By way of full-disclosure, Martin Ball is author of Mushroom Wisdom: How Shamans Cultivate Spiritual Consciousness, so he has a definite bias in this material, but also a knowledge-based background.
Voyaging to DMT Space with Dr. Rick Strassman, M.D.
Dr. Rick Strassman, pioneering psychedelic researcher and author of the book, DMT - The Spirit Molecule, discusses his new book, Inner Paths to Outer Space: Journeys to Alien Worlds through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies, Zen Buddhism, psychedelics and spirituality, Old Testament prophecy and more in this fascinating interview. Dr. Strassman conducted the first federally approved psychedelic research in the US in nearly a generation with the compound dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, in New Mexico in the mid 1990's. Though expecting mystical raptures and deep psychological insights, in his study he was astonished to find many of his volunteers reporting unexpected encounters with strange and sometimes disturbing alien beings with advanced technology in what amounted to classical UFO "abduction" experiences. Unable to explain away the volunteers' experiences, he concluded that these were genuine encounters with independent sentient beings in otherwise normally invisible dimensions.
For this interview, I visited with Dr. Strassman in his home in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, where he currently works in a clinic for psychiatric medicine and is busy laying the foundation for his new research facility, the Cottonwood Research Foundation, where he plans to do continued research on psychedelics and their relationship to spiritual experience, creativity, and higher states of awareness and perception. More information on Cottonwood can be found at their site.
MB - It's a great pleasure to meet you and come out here and do this interview with you. Your new book just came out, Inner Paths to Outer Space. Maybe you could start by telling us a little bit about it.
RS - Sure. It's a multi-authored book, non-fiction. It's pretty much the brain-child of the second author, whose name is Slavic Wojtowicz, who is an oncology researcher for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, and who also happens to be a big science fiction buff and illustrator. He read my book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, and felt that there was a lot of overlap between the material we presented there and the kinds of things that people read and write about in science fiction. He felt it would be a fun and helpful thing to educate people in the science-fiction community about some of these overlaps and areas of similar interests.
He asked me if I'd like to collaborate with him, and I agreed. I asked another colleague of mine, Louis Eduardo Luna, who is a South American anthropologist who divides his time between Brazil and Helsinki and has been working with Ayahuasca for a few decades now. He has probably got one of the more balanced and sophisticated overviews of how to look at and apply the states and plant wisdom information that is associated with Ayahuasca. And so Louis Eduardo agreed to collaborate, and then Louis had a friend in Budapest Hungary named Ede Frecska, who is a Hungarian psychiatrist and has written a lot on new science views on shamanism - having to do with quantum mechanics and non-local theories of information transfer and storage - and so Louis Eduardo asked Ede if he'd like to collaborate. So that's how the four of us came together to collaborate on writing the book.
Each of us contributes three or four chapters. I wrote an overview chapter on psychedelics and DMT and also describe some of the range of experiences that occurred during our research on DMT. My last chapter in the book is probably the one I'm most proud of, which is a fairly long and involved chapter on getting ready for the journey - kind of how one prepares to take a psychedelic trip.
Louis Eduardo wrote several chapters on his relationship with Ayahuasca and the way that he supervises Ayahuasca sessions and Ede Frecska wrote some chapters on shamanism and new scientific paradigms of consciousness through which he explains some of the findings in shamanism. And Slawek wrote some chapters pointing out the commonalities between the material in science fiction books and films with the material that is more well known within the psychedelic community.
Something that comes up time and time again in people's experiences in your book, DMT - The Spirit Molecule, is that when volunteers are being injected with DMT, they experience UFO's, alternate technologies, and really sci-fi kind of material, so I can see how that would definitely speak to people who are interested in science fiction. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about what those kinds of experiences were like for people and what they were encountering.
I may want to preface my description of some of those kinds of encounters by stating at the outset neither I nor the volunteers expected anything like the frequency of those kinds of experiences to occur which actually did take place. Both myself and the volunteers were expecting mystical experiences, near death experiences, psychological breakthroughs, those kinds of things.
Now, I was doing my studies in the early 1990's and there may have been a fair amount out there on UFO's and alien abductions, but the volunteers who were in my study weren't that interested in that kind of material and I didn't know much about it and wasn't interested in it either, so I certainly don't think, though one could always argue that it was the case, but I don't think, that it was an example of people expecting to have alien contact sorts of experiences. And Terence McKenna's descriptions of the machines elves and the dwarfs and the pixies hadn't really come out to any extent yet - I don't know if his first book had really come out yet - and not that many people were really familiar with Terence in the early 90's in the first place. So, in that case as well, I don't think it was an example of people's expectations being fueled by their anticipated effects of the drug.
So I think both in terms of more contemporary memes that are passing through our culture, as far as the abduction experience in our culture and Terence's raps, I don't think that either of those had really filtered into the consciousness of our volunteers or my consciousness at the time. So, saying that as an introduction, people were certainly not going into our research studies with hopes of seeing entities or beings. Nevertheless, a huge number of volunteers did.
I was reviewing my notes in preparation for writing the DMT book. I completed the research in '95, and sort of did other things for a few years and then returned to my notes, and started writing the book a few years later. I had taken about 1000 pages of notes by the beside of the volunteers - 400 DMT sessions that we gave them over the space of about 5 years - and in reviewing people's accounts of their experiences, probably half, maybe more, reported having the experience of being in some sort of contact, some sort of relationship, more or less passive, more or less active, with these free standing, discretely demarcated, sentient sort of beings. I ended up calling them "beings" rather than "entities" or "aliens" or any of that sort of thing because it seemed like the most neutral term to use, but they were described in various shapes and forms and guises. Sometimes they were humanoid, sometimes they were insectoid, sometimes they were reptilian, and sometimes plant-like. They were more or less aware of the volunteers. Oftentimes they seemed to be expecting the volunteers and were glad to see them, and then began interacting with them.
Other times they seemed surprised and angry that the volunteers' consciousness, at the very least, had intruded upon the sphere of activity of that particular being. Sometimes the volunteers were treated or experimented on. Sometimes they experienced some type of sexual intercourse with the beings. Some were told scenarios of the future. Others were marked somehow or another for future reference in a way. Others showered light and love onto them. Others were guides to lead them to some other place, like through a tunnel leading to a typical near death or mystical experience. So it was the whole gamut of what you might expect.
Some of the motifs were pretty classical science fiction - kind of flying toward a space station or a space ship, or automatons or robots were busily doing their business. Sometimes they would see very hard to describe hybrid entities - machine/animal, even furniture kinds of conglomerates of beings. So, it was one of those things - in giving DMT, it starts very fast, within a few heartbeats, and is over within 30 minutes or so. One of the advantages of a short acting agent like that is you can write down everything that happens in the course of somebody's experience. I wrote down every possible thing I could - every thought I was having, everything the person was doing and saying, how they looked, the noises in the hall or outside, the emotional ambiance of the ward at the time. So I took a lot of notes and basically, once I wrote the notes and had them transcribed by my secretary, I really stopped thinking about people's individual sessions. So it wasn't until some years later that it really sank in how often indeed people were having those experiences.
Go read the whole interesting interview.