April 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm #33957
note: relevant to preceeding posts about drugs and healing.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: PSYCHEDELICS SOOTHE DYING
NYU RESEARCHERS STUDY USE OF PSILOCIBIN OR ‘MAGIC MUSHROOMS’ TO HELP THE
By Susan Donaldson James
April 19, 2010
For the last eight years, Nicky has struggled with advanced ovarian cancer,
and despite repeated rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, it’s unclear how
long she has to live.
“Ovarian cancer has a very bleak outlook — less than 30 percent make it to
five years,” said the 67-year-old former New York City French teacher. “I
was diagnosed in 2002, and I was going in to my fourth year and had a
recurrence — which was like the proverbial shoe dropping — and it
frightened me so much.”
“For the moment, there is no pain,” she said. “The most difficult part is
leaving this world early. I wasn’t ready to get on that bus.”
Coming of age in the drug-infused 1960s, Nicky, who, for privacy reasons,
did not want to use her last name, didn’t smoke marijuana and avoided the
hippie sub-culture. “It never interested me,” she said. “It wasn’t necessary
in my life.”
But last May, Nicky volunteered to take a psychedelic “trip” on psilocibin
— the hallucinogenic compound from “magic mushrooms” — which has been used
for thousands of years by indigenous cultures to reach higher levels of
spirituality and consciousness.
Today, even after losing seven friends from her cancer support group in 15
months, Nicky said she is less afraid of death and is living her life more
“honestly and authentically.”
Nicky was one of the first terminally ill participants in an ongoing study
at New York University on the use of hallucinogens to help those with
“I had a wonderful life, a fabulous child and beautiful grandchildren, and
here my life was cut short,” she said. “I thought of my two granddaughters
and not seeing them growing up and graduating from college — it made me
profoundly sad. I wanted to do something for myself, to be able to live more
in the moment, rather than worrying about the future and having all these
existential thoughts about what life was all about.”
Her “trip” took place under full medical supervision in a warm, living
room-like setting with art books, fresh fruit, flowers and soothing music.
She was given a pill in an earthenware chalice and a single rose, then
hunkered down on a cozy sofa with eyeshades and headphones.
“I was in a dome and it was all bejeweled with colors, mostly striped, like
a kaleidoscope, but not turning,” she said. “Every once in awhile, the dome
would open up at the top and send a luminescence,” she said. “I was in awe
and could feel myself taking deep breaths. At the same, tears were running
down my face, but I was not crying.”
“It was incredible,” she said. “I wanted to share it. I couldn’t believe the
world could be so beautiful.”
Researchers at New York University say that in a controlled setting,
hallucinogens, which alter perception and cognition, can help patients
reduce the anxiety, personal isolation and fear of death.
“I am still not ready to die,” said Nicky, who just returned from trips to
Mexico and Bali and boxes with a trainer several times a week. “It’s
definitely improved my interactions with those closest to me and figuring
out how I want to live my life.”
“Has my anxiety of dying gone away? I would say no, I don’t ever want to
die,” she said. “Will I be able to walk toward death with a little less
fear? Perhaps. “I know it sounds trite, but I live more in the moment,” she
The three-year study, “Effects of Psilocybin on Anxiety and Psychosocial
Distress in Advanced Cancer Patients,” is being privately funded by the
Zurich-based Heffter Research Institute , which promotes the use of
psychedelics for the alleviation of suffering. Fully approved by the Food
and Drug Administration (FDA), it adheres to rigorous safety guidelines and
Researchers hope that it will one day lead to reclassification of Schedule 1
hallucinogens so that doctors may prescribe them to patients for palliative
care, depression and even addiction.
“It’s daunting working with people in the midst of death,” said principal
investigator Dr. Stephen Ross, assistant professor of psychiatry and
director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction. “To help
people to have a good death, and not more chemotherapy, to prepare for the
final part of life and to die with dignity and do it in a way that they are
not frightened, that is one of the most important endeavors as a physician.”
NYU Looking for Participants in Hallucinogen Study
Ross and his colleagues are looking for 32 patients who are willing to
participate in the random, double-blind study. To be eligible, patients must
be 18 to 76 years old with the diagnosis of a “potentially life-threatening
disease” or advanced or recurrent cancer who are displaying symptoms of
acute stress, anxiety or adjustment disorder due to their disease.
Patients are screened carefully — those with psychotic spectrum disorders,
such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression cannot
“Mysticism is really the cornerstone of all major religions going back
millennia,” said co-principal investigator Anthony Bossis , professor of
psychiatry and anesthesiology at the NYU School of Medicine.
“It is characterized by a sense of unity, transcendence, connecting to the
broader universe and a sense of life and the promotion of personal
spirituality,” he said. “It recalibrates how we see our life and gives a
sense of sacredness and reshapes how we view death.”
A mystical experience can help root patients like Nicky more in the present,
according to Bossis. “People with cancer can spend their final days and
months not anxious and improvement in quality of life is attainable,” he
said. “These experiences have the potential to do that.”
Scientists across the country have shown a renewed interest in the medical
uses of hallucinogens. So far, 80 to 90 patients have had similar
experiences in studies on psilocybin at other universities including Johns
Hopkins and UCLA.
If these studies are “robust enough,” Ross and Bossis hope hallucinogens
like psilocybin — a Schedule 1 drug with no therapeutic ability, according
to the FDA — can be declassified and doctors might be able to prescribe
them for patients.
In a study on 36 patients at Johns Hopkins, researchers looked at the
effects of psilocibin on depression. At the 14-month follow-up, more than 60
percent of volunteers rated the experience as among the five most meaningful
and spiritually significant of their lives; 58 percent reported a “complete”
“We have come a long way in pain management with the use of opiods, but the
sheer anxiety is so hard to address in a medical setting,” said Bossis, a
clinical psychologist whose specialty is end-of-life care.
“The heart of this study is to address these levels of suffering and get at
the existential [fear] of not being here any longer that we all face,” he
said. “We provide an empirical experience where the patient goes into a
journey — his own journey — and can find resolution and peace and
transformation and return back here to integrate it into their lives.”
Psilocybin, an alkaloid compound in the tryptamine family, is produced by
hundreds of species of fungi, acts on the serotonin receptors in the part of
the brain responsible for non-verbal imagery and emotion. Its mind-altering
effects can last anywhere from three to eight hours.
It is in the same class of chemicals as mescaline, contained in the peyote
cactus, which is used in religious ceremonies by Native Americans, and
dimethyltryptamine, which is contained in ayahuasca, used by indigenous
South American religions. The effects are sometimes described as similar to
near-death experiences. Some research has shown that brain activity under
psilocibin mimics closely that of Buddhist monks.
“It appears we are hardwired with neuro-circuitry to meditate and have the
spiritual experience,” said Ross.
Abuses of LSD Lead to a Ban on Hallucinogens in 1966
Psychologist Timothy Leary popularized hallucinogens like LSD in his 1964
book with Ralph Metzner, “The Psychedelic Experience,” which he hailed as a
way to “journey into new realms of consciousness.”
“It opens the mind, frees the nervous system of it ordinary patterns and
structures,” Leary wrote.
Experiments with LSD took place as early as the late 1940s and 1950s, after
it was discovered in an ergot fungus by Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hoffman.
By 1965, more than 2,000 papers had described positive results in 40,000
patients with few side effects and a high level of safety in treating
patients with anxiety disorders, depression, sexual dysfunction, bereavement
and even addiction, according to the British Journal of Psychiatry.
But by 1966, the drug was made illegal after abuses by the hippie
counterculture, scientists distanced themselves and the government cracked
down on research licenses. By the 1970s, under pressure from the U.S.
Justice Department, virtually all research ended.
“It got demonized as a most addictive drug, but the irony is that it is not
addictive,” said Ross. “Used in the models we describe, it can actually lead
to sustained sobriety.”
Volunteers in the NYU study agree to take part in two full-day sessions,
seven weeks apart, where they are administered either a placebo or the
psilocybin. They are monitored for anxiety and outcomes two to four weeks
prior to drug administration, then one day prior, then again seven hours,
one day and several weeks’ intervals until 26 weeks post administration.
Investigators also measure depression, pain and quality of life as well as
attitude toward their disease progression at designated intervals.
Beforehand, they undergo preparation for the experience in psychotherapy.
“We take their life narrative and their cancer narrative and review all the
safety parameters — what happens if X,” said Ross.
When the drug is administered, the patient is paired with a male and female
therapist to monitor responses and for comfort.
“Emotional stability optimizes the chance for a good experience,” said
Bossis. “Trust with the monitors is crucial . If the patient doesn’t feel
safe, we don’t go forward.”
Sometimes the experience is traumatizing, but facing fears is part of the
process. Doctors have an antidote to abort the experience, if necessary, or
use valium to calm a patient down.
“We encourage them to go inward, to minimize the communication with us and
enter the experience, even if it’s something dark and difficult that comes
before them,” said Bossis. “We tell patients that no matter where they find
themselves, they will return to a normal state of consciousness within six
hours,” said Bossis.
Two of the three patients in Nicky’s group have already died. Both reported
extraordinary experiences — “a cleansing of the body and soul of grief and
sadness and an increase in the acceptance of the disease and the dying
process,” according to Bossis.
The patients said they wanted to give back more — financially or
emotionally and were able to reconnect with estranged friends and family
members. Both were “peaceful and thankful,” at the end, he said.
As for Nicky, the first hour of her psychedelic journey was awe-inspiring,
but the second part was deeper and more emotional. At several points, she
had to sit up and take off her eyeshades and seek the comfort of Ross and
her other therapist.
“I became profoundly sad, and I actually had to sit up after 45 minutes and
talk to them and I cried a lot,” she said. “Then I lied down again and there
was another scenario then I went through the rest by myself.”
In six hours, when it was all over, she stayed and analyzed her experience
with the doctors.
“In therapy we had been working on my top five [issues with death or
family],” she said. “During my experience, I reordered the hierarchy of
issues to lead a more authentic life emotionally. I didn’t realize my number
four was actually number one.”
“It was such an enormous gift,” said Nicky. “It’s really amazing that a
king’s ransom arrived at my door step.”
Today, Nicky said she would take psilocybin again — “in a New York minute.”
She continues her therapy at NYU and will go on a drug trial soon for
late-stage ovarian cancer. She also hopes that her openness about the
psychedelic experience will help others.
“I don’t think people should be so afraid of something that could be so
helpful when you are nearing the end of life,” she said. “I had huge insight
into my head. I can still conjure it up and I tried for very long to relive
it — it was breathtaking.”
Nicky is not a religious person and never expected to find God. “I didn’t
have that spiritual experience, but my dome was very close,” she said. “When
it opened up several times and let in the light, I would have thought it was
my creator if I had been religious.”
For more information on how to participate in the study, contact patient
coordinator Krystallia Kalliontzi at 212-998-9252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.April 19, 2010 at 7:01 pm #33958
For the DYING, perhaps . . .
If you’re dying, it doesn’t really matter what you do,
the long-term is irrelevant.
But for the LIVING,
the long-term is important.
Looking within rather than looking to an outside source
for some escape is what will provide real progress.
Too many people looking for a cheap and easy solution . . .April 19, 2010 at 7:06 pm #33960
A better approach for such people would be
to take your workshops, such as the incredibly
powerful one this past weekend. The cauldron
we had going was intense.
Plus, the added bonus of maybe curing themselves
of their “terminal” illnesses.
[Note: To anyone reading this who considered
going this last weekend and didn’t, you screwed up
big time, LOL]April 20, 2010 at 6:22 am #33962April 20, 2010 at 7:26 am #33964
Lately you become more and more a warrior for the ‘good cause’ on this forum, a kind of Tempelar Knight. Just to let you know, in my humble opinion, that your tendency to do good and right is swaying a bit to the right – meaning your liver –
Maybe you could try to relax your inner heart a bit so you can put all that energy for the ‘good cause’ into the heart of compassion.
There is no such thing as a black and white truth… what is bad for one, might be helpful to someone else, be caring and careful with your words and intentions of judging others and putting your own truth as the ultimate truth.
Some people have their walk of life through steep mountains and use torny paths, some walk along sunny beaches, be caring for all.
You are a good keeper for all us here on this forum, even a mentor to some, be aware that all us here come to share and to feel connected, seek help or comfort, want answers for questions in their practice or life. I don’t think anyone needs a Knight for the Truth, telling them what is good and bad, everyone ultimately will and need to find that truth for themself.
As for myself, as an unknown faceless friend, I felt it was time to tell you this, it has been hanging around me for awhile. I invite you though to keep being who you are, if you feel you ARE a Knight for the Good Cause, than be it. Maybe you feel very centered with being that and is it your task to be like that, than so be it. So if I am wrong I apologize for my words.
with loving care for you,
WendyApril 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm #33966
I’ll own what you say. Your opinion is fair.
There’s probably more of a tendency for Liver
to express itself in the springtime ^_^
The thing is, I’m usually not so direct in-person.
I’m usually a live-and-let-live type of person.
That’s probably one of the disadvantages of this
means of communication; you don’t have the
live interchange between individuals.
As far as the drug issue, yes I’ve definitely on
the forum here come across rather strongly and
decisively, but part of that is because I feel that
certain things “aren’t being said”.
Without going into details because it will identify
the persons in question, I’m friends with some people
in the Healing Tao that do drugs . . . pot and
psychedelics mainly. Some of these people have been
doing these things for DECADES, as well as being in
the Healing Tao for that length of time. These same
people have violent mood swings in their everyday life,
they do irrational things, they fall into these “identity
crises” where they disconnect from others and do other
offbeat things. I talk with them as friends, and they’ll
joke and laugh with me, and talk about their “great experience”
they had doing “psychedelic X” last weekend, and yet later
in the conversation they tell me how ungrounded they are,
how spacey they are, etc. I’ll also notice how they are
also having a lot of problems in their lives and can’t seem
to get things stabilized etc. I usually just listen compassionately
and don’t say much of anything other than being supportive,
and certainly nothing judgemental.
But at the same time, I don’t like to see the suffering/misery
that they are going through, and it is also so obvious
that a lot of their problems would simply go away if they could
just stop their fascination with drugs and devote more energy
to practice and/or getting some counseling. In other words,
their lives are in chaos and they keep seeking solace in
some outside source that amplifies their instability, rather
than taking an off-ramp leading to a more productive highway.
And this makes me sad, because to me it feels more like a cry for help.
And in particular, with reference to drug use,
I feel like there are too many in the Healing Tao that
“romanticize” drug use as another wonderful spiritual tool.
The discussion or opinion is too one-sided I for pro-use I feel.
Articles such as what Michael posted are typically not
read with a healthy dose of skepticism and used only in the
context of the particular individuals in the article, but
are instead used as additional “reasoning” for people to
continue their own drug use.
I agree people have to follow their own paths, and that has
to be respected. And ultimately I do respect that.
This is why in person I just act as a compassionate friend
and typically don’t express a strong judgemental opinion.
But on the other hand, I really REALLY don’t like to
see people suffering . . . and some of these
“other paths” or “other patterns” that you refer to, people
can be “stuck” playing them out for DECADES, which is
unfortunate. It makes me feel that if someone could just
have the COURAGE to point out what is going on, then
possibly years and decades of unhappiness and wasted time
could be avoided. Do you know what I mean?
Anyhow, that’s sort of the motivation behind my some of
recent posts. They really were intending to come from a
good place, even if they didn’t come across that way.
However, I do appreciate your comments.
Your opinion is definitely valued, and I appreciate
your perspective. I think there’s probably some
merit to what you are saying also. I probably got triggered
from some personal experiences and not having an opportunity
to give voice to some stories that I felt needed to be heard.
With love and qi,
StevenApril 20, 2010 at 3:16 pm #33968
‘I probably got triggered
from some personal experiences and not having an opportunity
to give voice to some stories that I felt needed to be heard.’
That sounds that your comments were actually coming from a very caring place. And I am very happy to sense that Steven in your posting, explaining where your anger, or maybe better your feeling of helplessness is coming from. Thank you for explaining your feelings and perspective on this issue.
And as I posted underneath I don’t support drug use either as I see too many damaged lives, same with alcohol.
Too much damage, some irreversible, those people ‘survive’, they can’t live life fully anymore. So I understand your strong reaction better when this happens close to you, as friends can be.
As for your Healing Tao friends, they must miss something in their practice then, if they take drugs AND practice alchemy AND are ungrounded and having messed up lives, there has to be a disconnection. Probably they use the alchemy too mentally and miss the real living communication with their inner universe.
You could invite them for a meditation with you, and guide them into their inner garden since you are familiar with Focusing, it must be a piece of cake (no space cake) for you to teach them to FEEL.
I am happy to feel you back
WendyApril 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm #33970
I really appreciate your posts on the forum.
They have a flavor of being raw and un-self-sanitized,
and we need some of that too 🙂
Such honesty can be quite refreshing, especially when
so many are fearful to express who they really are because
of fears of how they might be perceived, rather than having
the courage to just be genuine. You know what I mean? ^_^
Many smiles to you,
StevenApril 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm #33972
Yeah, and it doesn’t help either that I did do
drugs previously in my life, so I can see things from
the perspective of someone who does them; which makes
it a little more frustrating actually, because I can
look back and realize “what was I thinking?” and just
have such a clear understanding of why it was so stupid,
and how it really didn’t *at its core* deliver on
its promises, and then see others that have not yet
realized these things. It breaks my heart to see that.
SApril 20, 2010 at 6:36 pm #33974
Steven, I did my own focusing and diving into my initial response to you. I kept feeling an unpleasant itch about my own reaction to you and had to find out what that itch was all about.
One trail was clearly related to me, where I could clearly sense that the way you reacted strongly on the drug issues reminded me of my father who has a strong black and white view of the world. That is why I counter react with looking for colors and the grey areas in situations.
I never really stood up to my father as I felt he was beyond reason. So my own strong reaction to you is in fact similar to what you experience with your friends.
My words to you were an outlet in the virtual world, about my own feelings of helplessness to reach my father.
Thank you for mirroring the hidden shadows.
Ok you can go on ranting now, I catched my shadows and need to put them into the blender.
WendyApril 20, 2010 at 7:28 pm #33976
Fascinating chain reaction of events here!
But no worries, Wendy.
I never took anything you said personally,
and as I mentioned I don’t think your comments
were without merit either. I’m happy, as
always, to hear your opinions. Moreover,
I don’t think that anybody can really express
an opinion without it being “colored” to some
extent by their own personal experiences. It’s
part of the diversity and richness of life, and
it creates flavor in interaction that might not
be present otherwise.
>>>I never really stood up to my father
>>>as I felt he was beyond reason.
Then I take that as a compliment, that you “stood up to me”.
Implying that I’m *not* beyond reason ^_^
(smiling and being soft as I say this)
But in all seriousness, if you ever wish to talk more
about your hidden shadows–father or otherwise–you
have a supportive space here.
StevenApril 20, 2010 at 10:48 pm #33978
I wonder if this deep exchange was possibly prompted by your Fusion 2/3 experience last weekend? Did it cause you to project your chi more forcefully or authentically?
It was quite marvelous that after the closing circle, which took a few minutes,everyone stood there motionless for 45 minutes, like trees in an invisible forest of flowing chi.
I would like to get your followup on that experience.
michaelApril 21, 2010 at 2:20 am #33980
Interestingly I have been teaching Fusion 1 past weekend…
We had a double effect it seems…
🙂April 21, 2010 at 2:21 pm #33982
>>>I wonder if this deep exchange was possibly prompted
>>>by your Fusion 2/3 experience last weekend?
>>>Did it cause you to project your chi more forcefully
That’s definitely possible.
I’ve been releasing qi from blockages like crazy.
And when I say releasing qi, I mean volcanic type releases
with dynamic power flows.
I recently had a wonderful release of some blockages that
were so STRONG, that when the qi burst forth and blasted out
of my body, it left RASPBERRY/PURPLE BRUISES where the blockage
burst. I have one of these on each side of my body, diametrically
across from each other. These were some blockages I had for years,
so I’m not dismayed by it; it’s sort of healing crises phenomenon.
I feel quite blissful still, and generally feel like my body
is coarsing with electricity, like I could send lightning bolts
from my fingers or something.
I feel a little fatigued and sore, but in a good way, akin to
having had a real deep massage that released a number of really
>>>It was quite marvelous that after the closing circle,
>>>which took a few minutes,everyone stood there motionless
>>>for 45 minutes, like trees in an invisible forest
>>>of flowing chi.
I’m still amazed by the experience. Here it was . . . late and
people needed to leave. I, myself, had 12 hours of driving
to do. Not only did no one feel impatient to leave, which
would have been understandable considering driving etc,
but everyone mutually agreed to stand motionless for 45 minutes
without anyone saying anything or suggesting to do so. It was
like we all understood how powerful the energy was there, and
that no matter what other obligations we had in the world were,
they paled in importance to the option of remaining present
in the powerful field. Somehow at our core, we knew that the
field was too important and too transformative to dismiss;
experiences like that don’t come by too often, and when they
do, you have to take advantage of them . . . and take advantage of
them we did.
Beyond what I described at the stop of the post, the
changes are still happening for me also. So I’m very much
still “in process”, and the story is not even close to being
finished, at least for me.
Despite all the changes, I feel very grounded, so they are
not taking me off my center and/or having difficulty managing
the changes. Emotionally/mentally, I feel like things have
come into focus. My intuition feels sharper.
We had (having?) a really incredible experience, Michael.
I am happy to have had the opportunity to experience it.
StevenApril 22, 2010 at 4:33 am #33984
Problems arises and seemed to be solved. Just wonderful.
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