Our relationship with what we put into our bodies is complicated.
Today, the inside of our bodies is as cultivated as the outside. Technological advances, mass production, proliferation of interests and anthropological drive have bred websites, podcasts, tv programmes and advertising discussing cooking, dieting, drinks, propelling our penchant to imbibe. Obviously there is a need to survive but we ingest for other reasons which have expanded through time. Taste, sensation, company, mental succour, elation, a buzz….There will be overlapping yearning. However our wishes can be curious and unsurprisingly at times quirky. During pregnancy, some women demand coal — it is said their bodies are signalling a lack of iron. Auto-cannibalism is when we eat ourselves (hair, nails, scabs for example). Licking excessively is a form of OCD and satisfies a compulsion. Pica is a feeding disorder in which a person desires non-food substances. For example, a man found he had eaten 18 bicycles over 50 years, someone ate an aeroplane….another enjoyed dining on dirty nappies….Ok I will stop there as it’s a bit stomach churning. The point is what and why we tuck into, above a will to live, has become complicated — even for those with more pedestrian tastes.
I mentioned the consumption or use of alcohol and drugs in my last post and today I wanted to delve further into a class of drugs. Psychedelics. Because they fit into this camp of complicated consumption. Our relationship with these chemicals is tangled. On the face of it i’m sure like me, you associate them with hallucinating and living in an unreal state; taken mostly by fun loving youngsters or hippies they aren’t associated with mainstream society. Though I do remember hilarious conversations with my elderly father who i’m sure took something he shouldn’t when he was visualising dancing monkeys on a nearby windowsill…
But curiously some Psychedelics have been rehabilitated by the scientific establishment. And why is that a surprise? We have established red wine in small doses is found to be good for heart health; CBD offers relief from arthritis pain and so certain Psychedelics are considered helpful for targeting behaviour and improving mental health.
Psychedelics are ‘substances that alter perception and mood and affect numerous cognitive processes’ (National library of medicine). Wikipedia states it is derived from the Greek words psychḗ meaning ‘soul, mind’ and dēleín ‘to manifest’, delivering ‘soul manifesting’ or alternatively, ‘mind manifesting’. Essentially these chemicals impact the neuroplasticity of the brain (the ability of the brain to change) at the time of consumption. This class is broad, with a variety of modes of operation on our cerebrum. It includes drugs such as Ketamine, PSP, Ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, Mescaline, Psilocybin (from magic mushrooms, known by the Aztecs as ‘flesh of the gods’) and ‘Smoking toad’ (which entails smoking of a substance secreted from the skin of particular toads).
In the USA prior to the 1960’s there was a decade of research into these substances. But somehow escaping the laboratory, embraced predominantly by the young and disenfranchised it created a moral panic amongst the general populace. For a long time due principally to political rather than scientific reasons, research ground to a halt. These chemicals were seen as perverting mainstream culture and the youth which led to the passing of strict laws on their usage. In recent times, I presume initially covertly, a new wave of investigation speculates these drugs when utilised in a monitored setting could be beneficial to the human condition
Exploration has found Ketamine which is legally used as an anaesthetic in the USA and Europe, could be used to treat depression and actively suicidal patients if combined with spoken counselling. Psilocybin legally available in Amsterdam is also used in care for depression. MDMA has been considered for ministration of post traumatic stress disorder. Certain Psychedelics have helped high performance athletes struggling with anxiety. I read that other such drugs are being experimented with in corporate life to encourage greater empathy in executives, aid team building and enhance creativity.
An interesting question is why Psychedelics help? No one is really sure. One theory is these drugs cause a dissolution of ego promoting a dramatic shift in consciousness. This might help reprocess memories; arrive at new insights or at the very least help us to be be more open to thinking laterally to creatively escape mental ruts. During trials, researchers using neuro-imaging, found patients experienced an increase in common activity across the networks in their brain. Essentially a re-wiring. One of the drugs Ketamine is what is called a ‘dirty drug’ meaning it impacts different parts of the brain at once. There is a debate as to whether Ketamine is simply a therapy promoting openness in your consciousness as mentioned earlier, or has much more significant and enduring impact by growing connections in the brain (by modulating a protein that can generate new neurons). How permanent the effect of these chemicals is, is still up for debate as is the most effective method of delivery into the body and the long term side effects. We do know too high a dosage is addictive, dangerous and the feelings such drugs release can be quite dark to manage if a patient self administers. Hence there is thought being given to how they can be incorporated into a medical setting.
It is still wide open and a complicated consumption. However I find these avenues of exploration fascinating. It is a wonderfully lush example of the kris-crossing of science with spirituality. Who knows where it might lead and how we might be able to help ourselves in the future. And if along the way I can see some dancing monkeys on window sills here in the big smoke. Well bring on the complexity. My behaviour would be all the better for it….