In Memoriam: Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin (1925-2014)

We’re sure that most readers of Points are already familiar with Sasha Shulgin and are aware of his passing on June 2. But the death of the man responsible for popularizing MDMA in the United States cannot go unremarked upon, especially as the slew of related news reports are bringing up important questions about the drug’s therapeutic use.

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Shroomer Publications

Editor’s Note: This cross-posting is part of a series featuring items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo collection recently acquired by Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, Gretchen Wade, and Judith Warnement of Harvard’s Botany Libraries for contributing the original post at Houghton’s Modern Books and Manuscripts blog.

What to do if you are looking for the “ultimate guide for safe mushroom picking”? Frank and Cheeri Rinaldo had the answer in 1979 with Safe-pik, a flip book of handy mushroom identification cards featuring photographs by John W. Allen. Measuring only about 2 1/2 by 4 inches it could easily fit in your pocket and deals mainly with Psilocybins, the type of mushrooms that contain a naturally occurring psychedelic compound. There is a helpful disclaimer that children should not take mushrooms, one should never trespass, and that mushrooms should be used for the purpose they were intended … mind expansion.

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Safe-pik mushroom identification cards / [Frank & Cheeri Rinaldo; photographs by John Allen]. [Seattle?]: Shroomer Publications, c1979.

Visual identification of mushrooms is hardly a new concept, as seen by the German publication Naturgeschichte des Pflanzenreiches in Bildern by Dr. Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert.

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The Points Interview — Thomas B. Roberts

Editor’s Note: Tom Roberts’  The Psychedelic Future of the Mind: How Entheogens are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values is due out this month from Inner Traditions-Bear & Co. in Rochester, Vermont.

roberts-cover-21.  Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

This book looks forward, not backward. Experiences beget ideas, and The Psychedelic Future of the Mind is an exploration of some ideas psychedelics engender.  Based upon a collection of pieces of scientific research, case studies, anecdotes, and other information about psychedelics, this book asks, “When all these pieces are assembled, what do they tell us about what it means to be a human, about our minds, and about the future?”

The first sentences of Psychedelic Mind’s introduction pretty well nail down the book’s perspective. Early books on the psychedelic experience reported on some fascinating events and curious people. Newer ones describe the burgeoning field of psychedelic psychotherapy or offer accounts of neurotransmitters and synapses. Meantime, the river of autobiographical trip reports flows constantly onward. When collected and organized, the nuggets of information hidden in these sources provide clues to the human mind and how it might be developed. They hint at our social future, including in relation to education and business. They prompt new scholarly fields of endeavor, offering new insights into such diverse territories of investigation as the study of cognition and intelligence, of values and religion, of immune system strength, and of our conception of death. They stimulate new perspectives on film criticism, history, and philosophy. Continue reading →

The Points Interview — Michael E. Staub

Editor’s Note:  Michael E. Staub’s  Madness is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980 (University of Chicago Press, 2011) is bedecked with a number of favorable comments at its Amazon storewindow site.  Staub’s previously authored books include an oral history, titled Love My Rifle More than You, about a woman soldier who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.   The author suggested this work might also interest drug and alcohol historians. 

  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

It would depend on how old this hypothetical bartender was. Is she old enough to remember the 1960s? Let’s assume that she is. Then I’d ask her to remember her reading of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Verge of Time or seeing Alan Bates in King of Hearts or listening to Arlo Guthrie’s riff in “Alice’s Restaurant,” where he discusses how he evaded the draft not because he yelled at the military psychiatrist that he wanted to “kill, kill, kill” but because he’d been arrested for littering. (Admittedly, this is a pretty cultured bartender I am concocting, but it’s my bartender and I’ll imagine who I want to.) So I’d tell the bartender how the 1960s are routinely remembered today for all kinds of things like hippies, Che Guervara, Tricky Dick, Neil Armstrong, Ho Chi Minh, Black Power, and SDS, among others. But what almost always gets left out of the history books is how much critical and popular attention in the 1960s and 1970s was lavished on issues relating to madness and the asylum. And I’d say that explorations into madness often became a means to address a host of other political and social concerns, ranging from the dysfunction of the nuclear family to the devastations of militarism to the problems of gender and race relations to the failures of the educational system. As one social psychologist put it in the early 1970s, and I am paraphrasing here, this was an era in US history when many Americans felt that the entire country had gone crazy, and the question for many was how to maintain their sanity in an increasingly insane society. That’s what my book is about.   Continue reading →

Santa Claus, Mushroom Beer, and the Dutch

In my home country, The Netherlands, Santa Claus does not come for Christmas. By then he has already left. Santa Claus comes every year to the Netherlands to celebrate with us his birthday on 6 December. A few weeks before his birthday he sets out from his home in Spain by sea, on a steamer (he has arrived a week ago).  Santa Claus is accompanied by his assistants, the so-called Zwarte Pieten, or ‘Black Petes’. What is rather strange about Zwarte Piet or Black Pete is that his skin actually is black. To some this is offensive. To these people the fact that Santa Claus’ assistant (not himself) is a black person is a racist trait, a legacy from the age of slavery. The first appearance of the modern incarnation of Zwarte Piet in Dutch popular culture seems to date from around 1850, when slavery still existed in the Dutch colonial empire and when black slaves still worked the plantations in Dutch Suriname in the Guianas. Other interpretations seek the origins of Zwarte Piet in a more distant past. Might it already be a surprise to many children and their parents to learn that Zwarte Piet could actually be a Surinamese slave, it might be even more surprising for them to learn that he could be the descendant of a psychoactive plants or mushrooms consuming Germanic warrior.

Santa Claus and his Zwarte Pieten

Relating the Santa Claus traditions to ancient pagan beliefs and rituals is common in literature on psychoactive mushrooms – more in particular, in the literature on the fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria). In this perspective Santa Claus is Odin (Wodan), the Germanic god of ecstasy, warfare and poetry. Some nights he haunts the countryside on his Wild Hunt, with his warriors and his Valkyries, the immortal maiden who inspire the mortal heroes and select them for Valhalla. In ancient and medieval times Odin’s special warriors were the bear- and wolf warriors, the Berserkers and Ulfheonar who would fight naked (that is, without armor) in an uncontrollable and trance-like fury. This trance was, it is maintained, induced by the consumption of psychoactive substances. The fly agaric is routinely mentioned as the most likely candidate for the substance used. This mushroom is also commonly used as a decoration motif in Christmas trees and on Christmas cards. Continue reading →

Conference Report: Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research, October 6-7 2012

Today Points welcomes Netherlander guest blogger Wim Best, PharmD. and registered toxicologist (ERT). He started his career in the pharmaceutical industry and has held positions both in Quality Assurance and Control and Regulatory Affairs. He now works for the Healthcare Inspectorate of the Dutch governmen, where he is responsible for controlled substances. Since 2009 he has been active as a forensic toxicologist dealing with crimes possibly committed under the influence of drugs or medicinal products, and since 2010 he has served as an honorary investigator at Maastricht University, Faculty of Psychology, Dept. of Psychopharmacology.

A hundred years after the first International Opium Convention in The Hague and the discovery of MDMA in Germany, Amsterdam hosted the Third Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research organized by the OPEN Foundation. The conference lasted two days, during which speakers and public discussed research, experiences, new ideas and philosophical approaches.

Founding (Freakin’) Father, Albert Hofman

Before I start about the conference, let me introduce the OPEN Foundation. OPEN is an interdisciplinary initiative, started around 2006, the year Albert Hofmann celebrated his 100th birthday. Its aim is to stimulate research regarding all facets of the psychedelic experience.  How?  Well, by organizing lectures and conferences and spreading honest information on both the potential and the risks of psychedelics. Furthermore the foundation hopes to lessen the stigma that is still part of researching psychedelics and hopes to awaken the interest of researchers. And last but not least it wants to create a virtual meeting place for all students that are interested in doing research.

For the latest Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Research the OPEN Foundation offered a warm atmosphere to both established investigators and rising researchers. Other interested parties, such as the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Science (ICEERS) who contributed with a clinical track on plant based products and their possible uses in mental health, were also welcome to add their knowledge and experience. Paraphrasing Zinberg: “It is all about drugs, set and setting.”

Setting and Set

The setting: the spiritual ambiance of the Moses and Aäronkerk, a beautiful 19th century church in the center of Amsterdam, spiced up by the introductory lecture by Wouter Hanegraaff titled “Entheogens and Contemporary Religion.” High is in the air!  The set: around 400 people of various backgrounds, interested in psychedelics. Neuroscientists, clinicians, anthropologists, philosophers and users joined forces to open up new ways in the field of psychedelic research.  The drugs: psychedelics. Continue reading →

The Points interview — Don Lattin

Editor’s Note:  Where do philosophy, LSD, and AA-style recovery meet?  Journalist Don Lattin explores the nexus in his latest book, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk (University of California Press, 2012).  His bestseller, The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (HarperOne, 2010), garnered high critical praise.   The “redemptive power of storytelling and the strength of fellowship,” Lattin observes below, were two of the lessons learned from writing this new book.  Bill W.’s experimentation with LSD offers a suggestive historical interface between Wilson’s personal struggle with alcoholism and the drug culture of the Sixties.  Points warmly welcomes Lattin to its growing cache of book author interviewees.  BTW, “distilled spirits” — get it?

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The first thing my bartender would say to me is, “Dude! Where have you been?” You see, I’ve been clean and sober for 6+ years now  and the two people I’ve seen the least are my bartender and my coke dealer. But I’d tell Joe, the bartender at the Tempest, the newspaper bar in San Francisco, that I’ve been busy writing a memoir about my misadventures as a religion reporter who spent too much of his life worshipping at the altar of drugs and alcohol. No, I’d tell Joe Distilled Spirits is not just another recovery memoir.  I tried to do something different. I weave my own story into a group biography of  three visionaries whose life work and long friendship  helped transformed the landscape of Western spirituality. The subtitle of my book is a mouthful —  Getting High, Then Sober with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk.  The famous writer is Aldous Huxley, who wrote a book called The Doors of Perception, which inspired me and countless others in my generation to search for the face of God in a tab of acid. The forgotten philosopher is Gerald Heard, who you never heard of but who is the secret Godfather of the New Age movement. The hopeless drunk is Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who did lots of LSD in the 1950s, twenty years after he got sober. That’s right, Joe, the guy who started AA was an acid head. Continue reading →