Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Many Uses of Psychedelics

From the LA Times, scientists are finding new uses for psychedelic drugs including treatments for PTSD, addiction, and depression.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Silk Road - Underground Marketplace for Recreational Chemicals

EDIT:  this site is long gone.  I am mildly embarrassed that I gave it any press, given that there were some slightly shady things that may have gone on there.  But I don't personally consider reasonable amounts of certain substances in safe environments to be shady.


This site made the news a while back, an underground marketplace hidden more or less in plain sight.  I happened to think of it again when a friend of mine who lives a couple of thousand miles away was trying to source a few difficult to find items.  The link I have is:

http://ianxz6zefk72ulzz.onion/index.php

But you can't access that link with an ordinary browser.  As far as I know the only option is to use the anonymous Tor browser bundle, so in theory everyone approaches the site anonymously.  The Tor browser bundle sets up pretty neatly as a one-click solution using a version of Firefox as the browser.  However, due to the anonymizing, it starts slower (I often wonder if something is wrong) and everything loads slower than your regular browser.  Once at the Silk Road site you'll have to create a username and password to look around.

Mainly recreational chemicals are sold, everything from cannabis, shrooms, LSD,  MDMA and Ketamine to name a few, and when I just now took a look, there were 1557 drug items being sold.  My recollection is that there is a lot more going on there than when I first took a look some months back.  Trades are made using Bitcoins, a digital currency which I presently know next to nothing about, except that some of the prices seem a bit high.  As of today, a Bitcoin trades for $2.77 USD.

Sellers receive ratings from buyers, which if accurate would help to prevent rip-offs.  Without ratings I'm not sure such a site would be practical.  Given reasonable ratings, most of the risk involved would be in receiving the package itself.

I have not used the site myself, but I find it very interesting.

I have a certain amount of libertarian sympathies in me, and I would tend to agree with one highly-ranked seller's viewpoint on this kind of thing:

About me: Cautious, normal, everyday person who ships high quality products discreetly. I believe that the use of drugs is a personal choice. I also believe that those who are able to navigate the complexities involved with acquiring Bitcoin and configuring Tor are intellectually fit enough to research their drugs and take appropriate doses relative to their experience and comfort level. Try visiting erowid.org as a nice informative starting point if you're unsure.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Meditation improves Default Mode Processing

From the abstract of Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity, "we found that the main nodes of the default-mode network (medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices) were relatively deactivated in experienced meditators across all meditation types" and from the Behavioral Medicine Report, a good write up including "the meditators did this both during meditation, and also when just resting — not being told to do anything in particular. This may indicate that meditators have developed a “new” default mode in which there is more present-centered awareness, and less “self”-centered, say the researchers."

This was research from Judson Brewer, who has been doing fMRI scans on advanced meditators I mentioned in Path vs. Non-Path and Meditating in a Big Magnetic Tube.

The default mode locations of medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate correspond roughly to Fz (maybe Fpz) and Pz.  Douglas Dailey recommends doing alpha-theta training at these locations, and has a number of reasons for doing so laid out in his FAQ for his alpha-theta design.  My personal experience, sample of one, is that rewarding frontal theta makes it very difficult to stay present, but your mileage may vary.

EDIT:  Nice critique of this paper in "A brave new default mode in meditation practitioners- or just confused controls?"

TripMaster Alpha Guide - BioExplorer Design

I thought I would share the BioExplorer Design that I have used for tripping (and occasional regular sessions).  I've done hundreds of designs, this is a good one, and I believe there are some good ideas here that I'd like to share.  This is a 2 channel design with a focus on Alpha.  All amplitudes used are sums of both channels.  Here's a breakdown of the biofeedback it provides and some design notes:

  • Alpha - continuous pan flute
  • Alpha High - sounds choir aahs when alpha hits a new relative high
  • Alpha Max - sounds high pan flute when total alpha hits a new high for the session
  • Alpha minus Beta - continuous surf sound
In this version Alpha is defined as 8-11 Hz and Beta as 15-25 Hz, using elliptical filters.  I like to adjust the filters so that the delay is roughly the same, so that whatever is happening is in sync, unlike most designs where beta information (generally a wider band) will be arriving ahead of alpha.

I find that raw EEG amplitudes have a skewed distribution that makes continuous audio feedback less helpful (too quiet most of the time, and then too loud on the spikes), and to that end I take the square root of the amplitudes to get a somewhat more normal distribution.  This transformation provides for a more continuous feel.

When detrending is needed to calculate relative highs, this would normally be done with a threshold object, but I roll my own using percentile objects.  This allows me to calculate the threshold based on a longer length of time.  In most cases I use the full 2 minutes that the percentile object allows, as opposed to the maximum of 60 seconds that the threshold object uses.

The background is a surf sound which varies according to a 4 second average of total alpha minus total beta.  I find that a 4 second average is just long enough to cut through local variation and give a good sense of the underlying trends.  The surf sound has been substantially compressed, i.e. the volume variation has been taken out of it, so that the feedback volume ends up being based on actual brainwaves rather than the surf track itself.

That's about it.  I include an oscilloscope for both channels, mainly to see that I'm getting good signals.  Also a graph of the amplitudes for all major bands, delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma, with the session timer set to 6 hours, not sure how useful that is.  And there is a trend graph of alpha and the smoothed alpha minus beta on instruments 2, mainly I was using that while getting the design parameters set.

The design will be looking for the surf sound in a Media folder under BioExplorer in a Windows 7 setup.  I think even if you set it up right, I believe you will need to go into the Audio Player object, remove it from playlist (will probably be x-d out) and add it back in and you should be good to go.

I think my best recommendation for sites would be P3 & P4.  If anyone ends up using this design, I would appreciate your comments.  Good luck and bon voyage!



Trip Report #6

3.5 grams psilocybe cubensis, nitrous oxide
EEG biofeedback at P3 & P4, 8-11 Hz
Light machine (Sirius) on deep meditation setting (#11)
Did my usual daily 40 minutes of vipassana before dosing.

I had been trying to perfect the low-dose psilocybin + cannabis + nitrous oxide kind of thing for a while, but having gotten pretty thoroughly acquainted with that approach, and having gotten to oneness many times by that method, I decided to revisit a somewhat higher dose of psilocybin, and also return to EEG biofeedback.  Nitrous oxide was sipped every other breath or so once the trip started to take off.  I don't believe I had tried a non-obliteration dose of nitrous oxide in this setting before, so this was new.

This trip was significant in that I felt this was the first time I had genuine hallucinations.  I have certainly encountered some weird stuff before, the most startling of which was very fleeting, but mainly I would classify the effects to be distortions of existing reality as opposed to entirely imaginary realms.

This time, as the trip began to really take off, I found myself in a glass-walled triangular corridor in some kind of office, vaguely reminiscent of the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado, which I had visited as a young child.  The triangular patterning went beyond the building itself, basically to infinity in all directions.

In the metaphor of my mind, it was clear that I was wanting to gain access to the "control room" as it were in this office, but at this point early in the trip it seemed unattainable - denied access by the corporate bureaucracy.  It was a modern office space, beautiful in its own way, high in the sky, all the glass with black mullions, modern office furniture, largely empty but with the occasional secretary.  But it seemed clear that I was not going to get in to see the boss.

Not too long after that, I experienced some kind of alien world, with large, organic, amorphous alien life.  But by that time the game was up and I realized everything was myself.

Not really any shadow material this time, I was probably in a high enough dose range for me to sidestep it, although over the course of many low dose trips I've become very comfortable with all that stuff.  There are some feelings which I associate with a kind of wholesome family vibe, something nurturing, that I got to explore a bit, perhaps notable in the wake of Thanksgiving.  I've never really thought about having kids, but there is something in there that could almost get me to turn the corner.  I have found the past few months of psychedelic experimentation to be a very useful form of therapy.

I do like doing the biofeedback, it may be a weak effect but it's nice to throw into the mix.  This time I found myself struck by the power of the psilocybin, as sometimes even the nitrous seemed to have little effect, which is pretty amazing if you've had any experience with it.




Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Psilocybin Study Participant Writes Book & Roland Griffiths

One of the subjects from the Roland Griffiths 2006 study on psilocybin (replicating the Marsh Chapel experiment) has written a book about her spiritual experiences on psilocybin.  Scientific American prints an excerpt from "One Kind of Knowing".

Also, a couple of more Roland Griffiths links, a text interview covering Psilocybin Studies and the Religious Experience from MAPS.org, and an audio interview titled "Psilocybin and Quantum Change in Attitude and Behavior" from noetic.org.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stumbling On to a Few Things About Psilocybin

I was wondering about where in the brain the effects of psilocybin took place and came across this interesting graphic showing psilocybin binding of  serotonin 5-HT2A receptors,  from the Heffter Research Institute in Zurich which funds psychedelic research (including a bunch I've already reported on, like our old pal Roland Griffiths).  Red and yellow indicate the highest receptor concentrations.  If I'm looking at this correctly, the frontal lobes get hit pretty hard.

I was also very interested in a brief mention of one of their other studies where, "comparing subjects in a meditation state with subjects under the influence of psilocybin, 3-D EEGs showed striking similarities between the two states of consciousness. This result may further explain how psilocybin “awakens” the brain patterns that occur during meditative and spiritual states of consciousness."

Also funded by Heffter was pooled research by Franz Vollenweider of 8 double blind placebo controlled studies, suggesting "that the administration of moderate doses of psilocybin to healthy, high-functioning and well-prepared subjects in the context of a carefully monitored research environment is associated with an acceptable level of risk."



Friday, November 4, 2011

Shadow Material related to the Dark Night?

I was listening to the Buddhist Geek podcasts with Willoughby Britton about her research into the Dark Night phenomenon.  She doesn't get into details of the maps of the meditative path, but in the Theravada Progress of Insight, this is a period that follows attainment of the 4th nana aka the Arising & Passing, which is often a big experience of love, bliss, and lights.

This is perhaps the first attempt to take a scholarly approach to this whole phenomenon and is formally known as the Adverse Effects and Difficult Stages of the Contemplative Path Research Project.


In the wake of my recent experiences with the psychological shadow, I'm tentatively beginning to wonder if dark night experience is in some way related to shadow psychological material. 

The Dark Night by the nanas:

  • 5th nana - Dissolution
  • 6th nana - Fear
  • 7th nana - Misery
  • 8th nana - Disgust
  • 9th nana - Desire for Deliverance
The shadow is material that society more or less forces us to repress.  Viewing it indeed creates feelings of fear, misery, disgust, and desire for deliverance.

My view of both meditation and use of psychedelics is that we start at the surface level of the mind, where everything is tied up tight, although not necessarily neatly.  With higher doses of meditation or psychedelics (for me the range of say 0.7 to 3.0 grams of dried psilocybe cubensis) the various bindings unravel and one enters a deeper territory where shadow material is uncovered.  At still higher doses of meditation or psychedelics (say 3.5 grams or more for me) one goes deeper, beyond the level of repressed emotions, and so this is a level of great freedom.  This might happen during a big experience of the 4th nana, or on a high dose of psychedelics.  Sometimes I notice that after a very pleasant experience of oneness, during the slow comedown I slide back down the scale into shadow material, and perhaps this is similar to what happens in meditation after realizing the 4th nana.  The Yogi has opened up deeper layers of the mind that must be dealt with.

I experienced the shadow again after my last post, and every time it becomes more  pleasant to hang out with.  I would encounter the anima in various forms, and as I got more comfortable with it, my identity and the identity of the anima would become confused, merging and flipping.  Am I looking at it, or at myself?  Both?  Neither?  Whatever - just be okay with it all.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Shadow Knows

Recent journeys of mine, as I dabble with increasing amounts of low dose psilocybin in conjunction with nitrous oxide, have had me stumbling into the territory of shadow psychological material from time to time.  In some ways I think I could relate even simple feelings of paranoia to the shadow in some mild way, but these recent very specific archetypes and feelings under psychedelics point so clearly and directly to the repressed material described by Jung that it ain't even funny.  Besides the overall shadow, Jung postulates the anima, a set of repressed feminine characteristics for males, and the animus, a corresponding set for females.

When I first encountered this material, I wanted to push it away, to shun it, and it caused a fair amount of anxiety to have this uncomfortable material shoved right in my face.  At some level I was resisting, and yet I knew from experience with psychedelics and meditation and psychology that I needed to accept this material and make peace with it, but it has been difficult.  I tend to throw vipassana at it, but still have to note "unpleasant."

I think it makes a certain amount of sense that our individual acculturation creates repressed material, and I think it also makes sense that when you peel back the surface layers of the personality (in Jung's terms the persona or mask), that what has been pushed down for so long is what pops up and stands out.

With repeated experiences, I have been able to view this material with more equanimity, and even some curiosity, although I feel like I have a ways to go.  Last time around I got a good clear look at my anima in the wake of yet another experience of oneness.

I have gotten to the point where I am actually looking forward to more opportunities to accept and embrace this material.  Obviously, at the level of oneness, this material is integrated, so it seems to me that a process of integrating this into the persona over time would help bring about even more oneness in everyday life.

Here's a very informative transcribed talk by Ann Shulgin, wife of Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin (noted psychedelic chemist) on the shadow.  Note that page links to a podcast of the material but the link is wrong - you'll need this link to get it.

Catching up on Research

A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind
Research using a smartphone to randomly contact participants and quiz them about their thoughts and feelings throughout the day reveal that our minds wander quite a bit (47% of the time), and that on balance those wanderings are unpleasant.  "The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."  It would be interesting to do this research with a comparison sample of meditators.


Meditation Improves Mood in a Short Period of Time
Positive mood is associated with a left activated brain, activation referring to more amplitude at high frequencies (i.e. beta) as opposed to slower frequencies like alpha.  Meditation has been shown to increase this asymmetry.  For example, Richard Davidson had previously studied this with a standard 8 week program of MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, finding significant changes with an average of around 1 hour of meditation per day over 8 weeks.  The newer study by Moyers shows changes with only around 10 minutes per day over 5 weeks.  EDIT:  Moyers discusses this research in a 3 part YouTube presentation.