Monday, March 14, 2011

To the Best of Our Knowledge: Psychedelics

To the Best of Our Knowledge (Wisconsin Public Radio)

Timothy Leary nearly killed the psychedelic revolution. He did more than anyone to popularize LSD and urged us all to "turn on, tune in, drop out." But Leary's indiscriminate use of mind-altering drugs created a backlash, and made them taboo for serious scholars. Now a new generation of scientists is studying hallucinogens, and finding remarkable effects. In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge we'll take you to the cutting edge of psychedelic research.


When Timothy Leary invited everyone to "turn on, tune in, drop out" in the Sixties, it captured the public's imagination, but it was also bad news for scientists who wanted to study the effects of psychedelics. It's taken decades for study of mind-altering drugs to be taken seriously. Now a handful of scientists are at the forefront of new research. One of them is Roland Griffiths is a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins. He's just turned his attention to psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen commonly known as magic mushrooms. He tells Steve Paulson about his findings. Then, after an excerpt from an interview with Aldous Huxley from 1958 about his use of mescaline, we take a look at other mystical experiences. Stefanie Syman explores how to achieve them without drugs. The author of "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America" tells Jim Fleming that today's scientific study of psychedelics could lead to new breakthroughs.


In 1971 Terrence McKenna, a philosopher and ethnobotanist set out with his brother Dennis to travel the Amazon in search of drug-induced visionary experiences. That wild adventure led to a lifelong study of hallucinogens. Though Terrence died ten years ago, Dennis McKenna, now a botanist and lecturer at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, continues the quest. He tells Steve Paulson how shamanistic cultures use hallucinogens.


We hear a clip from Annie Levy who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the late stages she took part in an experimental study designed to see if taking psilocybin could help with the fear and panic about dying. In her case, taking a single dose was a life-changing experience in her final months. The groundbreaking study was the project of Charles Grob, a psychiatrist at the UCLA medical school, who tells Anne Strainchamps about his research on psychedelics.

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