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The God Capsule: Can Psychedelics Prove a Biological Basis for Spirituality?

Alternet - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 10:52
Click here for reuse options! A team of neuroscientists in London believes they can.

For a long time in western culture, transcendent consciousness was tightly linked with characters on the spiritual fringe: visionary prophets, ascetic sages, and ecstatic poets. Mystical states were like lightning bolts in the days before Ben Franklin’s kite—fleeting, unpredictable, and impossible to harness or measure. They were divine bolts that hit during the frenzies of ecstatic creation and desert wanderings. They were the ultimate mystery.

Then came psychedelics. In the 1950s, a small but significant coterie of researchers and artists used LSD, mescaline and psilocybin to achieve the states of consciousness described in the literature of ecstatic mysticism. It was an incredible discovery. By swallowing a pill in their living room, they could reliably reproduce the once-exotic case studies collected in books like Richard Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience and Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy.

It was Huxley who famously bridged the pre- and post-psychedelic scholarship of mysticism. In 1954, he announced the dawn of the psychedelic era in the form of his erudite Mescaline trip report, The Doors of Perception. But if Huxley anticipated psychedelics’ democratization of mystical bliss, he never claimed to know how they worked. How, exactly, did they replace the ego with the infinite? His guess—that psychedelics somehow wash clean the glass “doors” of perception, “revealing the world as it is… infinite”—was based not on science, but the visionary poetry of William Blake.

Fifty years after Huxley’s death, science is beginning to understand, with some precision, how these window cleaners go about their work. By pairing the controlled mysticism induced by psychedelics with modern imaging technology, scientists are mapping the biological underpinnings of spiritual bliss, the way psychedelics helped an earlier generation of researchers map the links among the serotonin system, joy and depression.

The key finding so far involves changes to a part of the outer brain called the posterior cingulate cortex.

“Our psychedelic imaging studies show a strong association between experiences of god and a breakdown in activity linking the posterior cingulate cortex to the frontal brain regions,” says David Nutt, co-director of the Beckley-Imperial College psychedelic research program in London.

“Growing evidence suggests religious and other belief systems are inevitable products of the ways in which the brain works.”

In a forthcoming book, Nutt describes the Beckley-Imperial team’s findings that indicate mystical “out of body” states are linked to reduced blood flow in the posterior cingulate cortex, a central hub in the creation of our sense of self, or ego.

“The posterior cingulate cortex integrates inputs from the senses, especially sight, plus inner sensations such as position-sense and time, in relation to the brains predictions or inferences,” writes Nutt. “It is the master controller of ‘normal’ consciousness, so when it is switched off, another less constrained form of consciousness emerges. In analogy, if the conductor of the orchestra is removed and the individual instruments play their own way in their own time, a different sound is produced.”

When LSD and other psychedelics forcibly remove the brain’s conductor, people report losing the sense of occupying a distinct place in space and time. Commonly known as ego-dissolution, this is the defining feature of mystical states, achieved by psychedelics or other means. Just like the Victorian monks populating William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, subjects on LSD report a sense of leaving their bodies and fusing to “become one” with a loving universe, sometimes called god for lack of a better term.

“The sense that there is more to human beings than biological processes is common to all religions, and our research suggests this has a basis in brain function,” says Nutt. “Subjects reporting ego-dissolution are significantly more likely to report a spiritual experience. Since ego-dissolution correlates to a breakdown of [specific brain regions] we can predict spirituality might come from a similar change in this brain region, which can also be triggered by meditation, fasting, and ritual singing and dancing. These insights reveal the concept of God is an emergent property of our nervous systems.”

It’s not just LSD and ritual chanting that can trigger these mystical states. Nutt points to evidence that they can be induced by brain stimulation with direct low voltage electrical currents and magnetic pulses.

“[Our theory based on LSD experiments] has recently been confirmed in a more direct manner by blocking outflow from the posterior cingulate cortex region by direct electrical stimulation,” he says. Subjects who undergo this treatment before brain surgery often report leaving their bodies, floating off as if in a dream, and experiencing long-term positive effects in terms of wellbeing and “present-ness." These reports echo the testimony of mystics from the 16th century as loudly as they do microdosers from the 21st.

There is, of course, a deep irony to this exciting front in the global psychedelic research revival. There is every reason to believe Nutt is correct to think humans have a profound and salutary evolutionary need for spirituality and mystical states, to experience the “sense of there being more to a human being than simple biological processes.”

But by mapping the neurochemistry of these states, is science not reducing them to simple biological processes? As research proceeds in Nutt’s lab—his team is currently employing MRI to study the brains of people on DMT—it is bound to add another wrinkle to the already contentious debate around religion and spirituality. Many will resist “explanations” of something so long understood as beyond the reach of reason, language and science.

Even within the psychedelic community, there is a tradition of “non-dualism” that rejects biochemical explanations of consciousness.

“The non-dualists think the brain is a receiver picking up signals flowing throughout the universe,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, Imperial-Beckley’s lead investigator. “It’s fantasy, but there’s a kind of investment in these ideas, matched with an extreme anti-authoritarianism and suspicion of scientists.”

The gatekeepers of traditional religion, meanwhile, have always feared the anti-institutional thrust of direct chemically assisted revelation. They are right to fear it, as heavy anecdotal evidence—and increasing scientific evidence—shows that a brush with mystical states is likely to encourage a broad spirituality that is humanistic and anti-authoritarian, one more likely to lead to a meditation mat than a Catholic Church.

Nutt, for one, hopes the work being done at Beckley-Imperial will become a public dialogue between neuroscience and traditional religion. In his forthcoming book on psychedelic neuroscience, Nutt takes pains to distinguish his hypothesis from the position of New Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who scornfully dismiss belief in god as a delusion.

“In technical psychiatric terms, ‘delusions’ are confined to beliefs that are outside societal norms,” he writes. “Since most people believe in some form of god, it is a social norm. I suspect spirituality isn’t located in a single brain region, but rather it emerges from a network change. Brain science tells us it’s time to put transcendence and spirituality, not politics and rituals, back into the heart of religious belief. Let the brain give religion back to god.”

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Indiana Prosecutors Insist Cannabis 'Is Not Medicine' - Leafly

Google - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 09:54

Leafly

Indiana Prosecutors Insist Cannabis 'Is Not Medicine'
Leafly
The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys argues any type of marijuana legalization would come with grave consequences in a letter sent to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration. The letter, dated last week, was publicly released Monday.
Battle brewing over medical marijuana in IndianaWTHR

all 15 news articles »
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California Could Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms

Alternet - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 09:31
An initiative to do that has been okayed for signature gathering.

 

 

California Could Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms

After legalizing weed, California politicians have set their sights on a new target — psychedelic mushrooms. Mayoral Candidate Kevin Saunders filed a ballot measure in the state Attorney General’s office on Friday.

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Marijuana Edibles Provide Better Pain And Anxiety Relief Than Smoking

Alternet - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 09:25
The answer to why some cannabis consumers prefer to eat their weed.

For a growing number of cannabis consumers, eating the herb is better than smoking it. That is the conclusion of a qualitative report examining customer preferences.

The study, conducted by RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute, provides an understanding of consumer perceptions of edible marijuana products, including why users prefer edibles to other forms of marijuana and their concerns regarding the consumption of edibles.

“Our findings suggest that some people prefer edibles to smoking marijuana because there is no smell from smoke and no secondhand smoke,” explained Sheryl C. Cates, senior research public health analyst, the RTI lead for the study. “They also liked edibles over smoking for their convenience, discreetness, longer-lasting highs, and less intense highs. Some participants said that for them, consuming edibles provided better pain and anxiety relief than smoking.”

Regarding pain relief, Jane A. Allen, RTI Research Public Health Analyst adds, “Although this study did not examine whether edibles are used as a substitute for other drugs, a growing body of research suggests that greater availability of marijuana may reduce use of pain medications, and may reduce the frequency and amount of opioid consumption.”

The study also provides insights into consumers’ concerns regarding the consumption of edible marijuana, including delayed activation time, accidental ingestion, and dosing.

“Importantly, the delayed high from edibles vs. smoking or vaping marijuana, may contribute to consumers ingesting a greater than intended amount of the drug before they feel high,” said Cates. “Informing the public on delayed activation, accidental ingestion, proper dosing and harmful effects will help consumers make better decisions and help protect public health.”

A total of 62 adults in eight focus groups, four each in Denver, Colorado and in Seattle, Washington were conducted with consumers of edibles who were at least 21 years or older and met specific study criteria.  The findings suggest that outreach campaigns on recreational marijuana should provide information on the risks and benefits of different forms of marijuana so that consumers can make informed decisions about their use.

 

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​Coalition of licensed cannabis producers urge governments for looser ad guidelines - BNN

Google - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 08:33

Financial Post

​Coalition of licensed cannabis producers urge governments for looser ad guidelines
BNN
The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding argued in its proposed guidelines released today that licensed marijuana producers must be able to explain to consumers why their products are better than black market offerings in order to stamp out ...
Drugs, but no sex, violence or party dogs: Cannabis companies lay ...Financial Post

all 8 news articles »
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Medical marijuana isn't medicine and it's 'wrong for Indiana,' county prosecutors say - Indianapolis Star

Google - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 07:58

Indianapolis Star

Medical marijuana isn't medicine and it's 'wrong for Indiana,' county prosecutors say
Indianapolis Star
A county prosecutor's group is strongly opposing efforts to allow medical marijuana, saying it's "wrong for Indiana" and could worsen the state's drug abuse crisis. The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys also debunked cannabis' medicinal ...

and more »
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OR: Creswell's vote against recreation marijuana sends a clear message - KPIC

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:59
kpic.com (US) Residents in Creswell are voting on whether or not to allow marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in the city. (Wed Nov 08 21:59:29 2017 PST)
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OR: Police seize 3,000 pounds of marijuana in SE Portland

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:58
koin.com (US) Nearly 3000 pounds of marijuana were seized from a Southeast Portland warehouse Friday after officials determined the individuals didn&#8217. (Wed Nov 08 21:58:01 2017 PST)
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OR: Legal Marijuana And Land Use Collide - Jefferson Public Radio

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:54
ijpr.org (US) Marijuana IS legal for personal as well as medical use (though still illegal under federal law). (Wed Nov 08 21:54:04 2017 PST)
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OR: An Update On Marijuana Regulations In Both States - Jefferson Public Radio

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:54
ijpr.org (US) When licensing for recreational cannabis sales is due to open.B is in charge of non-medical marijuana. (Wed Nov 08 21:54:04 2017 PST)
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OR: If your child asks if you smoked pot, the best answer is the truth - KGW.com

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:39
kgw.com (US) The best answer is the truth ! KGW.com If your child asks if you smoked pot. (Wed Nov 08 21:39:39 2017 PST)
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OR: Creswell voters keep marijuana sales ban in place - KTVZ

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:37
ktvz.com (US) Creswell voters keep marijuana sales ban in place - KTVZ Creswell voters keep marijuana sales ban in place (AP) - Residents in Creswell have voted to maintain a ban on recreational marijuana sales. (Wed Nov 08 21:37:45 2017 PST)
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OR: Creswell Residents Reinforce Recreational Marijuana Ban . News - OPB

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:36
opb.org S ban on recreational marijuana sales will remain in place. (Wed Nov 08 21:36:24 2017 PST)
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OR: Television, radio and news for Oregon and Southwest Washington . Home - OPB

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:36
opb.org Portland Police Union: Wapato Is A 'Wildly Viable' Housing Solution Creswell Residents Reinforce Recreational Marijuana Ban. (Wed Nov 08 21:36:24 2017 PST)
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OR: Local News - Medford News, Weather, Sports and Breaking News - KDRV

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:34
kdrv.com (US) Q&A: Klamath County Sheriff Discusses Illegal Marijuana Grows in County ... (Wed Nov 08 21:34:43 2017 PST)
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OR: 10 interesting things at the Hemp and Cannabis Fair

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:27
statesmanjournal.com (US) Here are 10 of the coolest things I found. 10 fascinating things I found at the Hemp and Cannabis Fair. (Wed Nov 08 22:27:53 2017 PST)
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OR: 10 things at The Hemp and Cannabis Fair

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:27
statesmanjournal.com (US) The Hemp and Cannabis Fair, held on Nov. 4 and 5 at the Oregon State Fair Grounds and Exposition Center. The Hemp and Cannabis Fair, held on Nov. 4 and 5 at the Oregon State... (Wed Nov 08 22:27:53 2017 PST)
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OR: News - Statesman Journal - statesmanjournal.com

Bot - Cannabis - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:27
statesmanjournal.com (US) Blumenauer targets anti-pot lawmakers Oregon's leading marijuana advocate in Congress, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, has formed aB political action committee aimed at unseating anti-pot lawmakers. Oregon's leading marijuana advocate in Congress, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, h... (Wed Nov 08 22:27:53 2017 PST)
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