The Future of Medical Ibogaine

Ibogaine is a psychedelic chemical found in the West African shrub Iboga. Bizarre in chemical structure and psychoactive properties, the drug remains mysterious to scientists and psychonauts alike. At high doses, ibogaine causes intense, unforgivingly introspective and dream-like hallucinatory experiences that can last upwards of 24 hours2. The African psychedelic might have remained nothing more than a curiosity in the West if not for the discovery of its ability to disrupt physical and psychological drug addiction4, 5. Thousands of anecdotal reports and preliminary scientific research provide evidence that a single dose of ibogaine can eliminate both withdrawal symptoms and craving in drug addicts1-7. In the United States, ibogaine remains a schedule 1 drug, and those seeking treatment must pilgrimage to countries that do not regulate it or take a chance with illegal underground treatment centers. What will it take for ibogaine to become medically available in the United States?

New drugs must undergo a rigorous vetting process to move from discovery to the legal market. To become a prescriptible medication, drugs must pass through clinical trials regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These trials consist of a pre-testing phase, four clinical phases, and regulatory checkpoints throughout. Advancing to the next phase is predicated on successful completion of the prior phase.

Before moving to clinical trials, researchers must collect extensive pre-clinical data and submit an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA. Pre-clinical studies use rodent models to determine how effective the drug is for its intended purpose and its safety.

Phase 1 is the first set of studies to determine the safety and efficacy of the drug in humans. If these studies are successful, researchers can proceed to Phase 2, which are well-controlled studies with larger populations. Phase 3 studies test safety and efficacy with different dosages of the drug in even larger populations comprised of various demographics. While the time it takes to move through all phases varies, this process can take many years. After successful Phase 3 trials, the FDA reviews the data and the researchers submit a New Drug Application (NDA). The FDA reviews the NDA and the drug’s labeling to ensure accurate and sufficient information is provided to the consumer and drug-provider. The drug production facility is also inspected by the FDA for health and quality assurance. If the drug is approved, it will be released on the market and available for prescription. Phase 4 trials occur only after the drug has been approved and is publicly available. In Phase 4, the drug manufacturer must continuously monitor the effects of the drug in patients and submit safety reports to the FDA.

For ibogaine to come to market, it must pass through each of these clinical phases of study. Remarkably, ibogaine began the process of becoming an FDA approved therapeutic medication in the early 1990’s. Pre-clinical and Phase 1 trials conducted by Dr. Deborah Mash at the University of Miami supported the anecdotal evidence that patients had significantly reduced drug withdrawal and craving following ibogaine administration. These trials ended prematurely as a result of several factors, including criticism from the pharmaceutical industry, the apparent costliness to continue, and an intellectual property lawsuit between Mash and ibogaine crusader Howard Lotsof1, 2. No clinical trials have been conducted with ibogaine since this preliminary work over 20 years ago.

Another issue facing the medical legalization of ibogaine is that it cannot simply be prescribed in pill form by a doctor. The drug must be administered in a therapeutic setting, potentially as an aid to psychotherapy, as is the case with MDMA. Pre- and post-counseling are vital to ensure proper translation and integration of the psychedelic experience, as well as addressing the underlying problems that contribute to drug abuse. Furthermore, patients must implement changes outside of the clinic to ensure successful treatment outcomes. This means getting away from the external factors that contribute to drug abuse, which can include leaving relationships with friends, family or partners, and/or moving to a new area. While legalization for medical application is important, there must also be infrastructure developed to support proper administration of the drug.

There have been cases of death associated with taking ibogaine. However, none of these cases have been a result of overdose or toxicity2. Individuals with certain heart conditions are at a higher risk of cardiovascular-related death after consuming ibogaine, and taking drugs of abuse with ibogaine may cause adverse reactions that can result in death. Rather than supporting the case against legalization, the risk of death for certain patients further evidences the necessity of legalization: unlike some clandestine ibogaine sources, regulated treatment centers would have the resources to screen patients for comorbidities (reasons not to ingest the drug) prior to ibogaine administration.

Ibogaine has many hurdles to overcome in order to reach the legal market, but pharmacologist Stanley Glick at Albany Medical College and chemist Martin Kuehne at the University of Vermont developed a drug that could reach consumers much faster: 18-Methoxycoronairidine (18-MC). 18-MC is a derivative of ibogaine intended to produce the same anti-addictive properties without the negative side-effects or psychoactive experience. Some ibogaine advocates contend that the psychoactive experience of ibogaine is equally important for attenuating addiction as the physiological effects. But 18-MC’s lack of psychoactivity will likely be more palatable to consumers, and to the FDA.   

The process for making 18-MC medically available is already underway. In 2014, a company called Savant HWP began pre-clinical and Phase 1 trials with 18-MC funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These trials were successful, and Phase 2 trials are set to begin this year. If clinical trials continue to be successful, 18-MC could be an FDA approved treatment for addiction within the next decade.

18-MC becoming available to patients would be a massive step towards ending the opioid crisis, but ibogaine remains full of unexplored potential. While the legal status of ibogaine in the US makes research a significant challenge, countries in which ibogaine is unregulated provide the opportunity to study its use in legal clinics. In 2017, the Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) sponsored two studies investigating the efficacy of ibogaine in Mexico and New Zealand3, 7. With abundant data available for legal collection across multiple fields of study, scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface of ibogaine research. Those interested in studying ibogaine should not be discouraged by the barriers in the United States and should look abroad for more opportunities. For more information about how to get involved in ibogaine and other psychedelic research as a scientist, you can read our post here.

Not a scientist? You can still get involved! The simplest action you can take is to call and write your state and federal legislators. Explain how ibogaine’s legal status is hindering the scientific investigation and preventing sufferers of addiction from receiving effective treatment. During voting season, research how the candidates feel about illegal drugs and vote accordingly. You can also donate money to MAPS and other legitimate research organizations to support the scientists who are currently studying ibogaine.

If you are interested in learning more about ibogaine or 18-MC, you can visit the following links:


  1. Alper, (2001). Ibogaine: a review.
  2. Alper, Stajić, & Gill, (2012). Fatalities Temporally Associated with the Ingestion of Ibogaine. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 57(2), 398-412.
  3. Brown, & Alper, (2017). Treatment of opioid use disorder with ibogaine: detoxification and drug use outcomes, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
  4. Cappendijk, & Dzoljic. (1993). Inhibitory effects of ibogaine on cocaine self-administration in rats. European Journal of Pharmacology, 241(2), 261-265.
  5. Glick, Kuehne, Raucci, Wilson, Larson, Keller, & Carlson. (1994). Effects of iboga alkaloids on morphine and cocaine self-administration in rats: Relationship to tremorigenic effects and to effects on dopamine release in nucleus accumbens and striatum. Brain Research, 657(1), 14-22.
  6. Mash, Ameer, Prou, Howes, & Maillet, (2016). Oral noribogaine shows high brain uptake and anti-withdrawal effects not associated with place preference in rodents. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(7), 688-697.
  7. Noller, Frampton, & Yazar-Klosinski, (2017). Ibogaine treatment outcomes for opioid dependence from a twelve-month follow-up observational study, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Further reading





Psychedelic Integration: The Importance of Community and a Daily Practice

Elizabeth Gibson Integration

This interview was transcribed from our Navigating Psychedelics: Lessons on Self-Care & Integration master class with Elizabeth Gibson of Dreamshadow Transpersonal Breathwork. In this interview, Elizabeth shares her insights of integrating exceptional experiences from facilitating and working with Holotropic Breathwork for over 25 years. Elizabeth has a great wealth of knowledge about the integration process and we are honored to present her insights.


Kyle Buller: Welcome to the Psychedelics Today exclusive interview for the Self Care and Integration course. Today we are here with Elizabeth Gibson of DreamShadow Transpersonal Breathwork to talk about integration and breathwork. Thank you for joining us today, Elizabeth. It’s great to have you on.

Elizabeth Gibson: Thanks for having me, I’m happy to be here.

Kyle: So, let’s dig in, what does integration mean to you?

Elizabeth: Well, it’s a big topic and a really important topic to me. To me, integration is one of the most important aspects of work with extraordinary experiences. How do you take material that’s come up for you and bring it into your everyday life? That’s where the real benefit of this work comes from. I think it’s a topic that’s often overlooked.

So, how do people go back out into the world and realize the benefits of the intense inner work that they’ve done? That’s what it’s about to me. It’s about how people figure out how to do that and supporting them in that process.

Kyle: To backtrack a little bit, you have been facilitating breathwork for almost 20 years at this point? [25 years as of 2019].

And then you also were part of some MDMA therapy back in the 80s, right? When it was legal? So, you’ve been in this work for a while — working with people with non-ordinary states and doing integration work.

Elizabeth: Trying to, yeah.

Joe: What are some of the most important thing you see people maybe not do adequately to try to integrate?

Elizabeth: Well, I think the basic principle that we always remind people of when they are leaving a workshop or leaving a session that has involved an intense experience of any kind is the ongoing nature of the process. So, a lot of people who are, especially people who are new to this work, tend to think it’s all about the session.

The session, of course, is extremely important, but the process continues after the session is over. The intense emotions or material that has begun to come up during the session, if it’s a very organic process, can continue in the days and weeks after the session has actually taken place.

So, it’s really important to remind people that it’s important to give themselves space and to allow that process to continue and to really respect what’s going on inside and not try to jump right back into everyday life and the demands of work. given that, for many people, that’s a very difficult thing. People have jobs and families and relationships that they’re going back to.

It is important to remind them to remember the ongoing nature of the process and that it’s not all about your hours in the session. I think all of us who have done this work ourselves personally, I mean, I remember after when I did MDMA-assisted psychotherapy back in the ’80s, I can remember for days afterwards just kind of yearning to get back in the space I had been in.

It seemed like such a sweet experience and my life outside of the session seemed pale by experiences. It’s almost if I was trying to get back to where I had been in the session instead of understanding that I needed to pay attention to what was happening to myself right now in the moment and reconnect with myself in that way.

I think that’s really what integration is about — learning to be more present and authentic with ourselves in the moment. No matter what we are doing, whether we’re in an intense session or you know, even something as mundane as washing the dishes.

Kyle: Yeah, you make some really great points. Joe and I put that quote, “chop wood, carry water” in our presentation in this course. But also, it seems like people want to jump back into sessions again, like I think we brought up the fact that people may want to just go back and do ayahuasca ceremonies over and over again.

Maybe not because of the purging aspect, but just continue taking drugs to stay in that state (of consciousness). Or go back and do a bunch of breathwork sessions to move through some stuff. I think it is important to have that downtime and really be able to embody the experience and really understand what that means.

Elizabeth: I agree, Kyle. I think a lot of the changes that come about as a result of doing this work are subtle changes. The traumatic changes are fairly obvious and maybe don’t need as much attention in the sense that with the subtle changes they can be easily overlooked. The long-term changes that take place over time, those are the ones that I think you really want to honor and respect and give space to allow that to happen in yourself.

Developing A Daily Practice

Kyle: Do you have any tips or advice to how to stay in the moment after a session for the next week or a couple months to really embody what just happened?

Elizabeth: Yeah, well that’s the challenge. I think that it really is a very individual thing. There are specific techniques that can be used.  I was looking this morning, and Stan Grof spoke in his book, Holotropic Breathwork, He has a couple of entries for integration. He talks about specific kinds of techniques that can be helpful for people after they do this kind of work. And you know, it’s the kinds of techniques that allow you to tap into yourself, be it whatever kind of form meditation works for you.

Some people like sitting meditation, some people like more active kinds of meditation like tai chi. Some people can’t really connect with meditation at all and there can be other kinds of activities like I remembered when I read Stan’s passage that he used to recommend for people who had intense kinds of physical experiences, that aerobic exercise, like swimming, running, for people who might be inclined in that way, who are more physically active, just as a way of connecting with the kind of energy and feelings that are operating at the deeper levels.

So, for me, I always have found it helpful to journal about my experiences in the days afterward. Not right after an experience because I’m not that verbal yet, which is why initially after a breathwork session, for instance, we offer drawing materials so people can just work with shapes and colors and begin to work with their experiences symbolically on that level before even putting words to them.

But then maybe a day or two later, I always find it really helpful to write about my experience. I notice if I keep up the process journaling in the days moving forward from there, I’m apt to stay more connected with the feelings of the experience.

But again, it’s whatever works for an individual person to create space for themselves to just sink into themselves. Basically, that means some kind of ongoing form of practice, daily practice, whatever works. And that’s a very personal and individual kind of thing.

And we’ve all, I know, tried in our lives to stick to some kind of practice. We’ve tried lots of things. What I’ve learned over the years is for me, I have to make my practice manageable. I can’t try and make it too big. So, I’ve learned for me, if I do something every morning for about half an hour, that’s probably the most realistic expectation I can have for myself.

So, I like to do yoga and tai chi, and I like to journal. Some combination or at least one of those, ideally in the morning. But then during the day, I mean, think what you like to do to nurture and support yourself. Get outside, go for a walk, connect with nature, to work it into your daily life as much as you can so it’s not like a separate kind of thing that becomes one more thing to do every day that you may not get to.

Kyle: Right. And then if you start acting that way, then you start beating yourself up that you’re not practicing, so yeah. I know that happens to me. I’m like, “Ah, I should really meditate more.” Then I think to myself, “Well, why am I beating myself up over it?”

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah.

But do you find that? I mean, I do. I know that if I do something first thing in the morning, then if I wait ’til the end of the day, it’s less likely that it’s going to happen, so-

Kyle: Absolutely.

Elizabeth: My tai chi teacher used to say, “Just do it before you think too much about it. Get up and do it.”

Navigating Psychedelics

Trip Journal                                                        Integration Workbook








The Importance of Community and Group Process

Joe: Can you think of any things not to do that might impact integration in a negative way?

Elizabeth: That’s a really interesting question, Joe. Things not to do. I think it’s important not to isolate yourself after you do this kind of work. So, that in addition to the whole principle of the ongoing nature of the process, I think the principle of community is really important.

I’ve come to appreciate the community around breathwork over the years — the relationships that we have created and the support that people offer each other. I really think we can’t do this kind of work completely on our own. We need support not just during the sessions, but in the days and weeks, months and even years between sessions.

We need support. We need to be able to talk with people about our experiences. We need to process our experiences verbally. I mean, we’re very social animals as human beings and we thrive in group kinds of settings. Now, some people at first are put off by group experiences and prefer to work one on one, maybe with a guide or a therapist. And that’s fine, but usually, there’s at least one other person involved. Somebody who can help you get through the rough spots in a way that’s supportive and not overly directive. And that can be a good friend as much as a therapist or an experience facilitator.

Kyle: Yeah. What’s Lenny’s saying? “We’re the descendants of very successful tribes.”

Elizabeth: Yeah, we’re all the descendants of successful tribes. So, that’s part of our heritage. I think in our margin, in our modern culture, that’s something that’s missing. And you see a lot of people just yearning for that kind of communal experience.

A lot of people come to our workshops, I see them get so much meaning and joy out of just the personal connections that are made. A lot of people are simply lonely, and you just need that kind of contact and the building of community and relationships.

Kyle: It makes me think a lot about rites of passages, how those are formed, say, in some of those traditional cultures where maybe the adolescent would go out and you’d have this experience, but then they’d have the safety net of the elders, the container, and the community to come back to.

And when we have these really big experiences, I mean, we might have a few people to talk to, but we don’t really have that community to come back to. I know after my near-death experience, I was like, “Whoa, who do I talk to you about this now? I can’t really talk to my parents about it.” And I had to leave to find that. And I found it in Burlington. I found it in breathwork with you and Lenny.

Elizabeth: I remember that about you, Kyle. And that was a process that took many years for you to build that kind of community. So, as a young teenager, that was really … As I understand it, that was one of the hardest aspects of it afterwards was that you didn’t have anybody you felt you could really talk to.

Kyle: Yeah, exactly. And that’s been one of the biggest integration pieces for me when I think about integration — how do you just be okay with the people around you and learn how to just embody that experience even though you might not be able to talk to that person necessarily? How do you continue to be in a relationship with them and not feel so isolated?

Elizabeth: Well that kind of goes back to your last question, Joe, of what not to do. So, Kyle just touched on that really when he mentioned who you can’t talk to about these experiences. So, I think it’s important to search out people who you know will be supportive and understanding, and not share your experiences with people who might discount or trivialize your experience because they just don’t understand this kind of work.

And that can be lonely if it’s somebody important in your life that you can’t discuss these kinds of experiences with. That’s definitely a big dilemma.

Kyle: Do you have any tips or advice to work through anything that arises after a workshop or an experience? We talk about the process continuing, but maybe how to work with some of that stuff that comes up in the next coming weeks to months.

Elizabeth: Well, so if there’s somatic stuff coming up in the body, it can be really helpful to go get some bodywork after a session. A really good deep tissue massage or any kind of work that’s going to help resolve things that might still be coming up in the body. We’re fortunate now in this day and age, there are so many different kinds of bodywork.

Bodywork can be extremely helpful.

And then those of us who are holding the space for people and supporting this kind of work, I think it’s on us to make ourselves accessible to people after the sessions and to say that we can be available for them to reach out and contact us if they’re having trouble — so that they know there’s somebody who understands what they’ve been through who’s there for them to listen to them.

I mean sometimes people just need to talk. It’s not like you have to do much else than just listen and support them with your attention. People need to be heard and feel that what they’re experiencing isn’t totally abnormal but it’s just a normal part of their process. That can be all they need maybe. Just a friend or a person who understands that they can talk with.

Joe: That ties into a lot of what we’ve been talking about lately where, maybe you have these integration groups, but that’s the essence of it right there is just to talk and be heard.

Elizabeth: I love the idea of the integration groups that you guys are doing. I mean, I think that’s exactly the kind of format that will help fill in the space in between experiential sessions and give people the sense of community and belonging.

I mean look at the whole AA thing, the fact that that’s done as group work. I mean, people struggling with in the addiction field, they go to groups that meet regularly where they can talk about their experiences and share them and feel that kind of support.

That has been an incredibly successful approach over the years. So, I think your idea of having these integration groups is exactly the kind of approach that’s going to be helpful for people who are struggling with integrating extraordinary experiences. I’m really happy you’re doing that.

Kyle: Thank you. Yeah, part of it too is we come to your workshop for a weekend, have these really close connections, have these really powerful experiences, and then in between it’s like, “Oh, where’s that community?”

So, part of it for me is how do we keep it going? How do we keep the conversation going and finding those people that we can support and hold space for so the process can continue and it’s still healing with it.

Elizabeth: Technology has made that easier too. I mean, look at what we’re doing right now. And the fact, even as an email group, you can continue sharing. It definitely has its limitations, but it’s better than nothing.

Don’t Make Any Big Changes Right Away

Joe: You often speak about not making any big changes in the next six months. Can you speak about that?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Well, a lot of times people take material that comes up in their sessions, there’s a tendency maybe to take it literally and think that to interpret their session in a certain way that makes them think, “Oh, that means I need to leave my job right now, or I need to end this relationship now.”

We encourage people to sit with that for a little while before they act on it, to be sure that things have settled and that they’ve had some time to process their experience a little more before making any major life decisions.

But there are no hard and fast rules about that. It’s just something to be aware of. People can have amazing insights and extraordinary experiences that are … Can be taken literally. But sometimes as you know, there are many levels to these experiences, and you have to treat them symbolically or metaphorically. So, it’s just a caveat, but not a hard and fast rule.

Final Thoughts

Joe: Is there anything, any additional points you might want to raise before we kind of wrap up here?

Elizabeth: I would just encourage people to reach out when they feel like they’re having difficulty or trouble understanding something that might be going on, and knowing that there are all kinds of groups out there. And to be sure that when they do this kind of work, they do it in a safe setting, and that they have access to people who will be able to support them afterwards.

The MAPS website is a really good resource for understanding this aspect of the work. I think there’s material there about safety set and setting. So, to keep all of those considerations in mind, I would just end with that reminder.

Joe: You’re never alone and people do want to help you.

Elizabeth Gibson, thank you very much. You can find her website at

Elizabeth: Thank you.

About Elizabeth Gibson

Elizabeth Gibson, M.S., holds a bachelor’s degree in literature and a master’s degree in biology from The University of Tulsa. She has completed Herbert Benson’s Clinical Training in Mind/Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Previously she worked as a consultant at Arthur D. Little, Inc., and Radian Corporation in the areas of environmental protection and food research. She is a writer, editor and homemaker with interests in environmental literacy, yoga, music and gardening. Elizabeth is the editor of Stanislav Grof ’s The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death and a contributor to the teaching manual MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, both published by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. For the past 12 years, she has been responsible for local news for the Town of Pawlet, and from 2008 – 2014 she was the editor of the weekly environment section for the Rutland Herald and Montpelier Times Argus newspapers in Vermont.


A Brief History of Psychedelics in the Western World

This is an edited transcript from a podcast that was recorded live in Bolten Valley, Vermont for a MAPS Psychedelic Dinner event in May 2016.

When I met Albert Hofmann, I introduced myself to him by telling him my birthday, which was April 17, 1943.  He burst out laughing.

– Lenny Gibson

There are three modern turning points in the modern history of psychedelics. The first one being when Albert Hofmann had the experience that led him to realize the psychotropic properties of the substance he had synthesized. The second one was when Gordon Wasson and his wife, Valentina, connected with Maria Sabina, who was a curandera who used mushrooms. This event resulted in the introduction of psilocybin, in addition to LSD. The third turning point was when Hoffman and Wasson were together, and Hoffman synthesized psilocybin. Psilocybin became readily available, instead of having to go to some obscure place in Mexico to beg people to find somebody who knew where to get the mushrooms.

Greek History

The use of substances in providing transcendent experiences goes back beyond the beginnings of our written history in the west. The shamanic tradition in Greece led to the development of the tragic plays – The great tragic plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus. The Greek word tragedy, literally means goatskin, because in the festivals of Dionysus, who was the god of wine, when the new wine was decanted everybody got really high on the new wine. It gave people permission to act like goats and as you know Dionysus was portrayed as half man and half goat. Dionysus had also been to the underworld and back, like Orpheus, another person that comes out of the shamanic traditions and into, what we call, the Greek Mystery Religions. The most prominent of the Mystery religions was one called the Eleusinian Mysteries, a mystery not in the sense of Ellery Queen, but a mystery in the sense of mystical. That rite goes back beyond recorded time and lasted for, at least, two thousand years. It was a rite built around the myth of Demeter and Persephone.

Image result for Eleusinian Mysteries
Source: Wikipedia

Persephone was out picking flowers in the meadow on a spring day and Hades came along and grabbed her, took her down into the underworld. Demeter, her mother, was distraught but Persephone was gone. Demeter appealed to the other gods for help getting Persephone back. It was of no use. So finally, Demeter since she was the goddess of agriculture and growing things, decided that she would stop everything growing. Clearly a symptom of depression.

Image result for Eleusinian Mysteries

It didn’t bother the gods because they lived on Ambrosia. But then it occurred to them that if the human beings starved to death there’d be no one to worship the gods. That got to them and they agreed to help Demeter and prevailed upon Hades to let Persephone come back, but she had sampled maybe one or seven seeds from a pomegranate. The way those myths work, she couldn’t be completely freed of Hades and had to, ended up spending half her time in Hades and half with her mother. Thus, the variation of the seasons. So the myth is about going into the underworld and coming back, basically, about death and rebirth. It appears to have involved an ergot-derived substance, a psychedelic. We don’t know exactly because the Eleusis were sworn to secrecy and the secret was never revealed – two thousand years. All of the major people, all the intelligentsia, many of the regular people of Greece were initiates. They could do it once. Pindar, the famous poet, who was also an initiate, along with Plato and Xenophon and the whole, even to the Romans, Cicero was an initiate. Marcus Aurelius was the last Roman Emperor, was an initiate. The whole thing [The Eleusinian Mysteries] was killed when Calvin Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity. Pindar says, not revealing a secret, but says of the right, it was an experience dying before dying. But as I said, Constantine saw the Ring of Fire and decided that the Roman Empire should become Christian, they should stop persecuting the Christians and become part of it. And so Christianity doesn’t have a very good track record with substances other than wine and Eucharist, which are psychedelic for a very limited group of people who are intensely into the sacred technology of the mass.

Huxley and Humphry Osmond

So the middle ages is a kind of, in the west, it’s a kind of desert, as far as psychedelics are concerned. And we don’t really find anything of interest until we jump up to the 19th century. Havelock Ellis took peyote on Good Friday, 1897. He wrote it up for the British Journal of Medicine, they rejected it – too fantastical. His other major work, which was in The Psychology of Sex, seven volumes – sold very well. He gave some peyote buttons to William Butler Yates, who realized that we’re all slouching towards Bethlehem.

Humphry Osmond worked a little mental hospital up in Saskatchewan and began experimenting with LSD [and mescaline]. Aldous Huxley somehow learned of this work and said, “If you’re in LA, come by and see me.” Osmond didn’t think it would ever happen, but in fact, there was a bureaucratic problem at the hospital. They needed to reorganize and move Osmond up and get rid of the guy that was above him, and so while they were doing that, they sent Osmond off to an APA convention in LA – where he got in touch with Huxley. They went to a few sessions of the APA convention and were bored to tears. So they adjourned back to Huxley’s place and Osmond turned him on. It took about 90 minutes before it really hit him and then it blew his mind. Huxley was the author of Brave New World and Ape and Essence.  Huxley was one of the major intellectuals in the 20th century and an enormously successful author, half blind, but intensely intellectual. He was part of a circle of people that stretches back really to Havelock Ellis and Hermann Hesse [Who wrote Siddhartha and The Glass Bead Game ], and Carl Jung.


But the psychedelic experience was restricted to a very small elite. Huxley, upon trying the mescaline, called it the most extraordinary and significant experience available to human beings this side of the beatific vision. (The Doors of Perception, he produced as a result of it.) In there, he mentions CD Broad, a British philosopher who characterizes the brain as a cerebral reducing valve. Huxley’s first theories here was that psychedelics eliminate some of the filterings of the brain. Fairly crude though, we have a lot more sophisticated stuff now. Robin Carhart-Harris has advanced that considerably.

Huxley was also friends with a fellow named Gerald Heard, who was again, a major intellectual personage in the early-mid 20th century. The two of them eventually came into contact with a guy named Al Hubbard, nicknamed Cappy, because he was the President of the Vancouver Yacht Club and also the Uranium Corporation in Vancouver. He is best described as a kind peripatetic imp. He rode off to Sandoz and got a huge supply of LSD and I guess carted around the world turning people on but kept it limited to a very small group of people like this.

There’s Gerald Heard, there’s Oscar Janiger, who was a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, who found out about LSD, got a large supply of it and a group around him Huxley, Heard, Hubbard, Janiger, Sidney Cohen, they were involved in a salon in the LA area. Their recording secretary was Anais Nin. Janiger also obtained DMT and introduced that into the whole thing.

Humphry Osmond first proposed the term psychedelic at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1957. He said the word meant “mind manifested” from the two Greek words for psyche and delos, which means clear. Huxley had sent Osmond a rhyme, which went, “To make this trivial world sublime, take a half a gram of phanerothyme. Thumos means spiritedness in Greek. Osmond wrote back, “The fathom hell or sore angelic, just a take a pinch of psychedelic.”

Tim Leary

Now until Tim Leary came along, the psychedelic usage, although it was a growing circle, was pretty much limited to a fairly elite circle, a circle of intellectuals and a few housewives, as you saw before. But then Timothy Leary got a hold of psilocybin and this is a major turning point because Tim Leary couldn’t contain himself. And, in some ways, he advanced things enormously and in other ways, he set them back terribly. But certainly, and there you see him in some of his many guises.

The basic issue was he had started out doing reasonable research at Harvard and he couldn’t keep it in and started spewing it out. So you get the stuff starting to come out into settings that are not conducive to people getting the best out of it. And he became involved with these folks – Good old Alan, William Burroughs, some of you may know he was heir to the Burroughs fortune, the Burroughs adding machine.

So, here we have these guys, Kerouac, On the Road, and Alan Watts, who was a great talker. So East Coast, we’ve got Tim Leary, and West Coast we got, Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, coming out of on the road.

There’s the bus, the first acid tests, which morphed into the trip festivals, which morphed into Burning Man. The first Human Be-In and down there in the corner is one of the sponsors, Augustus Stanley Owsley III, who had a girlfriend who was good at making LSD and he produced zillions of doses really cheap.

But we have some problems here, the war. Psychedelics and the anti-war movement started synergizing each other and the government got really scared.

They (the government) had been interested in LSD early on. There was a guy named James Moore who accompanied Wasson (Gordon and Valentina) to Mexico under the pretext of being the photographer on one of those CIA plans. He (Moore) brought psilocybin back to back to the CIA. They were interested in it because it having mind effects – they discovered when they gave it to the spies, those hardened spooks ended up over in the corner weeping and crying about brotherly love. Other than the ones that ran frantically out of the room and had to be chased down in Virginia where they were found under a fountain talking about those terrible eyes and the monsters that were insulting them. So, it didn’t work out for the CIA.

Prohibition – California criminalized LSD on October 7th, 1966 and that’s when things started to head down because it drove it underground and that’s the worst thing you can do. I mean, prohibition, it’s like, “Will we ever learn?” We tried prohibition with alcohol. When I lived in Oklahoma, one of the lines there was, “It was so dry.” There were some dry counties in Oklahoma in the 1970’s, and the line was, “They would remain dry as long as the Baptists and the bootleggers could stagger to the poles.” It (psychedelics) went underground and at the same time proliferated.

Sasha Shulgin, wonderful man, wonderful, wonderful man. He could give a lecture on chemistry that was just if you didn’t know a bit about chemistry you would be fascinated. And there he is with his wife Ann and immortalized by Alex Grey. And there’s one of his “dirty pictures” down there in the corner, he called them dirty pictures, the molecules. There’s a great video on YouTube about Sasha called, Dirty Pictures, wonderful video.

And here are other folks – Richard Alpert, of course, was with Tim Leary at Harvard early on, but they diverged, India took on Alpert but it didn’t take on Tim. And we see Alpert in an early phase down there in the corner, we see him in his post-India phase when he turned back into just an ordinary transcendental. We have the intellectualization of Ken Wilbur, and we have a leprechaun fully as filled with impishness as was Cappy, Terry McKenna. That book (Be Here Now), I remember going to the church in LA after Ram Dass had come back from India and it was lovely and there were robes and beads and flowers and it was just fun. They were passing out this thing that says, “If you want a copy of this book we’re gonna publish, fill out one of these cards.” We were going, “Oh, these hippies, I’m not gonna bother filling out the card, ’cause it will never happen.” But it did and it’s still in publication.

Stanislav Grof

As the glorious phase was being dampened by the criminalization and all, there came from Czechoslovakia, the Stanislav Grof, where Stanislav Grof had been, when I was graduating from gymnasium (Gymnasium is like high school/junior college). The summer after gymnasium Stan wanted to become a cartoonist, he liked to draw cartoons. He was headed for the Saint Animation School. He had put in his application because you go right from gymnasium to university or professional school. Then a friend of his came by who had found a copy of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. (Freud was forbidden literature in community culture, Czechoslovakia, behind the iron curtain at the point). The friend was very excited about the book, you know try to get a college kid today to read the Interpretation of Dreams, it’s impossible, but tell them they can’t and boy!

Stan picked up the excitement and begged to borrow the book and he said he stayed up all night reading it. Stan then withdrew his application to film school and put in one to become to medical school. He wanted to become a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst, which he did. Stan trained underground, doing his residence at Charles Hospital in Prague where they were working with the Sandoz Corporation in the development of some of the new major tranquilizers (Mellaril is what they were working with). Stan said, “You know when you work on a pharmaceutical company they’re always sending you stuff,” and they sent something to the program he was, and there appeared a box of ampoules of LSD from Sandoz Laboratories. They started a research program that was totally the opposite of what Tim Leary’s operation was. The communist country, people lay things close to their chest – amazing research. Curing, curing! It was not suppressive like most of the psychotropics, the tranquilizer drugs. They cured the people of profound depression.

In his book, (now called, LSD: Door to the Numinous, It was called, Realms of the Human Unconscious originally), Stan shares a story of a fellow who was severely catatonically depressed for a long time was given LSD. Their practice was to give a small dose of LSD at first, but he didn’t get anything from it so they had increased the dose and kept increasing it. They had got this guy up to 3500 micrograms before they got the first reaction. The guy got up out of his room, went to the kitchen, made a bologna sandwich, and then went to the day room and played chess.

So, Stan got out of Czechoslovakia to this country (USA). Stan said he came out with two suitcases, which contained his notes and two shirts. He then fortuitously hooked up with a man named, Walter Pahnke, who had Timothy Leary in his still relatively stable phase as a dissertation advisor and engaged the famous Good Friday experiment. Walter Pahnke was a physician who had taken a sabbatical to go to divinity school, and then went back to Johns Hopkins and began working with cancer patients on whom the oncologists had given up because they were beyond any help. They were in pain, they were in despair, they were scared, and they were using LSD with these patients. All the videotapes have gone, the last little bits of videotape burned when Stans house burned down some years ago.

Most astounding videotape is a guy who was a stevedore on the docks of Baltimore, in his 60’s, metastasized melanoma, they couldn’t give him anything orally and they had to inject him with dipropyltryptamine. Stan is sitting for him and in the course of this session, this man goes from a sort of Neanderthal with like maybe a vocabulary of 600 words, half of which are profanities, but mostly grunts. His family had abandoned him and in the course of this session he is transformed and he’s lecturing the great doctor Stanislav Grof about the “great recycling yard in the sky.” I cried. I’ve been through throat cancer myself. I’m with people who are cancer survivors and who are still facing terror and with 35, 40 years we could have been making it better. But we’re getting there, finally. I never thought it would happen.

Here’s Stan with Christina, when they were young and in love. They always were in love. There’s Stan with Albert Hoffman. He and Stan were good buddies.

The John Hopkins research fell apart when LSD became criminalized. Michael Murphy and Stan fortuitously hooked up and Murphy invited Stan to Esalen as scholar-in-residence. After a few years Stan needed to produce an income for Esalen, so he put together the technique called, “Holotropic Breathwork.” When I was telling Stan for the second time, the reason I decided on holotropic breathwork training was that I had an experience with holotropic breathwork that was identical with the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had with LSD.  Stan said, “That’s what convinced me too.” It’s not like taking a pill and you don’t have any choice, ’cause you gotta work at it, that’s why it’s called breath work – but you can get to the same place.


Rick Doblin was part of the first Holotropic Breathwork training. There were two parallel groups of trainees of Holotropic Breathwork in the mid-80’s. Rick Doblin was in one of them. Rick got it that Timothy Leary wasn’t the way to go. The way to go was to start, get the credentials, go slowly, and slowly, and slowly. (It’s effective). Through the Holotropic Breathwork training, it’s brought people together that have an interest that was disappointed as the 60’s began to fade. A fellow named Michael Mithoefer, who became the lead researcher for MDMA. So, the Holotropic Breathwork stuff really has been the leverage that’s kept things going, where we actually have hope now that we’re going get this (psychedelics becoming legal as medicine).

I was saying to Stan, “Isn’t this great that Michael’s doing the MDMA research.” And Stan says, “Yeah, but you know, that’s all been done, it’s all been written up before. It’s all there. It’s just been forgotten. The real potential is creativity.

And indeed, from counterculture to cyberculture. Rick has been working in the psychological realm and some of the other people that came out of the 60’s, Steve Jobs, among them. The future looks bright to me. And I’m sure happy I’ve lived long enough to see it.

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