain available accurate information about the supplements which may benefit their health. To this effect, they wrote the book Freedom of Informed Choice: FDA Versus Nutritional Supplements (Common Sense Press, 1993), and won a landmark lawsuit against the FDA–Pearson v. Shalala–charging the government agency with unconstitutionally restricting manufacturers from distributing truthful health information (which was viewed as a violation of the constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech) that could save many people’s lives. This was a landmark achievement for the dietary supplement industry and for the availability of truthful scientific information to consumers. 

This interview occurred on December 16, 2005. Durk and Sandy are responsible for inspiring my own interest in life extension and they have long fascinated me. The couple makes a great team, often completing one another’s sentences, and bouncing ideas and facts back and forth off each other as they speak. It’s as though their nervous systems are symbiotically intertwined, and the breadth of their knowledge is staggering. It doesn’t take much to get them talking passionately about their favorite subjects–life extension and freedom. A few questions can ignite an information explosion. We spoke about how fish oil can improve cardiovascular health, about how the FDA tried to suppress this information, and how they legally forced the FDA into reversing their unconstitutional attempt to suppress the distribution of truthful information.

David: What do you think are the most important nutritional supplements that people should be taking?

Durk: Let me just preface my answer to this question by stating that we’re dealing with a system here–a system for handling free radicals and for doing a lot of other things–and just saying, here’s the most important three or four nutritional supplements really does a disservice to people. This is because free radicals are in fact handled by a rather elaborate system that’s evolved over the past few billion years that the planet’s had oxygen, and just having one of them doesn’t really do you anywhere as much good as having a set of them. But If I wanted to mention just one, I would say EPA and DHA, particularly DHA found in oils from cold water fatty fishes. The reason for that is that it can reduce the risk of a sudden-death heart attack by anywhere from about fifty percent to eighty percent, depending on the dose. As little as two meals per week of fatty cold water fish could give you about a forty to fifty percent reduction on your risk of sudden-death heart attacks.

Sandy: Three hundred thousand people die of sudden death heart attacks every year in the United States, so if all of those people were taking the recommended amounts of fish oil supplements, or the two fatty fish meals a week, then there’d be about fifty percent fewer that would have died. In other words, a hundred and fifty thousand people would not have died.

Durk: They’re very inexpensive, very safe, and very effective. You see these sort of heart attacks on TV all the time. Somebody has a heart attack, the ambulance arrives, and they defibrillate and resuscitate the person and everything is okay. Well, it doesn’t work that way outside the hospital, because they have to get that defibrillator to the person within a few minutes.

Sandy: But most of the incidences of fibrillation occur outside of a hospital, usually in a person’s home or where they work, and they don’t get to the hospital right away. If you lose several minutes, by that time you’ve either already died or you’ve suffered irreversible brain damage, so if you do survive you’re in very damaged condition.

Durk: Under the usual conditions, your brain starts dying after about five minutes from a lack of circulation, which occurs when your heart fibrillates–just vibrates and stops pumping blood. Incidentally, that’s what happens when you are electrocuted. At about ten minutes your brain is irreversibly and completely gone. A response time for a really good paramedic operation is about eight minutes. So you can see that there’s not much of chance for revival, and in fact, paramedics in the field are actually able to revive about two percent of people whose hearts have gone into fibrillation from a sudden-death heart attack. The DHA is very effective in preventing this from occurring. It doesn’t stop the heart attack from happening, but it turns a sudden-death heart attack, which gives you very little chance, into a…

Sandy: …survivable heart attack, where you do recover, and you don’t have irreversible damage to the brain. You can have a full recovery.
Durk: They can get you to the hospital, and then they can do angioplasty, or put in a standard, quadruple bypass or whatever.
One thing that’s very important for people to know about this is that the FDA tried to suppress this information…

Sandy: …about the benefits of fish oil. We actually sued the FDA in 1994 because they would not permit a health claim that fish oils may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Durk: It’s not that they merely would not permit it, they actually issued a regulation that stated that it was a crime to state that the cold water fish oils, with omega-3 fatty acids, could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It was actually illegal. They specifically made it illegal.

Sandy: So we filed suit for violation of the First Amendment, because they were not permitting the communication of truthful information.

Durk: At the time we filed suit against them in 1994 there were one hundred and seventy-four papers on the subject in the scientific literature. A hundred and seventy of them supported our position; four did not. The four that did not were very small preliminary studies that didn’t have the statistical power to detect the fifty percent reduction in sudden-death heart attacks. During the seven years that we litigated against the FDA, one million Americans died premature preventable deaths.

Sandy: Half of the three hundred thousand people dying every year from that wouldn’t have died if they’d have been taking fish oil. However, dietary supplement companies, and also food companies offering fish, couldn’t tell people about the benefits of fish oil. And because of that people simply didn’t have the information.

Durk: Since the legal case was resolved in our favor in 2001, you’re now starting to see claims on fish oil supplements, and recently the FDA even caved in and is allowing claims on fish. So I think we’re going to see a very dramatic reduction in people dying of heart attacks as a result of this.

Sandy: I wanted to add that one of the ways that we study the effects of the various supplements is to look at metabolic pathway charts. You see, what happens with free radicals is that they’re handled by a chain of antioxidants in the body. It’s not just one or a couple that take care of the free radicals that are constantly around in the body. They’re constantly there because you’re producing them naturally through metabolic activity, and your body has got to handle these free radicals.

The metabolic pathways show you that once a free radical scavenger like vitamin C reacts with a free radical, then it becomes a free radical itself. It becomes an ascorbyl radical. That radical then has to be taken care of by another antioxidant. Glutathione usually takes care of the vitamin C radical, and converts vitamin C back to it’s reduced state.

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Daniel Siebert

Salvia divinorum and Ecological Awareness

An Interview with Daniel Siebert
By David Jay Brown

Ethnobotanist Daniel Siebert discovered the psychoactive effects of salvinorin A, the primary psychoactive component of the Mexican hallucinogenic plant Salvia divinorum, which is currently being studied for a variety of medical applications. Salvinorin A is considered by a number of researchers to be an attractive compound for pharmacological development because it is a selective and potent kappa-opioid receptor agonist with unique structural properties, strong effects on human mood, and low toxicity. There has been increasing scientific evidence that the pharmacological properties of salvinorin A and/or its chemical analogs may have applications as an antidepressant and pain reliever, as well as possibly treating some types of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and stimulant drug dependence. For more information see: www.sagewisdom.org.

David: Do you think that Salvia divinorum helps to increase ecological awareness and one’s connection to nature?

Daniel: In some sense. I think that when salvia is taken at moderate doses, people often find that they do feel tremendously connected with the natural world. People often describe that as a wonderful feeling, like an extension of their sense of self, where they feel that the ordinary boundaries that divide their sense of self from the world at large dissolve. They feel that their sense of self has expanded, and they feel at one with the natural world–especially when people take it outdoors in a natural setting.

There’s this tremendous connection with the natural world. Birds fly by, and you feel like you understand what it feels like to be a bird. Things like that. Often people feel that there’s a sense of life in the natural world that they were unaware of before. All of the plants seem to have an existential property. Suddenly they have the presence of individual beings, and sometimes this sense of aliveness extends even beyond living things–to where the mountains, the clouds, and everything seem like living entities. So, in that sense, yes it does foster a connection with the natural world, and, I think, a greater appreciation for it. But that’s not something that it does reliably for everybody. It’s something that seems to only be somewhat related. 

Unfortunately, I think that most people experimenting with salvia these days are taking excessively high doses. Most people are smoking these highly concentrated extracts–that are widely available commercially–and are having really brief, extraordinarily intense, disorientating experiences that people are just baffled by. Often these intense experiences are entirely internal, because in high doses people lose all awareness of the physical environments around them. So, when people do it that way, I don’t think that they’re connecting with the natural world at all, except with their own internal natural world. To use salvia in a way that fosters a reconnection with the natural world, I think, it’s best to take it orally, in an outdoor setting, away from cities, people, and those kinds of things.

James Ketchum, M.D.

Psychedelic Warfare? Exploring the Potential of Psychoactive Weapons
An Interview with James Ketchum, M.D.
By David Jay Brown

James Ketchum, M.D. is a retired Army colonel, a Board Certified psychiatrist, and an Assistant Clinical professor of Psychiatry at UCLA. He received his M.D. from Cornell Medical School, and is the author of the book Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten.

During the 1960s, Ketchum was a research director for the Army’s Chemical Center at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, where thousands of U.S. soldiers served as volunteers for the secret testing of psychedelic and deliriant drugs as incapacitating agents. The goal was to develop non-lethal military weapons, which could be used to temporarily knock people out without necessarily hurting them.

I found Ketchum’s book Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten to be absolutely fascinating and difficult to put down. It’s a treasure chest of rare information, compiled from a massive amount of research that I was largely unaware of. The book is filled with many interesting personal photographs, humorous anecdotes, and it is compulsively readable. Most importantly, it fills a vital historical gap in the archives of psychedelic drug research. From 1955 to 1975 several thousand U.S. soldiers served as volunteer test subjects for psychedelic drugs (such as LSD and strong cannabis derivatives), and deliriant drugs (such BZ and other belladonnoid compounds), where they were administered a battery of physical and cognitive performance tests to see how well they could perform under the drug’s influence.

While reading Ketchum’s book, I was struck by the strange historical irony, that some of the very drugs that were associated in the 1960s with the counterculture’s antiwar movement in America were–at the very same time–being researched as secret military weapons. While the thought of government-funded experiments into chemical warfare agents may give you the chills, Ketchum maintains that his research was motivated by the desire to save human lives and develop more humane, non-lethal weapons. Part of his motivation for writing his book was to clear up the misconceptions that many people in the media have about the Army’s all-volunteer research program, often confused with the CIA’s notorious and nefarious MK-ULTRA mind control program that sometimes even administered LSD to ordinary unwitting U.S. citizens.

Ketchum is a difficult man to pigeonhole, as he has always been somewhat of a maverick. In 1966 he was granted two years off from his research at Edgewood Arsenal to become a post-doc in neuropsychology with Karl Pribram at Stanford University. While in California he spent time documenting the psychedelic subculture in the Bay Area on film, and volunteered time as a physician at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco. Ketchum also supports research into the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis and psychedelics; he served for several years as a member of NORML (the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws) and is still active in MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research). Ketchum’s book contains a Foreword by the legendary psychedelic chemist Alexander Shulgin. Popular cyber culture commentator Ken Goffman (aka RUSirius, author of Mondo 2000) helped with the editing of the book. In 2007, Ketchum even lectured at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, so he’s demonstrated a rare ability to communicate across some pretty varied subcultures.

I spoke with Ketchum on September 8, 2008. I found Jim to be very gracious and he appears to have a lot of integrity when he talks about his research. We discussed his studies at Edgewood Arsenal, why chemical warfare agents may be more humane than traditional weapons, the future of chemical warfare, and the possible therapeutic potential of psychedelics. To find out more about Dr. Ketchum’s work, visit his Web site: http://forgottensecrets.net

David: How did you become interested in psychiatry?

Jim: When I was eight years old I wrote a composition in class that stated I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up and “help struggling humanity.” So when I entered college I started as a pre-med student. Then I shifted briefly to a philosophy major. I left it to major in clinical psychology, and finally reverted to pre-med.  I focused my eye on psychiatry when I got through all this switching around. I got the necessary training in medicine at Cornell University Medical School, but then entered the Army for my internship and residency training. It was only near the end of my residency that the story starts, as far as chemical warfare goes.
David: When you graduated from medical school, what was your initial reaction when you were first approached by the military to do secret research into incapacitating agents?

Jim: The invitation came more than four years after completing medical school, and was actually somewhat of a happenstance. The Edgewood Arsenal program of research into chemical weapons had started to focus on incapacitating agents–which is to say non-lethality, or low lethality agents. No psychiatrist had been assigned to the Medical Labs and a disturbing psychiatric reaction had occurred in one of their studies. My mentor at Walter Reid, Dr. David Rioch, called me in and said a psychiatrist was needed at Edgewood Arsenal and would I be interested in such an assignment? I grabbed at it because it seemed challenging and really interesting.

David: What were some of the chemical agents that you studied at Edgewood and what did you learn about them?

Jim: Before my arrival LSD was the only agent that had been studied in some detail. My predecessor, Dr. Van Sim initiated and supervised most of the human research prior to 1961.  But a new and different agent was provided to the Army a few months before I arrived.  Over time it was referred to by a number of names, but finally was called simply BZ. I spent the better part of three years studying it intensively and eventually writing up a detailed summary. I also did, however, some additional work with LSD, and with a variant of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), provided by Harry Pars, a chemist at A.D. Little, with some technical guidance by Dr. Alexander Shulgin, primarily known, then and now, for his creative synthesis of psychedelic drugs.

It was evident that this variant of THC had several times the potency of THC found in marijuana, so there was speculation that it might be powerful enough to be useful as an incapacitating agent. It certainly was predicted to be safe, much like the marijuana to which it was related, but it lacked sufficient intoxicating effects in the dose range we studied. It was obvious that it wouldn’t be a practical agent so after a brief trial with the volunteer subjects, I turned my attention almost entirely to BZ, whose effects I thereafter studied in detail with the help of more than three hundred highly cooperative enlisted soldiers.

Convinced of its effectiveness and safety, BZ was actually adopted by higher Army echelons as the first (and only) standard incapacitating agent. It was produced in quantity and loaded into volleyball sized bomblets for delivery as an aerosol from overhead aircraft. I had very little to do with this phase, nor was I particularly interested in the dispersal aspects.

Meanwhile, we continued to study additional compounds of similar type, which is to say the “belladonnoid” category since their effects were qualitatively very much like atropine, a drug approved for use for many centuries. Some people may be familiar with atropine, used as a pre-anesthetic to reduce salivation.

BZ differs from atropine in that it is about twenty times as potent and up to twenty times longer lasting than atropine. The dose required by injection or inhalation is only about half a milligram, enough to produce an incapacitating delirium lasting 48 to 96 hours, followed by full recovery.

The other compounds that came under scrutiny after BZ were often even better. Some acted relatively more on the central nervous system, with very little effect on heart rate, or blood pressure. Such physiological effects were more characteristic of atropine and BZ. We guessed that some similar agents might even be better from a safety standpoint. Thus, we went on to study about a dozen different compounds that were structural relatives of BZ–either shorter acting, longer acting, more potent, more predominantly central in action, and so forth. But meanwhile the Army seemed to lose interest in these compounds as a group and put them aside, perhaps primarily for political reasons related to the unpopular war in Viet Nam and the growing protest against chemical weapons of all types.

David: Why do you think that chemical warfare agents may be more humane than traditional weapons, and can you talk a little about what inspired you to write the book Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten?
Jim: It seemed obvious to me that chemical weapons that could produce non-lethal temporary incapacitation would be more humane than conventional deadly weapons. You have to go back in time and change your mindset a little to understand what I mean. Back to the early 1960s the idea of developing a non-lethal chemical weapon was generally accepted and even encouraged. The notion started out with Chief of the Chemical Corps, Major General William Creasy, who had developed the somewhat idealistic belief that LSD might be such a weapon. He became wildly enthusiastic about it and presented his arguments to Congress. As I try to point out in my book, “harm reduction” was just as important to the Army then as it is among civilians today in relation to drug problems.

Congress, in 1955, was wildly enthusiastic about Creasy’s vision of a city being temporarily neutralized with LSD in order to carry out a military mission with minimal loss of life. They voted, with only one naysayer, to triple the Chemical Corps budget, as requested, and they gave their blessing to further LSD research. I shared the enthusiasm expressed by Congress and felt I was working toward a very noble goal. My feelings haven’t changed in that regard but, after I left Edgewood in 1971, I went on to other assignments and left the whole program behind me.

After 1970, I knew the Army was winding down this research, and that I had done all I had set out to do with incapacitating agents. I let the subject slip to the back of my mind, since I had many other new things to do. After most of the documents from the 1960s were declassified most of the physicians involved had gone their separate ways and had no further interest in such work. But I believed that perhaps I should be putting all this together in some form, because no on else had done it. I had such an intention for quite a while, but my various other assignments–substance abuse treatment, drug education, and so on–prevented me from finding time to do it.

But it recently has become obvious that there is a reticence on the part of the government to talk much about what went on in the 1960s. Gradually it all seemed to fade from collective memory and the reports were relegated mostly to seldom-opened file cabinets.

Some people didn’t even know that there had been a program. One of the chemical officers was asked two decades later “What about that volunteer program back in the 60s?” and hiss response was “What program? There was no volunteer program.” The Army, of course, had not denied its existence, but it spent very little time telling anyone the details of what research had been done. I became upset because I felt that that the experimental work was extensive, detailed and important scientifically for the medical and pharmacological community to know about.

What pushed me past the edge of indecision, ultimately, was the 9/11 disaster, which soon led to a marked increase in public concern about chemical weapons, as well as with other so-called weapons of mass destruction. By the way, I make a point in my book that it’s really not accurate to refer to chemicals as weapons of mass destruction. In practical terms, only a small area could be effectively blanketed by an airborne chemical fog–certainly not a city or any large number of people (unless in a closed facility such as a domed stadium).

I finally sat down and started working on my book in 2002, at the age of seventy. It took me about four years to get it all together and I decided to publish it myself. Since then, although I’ve sent out less than 1,000 copies, it’s been purchased by readers in 16 or 17 countries, the latest being Russia.

David: Many people in the media have confused the Army Chemical Center’s research into psychedelics and deliriants in human volunteers, for use as non-lethal weapons, with the CIA’s MK-ULTRA project. Would you like to clarify the difference between these two programs?

Jim: They were entirely separate, and that was another stimulus to me to write this book. The public had acquired the notion that the CIA operations back in the 1950s–when they actually gave LSD to unwitting citizens–was somehow tied to the research that we did at Edgewood Arsenal with the same compound. In fact, it was not. The program that the CIA ran was so secret that most of the other members of the CIA didn’t know much about it.  When it finally came to light, its leader, Dr. Gottlieb, arranged to destroy all the records, so it is no longer possible to know who actually received it surreptitiously.

Edgewood, on the other hand, had a fully transparent program that was approved by the Surgeon General, the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense, so the program was not any kind of secret. Furthermore, the MK-ULTRA program conducted by the CIA was aimed at seeking drugs that could produce actual changes in behavior. They thought that perhaps they could give LSD to someone and make him confess to something he was holding back, or carry out some mission he had been told to carry out while under the drug’s influence. None of this was achieved, fortunately, and while these illegal experiments in progress, our laboratories at Edgewood began a totally different approach to the development of chemicals that could temporarily incapacitate without any lasting effects. They would be used only for short-term military purposes, and there was no thought of changing personalities, or getting people to do anything they wouldn’t otherwise do.

In short, I wanted to articulate that these two programs were completely different, and I went to some length in my book to do so. I hope I succeeded because, really, I still feel quite proud of what we did while working for the Chemical Corps. As you can tell, I didn’t feel very good about the CIA work. A few years ago, in fact, I testified against the CIA in Federal Court as the sole expert witness for the prosecution. Much time was required before the trial writing reports and rebuttals on behalf of a former Deputy US Marshall. In my opinion, he was one of the “ordinary American citizens” who were given LSD covertly in the late 1950s, at the same time other black CIA operations were being carried out close to his place of work.

Although there were several other factors that pointed definitely to the covert use of LSD in that case the judge, unfortunately, didn’t buy it. She said it was possible, but not fully proven and the hearing was ended prematurely. His attorney took it to the Appeals Court and tried unsuccessfully to bring it to the Supreme Court, but so far has been unsuccessful. This poor guy’s life was ruined as a result of his erratic behavior after consuming the drug in a drink at a Christmas party. In short, he was an unwitting victim of the CIA’s unethical behavior, in my opinion, and experienced something he didn’t understand and couldn’t handle. That sort of deception is really the differentiation I have tried to make between the CIA activities and the Army’s later bona fide research with LSD.

David: What sort of reactions have you received from government officials and others who have read your book?http://mavericksofthemind.com/blog/?p=344http://mavericksofthemind.com/blog/?p=344

Jim: It’s interesting. Somehow, I seem to have managed to walk a line that didn’t require me to be a strong advocate in any particular direction. I wasn’t arguing for or against these incapacitating agents. But I thought we should be talking about them, and I thought the public ought to know what we did back there in the 1960s. My book is really a truthful story, supported by pharmacological data, and it was well received by the Chemical Corps people when they learned about it. A number of them bought copies and surprisingly, I was even invited back to Edgewood Arsenal after thirty years to give a keynote address at a major international science conference. It must have been favorably received because I was invited back the next year to give a similar presentation.

So, from the Chemical Corps’ perspective, my revelations of previously unpublished data seemed to present no problem. It was reviewed positively in military publications. It caught the eye of Steven Aftergood, who publishes Secrecy News DailyUSA Today, in turn, chose to write an illustrated article about me and the book. This was followed by a number of published reviews, mostly positive in tone.

The counterculture, on the other hand, which you might think would be skeptical of anything the Army approved of, also liked the book. I think that this was because of the informative content, including the details of the effects of LSD, THC, and other compounds that weren’t available anywhere else. A number of them have written me letters of congratulations and thanks, and have told me that I’ve preserved a bit of history.

Of course I feel good about it and this may sound funny, but I’ve also had no crank phone calls, no letters of protests. I’ve had very few negative comments about the book. There were some reservations expressed by some reviewers, mostly on the matter of informed consent. I argue, however, in some detail, that we really provided more informed consent than many research programs did in those days, but some people think that because we didn’t reveal the name of the drug, these weren’t truly ethical studies.

However, with regard to informed consent, subjects rarely felt they had been insufficiently informed. We created several hoops to jump through, before even being invited to spend two months with us, and consent forms were required not only on arrival, but before each and every test. Many volunteers were not averse to receiving two or more different agents.  Some even agreed to undergo a high dose BZ test twice, to permit double blind procedures.  Much preparation, in the form of baseline testing, preliminary discussion with the responsible physician and, if films or TV recordings were to be used, an additional consent in writing was required. Subjects spent a full day and the night before each procedure, during which they were familiarized with the test environment, and the performance and physiological measures required to establish reliable baselines. Thus, they had an extended opportunity to get to know the nurses and technicians who would be with them during the actual testing.

Although we adhered to the Nuremberg Code, if you read it carefully, it doesn’t really address the subject of testing drugs. There are two provisions that either require the responsible doctor to discontinue the experiment if it appears that it may be producing adverse effects, or to stop it immediately if the subject does not feel able to continue. If you give someone a drug, especially when you have no effective antidote available, there is no way to stop it until the drug itself wears off. So, obviously, the drafters of those provisions of the Nuremberg code weren’t thinking about drug testing but more probably of a physical procedure such as isolation, or tolerance to extreme cold–procedures that can indeed be interrupted at any time at the discretion of the physician or the subject.

While the general nature and duration of each test were explained in some detail, we were not allowed to reveal the name of the drug for security reasons (although subjects often figured out among themselves whether they were on a BZ or an LSD test). There was much paranoia about the Soviet Union learning from our experiments, so we used classified numbers to identify the agents being tested. Most of them had no ordinary names, so knowing their number or even their structure would be of no practical value if medical attention were required in the future.

We usually ended up with three to four times the number of volunteers that we could accept for any given two month assignment. Then, after they arrived, we examined and interviewed the subjects, and classified them into one of four levels. Only the “group A” individuals were considered eligible for the higher doses of psychoactive drugs. These would be soldiers who appeared to be unusually stable, based on their personal histories, MMPI profiles, lab tests and psychiatric interviews. We avoided volunteers who had a history of drug abuse or any criminal behavior. Overall, we had really superior subjects, with above average IQ’s, and half of them had at least a year of college education. In summary, they certainly weren’t “unwitting guinea pigs,” as so often described by the media.

David: One of the things that you hinted at in your book, just briefly, was that one of the LSD subjects might have experienced some sort of therapeutic benefit in one of your studies. What sort of therapeutic value do you think that psychedelic agents might have?

Jim: That’s a big subject. Actually, we weren’t looking for therapeutic effects. We weren’t trying to treat anyone. Nevertheless I observed one subject who seemed to undergo a therapeutic experience, as I detailed in a chapter. You might call his improved social behavior an unanticipated beneficial consequence.

In general, I think that the field of psychedelic drugs is a very fascinating one, and that such drugs ought to be studied with respect to their beneficial potential, rather than dishonestly outlawed as dangerous. It’s strange to me how vehement and irrational the prohibitory sanctions have become. With governmental approval, I think that some of the synthetic psychedelic drugs might indeed be useful medications. Actually, that’s starting to be recognized, in the case of MDMA (the drug called “Ecstasy” which Alexander Shulgin introduced to the public), and now a few limited therapeutic studies with LSD are also being carried out.  LSD was, of course, widely studied and used as an aid to psychotherapy until it was made illegal in 1965.

That put a stop to what was a promising avenue of research into the psychological and, some would say, spiritual potential of psychedelics. The draconian prohibitions and penalties our own government has established are both outrageous and, in the opinion of many including myself, unconstitutional. These drugs are not addicting. Psychedelics are certainly not to be compared to cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, morphine, or even alcohol, as far as addiction potential and medical harm are concerned.

Psychedelic drugs do seem to have the ability to open up an individual’s awareness of many surprising things that are actually hiding in their heads. Major insights can occur and people are often astonished “at what’s in there.” Sometimes the world appears in a totally new and propitious light. Bad feelings that they’ve had about themselves, for example, can often be alleviated by realizing that we’re all part of one universe and one family of human beings. And these insights often seem to carry over, long after the drug effects are gone.

Many people have described LSD in particular (and perhaps some of the other psychedelic drugs that haven’t been tried in more than a few people) as having these unique properties. Some really treasure the experience, and believe that it reshapes their life in some way. LSD has even been found to alleviate the suffering of dying individuals. Aldous Huxley was one of the first to advocate its use for this purpose. LSD given to patients during the final weeks or months of their illness, often seems to provide a much more serene feeling about death. The dying patient can see that death is part of the life cycle and that he or she will somehow continue on as part of the universe, even after death. One can only hope the government will eventually allow scientists to continue research with psychedelic drugs and allow their appropriate use by physicians and qualified therapists!

David: What was your personal experience with LSD like, and how did it affect your perspective on the research that you were doing at Edgewood?

Jim: I have to say that it was somewhat anticlimactic. I took it because, at a conference I attended in 1965, it seemed that everyone working with LSD had taken it one or more times. So I thought, “Gee, I’ve never even tried it. I guess I ought to.” And, with a little bit of trepidation, I took a relatively small dose–80 micrograms–which wouldn’t be considered in the incapacitating range by our testing criteria. I took it under the same conditions that I required of the volunteers–namely, being in a padded cubicle, doing arithmetic tests every hour or so, having to Draw-a-Man periodically, fill in checklists, and have my blood pressure, temperature, pupil size, respirations and heart rate checked by the nurses at frequent intervals.

So, although I was more of a “witting guinea pig” (if you will), not much occurred in the way of new insights. In fact, I didn’t even have any marked perceptual distortions. At a higher dose, however, such effects would no doubt have been more prominent. So, personally, I was a bit disappointed in my “trip.” It did not, however, influence my overall view of the research we were doing.  In fact, it reassured me that an LSD trip was something that one could actually go through and emerge intact. It helped corroborate my beliefs about the safety of the drugs that we were studying. They weren’t harming anyone as far as we could tell and we were learning much of value from testing them.

David: Did any of the subjects who were given LSD at Edgewood ever have anything resembling a mystical experience?

Jim: In this setting, I don’t recall hearing anyone say he did. The men certainly had a variety of experiences, but I’m not sure that the term “mystical” would apply. We used fairly low doses, for one thing. As I described in the book, the responses varied from being highly amused to being fascinated with the amazing otherworldly colors that they saw. Subjects did sometimes become irritated with the routine questions being asked, and sometimes they became paranoid about the whole situation. But I don’t recall any so-called “mystical” or “spiritual enlightenment” experiences. I think a lot depends on the setting and the intent of the study. If you give a drug to see how people will perform under the influence, then you mainly tend to ask “how well can you perform under the influence?”

If you give LSD to someone in a therapeutic setting–as with Cary Grant, who took it more than a hundred times as an adjunct to psychotherapy, as did many other luminaries in that era–then you tend to get more reports of a spiritual nature. Some degree of suggestion may play a part, by the way, but I don’t want to pour cold water on the notion that these drugs can indeed be very enlightening. LSD, for example doesn’t always produce a mystical result, but frequently it does, as testified to by many users. Some report it provides a new view of the world–a sense of belonging to a larger system. Some even believe they have been able to be briefly in touch with God or, for that matter, the entire universe. These are undoubtedly very memorable experiences. Although it doesn’t always happen, I do believe such an epiphany happens often enough to justify responsible use of such drugs. These drugs may also provide an enhanced basis for psychotherapy. But, of course, one can’t expect them to answer all of one’s psychological needs.

David: How do you envision the future of chemical warfare?

Jim: Oh boy, I don’t know. As mentioned, there’s strong opposition to chemical warfare agents in any form, including the incapacitating agents. In 1966, I exchanged letters with Matthew Meselson, a leading anti-proliferationist. His opinions haven’t changed much–he presents pretty much the same point of view now as he did then. We did have a cordial exchange. He argued that incapacitating agents might be okay in themselves, but he feared they would open the door to the use of more destructive chemicals. This is basically the familiar slippery slope argument so frequently invoked to discredit some new strategy. It was used by a Republican administration to justify the Viet Nam war, for example. Recently, however, I did seem to succeed in persuading a few people, active in the anti-proliferation movement, that incapacitating agents perhaps could be used safely, and could possibly save lives.

Ironically, this was clearly demonstrated by the Russian successful use of a fentanyl-type gas in November, 2002 which enabled them to rescue more than 80% of the 800 members of a Moscow theater audience taken over by Chechen terrorists. Gas was apparently delivered through the air conditioning system and through holes in the floor and roof, putting everyone into a narcotized unconscious state. Then, 30-40 minutes later, special troops entered and started bringing people out. The doctors used naloxone, the favorite antidote for morphine-like compounds, to reverse the narcosis. I think that overall it was a marvelous result, but, unfortunately, it’s been looked at by some skeptics as a kind of a tragedy. They say, look, 130 people died. Well, I think that 130 is better than 800, and it’s also better, as a secondary consideration, not to have to blow up a beautiful theater.

Whether this dramatic use of an incapacitating agent is going to be picked up by anyone, including the United States, is difficult to predict, because we’ve signed (somewhat foolishly, I believe) the 1993 Chemical Warfare Convention treaty. The treaty outlaws the use of any chemical weapon during any aggressive military action.

Unfortunately, perhaps for political reasons, we were allowed to tie our own hands. Even tear gas, for example, is a forbidden chemical weapon, except when used for police actions in one’s own territory. I believe that has to be changed. Either we have to draw ourselves out of the treaty, which would necessarily take quite a bit of guts, or we have to persuade the world that some chemical agents are less lethal than conventional weapons and that people can be spared death through their proper use in selected circumstances. I’d certainly like to see it go that way.

Colonel John Alexander, an unconventional weapons consultant to the Department of Defense, has long been arguing forcefully for the use of incapacitating agents.  He read my book and told me: “You’re on the right track.”  Alexander, of course, is primarily an expert in physical incapacitating agents, such as sticky foam, bright lights, snares, nets and other devices that can control crowds or stop vehicles. He suggests many ways to neutralize enemy troops without killing them. Since he’s not a physician or pharmacologist, he claims less expertise in chemical weapons. John has proven to be an ally, supporting my views in writing, hoping to promote my book. But he represents a small minority among decision makers in Washington. There is still a great deal of reluctance to talk about, or underwrite, further research with chemical incapacitating agents. Even if there were a renascence of such an effort, there is, alas no longer a volunteer program, and no longer any proper facility in which to do the required testing.

The latest pharmacological proposals that have being advanced are kind of ridiculous, because the drugs suggested are generally far more lethal than the ones we studied, at least in terms of safety margins. But it’s sort of been decreed that we can’t go back to what was done in the Sixties. A white paper–written under contract by three university pharmacologists–contains almost no reference to anything done in the 1960s, other than a passing mention of BZ. These professors are younger than I am and perhaps have little familiarity with work accomplished 40-50 years ago. The chemicals they suggest just don’t make practical sense. They include Prozac, Valium, or perhaps some enzyme or hormone in the brain that might reduce the tendency to fight. None appear to be feasible, and I doubt any of them will ever become acceptable agents.

So I think there would have to be a return to a more rational approach. I hope my book can stimulate reconsideration of the drugs we abandoned in 1973, despite their impressive safety and effectiveness. Whether this will ever happen, who knows?

David: Do you think that the human species will ever learn to live in peace, without war?

Jim: It’s not likely, based on history. Aggression seems to be built into the human condition, as some innate defensive response to those who try to either hurt us or take what we own. It’s built into the biology of the people in this world, and will remain there until we can find some way of modifying that biology. I’m speaking now, not just about pharmacology, Perhaps through genetic engineering we may be able to reduce aggressive tendencies and help people become less inclined to kill, hurt, steal power, or take territory from other people.  It’s only a possibility. But to me, it’s science that offers the one shining hope for the future of mankind.  Just how that will evolve is very difficult to say.

David: In general, are you optimistic about the future, or do you think that the human species is doomed to extinction?

Jim: I’m optimistic. I think that there will be an increasing number of new technologies coming along in the near future. They’re coming now at a very rapid pace, enabling us to look into the brain more closely, for example, and better understand what’s going on. And perhaps we will eventually be able to connect up those events with behavior and mental attitudes. I’m not as pessimistic as many scientists are. I think, yeah, we might blow ourselves up–but we might also find a way to calm down and live peacefully. That’s my hope–through science.

David: What do you personally think happens to consciousness after death, and what is your perspective on the concept of God?

Jim: I don’t know how to answer that. I definitely have a personal belief in God. It’s not within a particular religious framework, although I grew up in a religious family. I feel a personal connection with God that I don’t understand. I’ve met people who express similar thoughts. They sense a higher power, but they can’t really describe it. The idea that there may be a creative intelligence in our universe gives me some hope that maybe, as one person put it, “God invented the universe to discover his own identity.” That’s a challenging and difficult concept, I suppose, but it appeals to me.

David: What are you currently working on?

Jim: Right now, I am in state of suspended animation. My book is out there, and it’s selling to some extent. I hope for sufficient energy to promote it, but I’m not emotionally tied to it. I have other interests, totally unrelated to science. I like to do video editing, and have a vast collection of pictures and films, so I’m not expecting to write anything significant in the near future. I’m willing to talk at a few meetings and I still get invitations. I’m very happy to accept them, but I don’t foresee myself as an agent of change beyond what I’ve done in the form of a book.

John Guerin

Learning from Ageless Animals:
An Interview with John Guerin

By David Jay Brown

John Guerin is the founder and director of the AgelessAnimals Project–also known as the Centenarian Species and Rockfish Project. This long-range research project involves investigators at fourteen universities around the world who study animals that don’t seem to age. 

There are certain species of rockfish, whales, turtles, and other animals that are known to live for over two hundred years without showing any signs of aging–a phenomenon known to biogerontologists as “negligible senescence.” No one knows for sure how long these animals can live, but to date there have not been any observed increase in mortality or any decrease in reproductive capacity due to age. Striking examples are a 109 year old female rockfish that was captured in the wild while swimming around with fertilized eggs, and a hundred-plus year old male whale that was harpooned while it was having sex. The purpose of the AgelessAnimals Project is to understand why these animals don’t seem to age and then to apply that understanding to human longevity.

Guerin is an experienced project manager, who conceived of the AgelessAnimals project and orchestrates all of the studies. The two principal advisors to this project are Dr. Leonard Hayflick and Dr. Aubrey de Grey, both of whom were also interviewed for the Mavericks of Medicine collection. Dr. Hayflick, discoverer of the “Hayflick limit” of cellular senescence, states that “Guerin’s project is not only unique, but probes an area of almost total neglect in biogerontology, yet an area with more promise to deliver valuable data than, perhaps, any other.”

When I asked Dr. de Grey about the importance of studying ageless animals he said, “All organisms with organs that rely on the indefinite survival of individual non-dividing cells (such as neurons in the brain) should age, though some, including humans, age very slowly. Some species do even better–we cannot yet measure their rate of aging at all–and studying them may well reveal ways to slow our own aging.”

In addition to coordinating and orchestrating the AgelessAnimals project, Guerin lectures regularly on the subject of ageless animals. To find out more about Guerin’s work and the AgelessAnimals Project visit their Web site: www.agelessanimals.org.

I interviewed John Guerin on March 14, 2005. John seemed eager and excited to discuss his project with me. We spoke about some of the latest research that’s going on with long-lived animals, why this type of research has been neglected for so long, and how studying ageless animals might help us to understand the aging process better and extend the human lifespan.

David: What inspired the AgelessAnimals Project?

John: Back in 1995 I began looking into biotech, biogerontology, and the studies of aging. I read many different books, articles, and scientific papers. The turning point came when I read Dr. Leonard Hayflick’s book How and Why We Age. Dr. Hayflick had a chapter called “Some Animals Age, Some Do Not,” and I thought, Wow, now that’s interesting. I’d heard rumors and old wive’s tales about how some animals live for an extraordinarily long time, but this was the first time that I had come across that information from a scientific source. So I started researching the literature on long-lived animals, and I found out that there’s very little known. On my Web site I have some references on what I found.

I met Dr. Hayflick at a Gerontological Society of America meeting in November of ‘95, and I told him about my project management background. I said, I’d like to join whoever is working in this area, and I asked him who is. His answer was, “Nobody is, but they should be.” So I tried to get something going on my own. I did a lot of research on different animals. I spent about a year looking at koi–the fancy Japanese carp–and it’s very likely that they do live quite a long time, at least over fifty years. They were reputed to live over two hundred years, but the readings were based on scales, and those are not accurate. So they didn’t turn out to be a good candidate to study.

Then in 1997 I got some data from the Alaska Fish and Game. There’s a chart at the bottom of my Web page with a rockfish on it that shows ages for different rockfish that were caught off the coast of Alaska, and the range is between twelve and 107 years. Now, that’s a randomly caught sampling–it wasn’t like they were trying to get older individuals. Those were the ones that fishermen caught and were going to people’s dinner tables that evening. So when I realized that individuals at those ages were available I became very interested. We got samples from the Alaska Fish and Game in 1997. I say “we” because by then I had a couple of researchers at Oregon State University, including the Linus Pauling Institute interested in looking at the rockfish. So the Alaska Fish and Game sent us five older rockfish. After we got the aging results, it turned out that the the youngest rockfish that they sent us was 79 years old, and the oldest was a 109 year old female that still had eggs.

David: That’s extraordinary.

John: Yeah, and kind of sad. How long would this fish have lived if it wasn’t caught? It didn’t die of old age. It was fertile and still going strong in the ocean at 109 when they caught it. So that helped us to focus the project on rockfish. We have had one study on turtles. Whales are a very fascinating subject too, because they’re warm-blooded mammals like we are, and they’ve now been documented to live over two hundred years of age.

David: How does one determine the age of these animals?

John: The most common technique for aging rockfish is the analysis of annual growth rings in the otolith, or ear bone. Basically, rockfish have incremental growth, so under a microscope their growth rings can be counted. There has been independent validation of this, and two recent international symposia have focused entirely on the importance of otolith measurement in fish life history studies. In turtles, the determination of minimum age is relatively straightforward, using tag and recapture methods. Dr. Jeffrey Bada at UC San Diego Scripps did the aging analysis for the whale study. For this study the whales’ ages were determined by using the aspartic acid racemization technique.  In this technique, age is estimated based on intrinsic changes in the isomeric forms of aspartic acid in the eye lens nucleus. The references for these studies are on my Web site.
David: What is the goal of the Ageless Animals Project?
John: Quite simply, the goal is to understand the genetic and biochemical processes that long-lived animals use to retard aging. These long-lived animals have what’s technically called “negligible senescence,” as defined by Caleb Finch at the University of Southern California in Longevity, Senescence, and the Genome (1995).

David: What is negligible senescence?

John: Basically, this refers to an animal species that doesn’t show any significant signs of aging as it grows older. Unlike humans and mammals other than whales, there’s no decrease in reproduction after maturity. There’s also no notable increase in mortality rate with age, but that’s a little harder to prove. I’ve been talking with a statistician and he’s asking, how do you know? To do a study of this type would take a couple of hundred years to complete. But compared to us there’s no noted increase in mortality rate. I mean, if you are ninety years old, you’re much more likely to die next year then you are if you’re only twenty years old. But we don’t seem to see any increase in mortality with rockfish and several of these other animals over time.

David: Why do you think these animals can live for so long without showing any signs of aging?

John: The purpose of the project is to understand why, and how to apply it to extending the healthy lifespan of humans. My background is in business project management; I have a project management professional certification. I’m not a bioresearcher, a  biochemist, or a biogerontologist–but I’m the one who organizes it all, and gets everyone involved. I get the researchers the samples and all that.

Actually, I thought I had a better idea about why these animals have negligible senescence when I started this project ten years ago. But it’s hard to say. Back then we didn’t know whales lived that long. That whales can live for over two hundred years was just discovered in the last five years. Up until then we thought that humans lived longer than any other mammal. So why certain animals would live much longer than others, and much longer than we do as a matter of fact–pretty much double what we’ve known humans to live–we don’t understand.

There are some people who think that this can’t be so, that this would violate the evolutionary theory of senescence, because nature doesn’t select for longevity. But that’s not necessarily true, because what’s commonly seen is that there’s just such a high mortality rate in nature. Even for humans, probably before two thousand years ago, we didn’t live very long. We were hunted by tigers and wild animals, and traits of longevity, presumably, weren’t selected for. But if these animals, like the rockfish, can be 109 years old and still be reproductive, nature is going to allow those genes to keep contributing to the gene pool, so that

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