Thursday, November 24, 2011

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

     If anyone reading the title of this post recognizes the words, it is likely that you grew up in the 1960s. 'Turn on, tune in, drop out' was the counter-culture phrase of  Timothy Francis Leary (October 22, 1920 – May 31, 1996), American psychologist, writer and Harvard professor known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs (see post: Altered States of Consciousness).

Timothy Leary
     Leary believed LSD showed therapeutic potential for use in psychiatry, a focus that was similar to the interests of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron  of the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University in Montreal (1957 to 1964) who carried out research for the C.I.A. into mind-controlling drugs, 'truth' drugs as well as schizophrenia (see post: The Author and the Addict).
     Leary earned his Masters Degree in psychology at  Washington State University in 1946, and his Ph.D in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1950. He travelled to Mexico with where he ate psilocybin mushrooms (see post: Drugs Used in Religion-The New World) for the first time, for Leary, a life-altering experience. With the experience of psilocybin, Leary claimed that he had 'learned more about ... (his) brain and its possibilities ... (and) more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than ... (he) had in the preceding fifteen years of studying and doing research in psychology'.

Psilocybin Mushrooms
     Following his return to the U.S., Leary and an associate started the Harvard Psilocybin Project (an endeavour which eventually lost him his position at the university) to study the effects of the drug on human subjects. Despite his discharge from Harvard faculty, a number of spin-off projects continued led by graduate students or co-workers, including: The Marsh Chapel Experiment (the Good Friday Experiment) was run by  a graduate student in theology at. The goal was to see if in religiously predisposed subjects, psilocybin would act as a reliable entheogen, a drug which would induce religious experiences (see post: Drugs Used in Religion-The Old World).

Leary withJohn and Yoko in Montreal
     Almost all of the subjects who took part in the study reported experiencing profound religious experiences, providing  support for the concept that psychedelic drugs could facilitate religious experiences; the Concord Prison Experiment which was designed to evaluate the effects of psilocybin combined with psychotherapy on rehabilitation of released prisoners. After being guided through the psychedelic experience ('trips') by Leary and his associates, 36 prisoners allegedly repented and swore to give up future criminal activity. Leary's career became fraught with legal difficulties due to drug advocacy and drug use. He was imprisoned for trying to bring cannabis into the U.S. from Mexico.
     On June 1, 1969, Leary joined John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their Montreal 'bed-in' with Lennon subsequently writing Leary a campaign song (Leary ran for governorship of California against Ronald Regan) called 'Come Together'.
A Pegasus Rocket

      In early 1995, Leary was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and died the next year. Seven grams of Leary's ashes were arranged 'buried in space' aboard a rocket carrying the remains of 24 other people including Gene Rodenberry (creator of Star trek). The rocket containing Leary's remains was launched on April 21, 1997, and remained in orbit for six years until it burnt up in the atmosphere.

Terence McKenna

     Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American philosopher, researcher, teacher, lecturer and writer on many subjects, such as human consciousness, language, psychedelic drugs, the evolution of civilizations, the origin and end of the universe, alchemy, and extraterrestrial beings. In 1963, McKenna was introduced to the literary world of psychedelics through 'The Doors of Perception' and 'Heaven and Hell' by Aldous Huxley (see post: TheAuthor and the Addict). 

     McKenna claimed that one of his early psychedelic experiences with morning glory seeds (see post: MotherNature's Psychedelic Roadside Drug Store) made him realise 'that there was something there, worth pursuing'.  Mckenna began smoking cannabis regularly during the summer following his 17th birthday and while in college, in 1967, he begun studying shamanism (see post: The Shaman) through the study of Tibetan folk religion. In 1969, McKenna traveled to Nepal where he worked as a hashish smuggler, until 'one of his Bombay-to-Aspen shipments fell into the hands of U. S. Customs'.

     McKenna switched majors to a Bachelor of Science in ecology and conservation when he returned to Berkeley and soon after graduating, McKenna and his brother, Dennis published a book inspired by their Amazon experiences, 'The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching', relating to their consumption of ayahuasca.
     After the publication of his second book, 'True Hallucinations', McKenna, like Leary became a fixture of popular counterculture. These were followed by several more books which promoted his predilection towards 'Altered States of Consciousness' (see post: Altered States of Consciousness) via the ingestion of naturally occurring psychedelic substances.


     But perhaps, KcKenna is most famous for his 'Stoned Ape Theory of Human Evolution'. According to McKenna, it was the psychedelic mushroom which had also given humans their first truly religious experiences and it was the potency to promote of the mushroom that led to 'linguistic thinking', promoting vocalisation and speech. In 1985, McKenna co-founded Botanical Dimensions with his then-wife Kathleen, in Hawaii, where he lived for many years before he died of glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer.

Graham Hancock
     Graham Hancock (born 2 August 1950 in Edinburgh, Scotland) is a writer and journalist (formerly for The Economist magazine) who specialises in unconventional theories involving ancient civilizations, megaliths, ancient myths and astronomical/astrological data from the past.

     His 'stand-out' book, entitled 'Supernatural' is a fascinating adventure into the world of paleolithic cave art and mind-altering substances. In it, Hancock see the 'Machine Elves' described much like McKenna did, both men, under the influence of DMT.
     Is this evidence to support McKenna's 'Stoned Ape Theory of Human Evolution'? Is this supportive of the idea that the brain is a 'receiver', opened up by certain pharmaceuticals that allow us to perceive messages from 'alien beings'? After all, the two men, under the influence of the same/similar drugs did see virtually the same things.

Sigmund Freud
     Perhaps the most famous researcher who investigated and used pharmaceuticals was the Austrian neurologist and father of the discipline of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Sigismund Schlomo Freud 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939). Freud was an early user and proponent of cocaine as a stimulant, anti-depressant, pain-killer and a cure for morphine addiction. Despite witnessing a friend experience 'cocaine psychosis' and subsequently revert to his addiction for morphine, Freud continued to use cocaine on a daily basis for 'depression, migraine and nasal inflammation' during the early 1890s, before giving it up in 1896.

     It has been suggested that much of Freud's early psychoanalytical theory was a by-product of his cocaine use. In September 1939, Freud, who was suffering from throat cancer and in severe pain, persuaded his doctor and friend Max Schur to help him commit suicide. On 21 and 22 September, 1939, Schur administered doses of morphine to his friend, relieving his suffering and allowing Freud to die.
     For an interesting audio by Terence McKenna, 'Mushrooms are an Extra-Terrestrial Phone, click on the link 'The Best Interview About Drugs' below:
     Graham Hancock's most recent non-fiction book, 'Supernatural: Meetings With the Ancient Teachers of Mankind' (published in the UK in October 2005 and in the US in 2006) examines paleolithic cave art, its relation to drug use and the development of the 'fully modern human mind'.
     His first novel, 'Entangled: The Eater of Souls' makes use of Hancock's prior research interests much as he described in 'Supernatural'.
     A (rather long) talk by Graham Hancock concerning his novel 'Entangled' relates to many of these experiences he recounts in 'Supernatural'. Click on the link: 'Elves, Aliens, Angels and Ayahuasca' below.

     * The history of narcotics use: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The 'High' Doctor

     Various studies have examined the subject of drug abuse among physicians and have shown that, in general, the rate of illicit drug use is less among doctors than the general public.  The rate of abuse of prescription drugs however is considerably greater for physicians, up to five times higher than in the general population. Up to 15 percent of all health care professionals will battle substance abuse at some point in their careers. Is this due to stress? Overwork? Easy access to addictive substances?

     Historically, physicians have experienced a high rate of drug abuse and drug addiction. With the increased use of medical cocaine in the late 1800s, physicians were thought to constitute 30 percent of all cocaine users. The problem of abuse among physicians was well recognized. 'A man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client'. This same line of thought was most pertinent to the medical field where cocaine used by physicians was usually self-prescribed.
     In the nineteenth century, there was no formal process by which new drugs were investigated and doctors often simply experimented on themselves. The renowned and well-respected physician William Halsted, along with several of his colleagues, became cocaine abusers while assessing this new drug, cocaine.
William Stewart Halsted

     Halsted was able to recognize his addiction and 'cured' himself of the cocaine habit by shifting to the use of morphine instead. He continued on, able to handle his morphine addiction more easily than the cocaine addiction, achieving a notable career in American surgery.

     But in the field of medicine, there is one speciality that is especially prone to substance abuse and it is abuse of the most powerful, dangerous and addictive substances known.  
Drug Addiction

     The speciality field is anesthesia (the specialists who put you to sleep for surgery) and the substances most commonly abused are narcotics (morphine and its derivatives). Needless to say, anesthesia can be a very stressful job. Knowing what type of medication is needed, how much is needed and during what point in the surgery it should be administered are all important factors that can determine life, significant brain injury or even death. No patient is the same. There are no 'recipes' for drugs except according to weight, age, cardiac condition, kidney condition, drugs the patient already is taking...The list goes on and on.
     Anesthesia is similar to piloting a large aircraft (but without any auto-pilot or computer to back you up): a period of boredom (hopefully) while the patient is safely anesthetized (the aircraft is in flight) with a period of 'terror' at the beginning (take-off), as the patient is put to sleep and another period of 'terror' at the end (landing), as the patient is brought out of anesthesia.

Prescription Drug Abuse
     But with all these powerful drugs at hand (barbiturates are also commonly abused by anesthetists) and all the stress of the job, it is perhaps surprising that more of these specialists don't become addicts. Although anesthetists make up only 3 percent of all specialists, this group accounts for 20 to 30 percent of drug-addicted doctors.
     Several organisations recognize the problem of addiction among physicians and realize that certain groups, such as anesthetists, are more susceptible to this problem. Despite campaigns as well as teaching of the risks of addiction early in medical training, the difficulty with substance abuse among doctors remains a problem.

Anesthetists at the Head of the Operating Table
     In the operating room, anesthetists usually wear short sleeves. The needle tracks of injection sites would be difficult to hide but these specialists are not just experts at putting a patient to sleep. They are also  experts at finding and accessing veins for drug administration - between the toes, on the leg or the inside of the thigh. Drug addiction is an 'occupational hazard' among this group of physicians but a hazard that can have catastrophic effects for the patient under care.

Demerol (pethidine) - An Intravenous Narcotic

     Is an anesthetist on drugs (The 'High' Doctor) still capable of performing his/her work? That depends on whether the addict has become tolerant to his 'drug of choice', when he took it, the type and sub class of drug used...This list goes on and on, too. But the short answer is 'No'. No physician, dependent on drugs is safe to 'pilot the airplane'. His response time and ability to make a decision may be unreliable. His judgement may be impaired.
     And even when giving a drug to himself, does the doctor, at that point, really know what drug he has just taken? Drugs in the operating room are administered by vein, many do not contain preservatives, the vast majority have no color. In the bottle and in the syringe (except for the labelling, if it is done correctly), they all look the same. They all look like water.

     What follows is a true story: He was a young man (J.R. - not his real identity), a specialist in anesthesia, out of training no more than 5 years. The patients who met him, loved him and had great confidence in his skills. The surgeons and nurses knew him well (or so they believed). J.R.' s behaviour seemed normal. At times, however, he would be very talkative, at other times, there was only silence behind the curtain of sterile sheets that separated the surgery from the head of the table where the patient lay.
     At the end of one very long week, J.R. 'disappeared' before his patient was transferred to the recovery room (an unusual event in the practice of anesthesia) and no body knew where he was. Just by chance, one of the nursing staff, searching for a mop in a closet, found J.R, still breathing, slumped in a corner, a needle in his arm.
     J.R., medical expert, knowledgeable of all the risks and possible complications inherent in anesthetic drugs, had mistaken his substance of choice (fentanyl, a narcotic - see post: A Basketful of Narcotics) with a paralysing agent (pancuronium). Immediately upon injecting the wrong agent, J.R. realised that he had made a mistake but it was too late. The paralysis seized his body and he stopped breathing.
     J.R. was one of the lucky ones. Nursing staff and fellow anesthetists came quickly to the scene and he was resuscitated.
     Both medications in this particular circumstance are the color of water. Both are given intravenously. Each one can be easily confused with any number of anesthetic agents. And each one alone can be deadly.
     But how can a physician in this position of authority and responsibility, in the presence of and watched by fellow staff members, obtain the drugs (narcotics, in the case of J.R.) without his co-workers knowing? Is there not a system, an accounting of drugs used? Is there not a way of measuring how much narcotic was used for the patient, when it was given and how much of the open ampoule that the drug was packaged in was left over?
     The answer is 'Yes'. But, as with most systems, there are always ways to 'outsmart' it.
      *The drug-addicted physician: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle