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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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?
: 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.
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 Fantastic, Pain 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
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.