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Rick Strassman

DMT is necessary for normal brain (read perceptual) function. Something like the internally generated “Matrix.”

David: Do you think that DMT experiences can have therapeutic value? What about other psychedelics?

Rick: Intravenous DMT is so overwhelming that the most one can hope for is to hold on and try to remember as much as one can, at least for a single, isolated session. We found that people could work through things much more, though, psychologically, spiritually, when given repeated doses in the course of a morning, which we did in our attempt to develop tolerance to closely-spaced, repeated DMT injections. This is probably somewhat akin to what happens with ayahuasca, which is an orally active preparation of DMT (two plants: one contains DMT, and one contains an inhibitor of the enzyme that normally breaks DMT down in the gut), which lasts about 4-6 hours, and is much more workable.

Other psychedelics may be therapeutic to the extent that they elicit processes that are known to be useful in a therapeutic context: transference reactions and working through them; enhanced symbolism and imagery; increased suggestibility; increased contact between emotions and ideations; controlled regression, etc.

This all depends, though, on set and setting. These same properties could also be turned to very negative experiences, if the support and expectation for a beneficial experience aren’t there.

David: In your book you expressed some doubt as to whether DMT use might have any spiritual value. What are your thoughts on this now? Do you think that DMT has any entheogenic potential?

Rick: I still don’t think psychedelics, including DMT, have intrinsically good or bad values. It all depends upon how they’re used and taken. Sort of like the very trite and overused analogy of a hammer: it can be used to break things apart or build things up.

David: Do you think that there is an objective reality to the worlds visited by people when they’re under the influence of DMT, and do you think that the entities that so many people have encountered on DMT actually have an independent existence?

Rick: I myself think so. My colleagues think I’ve gone woolly-brained over this, but I think it’s as good a working hypothesis as any other. I tried all other hypotheses with our volunteers, and with myself. The “this is your brain on drugs” model; the Freudian “this is your unconscious playing out repressed wishes and fears;” the Jungian “these are archetypal images symbolizing your unmet potential;” the “this is a dream;” etc. Volunteers had powerful objections to all of these explanatory models–and they were a very sophisticated group of volunteers, with decades of psychotherapy, spiritual practice, and previous psychedelic experiences.

I tried a thought-experiment, asking myself, “What if these were real worlds, and real entities? Where would they reside, and why would they care to interact with us?” This led me to some interesting speculations about parallel universes, dark matter, etc. All because we can’t prove these ideas right now (lacking the proper technology) doesn’t mean they should be dismissed out of hand as incorrect.

David: How do you think the DMT experience is related to the near-death experience and the alien abduction experience?

Rick: I hypothesize that DMT levels rise with the stress associated with near-death experiences, and mediate some of the more “psychedelic” features of this state.

I think that, based upon what many of our volunteers experienced viz entity-contact, high levels of DMT could break down the subjective/objective membrane separating us from other levels of reality, in which perhaps some of these entities “reside.” I’ve been criticized by the abduction “community” because of the lack of “objective” evidence of “encounters” in our volunteers. E.g., stigmata, metal objects, etc. In response to these concerns, it might be worth considering a “spectrum” of encounters–from the purely material (about which I withhold all judgment), to the purely consciousness-to-consciousness “contact” experience that may usefully describe what our volunteers underwent.

David: Where there any times during your DMT research where you witnessed something that you couldn’t explain in terms of conventional science, such as a form of psychic phenomena?

Rick: I didn’t see much in the way of psychic phenomena. The reports people came back with, though, were the things I had a difficult time conceptualizing, such as the entity-contact thing.

David: Do you think that the study of psychedelics might provide us with some insight into paranormal phenomena?

Rick: I’m not sure what you mean by paranormal. And, I’m not too interested in say, psi, or clairvoyance, or telepathy. Those don’t seem necessarily a more enlightened way of viewing our lives and our society. However, the concept of consciousness existing without a body, and the implications this might have on our behavior, ethics, ecology, interpersonal relationships—these hold more interest to me.

David: How has your study of DMT effected your understanding of the nature of consciousness?

Rick: I think we’re mighty small. But, I think what we’re connected to is mighty big, and through our connection, can affect “it.

David: What kind of an influence did Terence McKenna’s explorations and ideas have on your DMT research?

Rick: He introduced me to DMT. He and I had some long conversations about how to formulate a research agenda that would both fly with the traditional scientific community, and would address our deeper questions about consciousness. He was a friend, too.

David: My friend Cliff Pickover, the popular science writer, told me that he once corresponded with you about his hypothesis that DMT in the pineal glands of Biblical prophets may have “given God to humanity, and let ordinary humans perceive parallel universes.” His idea is that if our human ancestors produced more endogenous DMT than we do today, then certain states of consciousness, or certain kinds of visions, would have been more likely. He suggests that many of the ancient Bible stories describe prophets who seem to have had DMT-like experiences. Cliff told me that you said to him, “If indeed we made more DMT in the past, this may have to do with the increase in artificial light that has come upon us in the past 1000 years or so.” Do you think this is a possibility?

Rick: Well, this relates to my theory about the pineal and DMT, which is basically that the pineal is a source of endogenous DMT production. I marshal a lot of circumstantial evidence for this, but there are no hard data yet. Nevertheless, the “stress” model of increased DMT production is established in humans and lower animals, as it is well established that brain, lung and blood all make DMT, and that in lower animals and humans, endogenous levels rise with stress.

With respect to the pineal, pineal activity increases in darkness (and during winter), and decreases in increased light (and in summer). Even relatively dim artificial light (indoors) has a suppressive effect on pineal function, and it may be that if generic pineal activity were related to DMT production, decreased activity through the aegis of increased ambient light during hours which were previously dark may have something to do with decreased normative DMT levels.

David: What kind of potential do you see for future research with psychedelics?

Rick: I don’t think organized religion can handle them, because of the threat to their turf. I also don’t think science can handle them because of the nature of what they reveal–at least mainstream science. Any mainstream scientist doing research into the true, real, hardcore
psychedelic experience is so hamstrung by political correctness, that they cannot discuss what they really have seen in their research, and what they think and feel about it.

Thus, for the next foreseeable future, psychedelics will exist in some sort of limbo, waiting for the proper discipline to be developed that can approach the experience through the relatively objective tools of the scientific method, and the context and wisdom of perennial religious teachings. In some ways, this is unfortunate, because much of this work is now going on underground, with no “peer-review” and general above-board forum for discussion, quality control, and the like, which occurs in the non-underground world.

David: What has your own personal experience with DMT been like, and how have psychedelics effected you?

Rick: I don’t answer anything about my use or non-use of psychedelics. If I say I’ve used them, people accuse me of being a drug-addled zealot. If I say I’ve never used them, people accuse me of not knowing what I’m talking about.

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Rick: I think it continues, but in some unknown form. I think a lot depends upon the nature of our consciousness during our lives–how attached to various levels of consensus reality it is. My late/former Zen teacher used to use the analogy of a light bulb, with electric current passing through it. The light bulb goes out, but the current continues, “changed” in a way, for its experience in the bulb. He also referred to “like gravitating toward like” in terms of the idea of the need for certain aspects of consciousness to develop further, before it can return to its source. That is, dog-like aspects of our consciousness end up in a dog, human-like aspects get worked through in another human, plant-like aspects into plants, and so on.

David: What is your perspective on the concept of God?

Rick: I’m working on it. Put simply, I think God is the creator and sustainer of this whole scene. And, the creator and sustainer of cause-and-effect, which for many Buddhists, is equivalent to God, but by not “believing” in God, they get to sidestep the whole issue of a beginning or an end—which I

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