Overweening Generalist

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Drug Report For April, 2012

Good Friday: 50 Years Ago
Today marks the (give or take a few days) the 50th anniversary of the Miracle at Marsh Chapel, on Good Friday, 1962, near Harvard University. Among psychonauts this "miracle" is usually thought of as an "experiment" and we call it "The Good Friday Experiment."

In order to get his doctorate in religion and society from Harvard, Walter Pahnke, quite cognizant of a group of renegade psychologists among the faculty at Harvard, decided to test some of their claims about psychedelic drugs and mystical experience.

                                           Stained glass window inside Marsh Chapel

Here's the basic experiment: 20 divinity students took part in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, in which half were given a very large dose of psilocybin (the trippy active substance in magic mushrooms) of 30mgs. The other half received a pill that contained nicotinic acid (which gives you a red-faced, sweaty, flushing feeling), with some Benzedrine (garden variety speed). The administers of the experiment didn't know who got what (hence, double-blind). All of them were in the basement of Marsh Chapel while the live Good Friday sermon was being piped in from above. After 45 minutes, it was obvious who had gotten the Real Stuff; there was absolutely no need to to look at the coded data.

Pahnke, in order to "measure" mystical experience, used criteria formulated by a philosopher of religion, W.T. Stace, who said there were seven aspects of mystical experience:

1.) unitary consciousness
2.) non-spatial and non-temporal awareness
3.) a sense of objective reality about the experience
4.) a feeling of "blessedness"
5.) a feeling of "sacredness"
6.) a strong experience of paradoxicality about the experience
7.) inability to put the experience adequately into words: ineffability

Pahnke added two more of his own: "transiency" and subsequent improvement in one's life.

Of the ten who got the Real Stuff, five were positive on ALL NINE of the criteria. Nine of ten said they thought it was a "true religious experience."

Pahnke followed up the study 25 years later, and found seven of the ten who got the Real Stuff and nine of the ten who got the active placebo. All recalled the Good Friday Experiment as a positive time, and all said they preferred non-drug routes to mysticism. One of the trippers actually had a Bad Trip: seeing Christ on the cross and freaking out, so that Thorazine had to be administered, a piece of data that Timothy Leary often omitted when talking about this particular experiment

If you've never heard of the Good Friday Experiment, Google it!

Arachnid and Non-Arachnid Art on LSD
Artists' drawings done on LSD.

Spider's webs, spun on a variety of drugs, including LSD.

Opening Day For Baseball in Unistat, 2012: An LSD Story
Here's a picture of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis:
On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. There are entire seasons that go by and no pitcher ever throws a no-hitter (not allowing a single base-hit over at least 9 innings.) Other years it's done five times. At any rate, given the number of games played, it's one of baseball's rare events. A pitcher has to be very good and very lucky (hard-hit balls going straight at fielders for outs and not hits, for example).

The Pirates flew into San Diego on a Thursday, an off-day. The next day they would play two games - a "doubleheader" - against the Padres. Ellis rented a car and drove north to Los Angeles to see a girlfriend.  They dropped acid and listened to Jimi Hendrix, stayed up all night. Ellis woke up at 10AM, saying he probably only got an hour of sleep. He dropped another half of a tab of LSD, then his girlfriend, reading the newspaper, said something like, "I don't know if you forgot or whatever, but you're pitching game one of the doubleheader today."

Here's how cool Ellis was: he realized he could still make it if he caught a plane to San Diego, so he did, and missed the National Anthem, which is played just before the game begins. But he made it. He was tripping and sleepy, so he popped some benzedrine to get "up" for the game. Rare for San Diego in June, it was drizzling and misty, but the game would not be rained out. Dock had to pitch.

Standing on the mound, tripping, Dock realized the ball felt big, odd. His ordinary feeling of distance and perspective was screwed up. (Anyone who has been high on acid knows EXACTLY what this is like.)

His first pitch went 58 feet. The mound is 60 feet, 6 inches from the plate. Not good. But Dock's a cool cat, remember? One time Dock dove out of the way of a very sharply hit "line drive," but the "line drive" never made it back to the mound. Dock was at time "wild": he hit one batter and walked eight. But his fastball was humming. As Unistat Poet Laureate (2006) Donald Hall described how Dock described it to him:

Number one fastball was quick, and dropped off the table as it crossed the plate. Number two fastball rode up and in, disconcertingly chinwards. - from Dock Ellis In The Country of Baseball

Ellis said at times he thought he and his catcher had telepathy, or that the batter could read his thoughts, so he'd shake his catcher's signs off and choose a different pitch. His catcher (Jerry May) seemed to have a glove that acted like a powerful magnet at times; other times Dock couldn't even see it. Dock recalls staring at a batter, which some pitchers like to do to try to intimidate the batter, but Dock said there were times he'd deliver a pitch while he was still staring the batter down.

He struck out the last batter of the game on a curveball, which delighted him. Game over: Dock Ellis had pitched a rare no-hitter. Sometimes being "wild" throws the batters off, but Dock also had outstanding control of the location of his pitches when he needed it.

Over the years, many people have doubted this story. Snopes has it as TRUE.

Here's a wonderful animated version of this wonderful, weird incident, one that, for deep and fascinating reasons, people inside major league baseball would rather not even admit REALLY HAPPENED...although it's legendary among me and my friends. 4 minutes, 32 seconds:

A gonzo-ish journalist tries to replicate Ellis's mystical game on X-Box.

My favorite account of the wonderful Ellis game from 1970 is from Dale Pendell's indescribably wonderfully poetic and encyclopedic book on entheogens, Pharmako Gnosis. After his narrative about Ellis's exploits, Pendell, ends with this sentence: "Aren't steroids boring?"

From LSD to Neuroscientist
If you look for schematic images of serotonin, psilocybin, and LSD you'll see they all look quite alike, with slight differences. In fact, the two psychedelics are taken up by serotonin receptors after they cross the synaptic clef, blocking the normally "dampening" serotonin, in favor of information flow. Here's a blog post by a neuroscientist who, before he became a scientist, had quite a life as a drug user, including LSD. Innarestin' chap, eh?

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