Shattering the Barriers of Maximum Life Span:
An Interview with Dr. Joseph Knoll
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Shattering the Barriers of Maximum Life Span:
By David Jay Brown
Joseph Knoll, M.D., is a Hungarian nuerochemist and pharmacologist. He is probably best known for developing the drug deprenyl (also known as Selegiline), the first selective MAO-B inhibitor, and he has researched the properties of deprenyl for over half a century.
Dr. Knoll is also the author of the recently published book The Brain and Its Self: A Neurochemical Concept of Innate and Acquired Drives (Springer, 2005), which summarizes his life’s research and his fascinating speculations about the relationship between brain activity and culture. In this book Dr. Knoll describes how his experience as a Nazi concentration camp survivor helped to inspire and motivate much of his scientific research. Although his parents were sent to the gas chamber when he was a teenager, Dr. Knoll survived because he spoke fluent German and was chosen to serve as the personal servant to the Chief of the SS guards. After the war, in 1945 Dr. Knoll returned to his native city of Budapest. He earned his M.D. from the University of Budapest in 1951, and later became a professor and the head of the Department of Pharmacology at the Semmelweiss University of Medicine in Budapest.
In the early 1950s, Dr. Knoll helped to pioneer research into the physiological basis of innate and acquired drives in animals. Trying to make sense of his experience in the Nazi concentration camp, Dr. Knoll became interested in how animals acquire new drives. The research that resulted from Dr. Knoll’s interest in this subject centered around studying the brain changes in rats that had been trained to have an acquired drive for an unnatural object–a glass cylinder. This acquired drive–which urged the animals to search for, and jump to, the rim of a thirty centimeter-high glass-cylinder, and then crawl inside–would often override the animals’ instinctive drives for food and sex.
Dr. Knoll first synthesized deprenyl in his Budapest laboratory in 1961. He showed that deprenyl improves the availability of dopamine, and slows its age-related decline by acting as a selective MAO-B inhibitor. Even more importantly, according to Dr. Knoll, it has an enhancer effect, and it helps maintain healthy brain cells, particularly in the dopamine-producing area of the brain known as the substantia nigra–the area of the brain that degenerates with Parkinson’s Disease. For this reason deprenyl has been used as an effective treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. It has also been shown to be an effective treatment for Alzhiemer’s Disease and other brain disorders that result in cognitive decline.
Deprenyl has been shown to have many uses as a cognitive enhancer. It is a moderate-level stimulant and antidepressant that has been shown to improve memory, protect the brain against cell damage, alleviate depression, extend the life span of laboratory animals, and heighten sexual desire in both men and women. This impressive substance is available by prescription in the U.S., and although it is primarily prescribed to help people with Parkinson’s disease, memory disorder problems, and sometimes depression, a lot of healthy people also use deprenyl to improve their mental performance. In fact, Dr. Knoll himself takes deprenyl every day, and recommends that every sexually mature person should be doing the same.
I’ve personally been using deprenyl as antidepressant and cognitive enhancer for over ten years, and I can attest to its powerful brain-boosting effects. It improves my mental performance so dramtically that I’ve used it before every public talk that I’ve given since 1995. Along with other cognitive enhancers, such as hydergine and piracetam, I think that deprenyl has incredible potential for enhancing memory, accelerating intelligence, and improving concentration. There is a good deal of scientific evidence to support these claims. For an excellent summary of the scientific studies in this area see John Morgenthaler and Ward Dean’s book Smart Drugs and Nutrients II.
Many people report that deprenyl and other “smart drugs” have sexually-enhancing “side-effects”, although deprenyl appears to have the leading reputation in this area. According to Dr. Dean–the coauthor of Smart Drugs and Nutrients–“anything that improves brain function is probably going to improve sexual functioning.” This is probably because sexuality and health go hand-in-hand, and sexual vitality is a pretty good indicator of overall health.
Dr. Knoll and colleagues first reported indications for deprenyl’s potential as a sexuality enhancer in 1983, with reports that old male rats had increased their “”mounting frequency” and “intromission” when they were treated with deprenyl. This contrasted dramatically with the untreated control animals. Many anecdotal reports, from both men and women, have confirmed that these aphrodisiac-like effects apply to humans as well. Because Deprenyl inhibits MAO–the dopamine-destroying enzyme–levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine rise in the brain, which generally causes people to feel more pleasure and become more physiologically aroused.
Interestingly, unlike most other MAO inhibitor drugs (such as the antidepressant Nardil), there are usually no dietary restrictions necessary when one takes deprenyl. When taken at moderate levels (under 10 mg.), deprenyl only inhibits the action of a specific type of MAO–MAO B–which doesn’t interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize the amino acid tyrosine, like a broad-spectrum MAO inhibitor does. This is why most other MAO-inhibiting drugs carry the serious danger of triggering a hypertensive reaction if one eats tyrosine-rich foods, like cheese or wine. Deprenyl has been described by researchers as working with great precision in this regard, and the physicians that I spoke with agreed that it was unusually safe.
In fact, deprenyl is better than safe. This truly remarkable drug has also been shown to increase the maximum lifespan of laboratory animals by close to forty percent. This is the equivalent of a human being living to be around a hundred and fifty years of age. Giving deprenyl to animals is the only experimental treatment–besides caloric restriction–that has been shown to increase maximum life span. [Extending maximum life span–as opposed to extending average life span–means extending the maximum number of years that the longest-lived members of a particular species has been known to attain.]
To fully appreciate how significant deprenyl’s life extension potential is, one has to understand the difference between maximum life span and average life span. Many factors can affect the average lifespan (or the “normal life expectancy”) that an animal lives–genetics, diet, exercise, nutritional supplements, mental attitude, ect. However, even under the very best of conditions, there is an upper limit at which the longest-lived animals of a particular species can survive, and that is the animal’s maximum life span.
The average life span of a human being is approximately seventy to eighty years. However, the maximum life span of a human being is around a hundred and twenty years. The laboratory animals in the deprenyl studies showed a forty percent increase in maximum life span, the human equivalent of living a hundred and fifty years. Since deprenyl’s primary effects work the same in all mammalian brains, it stands to reason that deprenyl’s life extension effects are likely to carry over to humans, just as the mental benefits do. Many people have certainly verified that the increase in sex drive occurs in both humans and laboratory animals.
To follow are some excerpts from the interview that I conducted with Dr. Knoll in September of 2005. Born in 1925, Dr. Knoll was eighty at the time of this interview. We spoke about how his experience with the holocaust influenced his decision to become a research scientist, how people can utilize deprenyl for its cognitive enhancing and antiaging benefits, and what type of antiaging treatments might be available in the future.
David: How did your experience with the holocaust when you were young influence your decision to become a research scientist, and what inspired your interest in neurochemistry?
Dr. Knoll: It is a horrifying fact that in Germany millions of single-minded little-men, who had previously lived a honest simple life and never belonged to extremist groups, dramatically changed within a few years after 1933 and, imbued with the Nazi ideology, became unbelievably cool-headed murders of innocent civilians during the Second World War. This phenomenon has been documented from many angles in dozens of novels, films, and so on. However, we are still waiting for an adequate elucidation of the brain mechanism responsible for this dramatic and rapid change in the behavior of millions.
As a survivor of Auschwitz, and one of the 1300 survivors of the “Dachau death train,” I had the opportunity to directly experience a few typical representatives of this type of manipulated human beings, and had more than enough time and direct experience to reflect upon the essential changes in the physiological manipulability of the human brain. It was therefore not just by mere chance that, when in the early 1950s I finally had the opportunity to approach this problem experimentally, I decided to develop a rat model to follow the changes in the brain in the course of the
Albert Hofmann, Ph.D., is the world-renown Swiss chemist who discovered LSD. The impact that LSD has had on the world is certainly immense, and although largely incalculable, I think, it’s fair to say that this super-potent, mind-morphing molecule has deeply effected the foundation of every aspect of human culture–from art and science, to politics, medicine, and spirituality. Dr. Hofmann also discovered and first synthesized psilocybin and psilocin, the primary psychoactive components of the magic mushroom, as well as the psychoactive lysergic acid alkaloids in Morning Glory seeds. He also designed the ergot-derived, cognitive-enhancer hydergine, which is used as a treatment for memory disorders, as a product for Sandoz Pharmaceutical.
Dr. Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland in 1906. He graduated from the University of Zürich in 1929, with a degree in chemistry, and then went to work for Sandoz (now Novartis) Pharmaceutical in Basel. Dr. Hofmann’s research goal was to work towards the isolation of active principles in known medicinal plants. Dr. Hofmann worked with Mediterranean squill for several years, before moving on to the study of ergot and ergot alkaloids.
Over the next few years, Dr. Hofmann worked his way through the lysergic acid derivatives in ergot. In 1938, he synthesized LSD-25 (the twenty-fifth in a series of lysergic acid derivatives) for the first time. However, after minimal testing on laboratory animals with no interesting results, he set the compound aside and continued to work with other derivatives.
Five years later, on April 16, 1943, he re-synthesized LSD-25 because he felt that he might have missed something the first time around. This was was at the height of World War II, shortly after Fermi made his discovery that led to the atomic bomb. Dr. Hofmann said that he had a “peculiar presentiment” to resynthesize LSD and that LSD “spoke” to him. (Many people have speculated about the possibility of a relationship between the discovery of the psychoactive properties of LSD and the first nuclear explosions, as LSD is thought by many to be something of a spiritual antidote to the aggressive and toxic tendencies of the human species.)
After Dr. Hofmann resynthesized LSD, he wrote in his laboratory journal these famous words: “Last Friday…I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed…I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”
Apparently, Dr. Hofmann accidentally ingested a minute amount of the LSD–possibly through his fingertips–and since the drug is active in such small doses (measured in micrograms), Dr. Hofmann became the first person in human history to experience the psychedelic effects of LSD. Three days later, on April 19, he decided to verify his results by intentionally ingesting 250 micrograms of LSD. Compared to other known drugs, this would appear to have been a very conservative dose, since no other drug was known to have effects in such small quantities.
As it turns out, 250 mcg. is actually quite a hefty dose of LSD, and Dr. Hofmann had a powerful and rather frightening experience that forced him to bicycle home form the lab and spend the day in bed, where he fully recovered in a few hours. The anniversary of this day, April 19th, has become known to many appreciative people as “Bicycle Day,” in honor of Dr. Hofmann’s famous hallucinogenic journey through the streets of Basel on his bicycle while traveling home from the lab.
Dr. Hofmann told me that he was “convinced from the very beginning of the fundamental impact” of LSD. Although Dr. Hofmann has always seen great spiritual value and creative potential in LSD, he was often dismayed by the way that many young people used it merely to enhance sensory experiences, and by the strict prohibitive reactions toward the drug by virtually every government in the world. Because of the enormous controversy that surrounds LSD, Dr. Hofmann refers to this mighty mind-morphing molecule as his “problem child.”
Dr. Hofmann continued to work for Sandoz until 1971, when he retired as Director of Research for the Department of Natural Products. Since that time he has continued to write and lecture. Dr. Hofmann tells the story of how he discovered LSD, and reflects on the impact it had in the world, in his book LSD: My Problem Child. He is also the author of Insight Outlook, and coauthor of Plants of the Gods and The Road To Eleusis.
Dr. Hofmann is a Member of the Nobel Prize Committee, Fellow of the World Academy of Sciences, Member of the International Society of Plant Research, and the American Society of Pharmacognosy. To find out more about Dr. Hofmann’s work visit: www.lsd.info and www.maps.org/hofmann100.
Dr. Hofmann turned a hundred years old on January 11, 2006. He is remarkably healthy and remains acutely mentally focused. I attended Dr. Hofmann’s centennial birthday celebration and LSD symposium in Basel from January 13 to 15, 2006: LSD–Problem Child and Wonder Drug. Thousands of unusually creative and deeply appreciative people gathered from around the world to honor Dr. Hofmann’s work with the kind of reverence that is usually reserved for saints and religious sages. It was the largest conference ever held on psychedelics and some of the most brilliant and accomplished scientists, artists, writers, and musicians on this planet were there to honor Dr. Hofmann.
I interviewed Dr. Hofmann with the help of my friend Dieter Hagenbach, who organized the event in Basel. Dieter translated my questions and Dr. Hofmann’s German responses. Although Dr. Hofmann was feeling quite exhausted from the barrage of media attention around his 100th birthday celebration, he graciously agreed to answer my questions. His answers are generally brief, however, they are, I think, succinctly eloquent and profoundly wise. Dr. Hofmann spoke about how he became interested in chemistry, how psychedelics have effected his view of the world, and what he thought about the future evolution of the human species.
David: What originally inspired your interest in chemistry?
Albert: My interest in chemistry was inspired by a fundamental philosophical question: Is the material world a manifestation of the spiritual world? I hoped to find deep, sound answers from the solid laws of chemistry to answer this question, and to apply these answers to the external problems and open questions of the spiritual dimensions of life.
David: When you first discovered LSD did you have an intuitive sense that this drug would have the enormous impact on the world that it has, or where you generally surprised by what followed?
Albert: I was convinced from the very beginning of the fundamental impact.
David: What motivated or inspired you to go back and synthesize LSD a second time in 1943?
Albert: I synthesized LSD a second time for a deeper pharmacological investigation.
David: How has your own use of LSD effected your philosophy of life?
Albert: LSD showed me the inseparable interaction between the material and the spiritual world.
David: What sort of association do you see between LSD and creativity?
Albert: Since LSD opens up what Aldous Huxley called “the Doors of Perception”, it enhances the fields of creative activity.
David: Do you think that LSD has effected human evolution?
Albert: I do not know if it has effected human evolution, but I hope so.
David: What are your thoughts on why LSD is almost universally prohibited by governments around the world?
Albert: LSD belongs to a class of psychoactive substances that provide the user with
Redirecting the Immune System:
By David Jay Brown
Kary Mullis, Ph.D., won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which revolutionized the study of genetics. The journal Science listed Dr. Mullis’ invention of PCR as one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in human history.
PCR is a technique that allows chemists to easily, and inexpensively, replicate as much precise DNA as they need. This solved a core problem in genetics. Before PCR, the existing methods for making copies of those particular strands of DNA that one was interested in were slow, expensive and imprecise. The brilliance behind this invention, as well as it utter simplicity, lies in PCR’s ability to turn the job over to the very biomolecules that nature uses for copying DNA. PCR multiplies a single, microscopic strand of genetic material billions of times within hours. The process has many applications in medicine, genetics, biotechnology and forensics.
When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Dr. Mullis the Nobel Prize, they said it had “hastened the rapid development of genetic engineering” and “greatly stimulated biochemical research and opened the way for new applications in medicine and biology.” Just flipping through any current issue of the journals Science or Nature one will encounter advertisements for PCR systems every few pages. In addition to revolutionizing the study of genetics, it’s also influenced popular culture and science fiction. Because PCR has the ability to extract DNA from fossils, it was the theoretical basis for the motion picture Jurassic Park. In reality, PCR is the basis of an entirely new scientific discipline, paleobiology.
Dr. Mullis earned his Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972. He has authored several major patents, and has received numerous, highly prestigious awards–including the Japan Prize in 1993, the Thomas A. Edison Award (1993), and the California Scientist of the Year Award (1992). He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1998.
Dr. Mullis is the author of the book Dancing Naked In the Mind Field, an autobiographical account of his fascinating, and sometimes mind-bending adventures, which makes a compelling case for the existence of greater mystery in the world around us.
Dr. Mullis is currently a Distinguished Researcher at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. He also serves on the board of scientific advisors of several companies, provides expert advice in legal matters involving DNA, and is a frequent lecturer at college campuses, corporations and academic meetings around the world. He is the inventor and founder of Altermune LLC. To find out more about Dr. Mullis’ work, visit his Web site: www.karymullis.com
In the following interview Kary and I discussed his current research, which offers tremendous hope as a medical treatment for dealing with virtually any type of pathogen by engaging the immune system in a novel way.
David: Can you tell me about your latest research project?
Kary: I’m in the process of starting a project which involves a way to redirect the immune system from one target to another, by using a chemical linker that will link an immune response that you have made for one thing to a new target, a target to which you would now like to be immune.
David: How far along are you with this project?
Kary: We already know how to do it, and the experiments that we’ve tried to do it in with baby rats have worked. In the experiments we were able to take an immune response in baby rats that was made for this irrelevant organic chemical called phenylarsonic acid, and redirect that to this bacterium that would normally kill rats in a couple of days. By using this method we made it so that the bacterium wasn’t able to grow in them at all. The bacterium that we injected in them, Haemophilus influenzae, would have killed them within two days. We gave them the organism first. Then, right after that, we gave them the thing that was going to protect them, and it worked in a really big way. The untreated rats that got the Haemophilus influenzae had something like a million microorganisms per milliliter of their blood in 24 hours. It grows really fast in a baby rat. The ones that got our treatment had none that were detectable which in our protocol is less than 20 per milliliter. So it was a big deal.
That experiment was a contrived experiment. We didn’t start with a human that had been accidentally exposed to some pathogen. We started with some rats that had been intentionally exposed, and we knew exactly when and how much. We think that we can take that same system and adapt it, not only to humans, but to just about any human pathogen that we can define beforehand.
For instance, people have defined the pathogen that causes anthrax. We can isolate and grow it in the lab. We can make something that will bind to it. In fact, there are lots of people who have already made things that combine with anthrax. What this invention does is take the thing that combines with anthrax, and uses it as one end of a linker, the other end of which binds to the immune response that we already have. The invention is called Altermune, and it defines a class of drugs. In the case of the rats, we injected it in them. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to produce Altermune type drugs that you could ingest, so you won’t even have to have them injected. But if you’ve just been infected with smallpox, you won’t mind an injection.
David: What are some of the other potential applications that you see for it?
Kary: Most of the possibilities that immediately come to mind have to do with infectious disease. The way we’ve dealt with modifying our immune system since 1794–when Jenner discovered vaccination–hasn’t changed. We vaccinate ourselves for all kinds of things, and we do it in that way–by giving ourselves a damaged or dead copy of what we would like to be immune to. We inject it into your body, and you make an immune response to it over a period of a few weeks or months. Sometimes we have to give it to you on several occasions during that time. You make a whole bunch of antibodies, some of which will bind directly to that thing that we stuck in you or anything like it, and it permanently affects your immune system.
You can make someone immune to anthrax by vaccination, but if it has negative side-effects, they’re permanent. The Altermune method takes an immune response that you already have, and, temporarily redirects it to some target to which you now want to be immune. For the method to work, you have to be prepared for it by having the pathogen in hand, in a fairly purified form. For most of the organisms that we’re worried about in terms of bioterrorism, we do.
That’s what causes the worry about them–people have been working on them, and they’re around. Things like cholera or smallpox, all kinds of terrible things that people have been plagued by, and most of the people in the civilized world are no longer immune to them.
David: The implications sound staggering. What about diseases like cancer and AIDS?
Kary: Everybody asks, what about cancer? Cancer is not at all like an infectious disease, in the sense that every cancer cell is not like every other cancer cell, even in the same tumor. Cancer is a tough one. First I’m going to deal with diseases that we know the exact nature of, where an organism is responsible for it, and the absence of that organism will cure it. That’s most infectious diseases.
AIDS doesn’t fall into that category. Nor does it affect many people despite the press that it gets. Plus, the AIDS scientists say you can cure HIV if you want to, but you still don’t cure AIDS, because the disease has already done something to you. In terms of an infectious disease it’s kind of an oddball thing. I don’t think most of the research is reliable and I am not willing to spend a lot of effort on it. I’m one of the few outspoken people who say that there’s no good scientific evidence that the diseases that are called AIDS are really caused by the retrovirus called HIV–in spite of its name. I’ve had a lot of trouble from people over that issue, because many are convinced that it does. But my assessment is that it is an unsupported and unsubstantiated belief.
There are all kinds of possibilities for the first Altermune targets, but we’re going to concentrate on potential bioweapons. There’s a list of about twenty different pathogens that people have associated with various biological warfare programs. Most of them came from the Soviet Union, but some of them were developed in the US before 1969, when we stopped making them.
There’s fear that some of the pathogens have been produced intentionally and are still out there. How long is it going to be before somebody gives himself smallpox, flies to New York, and walks around for a couple of weeks until he dies? How many people would he infect? How many people would they infect? We have vaccines that may or may not be protective–nobody knows for sure. They might not work fast enough. They’re slow in terms of producing their results. With Altermune drugs, you don’t have to grow a new immune
Pushing the Limit:
By David Jay Brown
Leonard Hayflick, Ph.D., is a microbiologist whose research revolutionized cell biology, and helped to provide a scientific foundation for the field of cellular gerontology (or cytogerontology)–the study of aging at the cellular level. Dr. Hayflick discovered that cultured normal human cells can only divide a finite number of times, after which they become senescent. This limited capacity for cell division is now known as the ‘Hayflick limit’, and this discovery has enabled other researchers to make significant progress towards understanding the molecular mechanisms of aging and cancer.
Following this groundbreaking discovery, Dr. Hayflick developed the first normal human diploid fibroblast cell strains. One of these–called WI-38–is still the most widely used normal human cell strain in the world. Dr. Hayflick was also the first to produce a vaccine (the oral polio vaccine) from these cells. WI-38 cells, or similar human-cell strains, are used today for the manufacture of most human virus vaccines throughout the world–including poliomyelitis, rubella, rubeola, adenoviruses, measles, mumps, and rabies vaccines.
Approximately a billion people have received virus vaccine doses produced on WI-38 or similar diploid cell strains, yet Dr. Hayflick makes no profit from this. In fact, he was accused by the government of stealing its’ property when he asked for packaging and mailing costs from pharmaceutical manufacturers and viral research labs. Dr. Hayflick’s inability to patent and profit from his development–because at the time in 1962, one could not patent living matter–became the foundation for his lawsuit against the Federal government, which, after six years of litigation he won with an out-of-court settlement. This lawsuit helped to establish the discoverers or inventors intellectual property rights that researchers in the biotech industry take for granted today.
Dr. Hayflick also discovered the cause of primary atypical pneumonia (“walking pneumonia”). Dr. Hayflick demonstrated that this illness is caused by a member of the smallest free-living class of microorganisms–which he named Mycoplasma pneumoniae–and not by a virus, as was previously believed. Dr. Hayflick demonstrated this by growing these microorganisms in a medium that he developed.
Dr. Hayflick earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1956. He served ten years as an associate member of the Wistar Institute and two years as Assistant Professor of Research Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1968 he was appointed Professor of Medical Microbiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and he is currently a professor of anatomy on the faculty of the University of California, San Francisco.
Dr. Hayflick was the Editor-in-Chief of Experimental Gerontology for thirteen years, president of the Gerontological Society of America, chairman of the Scientific Review Board of the American Federation for Aging Research, and a founding member and chairman of the executive committee of the Council of the National Institute on Aging. He has received more than 25 major awards–including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological research and the Presidential Award from the International Organization of Mycoplasmology. Dr. Hayflick is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and is one of the principal advisors for the Ageless Animals Project–which is directed by John Guerin, who was also interviewed for this collection.
Dr Hayflick is the author of over 225 scientific papers and reviews–some of which are the among the most cited scientific papers in human history. He is also the author of the popular book How and Why We Age (Ballantine Books, 1994), which has been translated into ten languages. The story of Dr. Hayflick’s distinguished and controversial career is chronicled in a book by Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher called The Virus and the Vaccine (St. Martin’s Press, 2004), and in Stephen Hall’sMerchants of Immortality (Houghton Mifflin, 2003). Dr. Hayflick is currently working on a book about his experiences as scientist for Cambridge University Press.
I interviewed Dr. Hayflick on April 27, 2005. Dr. Hayflick is an elegant speaker. I was excited to hear firsthand about his discoveries, and greatly appreciated his patience in answering questions that I’m sure he’s answered a thousand times before, making sure that I understood every detail. We spoke about how the fetal cells that he cultured were used for viral research, vaccine production, cancer research and the causes of aging, and why he thinks that researching the causes of aging is more important than directing biomedical research efforts to the study of disease.
David: What inspired your interest in the biology of aging?
Dr. Hayflick: My interest in the biology of aging was a pure accident; it evolved from a discovery that I made in the early 1960s. The discovery that I made flew in the face of existing dogma at the time–dogma that was entrenched for more than sixty years–and because I was convinced that I had overthrown that dogma, the experiments that I did required some explanation, or at least some speculation as to what they meant. After conducting a number of experiments that excluded many possibilities that seemed reasonable, I was left with one possibility that I could not exclude, and that was that the observation that I had made was telling me something about longevity determination and/or aging. So I speculated on that possibility in the paper that I published with my colleague Paul Moorhead in 1962.
Then I began to realize that the field of aging at that time was, to put it mildly, an impoverished field. There were perhaps a dozen people in this country, at the most, who were working in this field–or, at least, who would admit in public that they were working in this field, because at that time the climate was such that to admit in public that you were working in the field of aging was tantamount to committing professional suicide. So people that worked in the field of aging often did so in the closet. Then because of my speculation, and because of the popularity that this paper began to assume, I was contacted by one or two of the dozen people working in the field of aging to speak at some of their congresses.
One person in particular was Dr. Nathan Shock, who is generally regarded as the father of modern gerontology in the United States. We became very good friends, and it was through him that I became introduced to other people in the field, in particular members of the Gerontological Society of America. This is the professional organization that people in the field of biology of aging and geriatric medicine, as well as the social and psychological aspects of aging–indeed, every aspect of aging–are members. So I went to their meetings, initially when I was invited to speak, and I began to realize that I was becoming a biogerontologist. This was not by intention, as I mentioned at the outset, by accident, and I became very interested in the subject. The rest is history.
David: Can you talk a little about how the fetal cells that you cultured were used for viral research and vaccine production?
Dr. Hayflick: At the time I was working at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, which was directed by a man named Hilary Koprowski, who was a pioneer in polio vaccine research. (In fact, contrary to popular belief, Koprowski was the first person to develop, and actually test in humans, a live virus vaccine. It was not Albert Sabin as is popularly believed.) A fair proportion of the research activities at the Wistar Institute–by no means all of them–were conducted around virus vaccine research because of Koprowski’s interest, so I couldn’t help but learn more and more about human vaccine development and the problems therein.
And as luck would have it, my work with the normal human fetal cells directly impacted on the problems with human virus vaccines that emerged at that time. I suppose one could argue that was just a lucky break that I made the discovery that I did in the right place at the right time, because of what was emerging in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with the polio vaccine. To give you some idea of the atmosphere at the time, poliovirus research was, I suppose, equivalent in the minds of scientists and the general public then as stem cell research is today. In other words, every other hour you read something about it or heard something about it.
So, first let me say what the problems were in vaccines at the time so that you’ll understand how my work fitted into it. The problem that was emerging at the time was centered on the fact that monkey kidney cells were used for the preparation of the virus vaccine. As I’m sure you know, viruses can only replicate on living cells; they cannot replicate on dead material as can bacteria. So, because you need lots of viruses in order to make vaccines, you need lots of cells to make lots of viruses. The cells that were chosen by Jonas Salk and others at the time for vaccine production were primary monkey kidney cells. There were other vaccines that used other types of cells. For example, the flu vaccine was made using embryonated eggs, and it still is today.
But the polio vaccine was made in monkey kidney cells. The
Countdown to Telomerase Therapy:
By David Jay Brown
Michael Fossel, Ph.D., M.D. is a clinical physician and neurobiologist with a strong interest in the human aging process. He is currently the Clinical Professor of Medicine at Michigan State University, and Attending Physician at St. Mary’s Hospital Emergency Department in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Fossel is the author of Reversing Human Aging, and the recently published Cells Aging, and Human Disease. He believes that we are only around a decade away from a truly remarkable form of anti-aging therapy that holds the promise of perpetually renewable youth.
Dr. Fossel has dedicated years to studying progeria and other accelerated aging syndromes. Children with the progeric disease Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome die at an average age of twelve or thirteen. They usually die of heart disease, strokes, cancer and other illnesses that often strike the elderly. Children with progeria look uncannily like old men and women, with balding heads and wrinkled skin, and appear to suffer from many of the symptoms of old age.
Dr. Fossel believes that the evidence from these diseases, (combined with the fact that germ cells and cancer cells do not age), indicates that aging is largely a regulated process; i.e., a function of gene expression. According to Dr. Fossel, the key to understanding, and possibly reversing, human aging lies at the tips of our chromosomes. He thinks that one of the best places to intervene in the genetically-wired clock that determines our biological age is in the intracellular process of telomere replication.
Telomeres are the base pairs located at the end of our chromosomes that hold the DNA molecule together. With the exception of germ cells (sperm and eggs) and cancer cells, each time a human cell divides the telomeres become a little bit shorter. This is why, no matter how optimum a cell’s environment is, after a certain number of cell divisions, the telomeres become too short, gene expression changes, downregulating cell repair and maintenance, and the cells age. The progeric disease Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome is caused by having telomeres that are too short are birth, so it doesn’t take too many divisions before the cells begin to show early aging.
The reason that germ cells and cancer cells don’t age–and can potentially divide forever–is because they produce an enzyme called telomerase, which keeps the telomeres intact when the cell divides. Dr. Fossel predicts that telomerase therapy could extend human life indefinitely by resetting the genetic clock in healthy somatic cells, and turning it off in runaway cancer cells. He imagines that very soon everyone will have the potential to live for centuries in a body that looks and functions like its about twenty years old.
Dr. Fossel earned his master’s degree in psychology at Weseyan University. He then earned his Ph.D. in neurobiology, and an M.D., from Stanford University. In 1998 Dr. Fossel won the Achievement Award in Preventive Medicine from the American College for Advancement in Medicine. He was the founding editor of the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine (now Rejuvenation Research), and served as its Editor-in-Chief for six years. Dr. Fossel is a widely published author of dozens of scientific papers and articles, and a popular international lecturer. He has also appeared on numerous radio and television shows, and in many science documentaries.
I spoke with Michael on July 3, 2004. Michael speaks fast, yet somehow manages to say every word clearly and distinctly. He radiates a sense of warmth and humor. In a message that he sent me, he described himself by saying, “On the whole, I prefer data to fame, accuracy to eminence, and gardening to tenure.” I spoke with Michael about the what he’s learned from working with progeric children, how telomeres are related to human aging, and the possible medical, societal, and psychological consequences of telomerase therapy and biological age reversal.
David: How did you first become interested in medicine, and what lead you to study the human aging process?
Michael: I think that, to a degree, both of these questions have the same answer. All of us have certain bents to our personality. For me, I suppose you could say, there is need to help people–and I don’t mean that in a naive, puppy-dog sense. I just get a certain amount of pleasure out of having people around me feel better, work better, live better, and enjoy themselves more.
As an an example, I work clinically doing predominantly emergency medicine. The practice of emergency medicine, per se, does not have a lot of intellectual interest for me. Not none–just not a lot. On the other hand, I can derive enormous emotional benefit from it. The fact that I can leave a room, and have someone laughing, who a minute ago was terrified, is something that I need just as much I need to pay my mortgage. And I think that that personality bent is what lead me into both medicine, and in the long-run, to aging.
There’s a passage in the forward to my new textbook where I talk about how easy it is for people to understand the importance of treating children, and that we often forget that, or don’t understand that, when we’re talking about the importance of treating the elderly. For me, that’s almost self-evident. Again, I think it’s a part of my personality, and it’s sometimes hard for me to understand why other people don’t understand the importance of that. But it’s just me.
David: Can you talk a little about why you think that telomeres are so important in understanding, and possibly reversing, human aging?
Michael: That’s an interesting question, because it is usually asked incorrectly, and gets answered incorrectly. There are people who have said–and it’s simply not true–that I think telomeres cause aging. Not a bit. To me, there are two issues here. One is, what causes aging? And, frankly, I find that uninteresting, and I’ll come back to why I say it that way. Telomeres, per se, don’t cause aging. They’re a piece of the entire complex cascade and process of the aging organism. But the more important question for me is, where’s the most effective point of intervention?
I’ll give you a couple of examples of this. I get residents who come in to work with me clinically, who feel that if they’ve made a diagnosis, they’re done. Not a bit. Patients don’t come in for a diagnosis. They come in to be made better. Now it’s true that usually making a diagnosis helps you make patients better. But a patient doesn’t come in for a name. If you came in with a funny melanotic spot on your arm, you don’t so much care whether it’s melanoma or not. You want to know if I can make it never come back and kill you, or not.
All right, now the fact is I usually have to establish whether it’s melanoma. But it’s not the name, per se, that holds your interest. It’s–will this kill me? Can you prevent it? That’s the critical issue. The same thing’s true for me in aging. The issue for me is not what causes aging, and how does the cascade work, but what can we do to intervene, to prevent age-related disease and suffering.
Now there are an awful lot of people who will start discussions with me about whether or not aging is a disease. Frankly, I don’t think that’s an important issue. Whatever you want to define age-related diseases as, the important issue is, can we intervene in them? For me, aging may or may not be a disease, but it certainly increases your likelihood of having a disease. So the question is, where can we intervene? Given that, my answer usually is, the most effective point of intervention is probably the human telomere–not because it causes aging, but because it’s probably the most effective point of intervention.
If I’m looking at heart disease (actually, atherosclerosis, causing both strokes and heart attacks), which is the major killer worldwide, I ask myself not what causes it, but where can I intervene? There are literally dozens of critical points of intervention–everything from high blood pressure to cholesterol levels, to a number of genetic factors, to smoking, and behavioral effects. But again, while I can intervene in your risk of heart disease by lowering your cholesterol, with say Lipitor, it may be that a more effective and efficient point of intervention would be the telomere. So that’s my question. Now to answer that question you really have to understand some of the processes. But it’s not the process, per se, that interests me in an intellectual fashion. It’s a totally concrete interest.
David: Why did you start studying people with progeria, and what have you learned about the process of human aging from studying people with accelerated aging disorders?
Michael: I started studying progeria in basically the mid-1970’s. In graduate school I think I used to have the world’s literature on progeria under my bed. I found much more interest when I began to attend the annual progeric reunions for the Hutchinson-Gilford progerics. For me there are two interests here. One is, what can we do for these children? The answer
The Technology of Immortality:
By David Jay Brown
Michael D. West, Ph.D., is a geneticist, stem cell pioneer, and entrepreneur. He has extensive academic and business experience in age-related degenerative diseases, telomerase molecular biology, and human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. Dr. West founded the first biotechnology company focused on controlling the aging process in human cells, and he has spent the last twenty years researching the cellular and molecular mechanisms of human aging. He is the founder of Geron Corporation, a biotechnology firm in Menlo Park, California, and is currently the president and Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Alameda, California. Geron funded the research that isolated human embryonic stem (ES) cells, and ACT is at the forefront of therapeutic cloning. ACT cloned the first human embryos for the purpose of advancing therapeutic research.
Human embryonic stem (ES) cells–the primal cells that give rise to essentially all cell types in the body–are now routinely grown in culture. This breakthrough technology is opening the door to an astonishing array of potential medical applications. ES cells can differentiate into all types of tissue and can be used to grow new organs. With ES cells scientists can literally grow new heart or new kidney cells, or perhaps soon, whole organs. Since ES cells can be made using one’s own DNA, the body will accept the new tissue as its own. Although ES cell therapy is still in it’s infancy, our understanding about ES cells is advancing rapidly and their therapeutic potential looks more promising every day.
Dr. West received his M.S. in Biology from Andrews University in 1982, and he earned his Ph.D. from the Baylor College of Medicine in 1989, concentrating on the biology of cellular aging. Dr. West’s research into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of human aging during the early 1990s led to his founding Geron. From 1990 to 1998, Dr. West was a Director and Vice President at Geron, where he initiated and managed research programs in telomerase therapy. Telomerase is an enzyme which allows cells to divide indefinitely. Inhibiting the production of telomerase in cancer cells kills them, and turning on telomerase production in healthy cells makes them essentially immortal. Dr. West also organized and managed the program at Geron from 1995 to 1998 which, in collaboration with Dr. James Thomson and Dr. John Gearhart, led to the first isolation of human embryonic stem and human embryonic germ cells.
Dr. West’s current biotechnology company, ACT, is applying human ES cell technology in the emerging field of regenerative medicine. ACT’s research is focused on the use of stem cell therapy in treating age-related disease and nuclear transfer technology, which allows for the production of stem cells to be genetically matched to the patient. They own or license over three hundred patents and patent applications related to the field of stem cell therapy, and a library of stem cells for acute clinical applications. In November 2001, researchers at ACT announced that they had cloned the first human embryos for the purpose of advancing therapeutic research. The results were limited in success. Although this process was carried out with eight eggs, only three began dividing, and only one was able to divide into six cells before stopping. Nonetheless, this was a dramatic demonstration that human cloning is indeed possible.
Dr. West currently serves as Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Scientific Officer of ACT, and is Adjunct Professor of Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the author of the book The Immortal Cell, and the story of Dr. West’s quest to solve the mystery of human aging is chronicled Stephen Hall’s book Merchants of Immortality.
When I spoke with Dr. West I got a strong sense that he is truly excited by his research. We spoke about the potential therapeutic uses of ES cells, telomerase therapy, and the future of biotechnology.
David: What do you think are some of the biggest problems with modern medicine and what do you think needs to be done to help correct the situation?
Dr. West: I’m a gerontologist, and speaking from the standpoint of gerontology, the biggest mistake that I see medicine making today is in not adequately planning for the future, in what’s called the “age wave” or the “graying of America.” The aging of America and other industrialized countries is the greatest, or let’s say the most profound demographic trend of our time, and it’s going to greatly strain our resources to adequately care for the elderly. The risk we face is that, for the first time in the history of the United States, we will discriminate against a group of our citizens based on a biological characteristic–being their age–and simply say, “You’ve reached a certain age and we’re no longer going to provide medical services to you, because we won’t be able to afford it.” That’s not the kind of country I want to live in, or, I don’t think, for those of us who are entering that age bracket. I don’t think it’s the kind of future that we want to see, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that we have a crisis of epidemic proportions here with the aging population and its associated healthcare costs.
David: How did you get involved in embryonic stem cell research?
Dr. West: It goes back to the fundamental interest that I’ve had in the cellular basis of what’s called the “immortality of species.” As you know, life continues generation after generation, in an apparently immortal fashion. This is because germ-line cells (our sex cells) come from the previous generation of germ-line cells, and there’s an immortal lineage of these cells that connects the generations of all living beings on the planet. That lineage of cells is immortal in the sense that they have no dead ancestors and have survived all of the insults of life–free radical damage, cosmic rays, and everything else that can injure living things.
These cells have survived all those sources of injury and, according to some estimates, have been evolving for over four billion years as a continuous life form. Of course, this immortal lineage of cells that connects the generations, and causes babies to be born young, is of great interest to gerontologists. This is because the cells that make up the rest of our body–what’s called the somatic lineages of cells–clearly do not share in the immortality of the germ line. Our goal has been to learn from the immortality of the germ line and transfer these characteristics to somatic cells.
Telomerase was the first attempt to do that. Telomerase is an enzyme, a critical piece of which is a protein made by a gene commonly called the “telomerase gene.” The actual name for it is human telomerase reverse transcriptase, or hTERT for short. But that particular gene is turned “off” (it’s inactivated) in mortal cells that age, and it’s turned “on” (activated) in cells that are immortal. The gene is turned “on” in our germ-line cells and is turned “off” in most somatic cells.
David: And, unfortunately, our bodies are basically composed of somatic cells.
Dr. West: Yes. You probably know that back around 1992, we began trying to track down the telomerase gene, and we eventually managed to clone it. Having done that, we found that telomerase is useful for preventing somatic cells from aging. There are clearly cells in our body that don’t age, simply because they don’t divide. Heart muscle cells and neurons in the brain are two examples. It could be that they age as a consequence of other cells that are aging.
For instance, heart muscle cells do not divide and therefore do not age. But damage to heart muscle can occur due to a heart attack, arrhythmias, or other heart disease. Damage to the heart muscle could also be the result of the aging of cells of other biological structures, such as the cells that make up the vessels to the heart, or some other cells that have a finite life span and upon which the heart muscle is dependent for healthy functioning. When that tissue becomes diseased and the blood vessel can no longer feed the heart muscle, the heart muscle is damaged secondarily. But however you think about it, the point is that there are aging or damaged cells and tissues in our body that need to be replaced.
The ES cell research is an attempt to find a novel way of treating age-related disease. It’s essentially a transplant therapy, replacing damaged cells and tissues, by going back to this immortal germ line. These ES cells are so primitive that they are still in the immortal germ line. So when you make a somatic cell from an ES cell, the cells that result are born young, as a baby is born young. We are creating a technology to replace damaged cells and tissues with young cells as a therapy for aging.
David: Are ES cells currently being used to help repair damaged tissue?
Dr. West: No. It’s a brand-new technology. It’s so new that the first report of isolated ES cells is only a few years old.
David: What are some of the future applications that you foresee?
Dr. West: The ES cell is, as we say, “totipotent,” which literally means “total power.” These cells have the ability of becoming any cell or tissue type in the body, so the applications are endless. The Director of the
An Interview with Dr. Rick Strassman
Rick Strassman, M.D. is a medical researcher who conducted the first U.S.-government-approved-and-funded clinical research with psychedelic drugs in over twenty years. These studies, which took place between 1990 and 1995, investigated the effects of DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine), a powerful naturally-occurring hallucinogen. During the project’s five years, Dr. Strassman administered approximately four hundred doses of DMT to 60 human volunteers. This research took place at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine in Albuquerque, where he was tenured Associate Professor of Psychiatry.
Dr. Strassman holds degrees from Stanford University, where he received Department Honors in Biology and Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, where he was a member of the Davidoff Honor Society. He took his internship and general psychiatry residency at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center in Sacramento, and received the Sandoz Award for outstanding graduating resident in 1981. He spent ten years as a tenured professor at the University of New Mexico, performing clinical research investigating the function of the pineal hormone melatonin, in which his research group documented the first known role of melatonin in humans.
Dr. Strassman has published thirty peer-reviewed scientific papers and serves as a reviewer for several medical and psychiatric research journals. He has been a consultant to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Veterans’ Administration Hospitals, Social Security Administration, and other state and local agencies.
In 1984 Dr. Strassman received lay ordination in a Western Buddhist order. He co-founded, and for several years administered, a lay Buddhist meditation group associated with the same order. Dr. Strassman currently practices psychiatry in Gallup, New Mexico and is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
Dr. Strassman is also the author of the book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which is a compelling and fascinating account of his research with psychedelics. In the book he discusses how DMT may be involved in near-death experiences, alien abduction encounters, and mystical experiences. As the book unfolds, what begins as a study to explore the pharmacology and phenomenology of DMT, becomes a science fiction-like journey into an hyper-dimensional reality inhabited by intelligent alien creatures. To find out more about Dr. Strassman’s work visit his Web site: www.rickstrassman.com
I interviewed Dr. Strassman on September 28, 2004. We discussed how Buddhism helped to guide his medical research, the potential therapeutic value of psychedelic drugs, and models for understanding the DMT experience.
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David: How did you become interested in medicine, and what lead you to study psychiatry?
Rick: In college, I actually didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I began as a chemistry major, because of my keen interest in fireworks, which I indulged more or less safely in high school. I had hoped to start my own fireworks business. Funny, in retrospect, how I switched from an interest in “outside world” fireworks, to ones more internal.
Nobody I knew really was that encouraging about the fireworks idea, so I switched to a zoology/biology major, but didn’t think much about medical school at the time. During the summer between my 3rd and 4th year of college at Stanford, I read much of the material for the upcoming year’s classes: Early Buddhism, Sleep and Dreams, The Psychology of Consciousness, Physiological Psychology. I had an epiphany of sorts that summer, deciding I’d like to combine my interest in psychedelics with Eastern religions, psychoanalytic theory and practice–all in a sort of unified theory of consciousness, that related to integrating what I saw as a biological basis for spiritual experience (the pineal, endogenous DMT, etc), with what I believed was the most comprehensive system of psychological defenses (psychoanalysis), with what I thought was the most sophisticated view of human mental “mechanics” (Buddhism).
This was a little ambitious for my medical school applications, and I had a hard time toning it down enough to fit into the format required for those applications. And, my mentor at Stanford thought I had lost my mind, telling me to keep my mouth shut. Most medical school interviews ended badly when they asked why I wanted to go to medical school. The only ones I got into were those where the interviews were short, and I didn’t have a chance to launch into my reasons. Right before starting medical school, I was offered a research position in an outstanding physiological psychology laboratory at Stanford with Karl Pribram; and arranged to delay entrance into medical school for a year. However, when it turned out there was no funding for the research position, I decided to start medical school on schedule.
I maintained this idealistic (somewhat manic) view during my first year of medical school, and was sorely disappointed. I got depressed, dropped out, ended up at the Zen monastery with which I was ultimately to have a 20+ year relationship. There, at the monastery, I learned to get back to basics, and returned to medical school, got into my own psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and put the whole psychedelic research idea on the back burner.
When it came time to decide what specialty to pursue, I chose psychiatry for several reasons: the hours were good, I liked the patients, I liked the reading material, I liked other psychiatrists, I admired my psychiatrist who had helped me a lot. Last but not least, I thought if ever I were to do psychedelic research, psychiatry would be the field in which to do it.
David: What inspired your interest in altered states of consciousness in general, and what lead you to study the effects of DMT and psilocybin?
Rick: I was very curious about how similar were states of consciousness brought on by psychedelics, and those described by mystics and seasoned meditators throughout the ages, across all cultures, as well as descriptions by those having the recently “discovered” near-death experiences. Later, I saw some of the overlap between psychedelic consciousness and psychosis. And, against my better judgment, I began seeing some overlap between the “abduction” experience and the psychedelic one, at least with respect to those of our DMT volunteers.
Once I was finally positioned to begin psychedelic research, almost 20 years after the original epiphany, DMT was a natural choice to begin such research anew. It had been used in humans in previously published research, was endogenous (that is, naturally produced) which made it a great candidate for eliciting “spontaneous psychedelic experience,” it was short-acting (which I knew would be helpful on an aversive research unit), and was relatively obscure (thus less likely to draw the sort of attention that an LSD study might).
Psilocybin is chemically very similar to DMT, but is orally active, and longer-acting. I thought it might produce a more easily studied and managed state, both for phenomenological research, as well as for therapeutic work, than did DMT, which was so mind-shatteringly short-acting.
David: How has your interest in Buddhism helped to guide your medical research?
Rick: I was first drawn to Buddhism because of its unabashed manner of describing rather exotic and lofty states of consciousness in a relatively objective manner. The techniques and concepts of the mind, as defined and affected by meditation, appealed to me-it seemed that even the most outrageous states of consciousness could be held, described, even “objectified.” Particularly, the Buddhist Abhidharma (the canon of psychology in Buddhism) approach to mind as a composite of a small number of mental functions, appealed to me as a facile means of developing a rating scale, a tool, for measuring the states of consciousness I anticipated finding in our psychedelic research.
This rating scale has been a legacy of the DMT research, and has been translated into several languages, used to measure effects of several different drugs, and has held up well in comparison to some of the other more traditional ways of measuring drug effects.
Later on, when I actually started practicing Zen meditation, I found it very grounding and powerful, and the state of active passivity, so to speak, or alert quietness, was useful as a means of holding the DMT sessions themselves, on my end. I also saw that some of the principles I had learned about meditation, and from teaching it, were useful in coaching the volunteers on how to deal with the things they encountered, or might encounter, during their sessions.
David: One of the most fascinating things about DMT is that it is found naturally in the brain. What function do you think endogenous DMT plays in the human brain?
Rick: I think it plays several roles. It may help mediate some of the more profound mental experiences people undergo: near-death, mystical states, psychosis. This was one of my hypotheses beginning the research: that endogenous DMT mediated these states of consciousness. Thus, if by giving exogenous DMT, we saw features found in those states, that would support our theory that elevated levels of endogenous DMT were involved.
Also, the brain brings endogenous DMT into its confines, across the blood brain barrier, using energy; something that it does for very few compounds, such as glucose, certain amino acids. Thus, it seems as if endogenous
Challenging the Viral Theory of AIDS:
By David Jay Brown
Peter Duesberg, Ph.D. is a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley. He is a pioneer in retrovirus research, and he was the first scientist to isolate a cancer gene. More recently, Dr. Duesberg has gained recognition for his theory that abnormal chromosome numbers are the causes of cancer, which challenges the conventional mutation theory. However, he is probably best known for challenging the widely-held theory that HIV is the cause of AIDS.
Dr. Duesberg earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Frankfurt in Germany in 1963. He isolated the first cancer gene through his work on retroviruses in 1970, and he mapped the genetic structure of these viruses. This, and his subsequent work in the same field, resulted in his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986. He was also the recipient of a seven-year Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Institutes of Health, before he called the HIV-AIDS hypothesis into question.
Dr. Duesberg is the author of Inventing the AIDS Virus, and his articles challenging the HIV/AIDS hypothesis have appeared in scientific journals worldwide including The New England Journal of Medicine, Science, Cancer Research, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Nature. On the basis of his experience with retroviruses, Dr. Duesberg concludes that it is impossible for HIV to be the cause of AIDS, and that AIDS is, in fact, a nonviral disease. He has instead proposed the hypothesis that the various American and European AIDS diseases are brought on by the long-term consumption of amyl nitrites or “poppers” and other recreational drugs, and/or by the use of the extremely toxic drug AZT, which is a chain-terminator of DNA synthesis that was originally developed for chemotherapy of cancer and is now prescribed to prevent or treat AIDS.
Despite Dr. Duesberg’s impressive track record, and the fact that his ideas about about AIDS are truly compelling if one studies them carefully, he has found himself at direct odds with the medical establishment since he began talking about his controversial AIDS hypothesis. Many AIDS researchers and drug companies have reacted hostilely to Dr. Duesberg’s hypothesis. For example, when I interviewed neuroscientist and AIDS researcher Candace Pert from Georgetown University, and I asked her what she thought about the scientists that don’t think that the HIV virus is responsible for causing AIDS, she replied, “These people are nuts.”
However, some other scientists think differently and strongly respect Dr. Duesberg’s ideas–including Nobel laureates in chemistry Kary Mullis and Walter Gilbert. Duesberg, Mullis, and Gilbert all point out that there is no direct experimental evidence that HIV causes AIDS, and that there are numerous problems with the HIV-AIDS theory. For example, not everyone infected with HIV gets AIDS, and not everyone with AIDS symptoms is infected with HIV. In fact, the symptoms of AIDS vary from continent to continent, and a medical diagnosis of AIDS is often made simply by testing positive for HIV antibodies in the presence of a disease such as tuberculoses or cancer. However, instead of engaging in scientific debate, according to Dr. Duesberg, the only response from the scientific establishment has been to cut off funding to further test his hypothesis.
To find out more about Dr. Duesberg’s work, see Harvey Bialy’s biography Oncogenes Aneuploidy and AIDS: The Scientific Life & Times of Peter H. Duesberg (North Atlantic books, Berkeley CA, 2004), or visit Dr. Duesberg’s Web site at:www.duesberg.com.
I interviewed Dr. Duesberg in December of 2005. We spoke about why he thinks that it’s a mistake to assume that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS, why so many researchers are resistant to examining the idea that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS, and what he thinks the real cause of AIDS might be.
David: What originally inspired your interest in molecular biology?
Peter: The idea that there are cancer viruses, and thus ways to understand cancer and perhaps prevent or cure it by vaccines, inspired me forty years ago. I was young enough to ignore or better not even know objections.
David: If you could just briefly summarize–what are some of the primary reasons why you think that it’s a mistake to assume that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS?
Peter: Here are four out of many more “primary reasons”:
First, AIDS is not infectious. For example, between 1981 and 2004, 930,000 American AIDS patients had been treated by doctors or health care workers. But, despite the absence of an anti-AIDS vaccine, there is not a single case report in the peer-reviewed literature of a doctor or health care worker, who has ever contracted AIDS (rather than just HIV) from any one of these 930,000 patients in now twenty-five years. Likewise, not one of the thousands of HIV-AIDS researchers has ever contracted AIDS from HIV, nor is there an AIDS epidemic among prostitutes anywhere in the world.
Second, like all other viruses, HIV induces anti-viral immunity, which is the basis of the HIV/AIDS test. But, unlike any conventional viral epidemic or individual disease, AIDS is not self-limiting by anti-viral immunity and thus not likely to be caused by a virus.
Third, unlike all other viral epidemics, AIDS in the U.S. and Europe is highly nonrandom: A third of all patients are intravenous drug users and about two-thirds are male homosexuals, who have used nitrite inhalants, amphetamines, cocaine and other aphrodisiac and psychoactive drugs for years before they develop any one or more of the twenty-six different AIDS-defining diseases. In addition, most HIV-antibody-positive people are now prescribed inevitably toxic DNA chain-terminators as anti-HIV drugs. But these terminators are AIDS by prescription, because they were designed to kill cells (for chemotherapy) and are thus also immunotoxic. Thus the AIDS epidemic does not spread randomly like a conventional viral epidemic and coincides with toxic drug use.
Fourth, there is no HIV in AIDS patients. Instead, only antibody against HIV or traces of HIV nucleic acid can be found in typical AIDS patients. But, conventional pathogenic viruses are abundant and not (yet) neutralized by antibodies when they cause diseases.
David: Can you talk a little about why you think that recreational drug use is the primary cause of AIDS among gay men?
Peter: There is both correlative and functional evidence in the AIDS literature that nitrite inhalants coincide with Kaposi sarcoma and other AIDS diseases among homosexual users, and that nitrites are cytotoxic, immunotoxic and Kaposi-sarcomagenic. It is also known for decades that the long-term use of amphetamines and cocaine cause weight loss, immunodeficiency, dementia and other AIDS-defining diseases. It is the long-term use of such recreational drugs alone or in combination with anti-HIV drugs that American and European AIDS patients have in common.
By contrast, millions of HIV-antibody-positive people from without these risk groups are AIDS-free. For example, one million HIV-positives live in the US since 1985, but only about 30,000 of those (three percent) have any one of the twenty-six AIDS-diseases per year–namely exactly the minority of them that uses recreational and anti-HIV drugs.
David: Why do you think that there is such a high correlation between HIV and AIDS?
Peter: The correlation is a hundred percent because AIDS is defined by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and thus for the world (!), as one or more of twenty-six previously known diseases, if they occur in the presence of antibody against HIV. For example, all tuberculosis patients, who have antibodies against HIV are called AIDS patients. By contrast, HIV-free tuberculosis patients are still tuberculosis patients. Thus the hundred percent correlation is an artifact of the AIDS definition, rather than a natural coincidence.
David: When I interviewed neuroscience and AIDS researcher Candace Pert I said to her that, “A few scientists that I’ve spoken with told me that they don’t think that the HIV virus is responsible for causing AIDS.”
When I asked her what she thought about this idea she said, “…These people are nuts. The evidence is clear, and it’s the most elegant scientific story. There was a movement against HIV research, and the main champion was Peter Duesberg. There was some personal animosities against the power and the money that the early AIDS researchers got, and there’s a lot of political aspects to this. But beyond a shadow of a doubt–and I’m speaking as somebody who studies data in the lab–there is just no doubt about the fact that HIV is the cause of AIDS. There’s just so much elegant science behind it. Just let me site one little tidbit that tells you how clean the whole thing is. There’s two primary receptors that the AIDS virus uses to enter and infect cells. One of them…is called CCR-5. It turns out that a small percentage Caucasian Europeans don’t have that receptor. They have a genetic mutation where the receptor should be, and it’s missing a major
Exploring the Nonordinary Mind:
By David Jay Brown
Few people on this planet know more about nonordinary states of consciousness than Czech-American psychiatric researcher Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D. Grof is one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology, the co-developer with his wife Christina of Holotropic Breathwork therapy, and has been a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of healing, personal growth, and spiritual transformation for over fifty years. He is also one of the world’s experts on LSD psychotherapy, and has supervised more legal LSD sessions that anyone else on the planet. Grof’s near-legendary work at the Spring Grove Hospital in Maryland–treating alcoholics and terminally ill cancer patients with LSD–is some of the most important psychedelic drug research of all time.
Although initially interested in film making, Grof received his M.D. from Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1956, and he completed his Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine) from the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences in 1965; he also completed a 7-year training as a Freudian psychoanalyst. Grof became the Principal Investigator of a program exploring the therapeutic and heuristic potential of psychedelic substances at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague. In 1967, he came to the United States as Clinical and Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) in Baltimore, Maryland. He went on to become Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and Chief of Psychiatric Research at MPRC. It was during this time that Grof, Walter Pahnke, Sanford Unger, and others ran the studies at the Spring Grove Hospital in Maryland, treating alcoholics and terminally ill cancer patients with LSD. The results from these studies, which ran from 1967 to 1972, were extremely encouraging.
From 1973 through 1987, Grof was Scholar-in-Residence at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. During this time, he and his wife Christina developed Holotropic Breathwork therapy, as a non-pharmaceutical means to induce an LSD-like non-ordinary states of consciousness for self-exploration, personal growth, and therapy. They also founded the Spiritual Emergency Network (SEN), an affiliation of psychologists and psychiatrists who offer psychological help to people undergoing a psycho-spiritual crises. In fact, the Grofs coined the term “spiritual emergency to distinguish certain psychologically transformative episodes from schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis. This concept inspired the creation of a new category – Religious and Spiritual Problems – in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV). In 1987, the Grofs founded the Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT) for the training and certification of practitioners in Holotropic Breathwork, and together they have presented workshops and lectures throughout the world.
Grof was the founding president of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA), which was founded in 1977, and he is the originator of some very compelling psychological theories. Grof developed a theoretical framework for understanding LSD experiences and spiritually transformative states of consciousness that is based upon a memory of one’s experience in the womb or a trauma with the birth process. This theory postulates four “basic perinatal matrices” (BPMs), that correspond to different stages in the birth process. He also described and mapped another new large domain in the unconscious that he calls transpersonal. These concepts are discussed at length in a number of Grof’s books. Grof is the author or coauthor of over twenty books, including Realms of The Human Unconscious, LSD Psychotherapy, Beyond the Brain, The Cosmic Game, When The Impossible Happens, The Ultimate Journey, The Stormy Search for the Self, and Spiritual Emergency (the last two co-authored with Christina Grof).
Grof is currently a distinguished adjunct faculty member at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, where he teaches, and he continues to lecture throughout the world. Grof has had over 140 articles published in different scientific journals, and he served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, the Re-VISION Journal, and others. Grof received the prestigious VISION 97 award, which was granted by the Foundation of Dagmar and Vaclav Havel in Prague on October 5, 2007. For more information about Grof’s work see:www.holotropic.com and www.stanislavgrof.com.
I interviewed Grof on March 23, 2007. I found Stan to be unusually elegant with words his ideas were simply mesmerizing. We spoke about psychedelics and creativity, the reality of encounters with otherworldly beings, what happens to consciousness after death, and the difference between a spiritual emergency and a psychotic episode.
David: What originally inspired your interest in psychiatric medicine?
Stan: When I was eighteen years old, I was finishing what we call “gymnasium” in Europe — the equivalent of high school in America. I love to draw and paint and my original plan was to work in animated movies. I had already had an introductory interview with the brilliant Czech artist and film-producer Jirí Trnka, and I was supposed to start working in the Barrandov film studios in Prague. But that situation change radically when a friend of mine lent me Freud’s introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis. I started reading the book that very evening and I couldn’t put it down. I read through the night and into the next day. Then, within a few days, I decided that I wanted to be a psychoanalyst and I let the animated movies go. I enrolled in the medical school and got in touch with a small group of people in Prague interested in psychoanalysis; it was led by Dr. Theodor Dosu?kov, the only psychoanalyst who had survived the Second World War in Czechoslovakia. Most of the psychoanalysts were Jewish, and those who did not leave ended up in gas chambers.
David: How did you become interested in psychedelics and non-ordinary states of consciousness?
Stan: When I began my career as a psychiatrist, I was initially very excited about psychoanalysis, but then – when I tried to apply psychoanalysis in my clinical practice – I started seeing its great limitations. I was still very excited about the theory of psychoanalysis, but was increasingly disappointed with what you can do with it as a clinical tool. I was realizing that there was a very narrow indication range. You had to meet very special criteria to be considered a good candidate for psychoanalysis, and even if you met those criteria, you had to be prepared not for months, but for years. And I realized that, even after years, the results were not exactly breathtaking. I found it very difficult to understand why a system that seemed to explain everything would not offer some more effective solutions for emotional and psychosomatic disorders.
In order to become a psychoanalyst one had to first study medicine. In medicine, if you really understand a problem, you are usually able to do something quite effective about it–or if you can not, then you can at least understand the reasons for your failure. We know exactly what would have to change in relation to cancer or AIDS for us to be able to more successful in the treatment of these diseases. But in psychoanalysis I was asked to believe that we have full understanding of what’s happening in the psyche, and yet we can do so little over such a long period of time. So I found myself in a crisis, where I started to regret that I had chosen psychiatry as my profession. I was thinking back nostalgically about the animated movies, wondering if that would have been a better career choice.
At that time, I worked at the Psychiatric Department of the School of Medicine in Prague and we had just finished a large study of Mellaril, one of the early tranquilizers. This was the beginning of the “golden era of psychopharmacology.” The first tranquilizers and antidepressants were being developed and it was believed that most of the problems in psychiatry would be solved by chemistry. So we conducted a large study with Mellaril, which came from the pharmaceutical company in Switzerland called Sandoz. We had a very good working relationship with Sandoz, which meant the usual fringe benefits that psychiatrists get from pharmaceutical companies: compensation for the trips to conferences where one reports about their preparations, supply of relevant literature, and free samples of various new preparations that they produce.
As part of this exchange, the psychiatric department where I worked received a large box full of ampoules of LSD. It came with a letter which said this was a new investigational substance that had been discovered in the laboratories of Sandoz by Dr. Albert Hofmann, who happened to intoxicate himself accidentally when he was synthesizing it. The letter described how the son of Albert Hofmann’s boss, Zurich psychiatrist Werner Stoll, conducted an early pilot study with a group of psychiatric patients and group of “normal” volunteers. He came to the conclusion that LSD could have some very interesting uses in psychiatry or psychology. So Sandoz was now sending samples of LSD to different universities, research institutes, and individual therapists asking for feedback if there was a legitimate use for these substance in these disciplines. In this letter they suggested two possible uses.
One suggestion was that LSD might be used to induce an experimental psychosis. It could be administered to “ normal” volunteers and conduct all kinds of tests — psychological, biochemical, physiological, electro-physiological — before, during, and after the session. This would provide insights as to what is happening, biologically and biochemically, in the organism at the time when the mental functioning is so profoundly influenced by the substance. This could be a way of discovering what is happening in naturally occurring psychoses. The basic idea behind it was that it is possible that – under certain circumstances – the human body could produce a substance like LSD and that psychoses, particularly schizophrenia, would actually be chemical aberrations, not mental diseases. And if we could identify the chemical culprit, then we could also find another substance which would neutralize it. Such a test-tube solution for schizophrenia would, of course, be the Holy Grail of psychiatry.
So this was very exciting. The Sandoz letter also offered another little tip, which became my destiny. It suggested that this substance might also be used as a very unconventional training or educational tool for psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and students of psychology and psychiatry. The idea was that LSD would give these people a chance to spend a few hours in a world that would be very much like the world of their patients. As a result they would be able to understand them better, be able to communicate with them more effectively, and – hopefully – be more successful in treating them. So this was something that I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world. I was in a deep professional crisis, feeling very disappointed with the therapeutic means we had at our disposal at the time. So I became one of the early Czech volunteers and had a profound experience that radically changed my life and sent me professionally and personally to a whole other direction.
David: How can LSD psychotherapy be helpful in overcoming traumatic life experiences, alcoholism, or facing a terminal illness?
Stan: We have done studies in all those areas. Psychedelic therapy revealed a wide array of previously unknown therapeutic mechanisms, but the most profound positive changes happened in connection with mystical experiences. We were very impressed with what you could do with very difficult conditions, like chronic alcoholism and narcotic drug abuse. But the most interesting and the most moving study that we did at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center was the one that involved terminal cancer patients. We found out that if these patients had powerful experiences of psychospiritual death/rebirth and cosmic unity, it profoundly changed their emotional condition and it took away the fear of death. It made it possible for them to spend the rest of their lives living one day at a time. We also found out that in many patients LSD had very profound effect on pain, even pain that didn’t respond to narcotics.
David: Why do you think that holotropic states of consciousness have so much healing potential and do you think that psychedelics can enhance the placebo effect?
Stan: What do you mean by “the placebo effect” in connection with psychedelics?
David: The placebo effect demonstrates the power of the mind over the body. We know that placebos–or biologically inactive substances–can have a measurable healing effect simply because people believe in their power. Do you think that part of the healing potential of psychedelics comes from enhancing what we call the placebo effect in medicine?
Stan: Well, when you call something a placebo, you assume that there is no real biochemical effect.
David: I don’t mean placebos, I mean what’s been called “the placebo effect,” which one can measure. The whole reason that we use placebos in medical studies, when we’re testing a new drug, is because of the “placebo effect”–because our beliefs have the power to influence our wellbeing in measurable ways. We know that just believing that something will have an effect can create a measurable effect and neuroscientist Candace Pert’s research showed that positive emotions can effect the immune system and neuropeptide levels. Do you think that what psychedelics are actually doing, when they assist with healing, is enhancing that power of the mind to effect the body’s own natural healing system?
Stan: Well, I never thought about psychedelics as enhancing the placebo effect, because their psychological effects are so obvious and dramatic; one of the major problems we had in psychedelic research was actually to find a believable placebo for them. But I guess if you put it the way that you put it, you could see it as enhancing the placebo effect–because it certainly enhances the power of the mind over the emotional psychosomatic processes.
David: Can you talk a little about the relationship between certain psychological conflicts and the development of certain cancers, which you witnessed as a result of some psychedelic sessions that you ran?
Stan: We have never really systematically studied this. What I have written in the book The Ultimate Journey are mostly anecdotal reports of the insights that came from the patients themselves. For example, sometimes patients had the feeling that their cancer had something to do with their self-destructive tendencies, or that it had something to do with an energetic blockage that occurred in a certain part of their body as a result of traumatic experiences. Sometimes they actually made attempts during their sessions to find psychological ways to heal their cancer, but we never studied this systematically to the point that I could make any definitive statements about it.
Carl Simonton made a large study where he tried to demonstrate participation of emotional factors in the etiology of cancer. One finding was particularly interesting and constant – a pattern of serious loss eighteen months prior to the diagnosis of cancer. But I think that those cases are all really anecdotal, and I don’t think anybody has really shown this beyond any reasonable doubt.
One thing that I would like to add is that – because of my medical background – I used to doubt that cancer could have something to do with emotions. This was at a time when it seemed that the key problem in the genesis of cancer was what transforms a cell into a cancer cell. This changed radically when new research showed that the human body produces cancer cells all the time. So the problem is not what makes a cell a cancer cell, but what causes the immune system to fail destroying them. And it is certainly possible to imagine that psychological factors could cause a breakdown of the immune system, either generally or in certain specific parts of the body.
David: What kind of an effect do you think that psychedelics have on creativity and problem-solving abilities?
Stan: Oh, a tremendous effect. We have extensive evidence in that regard. In the 1960s, James Fadiman, Robert McKim, Willis Harman, Myron Stolaroff, and Robert Mogar conducted a pilot study of the effects of psychedelics on the creative process, using administration of mescaline to enhance inspiration and problem-solving in a group of highly talented individuals. In 1993, molecular biologist and DNA chemist Kary Mullis received a Nobel Prize for his development of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) that allows the amplification of specific DNA sequences; it is a central technique in biochemistry and molecular biology. During a symposium in Basel celebrating Albert Hofmann’s 100th anniversary, Albert revealed that he was told by Kary Mullis that LSD had helped him develop the Polymerase Chain Reaction. Francis Crick, the Nobel-Prize-winning father of modern genetics, was under the influence of LSD when he discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. He told a fellow scientist that he often used small doses of LSD to boost his power of thought. He said it was LSD that helped him to unravel the structure of DNA, the discovery that won him the Nobel Prize.
In his book “What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry,” John Markoff described the history of the personal computer. He showed that there is a direct connection between the psychedelic use in the American counterculture of the 1950s and 1960s and the development of the computer industry. Steve Jobs said taking LSD was among the two or three most important things he had done in his life.” He has stated that people around him, who did not share his countercultural roots, could not fully relate to his thinking.
Willis Harman collected in his book Higher Creativity many examples of high-level problem-solving in non-ordinary states of consciousness. I think that studying the effect on creativity is by far the most interesting area where psychedelics could be used. Offer them to people who are experts in certain areas, such as cosmology, quantum-relativistic physics, biology, evolutionary theory, and so on – individuals who hold an enormous amount of information about a particular field and who are aware of the problems which need to be solved. Several of my friends from the Bay area who are physicists, such as Fred Alan Wolf, Jack Sarfatti, Nick Herbert, and Fritjof Capra, have had some really interesting insights into physics in non-ordinary states of consciousness. Some had spontaneous experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness and others psychedelic sessions. For example, Fred Wolf spent some time in South America doing ayahuasca.
David: Nick Herbert lives nearby and is a good friend. We’ve actually discussed the following question quite a bit. Many people report unexplained phenomena while under the influence of psychedelics, such as telepathic communication or uncanny synchronicities. What do you make of these types of experiences, which conventional science has great difficulty explaining, and seem to provide evidence for psychic phenomena?
Stan: The number of these seemingly unexplainable phenomena is growing, and it’s occurring in all kinds of disciplines. In astrophysics, you have the anthropic principle. In quantum physics you have a vast array of problems that cannot be explained, such as the Bell’s Theorem, which points to nonlocality in the universe. We can add some of the dilemmas that Rupert Sheldrake points out in biology, when he talks about the need to think in terms of morphogenetic fields and so on. Ervin Laszlo, in his book The Connectivity Hypothesis, actually looked at all these different disciplines and showed all the so-called “anomalous phenomena” that these current theories cannot explain. He also specifically discusses transpersonal psychology and all the challenging observations that cannot be explained by current theories in psychology or psychiatry. I think Ervin’s concept of the psi- or Akashic field is the most promising approach to these paradigm-breaking phenomena.
So I think that all this points to the fact that the current monistic/materialistic world view is seriously defective and that we need a completely different way of looking at reality. But there is tremendous resistance against the new observations in the academic world because the revision that is necessary is too radical, something that cannot be handled by a little patchwork, by little ad hoc hypotheses here and there. We would have to admit that the basic philosophy of the Western scientific worldview is seriously wrong and that in many ways shamans from illiterate cultures and ancient cultures have had a more adequate understanding of reality than we do. We have learned a lot about the world of matter, but in terms of basic metaphysical understanding of reality, Western science went astray.
David: What sort of lessons do you think a conventional western physician could learn from an indigenous shaman?
Stan: It would be above all the knowledge concerning the healing, transformative, and heuristic potential of non-ordinary states of consciousness. This would be especially true for shamans who are using in their practice psychedelic plants. They use these extraordinary tools that provide insights into the psyche and therapeutic possibilities that by far surpass anything available in Western psychiatry and psychotherapy. When I had my first psychedelic sessions and started working with psychedelics, I felt very apologetic toward shamans. The image of shamans that I inherited from my teachers at the university was very conceited and dismissive; it described them as primitives, riddled with superstitions and engaged in magical thinking. Our own rational approaches to the study of the human psyche, such as behaviorism or psychoanalysis, were seen as superior to anything the shamans were doing.
So, when I discovered the power of psychedelics, I saw the arrogance of this kind of attitude. The potential of the methods used by modern psychiatry did not even come close to that inherent in psychedelics or in various native “technologies of the sacred,” which induce non-ordinary states by non-pharmacological means. Then I began understanding what had happened historically. Three hundred years ago, the Industrial and Scientific Revolution brought some important scientific discoveries, which spawned technological inventions that started radically changing our world. This led to glorification of rationality and intoxication with the power of reason. For example, during the French Revolution the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was declared the Temple of Reason. In its juvenile hubris, the Cult of Reason rejected without discrimination everything that was not rational as embarrassing leftovers from the infancy of humanity and from the Dark Ages. The overzealous reformers did not realize that not everything that is not rational is irrational; there exist phenomena which are transrational. The mystics are not irrational; they can be perfectly rational in everyday situations, but as a result of their experiences they also transcend the realm of the rational. We are now slowly realizing that in this historical process, the baby was thrown out with the bath water and are learning to make the distinction between the irrational and transrational.
David: What are your thoughts on the extraterrestrial encounters that many people report on high-dose psychedelics and do you think that the beings encountered on high-dose psychedelic experiences–such as DMT or ayahuasca–actually have an independent existence?
Stan: I have seen those experiences frequently. We have seen them in psychedelic sessions, in holotropic breathwork, and in some spiritual emergencies. I have spent a lot of time with my close friend John Mack, who conducted at Harvard extensive research of the alien abduction phenomena. Did you know John?
David: I interviewed John for my book Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse.
Stan: Unfortunately he was killed by a drunken driver in London and is not with us any more. Like John, I believe that these experiences belong to the category of “anomalous phenomena,” paradigm-breaking observations for which we do not have explanations within the current conceptual frameworks. The kind of explanations that have been given by traditional researchers just are not satisfactory–that these phenomena are hallucinations, various meteorological events, new secret US spacecrafts, balloons, birds, satellites, planets and stars, or optical effects such as reflections, mirages, “sprites,” “sundogs,” and refractions caused by inversion layers in the atmosphere.
I think that these are painfully inadequate, and that there are significant aspects of the UFO abduction phenomena or even UFO sightings that simply cannot be explained within the current scientific world view. One possible explanation is that the source of these phenomena is the collective unconscious, as C. G. Jung suggested in his book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. As Bud Hopkins and others have shown, people who have the UFO experiences often report very similar things, often with great detail, even if these observations occur completely independently and there is no connection between these people. One of the most astonishing examples was a sighting in Africa, which involved a group of school children and a teacher. The interviews with these witnesses were done by John Mack and resulted in a remarkable video.
In the past, similar things were described in The Bible, in the Book of Ezekiel, and other places. Jung has shown that these sightings have been described repeatedly n certain periods of human history. The collective unconscious certainly is a reasonable source of these phenomena. If something comes from the collective unconscious then individual people can have intrapsychic access to it but, at the same time, they can receive consensual validation from other witnesses in the same way in which consensus can be reached on visions of archetypal figures or realms from different mythologies. The distinction between the subjective and objective is transcended. Jungians refer to this realm as “imaginal” to distinguish it from the “imaginary.”
When I think about the collective unconscious, I see the parallels with the world that we have created with modern electronics. As we are sitting here right now, we are immersed in an ocean of information. It’s coming from the different short wave radio stations around the world, from the television satellites, from the Internet, the i-phones, and so on on. So, if we had what it takes to access this information, we could have a vast array of experiences right here, where we are sitting, and it would not be your experiences or my experiences. We would be tapping into something that is objectively real, although under normal circumstances it is invisible. When different people tune into these programs, they can reach a consensus that they have experienced the same kind of thing. So, from this perspective, the UFOs would be phenomena that are not just intrapsychic or just objective in the usual sense, but would lie in the twilight zone in between the two.
David: Do you think that the archetypes and information that is stored in the human collective unconscious is of a genetic origin–that is, stored in our DNA–or do you see them as being more like a morphic field that permeates the biosphere and incorporates cultural as well as genetic information?
Stan: I don’t think it’s in the DNA or in the brain. I don’t think it’s in anything that we can consider to be material substrate, at least not in the ordinary sense.
David: So do you see it more like a morphic field?
Stan: Yes. The best model that we currently have is Ervin Laszlo’s concept of what he used to call a “psi field;” now he calls it the “Akashic field,” In his last two books, The Connectivity Hypothesis and Science and the Akashic Field, he describes it as a subquantum field, where everything that has ever happened in the universe remains holographically recorded, so that under certain circumstances we can tune into it, and have the corresponding experiences. For example, in non-ordinary states of consciousness, we can have experiences of scenes from ancient Egypt or the French Revolution, because there’s an objectively existing record of these events in that field, and people who tap that information can reach consensus that they experienced the same kind of things.
David: How does transpersonal psychology differ from conventional psychology, and could you talk a little about your involvement with it?
Stan: I was part of the small group that formulated the basic principles of transpersonal psychology, together with Abe Maslow, Tony Sutich, Jim Fadiman, Miles Vich, and Sonya Margulies. Transpersonal psychology was a reaction to a number of “anomalous phenomena” described by mystics of all ages, scholars of the great Eastern religions, anthropologists who had done field research with shamans and native cultures, and psychedelic researchers.
In the first half of the 20th century, psychology was dominated by two schools of thought — Freudian psychoanalysis and behaviorism. In the 1950s, there was increasing dissatisfaction with the limitations of these two systems and Abe Maslow became the main spokesman for this increasing dissent. He and Tony Sutich launched humanistic psychology, which in a very short time became very popular in professional as well as lay circles. However, within the first ten years of the existence of humanistic psychology, Abe and Tony became dissatisfied with the field they had created, because it did not include important aspects of human nature, particularly the spiritual and mystical dimensions, creativity, meditation states, ecstatic experiences, and so on. When I met them, they were working on yet another new branch of psychology, which would incorporate the elements that humanistic psychology was lacking.
They originally wanted to call this new psychology “transhumanistic,” going beyond humanistic psychology. I brought into this group the data from ten years of my psychedelic research in Prague and a vastly extended cartography of the psyche that had emerged from this work. Part of this cartography was a category of experiences that I called “transpersonal,” meaning transcending the limits of our personal identity, of the body-ego. Abe and Tony liked this term very much and they decided to change their original term “transhumanistic psychology” to “transpersonal psychology.”
The best way of describing transpersonal psychology would be to say that it studies the entire spectrum of human experience, including what I call “holotropic” experiences. This includes the experiences of shamans and their clients, of initiates in the rites of passage, in healing ceremonies, and other native rituals, of the initiates in the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, of the yogis, Buddhists, Taoists, Christian mystics, Kabbalists, and so on. Transpersonal psychology includes all of these experiences.
David: What’s the difference between a spiritual emergency and a psychotic episode?
Stan: After we had had extensive experience working with psychedelic therapy and with the Holotropic Breathwork, it became increasingly difficult to see many of the spontaneously occurring episodes of non-ordinary (holotropic) states as being pathological. They included the same elements as the psychedelic sessions and the sessions of Holotropic Breathwork – experiences of psychospiritual death and rebirth, past life experiences, archetypal experiences, and so on. And if they were properly understood and supported, they were actually healing and often led to a positive personality transformation.
So it became increasingly difficult to see as pathological experiences, which a sample of “normal” people in our workshops and training would have after forty-five minutes of faster breathing. Moreover, if these experiences could be healing and transformative when they are induced by faster breathing and music, or by miniscule dosages of LSD, why should they be considered pathological when they occur without any known causes? So we coined for these spontaneously occurring episodes the term “spiritual emergencies.” It is actually a play on words, because it shows the potential positive value of these experiences. They certainly are a nuisance in people’s lives and can produce a crisis, an “emergency,” but – if correctly understood and properly supported – they can also help these individuals to “emerge” to a whole other level of consciousness and of functioning.
Now, the question that you ask — the question concerning “differential diagnosis” — is difficult to answer for the following reasons: The concept of differential diagnosis comes from medicine, where it is possible to accurately diagnose diseases on the basis of what you find in the blood, in the urine, in the cerebral spinal fluid, on the X-rays, an so on. You can accurately establish the diagnosis, and if you make a mistake, another doctor can show you that you made a wrong diagnosis and – as a result – prescribed the wrong treatment. In psychiatry, this is possible only for those conditions that have an organic cause. There is a group of psychotic states, where this is the case – the so called “organic psychoses.” However, there exists a large group of conditions diagnosed as psychoses for which no biological causes have been found. These are called “functional” or “endogenous psychoses.”
Anybody familiar with medicine knows that this essentially means admission of ignorance wrapped in a fancy title (endogenous means “generated from within”). This is not a medical diagnosis backed by laboratory data. It is a situation characterized by unusual experiences and behaviors for which the current conceptual framework of psychiatry has no explanation. To make a differential diagnosis, we would first have to have a diagnosis established as rigorously as it is done in somatic medicine. Because that is not the case, we have to use a different approach. We can try to identify the criteria that would make the person experiencing a non-ordinary state of consciousness a good candidate for deep inner work. If they meet these criteria, we try to work with them psychologically to help them get through this experience, rather than indiscriminately suppressing their symptoms with psychopharmacological agents.
The first criterion there is the phenomenology of the individual’s condition. A positive indication is presence of elements that we see daily in participants in Holotropic Breathwork sessions or psychedelic sessions – reliving of traumatic memories from infancy or childhood, reliving of biological birth or episodes of prenatal existence, the experience of psychospiritual death and rebirth, past life experiences, visions of archetypal beings or visits to archetypal realms. Additional positive indications are experiences of oneness with other people, with nature, with the universe, with God.
The second important criterion is the person’s attitude. The individual in spiritual crisis has to have some sense of understanding that this is a process with which is happening internally. Very bad candidates for alternative psychological work are people who use a lot of projections, who deny that they have a problem and that they are dealing with an internal process. They are convinced that all their problems are caused by outside forces: it is the neighbor who is poisoning their soup and placing bugging devices in their house; it is the Ku Klux Klan trying to destroy them; it is a mad scientist attacking them by a diabolic machine, or the invading Martians. So there is a tendency to blame that condition on somebody or something outside of them and being unwilling to accept the possibility that there is something within their own psyche that they can work on. So, unless that attitude changes, it is very difficult to do this type of work.
David: Why do you think that the conditions surrounding one’s birth have such a lasting effect on one’s outlook toward life?
Stan: Birth is an extremely powerful, elemental event that for many children is a matter of life and death. This is especially true for those who were born severely asphyxiated – dead or half-dead – and had to be resuscitated. In any case, it is a major trauma that has a physical as well as an emotional dimension. The position of current psychiatry and psychology toward birth is unbelievable – contrary to elementary logic, we see a massive denial of the fact that birth is a major psychotrauma. The usual reason given for the fact that birth is psychologically irrelevant – inadequate myelinization of the newborn’s cortex – is hard to take seriously. It is in sharp contrast with data from both postnatal and prenatal life.
There exists general agreement among child psychiatrists that the experience of nursing is of paramount importance for the rest of the individual’s emotional life. Obstetricians and pediatricians even talk about the importance of “bonding” – the exchange of looks between the mother and the child immediately after the child is born – as the foundation of the future mother-child relationship. And extensive prenatal research of people like Alfred Tomatis has shown extreme sensitivity of the fetus already in the prenatal period. How should we reconcile this with the belief that the hours of life and death struggle in the birth canal are psychologically irrelevant?
It seems really bizarre that psychiatrists and psychologists believe that there is no consciousness in the child during the passage through the birth canal, but then suddenly appears as soon as the newborn emerges into the world. And the argument about the lack of myelinization of the newborn’s cortex violates elementary logic and doesn’t make any sense either. We know from biology that memory does not require a cerebral cortex, let alone a myelinized one. There are organisms that don’t have any cortex at all and they certainly can form memories. Several years ago, the Nobel Prize was given to Austrian-American researcher Eric Kandel for studying memory mechanisms in a sea slug called Aplysia. So it’s very difficult to imagine how people in the academic circle think, if they can accept that the sea slug can form memories but a newborn child, with an extremely highly developed nervous system and brain, would not be able to create a memory record of the hours spent in the birth canal.
David: What do you think of applying Konrad Lorenz’s notion of biological imprinting–as opposed to conditioning or learning–to the lasting psychological effect that psychedelic experiences often produce?
Stan: The term “imprinting” is most relevant here in relation to the very early situations in an organism’s development. As you know, ethologists have shown that the early experiences of life are extremely influential. For example, there is a period of about sixteen hours in the early life of ducklings when whatever moves around becomes for them the mother. So if you walk around in red rubber shoes, they ignore their mother and follow the shoes. Psychedelics can induce deep age regression to the early periods in one’s life and offer the opportunity for a corrective psychobiological experience. This new experience then seems to have the same powerful influence on the individual’s life as the natural imprinting.
I ultimately don’t believe that the memories we experience in psychedelic sessions are stored in the brain, certainly not all of them. I think that many of them obviously don’t have any material substrate in the conventional sense – ancestral, collective, phylogenetic, and karmic memories, archetypal matrices, etc. Recently, there has been much discussion about “memory without a material substrate” – for example, Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields or Ervin Laszlo’s Akashic field. So I don’t believe that what we experience is stored the brain. I believe that the brain is mediating consciousness, but does not generate it, and that it mediates memories, but does not store them.
David: Why do you think it is that the LSD experiences have such a lasting effect on people?
Stan: Isn’t that true about every powerful experience? The more powerful the experience is, the more of an effect it has. It is true even for experiences that we have forgotten, repressed, dissociated from consciousness. Everything that we experience in life is shaping us with a lasting effect. Some of these influences are more subtle, and some of them more dramatic, but certainly traumas that people experience in childhood can have tremendous impact. Events in human life can have everlasting impact of people.
David: What do you personally think happens to consciousness after death?
Stan: I have had experiences in my psychedelic sessions — quite a few of them – when I was sure I was in the same territory that we enter after death. In several of my sessions, I was absolutely certain that it had already happened and I was surprised when I came back, when I ended up in the situation where I took the substance. So the experience of being in a bardo in these experiences is extremely convincing. We now also have many clinical observations suggesting that consciousness can operate independently of the brain, the prime example being out-of-body experiences in near-death situations (NDEs).
Some out-of-body experiences can happen to people not only when they are in a state of cardiac death, but also when they are brain dead. Cardiologist Michael Sabom, described a patient he calls Pam, who had a major aneurysm on the basilar artery and had to undergo a risky operation. In order to operate on her, they had to basically freeze her brain to the point that she stopped producing brain waves. And, at the same time, she had one of the most powerful out-of-body experiences ever observed, with accurate perception of the environment; following her operation, she was able to give an accurate description of the operation and to draw the instruments they were using.
So what these observations suggest is that consciousness can operate independently of our body when we are alive, which makes it fairly plausible that something like that is possible after our body is dead. So both the experiential evidence from my own sessions and what you find in the thanatological literature, certainly suggest that survival of consciousness after death is a very real possibility.
David: What is your perspective on the concept of God?
Stan: When Jung was over eighty years old he had an interview with a BBC reporter. At one point this BBC reporter asked him “Dr. Jung, do you believe in God?” A smile appeared on Jung’s face and he said, “No, I don’t.” Any Jungians who are watching this tape cannot believe it: “What? Dr. Jung doesn’t believe in God?” Then, after a dramatic pause, Jung says: “I know. I had the experience of being grabbed by something that was by far more powerful than I could even imagine.” Like Jung, I had experiences – actually quite a few of them over the years – of what I would refer to as God.
I have experienced in my sessions many gods – archetypal figures of many forms from different cultures of the world. But when I refer to God, I am talking about an experience, which is beyond any forms. What I experienced as God is difficult to describe; as you know, the mystics often refer to their experiences as ineffable. It could be best described as an incredibly powerful source of light, with an intensity that I earlier couldn’t even have imagined. But, it doesn’t really do it justice to refer to it as light because it was much more than that. It seemed to contain all of existence in a completely abstract form and it transcended all imaginable polarities. There was a sense of infinite boundless creativity. There was a sense of personality and even a sense of humor (of a cosmic variety).
The experience of God seems to be under certain circumstance available to all human beings. If you haven’t had the experience, then there’s no point in talking about it. As long as people have to talk about believing in God or not believing in God or, for that matter, believing in past lives or not believing in past lives, it is irrelevant because they do not have anything to go by. Their opinion doesn’t have any real basis; it reflects the influences of their parents, their preacher, or something they have read. Once you had the experiences, you know that the experiences were real and very convincing.
David: What types of research and therapies do you foresee for psychedelics in the future?
Stan: I think that the most interesting area waiting to be explored is to use psychedelics for enhancing creativity, as we talked about it earlier. It is something that would facilitate completely new ways of looking at various areas and generate extraordinary new insights into the nature of reality. But I am afraid it will take some time before we see research of this kind. The most difficult challenge has always been to get permission to use psychedelics in populations where there is no serious clinical reason (e.g. terminal cancer, chronic alcoholism, etc.).
David: What are you currently working on?
Stan: Christina and I are writing a long overdue book on the theory and practice of Holotropic Breathwork. It will be a very comprehensive book, covering a wide range of topics from the history of the breathwork to the therapeutic use of breathwork sessions andits social implications. It will include the description how to prepare a session and how to run a session, as well as the complementary methods that you can use following the session. It discusses the therapeutic effects, the posibilities of developing a new worldview and new life strategies, as well as the possible importance of working with holotropic states as a means of alleviating the current global crisis.
David. Is there anything that we didn’t speak about that you would like to add?
Stan: One of the areas I am particularly interested in is the revolutionary development on various scientific disciplines and the emergence of the new paradigm. I firmly believe that we are rapidly moving toward a radically new world view and that transpersonal psychology and spirituality will be integral parts of it. A worldview that will synthesize the best of science and the best of spirituality and would demonstrate that there is really no incompatibility between science and spirituality, if both of them are properly understood. The other area that I am very deeply interested has to do with the phenomenal digital special effects, which are now available in the movie industry.
David: Are you still interested in making animated films?
Stan: It is ironical, isn’t it? As I look at it, my career has not changed as much as I initially thought when I became interested in psychiatric research. Psychedelic experiences with their rich imagery are not that far from animated movies. But I am not interested any more in making animated movies; what I am interested in is the spiritual potential of these new special effects. I believe that the special effects are so powerful these days that they could not only portray mystical experience, but they could actually induce them in people if they were properly constructed. If we could combine what we know about the inner logic of these experiences with these new special effects, the results could be truly extraordinary. Unfortunately, the new special effects are being used mostly for portraying destructive movies scenes.
Hollywood movies portray with formidable power scenes reflecting what I call BPM III – the violent and sexual imagery associated typically with the final stages of birth. The destructive scenes are so boringly stereotypical that they are almost exchangeable from movie to movie; only the danger takes different forms – alien invaders, natural disasters, dinosaurs or other monsters, demonic beings, and all kinds of dangerous villains threatening to destroy the planet. Most of these movies end up in a situation where the enemy is overcome and people celebrate the victory on a trashed, devastated planet. What is missing is the shift to BPM IV, lifting the experience to the transcendental level, to spiritual death/rebirth experience. I don’t know if you know that Christina and I were consultants on the movie called Brainstorm, which was an attempt to portray a transcendental experience.
David: I had read that, and found that very interesting, as Brainstorm is one of my favorite films. I thought that there were a lot of fascinating ideas in it.
Stan: That was an effort to bring to the screen the transcendental aspects of the death experience. Unfortunately, the special effects were very compromised, because of the tragic death of Natalie would shortly before the movie was finished. MGM didn’t want to put any more money into the movie; they believed that it was not viable, because there were three scenes of principal photography with Natalie that were still missing. Doug Trumbull convinced the MGM people that he could finish the movie. He did his best to put it together, but it didn’t really come out very well. If you watch the movie, it is not only the lack of the special effects, but there is a kind of a logical gap; you can tell that there is something missing. But I think that the topic of the movie is so interesting that it deserves a remake, as they are remaking all kinds of other movies. I think that this is one that deserves to be remade and done really well.
By David Jay Brown
Hans Moravec is one of the world’s leading experts in robotics. He is a Research Professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where he founded the Mobile Robot Laboratory, and directs the world’s largest robotics research program.
Dr. Moravec is the author of two of the most popular books on the subject of robots, and the implications of evolving robot intelligence, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (Harvard University Press, 1988) andRobot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (Oxford University Press, 1998), which renown science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke described as “the most awesome work of controlled imagination I have ever encountered.” Dr. Moravec has also published many papers and articles about robotics, computer graphics, multiprocessors, space travel and other speculative areas.
Dr. Moravec has been interested in robots and “thinking machines” since he was a child in the 1950s. He built his first robot out of tin cans, batteries, lights and a motor, at the age of ten. In high school he won two science fair prizes for a light-following electronic turtle and a tape-controlled robot hand. In college he designed a computer to control more sophisticated robots. For his master’s degree Moravec built a small robot with whiskers and photoelectric eyes controlled by a minicomputer. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1980 for a TV-equipped robot, remote controlled by a large computer, that negotiated cluttered obstacle courses, taking about five hours.
Since 1980 Dr. Moravec’s Mobile Robot Lab at Carnegie Mellon University has discovered more effective approaches for robot spatial representation–notably 3D occupancy grids, that, with newly available computer power, promise commercial free-ranging mobile robots within a decade. In 2003 he co-founded SEEGRID Corporation to undertake this commercialization. To find out more about Dr. Moravec’s work visit his Web site:www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/
Dr. Moravec predicts that by the middle of the 21st century extremely powerful robots will be built with superhuman intelligence. He envisions robot physicians in the future that will be able to repair virtually any type of damage to the human body. These “fractal branching, ultra-dexterous bush robots” would be composed of “a branched hierarchy of articulated limbs, starting from a macroscopically large trunk through successively smaller and more numerous branches, ultimately to microscopic twigs and nanoscale fingers.” Dr. Moravec suggests that “even the most complicated procedures could be completed by a trillion-fingered robot, able, if necessary, to simultaneously work on almost every cell of a human body.” He also imagines that one day we may be able to transplant our brains into powerful robot bodies, or transfer the contents of our minds into extremely sophisticated computers.
I spoke with Hans on March 13, 1999, and again on April 12, 2004. Hans possesses that rare whole-brain synergy that comes when technical expertise is coupled with an expansive imagination. He seems to genuinely love speculating about consciousness and robotics, and he laughs a lot. I spoke with Hans about the current state of robotics, artificial intelligence and the nature of consciousness, the possibility of multiple universes, and how robots might evolve in the next century.
David: How did you get interested in robotics?
Hans: That’s life long. When I was four years old my father helped me build a dancing man. I had this mechanical construction kit, made of hard wood, pegs and pulley wheels. And there was a device that especially caught my attention. You turned the crank, and a central wheel inside of a box turned another wheel at right angles. That moved up and down, and turned round and round.