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article imageOp-Ed: Psychedelics — A psychedelic reality built in to human brains

By Paul Wallis     Jul 4, 2019 in Science
Sydney - Psychedelic compounds occur naturally in the human and mammalian brain. They’ve been used for thousands of years around the world. Now, 50 years after the Summer of Love, they’re the Next Big Thing in science and medicine.
The new push to legalise psychedelics for therapies like treating PTSD and depression has effectively created a new, if rambling, debate. Science is now trundling after ancient cultures, finding new information and new uses for psychedelics. The sheer scope of new findings, and new arguments, is vast.
Background
In Western culture, psychedelics were “discovered” in the 1950s or thereabouts. Mescaline was made famous by Aldous Huxley in his book Doors of Perception. In the 60s, the advent of LSD and its promotion by Timothy Leary and many others opened the floodgates. It was the hippie drug of choice, loathed by the “establishment”, and therefore an instant success in 60s and 70s culture. Carlos Castaneda’s Teachings of Don Juan further enhanced the reputation of the traditional use of psychedelics like peyote, a natural source of mescalin.
In fact, psychedelics include a very broad range of chemicals, some of which are formed naturally in the human brain. One is called dimethyltryptamine, (better known to cannabis users as DMT) which is a hallucinogen. Rats have the same compound in their brains.
You can see why and how these new findings are so significant. The dreaded drugs of the 60s turn out to have a biological pedigree which is a bit hard to reconcile with the old urban myths. Hallucinogens were associated by the media with everything “bad” about hippie culture, nonconformity and antisocial behaviour. Now, the diametric opposite of these negatives is being found to be at least credible by researchers, clinicians and the arguments are gaining strength. They’re gaining strength to the point that their use is being decriminalised in many US states and cities.
A physiological, pharmacological and psychological mystery
A question which so far doesn’t seem to be being asked yet is “Why?” How could such compounds have become so highly integrated into the working machinery of the brain? Why would the brain, a reasonably complex organ, actually incorporate an active hallucinogen into its higher brain, notably the hippocampus and neocortex, which are directly associated with learning and memory?
What’s now known from research by Michigan Medicine is that they work the same way as “monoamine transmitters”, which include well-known aminos like phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. These psychoactive compounds are used for many different treatments of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.
This raises a few more questions:
• The findings suggest that these natural psychedelics have important roles in brain function on multiple levels.
• Does a deficiency of natural psychedelics cause or aggravate these medical conditions?
• How do such deficiencies occur, if so?
A much less obvious issue
There’s a huge irony, and an equally huge further question. Could the “altered reality” of Western culture be a direct link to an actual perceptive need? The almost totally inadequate and very vague expression “expanded consciousness” was often used to describe the effects of LSD, mescaline, magic mushrooms, and similar hallucinogens.
OK – Now consider that the ancient cultures which used all these compounds used them in context with a very different physical reality, from the Stone Age onwards. ALL ancient cultures seem to have had at least a few hallucinogens in use, whether mild or vivid in terms of hallucinogenic properties.
What would be the value of these altered perceptions in pretty severe physical environments? Why would people trying to survive the Ice Age, or the rest of human history need them? Did they promote awareness, curiosity, new types of thinking, or what?
Wouldn’t it be a bit of a luxury to drop a trip or get high in such dangerous environments? Yet, such tough and highly disciplined, insightful minds as Native American shamans, and their equivalents in other cultures used, and still use these substances on a regular, formal basis. The spiritual trip is apparently directly related to the working mind.
I don’t know enough about Native American culture to express it any better than that. (I read a Blackfoot story some years ago and managed to miss all the most fundamental points, notably all Four Directions, a truly basic “kids should know this” orientation. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.) What I’m saying is that the psychedelics in Native American culture are core parts of many belief systems and a whole spectrum of perceptions very different to Western culture,
It’s those perceptions, coming straight to and from the higher brain, which I think are the key to understanding the true values of psychedelics. Do these compounds actually promote learning and advanced perception?
Note for those who don’t know – Never evaluate people based on their technology. Some of the most advanced thinking in human history has come from ancient cultures with very basic tech. The scope and depth of their learning far surpass the superficial thinking of most of the rest of history.
Thought is based on perception and working with those perceptions. Could it be that their perceptions were also based on their natural higher learning, supported by the brain’s natural neurotransmitters, like DMT?
The “debate” about psychedelics is in its infancy, and in many cases as superficial as ever. What is clear is that there are a vast array of higher brain functions which are only now being perceived, let alone understood. Time to reinstate the ancient culture of “perceive and learn”, would you say?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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