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Why Were Early Psychedelicists So Weird?

[Epistemic status: very speculative, asserted with only ~30% confidence. On the other hand, even though psychiatrists don’t really talk about this it’s possible other groups know this all already]

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation on the history of early psychedelic research. Since I had a tough crowd, I focused on the fascinating biographies of some of the early psychedelicists.

Timothy Leary was a Harvard professor and former NIMH researcher who made well-regarded contributions to psychotherapy and psychometrics. He started the Harvard Psilocybin Project and several other Harvard-based experiments to test the effects of psychedelics on normal and mentally ill subjects. He was later fired from Harvard and arrested; later he accomplished a spectacular break out of prison and fled to Algeria. During his later life, he wrote books about how the human brain had hidden circuits of consciousness that would allow us to live in space, including a quantum overmind which could control reality and break the speed of light. He eventually fell so deep into madness that he started hanging out with Robert Anton Wilson and participating in Ron Paul fundraisers.

Richard Alpert was Leary’s co-investigator at the Harvard Psilocybin Project. He, too, had all the signs of a promising career, including a psychology PhD from Stanford, a visiting professorship at Berkeley, and a combination academic/clinical position at Stanford. After his work with Leary, he moved to India, changed his name to Baba Ram Dass, and became one of the world’s most prominent advocates for bhakti yoga.

John Lilly was a doctor, a neuroanatomy researcher, and an inventor who helped develop the principle behind many modern neuroprosthetics. He was always very strange, and did a lot of work in human-dolphin communication and SETI even before starting his work with LSD. But in the 1960s, he ran across Richard Alpert, joined in his LSD experiments, and became even stranger. He started writing books with names like “Programming And Metaprogramming The Human Biocomputer”, and arguing that benevolent and malevolent aliens were locked in a battle to manipulate Earth’s coincidences and with them the future of the human species. He became an expert yogi and claimed to have achieved samadhi, the highest state of union with God.

Kary Mullis is kind of cheating since he was not technically a psychedelicist. He was a biochemist in the completely unrelated field of bacterial iron transport molecules. But he did try LSD in 1966 back when it was still a legal research chemical. In fact he tried 1000 micrograms of it, one of the biggest doses I’ve ever heard of someone taking. Like the others, Mullis was a brilliant scientist – he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for inventing the polymerase chain reaction. Like the others, Mullis got really weird fast. He is a global warming denialist, HIV/AIDS denialist, and ozone hole denialist; on the other hand, he does believe in the efficacy of astrology. He also believes he has contacted extraterrestrials in the form of a fluorescent green raccoon, and “founded a business with the intent to sell pieces of jewelry containing the amplified DNA of deceased famous people like Elvis Presley”.

I wondered if there might be a selection bias in which psychedelicists I heard about, or that I might be cherry-picking the most unusual examples, so I looked for leading early psychedelics researchers I’d never heard of before and checked how weird they were. My sources told me that the two most important early psychedelicists were Humphry Osmond (who invented the word ‘psychedelic’ and may have been the first person to experiment with LSD rigorously) and his colleague John Smythies.

Osmond has an impressive early resume: started off as a surgeon, became a psychiatrist, did some well-regarded research into the structure of the human metabolite adrenochrome. And although he did not become fluorescent-alien-raccoon level weird, he can’t quite be called normal either. He became one of the founders of orthomolecular psychiatry, a discipline arguing that schizophrenia and other psychiatric diseases can be cured by massive amounts of vitamins – this is currently considered pseudoscience. His publications include the article “Selection of twins for ESP experimentation” in International Journal of Parapsychology, and a history of psychedelics records that “after his mescaline experiment in 1951, Dr. Osmond claimed to have successfully transmitted telepathic information to a fellow researcher, Duncan Blewett, who was also under the influence of mescaline, leading an independent observer to panic at the uncanny event.” He seems to have maintained a lifetime interest in parapsychology, Jungian typological analysis, and a field of his own invention called “socio-architecture”.

Smythies was a neuropsychiatrist, neuroanatomist, biochemist, EEG researcher, editor of the International Review of Neurobiology, etc, etc, etc (also, a cousin of Richard Dawkins). He is 94 but apparently still alive and going strong and making new neuroanatomical discoveries. He was one of the first people to investigate the pharmacology of psychedelics and helped with Osmond’s experiments in the early 1950s. He has also written The Walls Of Plato’s Cave, a book presenting a new theory of consciousness which “extends our concepts of consciousness and analyses possible geometrical and topological relations between phenomenal space and physical space linked to brane theory in physics” (I kind of wish I was a fly on the wall at his and Dawkins’ family reunions).

My point is that the field of early psychedelic research seemed to pretty consistently absorb brilliant scientists, then spit out people who, while still brilliant scientists, also had styles of thought that could be described as extremely original at best and downright crazy at worst.

I think it’s important to try to understand why.

First possibility: you had to be kind of weird to begin with in order to be interested in researching psychedelics. On the one hand, this is a strong possibility that makes a lot of sense; on the other, the early psychedelicists ended up really weird. At least in the early days I’m not sure psychedelics had the reputation for weirdness they now enjoy, and I’m also not sure that we’re living in a world where a high enough percent of psychiatrists go off to become gurus in India believers, that we can just dismiss LSD research as happening to attract that type of person.

Second possibility: I know that almost all of these researchers (I’m not sure about Smythies) used psychedelics themselves. Psychedelic use is a sufficiently interesting experience that I can see why it might expand one’s interest in the study of consciousness and the universe. Perhaps this is especially true if you’re one of the first people to use it, and you don’t have the social setting of “Oh, yeah, this is that drug that makes you have really weird experiences about consciousness for a while”. If you’re not aware that psychedelic hallucinations are a thing that happens, you might have to interpret your experience in more traditional terms like divine revelation. Under this theory, these pioneers had to become kind of weird to learn enough for the rest of us to use these substances safely. But why would that make John Lilly obsessed with aliens? Why would it turn Timothy Leary into a space colonization advocate and Ron Paul supporter?

The third possibility is the one that really intrigues me. A 2011 study found that a single dose of psilocybin could permanently increase the personality dimension of Openness To Experience. I’m emphasizing that because personality is otherwise pretty stable after adulthood; nothing should be able to do this. But magic mushrooms apparently have this effect, and not subtly either; participants who had a mystical experience on psilocybin had Openness increase up to half a standard deviation compared to placebo, and the change was stable sixteen months later. This is really scary. I mean, I like Openness To Experience, but something that can produce large, permanent personality changes is so far beyond anything else we have in psychiatry that it’s kind of terrifying.

(related: 1972 study finds LSD may cause permanent increase in hypnotic susceptibility, which other sources have linked to being “fantasy prone” and “creative”)

And that’s one dose. These researchers were taking psychedelics pretty constantly for years, and probably experimented with the sort of doses you couldn’t get away with giving research subjects. What would you expect to happen to their Openness To Experience? How many standard deviations do you think it went up?

It seems possible to me that psychedelics have a direct pharmacological effect on personality that causes people to be more open to unusual ideas. I know this is going against most of the latest research, which says psychedelics have no long-term negative mental health effects and do not cause psychosis. But there’s a difference between being schizophrenic, and being the sort of guy who is still a leading neuroanatomist but also writes books about the geometric relationships between consciousness and the space-time continuum.

I’m not sure anyone has ever done studies to rule out the theory that psychedelics just plain make people weird. Indeed, such studies would be very difficult, given that weird people with very high Openness To Experience are more likely to use psychedelics. This problem would even prevent common sense detection of the phenomenon – even if we noticed that frequent psychedelic users were really weird, we would attribute it to selection effects and forget about it.

In this situation, the early psychedelicists could be a natural experiment giving us data we can’t get any other way. Here are relatively sober scientists who took psychedelics for reasons other than being weird hippies already. Their fate provides signal through the noise which is the general psychedelic-using population.

I think this is only medium-risk; the explanation that weird people gravitate toward psychedelics, even in the sciences, is a strong one. But it’s sufficient that I am hesitant to repeat the common view that psychedelics are not at all dangerous, or that they have no permanent side effects. There seems to me at least a moderate chance that they will make you more interesting without your consent – whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on exactly how interesting you want to be.

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356 Responses to Why Were Early Psychedelicists So Weird?

  1. JBJNR says:

    Other possibilities include folks who become active promoters of psychedelics have a bias to believe/support evidence that those drugs “open doors,” lead to better attunement to the universe/reality, etc. None of that is provable. And more likely, the drugs simply scramble your neurotransmitters so that you believe you are having profound insights, but in fact in the cold light of day they may only amount to unintelligible gibberish. No way to get around the fact that the substances are highly mind-altering and therefore at some level affect your judgment and objectivity while taking them and likely also your memory of their effect.

    • Corwin says:

      Psychedelics basically make the users find everything revelatorily interesting. So in the normal course of the pattern-matching of their brains, they may have a nonsensical thought and become fixated on it, remembering the sense it made at the time.

      I don’t know that psychedelics cause memory blackouts. Other drugs are known to cause them frequently, like alcohol and mdma, but not lsd or psilocybin.

      • wysinwyg says:

        I don’t know that psychedelics cause memory blackouts.

        In my admittedly limited experience, they don’t quite cause blackouts, but it’s incredibly hard for most people to remember most of what happens to them during their psychedelic experiences.

        • Alrenous says:

          Psychedelics activate the dreaming circuits, which have a dendrite poking out which blocks memory formation. Presumably this is adaptive. The pineal gland produces DMT, meaning dreams are literally psychedelic trips.

          • Henry says:

            As of now, there’s no evidence of the human pineal gland producing DMT. It does exist in the human body, but might just be a metabolic side product with no particular function.

          • StarsCrySmiling says:

            Dreams are subjectively dissimilar to psychedelic trips (5-ht2a agonist like LSD/DMT and NMDA antagonist like ketamine). There *is* a different class of drugs that subjectively replicates dreaming while awake: muscarinic-type anticholinergics (datura, belladonna, Benadryl). They are typically not classed as ‘psychedelic’ but rather just as hallucinogenic. On psychedelics you’re typically aware of how *weird* the things you’re seeing are, but on enough of these you forget that anything unusual is occurring, just like in dreams.

      • Aella says:

        I’ve personally seen several people experience total amnesia after tripping on high doses.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I know they scramble your neurotransmitters when you’re high on them; I think the interesting question is whether they do so permanently.

        • thorper says:

          thank you I love this quote

        • Loquat says:

          Duuuuuude! So that’s why I had Barenaked Ladies'”One Week” stuck in my head for the last 20 minutes of work the other day and then it was the first song that came on the radio when I got in the car – I was tapped into the Cosmic Unconsciousness!

          Except that that’s only happened like twice in my life ever, but that’s just my inner cynic talking. Nobody ever became one with the cosmos by listening to their inner cynic.

      • Mary says:

        There are cases where drugs can induce psychotic breaks, which can be permanent. I would suspect they can induce lesser permanent changes.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Hypothesis: by killing off some of the neurons responsible for making you not insane?

        Anyway, I think the most probable explanation is that “this one study” is a fluke and psychedelics attract weird people.

        Also, consider age/cultural effects: how many people who were born around that time and had similar backgrounds but didn’t do psychedelics had similar weird beliefs?

        • Nornagest says:

          Hardly any popular drugs actually kill neurons unless you seriously abuse them. Including alcohol; that can have neurotoxic effects over time if you’re an alcoholic that gets a large proportion of his calories from it, or acutely if you’re drinking moonshine with a lot of methanol in it, but the colloquialism about killing your brain cells after tying one on over a weekend is basically false. (That’s not to say that it doesn’t have health effects, including neurological ones. Just not those health effects.)

          A couple of exotic designer drugs are exceptions, and you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time huffing glue. MDMA may be an exception too, but that’s controversial.

          • onyomi says:

            You can mess up your wiring without actually killing neurons, though.

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh, absolutely.

          • Brett says:

            Yeah, stay away from MPPP, it’s a good way to get acute, immediate-onset Parkinson’s.

          • Edward Brennan says:

            Personally, I’m always somewhat surprised even alcohol doesn’t just outright kill you. The brain is the most complexity-dense object we know of in the universe, and you can just throw a billion wrenches into it and it totally changes a little bit. I kind of know why (my background is physics and a some biophysics research) but I can’t really grok it.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Psychedelics may not cause generalized brain damage, but perhaps they may cause damage to some specific set of neurons that are responsible for preventing you from becoming psychotic, by e.g. making them overactive while they try to counter the effect of the hallucinations.

            Most people who try these drugs, don’t become clinically psychotic, but at high doses they may start to exhibit psychotic-spectrum behaviors (e.g. ranting about space aliens).

          • John Schilling says:

            Why are people hung up on possible hardware damage when the symptoms all point to corrupted software? Which, when the system doesn’t allow for rebooting from a backup copy, can be equally bad.

          • Anonymous says:

            Probably because of how ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ differ within context of the brain is very nebulous. AFAIK, nobody has yet figured out how to separate the two.

          • Simon says:

            The research showing MDMA caused, if memory serves, Olney’s lesions, in rodents was highly motivated and deeply flawed. One would have to be eating double handfuls of the stuff every day to achieve the sorts of dosages used.

            The only fairly common drug of abuse that has been genuinely shown to make neorological holes is phenicyclidine (PCP) and even then you have to be fairly committed to it as a substance

      • redacted says:

        TL;DR: Both MDMA/MDA and psychedelics (LSD, large doses of psilocybin, DMT, ketamine, 2CB) may result in lasting changes after a single dose. Part of this is probably caused by permanent changes in the serotonergic regulation, but cognitive effects play a large role as well.

        I thought it is well-known that MDMA and psychedelics lead to permanent personality changes. For many people, this is the point.

        I did receive a dose of MDA in a well-prepared therapeutic setting (two days of preparation, including meditation, group talk and interaction with therapists), highly structured journey, and two days of integration. The whole thing took place in an isolated rural setting, without media access etc.

        During the experience, I went into trance (I am normally not susceptible to hypnosis), had pronounced synesthesia, some visual effects, strong ideation, euphoria, very strong feelings of empathy and connectedness, and a complete absence of anxiety, feelings of guilt etc.
        The experience had a profound effect on my life. I realized that I had internalized unrealistic expectations and was pressuring myself into a career track that caused profound unhappiness and frustration. I had been unable to enjoy the company of my children and friends.
        The sense of joy, bliss and contentment slowly abated over about 14 days. Subjectively, I had realized that the intense pressure I had put myself under was unnecessary and unproductive. I left my job at a company and went back into academic research, started seeing my friends regularly, spent more time with my children, and discovered that I enjoyed dancing (in my late 30ies). I felt more happy with my body image, and more accepting of myself in general. I had also realized that I did not value my partner enough, and had not directed enough attention her way.

        Some of the changes were certainly cognitive, caused by the ability to visit a “normal”, unpressured emotional state, and reflecting on my situation, romantic experiences, self-acceptance etc. in that state. There were also neurological changes: before the experience, I was unable to enjoy EDM. Afterwards, I had acquired the ability to go into a light trance state during dancing.

        A year later, I had my first LSD experience (combined with MDMA), in the same setting. It was accompanied with strong visual pseudohallucinations, ideations and spiritual experiences. It took me several days to deconstruct these experiences.

        Later LSD experiences did not result in visual effects any more, even at larger (300-600µg) doses, but included depersonalization, dream-like inspirations and dramatic floods of ideas and theories. Part of the longterm effects are entirely cognitive: serotonin seems to act as a learning signal, i.e. the dream-like experiences have a strong impact on the beliefs of the subject. I found that repeated experiences included extremely varied “revelations”, which made it easier to realize that even the most convincing ‘paranormal’ conviction can be caused by a combination of dreaming and long-term memory formation.

        Each trip led to a period of about 2-4 days during which I came up with countless theories, which turned me in a temporary expert in amateur sociology, amateur physics, amateur cosmology and amateur biology. There were also lasting changes, but they seem to be subtle. I have more creative ideas in my everyday work, have a greater appreciation of art and music, and interest in meditation.

        The fact that LSD does not cause visual effects any more (even after an abstinence of 18 months) is indicative of lasting physiological effects. However, the content of psychedelic states tends to be accompanied with greater feelings of significance than everyday events, which probably means that the general beliefs and world view of the subject are easily affected.

    • Alex says:

      I think it’s the other way around. People who end up believing “I got so high that I was able to speak to an angel! That was amazing!” are more likely to become active promoters of psychedelics than people who end up believing, “I got so high that I thought I spoke to an angel! That was silly!” I think it boils down to things like someone’s susceptibility to religious belief and other factors that I don’t fully understand.

      This also goes along with Scott’s possibility two. “But why would that make John Lilly obsessed with aliens? Why would it turn Timothy Leary into a space colonization advocate and Ron Paul supporter?” Lots of people interpret their psychedelic experiences in terms of contacting aliens or extraterrestrial beings. And if you were jailed on drug charges, I can understand why you’d support a politician who wants to legalize drugs. I don’t think those beliefs are weird or inexplicable at all.

      • Related to this …

        I observed, at first hand, a situation where there was an orthodoxy in a field, a few people questioned it, and it eventually turned out that the questioners were largely correct.

        I think that makes me more willing to consider that the same thing may be happening in other and unrelated fields—that saturated fat may not be bad for you, that AGW might have net positive effects, that the conventional model of K-12 schooling may be a very serious mistake. I am less willing than I might otherwise have been to take it for granted that the position held by the high status experts is correct.

        I can imagine a similar pattern with psychedelics. The experience feels like the discovery of something nobody else is aware of, which makes you more willing to suspect that there are lots of other things out there that other people are not seeing.

        • Wilj says:

          That makes sense to me; I’ve witnessed something similar firsthand, with illicit drugs in general. Drugs addict you instantly, they kill brain cells, illicit use has no benefits at all, you’ll be mentally or physically crippled for life… it’s common knowledge! The authorities say so!

          So when someone tries mushrooms and the experience causes no lasting ill effects and indeed seems very meaningful and beneficial, it’s not uncommon for them to think that maybe the “common knowledge” (and especially official narrative) is completely untrustworthy, and sometimes there’s a perception that they’ve stumbled upon a profound secret.

          • Anonymous says:

            I broadly agree with you. However, ‘shrooms are a really non-central example of “drugs” in the sense you imply.

            (Heck, they’re practically vegetables, and everyone knows vegetables are good for you . . .)

          • Tibor says:

            A friend of mine who used to do meth told me exactly that story. Pot was supposed to be really bad according to all the official sources, they tried it with some friends, found out it wasn’t such a big deal. Then they thought meth was maybe not as bad either.

            This was in the early 90s in the Czechoslovakia/Czech republic when illegal drugs were suddenly available (there were basically no illegal drugs during communism) but the information about them was still very limited and even less accurate than it is today (and of course, there was no Internet). Still, if someone does not have a sense for sorting out information and simply goes with whatever the mainstream “official” version is in everything, finds out something does not quite fit, then it is easy to make an opposite mistake of not trusting anything that is mainstream (and some people are then also quite susceptible to trusting anything that isn’t mainstream, however obscure and dubious it is…well, especially the people I know that do LSD or mushrooms on a relatively regular basis, but of course they’re hardly representative 🙂 ).

          • Simon says:

            I have, with Hawaiian P Cyanescens mushrooms had a long lasting, totally transcendent ego-death style experience. Truly astonishing. You know, the sort of thing Buddhism and meditation is meant to achieve after years of practice.

            And it was fantastic. But I believe in it’s day to day meaning as much as I do fairies and such. So while mushrooms may show this surprising ability to move personality re openness, how self-selecting are the moved.

            And don’t even ask about the aliens I have felt/seen during DMT times

        • onyomi says:

          Parents, keep your kids off drugs. Their failure to be as damaging as the hype can lead to climate denialism, paleo diets, and Ron Paul support.

    • roystgnr says:

      you believe you are having profound insights, but in fact in the cold light of day they may only amount to unintelligible gibberish

      The trick is to write down your “insights” so that you can reexamine them in different lights.

      “I have sheet after sheet of phrases dictated or written during the intoxication, which to the sober reader seem meaningless drivel, but which at the moment of transcribing were fused in the fire of infinite rationality. … Let me transcribe a few sentences:

      What’s mistake but a kind of take?
      What’s nausea but a kind of -usea?
      Sober, drunk, -unk, astonishment.
      Everything can become the subject of criticism — how criticise without something to criticise?
      Agreement — disagreement!!
      Emotion — motion!!!
      By God, how that hurts! By God, how it doesn’t hurt! Reconciliation of two extremes.
      By George, nothing but othing!
      That sounds like nonsense, but it’s pure onsense!
      Thought much deeper than speech…!
      Medical school; divinity school, school! SCHOOL! Oh my God, oh God; oh God!” – William James, “The Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide”

      He’s actually much more respectful of the underlying “revelation” here than my out-of-context quote suggests, but I’m afraid even his full exegesis isn’t much more impressive.

      • Psmith says:

        William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was: “A smell of petroleum prevails throughout.”

        See also: “the banana is great, but the peel is greater.”

      • onyomi says:

        I love how, again, the thought processes of people under the influence remind me of doge.

    • nydwracu says:

      I don’t know about the other guys, but Leary was always kind of weird. How weird did Albert Hoffman and Alexander Shulgin get?

      Was the openness to experience increase was caused by the psychedelics themselves, or was it caused by doing something really weird that turned out to be alright? I’ve heard reports of long-term effects from psychedelics, but I suspect they vary strongly across people.

  2. stargirlprincess says:

    LSD definitely made me much more interested in Budhism. Initially I had very little interest in spirituality.

  3. Corwin says:

    I’m surprised that you didn’t find any of them that was still reductionist…

  4. There is also an important selection bias here of scientists who are drawn in general to new fields. My impression is that the sorts of people who come up with genuinely new ideas or pioneer interesting spaces are kind of crazy to begin with. Isaac Newton, for instance, dedicated his life to trying to mathematically prove that there was no Holy Trinity and that God was a unity.

    And maybe it’s just because I’m a psychedelic-using scientifically-literate person, but “The Walls Of Plato’s Cave” doesn’t even sound that crazy to me 😛

    • Peter Scott says:

      The Isaac Newton thing actually sounds like a pretty reasonable thing to try if you’re mathematically brilliant, a truly-believing Christian, and living in a time when “trying to mathematically prove that there was no Holy Trinity and that God was a unity” hadn’t already become a punchline. I mean, sure, these days we know that respectable mathematicians don’t cross the streams and try to mix math with theology — that’s for, like, crazy people — but I assume there was a time when it seemed novel and interesting. It’s not obviously a silly idea unless you have an unusually good grasp of epistemology.

      • Bassicallyboss says:

        And not necessarily even then. Many theologians say that the world couldn’t exist without God the same way 1+1 couldn’t ever equal 2, and indeed that this similarity is not mere analogy, but that mathematical truth reflects some aspect or aspects of God.

        This idea was around in Newton’s time, and it is among the more sensible and defensible ideas in theology. If you’re a true believer, then further believing that mathematics can provide insight into the nature of God is downright rational.

  5. Pku says:

    I feel like I’m kind of living in a rut these days, and that I’ve become too anxious, cynical, and closed off to new experiences. Would you say trying LSD would be good for me? (Mostly kidding; you’ve said before you don’t give medical advice online).

    A more serious question: Assuming psychedelics do cause these long-term effects, is there anything known/theorized to have the ability to undo it?

    • nope says:

      In case “mostly” is like a 51% thing rather than, say, a 95% thing: if you’re gonna try psychedelics for the first time, maybe don’t start out with LSD. A low dose of shrooms would make for a more mellow introduction.

      Also, I believe O decreases with age, on average… so, wait it out perhaps? That or become a Republican.

      • tern says:

        Does openness decrease on average in individuals with time, or is it a group average? Would not be surprised if openness started correlating with mortality above a certain threshold.

      • Dualmindblade says:

        I totally disagree. Mushrooms are far less forgiving, at comparable doses, than lsd. If you want something milder, there’s 2c-d or dpt.

        • Psycicle says:


          Oh dear god no.

          Mescaline, and either 2C-B or D are the best beginner psychedelics (read: Least likely to cause a panic attack/bad trip)

          And it is possible to obtain mescaline-containing cacti on ebay, FYI.

        • nope says:

          “Forgiving” in what sense? A low dose of shrooms will pretty much just induce closed-eye visuals, and if you don’t like what you’re seeing you can just open your eyes.

        • Alexp says:

          People have such different experiences on psychedelics that it’s hard to say. My first shrooms trip started fun, but got uncomfortably introspective at the end, while my acid trip was just fun. But this could just be due to other shit that was going on in my life at the time.

          I will say that the 2CX or DOX family tends to be lighter and gentler. Also, consider MDMA. You don’t get the visual stuff, or the feeling like your ego dissolving into a higher material plane stuff, but you do get a massive dose of empathy.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Can you explain what you mean by, “massive dose of empathy”?

          • nope says:

            You can definitely get visuals on MDMA (albeit of a different kind than other hallucinogens).

            @Two McMillion: take your current levels of empathy for everyone in (and not in) your life and turn it up to 11. Do this drug with people you want to improve or deepen your relationship with. Try to avoid contexts where you would interact with non-MDMA-taking strangers.

          • Alexp says:

            It’s hard to explain. It’s like a feeling that you’re one with everybody else. With LSD or Mushrooms, this feeling comes with the ‘ego death’ which is when you feel like you, as a distinct identity, merges with the universe. But with MDMA, you get that feeling while still having a concrete identity.

        • Tibor says:

          I guess it depends on the kind of mushrooms we’re talking about. I’ve only ever had psilocybe (common everywhere in Europe except for Scandinavia, and the West coast of Northern America), for some reason it has zero effect on me. I tried increasing the dosage for a while. I had them with people who had had a lot of experience with psilocybe, LSD, even the hallucinogenic American mushrooms (I don’t know the names) and I ate twice as many psilocybe as them without any effect (whereas it did have an effect on them and it was the same batch or the same “mushroom tea”). Then I thought it was probably not smart to keep increasing it even more in case something happened all of a sudden at a certain dose so I just stopped.

          Perhaps related – as a small child I pretended I was a rabbit in our garden and there were some mushrooms that were growing there in one place. I ate them. My mother, when she spotted me, put a finger into my throat to induce vomiting and immediately drove me to the hospital but perhaps it worked like vaccination (it is probably nonsense though :))

          • Simon says:

            AS with everything of course YMVV but I have never seen anyone not have a straight +3 froma big dose of P Cyanescens (Hawaiian tropical wood growing mushrooms and loaded with goodness) With careful research can be found for sale on the internet and ship powdered and fairly innocuous looking.

            Not toys though

      • Pku says:

        This surprised me more than it should have – I’ve had “don’t trust mushrooms” drummed into me, but LSD seems manmade and therefore safe.

        • Tibor says:

          The main problem with LSD (as with other drugs) today is that you can only buy it illegally, which means you have zero reliable information about the source and about the ingredients (unless you know/are the producer). I am very hesitant about trying LSD like this, I would almost definitely try it if I could buy it for example in an apothecary and know exactly what is in that particular one.

          • Anon says:

            On the contrary, with the widespread use of strong anonymity software it’s easier than ever to find reputable distributors backed by community reviews and independent lab testing/certification. Just check the relevant subreddit for info on which sites are trustworthy.

          • Simon says:

            1p LSD is pretty widely available around so-called research chemical sites at the moment. Essentially as I (probably badly) grasp it, this is actual LSD with the extra molecule (the 1p bit) grafted in during manufacture in such a way that it keeps it legal. (Analogue acts the world over can be tricky though).

            The eating then metabolises it to LSD. Haven’t tried personally but reports seem good.

        • Wilj says:

          The problem with LSD as an introductory psychedelic is mainly how long it lasts. I disagree that it’s a better choice than ‘shrooms to start; I don’t believe there’s any real difference in the “gentleness” of the experience apart from that caused by dose. I may be wrong, however.

          If pressed, I’d say that mescaline/peyote is a “happy” hallucinogen, according to my own experience and a few interviews; but I’d still recommend ‘shrooms over anything else, were someone determined to try something.

          The most important thing is simply to be excited about it (and it helps to have a careful ritual preparation and a friend too). However, if you’ve never tried any mind-altering substance before (aside from alcohol, which dulls the mind too much to provide the right sort of “practice”), cannabis might be the best way to get accustomed to rolling with an experience.

          But sobriety is always the safest choice. I do not recommend doing anything illegal where you live, and I am much happier now than when I was taking a lot of drugs — don’t ever make any of them a regular habit, seriously. I would especially caution anyone who suspects they may have a latent mental illness.

          That said, the trips I had, especially psilocybe mushroom trips, were incredible beyond words. Pure wonder and joy.

          But they didn’t do anything long-term — good or bad — that I can perceive.

      • “Also, I believe O decreases with age, on average… so, wait it out perhaps? That or become a Republican.”

        On order to become more open to new views of the world?

        • Bassicallyboss says:

          Less open:

          Assuming psychedelics do cause these long-term effects, is there anything known/theorized to have the ability to undo it?

    • Alex says:

      LSD might be good for you but it won’t solve your problems for you. You still have to solve them yourself. (I hope that made sense?)

      • Pku says:

        This does make it sound right for me – on an object level, I’ve got a pretty good handle on my problems over the last year, but on the meta-level, I could probably do with more openness.

    • Tentatively, yes, trying psychedelics would be a good idea. LSD lasts for a looooong time, so it might be worth trying something with a shorter trip, like mushrooms or 2CE. Before trying anything make sure to research it thoroughly. Erowid is the best source for information and testimonials about what it’s like.

      The largest piece of advice I would give is that the social group and location you pick for a trip is much more important than the specific substance itself. Make sure you’re with people you like and trust (ideally people who have used before) and that you are in a place in which you feel safe.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Maybe this is just me but I’d rather be miserable than a hippie.

      • Salem says:

        It’s not just you.

      • anodognosic says:

        It depends on how much a hippie you’re willing to be. I’m considerably less miserable thanks to psychedelics. It’s also made me fairly comfortable engaging with stuff like astrology and tarot and continental philosophy as humanities, but still have pretty high standards for accepting empirical claims (perhaps even better standards!). So overall I feel like it’s been positive on all fronts.

    • Mammon says:

      My thoughts: taking LSD when you’re in anything but the best state of mind is liable to take you to very difficult places inside your head. It could be a stressful and emotionally difficult experience.

      You’d still come out of it thinking it was worth it – LSD always feels like it taught you important things.

    • Yur says:

      As someone who’s used psychedelics of all kinds over 50 times, I really recommend starting with a floating tank session (John Lilly’s invention). It’s inexpensive, has no downsides and produces a very very mild approximation of a psychedelic experience.

    • jes5199 says:

      It worked for me, but the experience is like a really difficult therapy session. Don’t expect it to be like taking an antidepressant where you just sort of feel better.

    • ex-hipppy says:

      n=1 here: I did psychedics for a while, became extremely ‘hippy’ in my beliefs, and then eventually returned to my baseline – but it took years. I wouldn’t suggest trying it. While they’re not addictive (my first time, immediately afterwards I thought ‘I’d like to do that again, maybe in about 6 month’s time) it’s interesting enough that you want to do it again, and again, so it might turn into a hard habit to break. Though I did eventually get bored with it – but a lot of people don’t.
      My baseline level of openness to experience is fairly low, which might make a difference.

  6. Somewhat off topic, but Scott, do you have any thoughts on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy? Do you think it is as promising as it seems to a layperson? Particularly, the research being conducted by Rick Doblin and his organization, MAPS. Sorry if I have asked this before; I’ve been meaning to ask it and can’t remember if I actually did.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I know some MAPS people. They all seem smart. MDMA-assisted therapy seems like the sort of thing that would work. I haven’t read their studies but see no reason to doubt them.

  7. EyeballFrog says:

    “He also believes he has contacted extraterrestrials in the form of a fluorescent green raccoon”

    Preposterous. Everyone here knows that you get contacted by a big green bat.

  8. The Nybbler says:

    Are there well-known users of psychedelic drugs who settled down and behaved in accordance with societal norms after discontinuing use of the drugs? Apparently (according to some shady Internet site) both Cary Grant and Jack Nicholson took them, and neither are/were extremely weird (at least not by Hollywood standards).

    • Depends on how much psychedelic use you’re talking about and how you define normal. I suspect the use of psychedelics is more widespread than most people think. One example is Joe Rogan, who has taken psychedelics on several occasions and is, I’d say, entirely normal… At least, for a stand up comedian. 🙂

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m sure there are, but no side effect happens to everyone. Most smokers don’t get lung cancer.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Cary Grant felt that taking LSD under his psychiatrist’s direction in the 1950s when it was legal was highly therapeutic for him.

      Cary had been in therapy for years over the fact that while everybody treated him like he was Cary Grant, on the inside he still felt like poor, miserable Archibald Leach. His doctors told him, “You’ve made millions of people happy, so you deserve to be Cary Grant.” But he never believed his therapists until one of them had him take LSD before his therapy sessions, and then the message that he had earned being Cary Grant finally sank home and he was reasonably happy for the rest of his life. I’m not sure of the chronology, but my impression is that his triumphant performance in “North by Northwest” — the subtext of which is: it’s a blast being Cary Grant — followed this breakthrough in therapy.

      Or at least that’s the impression I picked up from skimming a biography of Cary Grant.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      For the upside and downside of LSD, see last year’s exquisite musical biopic “Love and Mercy” about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

      The timeline of the effect of LSD on Wilson is well-known. The Beach Boys already had had much success, but Wilson started getting panic attacks in 1964 while flying. That gave him an excuse to stop touring and work in the studio.

      He first took LSD in early 1965 and immediately sat down and wrote “California Girls.” From July 1965 to April 1966 he worked in the studio on the “Pet Sounds” album, with its masterpiece tracks “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” The briefly put the Beach Boys back ahead of the Beatles in their friendly race to push rock music forward in artistry using LSD. Wilson’s cousin Mike Love convinced him to write a single that would combine his new quasi-Baroque style with a strong rock beat that the kids could dance to. This resulted in the megasingle “Good Vibrations” in the fall of 1966.

      From there it was all downhill. Wilson’s ambitious attempt to top himself with the album “Smile” cratered in 1967 as drugs destroyed his sanity. Wilson retreated to his room and, in chaos, the Beach Boys had to pass up their headlining gig at the landmark Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, which immediately relegated them to being a nostalgia act when they eventually got their act back together.

      Wilson became the best known drug casualty in show biz, since he lived in the Hollywood Hills and would occasionally emerge from his room, a 300 pound man in a bathrobe shambling around trying to cadge drugs and cheeseburgers from fans.

      Eventually he got off drugs via a doctor assigning him 24×7 minders, which then led to lawsuits.

      Wilson is still alive today in his mid-70s. He tells people: Don’t take drugs. They ruined my brain.

    • Mammon says:

      I think a lot of famous people low-key used psychedelics in their lifetimes. You just didn’t hear about it.

      In the cases where you hear about someone’s psychedelics use, it’s likely that everyone heard of it. And then it becomes pretty hard for them to “behave in accordance with societal norms”, since a lot of people are going to treat them like they’re fucked up and outgroupy.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Brian Wilson was pretty In in late 1966 when “Good Vibrations” was on top of the charts and the record company was telling him to spend whatever he wanted on the Beach Boys’ upcoming “Smile” album.

        He just couldn’t deliver because his brain was fried from the LSD that had helped him get to that point.

        • metamatic says:

          This is incredibly misleading. By 1968, Wilson was using amphetamines and cocaine, not just psychedelics. Blaming his mental state at the time solely on LSD doesn’t make sense at all.

          Especially given that he was hardly a model of mental good health prior to the drugs.

        • anon says:

          Kind of a funny choice to blame that on LSD — he was having nervous breakdowns *before* the LSD. Also he was about the age where schizophrenia starts to kick in. Post hoc ergo proper hoc but not even post hoc.

      • Virbie says:

        I have a bad habit of forgetting the context in which in talking about taboos and adjusting the rankings accordingly. For example, in college I accidentally mentioned to my mom something about me smoking weed because by that point I had so thoroughly internalized that alcohol was far worse (in many ways) than weed, and she was fine with me drinking.

        > since a lot of people are going to treat them like they’re fucked up and outgroupy.

        I’m always surprised by how prevalent this is, even in circles that have managed to get over the hump of the arbitrary designation of “X is a drug and drugs are bad (except alcohol and caffeine)”.

        I’ve dropped acid a couple of times (including while clubbing in Bangkok), and each time has been pretty mellow and enjoyable. This makes me forget how most people I know would react with utter shock, because using a “hard drug” officially makes me a “drug user” (though using alcohol and weed doesn’t put you in this category).

    • Glen Raphael says:

      Does Steve Jobs count? Here’s one of his better-known quotes:

      “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

    • hypnosifl says:

      According to p. 406 of Gleick’s biography, Richard Feynman used LSD, and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier recalls talking with him about the mind/body problem when he (Feynman) was on acid here.

      Another good one: apparently Groucho Marx did acid when deciding whether to be in the pro-LSD movie Skidoo, scroll down to the middle of this page (starting with the section ‘The Ram Dass connection’)

  9. Joline says:

    A scary possibility is that what psychedelics do is disengage the mechanism that makes us have confirmation bias. And reveal that this bias is more of a feature than a bug. A feature that protects our discernment and our ability to keep intuition from sending us tilting at windmills.

    And yet we know how confirmation bias gets out of hand so easily and can lead to all types of perceptual blindness and irrationality.

    If your last post left you unsettled, I’m surprised this post hasn’t given you a full fledged attack of the willies. The only reason I’m merely mildly unsettled by it is my eccentric take on mind-body unity…and even then, I admit, you’ve demonstrated once again how easy it is to go wrong with confidence

    • nope says:

      >A scary possibility is that what psychedelics do is disengage the mechanism that makes us have confirmation bias. And reveal that this bias is more of a feature than a bug. A feature that protects our discernment and our ability to keep intuition from sending us tilting at windmills.

      Are you referencing something here, or is this based on your own observation/speculation?

      • Two McMillion says:

        I’m not sure what he’s specifically referring to, but it sounds like something I’ve noticed: that a lot of the cognitive biases that Less Wrongers talk about are actually very useful brain features in the right context. For example, scope insensitivity seems to make us less susceptible to Pascal’s mugging- when Pascal tries to mug me, I intuitively think, “Something’s not right” largely because I’m less able to visualize 3^^^3 people being tortured than one person being tortured.

        It sounds like Joline is proposing something similar with regard to confirmation bias. If you have a sensible prior, confirmation bias can actually be a good thing in that it keeps you from running down every rabbit trail that presents itself. Assuming most of the population develops sensible priors, I can see how this effect would be selected for. Confirmation bias basically boils down to sticking with what’s always worked, which is a very sensible precaution in a lot of circumstances.

        • nope says:

          That was the part that made sense to me. The part that seemed more tenuous was the connection with psychedelic use, which is why I was asking for backup.

        • sconn says:

          Oh totally, biases exist because they’re useful in some cases. I’m convinced that my relative lack of normalcy bias is what causes me to be anxious so much of the time. Where many people even in crisis situations assume that things are going along normally and nothing is wrong, I’m much more likely to think “oh no, this is the first moment of a terrible catastrophe” every time something strikes me as odd. No one really wants to live like that …. and the thing is, when it comes to careless, subconscious judgment, we can’t have exact correctness. We have to round up or round down.

    • hypnosifl says:

      It seems at least equally plausible that they turn up confirmation bias to 11, but in a more “chaotic” way than usual, or perhaps a more “in the moment” way that doesn’t need to be consistent with what you believed in the past. So, instead of one’s tendency towards confirmation bias repeatedly working in favor of some reasonably stable set of expectations about reality, perhaps the brain can very quickly dream up a bunch of seeming confirming evidence for all sorts of weird ideas that would ordinarily be dismissed as passing fancies (in large part because they don’t fit well with that ‘stable set of expectations’ I mentioned), and can also reshape sensory input to fit odd fleeting sensory impressions that would ordinarily be dismissed as “mistakes”.

    • redacted says:

      I think you are basically right. There might be literally a hyperparameter in cortical units that determines the likelihood of an unknown concept. If you turn it up, not only will vague theories will suddenly look a lot more convincing, but your brain will also make inferences based on them, and inferences on the inferences, which is quite desirable with you try to find a route for complex mathematical proof etc. You will have to go back later and test every step involved extra hard, though.

      Having such a connective-inference mode is obviously useful, and perhaps this is the main purpose of dreams. Since long-term memory is usually not formed during dreams, you won’t wake up with your head full of the impact of having discovered connections between alien invasions and CRISPR. Psychedelics probably engage the same mechanisms, but with long-term memory formation turned on.

  10. MawBTS says:

    My suspicion is that the less is known about an area, the more “wild Dadaist creativity” succeeds as an approach.

    It when a scientific field is new, there’s typically unpicked low hanging fruit everywhere (it’s surprising how many early physics and chemistry discoveries were made by accident). It’s a playground for crazy uninhibited people who’ll try anything in the name of scientific experimentation. After a while, the field matures, and things like “rigor” and “not being batshit insane” start to pay off.

    I think of Ramanujan, who received scrolls of mathematical formulae from the goddess Mahalakshmi in his dreams. Of course, Ramanujan was not a part of any “school”, he was self-taught from a single out of date textbook. A rigorous, unimaginative mathematician in his position would have little to work with. His creativity (or craziness, if you prefer) was a huge asset.

    As Hunter S Thompson said: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Brian Wilson’s life epitomizes pundit Mickey Kaus’ point that musical biopics are always plotted around the happy ending when the innovator finally overcomes his chemical dependency; but they leave unstated how he never really came up with anything terribly new again, suggesting that maybe it was the drugs all along.

      By the way, here’s a 1968 photo of a panel discussion at a mandatory school assembly at Beverly Hills High School following a performance by the Velvet Underground, which had been arranged by student body president Mickey Kaus. From left to right: young Mickey, the school psychiatrist (how many public high schools besides Beverly Hills had a school psychiatrist in 1968? I imagine he was a Freudian, with a couch and everything … ), a school music teacher, and Lou Reed, who appears less fascinated by what the student council leader is saying than are the two older gentlemen.

      • Mary says:

        State-dependent learning. If you mastered the art of writing while high, you will have much more difficult to do without it.

        One reason why writers are warned against having a drink to loosen up before writing.

        • MawBTS says:

          This is why I feel bad about taking modafinil etc to help with day to day problems.

          Feels too much like burning rubber in a NOS-fueled supercar to get to church on Sunday.

        • roystgnr says:

          There’s got to be more to it than that. Erdős had a very productive life pre-amphetamines, for example, so he’d clearly mastered the art of sober mathematics. But while his productivity didn’t noticeably change after he started on drugs, he was thereafter dependent – when he went cold turkey for a month, he claimed that “Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper.”

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Hunter S. Thompson’s career arc shows that not getting off drugs can also rob you of your creativity.

      His 1971 memoir? novel? “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is a masterpiece of comic prose style. But he immediately fell into a rut.

      In contrast, Thompson’s contemporary Tom Wolfe (who managed to write the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test only taking LSD once) pushed on to write two massive masterpieces over the next 18 years, The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, and reached the peak of his prose style in the early pages of his 1997 novel A Man in Full before a heart operation and subsequent bipolar syndrome weakened him.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The effects of LSD were well-documented early from all the professional writers associated with novelist Ken Kesey in California in the 1960s. Tom Wolfe said that his book about Kesey was easy to write because so many of his sources were superior writers. For example, one of Wolfe’s sources was novelist/screenwriter Larry “Lonesome Dove/Hud/Last Picture Show/Terms of Endearment/Brokeback Mountain” McMurtry, who recently married Kesey’s widow.

        Drugs pretty much destroyed Kesey’s promising literary career, but McMurtry has been extraordinarily productive.

      • Ivan Ivanoff says:

        But Wolfe & Thompson were very different people; it’s hard to tell with n=2.

  11. Amelia Kelly says:

    With respect to the second possibility, an interesting case study is Albert Hofmann, who originally discovered LSD in 1943. He was a strong believer in the “spiritual” benefits of LSD, etc., but he doesn’t seem to have gone totally off the rails the way those other guys did. This leads me to believe that the second possibility was a factor, but still leaves the aliens/yoga/Ron Paul stuff unexplained. I wonder why Leary and company wound up going that route and Hofmann didn’t.

    • Bill Kaminsky says:

      At the risk of belaboring the obvious [but what I haven’t seen anyone belabor here yet 😉 ], I really think all these anecdotes are probably explained by the old adage goes “the dose makes the poison.”

      That is to say, there’s nothing necessarily particularly surprising about 3 facts that:

      1) As alluded to by Scott in the original post, there really is a bunch of fully respectable scientific papers underlying what arguably is even “conventional wisdom” at this point that *at the doses used in the studies* hallucinogen use seemingly isn’t a generator of mental illness.

      2) As mentioned by Amelia Kelly in the comment above and as related by various commenters’ personale experiences with the stuff, there are anecdotes of smart people who were iconoclastic enough to be pioneers in psychedelic research back in the day (or in the here-and-now) who *didn’t* then get really “weird” (or haven’t yet today).

      3) That said, a lot of them did get weird as mentioned in the original post and elsewhere. As Alex hypothesizes in a comment above:

      I think it’s the other way around. People who end up believing “I got so high that I was able to speak to an angel! That was amazing!” are more likely to become active promoters of psychedelics than people who end up believing, “I got so high that I thought I spoke to an angel! That was silly!” I think it boils down to things like someone’s susceptibility to religious belief and other factors that I don’t fully understand.

      All I would add is that key in the “other factors I don’t fully understand” (and, IMHO, possibly more important than “susceptibility to religious belief” existing before one’s first use of psychedelics) is biological susceptibility to being *addicted* to them. I mean, even if one thought the psychedelic trip experience was silly, if one found it sufficiently *interesting*, then one might well be inclined to try tripping again but there’d be a big world of difference between the repeat user who goes:

      A) Dose X was fun and trippy, but weird. Lemme be cautious and take just dose X again, and not do this more than daily, etc.


      B) Dose X was fun and trippy, but weird. I wonder if I just haven’t taken the dose yet that yields the true simulacrum of Divine Revelation. I wonder what dose 2X is like? And if that doesn’t become Teh Awesome, how ’bout 4X? Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket!

  12. C says:

    > 1000 micrograms of it, one of the biggest doses I’ve ever heard of someone taking

    Then Google “thumbprinting.”

    • Ivan Ivanoff says:

      It is more a symbol of trust than key to enlightenment as the experience is completly overwhelming and memory is scrambled between acid dream and “reality” with most of it blank.I had persistant imagery for several months and for the following week felt ” rode hard and put away wet”. … I since (25+yrs) still am (resistant,accustomed,tolerant,?) with psychadelics but enjoy them greatly in moderation. … Weak I know but how do you describe ultimate Non-Youness persisting uncontrolably and unresitably?

      Jesus. Maybe it affects spelling, too.

  13. Randy M says:

    This makes me think of one of those RPG’s where there is that one stat bumping item tucked away that can permanently increase one of your traits.
    I wonder if there exist drugs that permanently alter one’s personality in other ways?

  14. The Do-Operator says:

    The 2011 study ( is methodologically very annoying because while the data came from a randomized trial, the exposure they are interested in (i.e. “mystical event”) was not randomized.

    They say things like “This is the first study to demonstrate changes in personality in healthy adults after an experimentally manipulated discrete event. To our knowledge, the only other experimental (i.e., randomized) intervention reported to change healthy adults’ personality involved hundreds of hours of solitary meditation over the course of three months (Sahdra et al., 2011). The present findings are suggestive of lasting change in core personality traits. ”

    This is seriously disingenious because the only lasting change they found was not an effect of the randomized exposure, but of a post-treatment event. If I was a peer-reviewer there is no way they would have got that sentence into print without serious qualifications. The authors do not even mention the possibility of confounding (i.e. people who are already on track to become more open to experience are more likely to have a mystical event), which is an extremely likely explanation for their findings.

    Moreover, since this was a crossover trial everyone got the same treatment. The only difference was the ordering. They therefore did not have an experimental design that was at all appropriate for analyzing long term outcomes (unless they suspect that the order of the two was important for long term outcomes)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      They also list numbers for people who were in the groups without worrying about whether they had a mystical event – it’s still quite positive and significant.

      • The Do-Operator says:

        Yes, but that is short term, i.e. the outcome is measured very soon after the treatment. I am mostly complaining about their claims of a long-term effect. The study was not designed to answer that question.

  15. What’s so weird about supporting Ron Paul? He’s about as far from the Overton window as Bernie Sanders. Ron Paul is also a drug legalization advocate, which fits with the whole psychedelic thing.

  16. SomethingWitty says:

    Scott: you should take this with a gigantic boulder of salt, but you might be interested in Peter Walsh as a data point with regard to long term affects of psychotropics, if you haven’t heard of him already. He’s the guy behind the “still drinking” blog, and that one popular essay “Programming Sucks”.
    He wrote a series of blog posts about a year or two long psychotic break after he did some LSD and stopped sleeping. I’m not sure how much this is to be believed, but they’re both well written and filled with a lot of really strange and interesting (if true) details.
    The posts can be found here.
    I would actually really like to get your reaction as a psychologist to those claims if at all possible.

    • caethan says:

      Well, that was equal parts fascinating and terrifying. This discussion is making me very glad I grew up Mormon and the extent of my drug use is a glass of Scotch every couple of months. The experience of being the only sober/non-stoned person at college parties (OK, Caltech college parties, but still) gave me an abiding appreciation for just how dull and pedestrian drunks are when they think they’re being clever.

      I’m baffled by the number of “rationalists” who think hitting their brains with hammers and watching the shiny pieces fly around is a good idea. Guys? That’s what you use to think with. You need that. It’s like watching someone do percussive maintenance on the dashboard of their car with a sledgehammer while they’re driving 70 mph down the 101 in the middle of rush hour.

      • nope says:

        It’s called “testing boundary conditions”. Low, infrequent experimental doses of what empirically are the safest, lowest addiction potential recreational psychotropics are nowhere near the level of self-destructive you’re insinuating.

      • Peter Welch says:

        It’s Welch, not Walsh.

        Anyway, you’re not wrong, but as for why we try in the first place: The first time you do a high dose of a hallucinogen this potent, you have no idea what you’re in for. You’re doing it because of peer pressure or curiosity. There’s no way to prepare your expectations for the moment when all the reasoning mechanisms and rationality, that you thought were the basis of your conscious identity, just stop working, while your senses giving up any pretext of accurately translating your surroundings.

        As alarming as that can be, it’s also amazing to realize your brain can work in such a strikingly different manner. The really, truly basic assumptions about what is real or knowable get stripped away.

        Anyway, I think some people continue to go back to it because it’s cheap fun, some people go back because they confuse the altered state with some notion of “truer” reality, and some go back because it’s a literally indescribable, unsharable state of mind; you can’t even really remember the experience of it properly because you were experiencing things in a way your brain can no longer comprehend. So if you want to remember what it’s like, you have to do it again.

        • SomethingWitty says:

          Oops. Sorry about your name.
          I continue to be blown away by how many random people you can run into in the comment section of this blog.
          Morgan Freeman: care to comment?

    • Tom Richards says:

      I have never had a psychotic break, but I have taken acid twice (a couple of months apart, ten years ago, in my early twenties), been around people on it – including close friends and family members – many more times, known one person (who I was once unreasonably crazy about, but never in fact knew terribly well) suffer (what was diagnosed as) drug-induced psychosis, seen a number of people have extremely bad trips which appeared to have pervasive ill-effects well into the future and encountered the (UK) psychiatric care system fairly extensively when my mother was sectioned as a result of paranoid schizophrenia. Everything about this account rings true to me; I’m sure there are some misremembered or otherwise modified details (as the author acknowledges), but I am very much inclined to take it as being in substance entirely on the level.

      As to myself, I believe (with moderate confidence) that taking acid has made me permanently better at understanding other people, and consequently a better actor (my profession) and writer (something I care about very much but am too bad at making myself do to consider as a career) and (with somewhat less confidence) less stable and disciplined, and consequently a worse director (something I for a while considered as a career but now do only occasionally) and worse at dealing with life in general (in the shape of eg. tax returns).

  17. Moorlock says:

    I think part of this is that the people who became well-known for being psychedelics researchers/pioneers during the 1960s became well-known in part because of their associated eccentricities.

    Go back before the crazy-days and you get folks like Heinrich Klüver with mescaline, Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s mass-doses of hashish, William James perhaps with his N2O, all of whom had their eccentricities, but didn’t go out into guru land.

    On the other hand, if you decide you’re going to devote your career to exploring the psychedelic headspace, you’ve got to start toying with some awfully weird hypotheses (or metaphors, anyway) if you want to try to make sense of it all. You’re operating at the outer limits of epistemology and trying to bring back something intelligible and if what you come back with sounds pretty freakin’ weird, that might just mean you’re on to something (rather than just on something).

  18. Peter Gerdes says:

    Variation on the first possibility:

    Most drugs of medical interest get investigated at a slow steady pace without fanfare. Drug researchers, psychaitrists and academics know that early promising signs are often misleading and don’t become fanboys.

    The people who gave psychedelics more than the usual medical interest did so because they were in some sense convinced that the altered states induced by psychedelics were valuable…probably in some sense because they let themselves be taken in by them. Of course psychedelic experience can yield valuable insights as can getting drunk or taking lots of opiates but if you start thinking of them as something other than merely the result of altered neurotransmitters you are likely to go down the rabbit hole.

    Once psychedelics got a bad rap people who had experimented with them in a more restrained rational fashion no doubt worked to disassociate themselves from psychedelics for the sake of their careers.

  19. Anon says:

    Psychedelics have been known to stimulate brain-derived neutotrophic factor and neurogenesis. See:

    I discovered this study AFTER I overcame depression through casual use of psychedelics on the order of several dozen moderate doses, spaced apart over a span of several years. Mainly psilocybin mushrooms in the 3 gram range, pure synthetic 4-AcO-DMT in the 20 mg range, and one dose of LSD of unknown (but most likely moderate) dosage. Oh, and several doses of Syrian Rue (harmaline) and Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Seeds (LSA).

    My first reaction to the study was, “Duh! Of course!” The best way I can describe psychedelics is, it’s like you could go back to your 4-year-old self and teach that 4-year-old self everything you know as an adult. That is to say, you look at the world with the sort of plasticity, freshness, and lack of ingrained ruts or patterns or mental routines of a 4-year-old, but with all of the experience that you have assimilated throughout your life up to that point as an adult. Ordinarily ho-hum things seem much more emotionally significant, salient, and novel. Many more potential logical connections spring to mind (I say “potential” because I have learned that it is important to not get too attached to any of these apparent “insights” in the moment. I have had full-blown hour-long word-salad rants on mushrooms that, in hindsight, made no sense whatsoever. You kind of just have to let it wash over you and observe, “Oh, I’m having that thought. And then this one. And now another one. How interesting. I’ll file these away for later consideration when I’m sober again.” I think one can’t stress enough the importance of having enough “cool-down” time in between psychedelic experiences. “Processing time,” many call it. In fact, I’d say the “processing” done while sober after-the-fact is often as interesting as the experience itself).

    My personal theory is that, during these experiences, the brain is actually growing new connections at a much faster rate than normal, and potentially even renewing any parts of the brain that have withered from habitual under-stimulation (as certain parts of the brains of depressed patients undergo).

    Of course, the downside of this is that too many connections where they don’t belong can lead to confused thinking. Refined thinking is basically the pruning of unnecessary and misleading connections in the brain. That’s what ample “processing” time is for.

    At the same time during psychedelic experiences, other parts of the brain are being inhibited, such as the parts that are responsible for OCD-like habitual rumination (other studies bear this out as well). My thinking is, this releases you from habitual thought-patterns and temporarily gives a kind of “level playing-field” for new ideas. It’s a kind of reboot, a new approach to questions from first principles once again. It can help if you have gotten sucked down a blind alley or mislead to some local maximum that is not a global maximum. It can help you re-assess your options of what to believe. This can be for the better, or for the worse. And the effect persists after the drug wears off. This precedent of feeling a sense of renewed open-mindedness remains palpable; the reminder of the feeling of re-opened possibilities, pleasant.

    I quite understand how a single substantial dose could create permanent personality changes. I myself have noticed both positive and negative changes to my personality: less social awkwardness, more “fluid,” confident social interaction, more daily light-hearted humor, but also less of a work-ethic and less patience for attending to stuff that I don’t find intrinsically intellectually stimulating (which sometimes hampers my job productivity).

    All of this also, I think, explains how seemingly ordinary professionals who ought to know better can become open to downright bizarre ideas under the influence of psychedelics. Maybe they didn’t allow for enough “processing” time in between sessions. Maybe they didn’t have sufficient skepticism going into their experiences in the first place, and the thoughts and feelings that they experienced got too heavily “imprinted” on them. Like I said earlier, it does (at least for me) pretty much put me back in the mindset of a 4-year-old kid, with the same potential for “emotionally imprinting” on someone. For example, a lovely, intimate psychedelic experience with my now-present-wife pretty much sealed the deal with our relationship. We went from being casual boyfriend and girlfiend, to poignantly feeling a foreshadowing of what it would feel like to hold each other’s hand in a hospital when both of us were 80 years old after decades of marriage together. That’s what it felt like in that moment. So, even if my wife did something horrible to me tomorrow, there would be quite a bit of mental resistance to the prospect of shaking that emotional imprinting from that one experience. It would take repeated egregious abuses, most likely, to shake my feelings for her.

    One final thing: the biggest misconception I see is the idea that psychedelics are mostly about hallucinations. No, that’s just the most unusual aspect, and the one that is easiest to describe. The most salient aspect, at least for me, is the emotional aspect. And the emotional aspect is intimately tied together with the visual and auditory aspect. Often, the hallucinations are not even close to being photo-realistic things. They are subtle things, often right on the boundary between suggestion, something strongly “reminding” oneself of something else due to a emotional connection between the two concepts, and perception. The emotional amplification is the engine of the experience. Any “hallucinations” are just steam exhaust being trailed behind.

    • This was a great comment, easily the most interesting that I’ve seen in this thread.

    • Stevie Welles says:

      Great comment. It is uncannily close to my own experience from the depression to the wife to the positive and negative personality effects. My frequent (some might say immoderate) use of psychedelics over the course of over 10 years has done SO much for me intellectually and emotionally that imagining my life without that period actually makes me sad. Admittedly though, it’s hard to tease out what changes I would have undergone without psychedelics since I primarily used them during a time of conventional personal growth (19 – 30+).

    • anodognosic says:

      This is entirely in line with my experience with psychedelics.

      I understand it best through the framework David Chapman sets up in Meaningness, in particular the monist/dualist divide.

      Monism in its extreme is the hippy-dippy “everything is connected”, where divisions and distinctions are denied. Dualism is its opposite–in the extreme version, the dogged insistence on the existence of precise and insurmountable distinctions. Each stance taken to the extreme has its problems.

      We on this forum tend to have the problem of being overly dualistic–our problems tend towards adhering too rigidly to ideologies, overemphasizing strict methods and shying away from ambiguity (as opposed to, say, the hippies’ problems of being uncritical wrt evidence, of prioritizing feelings over facts and of denying distinctions even when they make sense).

      An excessively dualistic stance can be very destructive. You might, for instance, get stuck in obsessions, or follow your ideology off a cliff, or be easily manipulated because you’re blind to things beyond the declarative meaning of words.

      Psychedelics, in my experience, tend to temporarily break down dualism, the boundaries of meanings and associations, and allow you to resignify things, at the same time that it puts you in more immediate contact with your senses. For instance, feeling at one with the universe is a common psychedelic experience, because the boundary of the self is weakened.

      The experience can help get you out of a rut by weakening the hold of persistent thoughts that might be hampering you (you are worthless, you are bound to fail). It might help you by breaking down your usual thought-patterns and permitting you to imagine an alternative way of seeing things. It might help dissociate trauma from its triggers. ( I have examples for everything that I brought up here if there’s interest.) It might help you relate to people on a more human level by, for instance, allowing you to see the functions of language beyond the exchange of declarative information.

      Of course, there’s a danger. If you’re not careful going in, you can break down actually useful conceptual boundaries, and then you can go off the deep end with theories about aliens, dolphins and time cubes. What we want is not a total abandonment of dualism, after all, but a healthy balance between the two.

  20. Anon says:

    Also: this is a very good analogy of what the visual aspect of a trip is like, EXCEPT:
    1. Usually not nearly that strong (at least as far as the dosages that I have experienced). This is more like “thumbprint of LSD” level of hallucination. At most normal doses, people are still fully aware of where they are and can navigate spaces easily. Something like this or even slightly less would be more common. But qualitatively, similar.
    2. Instead of all of the morphing texture patterns being of dogs, it would be whatever things you were emotionally reminded of by some other thought or sight or sound or memory at that moment. Or, more often with LSD or LSA, just simple geometric form-constants, flickering patterns like this, etc. (Psilocybin visual hallucinations tend to be more “organic” and conceptual, kind of like the dogs in this video…but, like I said, not nearly this pronounced).

  21. Chris Thomas says:

    Some anecdotal support for your suggestion: I grew up with a group of very logical, clear thinking friends who never used drugs and showed very little interest in them. Around 20, one of these friends became suddenly interested in trying some drug. It wasn’t particularly important to him which drug he tried, he just thought it was time to experiment with something mind-altering. After some consideration, he decided on mescaline. He tried it, liked it, and got a bit weird. Then he tried it again. And again. Then mushrooms, all the while getting stranger and more… “open”. This guy, by the way, was extremely logical and scientific in his world view. But after this, he just started getting more and more into vaguely spiritual ideas, and started questioning basic tenets of logic and math, and so on. Finally he decided to have a big night and do a few different drugs at once. I think they were mescaline, marijuana, and salvia, but I could be mistaken. Anyway, from then on, he was a completely different person. My super science-and-logic friend, who had been a stone cold atheist was now a full fledged believer in just about anything that could possibly count as spiritual or “alternative”. He spent five months backpacking in India, several months voluntarily homeless in America, and just generally on a quest for enlightenment for the past decade. After years of seemingly believing in everything, he settled on being a follower of Meher Baba, a spiritual leader who lived in the 20th century, and is the latest incarnation of the Avatar, or “god in human form” (others included Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed). The upside to this was that this faith required abstinence from drugs. With no drugs, he began to mellow out in his openness, and settle into this particular form of strangeness. But still, he has never been the same, and I have never personally witnessed a more dramatic personality change that went so deep and lasted so long.

    • Walter Alice says:

      Yeah, roll to disbelieve. I’ve taken LSD, Salvia, Psilocybin, and a few other lesser psychedelics like MDMA and remain a full-blown LessWrong rationalist / Richard Dawkins style anti-theist. Who you might classify as extremely logical and scientific might seem like “your average everyday Reddit atheist” to other folks.

      Give us a little background about who you are so we can better evaluate how well you can actually judge these things.

      • Chris Thomas says:

        I’m not sure what you want in the way of background, or how much it would matter. This is clearly just one anecdote, so feel free to disregard it (it’s obviously extreme). I just thought it was interesting and relevant. Anyway, what specifically do you want to know if I am able to judge? And is “roll to disbelieve” a typo, or does it mean something?

        • Machine Elf says:

          “Roll to disbelieve” is a D&D reference; in some editions, illusionary creatures and walls and such can affect people who believe they are real. Thus, on some occasions, there will be a whatever that you have reason to suspect isn’t actually real and which would be much more convenient if it was gone, so you can attempt to deliberately disbelieve in its existence and roll a check to see if you succeed.

          i.e. he’s saying “i sincerely doubt that the way you tell that story is what actually happened”

          • Chris Thomas says:

            Thank you! I remembered this phrase as soon as I saw “D&D”. It’s been a while.

        • Vitor says:

          Roll to disbelieve as in making a stat check in a role-playing game. “The Demon stares at you –> make a fear check”. “Someone on the internet tells a tall tale –> make a gullibility check”.

          Not agreeing entirely with Walter Alice. I’m not a fan of asking other people to show their official level 10 rationalist certificate or whatever, it’s a (too) convenient way of dismissing anything you don’t want to hear.

          I do think the point stands that “extremely logical and scientific” is hard to assess from the outside. Science as attire etc.

          • Peter says:

            Science as attire: Possibly a guy who spent his early life trying too hard to maintain a self-image as extremely rational and scientific, and eventually feeling the need to feel some relief from that… and going a bit crazy in the process.

            Maybe it’s a bit like those people who go straight from far-left to far-right politics, or vice versa, without really stopping in the middle.

          • Chris Thomas says:

            I agree that it’s hard to assess. Here’s what I have in mind though:
            -Very bright, straight A student
            -Interest in discussing science and philosophy
            -Took and loved a college logic class while in high school
            -Had a general reputation for being”extremely logical and scientific”

            Yes this all could be “science as attire”, and maybe it was. But my admittedly biased, inside-view memory says it was not. Also, he has a brother who was similar in some ways, and is still quite level headed.

            P.S. A point against might be that his artistic tastes were always toward the “deep”, “artsy”, and quite bizarre. E.g. David Lynch, Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Gilliam, etc.

          • yli says:

            What people are really wanting to say is that if he’d read the sequences, his sanity and scientific worldview would have withstood the psychedelic experience. I think this is probably actually true, in your friend’s case.

          • Brad (the other one) says:


            No offense, but this sounds _exactly_ like the argument “If he was a REAL Christian he never would have left the faith.” No true scotsman, etc.

      • Someone peripherally connected says:

        My observation of LW rationalists is that the ones who use psychedelics in moderation are fine, but a few who use frequently in high doses have become dramatically different people, somewhat along the lines Chris Thomas describes. (I don’t recommend this path.)

      • Pymander says:

        “Yeah, roll to disbelieve.” – You seem to be positing a “True Rationalist” who has transcended the material brain and thus is immune to any kind of cognitive reworking by mere chemicals.

    • Robert says:

      I had a friend who underwent such a similar chain of experiences that for a moment I thought we were talking about the same person, except my friend started smoking marijuana a few years before his, err, conversion, and never did any other hallucinogens. He also underwent a pretty radical personality shift somewhere in between those two points, but it was unrelated to the scientific/mystical axis of his worldview.

      I think what I’m trying to say is that these things happen, and the cause and effect isn’t always very clear. My friend, on his trip to India, claimed to have induced extremely strong spiritual experiences through practicing yoga without the assistance of any drugs, and this apparently changed his mindset away from reductionism (though I’m not sure how permanent it was). I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of experience you’d have to have to go from being a reductionist to a mystic, but I suppose that’s sort of the point.

      • Walter says:

        I had a buddy who followed a similar progression. That is, he was initially a person with fairly ordinary views, started using drugs, became convinced that buddhism was where it was at. India, backpacking, etc.

        Just one more anecdote, of course.

    • How often did that friend change his mind from a position he liked and found comfortable to a position he didn’t, based on new evidence?

      I ask because I know someone who went basically along the same path, but with Christian Science instead of drugs, and because I knew him well enough that I wouldn’t describe him as deeply rational. He knew the language and shibboleths of science, and was clever and knowledgable to argue that the things he wanted to be true were true convincingly, but he wasn’t a rationalist.

      • Chris Thomas says:

        I can think of two prominent examples of this happening with him, but neither were particularly sudden. The first was a switch to Mormonism. He was raised Christian (a protestant sect, don’t remember which) but his parents divorced when he was six or seven, and his dad married a Mormon woman, after which he became Mormon. The second was his becoming an atheist around 12. This was a longer process that involved quite a bit of self searching and argument with others. I can’t remember any other noteworthy shifts. He made very gradual transitions to both utilitarianism and libertarianism, but those weren’t changes from anything in particular, just a kind of congealing of intuitive beliefs.

    • Miss Laura says:

      Yes, this seems to be what happened to the Sixties — so many college friends who’d once critically analyzed history, or science, or literature, dropped acid and suddenly became all-embracing souls who took up astral projection, or Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, or left for the ashram in India. It’s like they stopped thinking critically. And it became wrong to speak evil of those things. You couldn’t say “My God, you mean to say you really believe you were flying around Nepal last night when I know you were asleep in the next room?”

      • Henry says:

        Reading Gurdjieff or Ouspensky means stopping critical thinking?

        • Simon says:

          It certainly did for Jane Mansfield. Although admittedly the TB was going to do for her fairly soon anyway living in Gurdjieff’s draughty barn probably didn’t help

  22. chaosmage says:

    Other early psychedelicists: Albert Hofmann, Walter Pahnke, Ernst Jünger, Oliver Sacks.

    None of them went weird, although Pahnke maybe just died too early for us to tell.

    Take these and all of yours together and I think this series of data points is more likely in a world where psychiatrists who get shunned by their colleagues because of their fringe ideas respond by having more fringe ideas, rather than in a world where psychedelics make you weird.

    I do not trust the 2011 study because the N is too small and because I believe that people who study psychedelics are particularly likely to find what they want to find (and these people clearly think openness to experience is good), based on how MAPS keeps overselling the very mediocre effect size of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

    • Desertopa says:

      I don’t know about the others, but Oliver Sacks, while still a distinguished figure in his field, was in fact pretty weird.

      I don’t have any of the books in which I read about his various bizarre quirks for reference, but when I tried to look up further sources of information on his various neuroses, the first result I got, here, describes (in an admittedly rambling style) some rather odd character quirks with almost no replication of the weird anecdotes I’d already heard about him.

      At the least, a person who sees the same psychiatrist twice a week for over forty years is probably somewhere out on the tails of what qualifies as “normal.”

  23. akarlin says:

    A 2011 study found that a single dose of psilocybin could permanently increase the personality dimension of Openness To Experience. I’m emphasizing that because personality is otherwise pretty stable after adulthood; nothing should be able to do this. But magic mushrooms apparently have this effect, and not subtly either; participants who had a mystical experience on psilocybin had Openness increase up to half a standard deviation compared to placebo, and the change was stable sixteen months later. This is really scary. I mean, I like Openness To Experience, but something that can produce large, permanent personality changes is so far beyond anything else we have in psychiatry that it’s kind of terrifying.

    Very interesting.

    I am strangely immune to the effects of magic mushrooms. When I try consume them nothing really interesting happens to me.

    However, on Big 5 personality tests, I pretty much max out along the Openess to Experience dimension. This has always been the case, well before I ever tried shrooms.

    I suspect these two factors might be connected.

    • Alexander Severns says:

      Were you taking antidepressants at the time?

    • Tibor says:

      I have the same experience (with psilocybe specifically). I’ve tried them on several occasions, even taking much more than everyone else and still I did not feel even a little a bit different afterwards.

      • Henry says:

        How much have you tried taking (dry weight)?

        • Tibor says:

          I don’t remember anymore, the last time I tried it was some 3-4 years ago. I just know that the last time a guy who used to take them (probably still does) quite often and is taller and heavier than me took half the amount I did and felt the effects. Then I told myself it is probably better to stop there than to keep increasing the amount in case the response is not continuous (i.e. nothing till a certain amount and full-blown and dangerous hallucinations after reaching a certain threshold). Maybe that makes no sense, but since I am not a neuroscientist and don’t know if that is possible or not, I don’t want to risk it.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      I am strangely immune to the effects of magic mushrooms. When I try consume them nothing really interesting happens to me.

      I have something similar in that I appear to be strangely immune to the effects of marijuana; when I smoke it nothing interesting happens to me. And this fact pisses me off – I wanted to know what a drug experience was like.

      So when I tried ‘shrooms my big fear was that it would be just as much a nonevent as smoking pot. But ‘shrooms did work for me, so I finally (in my late 30s) had my first and only actual experience of “getting high”. Which was fun (not counting the vomiting part – I wish I’d known that was a standard thing to expect) and did make me a little more creative. I should do it again sometime…

      • Tibor says:

        Have you ever smoked otherwise? If you smoke it, you have to really breathe in which is not a natural thing to do if you are not a smoker (I’ve always had a hard time doing that when smoking pot because I don’t smoke otherwise, well I don’t actually smoke pot anymore either). Also, the effect of marihuana is relatively mild, definitely no hallucinations or anything, it just kind of makes you more “letargic” and feel the passage of time slightly differently…if you smoke too much you will end up constantly forgetting what you were just talking about and feel 5 minutes like an hour. But if you smoke just a little bit, the effects are quite weak and you might not notice them (similar to when you drink 3 beers, you feel slightly different, but it is quite a subtle difference, unlike 6 beers). So you could have just missed it. In fact, this was my suspicion with the mushrooms for a while which is why I really try to observe even the slightest difference but I could not really see/feel any. Anyway, I used to find the feeling quite relaxing and pleasant but now I actually find it rather annoying. I also don’t like to breathe in smoke (which one can avoid with pot but it is still the simplest way to consume it).

        • Anonymous says:

          Many minds have difficulty noticing that their own functioning is “getting weird,” especially if they have not experienced that kind of weirdness before. It took three hours for me to notice anything was off the first time with mushrooms, and “I didn’t feel anything the first time” trying pot is an extremely common story too.

          • Anonymous says:

            I have sat up all night talking with an acquaintance while they were on their first MDMA roll.

            The next afternoon, after they woke up, they said “I don’t know what the big deal is, nothing happened, it didn’t work on me”.

            And I thought over the night before, where they had done a baring the soul debrief about their deepest fears, hidden shames, agonizing experiences of their divorce, suspicions they are having about their business partner, abuse suffered as a child, peak experiences, their love for their children, their reasons for working and living…

            My response was, “Oh, it worked all right. If you ever do it again, make sure you do it with someone you can utterly trust.”

          • Glen Raphael says:

            My pot story is more along the lines of “I didn’t feel anything the first six times, so eventually gave up”.

            I’ve never smoked cigarettes, but I did make an effort to breathe the smoke in and hold it in a good long while before exhaling. (My tentative conclusion was that it must be psychosomatic – that people enjoy pot and act and feel “wasted” because they think they’re supposed to.)

            Shrooms wasn’t like that. I knew it was at least doing SOMETHING because I almost immediately felt ill and vomited. Then even before I recovered from the nausea I started having a bunch of interesting visual and auditory experiences. One auditory experience was that I lost control of my ability to focus – it became hard to hear one person talking to me because I could hear every person, every noise in the vicinity at once – my brain wasn’t able to tune out all the clutter like it normally would, so it was all a big cacophony. One visual experience was being able to see interesting shimmering movement and variation in what would normally be a boring bit of shadow or wall or patch of dirt. The world was full of interesting patterns everywhere! For the first time, I finally understood that 60s style of art with all the weird colored lines! I found it easier and more fun to sway to music – I don’t normally grok dancing to the degree I could right then. I even got the point of glowsticks – I went through a phase where any moving lights left a noticeable visual trail.

            I learned stuff about perception and stuff about the experience of “being high” that I could file away as actual useful knowledge. I also think I became more creative (as measured by songwriting ability) and more empathetic for a good long while afterwards – at least a year or two – but I have no way to measure this empirically.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Time for some anecdotal, subjective speculation.

    Once upon a time, I used a medium-to-high dose of a psychedelic substance (there are many legal psychedelic substances!). I was hanging out with a group of people who are “weird” in a psychedelic way. I felt a “pull”, like something was trying to drag me in. I tried to describe it to the group, and I said it felt like I had a heavy bag with all my things in it, and gravity made me want to put the bag down, but I knew I needed the bag. If I put it down, something might happen to it. They told me to put the bag down, of course, but I didn’t want to, so I didn’t.

    (I realized later that I was thinking of an episode in the sixth season of The Sopranos. I’m not sure if the moral of that episode was that Tony should’ve put down the bag, or what, but I still think it’s a good metaphor.)

    I think I was relatively rational at the time, and I wasn’t having a “bad trip”. I had full awareness of my environment, I wasn’t panicking, and I didn’t think anyone was a demon. I simply chose not to do something I didn’t want to do.

    Based on how I respond to psychedelics, I think I could probably handle going wherever they are trying to pull me. I think once I got there, I would know what to do, and would treat it with the gravity it deserves. But I’m not positive of that, and I don’t want to take the risk it at the moment. I don’t know exactly what is on the other side of the void.

    I think if I were a different kind of person, I would have just gone with the pull. And maybe it would have been fine, but maybe the kind of person who makes that decision lightly is the kind who really shouldn’t.

    The post mentions consent. Of course, consent is a tricky issue when it’s your own doing. In my experience, some psychedelic advocates say that psychedelics can make permanent changes to your personality, but that you are the one making those changes, so they will be the changes you want, and everything is fine by definition. I think that’s crazy and dangerous reasoning.

    Like I said, I don’t know what is on the other side. I’m speculating. But I think it’s a bit like sudo, regedit, or going into a computer’s BIOS: you can change things that are normally immutable, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, or aren’t careful, you can break things. (And this is your brain, which can be harder to fix than a computer once it’s broken — especially if future-you doesn’t think it’s broken!)

    I don’t think sudo should be illegal, nor psychedelics. But I do think people should stop being all casual about them, and telling their friends there’s nothing to worry about. With great power comes great responsibility.

    So, my speculative view is that people have an overly-positive view of LSD, which causes them to treat it irresponsibly. I also have a more-speculative explanation of where that overly-positive view of LSD comes from:

    LSD makes people suggestible. If someone is tripping hard enough, and someone says something negative — especially if it’s about LSD (which is currently the whole universe!) — it can cause a downward emotional spiral/bad trip. If you don’t want you and your friends to have bad trips, you quickly learn not to say negative things about LSD, and probably not even to think them. It becomes a social taboo, too.

    In short, people are training themselves to be pro-LSD, because LSD punishes them for being anti-LSD. If they take LSD enough times, it become a self-modifying Gandhi thing, where they like LSD more, and so they allow it to cause them to like it even more, and so on. Along the way, they make a bunch of semi-random changes to their personality, because it kinda seems like the thing to do at the time.

  25. HH says:

    Dibs on “mass-application of Psilocybin across widespread areas” as premise for a novel.

  26. The article made me wonder about meditation. I’ve read that the brains of long term meditators are changed by their practice, and many forms of meditation are ‘supposed’ to reduce the boundaries between ‘self’ and everything else. Does this mean that meditation is like psychodelics? Do people that meditate to find ‘enlightenment’ or ‘nirvana’ merely find a different brain state measured as changes to a personality dimension?

    • chaosmage says:

      This was recently tested in Switzerland, by Vollenweider et al, not sure if it’s published yet. Long-term Zen practitioners got strong doses of psilocybin or placebo in a multiple day “sesshin” retreat, and MRI scans before and after. Turns out meditation (of the Zen variety at least) seems to suppress acute psychedelic effects, rather than “go in the same direction”.

      • anodognosic says:

        I wonder about the conclusion, and would very much like to know what is meant by “suppress” and which acute psychedelic effects. In ignorance of those, a couple possible alternative explanations:

        Meditation and psychedelics have similar effects but are not strongly additive, so someone in a meditative state will not have as much of a change in their mental state from taking them.

        Meditation and psychedelics have similar effects, and those experienced in meditation have learned techniques to direct or otherwise control those effects.

        Some, but not all, effects of psychedelics are similar to those of meditation, and meditation might suppress some but not others.

        • moridinamael says:

          My sense of the situation is that experienced meditators are extremely good at holding their attention on some fixed, specific sensory or mental object and disregarding any impinging stimuli, to the extent that they’ve trained their brain to “dial down” all other mental objects on command.

          If you’re just that good at holding your attention on your meditation object, it won’t matter if the distracting stimulus is lower back pain or wild surges of hallucinatory content.

  27. Christopher Rasch says:

    Alexander Shulgin, most famous for popularizing MDMA, synthesized hundreds of new psychedelic compounds–and tried most them on himself, his wife, and their friends. While psychedelics dramatically changed the course of his life as well (he first made a name for himself by inventing Zectran, the first biodegradable pesticide) he remained psychologically well-grounded until his death.

    Of course, he’s only an N of 1. I would argue that the tens of thousands of Silicon Valley engineers who take psychedelics would provide rich data points. After all, many of them began lives as the nerdy squares who weren’t initially into drugs

    • Galton says:

      He was the first counterexample that came to mind for me as well. I think we can probably also count his wife, who tried all the same drugs and came off as pretty normal and down-to-earth in her section of Pikhal.

  28. Steve Sailer says:

    The potential permanent impact of LSD on individuals is extremely well documented. No new drug has ever been given as much attention as LSD was given during the 1960s. Acid casualties included the leaders of the Beatles (John Lennon), Beach Boys (Brian Wilson), Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett), and Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green).

    I’m sure they all said, “It can’t happen to me.”

    But it did.

    • Alexp says:

      Re: John Lennon, Paul McCartney Still seems sane.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Paul McCartney Still seems sane.

        …Yes, and many smokers don’t get cancer.

        This doesn’t change the fact that tobacco use increases risk of cancer, and that LSD use increases the risk of frying your CPU.

        • Henry says:

          People keep using the metaphors of “frying/wrecking” your CPU/brain/mind. I recognize that psychedelic experiences in bad set&settings can lead to harmful long term outcomes, but I find those particular metaphors quite unhelpful and misleading. I imagine that many people will interpret them to mean that psychedelics can cause brain damage.

          Why exactly do you think it’s a metaphor worth spreading?

          • Anonymous says:

            Can irresponsible use of psychoactive drugs not cause brain damage?

          • Henry says:

            Anonymous, I have not seen evidence of the classical use of psychedelics causing brain damage (neurotoxicity etc). Do you have evidence of the contrary?

            (Note: I am not saying they can’t contribute to people fucking up their thinking. I think they can.)

          • CatCube says:

            I guess from a layman’s point of view, I can’t see the point in making the distinction between “destroys your ability to think” and “causes actual lesions on the brain.” I mean, the only concern I have with my brain is that it continues to provide functional thought and control of my organs; if it stops doing either of those two, I’m comfortable with referring to the result as “damage”, regardless of whether or not the result will show up on a CT scan.

            I understand why people who work in medicine or neuroscience would care about the distinction, though.

          • Anonymous says:

            What CatCube said. It doesn’t matter if the hardware or the software gets corrupted, because there’s no backup copy to restore from.

  29. Steve Sailer says:

    The number of celebrities whose brains have been wrecked by LSD is imposing. On the other hand, there are other celebrities who haven’t been permanently harmed by it.

    Is there any way to predict ahead of time who should avoid LSD? How could we have known that it will, say, fry John Lennon’s brain but not Paul McCartney’s?

    I get the impression that it’s common to attribute bad effects to weakness in the acid casualty. But I don’t really see that: Ken Kesey, John Lennon, and Brian Wilson strike me as outstanding individuals.

    If there isn’t a way to predict ahead of time who will suffer permanent damage from LSD, how can promoting its use be justified?

    • roystgnr says:

      “But I don’t really see that: Ken Kesey, John Lennon, and Brian Wilson strike me as outstanding individuals.”

      Well, John Lennon was pretty deeply flawed, but his shortcomings don’t seem to correlate with LSD exposure.

      Brian Wilson, however, had auditory hallucinations beginning a week after his first LSD trip and lasting the rest of his life. If LSD is ever legalized I’d certainly want that included in the Surgeon General’s Warning rotation. It was an almost mythic bargain in Wilson’s case: he credits some of his most creative and enduring work to LSD’s influence, but the price was that he spent the rest of his life hearing derogatory voices telling him how he was “over” and soon to die.

    • Alrenous says:

      Really powerful drugs don’t normally get approved because they’re so dangerous.

      Can’t half-ass getting the dose right. Have to start at something like 1/1000th of a clinical dose and work up, because dose sensitivity does in fact range over several orders of magnitude. Melatonin is like this – give a particular dose to two people, and their blood levels may end up different by a factor of 4000. Luckily a melatonin overdose is barely annoying, let alone dangerous.

      Further, repeated use isn’t safe. The whole point is a permanent change – a cure, not a treatment. But this means the permanent change is stacked, often (though not always) no matter how long you wait between doses. Set a goal, and stop immediately and totally once it’s reached.

      Who gets good and who gets whacked could easily be down to who, by chance, followed good treatment discipline.

    • Don't Drone Me, Bro! says:

      The number of celebrities whose brains have been wrecked by LSD is imposing. On the other hand, there are other celebrities who haven’t been permanently harmed by it. […]

      If there isn’t a way to predict ahead of time who will suffer permanent damage from LSD, how can promoting its use be justified?

      We definitely need to ban promoting LSD to ALL celebrities. The risk is too great.

      I think the question of harm from psychedelic drugs is particularly hard to answer because the “harm” is unlike the more easily-described and condemned harm from other drugs of (potential) abuse. Sometimes people (Brian Wilson) become weirdly withdrawn and paranoid, sometimes they (Tim Leary et. al.) become weirdly credulous and epistimically incontinent, but they always end up … weird. (I think you could probably identify a very few modes of weirdness which would cover all cases, but the point is that those modes are very different from each other.) Most other drugs have casualties which are essentially fungible, and harms which are more clearly bad. Now, I don’t *recommend* giving yourself a silly name and getting deep into weird bonkers mysticism – what would the neighbors say! – but people do, and you can’t die from it or anything. It’s just kinda weird.

      The damage from LSD, in my inexpert and idle opinion, is more experiential in nature than other classes of psychoactive drugs. It’s easy to imagine a purely biological root for the goofy listlessness of the pothead (some metabolic system has been down regulated or damaged, whatever), for example, while LSD casualties seem closer to PTSD sufferers (or Post De-Traumatic Mellow Henosis Disorder, more often, if that were a real thing.) People who take acid are really eager to tell you about what happened and what it felt like and what they realized about life[, maaaaaaan]. It’s a bit like joining a really groovy/creepy cult for a few weeks, except it only takes 8 hours. (It’s popular with cult leaders, who tend towards creepiness.) It’s pretty interesting and pretty intense and a cause of much introspection potentially leading to deep changes in your personality. And it’s really weird.

    • Henry says:

      The ones who suffer long-term harms seem to be the ones who disregard what is known about set&setting. People who partake in well-prepared therapeutic sessions –with consideration paid to the importance of post-experience integrarion — don’t seem to have these kinds of problems.

      Of course, taking set&setting into consideration, you might find it not a good idea to go tripping at all if you’re psychotic or schizophrenic.

  30. Marian says:

    Taking psychedelics certainly leads to religious-like experiences. There is plenty of people who think that population should take LSD so that everyone sees the world for what it really is. They look at experiences from their brains failure mode and view them as proofs of some facts about reality.

    Now, could it be, that for people who are naturally religious psychedelics is just food for their religiosity? I mean, I guess anyone who is fairly religious already and then has some experience similar to meeting with diety will become very religious afterwards?

    Do you know whether these scientists were religious (or at least into deep explanations) before their trips? (This could lead to an explanation on why Dawkins hates religion so much!)

    Personally, when I think about my LSD trips I refuse to acknowledge any experience from a trip as evidence about the state of the universe. I’m sure people who do not care about rationality as much will tend to do worse.

    I’m betting on your second possibility. Now that people understand that everyone is getting some weird but different visions from psychedelics it is easier to accept the experience as failure of the brain rather than evidence of weird universe.

    • Anonymous says:

      The best way to describe the evangelizing feeling some people get after psychedelic or mystical experiences is this quote from The Hollow Men…

      “Those who have crossed
      With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
      Remember us-if at all-not as lost
      Violent souls, but only
      As the hollow men
      The stuffed men.”

      And a fair dose of smugness.

    • Henry says:

      What are you referring to with “failure mode”?

      My perception is that experiences with psychedelics can offer practical perspectives, alternative points of views which are correlated with changes in brain activity patterns. Saying those states of mind are “better” or “worse” is missing the point. They might be more practical for certain goals and less for others — as is the case with any “ordinary state of consciousness”.

      Some people do indeed make weird assumptions based on their experiences. Others report novel, perfectly valid and rational possibilities for approaching life’s challenges. Labeling it as “brain failure” seems irrational and not in line with existing evidence (check the research by Vollenweider et al. and Carhart-Harris et al. for more thorough treatment of the subject).

  31. Anonymous says:

    @Jaskologist, @Deiseach, and other Catholics.

    I have heard that “taking drugs” is sinful. Is it? Why? Is there nuance to this?

    I ask because I would not be entirely opposed to trying “one dose of psilocybin”, for example, but have an aversion towards taking recreational medications.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Probably also worth asking the commentariat’s resident Mormons and Muslims (or perhaps sole Muslim, at least according to the latest survey) their position, since those religions also include alcohol and, in the former case, hot caffeinated drinks, among their prohibited drugs. It would be interesting to see if the rationales are comparable even if the specific list of prohibited drugs is different.

      • Salem says:

        Islam doesn’t merely ban alcohol, it bans intoxicants. So alcohol use is permitted (for non-intoxicating purposes, such as disinfecting a wound) whereas non-alcohol intoxicants are forbidden. At least, that’s the theory – the practical behaviour is frequently different. Many people avoid perfumes that contain alcohol, but happily chew khat. A religious anthropologist might class that as the “real” Islam.

        As for the rationale – that isn’t really explained explicitly, it has to be deduced, and there are multiple notions. But it basically ties into the idea of losing control, not knowing what you’re saying when you pray, being disorderly, and basically forgetting about God and the true path. In other words, the state of drunkenness/intoxication seems to be the true enemy. The Quran actually says that there’s both good and evil in alcohol, but the evil outweighs the good, and the Prophet Mohammed said that you can’t drink even a tiny amount, because a lot would get you drunk. In other words, it’s a slippery slope*. On the other hand, there are rivers of wine in heaven, and that’s fine to drink, because however much you drink you won’t get drunk. It also ties into the idea that we’re here on earth with tasks to perform. How are you going to increase virtue and prevent vice if you waste your time in a stupor?

        *And no, this is not a fallacy.

        • Acedia says:

          there are rivers of wine in heaven, and that’s fine to drink, because however much you drink you won’t get drunk

          Then why would you want to drink it? Wine doesn’t taste that good.

          • Anonymous says:

            Presumably, it means that heavenly wine will give you a light buzz but nothing more. It won’t make you lose your coordination or consciousness, or make you throw up.

          • Deiseach says:

            Wine doesn’t taste that good.

            Depends on the wine, I suppose, as at Cana:

            When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

      • caethan says:

        Well, as the resident raised-as-Mormon, here’s the scriptural support for “drug” prohibition, known as the Word of Wisdom. The particularly important part is verse 3:

        Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

        That is, God set down these rules so that everyone could follow them. There are some people who can handle occasional strong drink and others who can’t, and God explicitly set the rules for the latter group. The former group are supposed to abstain for the benefit of the latter, so as not to lead them into trouble. There’s a reason why a fair number of Mormon converts are ex-alcoholics or related to alcoholics (my maternal grandmother, for example, had an alcoholic father). I’ve heard from many missionaries working in South America that this is a big reason why Mormon (and evangelical) missionary work is so successful there: the church serves as a support network for alcoholics and their families who want, for example, to stop drinking away their paycheck and beating their wives. The local Catholic churches are, I’ve heard, pretty useless for this purpose.

        Fun story: the trigger for this revelation was Emma Smith getting annoyed with the brethren spitting tobacco on her nice clean floors and asking her husband the Prophet if he would ask God’s opinion on the subject.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Evangelical Christian here, but maybe I can provide an interesting datapoint. So, whenever you ask, “Is X act sin?” the answer almost always is, “Sin is more complicated than that.” However:

      From passages such as Ephesians 5:18 (“Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit” and 1 Peter 1:13 (“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be sober in spirit, and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”) and others, Christians derive the principle that “In general, God’s will is that we seek the ability to think clearly and avoid substances that would hinder clear thinking.” So far as we can manage it, we are to seek being in our right minds. Not all uses of drugs prevent us from being in our right minds. Thus Christians have historically held that drinking some alcohol is okay, but getting drunk is not. So far as drugs are like the former they are permissible under this principle; so far as they are like the latter they are not.

      However, this is not the only principle in play here. From 1 Corinthians 6:19 (“Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?”), Matthew 16:25 (“Whoever would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”) and other passages, Christians derive the principle that, “In general, we should avoid activities that harm our bodies for the sake of short-term pleasure.” Again, not all drug use can be said to cause this, but many kinds do. And of course this principle is a weaker one than the previous one I discussed; eating an unhealthy hamburger because you like it isn’t necessarily a sin (although it can be). What is in view here is the general patterns a person’s life falls into. Is your life one of discipline or decadence? Do you engage in activities out of joy in the pleasures God provides for us on Earth or for the sake of satisfying your own lusts? This probably doesn’t completely exclude drug use, but most drug use would seem to violate this principle.

      From Romans 13:1 (“Everyone should submit himself to the governing authorities”) and Acts 5:29 (“We must obey God rather then men”), Christians derive the principle that, “In general, Christians should obey the laws of whatever country they live in, so far as those laws do not contradict God’s laws.” As we’ve already seen, “Do something just because you want to” is not one of God’s laws, and is therefore not a sufficient reason for a Christian to break whatever laws her country may have against drug use.

      There are others, but I think you get the idea. Drugs are just molecules. They have no moral status in themselves, but they can have lots of moral status depending on how they are used. Is every conceivable use of drugs sinful? Probably not. But the number of people who are using them and not sinning when they do so is probably very small.

      • Mary says:

        “Thus Christians have historically held that drinking some alcohol is okay, but getting drunk is not.”

        For instance, the Catholic Church teaches that drinking to the partial suspension of reason is a sin, and to the total suspension of reason, a mortal sin.

        • Winfried says:

          Can you elaborate on exactly what they mean by partial and total suspension of reason?

          • Deiseach says:

            “Partial suspension of reason” – “I know I probably shouldn’t do this but I can’t recall why I shouldn’t”

            “Total suspension of reason” – crying drunk, the kind of “blackout drunk, wake up with no idea what the hell you did last night”, the kind of drunk that “got drunk at party, woke up in strange guy’s bed with no idea how I’d got there” that leads into messy questions of consent and responsibility.

      • SJ says:

        I’ve known a few Christians who talked about being “drunk in the Spirit”.

        No alcohol involved, mind you.

        But these Christians were from the Charismatic/Pentecostal circles, not straight Evangelical.

        But it does give me a different way of thinking about “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit”.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The only mind-altering substance mentioned in scripture is alcohol, and I think its view is most succinctly summed up in Proverbs 31: 4-7:

      It is not for kings, Lemuel—
      it is not for kings to drink wine,
      not for rulers to crave beer,
      lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
      and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
      Let beer be for those who are perishing,
      wine for those who are in anguish!
      Let them drink and forget their poverty
      and remember their misery no more.

      So, not forbidden, but not really advised either. Drunkenness is always looked upon as, if not sinful, then at the very least unwise. There is not a clear dividing line between those two categories, but more on that in a minute.

      We also have Jesus’s example. His first recorded miracle was to magic up wine specifically for the purposes of partying, and he later instituted a sacrament which involved drinking wine, so clearly Christianity is not prohibitionist either. So there is a balancing act for Christians to employ with respect to alcohol, and I think we can safely extend that to mind-altering substances not encountered in Biblical times.

      Anyway, back to the sinful/unwise continuum. Every religion/culture of any duration is going to accrue a bunch of rules just as a matter of surviving for multiple generations that theologians generally categorize under the “natural law.” These are things which are knowable without divine revelation and can be discovered, if not through reason, then at least through the trial-and-error evolutionary process which winnows out failed/inefficient societies. This is why the moral codes of your major religions look broadly similar: don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery; the societies without those rules will get out-competed by the ones with.

      Drug use fits under the natural law, in that we just sort of figure out whether taking a given substance is wise or not, and codify that group wisdom into prohibitions once the ledger falls heavily enough on the “unwise” side. Now, part of that means that we can get it wrong, or that the answer can even be contingent on other circumstances (the difference between medicine and poison, for instance, is a matter of dosage. This is what Paul is getting at in 1 Cor 10:23 (“You say ‘Everything is permissible,’– but not everything is beneficial.”) Asking “Can I do this?” is missing the point; “Should I do this?” is the important question. Roll to take damage enough times and you’re going to take damage, and when you multiply those odds out across society, it often becomes better to tell everyone not to roll the dice in the first place.

      So Christianity as such does not tell us if taking marijuana or LSD is unwise, but any society, Christian or not, where the question comes up with regularity is going to end up with a rule giving the answer, and that rule is going to look pretty much the same as sin talk. In the past, we (Americans) declared alcohol sinful and tobacco not. At the moment, we seem to moving towards “marijuana is not sinful, but tobacco is.” I expect those positions to continue to evolve, and a lot of them are going to be driven by whether we’re willing to sacrifice the enjoyment of the (say) 95% who can take a drug without problems for the sake of the 5% who develop life-ruining complications/addictions.

      Also, as Two McMillion mentioned, a Christian is obligated to follow the laws of their polity absent compelling reason not to, so the question is usually moot; it is sinful for them to take drugs. But whether they should change the law to make that unsinful is an open question.

      • Anonymous says:

        Also, as Two McMillion mentioned, a Christian is obligated to follow the laws of their polity absent compelling reason not to, so the question is usually moot; it is sinful for them to take drugs. But whether they should change the law to make that unsinful is an open question.

        It is not really moot, given the wide range of drug legislation even among western states. If one is in Amsterdam for a holiday, it is not illegal to eat “magic truffles”.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, my man Tommy A is the go-to guy on this. “Taking drugs” meaning “not prescribed medication to treat an illness but for the purpose of getting intoxicated by them” would fall under the heading of the virtue of Temperance more particularly gluttony and drunkenness.

      Now, you seem to want to try a single dose of a psychedelic just to see what would happen. Is this sinful?

      That depends. Have you assessed the risk? Do you think gratifying curiosity is a sufficient reason to run that risk? Are you the kind of person who would be in danger of wanting to repeat the experience if you found it to be pleasant (that is why some people have to be careful about drinking, it’s not necessarily that you’re an alcoholic but rather that if you start drinking you’re more likely to use it, for example, as a coping mechanism when under stress, etc.)?

      You have to decide these things for yourself. What would be sinful would be – let’s take drunkenness as the type here – doing it to excess so as to deprive yourself of the use of reason (which doesn’t merely mean “would have trouble sitting down and solving maths problem”, it means “likely to throw up on themselves, get into fights, do stupid crap they wouldn’t do sober” and most blameworthy “would be prepared to turn against God – that is, break the laws of God, the commandments, or deny religion altogether – in order to have and repeat the experience”).

      Some quotes from the Summa:

      I answer that, Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire. Now desire is said to be inordinate through leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists: and a thing is said to be a sin through being contrary to virtue.

      The appetite is twofold. There is the natural appetite, which belongs to the powers of the vegetal soul. On these powers virtue and vice are impossible, since they cannot be subject to reason; wherefore the appetitive power is differentiated from the powers of secretion, digestion, and excretion, and to it hunger and thirst are to be referred. Besides this there is another, the sensitive appetite, and it is in the concupiscence of this appetite that the vice of gluttony consists. Hence the first movement of gluttony denotes inordinateness in the sensitive appetite, and this is not without sin.

      (The “inordinateness in the sensitive appetite” is the part that applies to taking recreational/experimental drugs, as it applies to the kind of “what would the effect of this be/will I get high/will this make me feel good, better than being sober” rather than “I have to take this because it’s medical treatment, even if the secondary effect of morphine for severe injury means I’ll be high as a kite”).

      I answer that, When a virtue is denominated from some condition common to the virtues, the matter specially belonging to it is that in which it is most difficult and most commendable to satisfy that condition of virtue: thus fortitude is about dangers of death, and temperance about pleasures of touch. Now sobriety takes its name from “measure,” for a man is said to be sober because he observes the “bria,” i.e. the measure. Wherefore sobriety lays a special claim to that matter wherein the observance of the measure is most deserving of praise. Such matter is the drinking of intoxicants, because the measured use thereof is most profitable, while immoderate excess therein is most harmful, since it hinders the use of reason even more than excessive eating. Hence it is written (Sirach 31:37-38): “Sober drinking is health to soul and body; wine drunken with excess raiseth quarrels, and wrath and many ruins.” For this reason sobriety is especially concerned with drink, not any kind of drink, but that which by reason of its volatility is liable to disturb the brain, such as wine and all intoxicants. Nevertheless, sobriety may be employed in a general sense so as to apply to any matter, as stated above (123, 2; 141, 2) with regard to fortitude and temperance.

      I answer that, No meat or drink, considered in itself, is unlawful, according to Matthew 15:11, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man.” Wherefore it is not unlawful to drink wine as such. Yet it may become unlawful accidentally. This is sometimes owing to a circumstance on the part of the drinker, either because he is easily the worse for taking wine, or because he is bound by a vow not to drink wine: sometimes it results from the mode of drinking, because to wit he exceeds the measure in drinking: and sometimes it is on account of others who would be scandalized thereby.

      Thirdly, it may happen that a man is well aware that the drink is immoderate and intoxicating, and yet he would rather be drunk than abstain from drink. Such a man is a drunkard properly speaking, because morals take their species not from things that occur accidentally and beside the intention, but from that which is directly intended. On this way drunkenness is a mortal sin, because then a man willingly and knowingly deprives himself of the use of reason, whereby he performs virtuous deeds and avoids sin, and thus he sins mortally by running the risk of falling into sin.

      So, in general: is trying the one dose likely to cause you to do stupid crap? (Note: if you don’t know or can reasonably assume that it will do so, you are okay on the grounds of ignorance: “Even as he that is drunk is excused if he knows not the strength of the wine, so too is he that invites another to drink excused from sin, if he be unaware that the drinker is the kind of person to be made drunk by the drink offered. But if ignorance be lacking neither is excused from sin”). Will it be harmful to your physical and/or mental health? Is it likely to lead to you wanting to repeat the experience and so take more doses? (Now, if repetition means you won’t do stupid crap or harm yourself, then it’s on the same lines as social drinking, and so okay as not sinful – but if it involves law-breaking that may be another matter). That is what makes it sinful, to a greater or lesser degree.

      EDITED BECAUSE I AM AN IDIOT: “Satisfying the curiosity” is not in itself sinful, I forgot to say. A research scientist trying out new drugs is not sinning. Taking part in a drugs trial is not sinful. For instance, if your local university was looking for “volunteers to take a dose of psilocybin as our professors take notes while you guys jump off your chairs thinking you can fly and are fascinated by having five fingers on each hand” and you go “I’ve always wondered what that would be like, I’d love to try psilocybin”, it would not be sinful to sign up (if you don’t mind scientists using you as anecdotes at their next conference about man, you won’t believe what this guy did when high!)

      • Two McMillion says:

        I love me some Tommy A.

        • Deiseach says:

          I have to love him because anyone who got called “The Dumb Ox” by his college classmates because he was large, sat at the back, and never opened his mouth to ask or answer a question (thus giving them the impression he was thick as two short planks), is my kind of person 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        My intent with regards to the single dose would be in order to acquire the added openness to experience. I would not do this anywhere it was illegal. I would *prefer* to do this in circumstances where I can be rushed to the hospital if something goes wrong. I can reasonably assume that I am the sort of person who can stay off intoxicants while not intoxicated, given a history of having given up alcohol following realization that I cannot control ingestion once I begin.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, so it sounds like you’re approaching this sensibly. Definitely can’t say “yeah, this is sinful” (otherwise the first time anyone who had never drunk alcohol before ever took a drink, we’d have to say they were committing a sin, and that’s definitely not so). I’d be cautious, but you do seem to be cautious, so if you do try it, good luck!

        • Anon says:

          Note that I would advise against going to the hospital while under the influence of psychedelics, if there is any way you can help it. The only situation in which I would advise calling for an ambulance is if an outside observer can verify that something physically wrong is happening with your body. If the adverse effects are merely mental, then there is practically nothing that the hospital staff will be able to do to help you. They are not trained in the delicate arts of dealing with the headspace of a bad trip. The abrasive setting is likely, if anything, to make your trip worse, not better. Some hospitals might administer anti-psychotics, which will not bring you instantly back to feeling normal (rather, merely to feeling a different sort of weird). Others will simply apply restraint and isolation. A group of knowledgeable friends can apply restraint and isolation far more effectively in the comforts of your own home without bringing in the abrasive and paranoia-inducing setting of the hospital with the added legal and monetary worries that go along with it. Your friends will also be far more comforting than the hospital staff, assuming that your friends are halfway-decent human beings.

          Even if you were to get to a point in a trip where you feel like, “I just can’t mentally put up with this any more. I want an abort button. I want an escape pod. Get me outta here!” I really suggest trying to let this feeling go and trust that the feeling will eventually pass, and just observe your mental state for the time being without making any judgments about it. Just hold onto the one important thought that you don’t need to make any decisions right now (your friends should have that covered), so just sit back and observe things. You might even come around to enjoying the rest of the trip with this approach.

    • 57dimensions says:

      Drawing from my own entirely Boston area Irish Catholic family history, alcohol was definitely not considered a sin.

      My psychiatrist (specializes in children) worked in Salt Lake City for many years and treated many kids and teens with various diagnoses, she said the devout Mormon families were usually very open to psychiatric meds. While those are legal and not recreational, they are certainly considered ‘mind altering’ to some degree, usually more so than coffee–a no no for Mormons–by the general population. Maybe it was the more private and medically sanctioned aspect of taking antidepressants/antipsychotics/stimulants that made it OK for those families. But idk, this is just secondhand knowledge for me.

  32. Greg says:

    > a global warming denialist

    Which is very rational and very unpopular.

    How’s this for random conjecture: The drug made them immune to peer pressure, which could have both good and bad consequences for the quality of your ideas, but almost certainly would make you look weird in the eyes of people not immune to peer pressure.

    • moridinamael says:

      Steve Jobs is another person who seems like his “giving a shit what other people think” circuits were completely knocked out by LSD. This is, of course, a guess. Maybe he was always like that.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      The drug made them immune to peer pressure

      Is that the same thing as “the drug increased their openness to experience”?

      • Greg says:

        Openness to experience is a factor analytically revealed major axis of natural variation. I think it is highly unlikely that the changes we’re seeing here happen along the axis of natural variation. That doesn’t preclude psychometric measurements to show a change along the axis, but such measurements needn’t mean what they normally mean.

        In other words, I don’t believe that the measurements of increased openness to experience indicate that the affected individuals’ personalities have simply shifted to where normal persons showing identical measurements would be.

        In other other words, no, probably not.

    • merzbot says:

      >very unpopular.

      Bubble detected! I don’t know where you live but about half of Americans don’t believe in global warming.

  33. Jack V says:

    i have this weird feeling, that I’ve not taken *any* psychedelics, I’m just *reading* an essay about people taking psychedelics, and yet, what I experienced was undeniably weird… 🙂

  34. J Milne says:

    I recently took part as a subject in a (licensed) study involving taking LSD. Everyone — from the funders, to the statisticians, to the clinicians, to the assistants — self-identified as psychedelicists and frequently talked about how the current proscription on psychedelics will be viewed in the future as Prohibition is now. The test centre had been blessed by a shaman. One of the tests involved predicting random numbers from the future.

    • How did you guys do on predicting random numbers from the future?

      If you did no better than chance, what was the reaction?

      • Corwin says:

        Sucess, obviously.

      • Two McMillion says:

        The fact that this is a place where this question was asked is what makes me love the rational blogosphere.

      • Deiseach says:

        One of the tests involved predicting random numbers from the future.

        Can you give me next week’s Euromillions lottery numbers?

        (Oh come on, someone had to make the obvious joke).

      • J Milne says:

        You had a one in four chance of getting it. I guessed correctly in the control (when I wasn’t high) and the test assistant said “Wow, how do you explain that??” I guessed incorrectly when high. When I asked afterwards if the test really was what I thought it was, one of the guys running it said he had some very promising results for that one using mescaline, but he was always both the test subject and administrator.

    • Henry says:

      So which study was this?

  35. Peter says:

    There is a silent majority post Leary that are doing very well thank you and fly under your radar.

  36. Rzg says:

    Every time I stop by this blog, the comment section is the best comment section in the world.

    • 57dimensions says:

      Yeah same. It’s the only place where I read all the comments, no matter how long it will take me, and I always learn some really interesting stuff. I’m onto the Albion’s Seed Book Review post next, which is currently sitting at 1061 comments, and I’m fully prepared to waste a lot of time reading it.

      • sconn says:

        How do people ever keep up with the comments on this blog? I try, but … there are thousands of comments! And before I’ve finished one thread, a new post comes out!

  37. dsotm says:

    The pardes, man – you need to be this righteous to ride…

  38. multiheaded says:

    There seems to me at least a moderate chance that they will make you more interesting without your consent – whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on exactly how interesting you want to be.

    I’m pretty certain that someone, somewhere is now really turned on after reading this.

  39. John Ohno says:

    I’m not sure one could class “being open to unusual ideas” as a negative effect, per se. But, someone becoming much more open to unusual ideas without also becoming much more rigorous in his or her skepticism is likely to veer off into strange tangents (as Lilly did).

    (As for Tim Leary — it’s unclear exactly how much of what he said and did was part of an act. He had a reputation for being a showman & prankster before his first experience, and so it may just be that his pranks got stranger. Meanwhile, Lilly had strange interests but took them fairly seriously by all accounts.)

  40. Quixote says:

    Consider the possibility the use did make them weird through a direct non biological channel. LSD use makes the government persecute you and wrongfully imprison you. Being persecuted and wrongfully imprisoned makes you extremely skeptical about government authority and use of force. Being extremely skeptical about government authority and use of force makes you a Ron Paul supporter.

    In the other cases similar but less extreme channels may be in effect. When you experiment with something that is persecuted you get shunned and pushed outside the mainstream. Outside the mainstream you encounter lots of weird people. Then you become weird because you are encountering weird people.

    • Aegeus says:

      That doesn’t quite fit – the research was above-board and LSD was still legal at the time. Leary was doing his experiments for 8 years before the government could start oppressing him. It looks like they started getting weird before society seriously opposed them.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The government persecuted Leary before LSD was illegal. He was given a 30 year sentence for marijuana possession. In fact the federal government probably only bothered banning LSD in 1970 because they were going through the process of banning marijuana because he had gotten the supreme court to throw out the previous ban.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      This is a pretty good point. However, the effect of this sort of thing may depend on ethnicity. For instance, Chinese people who practice Falun Gong develop the belief that they are being tortured by the government, but Americans who practice Falun Gong do not develop this belief.

      • John Ohno says:

        Is this ethnicity or is this nationality?

      • onyomi says:

        S/he is joking… I hope.

        • Bryan Hann says:

          It’s an allusion to Falun Gong practitioners being persecuted (*seriously* persecuted) in China.

          l live in Hong Kong.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I mean, I hope s/he doesn’t think the idea of falun gong persecution is all in their heads. Sometimes you’re paranoid. But sometimes the CIA really is reading your mail. In the case of China, I know people who refuse to return to the PRC due to having had friends subjected to “reeducation,” essentially.

            It’s actually kind of under appreciated, I think, just how weird the PRC’s persecution of Falun gong is (though there’s a lot of weirdness to choose from when it comes to the place that managed to institute things like the one-child policy for decades).

            I mean, Falun gong is weird, but not weirder than say, Mormonism, I don’t think. Certainly no weirder nor intrinsically harmful than Christian Science. But can you imagine if the US federal government made it a mission to stamp out Mormonism? It would just be… bizarre and stupid and probably never completely work and also what’s the point?

            Maybe it’s only bizarre because of growing up in the US where religious freedom etc. is so emphasized, but, still…

          • onyomi, I’m not sure whether this is the full explanation– part of the problem seems to be that the Chinese government was startled by a large demonstration– but the Boxer Rebellion started with weird religion. I’ve also heard that the emphasis on ethics in Falun Gung was a reproach against corrupt government.

            There actually was policy against Mormonism, at both the state and federal levels.

            I do think you’re so used to America that you don’t realize that religious persecution is pretty common historically speaking.

          • nydwracu says:

            Persecution of large non-state structures that promote beliefs that the state sees as irreconcilable with it? So weird!

          • onyomi says:

            As an American, I demand my oppression be better masked!

  41. thorper says:

    I think something psychedelic users don’t necessarily want to admit is that permanent personality change is part of the allure of the drugs. It’s hard to reconcile this desire to become a new and better person with the idea that the drugs are harmless.

    • Henry says:

      My perception is that more and more people with a genuine interest on psychedelics are inclined to take the potential risks seriously. There are, of course, loud-mouthed fanatics who genuinely believe psychedelics to be miracle cure-alls for all problems, but to me it seems that a more honest, down to earth relationship with them, one that acknowledges the risks, is gaining ground.

  42. King Fu says:

    My observation si that people who do LSD and other psychedelic drugs and then take up yoga, meditation, qigong or similar practices usually end up becoming balanced spiritual people. By virtue of being spiritual in an eastern/new age sense they will still be weird from many peoples point of view but their personalities are very balanced, healthy and wholesome. People that only use psychedelic drugs on the other hand tend to end up unbalanced over the long term.

    I think part of the explanation can be this: LSD, as you show, dramatically increases the trait opens to experience. Practices like meditation and qigong also strengthen this trait but also strengthen a bunch of other traits so it makes them overall balanced people.

    Ken Wilber has a bit to say about this in this video:

    • Thank you for the link. I’ve read some of Wilbur’s books, but I had no idea about his sense of humor.

      He makes a claim that I haven’t seen elsewhere– that excessive use of psychedelics without a spiritual practice makes people mean.

  43. eponymous says:

    Hmm. Now I’m wondering what fraction of believers in aliens and the paranormal, and Ron Paul supporters, are psychedelic users. I mean, if the effect is that big, maybe a substantial fraction of some categories of weird human beliefs are pharmacological in origin!

    That would seem to be pretty significant if true.

  44. Deiseach says:

    Q. Why were early psychedelicists so weird?

    A. “Let’s take large and repeated doses of untested chemicals to alter our brain chemistry, what could possibly go wrong there?” 🙂

    You seem to have left out Aldous Huxley, who either didn’t go weird in the same way, or being a novelist rather than scientist, it wasn’t so notable in his case.

    Perhaps the humanities side of the family is better able to handle altered states and surprising insights than the empirical scientists who seem to be more easily knocked off balance when they encounter unusual mind-states 🙂

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What? Huxley was very weird – a lot of work on Vedanta and parapsychology/ESP. Also user of some very weird pseudomedicine discounted even in his own time. The only reason I don’t count him was that he was clearly pretty weird even before using the drugs.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I’m not sure ESP was weird at the time. It seems to have been taken seriously by a lot of people back then.

      • Deiseach says:

        In the vein of Smythies and Dawkins, Huxley was the grandson of Thomas “Darwin’s Bulldog” Huxley (which just shows that upper-middle/upper-class English families have all kinds of interesting members).

        Certainly he was hanging out in that environment in California at the time where it was (from a cursory reading) absolutely crazy, but Huxley does not seem to have tried full-on “fluorescent green raccoon” nuttiness.

        Parapsychology was a respectable field of enquiry once upon a time and being interested in it did not mean you were cuckoo, think of Rhine of the Zener cards testing. Indeed, parapsychology began as an offshoot of abnormal psychology and was an attempt to put the whole field on a solidly material, scientific footing – no gods, spirits or miracles, just human senses and abilities operating according to as-yet undiscovered but understandable principles, along the lines of electromagnetism: radio, X-rays and the like were exciting new discoveries, the Curies’ work on radiation showed there were invisible subtle forces in nature we had no knowledge of yet they affected us; if you could send voices and music over the air from a transmitter to a receiver hundreds of miles away, then why couldn’t human brains – which operated on the same principles, our thoughts are electrical signals after all – do the same thing? Science was daily showing humanity stranger and stranger things about what we thought we knew of the universe; Lovecraft referred obliquely to Einstein in a short story:

        One man with Oriental eyes has said that all time and space are relative, and men have laughed. But even that man with Oriental eyes has done no more than suspect.

        As for Vedanta (which at least in its origins has as respectable a basis as any other theologies/cosmologies), you had various forms of Satanism (from LaVey pop-culture Satanism on up to genuine philosophical movements) to Dianetics-becoming-Scientology all swirling around (Hubbard met LaVey and others involved in occultism); Jack Parsons was both a respectable(?) scientist working at the California Institute of Technology helping to found the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and a member of the OTO writing regular communciations to Aleister Crowley. Can’t get more “rocket science” than that but it didn’t stop him being a Thelemite! Do we know if Elon Musk is a member of any arcane societies – aside from EA? 🙂

        Krishnamurti, who survived the whole Theosophical fallout from his anointment as Maitreya with relative sanity and level-headedness – he was groomed to be the Messiah of the world, more or less, by disciples of Madame Blavatsky, (who if you don’t know her was a wonderful old rogue if more than half a fraud, but not a complete fraud) but later rejected the role – was also in the vicinity.

        By comparison, Huxley comes off as “not that batshit insane”. Honestly, if there’s a term Normal for Norfolk, he was pretty much “Normal for California” 🙂

      • King Fu says:

        What is weird about being into Vedanta? Its a great mediative tradition that eventually leads to amazing states of unity and freedom. It basically leads to the same type of changes in the brain that have been found in Buddhist monks and other long term meditators. Drastic shifts in the centers involved with happiness, compassion etc. You should check out the work of Dr. Jeffrey Martin. He has done extensive interviews with over 1000 people who claim to have reach some form of enlightenment. He drew his subjects from a wide variety of contemplative traditions. There where very clear patterns in what these people described. Clear patterns in what kind of states they described and the progression in these states and how achieving them changed their life and well being. Way beyond what anything else can do.

        Also check out this book:

        And this audio series:

      • Don't Drone Me, Bro! says:

        Huxley is a special case, because so much of what is the “psychedelic experience” is Huxley’s particular personality and interests filtered through LSD. Leary read “the Doors of Perception” and it provides, and Huxley, guided and informed his own weird evolution, which influenced the counterculture, which influenced the culture, which influenced every “trip” since. LSD is a drug which opens one to suggestion, and Huxley’s first mover advantage (combined with his status, his charm, his ability and intelligence) made his experience the ur-experience. What did Albert Hoffman think about his 1st lsd trip? Nobody knows, doesn’t matter. (The fact that LSD culture came out of an elitist, white, male, intellectual, 1960s, nonconformist, anglophone artistic/psychotheraputic milleu is absolutely essential to understanding the experience. I realize that claims of this form are made about literally everything these days, and are usually 100% lazy trendy horsepoo, but in this case it’s actually really true! I promise!)

        Anyway, it’s not “weird” when rich English people do something, it’s called “eccentric” and it’s awesome.

  45. monolith94 says:

    I think it’s important to consider amount and consistency of taking psychedelics. I’ve had two experiences: once with shrooms, and once with 2c-i. They were both, in my opinion, experiences well worth having. I was fairly spiritual before, and I was fairly spiritual afterwards. I felt that there was perhaps something valuable about the experience in terms of opening my eyes to something perhaps divine, but I didn’t take it as a given. Since then, I’ve become if anything less spiritual, and while I wouldn’t call myself an atheist I would describe myself as a strong-A Agnostic. It’s been about ten years since those experiences, and I feel ready for another. It seems like the really strong examples of psychedelics causing tangible harm occur in one of two scenarios: immoderate overuse, and use by people with already delicate brain chemistries.

    I also think that there’s a really strong bias against an “openness to new experience” character trait which comes from class though, and which biases people against psychedelics emotionally.

  46. onyomi says:

    Someone mentioned tarot cards and astrology above, which got me thinking: to the extent I think there is any use to tarot cards, astrology, I-Ching divination, and whatnot, I think it’s that they have the potential to show you something about your own feelings on an issue. Sort of like the “if you can’t decide what you really want, flip a coin and see, midair, which side you find yourself secretly hoping it lands on” idea.

    Makes me wonder if they don’t, in fact, work in a way similar to talk therapy and/or couldn’t be an effective adjunct to talk therapy for some people. (I’m sure no respectable talk therapist would want to do it, of course).

    • 57dimensions says:

      Funny you bring this up, there was an r/Relationships thread I read yesterday (update deleted now, but original still there) about how OP’s boyfriend was using his horoscopes as an excuse not to do chores and go house hunting and wanted to break up with her because their signs weren’t compatible. In the update he confessed a traumatic past and how he didn’t trust himself to make good decisions, so he felt more comfortable following whatever the horoscope told him to do. He did admit to using it to “be lazy” about chores though. The commenters were very suspicious of his sudden turnaround and expected he was being manipulative.

      So in that case it seems like he was using astrology to remove any accountability or responsibility for his actions from himself, which isn’t typically the ideal therapeutic model. Of course, take this with as much faith as anything written anonymously on reddit/the internet.

      • Deiseach says:

        I like playing about with erecting a horoscope as much as the next weirdo, but I have to say: if he’s using “Sorry honey, can’t put out the bins, Saturn is in opposition to my natal Mars!” as an excuse to weasel out of doing his share of the chores then never mind him wanting to break up, why hasn’t his girlfriend dumped his ass already?

        • 57dimensions says:

          It’s clear you haven’t spent much time on r/Relationships, OPs never want to break up, because “other than this massive un-ignorable probably abusive issue the rest of our relationship is just so great! And I promise they’re a wonderful person even though they treat me like shit!” People will rationalize away anything, including straight up violence, to remain in a relationship. And this particular post is nothing compared to the other ones where people refuse to break up even when people are screaming, “GET OUT AND SAVE YOURSELF,” at them.

          • Deiseach says:

            See, this is what I mean about the amatonormative pressure in society. Being part of a couple is the best thing, even if it’s a bad relationship. Being single is unacceptable and unthinkable because it marks you out as a loser. And having put so much time and effort into this relationship, suppose we break up and I can’t get someone else? No! Too horrible to contemplate!

            So people stay when they should go. Whereas, if it were not treated as a test of maturity and successfully achieving adulthood to have a Serious Relationship, and that being single for prolonged periods had nothing to do with judging the quality of your personality and character, and Wuv Twu Wuv was not hyped as the be-all and end-all and you are losing out and lacking so much if you don’t have it, then maybe people wouldn’t put themselves through hell trying to patch up relationships that should be let end.

          • nydwracu says:

            The amatonormative pressure in most people’s actual preferences, you mean.

    • Anonymous says:

      As a rationalist-adjacent, this is what I use tarot cards for. The cards are just closed enough in meaning to provide some guidance of what to think about. They are also just open enough that, when I step back and take a critical look at what I’ve just “interpreted”, I can tell what kind of web I’ve spun around the superstructure and lift it off.

      The tarot is a human symbol-set that can point me towards certain possible trailheads to think about. For example, if I draw the Three of Swords, I am reminded that truth can be painful but should still ultimately be pursued. Or, if I draw the Hierophant, I am reminded that I need to respect Chesterton’s fence.

      Of course, random chance has no predictive value. (Even tarot sites will tell you that they cannot “predict” whether you are pregnant, and say that you should take a pregnancy test instead.) But I have found it useful when trying to make difficult subjective decisions – I draw about half a dozen tarot cards and think about how they might apply. I have also used this to separate out and delve into traumatic memories.

  47. Alrenous says:

    The ability of psychedelics to permanently alter personality is a good thing when the facet in question is criminality.

    Even dubious studies consistently find that, correctly used, psychedelics cure roughly half of criminals.

    I can’t find the place I found it, but it works by curing self-loathing. The criminals believe they deserve their low social status, and psychedelics can crash this harmful self-reinforcing cycle. Low status causes stress, stress causes violence, crime, etc. Cure the low status, they start feeling secure, and with any luck stop committing.

    Edit: like so. It also works using a priest or shaman to guide the change, not just a psych student.

    Luckily psychedelics are illegal. Who would want to halve the prison population of America?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Even dubious studies consistently find that, correctly used, psychedelics cure roughly half of criminals.”

      That is an interesting use of the word “even”.

      • Alrenous says:

        I’m trying to say the effect is robust. You can design your study as, like, whatever, man, and it will end up showing half-ish of criminals stop committing crimes.

        • Friday says:

          So… “Even badly designed essays run by people who were inclined to believe in the results they ended up getting proved my point”?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            I think the implication is supposed to be “Even badly designed studies run by people who are trying to disprove the conclusion end up proving it”

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Orphan Wilde
            I think the implication is supposed to be “Even badly designed studies run by people who are trying to disprove the conclusion end up proving it”

            Please, pretty please, will people please stop saying ‘prove/disprove X’ when they mean ‘find evidence for/against X’.

          • Friday says:

            Sorry, Houseboat. I’m not used to the level of terminological rigor that’s apparently expected around here.

          • Alrenous says:

            Badly designed studies run by LSD advocates should show cure rates in the 75%-90% range. Instead it’s still half-ish.

            Alternatively, if the shoddy studies are showing 50%, then the good ones should be 25% or lower. While the effect looks like it’s affected by bias, it’s not overwhelming the margin of error.

          • Nornagest says:

            How many criminals stop being criminals if you give them an intervention that consists of sitting on their asses and eating sugar pills?

            This is being framed as “cure”, but criminality is not a disease. Recidivism is common, but we’d expect some percentage of convicts to have committed their last major crime by pure chance; note also that the study takes place in prison, an institution designed to convert criminals to non-criminals (even if it doesn’t seem to be very good at it).

    • Friday says:

      Given that Timothy Leary was one of the researchers conducting the Concord Prison Experiment, I don’t know what you mean by “dubious”.

      The study that the PsyPost was enthusing about is an observational study comparing offenders in TASC who have a hallucinogenic drug use disorder to other offenders in TASC who don’t. Full text is here.

  48. Alexp says:

    Ok, I haven’t read the essay yet, but just wanted to give my knee jerk reaction to the title:

    Because they took a ton of psychedelic drugs, obviously. Even the most straight laced, conscientious, respectable people will act really weird for at least a while, while tripping a ton of balls.

  49. Sigivald says:

    1) Don’t be so mean to RA Wilson; he was a lot saner than Leary was, honestly.

    (Likewise, “supporting space colonization” is weird-but-not-insane, along the lines of “supporting AI research to prevent them eventually killing us all”; it’s a weird topic to pick, but there are perfectly rational bases for caring about it. Less so with Lilly’s Alien Battles.

    Also, obviously tongue in cheek, both you and me, yes.)

    2) I don’t think there’s reason to believe [you mention no clinical data, leading me to assume there is none – and I’m going off direct and indirect experience] that the dose relation between psychedelics and openness-to-new-experience is linear.

    Seems much more like the initial experience is very significant, but dose-response relation flattens out pretty fast, at least for most people.

    To us a programming metaphor (because I’m me), I view an occasional good dose of psychedelics – for most people – as roughly like forcing a garbage-collection pass over the brain, so to speak – clears out some cruft.

    • Henry says:

      The Imperial College London researchers have proposed the metaphor of brain/mind lubricant:

      “Previous studies have shown that trait characteristics,
      such as personality and outlook, can be significantly
      altered by psychedelics (Griffiths et al. 2008; MacLean
      et al. 2011). Moreover, associations have been found be-
      tween certain psychological traits and the 5-HT2AR
      (Turecki et al. 1999; Meyer et al. 2003; Ott et al. 2005;
      Bhagwagar et al. 2006; Frokjaer et al. 2008).
      Specifically, deficient 5-HT2AR stimulation has been
      linked with depression-related behaviours such as sui-
      cide (Turecki et al. 1999), dysfunctional or excessively
      pessimistic attitudes (Meyer et al. 2003; Bhagwagar
      et al. 2006) and neuroticism (Frokjaer et al. 2008). In
      this context, increased psychological wellbeing
      (Griffiths et al. 2008), openness (MacLean et al. 2011),
      decreased suicidality (Hendricks et al. 2015) and now
      increased optimism after a ‘blast’ of 5-HT2AR stimula-
      tion may begin to make functional sense. We predict
      that deficient 5-HT2AR stimulation causes cognition
      to ‘stultify’, whereas 5-HT2AR stimulation loosens cog-
      nition and associated brain dynamics, serving as a
      metaphorical ‘lubricant’ for the mind and brain. We
      predict that this loosening effect persists beyond the
      acute intoxication phase and can potentially explain
      the mid- to long-term psychological effects of psyche-
      delics. Recent reports of enduring brain changes
      with 5-HT2AR stimulation and psychedelic drug-use
      (Bouso et al. 2015), as well as speculations on the func-
      tion of serotonin in the brain (Branchi, 2011), may her-
      ald the beginnings of an understanding of this
      important matter. We intend to detail the acute brain
      effects of LSD in forthcoming neuroimaging papers
      and to investigate the long-term psychological and
      brain effects of psychedelics in future studies.”

  50. Salem says:

    Do psychedelic drugs really increase openness to experience, or is this an artefact of the retest?

    The kind of person who’s willing to take psychedelic drugs is very open to experience to begin with. In fact, a better marker of openness to experience than a personality test. So all that you’re seeing is regression to the true measure, rather than the noisy measure, no?

  51. Azure says:

    Anecodtally, I’ve seen a small minority of people become /boring/ due to psychedelic use.

    A few folks appear to lose, if not the capacity, then the inclination to evaluate anything. They don’t develop mad theories, instead collapsing into an unthinking acceptance of whatever notion pops into their minds. Almost like everything’s liquified and flowed into an undifferentiated soup. (That’s the kind of result I’ve heard most people refer to as an ‘acid casualty’.)

    They seem happy enough, like they’ve fallen into an endless ‘Wow!’ about nothing in particular, but talking to them usually isn’t interesting once they melt.

    I suspect this is just intensification of something pre-existing. People with more than usual systematizing inclinations may be prone to build vast and delirious ædifices when they find themselves considering a flood of random, weird ideas. People with much less than usual systematization might just get washed out to sea.

    • latetotheparty says:

      Such psychedelic.
      So concept.

    • onyomi says:

      On a more serious note, I believe Scott has described mystical experience in terms of seeing connections which aren’t there. Though I’m pretty sympathetic to Buddhism, meditation, and mystical traditions, and think there’s something to the idea of learning not to see distinctions where none exist, maybe psychedelics work, at least in part, by somewhat indiscriminately tearing down distinctions, real and unreal, such that they feel and, in fact, have something in common with endogenous meditative states, but, as with explanation and justification in general, we would expect smart people to come up with interesting explanations for this mental state they experience and less smart people to well, come up with less interesting explanations or no explanations.

  52. gwern says:

    To drop in my anecdote: as part of my 2012 LSD microdosing experiment, I had taken a (very short) Big Five inventory (the one) which put my Openness at 87th percentile several months before; 2 days after my LSD trip (with no mystical experience), I retook it and also got 87th. (That was my first and so far only psychedelic experience, excluding obviously the microdosing itself, which had no perceptible or measured effects. It was enjoyable and helpful, I thought, but I haven’t been able to do another because Reasons.) Several months later, I took it a third time and got a 93rd percentile. So it’s at least directionally consistent. I have not noticed any particular change in my beliefs or ideologies I could ascribe to the one trip, also consistent with the idea that it’s a lot of heroic doses which sends people off into Mullisland.

  53. Loooooong-time reader, first-time commenter.

    Agree with The Lagrangian that likely some selection bias at play.

    But I can also testify to the fact that LSD can permanently fry someone’s circuits. Sadly, my best friend from middle school did too much acid once our senior year of high school, and he has not been the same since. He had an ivy-league-caliber intellect before and a Taco Bell-caliber intellect after. This wasn’t just him becoming mystical or hard to pin down, it made him unreliable to the point of not being functional. He was still smart, but never consistent. He’ll be fine for ten minutes in a conversation and then completely go somewhere else. Not sure what he’s doing now, but can only assume permanent care is required. Really sad – he was/is a good guy.

    FWIW, some thoughts on use of the word “weird.”

    • Aq says:

      An acquaintance from my college years also told me a similar story about his finalists high-school trip abroad (this being Europe, so ‘abroad’ is not that far).
      He and a group of friends took some LSD stamps (pieces of paper with LSD dissolved in it).
      On the last day of the trip they tried/took the stamps (new experience for some, but not for all).
      One of his friends did not quite enjoy the ‘trip’, had a pretty bad night, and and the next day he started talking about how he was “broken”. They went to the airport to get back home, as planed, and at some point the guy tried to kill himself with a pencil (failing, obviously).
      This story also ended with an ominous “he was never the same again”.

    • O says:

      Sounds like the LSD could have brought out latent schizophrenia rather than it necessarily being the primary causal agent.

  54. former shroomer, current meditator says:

    Many psychedelicists are still weird. The experiences are weird, the phenomenology is exotic, it will show you that your mind can do things you never had a clue were possible (unless you’re a meditation/yoga adept). Existence is weird.

  55. Have you controlled for the 60s? Also, the 70s? Going off to India and learning yoga/meditating under some famous “guru” was a thing people (with money) did. Just look at the Beatles. I get the impression that ordinary people believed in things like ESP, space aliens, and young Earth Creationism at much higher rates than they do today. So I think these guys look “weird” in part because the whole 60s/70s culture looks “weird” today, but in their own day, they were probably pretty normal for guys-who’ve-taken-LSD.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I read once that in book publishing, books about astrology, space aliens, bending spoons with your mind, pyramid power, etc etc were huge from about 1968-69 onward through the 1970s, and then just died in popularity in the early 1980s.

      • Deiseach says:

        The hey-day of von Daniken. If you weren’t alive then (or at least old enough to be aware of what was going on), you have no idea how weird the 70s were. People talk about the 60s but the 70s was when it all went mainstream (for a short while at least) and the loopiness dropped the Mystic Wisdom of the Orient mantle and took on the cloak of Scientific Investigation.

        This interest in the unusual is why Arthur C. Clarke lent his name to two 80s and one 90s TV series that were not quite debunking (they ended up usually with a “and this is the likely rational explanation” ending from Clarke) but were very much in the “investigates UFOs, Bigfoot, Flying Saucers, ESP, religious visions” mode.

        • I remember thinking that the TV show “In Search of” (1977-1982) was serious science, in part because it was hosted by Leonard Nimoy. The show investigated topics like ancient alien visitors to earth.

      • This is very much in line with my memory of the books available at the local library (always a little older, on average, than the ones at the bookstore) when I was a kid. We had books about ESP, alien abductions, crop circles, etc.

        After a while, you could only find these books at the back of the second-hand shop. And I haven’t seen anything on spoon bending, faith healing, or ley lines in a very long time.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          I almost wonder if pop culture adopting certain concepts leads to them becoming too silly to be mentioned in public seriously.

          Ley Lines sounds like something out of Warcraft, so I subconsciously assume it is beneath consideration.

          • merzbot says:

            Leylines actually exist (and have magical powers, of course) in Magic the Gathering.

            Your hypothesis is reasonable, but I think it’s at least equally likely that the arrow of causation points in the opposite direction. At least in gaming (my main area of fantasy media-consumption), fantasy writers tend to pick up on mystical things that are firmly established as being mystical nonsense already. I see a lot more RPG universes with polytheistic religions (which are always literally true) than monotheistic ones. And of course there’s alchemy, pseudo-Pagan black magic, etc.

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            The big test would be the X-files, when that was on, UFOs and aliens seemed to be a whole thing that people actually believed in, after, not so much (not sure if its a coincidence).

          • Sivaas says:

            Leylines do, in fact, exist in Warcraft. One of the more well-known WoW raids, Karazhan, existed at a confluence of ley lines, and a minor subplot in WOTLK was Malygos redirecting the energy of the leylines to the Nexus.

            I am firmly cementing my role as a niche commenter.

          • I am the Tarpitz says:

            There was going to be a new black Leyline in M11, but the artwork and flavour text revealed Illuminati secrets so Elvis abducted Mark Rosewater in his ancient Nazi UFO and threatened to feed him to the Loch Ness Monster if he didn’t alter the card file.

            Also I always vaguely wondered what the red ones did, but had never bothered to check. Huh.

  56. Thomas Shepard says:

    You don’t get it. From what I understand… only John Lilly “lost it”, both in terms of his beliefs and his personality.

    This is only my opinion, of course, and I also believe it’s a tragedy that most of us adults (that includes me) are boring, plodding toward our graves with untapped potential. We’re going to have to discover better neuro-medicines (and even these will not be magic cures for the human condition).

  57. Aq says:

    I thought that by now someone would have mentioned HPPD (hallucinogen persisting perception disorder), as the name implies, it is persistent, and it is caused by hallucinogenics. So yes, there is even a DSM-IV label for people who are unhappy with the permanent effects of hallucinogenics.
    The symptoms comprise a wide variety a visual phenomena and other perceptual changes. As well as depersonalization/de-realization. (These are the unhappy people, so they have not discovered a Sikh Guru.)

    Looking at HTTP forums/descriptions I get the impression that the problem seems to be with raw-perception processing, i.e. sufferers seem to be conscious of things that are filtered in normal subjects. (There’s also a lot of anxiety, not to dismiss anxiety, which I know all too well.)
    So if I were to try to square HPPD with Scott’s openness-to-experience, I would either say that hallucinogenics expand the realm of conscious to pre-processed perceptions/ideas, or weaken the filters that protect us from those pre-processed perceptions/ideas.

  58. Noumenon72 says:

    I didn’t think very much of this post, but then I took four drugs and watched this video and now I realize I have never been anything more than a comment on this post since before I was born.

  59. Thursday says:

    The (excellent) poet and essayist Henri Michaux was a sort of French Aldous Huxley. He wrote a three books about his experiences with mescaline. The first one is available here:

    This is a pretty good anthology of his stuff. It contains some of his other writing on drugs:

    I don’t know too much about him, but he had apparently been an abstainer from drugs and alcohol before experimenting on himself.

  60. anonomous says:

    One very interesting and potentially instructive group on this question is the Native American Church. It’s a religion, considered Christian by its members at least sometimes, where regular use of a peyote sacrament is common.

    It’s a stable faith that’s survived well through a century that was not kind to indigenous cultures, and its members seem disproportionately happy and healthy. One hates to shine too much of a spotlight on them, because they’re roughly about as wary as that as you would expect given the basic facts of history, but there’s a quarter of a million of them, they’ve been around for generations, and they’re at least fine and, arguably, pretty damn good considering the circumstances. Seems to deserve a mention.

  61. yuks says:

    Asking why rational scientist stopped being critical is a broader question than effect of psychedelics. For 3rd-party observers, any religion is definitely weird yet we have otherwise rational Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Mormons here in the comments and tons of deeply religious scientists now and before whose critical thinking is also stopping somewhere, where something else starts (spirituality?).

    We can ask then not why psychedelicists went cuckoo but why they didn’t go cuckoo in a socially acceptable way like everyone else, why did they put something new into the “spiritual section of the brain”?
    Why did they invent their own beliefs?

    Well, deep curiosity, lots of drugs and being on a frontier of a field challenging the philosophy of perception seem to help with that.

    • Alliteration says:

      Some religious intellectuals simply believe that the evidence for their religion is good. There is no requirement to turn off critical thinking to believe in religion, because some people think that the apologetic arguments are good.

      I, for example, current believe apologetic arguments establish the plausibility of religion, and then Pascal’s Wager rounds up to full belief.

      • yuks says:

        I suppose (because of the apologetic arguments) you consider evidence as good for monotheistic, probably Abrahamic, religions (or only one religion?).
        What about dharmic believes? Do you think of the concept of karma as made up, while heaven/hell in the afterlife can be supported by arguments?
        Because Pascal’s Wager can very well be applied to karma too (and would be applied if Pascal was a Tibetan).

        I’m sure Timothy Leary found arguments for “universal consciousness” good enough and passing his critical thinking threshold, enhanced by his perceptional experience.
        Unless he wasn’t pranking us all as suggested in another thread.

        • Alliteration says:

          I think there is quite good evidence for at least deism, because of the Kalam cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument.

          If one assumes moral realism, then generic theism is likely true because of a variant of the moral argument. (If humans merely evolved, moral intuition won’t line up with anything in particular; however, moral intuition does line up objective morality for the most part. Thus, something interfered with human evolution. That something would likely be good, because instilling humans with moral intuition increases the amount of good in the world.)

          Christianity is the most probable inspired theism*, because it became popular right after its founder died, which is normally bad for religions. We would expect a true religion to survive that far better then a false one.

          *To be fair, I don’t actually know about other religions that well.

          By “rounds up to full belief”, I don’t mean stop being critical. I mean if a religion seems, for example, to have a 30% chance of being true, then believe the religion because of the extreme upside.

          I am arguing that at least a sub-population of religious folk believe that the evidence is in their favour, and are not purposely being not critical.

          • I am the Tarpitz says:

            If one assumes moral realism

            Why on Earth would one do that? What would it even mean?

            At least (some) claims about gods have some putative content.

      • Deiseach says:

        I dislike Pascal’s Wager, but I don’t think Pascal meant it as apologetics; it was a way to get a wedge into starting a dialogue with someone who was sceptical/non-believing/oh we’re all going to heaven anyway we don’t need to change ourselves. He was putting it in the terms of ordinary life: look, if you bet on cards or horses or a dice game, you do so expecting to make more than you lose, even though there’s a chance you’ll lose your initial money and even though the sensible thing would be not to bet at all as you will definitely not lose, even if you don’t win, so you won’t be worse off than when you started. And yet sensible people make bets on all kinds of things in life. Well, consider this as a bet.

        And then once you get the other party willing to discuss, you get into the apologetics and theology. But I don’t think Pascal ever considered his Bet as anything more than an attention-grabbing hook to start the process, and certainly not as a complete argument and end in itself. Remember, this is the same guy who thought the Jesuits were way too soft and forgiving and liable to let people have all kinds of indults and get-out clauses due to worldly considerations 🙂

      • sconn says:

        I think “rounding up to full belief” is the same thing as “stopping being critical.” It doesn’t mean you’re no longer critical of anything — it’s that there is an area of your thought which you don’t hold in a provisional way, subject to continued reappraisal and criticism, but in an absolute way (“full belief”).

        If there’s a set of ideas in your mind which you think are immune to question and reassessment, whether it’s UFOs or the Bible, you’ve stopped being critical at some point. That’s your choice, but that’s what it is.

        • Alliteration says:

          I appear to have mis-communicated. See my reply to yuks up thread for more.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Some people are Christian, but if a specific group of non-Christians semi-consistently became Christians after a specific trigger, I would be pretty interested/disturbed there too.

      • SJ says:

        [I]f a specific group of non-Christians semi-consistently became Christians after a specific trigger…

        Half-jokingly, I wonder if Billy Graham counts.

        Or, more generally, big revival meetings.

  62. CareerConscious says:

    I’ve had experiences with psilocybin, LSD, and 2C-B, by themselves and with cannabis.

    These chemicals alter the mind at the deepest levels. The effects of psychedelics are profound, mysterious, and in large part a function of the user’s perception of their effects. If you expect to see God, travel through dimensions, or be healed of pathology, that’s what you will experience. If you’re in it to see colors and dance and laugh, it’ll happen. If you know that it’s all new-age hippy bullshit, your preconceptions will be confirmed. If you’re afraid you’ll have a bad trip…

    The variance in experience controlling for dosage, mental health, etc., is enormous. The effects of alcohol, amphetamines, opiates, and most other drugs, are much more predictable. This means that research into psychedelics is inherently challenging.

    There are certainly risks, both short- and long-term to psychedelic use. Altering your brain chemistry, be it with psilocybin, SSRIs, benzodiazepines, etc., is playing with fire. It’s no wonder some heavy users minds burned out.

    The benefits can be massive, if you can find them. Psychedelics cured me of depression I suffered from for a decade when psychiatry wasn’t working. I was so happy to discover this miracle cure that I told everyone I knew. One of my friends had the profound experiences that I have. But another spent two hours shivering as she laid on my rug “to be closer to the Earth.”

    • Agronomous says:

      I thought it was mostly new-age hippie bullshit. I thought I’d see colors and dance and laugh.

      The major effect, though, was that I became really, really happy. I wandered around campus, enjoyed the sunrise, watched a squirrel for twenty minutes, listened to the ducks, watched the sand in a volleyball court constantly recede in a very non-scary way, and thought I hallucinated organ music (someone inside was watching Glory).

      To this day, I have no idea why I didn’t do LSD after that. The happiness alone would have been worth any inconvenience or expense. Nine years later, after being diagnosed with chronic depression, I got on SSRIs, which take a hell of a lot longer to work.

      LSD should be legal (again). I’m also pretty pissed off that Ketamine isn’t more widely available, given its effectiveness, and libertarian arguments against the FDA seem to get stronger and stronger with each self-medication story I hear.

    • Henry says:

      You’re way oversimplicating the effects. Some people, on some trips, do get the effects they are expecting. Others definitely do not.

  63. yento says:

    Surprised there is only a very marginal mention of DMT here.
    The limited experiences I’ve have with LSD, MDMA and DMT (and floating tank) have been very different, but are fairly in line with the results of the study.

    DMT has possibly been the most extreme experiences, and over the long term had a very positive effect. I smoked it only once, in a very high dose as I assume and a year after having stopped drinking Alcohol.
    Comparing it to experiences of others, (followiing memory) I skipped any introductory phase and went straight into what I’d describe like an absolute sense deprivation with heavy hallucinations, auditory feedback, emotional response and physical sense overload. The development was very roller-coaster like peaking from extreme moment to the next, located somewhere between being terrorized and amazed. I couldn’t have been happier once it wore off even though I tried to hold onto it as long as I could.
    I had read a few accounts and some paper trying to study the visual and auditory effects beforehand but could not have imagined and possibly comprehended how intense DMT is.

    The direct short term response was slightly similar to the typical glow/happiness that sucks the criticality out of your thoughts, but this returned pretty quickly. The months following up to now I definitely noticed a different awareness and attention span to look at means of sense making I before rarely considered. Social interaction became easier and openess increased, depression or depressive tendency I had worn off and got replaced by sustained focus on dealing with ambiguities. This I’d probably described as the most positive aspect.
    I think the realisation of the brain being able to render such complete other modes freed up some of the dualist tendencies I had before the experience. Not sure if I’d recommend it to everybody, but I can’t say anything negative about it taken one takes the time and effort to evaluate ones experience.
    The possibility to reject it as plain non-sensical hallucination, complex and ambiguous without an claim on immediate realness and hippie fall-in was what helped me taking insights.

    Certainly raised my interest in cognition, and made me look at J.J. Gibson’s book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception ( Not related to DMT or drugs in anyway, it’s one of the early proponents of Embodied Cognition. Great book.

  64. Anonymous says:

    Psychedelics are relatively popular in Australia, so I’ve thought about this question quite a lot. Here’s some random anecdata about one of the drug scenes here, which is unusual by global standards due to the isolation of Australia, the prevalence of open space, and the tight regulations on the nightlife.

    There’s a fairly strong scene of pseudo-hippy dropouts who put on unlicensed outdoor dance parties two or three times a month. Psychedelics are very popular in this scene. It’s a lot easier to import LSD than other drugs, so while MDMA is about 10x the price in Australia compared to in Europe, LSD is only about 50% more expensive. The going price of a strong dose of LSD is $10usd, while 100mg of crystal MDxx is $25usd. Marijuana, ketamine and nitrous oxide are all very popular too. Cocaine and opiates are totally absent, and amphetamines and benzos are uncool. There may be people who are into meth, but if so they don’t talk about it, and it’s not sold openly at the party the way MDxx, LSD and marijuana are. MDxx is sold as crystals by weight — pressed tablets are very unpopular. I speculate that the information asymmetry from pressed tablets resulted in a “market of lemons” effect. I believe that the drug sold as LSD is mostly LSD, and not a related research chemical, because there are periodic police busts of massive quantities of LSD, but I’ve never heard of a bust of research chemicals.

    Fringe beliefs are very common in this ‘tribe’, but I consider it more or less a religious question. They’re into crystal healing, Reiki, meditation, etc. Many believe in UFOs or minor conspiracy theories. And actually, the people who come to these parties who are *most* into that side of the scene are really the ones who are taking *less* drugs, not more. Basically, it’s a hippy party, so people come for some mix of “hippy” and “party”.

    I’ve met about 30-40 people at these parties who are smart and successful people, who have high openness to experience, and low respect for authority. I put myself in this category. I haven’t seen any of these people develop loopy beliefs. I’ve also met about 50 kids aged 17-21 who go to these things a lot, and who identify with the scene to a greater or lesser extent. These kids take a lot of drugs. I can think of one or two who seem much less stable than they did a year or two ago. I wouldn’t want to say that it was the LSD that did it, though.

  65. Anonymous says:


    A lot of “LSD” sold in the illegal drug market is not LSD at all but one of the myriad chemicals they discover every week, these can be different psychedelics at best and dangerous glorified amphetamines with deadly interactions or unknown chemicals at worst. The reason for this is that real LSD is very expensive, the research chemicals are very cheap and actually legal to buy in many places so this is easy money. You probably can’t identify them without trying them, so don’t do LSD if you don’t know where it came from. Always prefer liquid form.

    How to figure if you took real LSD:

    – It has no taste, it doesn’t numb your mouth. Sometimes the blotter paper or the ink might have a taste, so not a perfect way to tell. The dose should be so small that the paper has normal texture and flexibility, avoid rigid stuff that looks as it if was submerged in something , or stuff that is unnecessarily large.

    – Should last 9-13 hours and cause you no weird uncomfortable body sensations unless they are psychosomatic. You can swallow the tab instead of keeping it under your tongue if its real LSD.

    – There are kits for identification but the RC community finds ways to trick them perdiocally.

    By reading the previous comment I see that the situation could be different in Australia, I’m glad to hear it. Where I live most of it is fake.

    Shrooms are safer in that sense but they are quite different from LSD. I think they can more terrifying for some people than LSD, and vice versa. For the readership of this blog I would suggest LSD first. Shrooms are very safe to do once in a while but can degenerate your mind a lot if you abuse them, and they can also scare the living shit out of you.

    How to know if you are ready to try this stuff and retain your skeptical rationality?

    Learn to appreciate mysticism in general. Not saying you should accept the ontological claims or anything like that. Have a language that will help you understand your experiences. Learn about neurology, philosophy of consciousness etc. Understand the difference between map and territory. I know, tiresome cliche which is already baseline knowledge…

    Consider that the same flesh hardware that runs you is capable of runing simulations of varying complexity and similar qualities to yourself.

    Be at peace with the fact that you and your loved ones are eventually going to die and that’s it. No afterlife, no cryonics, no uploading your consciousness to some machine or living many lives in the minds of your devotees. You can have rational beliefs about future immortality but it can’t be a copt out to accepting death in a mature way. This is the number one cause of weird beliefs imho. Don’t be an escapist.

    Avoid psychedelics entirely if you are uncomfortable with things and the people around you, or yourself. Shame, guilt, jealousy, extreme worry or paranoia, touchiness, taking oneself too seriously. All of these are bad and make for bad trips. Be healthy when you do it, no bad stomach or runny nose etc if possible. Even small things like being uncomfortable with the temperature can make you have a rough time. Wear clothes you are really comfortable on, have some chocolate and water at hand.

    Don’t put yourself in a bland laboratory setting, not until you are a bit familiar with the stuff at least. Nature is always a great setting. Dance and music can help to enable hypnotic-like states and interesting group dynamics. Mentioning this because this can be a very gentle introduction to psychedelics for some people.

    Avoid DMT, salvia, deliriants, dissociatives and other strong stuff until you are comfortable with the classic psychedelics (psilocibyn, mescaline, lsd, cannabis etc).

    • Anonymous says:

      > You can swallow the tab instead of keeping it under your tongue if its real LSD.

      SAFETY WARNING!!!!!!

      I’m not sure how this rumor started, but DOC and DOM are orally active, and NBOMEs have varying effect orally too.

      • Anonymous says:

        What rumor? Are people saying only LSD is orally active?

        This is a good clarification, I’m pretty sure a lot of the newer research chemicals are orally active too… Unless I’m thinking this wrong, it still is a good idea to swallow the unknown tab if you do decide to take it.

  66. The Obsolete Man says:

    I tried LSD in the early 70s a few times and then had a stint of heavy use in the early 80s (every weekend for months). I read Richard Alpert’s book – Be Here Now – in the late 70s. The first part of that book, where he talks about his initial experiences and the academic research into LSD are very interesting and will answer a lot of questions.

    During the time I was taking it most weekends I did develop a lot of loony theories about all sorts of stuff-things that I cannot recall now. Developed panic disorder and saw a therapist. I confided in the LSD use and stopped it and those theories gradually faded, but there still exists this belief – vague and generalized – that there is *something else* out there that’s meaningful and real that the psychedelics allow you to access.

    I’ve known people that with chronic use seem to turn into “empathetic schizotypals” or something like that. I was a little bit like that myself for a while. I found mushrooms to be much easier to take and preferred the shorter duration of action. But LSD is best for the “all-nighter”.

    Set and setting was crucial for me. No daytime stuff – NO CARS – always be with a friend or two, but not a large group. A House in the country at night in the fall with one or two friends I would consider ideal. Have some beer around to sip on if you start getting a little panicky. Best to avoid mirrors. I’ve had bad trips and I’ve helped people that were having them. Bad trips don’t usually last that long – if they happen they tend to happen when the drug is peaking the first two or three hours in, then it usually settles down and often changes.

    That all said, I don’t think I would ever take LSD again. Maybe a low dose of some mushrooms, maybe. It took a long time to get over the panic and agoraphobia I had and wouldn’t want that sort of stuff to return.

  67. Rakishma says:

    Jaron Lanier: …I was around Richard Feynman – the Nobel prize winning physicist – one time when he was on acid. Before he started to come on I asked him, “What do you really think about the mind-body problem? Now come on, don’t just shove it under the rug. You probably experience yourself existing on the inside; how do you think that reconciles with the matter of the brain? Do you think there’s any problem there?” He said, “I’ve thought about that a lot, and I really just don’t understand it.” That was just an example of the immense honesty and integrity that he had.
    Rebecca: It was proof that he’d really thought about it.(laughter)
    Jaron Lanier: Exactly. I asked him again when he was on acid and he said, with this most wonderful smile and this effervescent glee, “I don’t understand it.” That sort of glee at the fundamental mysteriousness of the universe is just the motivational core of science and you always run into that with a great scientist. Just to be clear, though, Feynman didn’t state any mystical ideas, he just was rigorous about what he did and didn’t know, which I think is one of the hardest mental disciplines.

  68. Sichu Lu says:

    The effect described here is probably what happens when you have creative people probably 2/3 SD above the population mean for openness coupled with extreme intelligence that is capable of handling the the information overload and pick out what the relevant patterns are (PCR is no trivial insight) This is why they were brilliant scientists to begin with that pioneered the beginning of fields. Then they took the drugs and like Scott said increases their creativity and openness to experience and start raving about aliens and stuff. Basically the latent inhibition model.

    • nydwracu says:

      I wouldn’t blame it all on [standard Big Five] openness to experience. I test somewhere upwards of 95th percentile on it, and I’m not that weird.

  69. Zado says:

    Two points about Timothy Leary:

    1. Before he tripped on shrooms in Mexico–in other words, before he set foot on the path of Weirdness–he was, as a psychologist, interested in personality change. This is important because, at that time, mental health professionals tended to think most people were on some sort of spectrum, and that widespread mental disease was helping drive us towards the abyss. In this paradigm widespread personality change would have been considered an inherent good, and Leary, pretty much from the beginning, thought he had found a catalyst for it in the form of psilocybin (and later LSD). Thus, right off the bat, he considered psychedelics agents for societal transformation, rather than useful chemicals for psychiatrists to keep snugly in their toolkits. This context, I think, helps explain why he got so out of hand.

    2. The other reason he got so out of hand was his charisma. In addition to banging virtually every girl that came through Millbrook (his psychedelic “research” enclave in upstate New York), it allowed him to slide inexorably into the role of guru, free of criticism and beloved all the more for his zaniest ideas. One can see where this led.

    And let’s not forget: during this time he was dropping acid every 3-4 days, far more frequently than anyone should if they want to remain grounded.

    My point being, psychedelics are just chemicals that mimic neurotransmitters, and in trying to get a handle on them, we often forget the most important factor in explaining their effects: the individual brain they’re affecting.

    • willy says:

      What’s a good book that covers Leary’s life, especially his charisma?

      I’m interested in that side of him.

    • Steve Witham says:

      Zado, thanks for your point 1, saying what I wanted to.

      Leary early on likened psychedelic drug experiences to imprinting, or maybe he thought that they triggered the actual mechanism behind previously-known kinds of imprinting, I forget. The idea was that you would carefully control the “set and setting”, administer the drug, and a person’s life would be forever redirected for the better, without decades of therapy.

      I guess Scott’s phrase “make you more interesting without your consent” means that the effect keeps happening whether you change your mind or not (even if you originally consented to its doing so), but I’m not sure his examples support serious weirdness as an effect of a single dose.

      • nydwracu says:

        Robert Anton Wilson has an anecdote in one of his books about a homosexual who wanted a cure. Figured out how to get LSD therapy. Three times — first time acid, second time acid and porn, third time acid and a hooker. He says it worked and the guy became straight.

        Might be counterculture rumor, might be true. Who knows.

  70. Nero tol Scaeva says:

    Dude, that’s just, like, your opinion, man

  71. Andy Wilkinson says:

    One of the finest texts on psychedelia I have had the opportunity to read was James Fadiman’s Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.

    A metaphor which stuck with me from the book was to think of the psychedelic experience like exposing a slide of film. You can take a single exposure and get a very clear picture. You can expose twice, without ratcheting forwards, and get a really interesting double exposure. But beyond 3-4 exposures on a slide, you begin to get nothing but noise.

    Taking psychedelics the way Leary and contemporaries did is like continually exposing and never winding the film forward. Beyond a certain point, shit gets weird. The “cool-down period” of ~3 months after a trip is the equivalent of winding the film forward, and allowing any insights or changes to sink in.

    No drug is risk-free, but psychedelics taken once every 4 days are almost guaranteed to scramble your head.

  72. Scott, on Huxley:”Also user of some very weird pseudomedicine discounted even in his own time.”

    If you were including Bates eye exercises, it turns out that a lot of visual processing happens in the brain– it isn’t just the shape of the lens.

    Not Bates, just convincing system 1 that clear vision is easier. I suppose I should wait for people to try replicating the studies.

  73. Bram Cohen says:

    I made a similar post suggesting the same thing about the Piraha a number of years ago, proposing a theory which has made no headway whatsoever:

    While I’m all for accepting that many drugs are remarkably safe for long term use, being dismissive of the possibility that mass quantities of psychedelics done over a long period of time might fuck your shit up seems insane. Occam’s razor would seem to indicate the exact opposite: If someone is (a) crazy and (b) has spent many years trying out drugs of unknown provenance for an extended period of time, the operating assumption should be that (b) caused (a).

  74. Ellie says:

    Having done a wide variety of psychedelics I can safely say that yes they connect you to the is-ness of the universe and it is very profound.

    I also am not permanently weird. I have a spouse & a family & a mortgage & a career plus I go to school ironically for psychology and I’m learning about personality & the big 5 personality traits which includes openness.

    The voice of the universe is there if you learn to listen to it. Everything I need to know about life I learned from Jerry & LSD

  75. SUT says:

    Alternative hypothesis: “early psychedelic researcher” are just the people who slid fully down the slope toward advocacy and constant use. These people became famous as a society at large needed interesting but tragic tales to warn the curious.

    There is probably a much larger class of normal chemists, who might’ve pilfered some from their lab, took it home to try with their wife, said that was cool and moved on with their life. But we don’t count them as “early researchers” because they didn’t go around publicly declaring themselves as such.

    ‘Survivor bias’ is the closest term for this.

  76. ssica3003 says:

    Wait, wait, wait. I’ve always thought that living in the 40s/50s/60s would have been a crazy experience and sent everyone weird.

    First, you have the revelation that matter === energy. That is just bananas, but it must be true since you can vapourise a large city almost instantly with just a small device using this information (and incidentally triggers a brand new kind of long term War).

    Then there is the huge explosion of Magic With Chemicals, which I think is most mundanely explained by ‘Dry Cleaning’. Just think about the marketing to 50s consumers (who have only just got their heads around a washing machine) that needed to convince them that instead of soap and water there are these lab-made chemicals that clean things better than any old method and they’re also safe for your babies. We now know about some bad effects (like DDT) and that the new-chemical industry has ‘only’ shaken up the cleaning and food manufacturing industries, but at the time, when no-one knew where the far boundary lay, the horizon for chemical change was potentially limitless.

    Check out the story of John(Jack) Parsons, the guy who pioneered rocket fuel. Everyone at MIT told him it was impossible to make a substance burn hotter/longer than a certain limit. He was brilliant and found a way, inventing liquid and solid rocket fuel and without him there would be no space exploration AT ALL. But, he was also really weird and believed in astrology/Aleister Crowley/non-monogamy etc etc

    So some people come along in a lab and create chemicals that alter your conscious state far beyond anything 25 years of mountaintop meditation can do for you and it’s just a clear colourless fluid made in a lab.

    Since there was absolutely no sense back then of where (or even if) these revelations might end, of course you would go hell for leather about your favourite things that Seem Like They Could Be True and only time will tell if they are or aren’t, and frankly time has only debunked some of them so far, while proving others have some merit, even if it’s only a particularly good enhancing of the placebo effect and frankly I’m on board with half their crazy beliefs myself.

    This is before you even start to talk about the merits of consciousness on LSD.

    • Nornagest says:

      Minor quibble: Jack Parsons was largely responsible for the modern development of solid rocket fuel, and he did work at various points on liquid-fueled rocket engines, but he neither invented liquid rocket fuel (that would be Goddard) nor was particularly central to its early development. There would almost certainly have been a space program without him, though it would have proceeded in different ways; the JPL would go on to be deeply involved in the American program, for example, but only after Parsons had left it.

      Really interesting guy, though. Astrology/Crowley/non-monogamy barely scratches the surface; he was friends with what seems like the entire 20th-century ritual magic scene, and those guys were incredibly weird. There are dozens of stories. In what might be my favorite one, L. Ron Hubbard (yes, that Hubbard; they were friends) made off in a boat with Parsons’ wife and twenty thousand dollars of his money, so Parsons allegedly summoned the demon Bartzabel to stop them. Shortly afterwards a storm drove them back to shore and into the hands of the mundane authorities. Hubbard seems to have gotten the last laugh in the end, though; Parsons never got his money or his wife back.

  77. Dan says:

    I’ve seen apprehension towards the openness change a fair amount, but I feel the emphasis on it is little misguided. There’s been very minimal research on it and I highly doubt there’s an infinite expanse of openness that continually taking psychedelics will stretch you across until you’re open to all things at tall times. I think the lower ratings in openness pre-psychedelics is likely the result of automatic compensatory neural behaviour that is disrupted by the psychedelic state, meaning there might be a threshold of openness ratings beyond which continual use of psychedelics would not have any effect. consent-absent changes in personality are also not all that uncommon given that changes in moral judgements can result from the use of pharmaceutical medication.

    Option 2 is probably the most likely here.

    And for the record, “Programming And Metaprogramming The Human Biocomputer” is really not all the strange of a book title, its pretty consistent with general themes in cognitive science.

  78. Butler T. Reynolds says:

    Jonathan Haidt’s research shows that libertarians score highly on openness to experience. If psilocybin increases one’s openness to experience and, perhaps, one’s openness to libertarianism and the libertarians’ high regard for peaceful relationships built on cooperation rather than coercion, then no wonder the government shut down psychedelic research.

  79. Matt says:

    Psychedelics drastically loosen up your analogies: everything reminds you of something else while you trip. Categories flex and elide. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this effect stays around, in some people more than in others.

    My own experience: I’m a mathematician who has taken a fair bit of LSD over the years. Although I no longer see light traces when I move my head too quickly (thank goodness), I still score very highly on “openness to experience” and do reckon that’s partially drug-inspired. In particular, I think psychedelics have given me some insight into the spiritual/mystical/holistic viewpoint, and that there is nothing wrong with that. I still hold to Bayesian blah as my primary way of making sense of the world: boring, I know – but then, I read books about set theory for fun, so what can you expect?

    Among my peers who have taken similar doses, the responses range from no-difference-at-all to waiting-for-the-flying-saucers-to-land. I’ve personally found psychedelics a very positive influence in my own life, making me somewhat less of an uptight, unsympathetic uber-rationalist. But it’s clear that there’s a huge variety in response patterns, and not everyone has a response that I would personally view as positive.

    Coming back to the original psychonauts: 60’s doses of LSD were huge. Although the individual threshold clearly varies wildly, I think most people have some kind of a point where sufficient psychedelics will cause something of a collapse in their “analogising machinery” – and as a result end up without a gatekeeper who keeps out rogue concepts. I put Leary, Lilly, etc in this box, which may be unfair to them (but I don’t think it is).

  80. Andy says:

    Another possibility is that the universe is, well, a weird place (quantum physics anyone?), and that psychedelics are actually revealing truths about reality. However these truths may be imperfectly communicated, making it difficult to sort the truthful wheat from the crazy chaff.

    In Plato’s Cave the prisoner, upon first being dragged into the sun, is unable to properly ascertain what he is seeing. He is dazzled by the brightness of the sun, and at first can only stand to look at reflections. Perhaps psychedelics are showing us reflections of reality, but not true reality, and so strange and only partially correct ideas are formed.

    When the prisoner leaves the sun and goes back into the cave, his fellow prisoners believe him to be crazy, even though he is actually the only one that has seen reality. So we call people “weird” and “crazy” who talk about aliens and universal oneness and cosmic consciousness, but actually these ideas may be closer to the truth than we dare to believe.

  81. Dean Eckles says:

    The paper that finds that psilocybin changes personality (Maclean et al. seems to rely on what is sometimes called an “as-treated” analysis of a randomized experiment. While there is randomization, their main results are (a) a pre-post comparison over all participants and (b) a regression of openness (post) on reports of having a mystical experience. This kind of analysis abandons the causal clarity provided by any randomization and is instead subject to all the problems of observational (ie non-randomized studies); for example, maybe people who report having mystical experiences are the type of people who will increase in openness (or for whom their scores are likely to increase — note that there is measurement error in openness pre and post).

  82. cubolazaruka says:

    All antidepressants carry a small risk of causing mania when taken by bipolar subjects, and occasionally trigger mania in those who were not bipolar to begin with. Psychedelics are reputed to have a potent antidepressant effect – and to be mania triggers when taken by bipolar patients.

  83. dcotes says:

    I really enjoyed this post! In regards to the cherry picking possibility, how did you decide on your examples? For example, Aldous Huxley was an early promoter of psychedelic use, but he never got that weird. Was he left out because of his relatively modest use of drugs, by chance, or some other reason? Scott, I think you would enjoy reading “And then I thought I was a fish” by Peter Welch. On amazon or on the author’s website. After psychedelic use and then considerable sleep deprivation Peter has a psychotic break. Ten years later he writes a book about it. The book is really really funny as well as interesting and terrifying. Maybe you’ve already read it, if so then this comment will be for the benefit of your readers!

  84. Anonymous says:

    I have very high openness. I think it’s just completely maxed out. So I’m going to try a psychedelic now, and see if I can tell any difference. I think it’s just going to have no effect, since it’s already maxed out, but we’ll see. Also, if I did think it was going to permanently increase my openness, that wouldn’t worry me at all; it would just sound like a good idea, but that’s probably because I have such high openness.

  85. King Fu says:

    Another early psychedelisist:

  86. Eve says:

    Personality change during depression treatment: a placebo-controlled trial.

    Neuroticism as a mediator of treatment response to SSRIs in major depressive disorder.

    The effects of sertraline on psychopathic traits.