Introduction – Mavericks of Medicine
pain-killing endorphins in their brains and experienced less pain.
A relatively recent branch of medicine known as mind-body medicine addresses this fascinating and important topic of how the mind influences the body. In this collection, I speak with Bernie Siegel, Andrew Weil, and Larry Dossey about how we might be able to use this understanding to improve our health. I also speak with psychopharmacology researchers Raphael Mechoulam and Rick Strassman about the therapeutic potential of cannabis and psychedelic drugs. Many hallucinogenic plants–such as peyote and ayahausca brews–have a long history of shamanic and medicinal use in healing practices around the world, and may enhance the strength of the placebo effect (i.e., the power of the mind) because of their consciousness-changing abilities.
When I interviewed Dr. Weil he told me about how he had become completely cured of a lifelong cat allergy during an LSD session when he was twenty-eight, and that this experience had a profound influence on his medical perspective. He said that he would use psychedelics in his medical practice if they were legal. Dr. Weil said, “I think they’ve been a very profound influence. I used them a lot when I was younger. I think that they made me very much aware, first of all, of the profound influence of consciousness on health…Psychedelics can show you possibilities…I think they’re potentially tremendous teaching tools about mind-body interactions and states of consciousness.”
Perhaps even more fascinating than mind-body medicine is a transpersonal phenomenon known as “remote healing.” It seems that what we think may not only effect our own health–it may also directly effect the health of others. When I interviewed Dr. Dossey he told me about numerous controlled, double-blind studies demonstrating that “prayer” can have measurable health effects. The effects of directing positive intention have been demonstrated in dozens of controlled laboratory studies–in people, animals, and even bacteria. Dr. Dossey also told me about studies that demonstrated health benefits from engaging in religious practice, and spoke about the integration of medicine with spirituality. Reflecting on the integration of medicine with spirituality brings one to the notion that sometimes healing the essence of who we are, and reducing suffering, may mean letting go of the physical body.
The Right to Die
Just because medical technologies give us the ability to live forever doesn’t mean that we have to do so. The late psychologist Timothy Leary was one of the first people to start promoting ideas about life extension; he began doing so in the late 1970s. Attaining physical immortality, he believed was one of the “goals” of biological evolution. Dr. Leary’s enthusiasm inspired longevity researchers and helped to popularize ideas about how science would soon conquer the aging process and allow us to virtually live forever.
However, when Dr. Leary was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer at the age of 76, he said that he was “thrilled and ecstatic” to hear that he was going die. As much as Dr. Leary loved life, he not only accepted death–he embraced it. In the end, he even decided to forgo his plans for cryonic suspension. I think there is an important lesson in Dr. Leary’s dying process about the importance of facing the mystery of death with the same openness and sense of adventure that one faces life.
In other words, attaining physical immortality in a human body may not be the final stage for evolving consciousness in this universe. Numerous spiritual traditions–such as Hinduism and many forms of shamanism–assert that healing the spirit sometimes involves transcending the body and moving on to whatever is after death. However, regardless of whether or not consciousness survives death, not everyone may wish to hang around until the final collapse of the universe, and certainly people who are in chronic pain, or who are suffering greatly, should be given the option to leave if they wish.
When I asked Dr. Weil about his views on the controversial issue of euthanasia he said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for doctors to be involved in that, although I think patients should be able to discuss that issue with doctors. I think that for people with overwhelming diseases, for whom life has become really difficult, that they should have that choice, and that there should be mechanisms provided for helping them with that.”
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, on the other hand, believes that physicians should be able to perform euthanasia, and he is currently in prison for second degree murder because he assisted with the last wish of a patient who was suffering from ALS. When I interviewed Dr. Kevorkian about voluntary death I learned that, despite the U.S. government and medical establishment’s opposition to euthanasia, eighty percent of the public support a patient’s right to die and one in five physicians has admitted to practicing euthanasia at some point in their career. Why, then, is euthanasia illegal? “I think that the U.S. government, medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies are opposed to euthanasia for monetary or financial reasons,” Dr. Kevorkian said, “To help correct this situation there has to be an organized public response and outcry–which I believe is now occurring.”
While the goals of contemporary Western medicine are healing disease and treating injuries, the goals that one aspires to in the pursuit of optimal health are much larger and more encompassing. This may involve developing an immortal, nanotechnologically-
The Future of Medicine
We are living in truly astonishing times. Although our current healthcare system appears to be crumbling around us, we are simultaneously witnessing a rapidly-advancing biotechnology revolution that promises to forever change the course of human history. New possibilities are emerging everywhere we turn, and there is enormous cause for hope. When we look out onto the frontiers of medicine we see an incredible vista blossoming with possibilities that stagger the mind and border on the miraculous. New advances in medicine promise to help humanity end countless generations of suffering and deliver us into a golden age where disease and aging are merely subjects that we learn about in history class, and the boundaries of our physical capacities are limited only by our imaginations.
The following interviews shed some light on where modern medicine may be evolving. They provide a treasure-trove of practical suggestions that anyone can use to improve their health today and they offer an exciting vision of what’s to come. These mavericks of medicine provide us with bridges to awe-inspiring possibilities, and they offer us the hope that we can all live longer, healthier, and happier lives.
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